Fourteenth Sunday

You probably recognize the image Zechariah is giving us in the first reading today as it is the scripture quotation that both Matthew and John use to describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Over Easter I read a book in which the writer contrasts this humble, simple arrival through the eastern gate with the arrival of Pilate at the selfsame time, from the West, in all his force and aggression. Pilate would have been coming to stay in the city over the Passover so as to insure the oppressed stayed oppressed whilst Jesus was coming to do the exact opposite, to set them free. The writer declared that he saw Jesus’ entry as a direct challenge to the action of the Romans.

When I come to reflect and live Palm Sunday next year, hopefully with a gathered multitude of course, it will surely be in the back of my mind. It is, after all, what Jesus does. He challenges and makes us think and look at our own efforts. We all, in some way, shape or form, have influence, authority, power over others; whether this be in intimate relationships, in work situations or in wider society. How do I express this authority, how do I exercise my ‘power’? In Zechariah, the authority of the king will be expressed not in fist and force, no chariots or bows of war but in the open hand, stretched out to heal and enable.

This is same unexpected situation is shown in the Gospel. Yokes are symbols of hard gruelling work. They are worn so as to ease the carrying of heavy burdens or to spread the pull of machinery as it is dragged behind us. They represent effort, sweat and pain. Fight against them and they continue to bite and wound and scrape and damage but once these burdens are accepted they begin to mould around the shoulders and neck of the bearer. It does not make the weight lighter, it simply makes the effort less painful. Rebel and fight and they grind and bite but accept the burden and at least it becomes less painful, more bearable.

This, I suppose, is what oppressed people have had to endure always. This, I would imagine, is where the whole BLM demonstrations have come from; the feeling of oppression and not being listened to and being overlooked and being disrespected. A yoke which is unfair and cruel, even when it moulds to your shoulder is a continual reminder of your oppression. Pulling a yoke through your own soil, to scatter your own crops, burdensome and difficult though it may be, is worth the sweat and pain; dragging a yoke through someone else’s soil because they ordered you to, and from which you may gain no benefit whatsoever, will never make that yoke anything but a weight of demoralization.

So, when Jesus declares that the yoke He will lay on our shoulders is easy, His listeners, an oppressed and belittled people, would have thought either He was mad or He was saying something mind-blowingly wonderful. When He promises that His burden is light, the contradiction inherent in the oxymoron of burden and light would have made them stop to listen. Most of us will never have seriously worked with a yoke; most of us will very rarely, if ever, have had to heave a mighty blade through unforgiving land. (although my wielding of the mattock, as I sought to initially clear the Secret Garden 5 years ago, gave me blisters and aches aplenty). Nevertheless the image can still speak to us.

Down the centuries those in authority both in Church and state have sometimes resorted to declaring that people should be satisfied and accept their position in society etc etc. This was a way of ‘keeping people in their place’. Interestingly, when I studied ‘Macbeth’ at School my English teacher, Mr Flint of blessed memory, pointed out that Macbeth was criticized in the play for ambition, for not being satisfied with his state. This was the error and demerit from which all the horror came. Ambition, the desire to be better and to do better and to achieve is now seen as a good thing but in previous times not so much. Power would say ‘Where you are is where God intended you to be’. This was the yoke which bore people down.

Christ does not see us like this, He sees no-one in this way.  Society and history and opportunity may lay all sorts of yokes and burdens on me; some of which it is right to fight against and seek to throw off, some may be of my own making and some, if I look at them with an open mind, may be ones I can see that will help and encourage me along the way but Christ’s…His is a quite different one.

Think back though the Lord’s life. His way of leadership is to show and go before and not expect another to do anything He would or could not do. When and where did you see the Lord dragging something behind Him, where was He heading, for whom was He doing that work ?

The Yoke He lays upon me and upon you is love. If it is the answer to every question it is a useful yoke indeed. If I rebel and fight against it, it will never settle on my shoulder and mould to my outline but if I seek to accept it then, over the years, it will get better and I will, with His grace, be working not just for my good but for all good.

