Category: Christmas


AMDG   Homily given at Midnight Mass, at the Holy Name Manchester, 2016

shepherds-seekingTonight as so often before we are invited to that manger in Bethlehem – but maybe after this year of surprises, as our future seems more uncertain than ever before – as we are aware of a terrible persecution and suffering of so many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world – we are coming to the manger with a deeper longing than usual. We have just listened to the timeless words of Luke – the turning point of human history is recounted – the birth of Christ from which we measure time and dates.  Through Luke’s words we are invited to listen to the message of the angels and discover anew an unexpected joy. Obedient to the angels we are invited to accompany the shepherds in leaving the darkness of the night and come to witness that strange scene around the manger.  We are called back 2000 years ago to experience a new light that has come in such an expected way into our human world.

Maybe this year the darkness around the manger seems to press in more.  The world without God – is dark – A world without God is brutal – The world of the powerful were the weak are trampled upon – discarded. This dark world is the world of Caesar Augustus, of King Herod, of Bashar Assad, the world of Game of Thrones, perhaps even the world of the Apprentice.  It is a pagan world –  It is survival of the fittest, mafia gangs – a world saturated with sex without love, a world where so many young people are made to feel ugly and insecure, a world where the old feel abandoned and a nuisance. Where refugees are made to feel worthless and unwanted, we have 7 refugees sleeping next door tonight.

It is into this messy world that God chose to enter – into its messiness and fragility.  And we need Jesus Christ more than ever before – as for so many people – hope seems to recede, anger seems to bubble up everywhere – we need someone to give us Hope and to give us Joy.  Essentially at Christmas we need to find some time to gaze at the crib –  to gaze at this curious way in which hope and joy has come into a dark world.  We need to squeeze some time out from our feasting and partying, from our boozing and box sets – to spend some time look at the crib.

e40e5abaccfc35f4ccf077910302958aWe know a new born human baby is helpless – uniquely in the animal kingdom.  Often primates rely on their parents but no-one is as helpless as the new-born human.  Why out of all the animal kingdom are baby humans so dependent on their mothers?  We are told that this is because of the underdevelopment of our brain after 9 months. So the Almighty -Omnipotent God chose to enter our helplessness.  Because of this vulnerability and this helplessness – at birth neuroscientists tell us that babies have a repertoire of skills to get their Mother to fall in love with them – they are bonding machines.  Let’s imagine Jesus bonding with Mary. We know that human babies love to gaze at Faces –  Jesus would be lying next to Mary and look at her face.   After a while he would develop a seductive sense of timing, knowing when to look to attract her gaze and then when to look away and then when to look back at her to attract her gaze again.

Jesus, like we did when we were little,  would become extremely good at reading Faces – noticing tiny differences in the muscular movements around the eyes and mouth of Mary.  We know that in experiments with babies where they stare at a gallery of faces they usually stop and stare longer at their mother’s face. A famous experiment   demonstrated that 6 month old babies could recognise different features in the faces of monkeys which adults can’t. So in their powerlessness Babies see more than we do in our busyness.  What does the baby Jesus see when looking at your face?   What would it be like standing there in the shadows and watching the infant Jesus stare at his mother – – Jesus would stare at her and she would gaze back…. watch them bond. The mother of God with the incarnate deity.  Maybe then Jesus would stare at you in the shadows, lurking at the edge of the manger … with all of the light and dark of your own life – what would that feel like?

e7576dc944ad965f5e0deb1a1a20fc05We know that equally as important as the power of this gazing – is touch.  In fact Babies will forego food for touch –  Some of our skin receptors have a social function – social touch helps the brain develop, it reduces stress and blood pressure.  God in Jesus needed to be touched – God is no longer so far above us, totally transcendent, distant – but in Jesus Christ he needed the touch of Joseph and Mary. Maybe when we gaze at the Crib – Mary will allow us to hold the Baby Jesus.  Like all new mothers – feeding him – holding him she would have experience a deep sense of fulfilment that she would never imagine before.  Can we watch her feeding God?

Let us be amazed by that – The all powerful God, creator of the galaxies and the universe, needing to be touched by us ….. and He still does as we take him into our hearts in the form of communion – that incredible sacramental self-giving of God.

