Homily on facing death with faith

November is the month when we think about death. Not so much because it’s the month when World War One ended, although that has certainly helped focus people’s minds, but much more because we begin November by praying for all the Dead on All Souls Day; and so the custom has grown up of continuing to remember the dead right through this month. I remember as a boy (I wasn’t brought up as a Catholic) how I was taught that thinking about death like this was not healthy, and so I actually failed myself and my family when my mother died, by arranging not to have a big funeral and instead to send her body off for cremation with the tiniest of private ceremonies.

Since then I have seen, and indeed conducted, very many funerals and have discovered how wrong I was, and how important it is to have proper prayers and ceremonies when our loved one’s die. Death is often sad, but trying to hide the sadness, is actually no help at all to those who are grieving.  And why? Because death is the one thing we humans cannot defeat. Modern medicine may delay it (indeed most Doctors sadly see death as a defeat) but in the end it comes to all of us, and then the only power to whom we can turn is Almighty God. I remember being shocked when I joined with a Black Pentecostal Pastor to conduct a funeral many years ago, and when the body had been lowered into the grave, he called out “Who will be next? Who will be next?”  I was shocked, but then I realised he was right. Each of us needs to be prepared for death, for we never know when it will come, and then we will really understand our need for God.

Now what has all this got to do with the two stories of widows, that we heard today in our 1st Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) and in our Gospel? (Mark 12:38-44)  The answer is that in each case they are preparing for death and in doing so teach us a lesson about life. The first widow actually says that she is preparing to cook a last meal for herself and her son ,“And then we shall die.” The second has nothing left apart from the few coins that she gives to God. She is not a sweet and very generous old lady, she is a beggar woman who will soon die of starvation just like the first; and it is interesting in her case that Jesus does not help her. Why? Because he too is about to die on the cross.

For Christians the message is clear to see. We know that Jesus faced death, and that he alone defeated death; and so we know that the way to face death in every moment of our life, is to live our life in and with Jesus. For with Jesus, death is not the end, but becomes the way to eternal life, and that is why as Christians we’re called to live every day like that widow gathering sticks, for face to face with death, she does not turn in on herself. as she might have done, but shares her last meal with the Prophet Elijah.

I’m reminded of St Maximilian Kolbe, that Polish priest who was imprisoned in Auschwitz and there offered to take the place of a man who was about to be killed. It was in one sense a futile gesture, just like the widow offering a share in her last meal, and yet such actions in the face of death are what makes us fully human. To die that someone else might live is the most powerful act of love there is, and that’s why we do not just celebrate as Christians, the Resurrection of Jesus, but also celebrate his death, because in this sacrificial love God is most fully present, and where God is most fully present, we are most fully human.

Elijah the Prophet also says a word to the woman that Jesus will go on to use a lot, for he says “Do not be afraid.”  This is such an important word for all of us, isn’t it. “Do not be afraid.” Of course we often will be afraid, certainly of dying if not of death, but I don’t think Jesus is telling us that it is wrong to be afraid, rather we are being told that when we are afraid, we must hear his voice and know he is with us.

The second widow, the one in the Gospel, has conquered her fear, presumably because of her trust in God. That is why she can give all her money to God, and then be content to die. Note how Jesus links this to the problem of having possessions, for the more we have the more afraid we seem to be of losing them. You remember the story Jesus tells of the rich man gathering more and more into his barns,(Luke 12:16-20 and God says to him “You Fool!” because, just when he is saying “I can eat, drink and be merry”, he dies; and all his attempts to be happy are destroyed. Our trust must be in Jesus, never in anything or anyone else, for with Jesus death is defeated, and need not be feared.

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Moments when we need to dive into hope

A Meditation from Frances on next Sunday’s Readings (32nd):-

Just recently I noted with relief the evacuation of the remaining White Helmets and their families from Syria by, of all unlikely people, the Israeli forces! The White Helmets are the men who risk their lives to rescue the victims of Assad’s bombings. What remains however in my mind are the photos of those young men who have been killed in the course of this work. I recall pictures of slight young men with embarrassed, self-deprecating smiles, people who never sought fame but simply found themselves in the right spot at the right time, and whose decision to stay and give their lives for others was quite simply motivated by character; what they were and the conviction and integrity which required them to stay and help their fellow human beings, come what may. Our Readings this week are all about such moments of decision, times when to be true to oneself, people could do no other than follow their conviction even to death.