The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the two titans of the Church. I say titans, not through their own merits, but by responding to their call to serve God in a way that helped the Good News spread throughout the world in their day and, in fact, they continue this work still today. Both men were capable of the most profound, eloquent, and beautiful witness to Christ, and yet despite this, they were flawed men. We know this because we hear from them, or about them, nearly every week in readings. Scripture, in many ways, lays them bare.

          However, I believe that these two men are icons of hope. Hope to you and me, hope that manifests itself in the mercy, compassion and love of God.

          Peter seemed to spend half his time getting it right and the other half getting it gloriously wrong, summed up perfectly by todays Gospel. What insight and courage it must have taken to utter the words, “You are the Christ”! How his heart must have been pounding, compelled to speak the words, words that he perhaps didn’t understand. Surely, there must have been a part of him that was worried that he’d misunderstood and was wide of the mark, preparing himself for verbal retribution. But, on this occasion his insight was from a higher power, chosen to receive it to enable him to do the work that was set for him. His heart must have leapt when Jesus confirmed his words and gifted him His Church.

          And yet, shortly after this Peter is rebuked as Satan for trying to tempt Jesus, which is what it amounted to. Of course, there are many other examples of Peter’s failings, not least of which is the threefold denial of Christ at the start of His Passion. But I think the picture of Peter that we are left with is of a man, a simple fisherman, who had all the human traits that we understand, because we have them, and yet he was given the gift of faith in its fullness. And it is this combination of human frailty interspersed with God given insight that, I believe, makes Peter an icon of hope.

          Paul is a slightly different proposition. Peter is sometimes viewed as ‘fiery’, but Paul makes him look tame. Here we have a man who committed heinous crimes against the early followers of Christ. Paul had blood on his hands. Throughout Scripture, Paul comes across as an opinionated, argumentative man who could be difficult to get on with, even taking Peter to task when he thought that Peter was setting the wrong example.

But…what utter beauty Paul was capable of. His Hymn of love in 1 Corinthians is poetry that exceeds all poetry and his faith in Christ exceeds all faith. Why do I say that? Because he had an absolute belief that, despite his terrible sins, he would receive God’s forgiveness. This is evident on many occasions, including today’s reading from his second letter to Timothy; “I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me…”.

          Paul was certain of God’s mercy, no doubt fuelled by his encounter with the Glorified Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul also, by virtue in a large part to his Damascene encounter, is an icon of hope.

          I’m talking about icons of hope, but what do I mean by that? It just struck me that often, we can look at people who are just too perfect to find inspiration in because we know that we can’t aspire to be as good as they are (for ‘we’, read ‘I’). It could be an artist, a musician, a frustratingly brilliant work colleague or competitor, a ‘holy’ person. But not so with Peter and Paul. For all their ‘titan’ status, they are eminently inspiring for two reasons. Firstly, because their ‘oh so human’ failings are on display for all to see, failings that we relate to because we too fail. But secondly, because despite this, they have allowed God to work in their lives. They have opened themselves up to God’s will for them, and in so doing, have given witness to God’s compassion, his understanding of human nature, his mercy, and, most of all, his love for his people.

          Yes, Peter and Paul are titans, but we too can be titans, despite our past, present, and future failings, despite our unworthiness, if we follow their inspiration. Because we too can open ourselves to God’s will for us. We too can give witness to his mercy, compassion, and love for all people. And, believe it or not, we too can inspire others by allowing God to work through us, just as Peter and Paul did. This is the enduring legacy of Saints Peter and Paul.

God Bless you all…Deacon Anthony

Church Times in the Deanery

With the relaxing of lockdown it has enabled those Churches which are ready and able to open for private prayer until we are able to worship publicly together. We continue to pray for all those who are struggling with illness and isolation and all those who are working so hard for our safety and healing. Below are the Churches in our area who have opened with the times that we have been given. For any other Churches it is probably best to contact their office directly.

