1. Please note that Fr Martin’s Family Homily is usually posted here on the website after the 10:30 Mass on the First Sunday of the Month.
This tab has been added to provide a permanent home for the Family Homilies, where they can be referred to, and discussed, as part of our various parish educational programmes.
New homilies are planned to be monthly events – usually delivered on the First Sunday of the Month – as part of the Parish Family Mass, in which the children of the Parish play an active part.
The most recent is on top, and the older ones will be retained here for reference.
27th Sunday (Year B); 03 October 2021;
Gospel; Mark 10: 2-16
Today’s Gospel gives a special place to the vocation of childhood in the Christian life. The words of Jesus, in the second half of the passage we just heard, suggest that we adults need to recall some of the attributes of our childhood in living the life of faith. Our Lord’s way of putting it is especially helpful because his words unite our spiritual aspirations with our religious, political and social ones: when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven – the Kingdom of God – he is reconciling all these very different aspects of our lives, encouraging us to adopt a healthy childhood spirit in embracing them. This is catholic in the sense that it enlarges our human nature, encouraging us to embrace the universal (another word for ‘catholic’) so that we can even start to speak of a ‘human family’.
The first half of today’s Gospel is another matter, and it may even be omitted in some Masses so we can concentrate especially upon what Jesus has to say about childhood. We are all children of God. Why speak of sin and wrongdoing, adultery and divorce, when we can watch it all on TV? The answer is that we need to try and see our lives in the round, in order to celebrate the fullest sense of the salvation that Jesus brings to us. Deacon Tony has read out today’s Gospel in its entirety to show that Jesus does not mince his words in facing what we might call ‘adult material’ – those things from which, in fact, we might wish to shield our children. Many of us may have experienced broken families at a young age; and while Jesus shows abundantly that broken lives can be mended and healed, this isn’t always true of human relationships – although Jesus does indicate for us a very ‘special relationship’, his own Sonship, which can also be ours, and which will never be broken. That is:- our relationship to God, in Jesus Christ Our Lord.
In our understanding of today’s Gospel, it’s worth bearing in mind that Jesus doesn’t commend our children for being ‘innocent’. He does suggest that children have a special capacity for God’s Kingdom because of their lack of interest in questions such as those introduced by the Pharisees at the beginning of the Gospel passage. The direct answer that Jesus gives to those particular questioners is meant to take us right back to our first beginnings – beyond good and evil; before Adam and Eve – as a sort of corrective to an overly-moralistic approach exemplified by those Pharisees who were always arguing about points of law. Some of the greatest Saints have adopted an approach to life very close to what Jesus is showing us here.
Those of us who live together in families will perhaps remember that this is the time of the year at which we start putting together our annual First Holy Communion programme, both to give encouragement to our children and to promote the spirit of Christian childhood within ourselves, building upon a natural human tendency – at all ages – to give a warm welcome to what is good. The church continues to make that differentiation between young children who have ‘attained the age of reason’ (about the age of seven or so) and those even younger ones who sometimes have to be shown in particular ways those differences between right and wrong. From seven onwards – First Holy Communion age – children usually have a pretty clear awareness of that difference and may even find themselves in partnership with their parents in that connection! ‘A family that prays together stays together’.
In parallel with First Holy Communion, we’re also hoping to revive the Family Mass that used to be held on Sundays from time to time hopefully beginning at the end of this calendar year. Any help with these endeavours, whether from parents, grandparents or any others, would be very welcome! Let’s continue along the road that eventually leaves the current pandemic behind us, never ceasing to offer encouragement to those ‘new lives’ that Christians and even Catholics have always embraced from the time of their Baptism onwards.
Fr Martin started with three “Family Homilies” for the month of August 2021, focussed on Jesus’s teaching on “The Bread of Life”, as described in the Gospel of St John, Ch 6.
21st Sunday (Year B) – 22 August 2021
Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-18; Ephesians 5: 21-32; John 6: 60-69
The momentous words of Simon Peter in today’s Gospel mark an important turning-point in the earthly life of Jesus – the moment in which one of Our Lord’s disciples recognised who He was and resolved to follow Him through thick and through thin. Today’s readings help us to understand the significance of that choice and its importance as a choice in favour not only of God Himself but of our fellow men and women.