Such was the woman in our Gospel passage, (Mark 12:38-44) the woman noticed by Jesus at the Temple, and whose story follows very closely on last week’s Reading. Jesus,, as we saw was in the holy city for Passover and the last week of his life. It was a time of final confrontation, of burning of one’s boats, and he notices a woman who epitomises his own situation. We have to remember that this was a time when there was no Social Security, no regular help for the very poor, although beggars abounded. My guess is that this lady had quite simply come to the end of the road. Devoid of family, friends,, and any financial help she turns to the only help she can, to God in the Temple, and makes the final offering of her two remaining copper coins. She knows she is going to starve to death and, at this crunch moment, just gives herself to God, to the only one she trusts will be merciful – in death. We notice that Jesus does not intervene to save her, she gets no last minute reprieve and he has already passed unfavourable judgement on the rich and their way of life. They could easily have helped her, but did not. He observes how they also give large donations to the Temple, gifts befitting their rank and status, and which were observed by the public; and he noted that, just like us, they gave from their surplus wealth. In effect, it cost them nothing but gained them a great deal from the respect they got from society.

Our poor widow is an alter-Christus. Finally, in extremis, she has flung all her hope on God, just as Jesus will do a couple of days later, trusting in the Father, in whom everything in him insisted that their relationship was true; and Jesus, true to his instincts, went ahead, trusting he was right. He had belief, but no certainty that God would vindicate him by resurrection. Like the widow, he just followed his conviction of a merciful redeemer. There will be moments in every life when we too have to make that dive into hope. It may be before vital surgery, or the question of a relationship; it may be in the moment of our martyrdom. There is that in human beings which, fired by grace, gives us the ability to make such amazing leaps of faith, life changing moments.

In the Letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28) the author, who spends a lot of time comparing the Jewish temple high priests unfavourably to Jesus, discusses what differentiates them from Jesus.  Clearly he was writing principally for Jewish-Christians in Rome who were under pressure to forsake Christ and return to full practice of Judaism. His point here is that the Temple they served was a man-made construction, whose entire purpose lay in the continual repetition of rites of animal sacrifice in a never ending cycle of sin and atonement, which by their very nature could never achieve their aim of making sinful human beings whole in their relationship with God. But the self-offering of Christ on the cross, he points out, was a unique event requiring no sequel of repetition; since Jesus has taken-on the sin of the entire world by the willing sacrifice of his own person. Jesus, unlike the Temple priests who operated in the temple, entered ‘heaven itself’, and, face to face with divinity as beloved Son gives the Father the only satisfactory offering, the one which makes him and through him us, wholly one with God. We have to think of two great leaps of faith here: that of Jesus who believed he was the Father’s ultimate gift to the world, and made that one and all important act of self-sacrifice; and of the recipients of the Letter, those, (like us) who are asked to make that leap of faith into the absurd, casting aside all that they had previously learnt of God through Judaism, and to launch out into the deep, following Jesus the missionary/healer/messiah, whose understanding of the God-human relationship was so radically different.

Our Reading from 1 Kings (17:10-16) helps us on that difficult journey by way of the story of Elijah and the pagan woman of Sidon. We note that the woman was not a Jew, but a pagan, so that the story stretches out to embrace foreigners – a leap into the unknown, someone despised by Jews. Clearly there was a famine, and people were dying, and the prophet himself was desperate; also he was in hiding, hunted by the king who had turned to paganism and was after his blood. My guess is that the woman herself was at the end of her tether, rather like the widow of the Gospel. Her gods had clearly failed her and she and her son were about to eat their last meal and die. Was the appearance of Elijah something of a shot in the dark, a last hope? Somehow he persuaded her to make that ‘leap of faith’, the one which paid off in her case, and did so for Elijah too; and out of this most unlikely of alliances came a great story of hope and trust that the God of Israel will not fail. Indeed, he has not through the long and difficult times in which he offers salvation to his people, to those who make that great leap out into the dark. I pray we too may follow in their footsteps.

 

Jesus prays for us eternally

The great commandment to love God that we heard in our 1st Reading today (Deut 6:2-6) and in our Gospel (Mark 12:28-34) must make us happy to belong to a people, the Christian people, who base our lives on love. But if we think about it, I expect it also makes us sad that we do not live up to our Christian calling. I try to love God with all my heart and mind and soul, but I fear that love of other things often creeps into my thoughts and prayers.  Jesus also says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48) But this is perhaps even more difficult, isn’t it? For trying to love people I do not like, who behave in horrible ways, is an immense challenge for all of us.

