Fr Hugh’s Homily for Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are two Ben Hur films, both usually on the TV at Christmas and I much prefer the old one with Charlton Heston even if they say that if you watch the chariot race carefully you can see a red Fiat in the corner. But at one point he goes off to find his mother and daughter who have been exiled to the leper caves (his sister somehow still managing to look very beautiful), and much to their horror he goes in and carries his Mum to Jesus for healing. It is hard for us to imagine the fear that leprosy instilled in people. Today’s fear of Covid is nothing like the terror leprosy provoked in people. So any one showing symptoms was immediately chased out of the community. They rang bells as we know shouting, unclean, unclean, giving people time to avoid them. In the church at St. Michael’s-on-Wyre there is a leper’s squint in one corner where communion or simply food could be left for lepers to collect. This was and is nothing new. 500 years before Jesus, possibly more, the same instructions to leave the community are being given in the first reading, and for reasonable medical reasons at the time. So when the leper approaches Jesus, and he would still be kneeling at a distance, when he asks, ‘Do you want to heal me,’ it is not just about does Jesus want to but will he actually do it. Will he get close enough even if it makes him unclean and may infect him? ……
Fr Hugh’s Homily for Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Just typical, those men heal mother-in-law just so that she can get supper on the table.” That can be an immediate response to this gospel story. However let’s look at the whole picture. Concentrate on the last part for a moment. Jesus goes up to a lonely place to pray. Always a distant place, one where he can find some peace. What is prayer for him? We know from the number of times he does this that he cannot manage without it. The peace he finds gives him the opportunity to be at one with his Father. It is clear that this relationship is Jesus’ powerhouse. Just him and his Father together. This is him recharging his batteries. It gives him strength. After facing a sea of sickness, of poverty and worry, days of being with the mentally ill, as with any person, it takes its toll. More so because of his love for each of these people. Because of his understanding, his compassion for each, which the disciples don’t really understand as they are often happy to send people away, Jesus is very much alone in his compassion and connection with each person in the deepest sense…..
Fr Hugh’s Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exorcism is the heart of today’s gospel. The word ‘exorcism’ often gets people very excited, often people with no knowledge about it at all but are thrilled at the idea, perhaps after watching some Hollywood production as The Exorcist, or The Rite, or Possession. Some Christians have no problem with this these days, but for others it is hard to relate it to today. The way possession or illness is seen in the Bible is as the result of sin or the fact that it is the devil at work, which again many find difficult these days. When I was working with the homeless in St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London the old guys would often have fits as a result of drink or untreated problems. One of my fellow members of staff had been an evangelical Christian but became a Catholic, bringing with him many of his old ways (not that some Catholics would not have agreed with him). One day I found him praying over an old guy who had had a fit that the devil might leave him. As someone who has epilepsy I suddenly found this incredibly offensive and launched into the poor guy accordingly, though he was only doing what he thought would help and was right. And that is the problem with the gospel sometimes it can seem offensive….
Fr Hugh’s Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the 1690s Mary Wharton, a very young great heiress, was pulled out of her coach, abducted by a Scottish soldier and forcibly married. His defence was that as this was allowed in Scotland so he thought it was all right in England. Strangely that bit of his defence worked. But then aristocratic fathers got a bit fed up with daughters being carried off, so Lord Hardwick passed a law forbidding it in 1753, but it did not apply to Scotland hence Gretna Green and getting married over the anvil, which survived in a way until 1940. Of course for the aristocracy marriage did not have a lot to do with love, it was mainly about money and land, about possessions and possession. In his recent letter on St. Joseph, who is often called ‘chaste,’ Pope Francis redefines chastity. He calls it ‘freedom from possessiveness’ in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, free of possessiveness, is it really love. Then he goes on to say that this is how God loves us. He loves us but lets us be free even to go astray, and even to set ourselves against him. The Pope calls Joseph’s love just this, a loved of extraordinary freedom that never makes himself the centre of things….
