Bishop to step down
Posted on the 3rd September 2021 in the category Announcements
3rd September 2021
St Gregory the Great
Bishop Jonathan Goodall’s decision to step down after eight years as Bishop of Ebbsfleet was announced in a statement by Lambeth Palace this morning.
“I have arrived at the decision to step down as Bishop of Ebbsfleet, in order to be received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, only after a long period of prayer, which has been among the most testing periods of my life.
“Life in the communion of the Church of England has shaped and nourished my discipleship as a Catholic Christian for many decades. This is where I first received – and for half my life have ministered, as priest and bishop – the sacramental grace of Christian life and faith. I shall always treasure this and be thankful for it.
“I trust you all to believe that I have made my decision as a way of saying yes to God’s present call and invitation, and not of saying no to what I have known and experienced in the Church of England, to which I owe such a deep debt.
“I am abidingly grateful to all who have so generously supported Sarah and me in these years, especially the laity and clergy of the See of Ebbsfleet – who have been the focus and joy of my ministry and devotion since becoming bishop in 2013. It has been an immense privilege. I look forward to serving the Church in the future in whatever way I may be called to do.
Bishop Jonathan’s ministry in the Church of England will cease on 8 September. The Archbishop of Canterbury is responsible for carrying forward the appointment of his successor.
Gospel and Homily - 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Posted on the 18th July 2021 in the category Resources
Mass with Confirmation,
as given at the Abbey Church of St Mary, Nuneaton
18 July 2021
St Mark 6.30—34
30The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
34When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.
Dear brothers and sisters, dear candidates, today the Church’s thoughts are taken once again to one of the strongest themes of the scriptures – that God is himself the shepherd of humanity. It is an image of life, of protection, of intimacy, and of guidance to good pastures where we can be nourished and rest. He doesn’t want us to be vulnerable, separated from others, lost or perishing, but instead to reach, together, the destination of our journey with Him which is the fullness of life itself.
Today’s gospel spotlights just one particular facet of this ever-present biblical image. Jesus presents himself as the shepherd not of one lost sheep, but of a whole lost flock – the lost flock of the House of Israel. We’re in one of the many crowd scenes in the gospel, where Jesus is often moved and often performs a miracle, and indeed this passage immediately precedes the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus is captivated by the sudden appearance of the crowd; and (St Mark tells us) ‘He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’ (v.34) This biblical phrase ‘sheep without a shepherd’ was much more than a quaint sweetie-box image for an directionless group of people (see Num 27.12; Ez 34.5). It conjures up the whole history and destiny of ancient Israel. God was shepherd of His people; in the face of the many fragmenting pressures of Israel’s history he kept the various tribes as one flock. It was He Who led them forward, physically, morally, spiritually. But God also had deputies – religious and political leaders who shared the responsibility. They often failed. And the implication is that Jesus’s heart goes out to them. He’d been heading for a place of retreat, but He had been pursued by hungry, excited, leaderless crowd of God’s own people. What God feels in times when the leaders of His people had simply failed to give guidance and to keep the flock together in the face of history, Jesus himself felt now. He is now in God’s place; obliged by His own compassion (see Lk 19.10) to bring these people back to safety through the Father’s mercy, teaching and healing.
The instinct of our own age—and it is in itself a good instinct—has been to see in Jesus a friend of mankind, a man who understood and wherever possible helped people in their sufferings. That image of Christ has motivated many of the strongest currents of service, of witness and social engagement in the contemporary Church; and it is a powerful witness, which has inspired many in wider society and the international community. Rightly our hearts go out to people in their distress and need, at home and overseas; we want to see real justice and equity.
But Jesus is not just a figure of vast charity with a boundless heart, and a seemingly endless readiness to meet people at the lowest point of their need and help them up. Christ’s heart is not simply large and strong and passionate, wanting to eradicate the evils that beset human beings. The heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd—that is the Sacred Heart of God—is for ever a heart pierced on the cross; and He learned wisdom at the knee of a mother whose soul was also pierced by the Love for the world that had embodied itself in her son. This sign should make us think a little deeper that we are used to about how Jesus reacts to the needs of lost humanity.
Jesus is no social reformer. He certainly addresses the causes of individual pain and need; but His aim there is to build on faith, not primarily to lessen or remove suffering. But He doesn’t propose a programme of eradicating injustices, instituting rights, or redistributing wealth toward to the poor. For Jesus the problem is both different and deeper, and therefore the solution He sees is both more personal and profound.
Suffering is not just a condition to be alleviated, or burden to be lifted, but a door to be entered, and an invitation to be embraced. The roots of suffering go deep into what it means to be human; and our experience of suffering is not just on the surface of our lives. Our suffering is inseparable from our experience of sin and our distance from God, and the tears it causes cannot simply be wiped away. Jesus understood all this. And He also knew that suffering can be a doorway in the soul that may lead us to God. That is why He confidently tells us that we must take up our cross and follow him. It is a way of suffering that can only be understood by carrying it; that can only be lightened by sharing it.