The question then is how can we ever become one with God who is perfect, how can we ever be drawn after death into heaven, if we fall so far short of the love God shows us? St Paul was certain that there was only one answer. He had begun life as a Pharisee, and the Pharisees believed that we could follow a series of rules and regulations that would make us perfect. But then Paul met Jesus, and became aware how far short he was from the glory of God. In his Letter to the Romans (7:24-25) he puts it like this, “Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?”; and another Christian, the writer of the Book of Revelation, (Rev 5:4) weeps bitterly that “No-one is worthy.” But then he is answered from heaven, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” ; and the Lamb of course is Jesus. He is the one who was slain, and so St Paul can say “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This is the heart of our Christian faith, that we cannot get to God alone, by our own efforts; but that we can get to God if we put our trust in Jesus and in his sacrificial love. But what does that mean? Do I just have to have a nice feeling of trust in my head, and that’s enough? Well yes it’s a start, but No it is not enough, for the Bible makes it clear that to be one with Jesus, we need to be linked to him in and through one another. Jesus doesn’t say “Just think about me and you will be OK”, he says “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt 18:20) and then just before he dies he gives his friends one special way of gathering in his name, when he has that Last Supper with them and says, as he give them the bread, “This is my body.. Do this in memory of me.” St Paul, in his Letter to the Corinthians, (11:25-27) says very firmly that this is what Christians must do, because “When you eat this bread ….. you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

So putting our trust in Jesus doesn’t just mean trusting in him by ourselves. We are linked to him, and thus to God, by belonging, by being members of his family, of his holy people. Now our 2nd Reading today (Hebrews 7:23-28) puts this in a rather different way, because in the Old Testament one of the main ways you belonged was by visiting the Temple in Jerusalem and asking the priests there to link you to God through their prayers and the sacrifices you offered through them. The problem with this, as the writer points out, is that priests aren’t perfect. They are humans like us. The answer is that God provides the one true priest – Jesus – who can lead us to heaven. So the writer says “It follows.., that his power to save is utterly certain, since he is living for ever to pray for all who come to God through him.”

We need to remember then how wonderful it is that Jesus is praying for us, for all of us, and that when we gather together to pray and to receive him in the bread that is his body, the priest who says the words of the prayers is not the one who is praying for us; for the one who is actually praying for us is Jesus, present with us. And Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, he is the one who has died for us, and he is the one who is alive for ever so that through him and with him and in him, we are drawn into the love of God which is eternal life with him for ever.  

Of course that doesn’t mean we can sit back and be horrid people. God needs and accepts our imperfect efforts to be good and loving, and uses them in the process of purifying us; but if we think these efforts alone get us to God then we’re in great danger. Why? Because we’re beginning to take pride in ourselves as good and holy Christians rather than accepting our limitations and putting our trust entirely in God and his grace.  Yes, we must try to love God and our neighbour with all our heart and soul and mind, but above all we must trust God to purify us, a process we call purgatory. It is God in and through Jesus who transforms our weak efforts to love into the perfect love by which we become one with him for ever. 

 

Not worldly but spiritual rewards

This is the first of four Homilies on how to read and interpret the Old Testament the way Jesus does. Why bother? Because sadly so many people think you can just take passages from the Old Testament to justify or condemn almost anything.

In today’s Reading from Wisdom (2:12.17-20) the author has the godless mocking the idea that if you are good and virtuous everything will come right in the end; but he does so to argue that this is true. He writes  “If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.” The problem is that at the time of Jesus most of his fellow Jews took this literally. They thought that the “enemies” were the Romans, and that one day if they were faithful and good God would somehow get rid of these oppressors and bring them freedom and glory now in this present life. Today there are still people who hold that view, who think that if you are good, then you will be happy and prosperous, and if you are not it must be because you are not faithful enough.

As Christians of course we do not read this passage like that. We know that the disciples on the road in our Gospel today (Mark 9:30-37) had got a similar wrong idea of the rewards of being good and holy and following Jesus. We know that because despite all he had already taught them, they argued about which of them was the greatest. We also know that they got this wrong right up to the arrest and execution of Jesus, seeing this as a failure of all their hopes and dreams. Yes, as the passage from Wisdom says, they knew that the virtuous might be tested, but they still hung on to the belief that it would all come right in the end.

