23 November, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (B) - Rehearsing our future

Daniel 7:13-14
Revelation/Apocalypse 1:5-8
John 18:33-37

Throughout the Christian year we rehearse the story and the mysteries of salvation by celebrating special festivals and keeping sacred times both in order to make present in every age specific components of our faith, and to consecrate all time to the glory of God. This yearly rehearsal comes to its close today as we keep the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, often shorthanded as the Feast of Christ the King, but in a sense this is not a simple rehearsal of something that happened in the past – such as Christmas or the feast day of a saint – rather it is more a celebration about things yet to be fully manifested.

As I mentioned last week Jesus identified himself with certain figures and passages of Scripture found in the prophet Daniel – specifically, he announced himself as the Son of Man, the one appointed as judge of all. Last week we have looked at what the coming of the Son of Man might look like – with the end of times begin described by Daniel, and today we see in our first reading how the Son of Man will appear at his second coming; we read that
'On him was conferred sovereignty, glory, and kingship, and all people, nations, and languages became his servants' (Dan 7:14).
So, the themes of these two Sundays have something in common. Both the end times and the full revelation of the Son of Man as universal king have not yet come, and in celebrating today’s feast we take our inspiration from Scripture but we look beyond it towards things yet to come. So, as we reach the end of the Christian year, we move from rehearsing our past, to – for want of better words – rehearsing our future.

In some ways, Jesus has already been revealed as king – we are here to celebrate his kingship, we are here to acknowledge him as the Lord God – but this kingship is far from being recognised by all, and even few of us who do confess him as king sometimes misunderstand the nature of Our Lord’s sovereignty as something of this world, like Pontius Pilate does in our gospel reading. Jesus’ kingship is revealed to us and we rejoice in celebrating his high status, but outside these walls many do not know about it, many ignore it, and many even deny it. Then we may ask, Jesus is the universal king of all creation, so how come he is not acknowledged by all? In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis writes,
'Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed [in Enemy-occupied territory], you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.'
Jesus is our King in disguise, who has landed in the enemy-occupied territory of a world usurped by greed, injustice, violence, and hate. We are his subjects and servants, and as we acknowledge his rightful sovereignty he commands us to sabotage the works of injustice, to disrupt violence, and to sabotage hate so that the enemy may lose ground bit by bit until the day when his kingship will be fully revealed to all. In fact, as our second reading tells us, we are more than just servants and subjects, we are made to share in Jesus’ kingship; as the book of Apocalypse says we are made ‘into a line of kings, priests serving God’ (Rev 1:6). As a sign of this, at our Baptism and Confirmation we have been anointed with the holy oil of Chrism on our heads. By this anointing each of us has been given personal responsibility in advancing the sovereignty of our king in disguise through daily commitment to living the Christian life and by making every effort to sabotage evil in the name of the king.

'On him was conferred sovereignty, glory, and kingship, and all people, nations, and languages became his servants' (Dan 7:14).
Today we rehearse our future. As Jesus is made present as our King in the celebration of the Eucharist and as he reveals himself to us in the prophecies of Daniel, we know that one day he will be fully revealed to the entire creation as its rightful, undisputed, and loving king. On that day, the need for the yearly rehearsal of the story and the mysteries of salvation will come to an end for good, because in the final exaltation of Our Lord as the universal king, once his kingship in disguise is over, ‘all people, nations, and languages’ will find fulfilment in him.

15 November, 2015

Homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - He will come again in glory

Mark 13:24-32
‘They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds great power and glory’ (Mark 13:26)
Today is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time and as we swiftly approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year our readings assume darker tones – we hear Jesus talking about the end of times, and we are told of ancient prophetic visions in Daniel about the Archangel Michael standing up for God’s people facing great danger. As we read these texts in the aftermath of the murderous events of Friday night in Paris it would be easy to focus on the negatives, to wallow in the dark and morbid details foretelling gloom and destruction, or even more, to try and make dodgy connections between our texts and incomprehensible hatred of terrorism. However, our gospel, the Good News entrusted to the Church, is a message of hope for the future; therefore, we should try to interpret our readings according to hope, rather than according to gloom.
Yes, there are unsettling elements in our reading; mainly, these are the predictions about a time of suffering and about phenomenal signs in the heavens (Cf. Mark 13:24-25). However, we should put these elements in the context of the ancient world, where the prevailing culture expected the world to end in an abrupt, fiery way at the hands of God or a local deity. So once we put these elements within their context we are left with a strong affirmation that no matter what happens in the world, no matter what disaster befalls us or what atrocious crimes are being committed, the life-giving Word of Jesus remains for ever and that he will bring an end to every evil through his coming again. This is the message of hope for the future, and to this hope we must cling as tightly as we possibly can when the darkness of distress shock and seem to overcome us.

