Category: Gospel

Equilibrium & Stephen Fry


This is an edited Version of the Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester on Feb 9th 2015

saving-face-behind-the-scene-1We all know the Genre of documentary where we get to follow 24hrs in the life of a celebrity … A day in the life of Paris Hilton – or Steven Gerard….. Well today’s gospel (Mark 1 29-37) gives us, without the cameras and the irritating commentary, A day in the life of Jesus Christ ….. It is at the beginning of Marks Gospel and is unusually full – the Healing of Peters Mother-in- Law, and then the healing of the crowds after sunset- and then the key –  Jesus’s pre-dawn prayer in a lonely place – and then his journey preaching and casting out devils.

If you were the producer of this programme – in the midst of all the demands being placed on Jesus – you would make that Prayer before the dawn the hinge moment of the documentary – that is the key scene. Sure all the miracles and his teaching would be very telegenic, but that period of prayer in a lonely place, on his own, before dawn is the key to understanding Jesus. It is here we see his union with the Father – it here we understand where he gets his power from, his energy and compassion…. And perhaps most interestingly it is here where we see how he keeps his equilibrium amongst so many demands and so many expectations.

JobWe all lead busy lives, and we know how easy it is to lose our balance and sense of perspective – Listen to Job in the first reading ‘Months of Delusion I have assigned for me – Nothing for my own but nights of grief’ It is easy for us to get sucked into the business of our lives and start thinking like this – St Ignatius refers to it as Spiritual Desolation. Someone who seems to have lost that sense of balance, that equilibrium this week is the famous atheist Stephen Fry. On Irish TV he was asked what he would say to God if he went to heaven. Fry responded, “I would say, ‘How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. The God who created this universe, if he created this universe, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

While Stephen Fry’s complaint reveals more about Stephen Fry than Almighty God (as this comment piece suggests it may be difficult to distinguish sometimes) , it is still a very a common complaint made, maybe in a less strident tone, and a question worth asking. If your friends know about your faith – It might well come up again and again in conversations in the pub, in the lecture theatre, in the lab, in the gym ….. You are a Christian Why does God Allow Evil? Isn’t Steven Fry right? In my response I might want to point talk of free will. We may do what we like. God, as a loving father, does not force us to do anything, but allows us to learn and grow. When we get it wrong unless we regret and try and change our life then evil proliferates. In ways we cannot comprehend the vast majority of the suffering and evil in the world comes from this basic reality. However as Christians we also have this great hope – the resurrection. God is no stranger to suffering as we see in the cross of Jesus but the darkness of the Cross and Good Friday becomes the new hope of Easter.  So matter how bleak it appears, despite the greatest evil, all that is beautiful, good and true will triumph.

So these challenges – made to us in pubs or in friends houses – actually become a wonderful opportunity to witness to our faith and give account of our hope… and why faith filled people often live joyful lives….. as someone once said it is better to light a candle that curse the darkness…..

whirlwindToday’s readings give us a lot to ponder about. In the book of Job we have the most powerful exploration of this problem of pain and suffering – I haven’t come across another text in literature from any culture that looks this problem in the eye and tries explores it so bravely and honestly – It is at the beginning of Chapter 38 that God answers Job from the whirlwind and gives him a tour of the cosmos…. Where you there Job when I created the heavens and the earth – He shows Job the Plan of Salvation that spans all of space and time.. So if you want to answer your sceptical friends questions immerse yourself in the book of Job .. and then remember that in the Gospel we see how Jesus keeps his equilibrium in the face of so much suffering and brings his healing power to all those people who come to him …….

But the best way to answer this critique of faith – actions rather than words – how you live your life – do we try and imitate Jesus – do we try and bring healing to peoples lives – do we put our faith into action? Here at the chaplaincy there are many ways to respond to suffering – the foodbank of course – our great SVP group who made three homeless runs this week and volunteer in many other ways – and at the end of mass tonight you will get a great chance to meet Clara who organises volunteering placements in some of the poorest parts of the world for Jesuit Missions… So its better to light a candle than curse the darkness and you can inspire you sceptical friends by putting your faith into action

Jesus will ask you at the end of time – What have you done for the sick, naked, hungry, for the poor…….

AMDG   Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester  on Sun 18th Jan 2015

spamWe live in an age of spam – no matter what form of communication is invented – the postal service. Phones, emails, texting, tweeting, messaging – sooner or later someone will start to use it to bombard us with unsought for invitations….  Win a car… Lose Weight…. Make Money etc etc…. and it doesn’t matter what spam filter is invented to counter this… some always sneak through.  And so we waste time deleting things, clearing our inboxes etc…. and during Exam Time you don’t need to be reminded how precious time is!  That’s why I’ll keep this homily Short….

So in an age of spam – in an age of an incredible volume of communication- what seems like infinite opportunities it is important to develop a skill we Jesuits call Discernment…..   On a superficial level discernment is the ability to know what voices bring us life, and what voices lead us deeper into death…..  Who should we listen to – what invitations should we respond to – What is spiritual spam and where is the genuine voice of God.

Eli_and_SamuelThe First reading – Story of Samuel – is a lovely example – the Child who hears of the voice of the Lord but doesn’t understand. The Master Eli who patiently coaches him in the way of the Lord …..  It is the voice of Lord that brings us abundance of Life, a life, a joy, a freedom that is without limits – I have come so that you may have fullness of life…..   So often we can’t discern the voice of the Lord on our own – and in many religious traditions you can see how beginners in the faith often search for someone wiser, often older, to accompany them.  Here at the chaplaincy we have over 60 students now who come for ‘spiritual direction’ every so often – many to Fr Ian – but also to the other priests, and other trained spiritual directors – you are welcome to come and see me if you are interested in finding out more….   It is this accompaniment in the spiritual life that often sharpens our skills of discernment and leads us to fullness of life.

In the Gospel we see that when we discern God’s voice and when respond to the Lords invitation to come and see….  When we find the messiah…. A future that we had never dreamed of opens up before us.  And the message of the Lord is counter- cultural – we are told in the Second Reading that ‘our bodies are not our own’ but rather Temples of the Holy Spirit …..  if we really believed that, if we lived that, we wouldn’t care if we were not the right shape, we would be freed from the oppression of hyper-sexuality, we wouldn’t waste our time and happiness on chasing an elusive dream – but discover a life of freedom and joy.  So let us be like Eli, and Simon Peter, and Andrew and try and discern his voice amongst all the noise that surrounds us, so that we can respond, we can go and see and say’ speak Lord your servant is listening’ …. And remember we can’t do it on our own……



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


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