They knew this from so much else in the Old Testament. They knew well the story of their people struggling in the wilderness for many years, because they knew that eventually they reached the promised land. They gloried in the time when their land was rich and prosperous under King David and King Solomon. They were taught from these writings that things gradually went wrong after that, because the people were not faithful; but they also knew that eventually after exile the Jewish people returned and rebuilt Jerusalem. So even though things under the Romans were not good, they were sure that one day, through the help of God, everything would be put right. Of course, this is still today the view of extreme Zionist Jews, who believe that the growth in the strength and prosperity of the State of Israel is a sign that this promised glory is now taking place, and that their “enemies” are thus being defeated.

Many of the Psalms that we sing can also be interpreted in this worldly way. We sang today “The Lord upholds my life.” – which understood literally does give the impression that although proud and ruthless men may rise against us, God will protect us. As Christians however we know that the help that God gives us against such enemies is what we would call spiritual rather than worldly. We know that the real “enemies” we face are not other human beings, but the evil spiritual powers that lead some people (and all of us a bit) to be selfish and cruel. So we do not support those who seek worldly success, and we would be wary of any Christian whose first aim was to make money and be powerful and successful, especially if he or she said their success was due to their faith in God!

This does not mean however that we Christians sit around allowing other people to walk all over us; or that because our final goal is a spiritual one, to be close to God for ever in heaven, we do not need to work to make money to feed our families and improve the world economy.  Yes, we do have a duty to build worldly prosperity now, but our reason for doing this is quite different. We do so because we are called by Jesus to care for the poor and the sick and the hungry. Jesus said, did he not, that in doing this we are actually serving him?  So we believe that part of the way we help the poor is by building a good and prosperous but caring society, not just in our own country but throughout the world.

So rich people can be Christians, but if they are, they will see their prosperity as something to be used for others rather than squandered on their own pleasures, and they will see the success of the businesses in which they have a share, or their employment of many people, not as a way of making more money for themselves, but as a way of improving the common good of all, so that no human being has to live in poverty or die of starvation on the streets.

 Today in the Gospel Jesus challenges the worldly view of success by putting a child in front of us and saying If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.”  Thus wrong views from the Old Testament are challenged, and a better vision of being human is proclaimed for us all.

It is very difficult to be like Jesus

It seems strange to me that people think that Jesus was gentle and mild. Again and again we hear of him expressing very strong views against those who had got things wrong in their lives.  Sure, some hypocritical holy people certainly deserved his attack on them, but today in our Gospel (8:27-35) Jesus turns on poor Peter, when he gets things wrong, with a fierce “Get behind me Satan” which must have been hard to take, to say the least! It’s a reminder to us that when we get things wrong, we too should expect to hear Jesus saying similar things to us. God forgives us, of course, but that doesn’t mean that he lets us off the hook, or fails to makes us feel it when we go wrong.

Now we all know that we are called to be like Jesus as much as that is possible, but this is an area where it is so easy to go too far, isn’t it? We stand up for ourselves, or for the faith, in as strong a way as we can, and then find we have gone over the top into a totally unnecessary abuse of the person we are challenging. Sadly some Christians do this most of the time, going into abuse mode over anyone they disagree with, and putting people off the Christian faith in the process. In response these people who have rejected Christianity then dismiss all Christians as stupid and ignorant, and so the abuse goes on.

Those of us who are reasonable people then tend to move in the opposite direction, fearful of being accused of bigotry, we retreat into a kind of woolly liberalism where we never challenge anybody or anything. We also do so because we have been sucked into a common 21st Century view (at least in Europe) that religion and God are essentially private things and that everyone is entitled to their own personal opinion that should never be challenged. But opinions usually lead to actions, and we therefore know deep down, I guess, that our main reason for not challenging people is our own fear that we might find that we become unpopular in the process.

Jesus, inspired by some great texts from his Bible, the Old Testament – not least today’s 1st Reading (Isaiah 50:5-9) where it says “I am untouched by the insults… I set my face like flint” – never worries about what people think of him. For him the truth is the truth, and that is all that matters. And this is something we must remember too. The way of life we promote as Christians, the ethical principles, the moral values, we stand for are not just Christian. We believe that such things are true for all humans whatever their beliefs, for all have been created by God;  so that although we may disagree at times where the line should be drawn, we must all agree that there is a line, that some actions are absolutely right and others absolutely wrong.