In our gospel Jesus draws a parallel between himself and the “Son of Man” described in the book of Daniel as the judge of all creation – though, as you can see, not in our first reading (Cf. Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus identifies himself with the “Son of Man” and so he reveals himself as the one appointed by the Father to bring all creation to a just and merciful judgment, and to eradicate all evil. So too our faith affirms of Jesus that
‘He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.’
And, inspired by this faith and by today’s reading a twelfth century hymn sings,
The world is very evil,
The times are waxing late,
Be sober and keep vigil,
The judge is at the gate.
The judge who comes in mercy,
The judge who comes in might,
Who comes to end the evil,
Who comes to crown the right.

I suspect that oftentimes we forget about this important element of the Christian faith as many people would like to confuse Jesus with a cuddly pushover rather than acknowledge him as the merciful judge of all creation. Nevertheless, at each celebration of the Mass we look forward to the fulfilling of this faith, the time of Jesus’ coming in glory, the time in which after his angels will have gathered together all God’s people, we will sit at table with him, rejoicing and finally freed from all suffering and distress.
Jesus’ second coming is predicted by our readings to be preceded by extraordinary events, and we are asked to be vigilant, to look out for these signs, but I wouldn’t want you to make very specific connections between what happened in the past days and the end of times. Rather, I would you like to renew your hope and to acknowledge that amidst all these troubles we still await for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who will bring an end to all unrest – crowning the right and banishing suffering. Jesus will come again and his coming in glory will in the end and be the fulfilment of our Christian hope.

14 November, 2015

Saturday - 32 Ordinary Time (Year I) - Luke 18:1

The murderous events of last night in Paris have shocked and are shocking people around the world. The cowardice of terrorism, the number of victims, the systematic and merciless brutality; all these things can shock, scare us, and make us lose heart. Yet, in today gospel reading from Luke we see Jesus intent in teaching the disciples ‘about the need to pray continually and to never lose heart’ (18:1).

‘Pray continually’. We need to shake off of ourselves any lukewarm attitude to prayer. This morning we hold in prayer before God those of have died in the terrorist attacks last night, and we also bring to him prayers for the injured, the bereaved, for politicians and emergency services, and yes, also prayers for the terrorists. But prayer for others should not stop at the end of this Mass. Prayer is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal; and it is through persistent prayer, continual intercession for others, that we can change the world.

‘Never lose heart’. Recently I have been preaching about Christian hope, and the call from Jesus to never lose heart is precisely a call to unremittingly place our only hope in God – even in the moments of deep darkness and trouble. As difficult as this may seem at times, we must regularly – perhaps daily – renew our hope in our loving Father, in our own words, or using familiar prayers, or the words of the psalms which contain many prayerful expressions of hop in God. For example, these words of complete trust from Psalm 39 which came to me as I was gathering may thoughts for Mass;
And now, O Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in you. (Ps 39:7)

Homily for Remembrance Sunday - Not just for the British

There are very few dreaded occasions in a priest’s calendar when he or she is called to preach about complex or problematic subjects. For example, few may find it difficult to address their congregation well on important days such as Trinity Sunday or even Christmas, but I think it is even more complicated to address people effectively on Remembrance Sunday. In their sermons, priests may end up glorifying war by mistake; or they may forget to ask their congregations to commend once again the fallen to mercy of God. Perhaps, priests may even appear too self-conscious about saying something wrong that could unsettle the local community and the ongoing grieving process of a nation. However, in my case there is an added difficulty in knowing what to say when preaching on Remembrance Sunday. As many of you know or as you may have guessed by my accent I am not British. I am Italian. Yet, today it is my duty and honour to hold before God the fallen children of this nation and the grief of those who still mourn their loss.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
I still remember my first November in Britain, a fair few years back now. I purchased a poppy at Sloane Square tube station in London on my way to work. The Poppy Appeal fundraiser was a Chelsea pensioner smiling brightly in his scarlet uniform. It seemed natural to me to partake in the Remembrance celebrations in this small way. It seemed natural to express thankfulness for those countless soldiers who died liberating my homeland from the horrors of fascism and discriminatory laws. However, as I worked through my shift that day a couple of colleagues – also foreigners from other countries – made few remarks about the poppy pinned to my uniform. “It is not for us”, they said “only for the British”. This remarks made me think; and it still makes me think today.