We heard in the Old Testament how Joshua presented a choice, of exactly that nature, to the Israelites at Shechem – the ones who’d come with him through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. In a moment of hopefulness, they all make that tremendous resolution – we will serve the Lord – in favour of God and in rejection of the alternatives enumerated by Joshua: instead of the gods of ancient Mesopotamia and of Canaan, the founders of Israel are to serve the One God, through a free choice based upon personal experience. Such too was the choice of Simon Peter when he opted for Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, at the heart of the Gospel.
Today’s second reading also helps us to see the nature of that choice in our own lives, even in our own homes and families, especially for those who are married and who experience different aspects of God’s love in the love of their chosen spouse. It’s true that St Paul seems to speak to us of a different world, in which relationships between men and women were generally different from the ones we’re inclined to recognise today. But St Paul speaks most essentially of the promise made through the lives of individual men and women who respond, then as now, to the love of God in their neighbour, in their partner. ‘Give way to one another in obedience to Christ’, he advises us: a perfect recipe not only for Christian marriage but also for the wider world in which we live today.
Such choices, made in a spirit of freedom, are turning-points in our lives, just as the words of Simon Peter mark a turning-point in the Gospel. Acceptance of God’s love – in Simon Peter’s case: acceptance of the Promise of Eternal Life – involves accepting that love, revealed in the life of Jesus, which is also at work in the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters – and of all ‘people of good will’ (as we sing in the Gloria at the beginning of Mass). We know in our hearts that Peter’s choice was the right one, even if flawed by human weakness: we don’t need to be reminded that Simon Peter was one of the disciples who ran away on the night of the betrayal of Jesus; and his understanding of Our Lord’s teaching can indeed be questioned – just as other disciples in today’s Gospel seem to question the teaching itself.
The verbal teaching of Jesus was every bit as challenging as the life he reveals to us in the Gospel. It was his teaching about the Bread of Life that many of his disciples found particularly difficult, as we heard in today’s passage. The choice of Simon Peter, on the other hand, takes us beyond Our Lord’s words about the Bread of Life and into the reality of the teaching revealed in His life, death and resurrection: Jesus is Bread of Life for quite a long journey – a journey into eternity, obscurely recognised by Simon Peter when he acclaimed the Message of Eternal Life, in response to his Master’s “Bread of Life” discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum.
Jesus is speaking to his disciples of the Life of Heaven – ‘What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?’ In our celebration of Mass today, we can aspire to speak the same language: Jesus, after all, is offering us his life, to be shared with our neighbour to the greater glory of God.
The Bread of Life is the essence of all that He has to offer.
19th Sunday (Year B) – 08 August 2021
I Kings 19: 4-6; Ephesians 5: 30 – 6: 2; John 6: 41-51
If we really listen to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, our ears attuned with the ones that first heard him speak of the Bread of Life, in the synagogue at Capernaum, I think we can perceive a great many eyebrows being raised. ‘How can he say “I have come down from heaven”’ when he’s known to be the son of Mary and Joseph? This is one of the questions being asked by those who hear Jesus speaking in that synagogue – not far from the village of Nazareth (his home town) where he was said to be ‘a prophet without honour’. Perhaps those were days in which children were meant to be seen and not heard!
Speaking as an adult, Jesus says ‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven’. And he makes a difference between the miraculous bread from heaven that nourished the Israelites for a time, on their journey through the wilderness, and the Bread of Life which he equates with the teaching of the Father, offered for the life of our world, here and now. We come to Mass in order to receive this Bread, this Teaching – and to learn from it, as Jesus says: ‘to hear the teaching of the Father, and to learn from it, is to come to Me’.
On the question of food, we know that – in many Catholic churches – if we’re feeling really hungry, it’s possible to go outside and find something to eat. We don’t come to church to have a meal in the ordinary sense – we are looking for something deeper. We know what Jesus means when he speaks of ‘food that endures to eternal life’: it is possible, at school for example, to acquire knowledge that will stand you in good stead for quite a future! As we get older, we might have our doubts about this; but Jesus shows us a life of faith through which we place our hope in divine and human qualities that have infinite and lasting value. Therefore, as he says: ‘Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever’.
