Category: Gospel


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

Today’s Gospel should make us feel uncomfortable – the rich man who steps over the beggar at his gate. Like all of us he is uncomfortable when confronted with destitution, with extreme poverty….  I think Jesus wants us to feel uncomfortable when we hear his words today.

Cladownloadyton M Christensen , in 1995, coined the phrase disruptive technology.  These are innovations often produced by an outsider which changes the market, or the way we do things. So for instance in Academia, whose currency is the transmission of knowledge – Wikipedia is  a disruptive technology, open source, peer edited,  free access to knowledge, which led to end of to many traditional encyclopaedias being produced.  You can think of many examples digital photography and the demise of Kodak, Uber challenging the taxi industry, amazon and bookshops etc etc

The Gospels of Jesus Christ are meant to be disruptive –  Jesus in the tradition of Prophets from the Old Testament is warning us.  The Prophet Amos in th first reading says ‘Woe to the Complacent in Zion’  …. Our complacency our comfort in this world where there is such extreme wealth and extreme poverty is an offence to God.  Amos the prophet does not mince his words.

But Jesus is more sophisticated even as a prophet – he doesn’t want to harangue us, he doesn’t just want us to feel guilty and powerless that we can do nothing, he wants us to change our hearts – he wants a deeper transformation.  He wants us to ponder this parable, to reflect on it … to pray with it – so that our hearts change.

tentsofsomeofthehomelessnearmanchesterpiccadillyrailstationToday’s Gospel of the poor man at the rich man’s gate is meant to disrupt our complacency – We are meant to feel uncomfortable if we really listen to this.   We see poverty on the streets of Manchester all the time, there is even a small tented shanty town growing up near Piccadilly, and we also see bright new shiny buildings going up everywhere.  This paradox is perplexing …. If the economy in Manchester is booming – how come so many people are obviously being left out?  What has happened to the common good?

sermon-slide-deck-til-death-do-us-part-matthew-19112-19-638And if we are honest we developing coping mechanisms to cope with this – but the danger is that all these coping mechanisms take us in on ourselves ….  Saint Augustine said that sin is a life lived “inward” for self rather than “outward” for God and others. The theological phrase in Latin (if you are interested) is “Incurvatus in se” (Turned/curved inward on oneself).  How many things allow us to live like that now – we can control our environment – glued to our smart phones – living digital lives – we put our headphones in and we can even block the world out.  But let us acknowledge these are coping mechanisms.

But God has told us repeatedly through the prophets, through Moses, through Abraham, to have a deep attentiveness to the Poor….. but that makes us uncomfortable.   Jesus wants us time and time again about the isolating power of wealth …  the more we have we are that isolated from each other, and ultimately isolated from God – we create rich ghettoes, gated communities, bigger walls…. And we become miserable

How can we help?  There are so many ways so many initiatives flowering up around us ….  The Holy Name and the Chaplaincy are becoming a centre for many of these initiatives…..  just take the newsletter home and read it.  But even before that maybe we can pray for the grace of freedom – to leave the technological arms race where we have to constantly upgrade our phones, the grace of freedom to realise how we are trapped by consumerism, and how we become blind to our neighbours in need…   That could be our simple prayer for the week …  Lord make me free…  when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night.

Homily given at the Holy Name Sunday 25th September 12.00 mass 

AMDG    Feast of  St Ignatius

“ So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God! ” Luke 12:21

This is the challWhosAtYourCenter-1rfhglh0klcn41e93wwg46ro4wpl9mezyp0u8kp9qsisenge at the heart of our faith – Who is at the center of your life?  Is it Me or God ?  If I am an honest is God an insurance policy that I have just in case my other plans don’t work out?  Is my career the most important thing and I am happy to come to church as long as God doesn’t get in the way – or ask me to do anything that will disturb my plans?   As long as I keep God in a box that is labelled ‘Sunday’ or ‘Church’ he won’t bother for the rest of the week…..

So many of us who call ourselves Christians – live like this…. Spending some much time and energy storing up treasure for ourselves – that we don’t really want God to trouble us…..  where do you put your trust?  Do you place your trust totally in God ?

51vxcbXaBmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_According to the American Franciscan, Richard Rohr, it is the job of the first half of life – to establish ourselves, to leave home, to build an identity, to get a qualification (might be a university degree) and to start a career.  We all need to pass through this stage and therefore we develop a spirituality for the first half of our life – which is more concerned with outer things than inner things,  so my Catholicism is   and it is often only when a crisis comes along that we are jolted off our path.   Often it is when someone we love dies, maybe we go through an illness, and suddenly we start asking ourself – what is life all about?  All the stuff that was important about establishing our identity now becomes less important  and we start ‘Falling Upwards’ as Richard Rohr calls it – we start to put God in the center.

This happened to a young Spanish Nobleman, Inigo Lopez de Loyola – who found himself as a soldier defending the town of Pamplona – in 1521 – when a French Canonball ripped through his legs and shattered his knee.  Forced to recover in bed he started to ask himself these deeper questions – and realised it wasn’t just his knee that was shattered but also his self-image, his understanding of himself.  Bed ridden for 9 months he dreams about the future – about returning to his chivalrous ways ….  But as time dragged on and boredom forced him to read the only books that were at hand – religious books about the saints …. He noticed that he started to have a second type of daydream – instead of returning to be a solider for the King – he would become a pilgrim – a soldier for God.Thus 495 years ago began an journey that leads us to here to this beautiful church today –the Holy Name was founded in 1871 by men who have followed in the footsteps of Inigo.

Ignatius at Pamplona Back recovering in his bed in Loyola, Inigo the swashbuckling soldier (now crippled) notices that he starts to have a second type of dream which is obviously fed by his reading  – doing great things for God – outdoing the saints in holiness.  He noticed this left him feeling a deep joy and peace that lasted longer the other dreams of future worldly glories ahead….  He had discovered already the fruits of making yourself ‘rich in the sight of God’ … Inigo was becoming Ignatius.  He realised that up till then he had wasted too much time chasing  ‘vainglories’  – it all seemed worthless now when compared to things of God.

The genius of St Ignatius – a great gift for me in my life which I will always be grateful for – is that he allowed God to teach him – and then showed others how to search for God’s will in their lives.  He taught us to recognised Spiritual Consolation – the joy and the peace and the love that comes from moving closer to God….  We call this Ignatian Spirituality ….  And it is an incredible legacy that has led to countless men and women changing their lives – abandoning our obsession with material wealth and storing treasures that make us rich in the eyes of God.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIpAAAAJGI0YzQzZDMyLTc5MzQtNGY1Ni1hMTc0LTRjMmZkMjVjNWI4MQAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall – the end of Communism – we all hoped for an new age of peace, of stability but in fact what happened was the world became more complicated …..  this new multi-polar world has been marked by Four things – that military planners called VUCA.   Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.  The world seems to have become less predictable, more scary – Volatile in the nature and speed of change,  Uncertain in the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise.  Complex in the different forces and issues, and Ambiguous in that reality is difficult to read now, Confusion seems to abound.

This is a confusing and at times scary world….  Where an 80 year old priest is brutally executed during mass, with unprecedented people on the move, with an acceleration of technological change that has never been seen before.

St Ignatius gives us a fantastic map to navigate our way through this world.  As God so patiently taught him – he wishes us to learn in a similar way – to be taught by God – who longs to be our teacher. It is a map – that helps us to navigate through a hurting and crazy world….  His way of praying helps us to listen to our teacher – even though there is so much to distract us away from these heavenly treasures.

And one his sons, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope – is currently in Poland – celebrating mass as we speak with 3 million young people – Francis will be delighted to share such a special day for him ( and all Jesuits) with such a wonderful crowd – including our group of 20 from here.  The Pope’s  desire will be to share with all those youngsters the Joy of putting God in the center of your life – the Joy of being truly free – knowing that you are loved sinner – the peace that comes from falling Upward and knowing that in the end everything will be all alright.

Homily given at the Holy Name Church, Manchester  –   July 31st 2016