So as we come out of the shadows with the shepherds tonight – into that unique light of Bethlehem – we are invited to be transformed by that encounter with God made man….  We are invited to live in that light even in the midst of this hurting and fragile world …..  we are invited daily to touch Almighty God who longs to be touched by us …. Something that we can do in a unique way in Holy Mass….  Let this special Mass, Christs Mass change us.

AMDG

Homily given at the Holy Name, Manchester at Midnight Mass, 25/12/2014

Jesus-and-ChristmasThe Night of Nights…..  Tonight we remember the night on which all of history turns…..  the night in which God breaks through 2014 years ago – the night that our Calendar is based on, the night which divides time to Before and After …..  Before the coming of Christ and After the Arrival of Our Lord.  The Incarnation – the infinite God becoming a finite, vulnerable baby – the craziness of a love that never gives up on us, that never gives up on humans even though we make such a mess of things….. The Night of Nights

Tonight there is a crack in the Universe – that is first noticed in Nazareth as an angel appears to a young girl –  then the crack leads a starry trail to Bethlehem that starts to attract attention from far away, in the learned scientific halls of astronomers and also closer to home in the palaces of ruthless power.  But notice how the truly powerful one – the creator of the universe –  chooses to visit us – on the edge of things, in poverty, in simplicity, far from corridors of political intrigue, far from halls of great learning.

It is in the emergency shelter of a stable that this child-God begins to open a space in the world in which God’s healing love can work.  This space – the stable in Bethlehem – will soon grow into a new sanctuary – and will spread around the world – overtaking nearly half of the world’s population.  From here the faith of 2 and half billion people is born, from this temporary shelter, great cathedrals will arise all over the world, this humble beginning will inspire great works of art, literature and breathtaking beauty.

star-of-bethlehem1But tonight is about going back to those humble beginnings in Bethlehem – and one thing I ask that you do over the next days and weeks – is to gaze upon that image of the stable, to ponder how it all started – the vulnerability, the tenderness……  A modern translation of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises asks us to enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the eyes of faith  .  We can do that beautifully in front of the crib …….  Gazing at the figures ……… enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith .  In a few moments of stillness and silence …… watch the brave Girl who said yes to God, even though to be pregnant out of wedlock was a great shame and often meant you would be stoned to death or thrown down a well …… ponder on the courage of Mary….. and then the quiet support of Joseph, that decent man who instead of abandoning Mary listened to the angel in a dream and stood by her, his faith overcoming his pride, his compassion overcoming his male ego.  As we watch them caring for each other – allow that tenderness to seep into your soul, and then that tenderness will lead you to ponder the vulnerable, baby Jesus, dependent on their care – the man who will command the waves to be still, who cures so many people, who raises Lazarus from the dead….  As a helpless baby – The Son of God born into this world.

Some time over the next few days, take a little time out from the feasting, the telly, the computer, prize your eyes away from your smart phone and contemplate that image from Bethlehem…….  What we spend our time looking at affects us deeply – how we thing about the world – how think about our selves.

kim-kardashian-paper-cover-billboard-650Possible the most looked at image last year was that strange picture of Kim Kardashian – with her unusually shaped body – showing a little bit too much of it – and then that bizarre image of pouring champagne over her head into a glass that was balanced on her unusually shaped body……  I think you know what I mean …..  these images were looked at so often the strap line ‘Break the Internet’ was attached to it.   Talking to so many students – I know how much pressure they feel under to have the perfect body – male as well as female students.  How they are bombarded with images of ‘beauty’ all the time and how it leaves so many feeling inadequate, frustrated and unhappy.  It is like a spiritual sickness in our image obsessed world……

So be careful what you are looking at – notice if it doesn’t increase your faith , or your hope or your love it is probably slowly having a poisonous effect…. Take time away from all of that and spend some time gazing with wonder at the nativity scene – The church is open all day during the holiday period – when you gaze at the crib – what you find there is the image of pure Love – a love that is strong that as St Paul said it emptied itself, by taking the form of a servant so as to be born as a human….. the longer you Gaze on that – that love will slowly penetrate your heart ….  And you won’t feel inadequate or unhappy but your heart will fill with wonder…..

Enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith 

And if this is your annual visit to church, or you don’t come very often, if you’re not sure about your faith, or you just like celebrating Christmas – you are very welcome …. But come again, come more often, spend less time with the Kim Kardashians of this world and the snares of our celebrity culture and more time with us and ponder Him who is the source of our joy and who can change anything

My Homily Given Today on the Feast of the Epiphany 

CHRISTMAS_SHOPPERS1_1AMDG  I am going to let you into a secret – one of the things I like about being a priest at Christmas is that I don’t have to buy a lot of presents.  It’s not that I am means spirited – or stingy …….. honestly …….. but I am very happy that being a priest it allows me to concentrate on what is really important at Christmas.  But even I can’t get totally out of it – I went over to see my sister in Nottingham last week and two of my beautiful nieces, Charlotte and Emily.  Now they are only 4 and 6 so I don’t think they would understand if I turned up without presents – so briefly I had to join the crowds in the Arndale Centre – looking for presents – and it was stressful! Too many people – some very rude people pushing you out the way – and all just to get a couple of presents (they both love Barbie and Moshi Monsters) that I know were made in China – and probably will be forgotten about in a few week and thrown out when my sister decides there are too many toys cluttering up their bedroom.

Does that sound familiar to you?

Let’s contrast that experience with the presents given to Jesus by the wise men at the feast of the Epiphany. Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh – Gold – which represents the Kingship of Christ.  Isn’t it interesting that when there is a period of political or financial instability the price of Gold soars.  People buy Gold when they don’t trust their rulers or their economy – just look at what is happening in India now with such a frustration with corruption.  Gold has a value that lasts – its not another throwaway consumerist trinket.  In this baby in Bethlehem we see that if you invest your hopes and your dreams in his kingship it will bear dividends – not of more money but of peace, of joy, of love.   Frankincense – the gift of priesthood – like the incense that we use at mass to consecrate the altar, which I have just you to consecrate this book of the Gospels.  In this child born into poverty we have what Saint Paul was the ultimate high priest – whose sacrifice on our behalf brings us back into the loving orbit of God our creator.  And in Myrhh – we have an analgesic – a pain killer – something that we still use in dentistry and when we gargle mouthwash. This a prophetic gift which indicates the wise man forsee the suffering that this new king-priest will have to endure suffering to fulfill his Messiahship.

downloadGold, Frankincense and Myrrh – three prophetic, wise gifts laid at the feet of Jesus in the dirt, smell, damp and darkness of the stable in Bethlehem.

Lets compare the vision of the three kings to the that of King Herod.  Herod is the consummate political survivor – even being prepared to kill his own children to maintain his own power. He is ruthless and will do anything to consolidate his power.  That is the extent of his vision – raw power – and anyone or anything that gets in his way will be ruthlessly eliminated. If you read the historians of this time he was notorious for executing three of his own sons – Caesar Augustus even commented ‘It is better to be Herod’s dog rather than one of his sons’   What type of man is that?

We think that the magi came from Persia (Iran), India and Arabia and their exotic caravan would certainly have been noticed even in a bustling Jerusalem,  So Herod assembles his own wise man and discovers the prophecy of the messiah.  The Magi were looking for truth – seeking the star – and their gifts show how deeply they understood the prophecy.  The best gifts we receive come from people who understand us.  Herod – in his ego and his paranoia is seeking for threats to his power and as we will see is ruthless in his reaction.

King-Herod-300x300We all know that we can be like Herod in our lives and relationships – bearing grudges, playing games, manipulating people.  Ok we may not resort to murder or even physical violence – but so many of us like another form of assassination – gossiping, undermining someone’s reputation.  We become so obsessed with maintaining our own comfort that we stop seeking the truth. If you are seeking the truth, if you are seeking Christ, than expect opposition from the Herods of this world.  Expect to be scorned, to be laughed at.  But keep seeking – look for the gifts of the spirit – look for the gifts that will never grow stale – or be thrown away.  Truth, Freedom (and real freedom is spiritual – it is detachment), Peace and Joy.  They are gifts that come from kneeling and adoring – they are gifts that come from following those things that produce wonder in your heart.  You won’t find that Peace and Joy in the Arndale Centre – you may find it at the Holy Name.