In his concluding phrase from today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the Bread of Life as his own flesh, ‘given .. for the life of the world’. Just as the voice of Jesus comes from his body, so his Spirit comes from his flesh: St Paul suggests to us, in today’s second reading, that we are able to be friends with one another thanks to the Spirit of Jesus – as one with God Himself. This is the same Spirit that animated the prophet Elijah in his search for the living God; although his time in the wilderness was probably every bit as arduous as the desert journey of the Israelites, the angel showed him how to live on very simple and basic food so that his own journey would be fruitful in the end – not only for himself, but for all the people he was to serve through his prophecy.
Elijah was no ‘prophet without honour’: like Jesus, he had a journey to accomplish .. and he completed it so as to be a prophet for all his people. Jesus takes us further In his Bread of Life discourse, where he finds the words to prepare his closest disciples for that eternal life-journey, an earthly and heavenly pilgrimage which is the very theme of his own existence:- Jesus is able to speak of this, partly because of the special inspiration he enjoys, and partly because he is challenged by those who hear him, more or less imperfectly, in today’s Gospel. In this Mass, to use the words of Jesus himself, we too can celebrate the great journey that he undertook, living, dying and rising again ‘for the life of the world’.
18th Sunday of the Year – 01 August
Exodus 16: 2-4,12-15 Ephesians 4: 17,20-24 John 6: 24-35
Today’s Gospel describes what happened on the day after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Jesus and the disciples have crossed to the other side of the lake, and the crowds come after them, looking for Jesus who has made for Capernaum – a lakeside town not far from his home village of Nazareth. It’s at Capernaum that Jesus announces himself as the Bread of Life in a speech whose continuation we shall hear next Sunday.
In his Bread of Life discourse, Jesus builds upon his popularity with the crowds to speak God’s message to them in a new way. The message is one of nourishment: the very words of Jesus are like healthy food, offered for a world that is in great need of what he has to offer. Those who listen to him at Capernaum remember the story of the Bread from Heaven described in today’s first reading, when the Israelites were miraculously nourished in the desert on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. They also remember the miracle of the previous day, on the other side of the lake, when Jesus and the disciples fed such a large crowd who were in need of something to eat.
But more than once in today’s Gospel, Jesus issues a challenge to the memories of those who are listening to him. ‘Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life’. It’s true enough that most of us rely on food for our bodies every day of our lives; but when Jesus speaks of the Bread of Life, he’s introducing us to those vital qualities which enable us not only to appreciate our food in the first place – among so many other Gifts of God – but also to ensure that there’s enough to go round.
Remember all the leftovers after the Feeding of the Five Thousand! We know that in many parts of the world today, people are hungry and even dying because they lack sufficient food. This is often due to the fact that people like us have taken too much for ourselves, or haven’t paid enough attention to the needs of others – even after hearing the message of Jesus. The Bread of Life is a challenge to all of us, inciting us to live more generously and to share our good things with as many others as we possibly can.
Jesus speaks to us of Heavenly Bread that gives life for the world in which we live – and he develops this theme in the light of the ‘signs’ that have been shown to the people: healing miracles as well as the Feeding of 5,000 by Jesus together with his closest followers .. and miracle stories from the Old Testament such as the manna in the desert associated with the figure of Moses. Here again, Jesus challenges our understanding, teaching us how life unfolds in relation to the gifts of God who provides for His children: it was natural for the crowds to see Jesus as a miracle-worker; but the deepest truth is that Jesus only achieved what He did for us through his relationship with God the Father; and, when it comes to his teaching for our own journey through life, Jesus shows us how to work together, just as we pray together, for the gifts that endure, for the bread that feeds us for eternity, for the ‘spiritual revolution’ that St Paul writes about in his letter to the Ephesians.
The message of St Paul shows us how really we should listen to the words of Jesus in the light of His Gospel: the Bread of Life is about the sacrificial love of the Son of God for all mankind, in which we as Christians are fully implicated. We are truly called to work for eternity in the way we live our lives, offering each other the best Bread that is Jesus Himself – his life for others; his teaching for the world in which we live; the very life-journey through which he leads us to the Father.
It’s true enough that our own food keeps us alive day-by-day; but it’s only Jesus who has the capacity to renew our lives for tomorrow, the next day and the ‘day after’.