Tag Archive: Christmas


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

Incarnation

AMDG

My homily for midnight mass – inspired by  Rob Marsh on Thinking Faith 

doctor_1416155cWe can probably identify life –changing moments…..  moments that make us think about life in a profoundly different way.  I would like to share with you a life-changing moment, that most of us have shared.  A few years ago, in Manila the capital of the Philippines, I had my first major operation – on my left knee.  I had worn out the cartilage and after the operation – the surgeon told me my football and running days were over.   My first reaction was – can I still go hill walking?    That hospital in Manila –was a turning point because suddenly my body became an obstacle to my dreams.  My left knee was screwed – and it forced me to reluctantly admit – there was no way I was going to ever going to become a midfield general, and score the winning goal in the Champions League Final……..  Ok maybe I knew that already…. It reminded me of when I was a little boy and coming out of the cinema after seeing Superman and being mildly irritated when I couldn’t fly – I even had the cape on….. but now it was definitive, the doctor told me I had worn my left knee out with training and running for marathons. This was a turning point for me and for so many of us because when  we are young it is as though our bodies are filled with unlimited potential. We admire youth because we see they can dream – and now my body had become an obstacle to my dreams……

downloadeThe opposite is at the heart of Christmas  – that God seems to love human bodies and choose them as the way of fulfilling God’s dreams. God the creator of the universal – and remember according to the Hubble Telescope the observable universe is hundreds of billions of Galaxies – and our Galaxy probably has 2 billion stars in it.  This all powerful – creator God – 2014 years ago (give or take a few years) – took on a finite human body – became a human being – a little baby – vunerable – flesh and blood – crying and going to the toilet – the God who created the universe.

Wow……

How does infinity dwindle to infancy?   Why did God choose to do this – in Bethlehem – in a country that was occupied by a ruthless foreign power? How does God fit into a body without making it explode?  This is the mystery of the Incarnation, remember incarnation – carne – flesh, meat – God became our flesh and blood – no other religion claims that – in fact if you were to claim to be God you are silenced…. Killed, incarcerated, and that is exactly what happened to Jesus.  It is such an amazing thing – to be the infinite God – who has become finitely incarnate.

download (1)Since I have been working at university – listening to so many students – sharing their joys, listening to their fears and worries.  I have seen the pressure so many of themselves are put under – academic pressure, financial pressure. But there is another kind of pressure which is deeper – a terrible kind of desolation – and it is all to do with self image, how they see their bodies.  I listen to beautiful young women telling me how they feel ugly, how they feel fat, their hair is the wrong colour , their breasts aren’t big enough.  And this deep unhappiness with their bodies is growing with men too – IT is being fuelled by the false images they are watching – airbrushed models,  unrealistic portrayals of sex, the culture of celebrity.   The financial and academic pressure will pass – but this type of pressure, self inflicted is much deeper and spiritually much more corrosive.

So remember the Incarnation – remember the real heart of Christmas – God, it seems, doesn’t hate bodies. In fact  God uses the human body – with all its limitedness – and all its mortality – to save the world.   How could we have allowed ourselves to be so far from that? There are websites know that encourage people to harm their bodies …… there is so much poison out there about how we think about ourselves… Christmas is the antidote to that poison.

download (2) And remember tonight is the start of Jesus’s human journey – the infinite all powerful God vulnerable in the hands of his mother – who will soon become refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers as they escape King Herod into Egypt.    Remember how the story ends – the Jesus the sun of God is tortured – his body nailed to the cross – and his heart stops beating, water and blood flowing out of his broken body.  This is no myth – this is history.  And when he rises from the dead – his glorious risen body – which is still carrying his wounds – becomes our hope, becomes our destination.

images Every day in this church – that body is made present to us in a unique way during the mystery of the mass – 365 days a year – twice a day when university term is on – three times a day on a Sunday – the incarnation of Christ during mass.  There is that famous saying – a dog is not just for Christmas – so let us remember the incarnation is not just for Christmas.  So all of you here tonight – who are occasional catholics – or visitors – you are very welcome, and it is great to see you.  Come more often next year – it would be wonderful to see you every Sunday  – this great mystery of God’s love – that he chose to take on the form of this life, on this planet, in this Galaxy – it is a mystery that we can never get used to.  But If we contemplate it, if we live it, if we renew it weekly – it is a mystery that brings us joy, a mystery that makes us appreciate life and our bodies, no matter how old they become.  When we forget it – and get caught up in the cares and worries of life – I can assure you one thing – we become miserable.

In a moment we will express our faith – this great story of God becoming Man – and tonight we will kneel after the words – God became man – to contemplate the immensity of the incarnation – to remember the Joy of Christmas.

AMDG

What is Brian Cox going to say about this wonder?

Today is the Epiphany –  the climax of Christmas Celebrations for many Christians.  In Spain today is the day for present giving – the Reyes Magos – remembering the gift of the Wise Men.  Children throng the streets as the wise men throw sweets to them from their motorised floats (having done away with camels).   But the story of the star – in fact much of the infancy narratives – these are just childs stories – not really historical – right?   Think again – there is surprising evidence that might stop you from going down the demythologisation‘ route too quickly.  Astronomy – and its close cousin Astrology – one of the oldest forms of ‘science’ – has a remarkable set of records, of positions of the stars, conjuctions with the wandering planets. So we can delve into history and see what was recorded in the heavens.  It is a spectacular conjunction of planets and stars of this type that some have argued gave rise to the star of Bethlehem. Others point towards a supernova.  If you are interested, two Jesuits working at the Vatican Observatory, Br Guy Consolmagno and Fr Chris Corbally have written fascinating articles about the historicity of the Star.

Why is the Epiphany so important for Christians? it underlies the cosmic significance of the God who crated the universe becoming man, it also shows the universal relevance of the incarnation – Jesus is for all – the Magi, the Wise Men from the East probably came from Iraq. And as the Pope beautifully said, ‘The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history.’  It is worth also mentioning that after the two volume ‘Jesus of Nazareth’,  Benedict has said he is considering publishing a monograph on the infancy narratives.

Something I discovered a couple of years ago was Arthur C. Clarke’s short story ‘‘The Star’’.  It is a fascinating twist on the Star of Bethlehem story – not very edifying I am afraid – but interesting and thought provoking. Reprinted in a collection of Clarke’s short stories in 1958. In his introduction to this collection, Clarke noted that he wrote the story for a contest in the London Observer on the subject ‘‘2500 AD.’’  The narrative is the interior monologue of the central character, a Jesuit astrophysicist. He is aboard a starship on a mission to investigate the causes of a supernova in a distant galaxy. He and the rest of the crew discover the artifacts of a highly developed civilization, carefully preserved on the only planet that remains in orbit around the supernova. Knowing that all life would be wiped out when their sun flared into a supernova, this advanced race of sentient beings left a record of who they were and what they accomplished. The pictures, sculptures, music, and other relics of a very human-like race doomed to destruction depress the crew and investigating scientists, who are far from their own homes and lonely. What the narrator has learned but not yet communicated to the others is that the supernova that destroyed this civilization was the Star of Bethlehem, which burned brightly in the sky to herald the birth of Jesus Christ. His discovery has caused him to reexamine and to question his own faith.

So I will leave the last words to the Pope – ‘ The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. ‘

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