This is really the same point that James is making in our 2nd Reading, isn’t it?  (James 2:14-18) Faith by itself is just our private thoughts and beliefs about God and the world. Faith to be real, to be alive, has to lead to public actions of one kind or another. Just having holy thoughts in our heads, and quietly coming to church is simply not enough. All of us have to not only be Christians but attempt to act as Christians in everything we do or say;  and to proclaim that what we believe is not just relevant for us, but for every single person the world over.

How then can we work out the right path? Perhaps we should look at the athletes for a few pointers. They are fiercely dedicated to their own success, and they know that this means stretching themselves hard, and risking all in the hope of winning. But they all know that they may also lose. What marks the true athlete is being ready to fail as well as to win, and to use failure as a learning experience. This applies, of course, not only to our attempt to proclaim and to live by the moral values of God whatever the cost, but also to the whole of our lives.

Like an athlete, Christian lives must be lived riskily. We must push ourselves, and others around us, always towards something better, a fuller and better life for all human beings. We must accept that life will bring failures, and times of suffering, and that we must approach such times as positively as we can – to use modern jargon – to see such things as challenges rather than difficulties – to treat everything that happens to us as a learning experience – to set our face like flint and go on, ever upwards and onwards.

 This is why Peter is told off so fiercely. He wants the easy road where the Messiah is simply a figure that brings glory and happiness without any need to face suffering or death. We love Peter for being like us and getting it wrong – again – but our aim must be to become more like Jesus, for every day we are called to take up our cross

God responds when we reach out in faith

Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings :- The question our Readings for today raises is ‘What does God want of us?’

In our Gospel, (Mark 7:31-37) we have previously seen Jesus perform miracles and debate with the scribes and Pharisees. We have watched the hostility between him and them grow over different interpretations of the Jewish law. Scribes and Pharisees tended to adopt a rigorist approach to the exercise of the law, insisting that it be fulfilled in all its detail if one were to be considered righteous or right with God; in contradiction to Jesus’ teaching and practice in which he was prepared to sit light on the law in relation to the needs of the sick, dead, outcast and unacceptable. Jesus performed great miracles which astounded the ordinary people and attracted them to his ministry, yet increased the hostility of the watchers from Jerusalem.

By the time of our Gospel passage, we see that Jesus has demonstrated his increasing break with hard-line Judaism by reaching out to foreigners, considered so contaminating that one should avoid all unnecessary contact. He heals the daughter of a pagan Syrophoenician woman, and then quite deliberately traverses a large tract of pagan territory, Tyre, Sidon and then the Decapolis – the area of 10 Greco-Roman cities on the right bank of the Jordan – before returning to Galilee. Indeed the healing of the deaf-mute is itself ambiguous; is he a Galilean or a pagan? What is clearly recorded however is the enthusiasm of the crowd. ‘He has done all things well, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’. But Jesus had just previously quoted from Isaiah 29 in bitter condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, who ‘Honour me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me’, and accused them of preferring human traditions to God-given commandments, so that we can appreciate that the gulf between him and his enemies was growing ever wider. It appears that the most important thing is that people, any people, reach out to Jesus in need and faith, and when such circumstances arise he acts with his God-given power and authority to respond. Jesus does not force himself upon people, especially those of his own race, but waits for them to reach out as he is continually stretching out his hands to others.

This surely is what our first Reading from First Isaiah is about (Isa 35:4-7). Written during the Assyrian exile in the 8th century BC, this passage is redolent with the needs of the exiles. Large parts of this work (Isaiah Chapters 1-39) are the prophet’s haranguing of a faithless Israel, one who in his words played the whore, rejecting the God of Israel for pagan gods. The invasion and exile were therefore to be seen in Isaiah’s time as God’s just punishment of his wayward people; and in our passage we see that despite all that has gone wrong, in the end the nation is to be rescued by God. Significantly, the wrong-doers, the faithless of Israel, those who rejected Yahweh in favour of foreign gods, are spoken of as ill, infirm. Israel’s God is always forgiving and generous and responds to needs as his people in their distress call upon him. So the exiles are spoken of as blind, deaf, lame and dumb, all those awaiting rejuvenation, new birth in a land where ‘Water gushes in the desert and the scorched earth becomes a lake’. The impression given is of a completely new life granted to the healed/exiled in a newly restored and fertile land. It is a picture of the relationship between God and humanity, one of harmony and hope, of God and mankind in true relationship, recognising each other and calling upon each other. God as he is all powerful chooses to relate to us when we invite him into our lives. He will not come in hostility or uninvited, but as welcomed, needed and wanted.