Our Lady and St Patrick. Teignmouth. Mon-Fri 10am-2pm

St Joseph’s , Newton Abbot. Daily. 10-12; Thurs Evening. 6-8pm

St Gregory’s, Kingskerswell. Mon and Fri. 4-6pm

Our Lady, Help of Christians and St Denis, St Marychurch Daily. 11-1pm; 5-6pm

Assumption of Our Lady, Abbey Rd. Daily. 11-1pm; 5-6pm

Sacred Heart and St Therese of the Child Jesus, Paignton. Daily 2-4pm

Twelth Sunday Homily

Lockdown hair would seem to be quite an advantage in this week’s Gospel, well so long as the length of the hairs counted matters and perhaps, for those whom have not dared dye their own, the colour does not.(I am thinking of ‘what has been covered, will now be uncovered and everything now hidden will be made clear’!!). However, on a more serious note, with the image of ‘hairs being counted’ the Lord is declaring something rather lovely if challenging to accept. That God, our Father, knows us through and through and loves us still.

The American evangelist, Philip Yancey once wrote a lovely aphorism

‘There is nothing you can do that will make God love you anymore and there is nothing you can that will make God love you any less’.

This is, when you stop to think about it, quite simply mind-blowing. Whatever I do or don’t do, this doesn’t alter God’s feelings for me because He knows all of me.  He knows the ‘stuff’ which I keep hidden and closeted away, perhaps from myself but certainly from others. I want to be liked or admired or respected and I am afraid that others would not if they ‘knew what I was really like’. In this Gospel, He is declaring there is nothing in you I don’t know or see or read and I still think you were worth dying for.

That makes no sense to our way of thinking. I grow to love people as i grow to know them. Random acts of kindness or care or generosity deepens the love and appreciation and, conversely, acts of cruelty, insensitivity and selfishness can damage or harm the relationship. Not so with God. He loves me, in spite of my crassness, my stupidity, my lack of goodness.

When i really understand this, at that moment perhaps, I want to be worthy of it. As we say time and time again, I can’t be, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to be better, and it’s that yearning which leads me on. That yearning comes from God. The Holy Spirit at work, pulling me into the mystery, embrace, wonder of the Godhead and really, that is what Paul is speaking of in the Romans passage today.

This entry into the relationship of Divine Life had never been available before the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. That is why He is the new Adam. He is not another Adam, but the New Adam. The obedience or lack of, fidelity or lack of, these are our battles but they are not THE battle. That has already been won by Jesus on the Cross. My main battle is with myself – can I accept the generosity of God ? Am I able to put aside all my strivings and successes and achievements (or lack thereof) in the spiritual life, which are as nothing, and accept that Jesus has done it all for me ? I can still strive to be more open to God and others of course; I still can seek wisdom and a deeper readiness to listen and respond to Him but that is not the central act of a Christian.

The central act is to accept the ‘abundant free gift’.

It is abundant – bottomless, endless, overflowing.

It is free – I do not need to buy or earn it, indeed it is impossible for me to do so because it comes from the very essence of God – it is his unearnable, unfathomable forgiveness.

It is gift – All we need do is accept it and then having accepted it seek ways to share it.

‘What we hear in whispers’, (Eugene Boylan’s ‘Tremendous Lover’ telling how He loves us) we are asked to ‘proclaim from the house tops’.

I suppose if I could only fully grasp the wonder of this ridiculously undeserved and, on the part of God, shameless love – wouldn’t I want to shout about it ?

ps. Any spelling mistakes I blame on the cat who again draped herself over my typing arm which meant I had to type one handed and with my left hand at that. Goodness only knows what would have happened had I been writing it longhand, although maybe some of you might feel it would be more legible left handed.

Church Re-opening

As you will have all been made aware in the past few days, the Government has given permission for Churches to re-open for private prayer from June 15th if all necessary preparations have been carried out, due care and attention has been paid to ensure people using the Church would be safe, and that suitable social distancing has been put in place.