When we hear the words ‘He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd’ we come nearer to Christ’s understanding when realise that Christ did not seek to avoid or remove pain as we always want to. He didn’t try to insulate us, or fight to eliminate it. He received it into His pierced heart and became com-passionate: a fellow sufferer. And that is how divine love becomes triumphant in us because it reveals the sacred and universal heart of God the shepherd to us, and increases faith. In order to carry out this work of radical healing Jesus the ‘God-Shepherd’ had to become a lamb, the ‘God-Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1.29). I firmly believe that the Church fails in its impact among our contemporaries, because we are too quick simply to want to remove people’s suffering rather than to share it and transform it.
One very last thought. We shall always struggle, and we shall ultimately be defeated, if we think that suffering, whether our own or other people’s, is only a burden to be lifted or a wrong to be righted. But we shall be even further burdened and defeated if we try to enter into the suffering of others with only the resources of our own love. But we are nowhere asked to do this on our own! Quite the opposite. We are here today to offer ourselves in the Eucharist in union with Christ, and ask our Father to feed us with Christ’s body and blood, fill us with His Spirit, and send us out to share and enter into the sufferings of others – that is to love others with His love. Joined to Him, we thus literally become instruments of His love, like a pencil in His hands; loving with His heart; guarding, guiding and loving others with His compassion and confidence.
All-powerful, eternal God, may our eyes see and our hearts have compassion, on all those who need your love. May what we gain through friendship with you make us, through every suffering, truly free as children of God, and capable of spreading in this world the light of your purity and goodness. Amen.
20 June 2021 - Sermon given at St Chad's Coseley
Posted on the 20th June 2021 in the category Resources
20 June 2021
St Chad’s, Coseley
Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
In today’s readings we have two different views of how God works – and at first sight they seem incompatible.
We have just heard the Gospel of the calming of the storm with Jesus’s sharp words about the disciple’s faithlessness. They echo the Lord’s words to Job, when – at last – tired of the meandering words of Job’s friends, God replies to Job’s complaints with quite a ticking off:
‘Shall a fault-finder argue with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer that question!’
‘What exactly do you understand?’ asks God, ‘What do you have the power to do or to change?’ And the implied admission is ‘… nothing!’ In the gospel passage, Jesus asks, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ In both passages God is the Lord of the most unpredictable and potentially destructive cosmic and physical forces – symbolized by the sea. Only the awesome power of God’s being and word can subdue the forces of the world He has created, and sustains.
But, there is another force, which can also move the world, one that is capable of transforming and renewing creatures. ‘The love of Christ controls us’ says St Paul in our second reading (2 Cor 5.14). It is a different power, transcendent and holy. The first acts from the outside, but this force acts from within. It is the force that is at work in Jesus’s sacrifice and death; and works in human hearts and minds by grace and faith.
We see these two contrasting powers at work in Jesus himself. Jesus’ confident trust in His heavenly Father is total and pure. That is why He could sleep during the storm, unafraid for His safety, completely secure in the arms of Him who had explained His power to Job; and on waking he calmed the storm in response not to his own fear, but in response to His disciples’ fear. But when another and different storm arose, when Jesus felt fear and anguish, when His hour came and He felt the full burden of humanity’s sins upon him, and the final assault of evil against him, in that hour Jesus did not doubt the interior spiritual power of grace and trust either. As Pope Benedict once said, in that hour, Jesus was (on the one hand) one with the Father, fully abandoned to him; and (on the other) since was one with sinners, He felt abandoned by him.
In terms of the first power over the powers of creation only Christ himself can be the full and clear mediator of almighty God. It is only Him whom winds and waves, and the diseases of men’s bodies and spirits, will obey.
But of the second power, St Paul, in our second reading, says it is this power – the gift of grace and faith – that God invests in us, making us ‘ambassadors, speaking on behalf of Christ, the Messiah, who makes His appeal through us.’ This is a power that flows when we abandon ourselves to God’s love and merciful goodness for us: the power to show Christ’s solidarity with sinners, the freedom to plead with people to be reconciled to God, the joy of living in total trust of His will and loving kindness. It is what St Paul once called ‘the word of the cross’: it is, ‘God’s folly that is wiser than human wisdom’, he says, ‘God’s weakness that is stronger than human strength’ (1 Cor 1.25).
Some of the saints have shown us what it really means for us to be ambassadors of this power, people who have lived intensely and personally attuned to the power of God that changes other peoples’ lives from within. A power to love other souls; a power to forgive and heal and reconcile; a power to support and guide others; a power to share suffering and pain. They were people who could identify with Paul’s words, ‘death is at work in us, but life is at work in you!’’ (2 Cor 4.12).
