Homily 5th Sunday of Easter (A) 2020
In our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles we are given a wonderful snapshot of the early Church – growing in number with people who are from both Greek and Hebrew backgrounds. We witness the first recorded ordination of Deacons – chosen to serve the Church and, in doing so, to help the Apostles continue in their ministry. And we hear how the word of the Lord continued to spread, even to a large number of the Jewish priests who would have served in the temple. All this reflects very much the spread of the Gospel to many new people who, hearing the Word, put their faith in their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. St Peter in our Second Reading describes the faithful as “living stones” and “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
That is very different to the scene we are presented with from St John’s Gospel today. Here the disciples seem to be struggling – both in their understanding and in the extent of their faith. Thomas’s and Philip’s questions reflect this struggle. Today’s Gospel passage actually follows just after Our Lord had washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. It’s as if the Apostles’ minds at this time were veiled - and even after the resurrection, it would take many meetings with the Risen Christ for the Truth to begin to pierce through this veil: a veil that would finally be removed from their minds after Our Lord had returned to the Father and they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Yet their struggle to understand is recorded by John in today’s Gospel because it helps us understand. The first and most important thing that the Lord impresses on the disciples is not to worry: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” - they are to trust: in him and in his Father. What Christ had taught them, what he had shown them, everything he was doing, meant that there was no need for them to worry, only to trust. Their place and ours with God the Father - in other words, our eternal happiness - is prepared for us...
How do we know this? How can we be sure of this? Because, as Jesus explains, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life: “No one can come to the Father except through me.” The trust we are called to have is in God the Father and in Jesus, the Son whom he sent, precisely to bring us to that place prepared for us with God in heaven. Christ is the Way because he has opened the way to his Father through his perfect giving of himself for us on the Cross, redeeming us, reconciling us with the Father - and he is the only one who could do that, since, as he explains later, he is in the Father and the Father is in him: it is the Father “who is doing this work”; he is the Truth, the one we can trust and believe in; he is the Life - death could not hold him, and his victory over death when he burst from the tomb on Easter Day opened up that gift of New Life to all those who will follow his Way and believe in his Truth.
The calm trust which we and the disciples are called to place in the Lord is not always easy - so often we are worried, so often our hearts are troubled. The knowledge that God has redeemed us, that he has opened up the path to himself and to life for us, makes trusting easier - but it is often still not enough for us: not because we don’t believe, but because we are still living our lives in this world, with all the cares and pressures and worries that so often come with that, and with our failures, our sins, that creep in and spoil our lives and trouble our hearts.
God knows us through and through, he knows what we are like, which is why he came among us. Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life is with us as we live our lives and he continually calls us to trust, to turn to him more and more. If we do, he refreshes us, he feeds us with his own Body and Blood, he heals our sin and takes away all that troubles our hearts. More than that, God strengthens us with his grace through the gift of the Holy Spirit, working in and through his Church.
All this changes us: it enables us to grow, and to begin to live our lives more fully as those who are God’s people - a people that will not let their hearts be troubled because we have placed all our trust in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are that people, called and redeemed by the Lord, still in the world in which we live – with all its very difficult challenges at the moment – but we are to be, here and now, “living stones” and “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Let us embrace our calling with true joy and trust every moment of our lives.
Homily, III Sunday after Easter (Extraordinary Form), 4th Sunday of Easter (Novus Ordo), 2020
Today’s Gospel from St John, Chapter 16, presents us with Jesus preparing his disciples on the eve of his Passion. His language seems plain enough but, in the context, his disciples are confused – they needed to experience the Crucifixion on Good Friday, the laying of the Lord’s body in the tomb as the sun went down, the feeling of loss through the Saturday and then the Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Only then would Jesus’ words make sense: “A little while, and now you will not see me: and again a little while, and you shall see me…” and “…you shall lament and weep, but the world will rejoice: and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
Jesus uses the analogy of a woman in labour and the pain that she endures in the process of giving birth, a pain that is swiftly forgotten to be replaced with joy after she has given birth to her child. Such would be the disciples’ sorrow Good Friday and Holy Saturday, only to be replaced with total transformative joy on Easter Sunday with the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.
This is the historical setting of Christ’s words, but, as with much of St John’s Gospel, there is also a larger perspective – one that looks forward to things beyond that precise moment to eternal truths. So, we can see also that Christ is referring to that time when he would no longer be visibly with us after the Ascension – as he said, he must “go to the Father.” St Augustine says that “this little while is the whole duration of this present world.” The understanding of Our Lord’s words “again a little while, and you shall see me” also therefore look forward to his Second Coming in glory. Then, whatever trials and sorrows we have experienced as his disciples on earth, will be turned into a joy so great that, as the Lord says, no one “shall take it from you.”
This casts a new light on the pains of childbirth as Alcuin of York says, highlighted by St Thomas Aquinas in his Catena Aurea, the “woman is the holy Church, who is fruitful in good works, and brings forth spiritual children unto God… while she is making her progress in the world, amidst temptations and afflictions…” and “as a woman [rejoices] when a man is born into the world, so the Church is filled with exultation when the faithful are born into life eternal.”