Each Diocese is asking parishes to send back a checklist form in which clear guidelines are given for the cleaning, maintaining and stewarding of each Church that opens. On receiving this form, the Diocese, if it is satisfied, will give permission for the Church to open. Here in All Saints, we are waiting permission to open Our Lady and St Patrick’s and hope to be able to do so later this week for restricted hours. Further information will be provided as soon as possible.

Thank you for both your patience and understanding at this strange time.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

When thinking on the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind, I wonder. For many, it could be a vision of a barrier with a sign that reads, ‘beyond this point is mystery!’. Corpus Christi conjures up all sorts of theological concepts, intellectualism and dogma which can seem so challenging that we might easily glaze over. To engage with this might seem daunting, but there is another side to Corpus Christi, a human side, and it’s this side that I’d like to spend a moment exploring.

Our first reading today is a reading of remembrance, recalling events that have passed. It recalls how the rebellious chosen people had been treated by God in the desert. How he had cared for them, fed and watered them through miraculous means, manna from heaven and water from the rock. There is, however, a purpose for remembering these events. Because intertwined in the words of Moses is a message of hope, encouragement, thanksgiving, and above all a reminder that God is with them. As such, it makes the past present. It’s reminding people that God hasn’t abandoned them, he is still present in their lives and in history. ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord’. This is a statement of intent, of ongoing love and care, despite their waywardness and rebellion, they were loved then, and they are loved now.

Paul sheds light on who these wayward and rebellious people are in our second reading…us! He talks of our share in the one loaf due to our communion with, and as, the Body of Christ, and as such, we share in the same call as did the remnant of Israel. Make no mistake, we are descended from those who wandered in the desert, brothers and sisters in faith. This honour was won for us by the immolation of Christ’s body and the spilling of his blood and as such, Moses is speaking also to us. His words of memory, of hope, of encouragement and thanksgiving are for us also. As too is God’s statement of intent…we are loved.

This statement of intent is beautifully elaborated by our Lord himself in our Gospel. As he was trying to share his message of hope, how he must have rolled his eyes when challenged literally. Unphased, he goes on to deliver one of the most love fuelled passages in the whole of Scripture; ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him’. This is his promise to be with us always.

I suppose that what I’m getting at here, is that Corpus Christi has two sides; the heavy, theological, dogmatic, but ultimately mystery side, and the human side. Because there is always a human side…always. This is because God’s story is our story. God’s story is about us. Whenever we read Scripture, we are reading a life story about God’s people, us, and that is why it speaks to us so deeply today. But not only to us, also to all those who have gone before, and to all those who will came after, and as such, we are joined to them in a real, tangible way. When Moses speaks, he is speaking to us. When Paul speaks, he is speaking to us. When Christ speaks, he is speaking to us. The past becomes present and future because Christ is alive. He lives in our hearts, he lives in our community, he lives in our Sacraments, he lives in our Eucharist.

He is truly with us and always will be.

God Bless you all…Deacon Anthony

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

What is the Name of God? In the Ancient World, there were oodles to choose from. Some were very short, some were very long, some sounded mysterious, some elegant and beautiful; some frightening and cruel, some humourous. Whatever they were, they were names. These named gods would be called, pleaded with, begged, cajoled and bribed. The God of Israel, on the other hand, had no name, or at least not one known to the people. To know a name, was to have power over the named or it was a sign that you were superior; (look at how many times God changes the name of a person so as to symbolize their new vocation or a change of direction in their life).

 When Moses asks the Name of God, before the burning bush, the Lord’s response is not one of anger or fury but mystery. I am. That is all Moses needs to know at that time. He simply needs to realize that God is, God is being, God exists. God is the basis, the fount, the purpose, the means and the end of all things.

In our first reading today, Moses calls on God’s name a second time and this time God says a bit more. He calls himself, ‘Tenderness, compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness’. If, previously, He made clear He was the fount of all that is, here He shows how this is most perfectly lived out. That is a name to be proud of and, perhaps, not one we would be able to live up to. Yet God shows that this is His name by the way He responds to the Israelites.