This was a message the writer of James (2:1-5) was at pains to get over to the Christians he was addressing. We know nothing about this author, and scholars think the work is late, possibly even third century; but what is clear is his concern for the good and Christian functioning of the community. He is aware of the tendency of Christians to act just like their pagan colleagues and friends, judging fellow Christians in terms of their portable wealth, expressed in jewellery and fine clothes, and rejecting the poor and badly dressed and treating them according to the world’s standards and not those of Christ Jesus. The fact that we are all equally valued and precious to God quite regardless of who we are and how we appear outwardly, significant or not, is something we must all be alert to. I once recall a friend who answered the door at a monastery to a very shabbily dressed man and was very sharp with him. But the man persisted, ‘I am expected’, he said. ‘Well, who are you?’  ‘I am the Prior of Bec’ came the response.

Ordinary people are the best missionaries

When Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel today (Mark 6:7-13) not even to take spare clothes when they go out to try to share the faith with others, he is clearly not meaning them, or us, to take him literally. He exaggerates in order to press home an important point, just as when he says “If your hand offends.. cut it off.” He doesn’t mean it literally. So what is the important point he is making? 

The answer lies in a mistake many good people like you make in thinking that you aren’t clever enough, or well-trained enough, to share your faith with others. Too often I hear good Christians saying how they can never think of the right words to say, or that they don’t know enough, to be able to share their faith, and so they don’t attempt it. It reminds me of schools that think they are doing a good job at making young people into practising Christians if they teach them all about the Bible and the facts about the faith. In each case the mistake is to think that being a Christian is all about knowing enough facts. Now of course I’m not saying that facts are not important, but facts alone will never bring anyone to faith, because faith is about a relationship with God, with Jesus.

That’s why priests like me, and teachers, people who know a lot of facts, are not the best missionaries. We are good at teaching people more about the faith once they have started coming to church, or have started to be interested in Jesus, but you the ordinary people of the Church are much better at sharing the faith simply because you are just ordinary people. That’s why I always say to you to look out for that moment when someone asks you why you go to Church. When that happens it’s easy to play down your faith, precisely because you fear they may start asking you questions that you don’t know the answer to. Jesus often says “Do not be afraid” and in this context this means that you must not be afraid to show up your ignorance, and thus miss the opportunity to say. “I can’t explain much, but would you like to come with me to Church just to see what happens?”

Part of the reason this invitation to Church is so important is because we must no longer assume here in the UK that most people know what happens in Church, and especially what happens at a Catholic Mass. The power of the presence of God in a group of Christians singing and praying together is so much more effective than words or facts. The mystery of God’s special presence in the bread and wine is even more powerful, and we must never underestimate it. Getting people just to come and see is one of the most important things each one of you can do.

Our Gospel passage is backed up today by our 1st Reading, where Amos (7:12-15) actually glories in the fact that he is an ordinary shepherd and not a professional prophet. Indeed we all know only too well that it is often the professional – the priest – who puts people off going to Church. Quite often I meet people who tell me that Father So and So said this or did that 20 or 30 years ago and that they were so angry that they haven’t been to Church since. Your example of coming to Church to pray and to offer yourself to God despite the failings of us priests is the best way of all of teaching people that faith does not rely on the quality or otherwise of the man at the front. 

The message for us all today is also rammed home by our 2nd Reading (Eph 1:3-10) Listen to it, and apply it to yourself. “Before the world was made, God chose me, chose me in Christ… to praise the glory of his grace… He has let me know the mystery of his purpose.. that he would bring everything together under Christ. And it is in him that I was claimed as God’s own…chosen to be for his greater glory, part of the people who would put their hopes in Christ…  this brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised.”

So Jesus wants his missionaries, that’s all of you, not to rely on outward supports for your work as Christians, but simply to rely on God’s power, God’s grace, in other words God the Holy Spirit, working in you. Don’t underestimate yourself. Your simple words of encouragement, your sympathetic listening, your little acts of kindness, your invitation for someone to come with you to Church, or even to come with you to light a candle in church quietly, these are all things through which God can and does work.  We priests have a job to do to support you, but you are the front line troops. That’s why Mass always ends with the word “Go”. It does not mean “Go away”. It means Go and live out in your life what you have proclaimed here, and God will work within you.