FATHER ALF'S HOMILIES
02.08.20 ~ 18th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
(To hear audio file ~ click here)
If you are a film fan, as I am, you will all be familiar with the words of the song, “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things of life apply, as time goes by”. It was sung during a scene at Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca, involving Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, two sad people reflecting on how things could have been, had she not gone off and married someone else. There’s a poignancy in the words, ‘as time goes by’ because they imply the remorseless march of time, as we look back sighing for missed opportunities.
In today’s gospel there’s a hint of that poignancy. Jesus has withdrawn with the apostles to be by themselves, because his personal life was in turmoil. He had just had word of the execution of his cousin John the Baptist. Clearly, he is frightened by the news and the realisation that he will almost certainly be next. We are seeing a very different Jesus here, a long way from the strong, confident, razor-sharp, intelligent man we’re used to. To see him like this puts things into perspective. His life wasn’t all high profile miracles and battles with the authorities, nor was it all long and loving conversations with his disciples. In private he experienced the mental stress we all have after a major setback. Christ wasn’t a robot without feelings. We saw that in the Garden of Gethsemane. He needed to get away, and he needed time to think.
That time was denied him by the crowds who are waiting for him when the boat arrives. He could have sailed on, but took pity on them, spending most of the day, I suspect, healing their sick, and then feeding them – all 5000 of them, to say nothing of women and children. In the midst of this huge crowd, he must have felt terribly lonely as the time went by, but the fundamental things of life still applied; opportunities to do good are not to be missed. When the apostles say “This is a lonely place – send the people away to buy food for themselves”, there’s another opportunity – this time to teach them an important lesson. Their reaction was the world’s logic: everyone must take care of themselves. ‘America first’. Jesus’ logic is: sharing means everybody gets fed. As Pope Francis says, “A provident Father will not allow the world to go without food, but we have to learn to share it with our brothers and sisters”, something lots of you have been doing throughout this pandemic to make sure no-one here goes hungry.
Of course, there is a lot deeper meaning to this incident. Before the distribution of the bread two things happen. The words and actions of Jesus are identical to what he will do with the bread at the Last Supper - take, bless, break and give it. So, the feeding of the 5000 is a forerunner to his ultimate act of sharing, giving his body totally, broken and bleeding, to redeem the whole world. The second thing is that this is the only miracle that the apostles are directly involved in. Normally they just look on, but here Jesus tells them to feed the people. This is a forerunner to their function in the Church which is entrusted with the task of feeding the multitudes of the world with the Word of God and the Bread of life, which it has done ever since.
Thinking back to how Jesus coped on that day, perhaps we can remember a time of great sadness in our own life, when, in spite of how we were feeling, we still took the opportunity to do some good for others. If so, it was a very Christ-like thing to do. Although we must live with our memories, we mustn’t dwell on the sadness we have known. There are people to feed, people who need us, people who would be glad to have the little help we have to offer. The fundamental things apply as time goes by.
POST SCRIPT - Following Mass, Fr Alf was sent this audio file, by Anne Nolan, of 'As Time Goes By'. This is how it should be sung!!
26.07.20 ~ 17th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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In Steve’s parish quiz the other night there was a section on the names of characters from TV soap operas. Needless to say I got about three out of ten. One I did get was Delboy, famous for his catchphrase “One day, Rodders, we’re going to be millionaires”? My favourite dodgy deal of his was when bottled water became trendy. He began selling ‘Peckham Spring’ which came straight from the tap in his council flat kitchen. After years of such get-rich-quick schemes, he finally found the pearl of great price, an antique watch in their own lock-up which made them millionaires. Another popular programme is Cash in the Attic. An attic is a place where people put things they don’t need any more but don’t want to throw out, in case they might come in handy one day. Then, the next generation comes along, has a clear out, and finds that an old vase which granny used to put her flowers in is, in fact, a priceless one from the Ming Dynasty. It’s just like finding hidden treasure in a field. Both these examples are about the discovery of immense riches, one by a lifelong search, the other by chance, but the discoverers are not likely to have to sell everything they own in order to obtain them. In contrast, both parables raise the question of how far we would be prepared to go, and how much we would be willing to give up, to obtain the greatest treasure of all - eternal life.