This seems particularly relevant for us today – for we are, by God’s grace, among those who have been “born into life eternal” through our Baptism into Christ’s body, the Church. That the Church as a whole and her individual faithful are suffering is a reality for us all. We are seeing unprecedented afflictions imposed on the Church: in this country, we are not even allowed to open our church buildings for private prayer. The sacraments – especially the Mass, Confession, Baptism and Marriage – are being denied us. Saying this is not us being “petty” in the sight of important restrictions – this is a pain which cuts deeply into how Christ supports us by the sacraments he established to aid us on our journey in this world towards eternal life.
What is important, however, is that we do not lose sight of the bigger picture. The Church has suffered persecutions before and will no doubt suffer them again after this. We are called to live out our Christian lives faithfully in whatever situation we find ourselves. St Peter in our Epistle earlier urged his readers to live lives that may speak to others by the good works which they see us doing. He also urges us very much to respect and honour others, to love the faithful, to fear God and to respect authority. To do this does not however mean acquiescing to unfair restrictions – consequently, I am pleased to say that our Bishop, Philip and his Anglican counterpart, Christopher, “have written a joint letter to the government asking that our churches be in the first wave of reopening.” He goes on to say that “I am also writing to all our MPs to ask their support. Please pray for God’s blessing on this endeavour – and that the pandemic will soon abate.”
Here then is something important and urgent that we can add to our prayer list! At this time, prayer is one of the most important activities we can engage in – perhaps in many ways, this lockdown has been a great catalyst for deepening our prayer lives, and certainly, many people are spiritually engaging with streamed Masses on the internet. Another thing that many people are helping with is living out the call to charity, many supporting elderly and vulnerable neighbours. In these and other ways, even if we cannot come to Mass and receive the sacraments, we can still live out our Christian calling. That calling is, of course unique to each of us and, in the Novus Ordo this week, we would be thinking particularly about vocation, being Good Shepherd Sunday, which was celebrated last week in the Traditional Latin Mass.
As I mentioned earlier, we are, by God’s grace, among those who have been “born into life eternal” through our Baptism into Christ’s body, the Church. How we are to serve his Church whilst we live out our lives here on earth is not just a matter of us choosing what is convenient or comfortable: it is a case of vocation, of discerning what we have been called to as those “born into life eternal”. As we move through this time of present suffering, let us prayerfully reflect on our calling with open hearts. Let us keep our hearts focused on the Lord and respond to his calling in our own lives. Let us also remember that whatever sorrows we may experience, they are transient sorrows, and, indeed, all part of how the Lord is forming us in this present time. We look forward beyond the present moment to eternal joy when we will see the Lord Jesus in his glory and rejoice in that joy which, as he promises us, “no one shall take from you.”
4th Sunday in Lent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It is with extreme sadness that I have to write this to you without being able to physically be present with you. Throughout the ages the Church has always insisted on the importance of God’s people gathering together around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – the Eucharist – which our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples to celebrate – “Do this in memory of me”.
This morning, for the first time ever, I had to celebrate Mass behind closed doors. Yes, I have celebrated Masses before in private – on my day off, and when, earlier, I was not a parish priest, but today and tomorrow and for the rest of the foreseeable future, this will have to be the case. We pray that this may be in the short term – all this will be very difficult – for me and, I am sure also for you. Rest assured that I will be saying Mass every day – the times of the Masses are included at the end of this “homily”.
I will post homilies and reflections regularly on here so that we can still be together in our thoughts and our prayers.
In this Sunday’s Gospel (4th Sunday of Lent) we hear about the healing of the man born blind from birth. In so many ways the healing of this man can reflect where we are in our present crisis. The man was blind from birth so the disciples themselves asked our Lord, “who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?” The disciples attributed the blindness of the man to some punishment from God in one way or another. Jesus’s answer completely pushes aside this blame-giving: “he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” At the end of the account we hear that, after controversy amongst the people and having stood up against the ruling elite, the once blind man meets our Lord again and makes his confession of faith to Jesus, saying: “‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.”
How does this apply to us today? Many are saying, why is God allowing this present worldwide health crisis with the Coronavirus? The question is similar to that presented to Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel passage today. Is it our fault, or someone else’s? The answer, I believe is the same: no it is here only “so that the works of God might be displayed” – this time, though these works need to be displayed in us. We are the ones, now, through whom the works of God might be displayed. OK – we are not allowed to come to Mass publicly but we are still Catholic and we still and will always have our faith. I am your priest here in Didcot and Wallingford, and, despite my faults and failures, I will try my best to minister to you, the people God has entrusted into my care. Each of us has been given a personal calling and a personal ministry and a personal call to witness. Now is the time to put this into practice, to make it become a reality.
So, let this time of trial, of restrictions, of isolation become a time of opening ourselves up to God’s will. Join me in prayer every day as I celebrate Mass – if you can, use the format below, if not, simply say a little “arrow prayer” to God like, Lord I love you. Above all, let us be like the blind man whose sight was restored by Jesus – a good witness to others and, by the way we live our lives, proclaim: Lord, I believe – and let us worship him, our Lord Jesus Christ, in our hearts and in our daily lives.
Link to Spiritual Communion and prayers when Mass cannot be said publicly