This part of our reading records what happens just after the Israelites had turned away and betrayed His trust in them. They had moulded the Golden Calf and had begun its worship. They had replaced the God from whom all life comes and had decided to seek out a god they could control and worship as they wanted.

God had been declared as a jealous God, one who would punish any who disobeyed. Here, the Israelites have done so dramatically and yet the Lord does not respond with destruction, anger or rejection but love, patience and forgiveness. No wonder the Israelites find their wilderness experience such a life-changing, indeed history-changing, time. They were blended not only into a people but into a people who were intimately and everlastingly caught up in a relationship with a God who loves, hoping for love in return but not in the expectation or demand of it.

This love, given without condition, is expressed even more amazingly in the person of Jesus. Sent into the world, not to condemn or put it on trial or catch it out but so as to enable it to encounter, once again, this God who loves. Without measure, without demand, Jesus expresses the perfect love of the Father, communicated clearly on the Cross. Whilst dying, He invites, He forgives, He heals and He brings into relationship. He speaks not one word of anger, revenge, hate or rejection. In His words from the Cross, He takes the Name of God and makes it clear it is His own not by calling Himself by it, but by putting it into practice.

In Christ, God the Father is well pleased, and Christ wants nothing more than to enable the Father’s will. What is that will ? That all the world might be saved? How can this be brought about? By the simple matter of ‘believing in the Name of God’s only Son’.

For humanity to be saved it, it’s all in that Name. Tenderness, Compassion, Kindness and Faithfulness. Can you believe in a God who is called this ? If you can, what does this demand of you?

Leap forward 50 days or so from the horror of the Cross and His ragtag team of cowards and deserters, hiding in a locked room, are graced with the same Name, bestowed on them by God breathing His power and warmth and transformation. Suddenly these frightened men and women become proclaimers of the Name not by their words but their actions. Persecuted and beaten and humiliated and killed, they do not speak words of hate but of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Stephen, the first martyr, echoes Jesus’ own  words at his death ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’. He spoke this, we are told, in the power of the Holy Spirit. God drawing Stephen up into the very communication of God Himself.

This is what we are invited into, the communion with God and with each other. God is the source of everything, God is the destination for everything and God is the means of getting there. We may find it hard to believe in a God who is kind, forgiving, compassionate and patient because we struggle to live them out ourselves but the history of humanity’s relationship with God is full of our mistakes, our doubts, our betrayals and yet running alongside is His healing, His belief in us, His fidelity. Thank God for God, that’s what I say.

Pentecost

This Pentecost Sunday is a strange day, even stranger than our present usual strange days. This is because our readings are full of gatherings, something denied to us at this time; the gathering of many people to hear the Word of God in their own tongue, the gathering each of us as the Body of Christ, and the gathering of the disciples in a room to witness the Risen Lord. The excitement of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enthusing us into action, seems slightly ironic at this time when we are dispersed, unable to gather together and witness to this monumental event to the world.

Or can we?

Another irony that is not lost on me is that only two weeks ago I talked about God being found in the ‘gentle breeze’ and how we can witness to our faith through the strength of gentleness. And yet today, we hear of God’s presence in a ‘powerful wind’ and ‘tongues of fire’, a presence so significant that the noise attracted a great assembly. So clearly God can work through the powerful wind and the gentle breeze. It might be tempting to think that this could be considered contradictory in nature, but our second reading, I think, puts this into perspective.

The image of the ‘Body of Christ’ is so powerful because it’s easy to understand. We can all grasp the concept that a nose can smell, an ear can hear etc., so as a teaching aide, it’s an easy entry into collaboration, cooperation, and being open to recognise the skills of others…especially skills that we ourselves might not have. This is one of the supreme strengths of the Church. We have the humility to understand that others can do things better than we can. But on the other hand, we also recognise that we too have skills that others don’t. From there, it’s a short step to recognising that if we get together, free from envy and self-interest, then, as a body, there is nothing we can’t achieve.