Fr Hugh’s Homily for Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
We were on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and strolling through Nativity Square in Bethlehem and we came across a large group of people who were holding a demonstration in a very pleasant and well-ordered way. It was Pax Christi (the UK Christian Peace Association) and Pat Gaffney, the last chair, was in the centre of the group. They were there praying for peace in the Holy Land. Of all the things you might associate Bethlehem with throughout its history, peace is really not one of them, except for the angels declaration at Jesus’ birth. Every group has fought over it and to be honest though not as bad as the battles within the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the various Christian religious groups are not known for their peaceful living together. But looking around Bethlehem that day, sitting outside the cafes, Muslim and Christian women and men, some of the women veiled some not, were sitting together enjoying a drink of some sort and more importantly a chat. So in Bethlehem you have a town, surrounded by walls to keep people in, erected by people who might hate you, walls that are born of violence, but within the town you find certain little oases of peace. People of different religious faiths living together. Not without problems, but able to talk….
Fr Hugh’s Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Walking through the National Gallery in London, as you turn into one room you are hit by the sight on the far wall of Piero della Francesca’s painting of Jesus’ baptism. It hangs alone, and though no one is looking out of the picture, directly at you, it seems to draw you to it. Remember that these artists were working for churches and Catholic leaders of society, and the painting had to hold a message, a gospel message. Just like a gospel, the painting was trying to teach the viewer about Jesus, if only because so many of the public could not read. Jesus stands in the middle of the painting, John the Baptist to one side. Three angels are on the left, introducing us to the fact that God is directly involved here. Behind the two human figures is another young man, taking off his clothes, getting ready to be baptised. Showing us that Jesus was one among many…..
Fr Hugh’s Homily for Second Sunday after Christmas
A great friend of mine used to love the King James Version of the Bible, and today’s Gospel especially, the Prologue. It was more than the theology or the meaning, there was something about the language that he just loved listening to. He felt that God was speaking to him though the beauty of the language. This is the legacy to us of the translators at the beginning of the 17th century when King James asked for a new translation that would be fit for a new Britain, a new English-speaking people, and for what he saw as a new start for Christianity in Britain too. Some people would say that the result was more than just translation, but in its own way inspired, along with Shakespeare’s writing at about the same time, to create a new English. But most of all for the translators to renew people’s relationship with God. To build a personal relationship with God through the Bible they could read and enjoy….
Reposing, infant-like, as though… Young couples have to consider redefining their lifestyles when a baby comes. They want the baby to be brought up with the best they can offer, by being the best people they can be. The birth of a child can bring out the best in any parent. This is precisely what God has done for us through the birth of His Son. With Jesus’ birth, our humanity is made sacred. He has called us from living self-centred lives to living lives of compassion, peace and joy. Jesus has transformed humanity, making humanity as He is: sacred. Jesus’ birth ‘turns the world upside down’ it brings out the best in each of us when we accept and celebrate it in faith and love. The presence of a baby can re-form the self-centred into the self-less. A baby calls his or her parents into a new holiness. On the feast of the Holy Family we pray that we all may hear the cries of the Infant Jesus, calling us to reverence His presence in our own and in others’ humanity. And hear too His call to the holiness that is the heart of the Catholic family. Thus making the family the very building block of society. …On Joseph’s arms, on Mary’s knee!
One of the worst scenes in a film ever, is in the film ‘David’ where Richard Gere (of Pretty Woman fame), in a loin cloth, is dancing as King David in front of the ark of the Lord as it enters Jerusalem. If Richard felt humbled by the critics’ response then he got it right as that was exactly what King David was going for in real life. King David succeeded so well that his wife Michal scolded him for embarrassing her in front of everyone by his dancing, (not the first husband nor the last to be told this), for which he promptly told her he would no longer need her as a wife, (not the usual response today fortunately). As the Bible says, she had no children from then on. King David was not good at humility, (known for pinching his general’s wife, Bathsheba, and then getting the general conveniently bumped off). But when it came to God, and when God reminded him, he invariably did get it right. Perhaps this makes David one of the most human of the Old Testament characters. Today he is nicely ensconced in his new home, and, perhaps not even meaning to be condescending, he says to God, ‘Let me build you a nice home too, like mine.’ God, through the Prophet Nathan, promptly reminds David that he used to be just a small town shepherd boy and it was God who got him to where he is today. Even so, God loves David and has plans for his future. A future which involves God’s own Son, Jesus….