To say “It’s only for the British” is a damaging, dangerous statement; a statement that belittles the sacrifice of millions of British soldiers who fought bravely along men from other countries. For instance, those who died in the Battle of the Somme – 99 years ago – fought and fell alongside French soldiers for a common cause. Or again, It ridicules the sacrifice of those who have fallen in Afghanistan alongside soldier from all around the world – alongside those who once we considered enemies.
To say “It’s only for the British” means mocking the efforts of those who have given their whole, not just to protect one nation, but to conquer a better tomorrow for all. The brave men from Britain, America and all over the Commonwealth who landed on the shores Normandy and Southern Italy fought beside paramilitary forces with the single aim of ridding the world – not just one nation – from bloodthirsty tyranny.
To say “It’s only for the British” may mean wrapping ourselves tightly in national grief and pride, but it would not mean making just remembrance of the fallen, of their efforts for a better world. To these few who fought as one, one true act of remembrance is due throughout the world.

To make a true act of remembrance means looking at the world today with its deep yearnings for peace and with its constant efforts to build friendship among nations; it means taking it all in, and, closing our eyes for a couple minutes, saying a simple but heartfelt “thank you” to those how have given their lives so that our entire world may enjoy greater freedom, more stability, and a better hope for tomorrow. Incidentally, this also means making remembrance in the Christian sense. Fixing our mind’s eye on the freedom that we have received, and in thanksgiving, acknowledging the selfless sacrifice of those who – as Jesus tells us – have laid down their lives for their friends (cf. John 15:13).
When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
Let us pray,
O God,
by whose mercy the faithful departed find rest,
look kindly on our fallen serviceman and women
who gave their lives on the line of duty.
Grant that through the passion, death, 
and resurrection of your Son,
the one saviour who died for us all,
they may share in the joy of your heavenly kingdom
and rejoice forever in the vision of your glory.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Enid Chadwick - My Book of the Church's Year - November

05 November, 2015

Homily for All Souls Day - Christian Hope

Isiah 25:6-9
‘It will be said on that day,
Behold, this is our God;
we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’ (Isaiah 25:8-9)
These words from the prophet Isaiah speak of the end times and give us a flavour of what God will do when death will be overcome forever. Because of this, these words may appear a little hazy and distant; in a sense, they may not seem to bear much relevance in the busyness of our daily affairs or in the midst of grief. In fact, to few people they may just dismiss them as simple optimistic platitudes churned up by some ancient writer. Yet, if we had the humility and patience to sit with these words for a few minutes, to really open up to their message, we would see in them a message of hope.

Isaiah’s message of hope is explained here by three main themes. The first one is a banquet, a great feast of rich food, prepared by God himself in his holy place and open for all to attend. The promise of such a feast would have been a shocking statement for Isaiah’s original listeners as they were poor refugees in a foreign land with little food and protection available. The second theme is the destruction of the “sheet” or “shroud” covering all nations and it refers to both death itself and to the custom of wearing special funeral garments which is common to many cultures around the world. So with the destruction of funeral clothes, Isaiah says that one day, as death will be overcome for good, there will be no more need for mourning garments; in a sense, no more need for tears. Finally, the last theme is the manifestation of God to his people; not a manifestation through symbols or clothed in unapproachable mystery, but a direct vision of God. ‘It will be said on that day, Behold, this is our God;’ As if to say, “Look, see for yourself, experience directly,

this is our God.”
The words of Isaiah point in hope to a day when death will be finally overcome, when we will see God face-to-face, and we will sit at table with him and with those who have gone before us. This is the Christian hope and hope is not the same as optimism or wishful thinking. Hope opens us up to reaching beyond this earthly life, to reaching towards God himself and to having a share in his life. Hope makes us to long for God – as St Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Christian writers, affirms, hope makes us expect nothing less from God than his very self, and this is what we are promised in our reading from Isaiah.