Accepting this opens the door to discernment; what skill do I have, how is the Lord calling me to use that skill? Now I know that humility prevents some people from accepting that they have a skill…but you do! If you want to know what it is, then to find out is supremely simple…ask someone. It’s that easy. The answer might not be what you expect. It could perhaps confirm a deep-felt suspicion, or it might be something totally surprising. Whichever; you have a skill.

And how we use those skills is where the wind of the Spirit comes in. You might, for example, need the powerful wind if you are Called to be an apologist, an activist, even a missionary. This might help you, as an individual, to make the most of your skills in a turbulent and hostile world. But you might need the gentle breeze if your skill is prayer, accompanying the lonely, the dying, and the elderly. Of course, we need both at times, but the Body of Christ allows us to be both ministers and to accept ministry from others.

In short, the strongest of ministries and the gentlest of ministries are a tension that is vital to the mission of the Church. Jesus says in our Gospel, ‘Peace be with you’, and then shows the disciples the wounds in his hands and his side; signs, perhaps, of both the gentle breeze and the powerful wind working as one.

What I’m saying is that we are the Church. We are part of the Body of Christ, each using our own personal skills for each other, the glory of the Kingdom, and the glory of God’s name. And that, of course, spills over into the world. We are not a ‘clique’, a private members club or an exclusive gathering of ‘pious’ people. No, far from it, we are a fallen people, redeemed by God, and recognise that this gift is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, creed and anything else…we welcome all people, everywhere.

That is the Spirit of Pentecost in action. We might be separated by distance, unable to meet together, but we are united in the Spirit. We are one in the Body of Christ and it is this oneness, even in isolation, that binds us together.

So, whatever you’re doing in isolation, however you’re expressing your faith…keep doing it. Do it in the knowledge that others are doing what you can’t and that you are doing what others can’t. And do it also in the knowledge that what you’re doing, no matter how small or private, will still, somehow, spill over into the world. That is the nature of the Spirit working in us, the Spirit of Pentecost.

God bless you all.

Deacon Anthony

Ascension

I will be preaching tomorrow so I thought I would share a poem for Ascension.

No shouts of joy were heard on Olivet.

No trumpets fanfared Risen One’s adieu.

His friends stood trembling, wondering where He was,

And rushed in terror, locked and barred the door.

Ascension Day in context, loss not joy;

No triumph issued from this bruised elect.

Their hopes stood dashed; and rudderless, adrift,

They felt bereft, a horrored disconnect.

If Triumph, trumpet blast or joyous shout,

Is heard at all this day, it issues down.

God sees what lies ahead but knows the grief,

At present, of these frightened fisherman.

The ever wounded One unlocks the gate

And enters, in His robes of Victimhood.

The ring, the sandal, that He set aside,

Are now returned, washed in His martyr’s blood.

The chorus gathers volume. Rank on rank

The choirs proclaim His rising from the tomb.

They carol out the Song with which, in time,

The Holy Spirit’s power will flood a room.

Laudato Si

Laudato Si’ Week 5th Anniversary – 16-24 May 2020

This year is the 5th Anniversary of Laudato Si’. Laudato Si’ tells us that “everything is connected” and tragically, the current health catastrophe has much in common with the ecological catastrophe. Both are global emergencies that will affect many people, both directly and indirectly. Despite the current situation, there are still lots of ways we can take action to mark this anniversary, sharing the common prayer and celebrating what we have achieved in our homes, schools and parishes.

CAFOD and Caritas Plymouth have produced a summary of resources for anyone interested in exploring further the message of Laudato Si’.  A note will be posted on the Plymouth Diocese website next week.  During the week itself we will be sharing reflections and examples of how our Diocese is taking action via our Diocesan Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/plymouthdiocese/  Please let Deborah know if your parish would like to share anything caritas@prcdtr.org.uk.