The third parable is about how important it is to have balance in our lives. Like a dragnet we haul all sorts of things into our lives. Some are brilliant – some are rubbish, and we need to sort them out. ”Every disciple of the kingdom of heaven” Jesus says, “knows to bring out from his storeroom, things both new and old”. To help us to do this, we need to know the true value of what we are bringing out from our storeroom. For example, you are probably aware that there are factions within the Church at loggerheads with Pope Francis, accusing him of heresy and riding roughshod over traditional teaching. Of course, he is doing no such thing. What he is doing, is bringing out from the Church’s storeroom what is old, but essential, from our Sacred Tradition, which is one of the twin sources of revelation, while at the same time, encouraging all that is good in new ways of spreading the gospel, which don’t always conform to the rigid interpretation his detractors would like. He is not changing one iota of Church doctrine, but balancing its weight with God’s all-consuming mercy. Jesus himself said “I have not come to destroy the Law, but to bring it to perfection”. He wanted us to reach a stage in our life where we would not need to be told what to do, because the love of God we have in our heart would do it for us. It’s what Pope Francis means by ‘The Joy of the Gospel’
The Sacred Tradition of the Church is 2000 years old and has never changed. In Catholicism something is either true or not true – you can’t have a vote on it. But, in every age, we also have to be aware of the signs of the times and how they affect what we hold to be objective truth for the common good. Unfortunately, in our time, subjective individualism, pre-Covid 19, undoubtedly held sway. But, things may be changing. Over the past four months I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard how kind, thoughtful and helpful people have been. Maybe we won’t go back to how it was before.
In every era, including our own, we must know when to bring out old and new, individually, of course, but also collectively, so perhaps this quote from Ian Linden in the recent issue of PAX Christi, the International Catholic Movement for Peace, is particularly relevant for the signs of our times: “The impact of Covid19 was a stark revelation of the gross inequality in our nations. We face choices. We can cling to little England nationalism, or be inspired by scientists who promote a global vision, based on international co-operation. We can pay our key workers a respectful living wage, or just applaud them on Thursday evenings. We can root our economy in the shifting sands of financial services, and promote arms sales, or invest in the sustainability of a high tech manufacturing economy which reduces emissions. In short, post Coronavirus, we can either continue with unfettered competition and growing inequality, or we can rebuild our societies based on care for creation, justice, human dignity, and building peace”.
19.07.20 ~ 16th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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On the radio the other day there was a lively debate about whether we should be trimming grass verges on our roads or cutting our lawns, because so many other species of wild plant life are destroyed in the process. It’s a dilemma, because we all love to see a beautifully kept garden, but at the same time, we are becoming more and more eco-conscious in the battle to save the planet.
Like last Sunday, the theme of the parable this week is growth, and once again, Our Lord uses an example from Nature to illustrate his point. When the workers discover that thorns are growing alongside his precious wheat, they report it to the farmer as a disaster and say action must be taken immediately to root them out. But, as we see, he takes the long view, and decides to let Nature take its course. He disagrees with the servants because he wants to give the wheat every possible chance. In spite of the thorns, he knows there’ll still be a good crop. When Jesus explains the parable to the apostles, he’s obviously talking of the last judgement when the devil’s subjects will be separated from the subjects of the kingdom and each will be assigned their fate. But, as always, there’s more to Our Lord’s parables than meets the eye, so this one is not just about the final judgement.
Like the argument about the grass verges, Our Lord is pointing out that there are a lot more species of people out there than just the good ones we know, some of them very bad, but, like the farmer, he wants to give them every possible chance. The workers’ desire to root out and throw away the darnel highlights the difference between the way God and man deal with evil. The Tabloid Press thrives on painting public figures as hypocrites, or splashing their sexual misadventures across the front page. Rarely do we feel sorry for a politician or celebrity, like Ghislain Maxwell, when their fall from grace is exposed to the gaze of the rude and scoffing multitude. It’s a rather disturbing trait that we all have to play the judge. Some fundamentalists may also subconsciously think, if God is supposed to be all loving, good and powerful why doesn’t he get rid of the dross, and allow the good guys to flourish in what would then be an ideal world? But what does God think about that?
For the answer, we need to refer back to the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. “There is no other god to whom you have to prove that you have never judged unjustly. You are all powerful and your sovereign power is unquestioned”. It’s precisely because God is all powerful, that nothing can disturb his equilibrium; nothing has the power to change him from being an all-loving God to every person he has created, even those who have chosen evil. And, here’s the good bit: “Your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all; disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement”. Who wouldn’t want to be judged by someone whose prime concern is to show mercy? He is the embodiment of the phrase ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’. By acting this way he has taught us the lesson that the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow man.
You could call the world we live in a field full of ambiguities and complexities, in which good and evil co-exist and, therefore, needing the art of discernment. Even the Church, as we know so well, is made up of saints and sinners, those who live exemplary lives, and those who certainly do not. We are a mixed bag, that’s for sure, but Christ died for each and every one of us, and the Father loves each and every one of his children, and will never stop trying to seek them out, watching the road for his prodigal son’s return.
The key thing to remember, is that God has all the time in the world, and he’s prepared to wait as long as it takes for someone to turn back to him. At all times he gives the opportunity for repentance no matter what we’ve done. At the heart of the parable’s message is leave all judgement to God, and refrain from judging others harshly, because we can never know what is in their hearts, or what they may be going through. To know all is to forgive all, and there but for the grace of God go I.