However, hope sometimes takes a battering by difficult situations we experience, and when those close to us die hope, like the flame of a candle, often seems to flicker and falter, getting close to go out amongst the darkness of despair. Yet, hope is able to make surprising come backs and we are able to re-light it by sitting patiently with the Word of God as we do tonight, by looking at Jesus who was raised from death, by participating at Mass – which anticipates banquet mentioned by Isaiah – and by remembering those we love but we no longer see in prayer before God.

A recent song by Passenger, one of my favourite singers says, ‘If we all light up, we can scare away the dark’. In a few moments we will have a chance to light small tea lights in commemoration of our loved ones and as a symbol of hope. As we light these candles we dispel the darkness around us and we strengthen hope in our hearts once more – hope that in Jesus Christ death does not have the last word; hope that as Jesus has been raised from death so we will be raised to life immortal with him; hope that one day the garments used for mourning will be put away forever; a hope that will see us through until – as our final hymn will sing – ‘until in heaven we take our place’.
‘It will be said on that day,
Behold, this is our God;
we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’

03 November, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints – We shall see him as he really is

1John 3:1-3
‘We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is’ (1John 3:2)
In the last couple of weeks, as I went out to do some shopping I noticed how many of the stores were already decorated with Christmas trees; at the same time, in some other shops, the staff sported fancy dresses for Halloween. You have probably noticed this too. The clashing of the two decorations can be rather unfortunate; Christmas lights and witches, glimmering plastic angels and pretend zombies… and all this among persistent adverts to convince you that Christmas is just not going to be Christmas if you do not order your brand new couch now.
We may disapprove of stores using Christmas decorations in October, but we must admit that so many of us behave exactly the same, being those sort of persons who always look forward to the next new thing, to the newest entertaining gadget, and who never enjoy what they have in the present, nor have any sense of overarching goal for their lives. It is a bit like driving and looking only at the front of your bonnet or at your satnav without either enjoying the journey or having any thoughts about the destination towards which we travel. This behaviour that prompts us to look out for the next best thing is really common to many people; yet should try to take a step back from it and think how we understand our use of time, what parameters do we use to value our lives, and in a sense, if all we do is jumping from one thing to the next best one, never satisfied and never knowing where we are going, what is the point of it all?

‘We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is’
With these words our second reading tells us that our final destination, our ultimate goal in life, is the vision of God or seeing God as he his. In theological terms this final end is often called the “Beatific Vision”, the vision which bestows blessedness on the beholder, meaning that by seeing God as he is, we will be blessed by what we see. This is the incredible gift of God, not that humanity can be merely saved, but that it is regenerated, transformed and made to take part of His divine life. And today, as we celebrate All Saints Day we celebrate all those who have already reached this vision of God in heaven and who rejoice forever in the heavenly Jerusalem. As we keep the Solemnity of All Saints our celebration should remind us of a couple of things; first, the vision of God which the saints enjoy is our destination too. This is the end towards which our lives should be oriented. The vision of God should be the North Pole for our spiritual compass – with the grace of God being the needle pointing towards it. It should be the “X” on our treasure map, with the trail of grace marking the way to it. Secondly, by celebrating in one special day all the saints that have ever lived we are reminded that there is an enormous ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Heb 12:1) in heaven rejoicing with us as we journey on towards the vision of God. We are not alone, but through the communion of saints, these brothers and sisters who have reached the heavenly Jerusalem ahead of us cheer us on, and they encourage us on our way. When times get tough on our earthly pilgrimage we can rely on their constant prayers to help us out as they wait for us to join them home.

‘We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is’
Ultimately, today’s celebration should inspire us to redirect ourselves towards the vision of God, to convert our lives in order to achieve this blessed end. Therefore, as we give glory to God for his saints, let us renew our efforts in running towards the heavenly city, addressing all those bad habits and inclinations that hold us back and do not tend towards our final goal.