To experience this power at work within you doesn’t mean loosing your personality. Quite the opposite: to know what God wants, to do His will, to know where the path of your life is to found – this is our joy and fulfilment. God’s will does not isolate us; it purifies us – even if it can sometimes be a difficult experience; but it leads us to ourselves. Therefore dear brothers and sisters, let God’s interior power renew you and transform you to serve His will and to extend Christ’s work in all the places, and among all the people, where you live and work.
Never does this power renew and transform us more than when we share in the Sacrament of the Eucharist – when we offer our selves up, and take Christ’s body and blood into our bodies. In that moment God walks into your soul with a silent step. Never will that step turn out to be what you expect to happen, and yet His presence will never disappoint you. The more you respond to the gentle pressure of His presence within you, the greater will be your freedom and joy!
Sacred Heart - Homily
Posted on the 11th June 2021 in the category Resources
As given at St Giles Reading
11 June 2021
‘We do not lose heart.’ Those words of St Paul come from a part of a letter (2 Cor 4.16) where he is exploring for fellow Christians the most testing moments of Christian faith. Amidst any number of difficulties Christians are, he says, able to understand that ‘light momentary afflictions’ – however intense they might be – are ‘preparing for us an eternal weight of glory’ because we ‘look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen’ (v.17).
It flowed out of his deep conviction, based on experience, that God’s love, expressed in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, will endure and prevail. ‘We do not lose heart’, are words of gratitude and joy.
That said, there are – and will be – times for most of us when faith falters, when our faith, or we ourselves, seem to be very fragile; we’re knocked off course by the trials and failures and sufferings that life brings to us. When that happens, when faith ebbs and God’s love in Christ appears to fade, we feel diminished, cut down, something seems lost. That is why we need each other; and we need to remember that we are not alone. There are times when all we can do is to rest in the shared faith of the Christian community; be somehow ‘carried’ for a while by the prayer and faith of brothers and sisters; be supported and encouraged by the Church.
At its root however, the deep reason why we do not loose heart is because God’s Sacred Heart calls to our hearts. Indeed, any love we receive through our brothers and sisters, and through our priests, is the love of His heart reaching out to us through them – inviting us to come out of ourselves, to forsake our uncertainties, to trust in Him and, by following His example, to make of our hearts a gift of unlimited love like His.
On this feast we gaze into the heart of Jesus expired on the cross: His heart opened by the thrust of the soldier’s spear. Jesus’ heart was opened: that is, God’s heart was opened. Nothing about God is now held back. God’s rich gifts of mercy gush forth from it like a fountain. All that God is flows from that heart: the shepherd and teacher of mankind, our priest and redeemer, our journey and our journey’s end. All God’s manifold wisdom, says St Paul many times, wisdom which was hidden for ages in His heart, has now been lifted up and opened up for everyone to see and know and embrace (Eph 3.9; cf Col 1.26; Rom 8.29). Now, as the prophet Zechariah says, ‘we look on Him whom we have pierced’ (Zech 12.10), and only a few verses later he adds ‘a fountain shall be opened … to cleanse [mankind] from sin and impurity’(13.1). This is why we do not loose heart.
Every year on this day I am reminded of a beautiful image in one of St Bernard’s sermons (61 on the Song of Songs). He likens the open heart of Jesus Christ, and the wounds in His hands and feet, to cracks and crevices in a rock face. ‘Through those wounds’, he says, ‘the inner secrets of His heart are laid open.’
Where more clearly than in your wounds, Lord, does the evidence shine out that you ‘are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love’? No one shows greater mercy than He who lays down His life for those who are judged and condemned.
Dear Friends, this feast openly assures us that not only are we loved with Eternal Love, but that it flows from a pierced human heart filled with all the fullness of God. Such a heart will never let us down, and never let us go. Close to sinners such a heart knows the deepest point of human need; close to the Father such a heart knows the heights of human joy.
Throughout the Christian centuries this chorus of gratitude and joy has sounded, ‘we do not loose heart!’ Let us ask the prayers of all the saints who have ever given their hearts to God’s, so that in the power of the Gospel may we continue to build everywhere the civilization of God’s Sacred and open Heart.
Trinity Sunday - Gospel and Homily
Posted on the 30th May 2021 in the category Resources
Mass with Confirmation
As given at Pusey House, Oxford
30 May 2021
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’
‘If I have told you about earthly things’, Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?’ John 3.12
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Friends, today’s liturgy invites us to praise God not for the wonders He has worked, but simply for the beauty and goodness of His Being from which His actions flow. We are invited to contemplate the sacred heart of God – love and life in communion. It is an astonishing day in the Church’s celebration on which to be confirmed, because what the Church contemplates in its worship today makes every conceivable difference to our daily lives. The challenge to the preacher is not to make too much of an idiot of himself, and to sit down quickly. I’ll try to do both.
Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, which we’ve just heard as our gospel, shows us precisely the God we are talking about. ‘God so loved the world that He gave his only Son … so that through Him the world might be saved (Jn 3.16—17)’. This Son was sent—sent as the Son of Man, that is as one destined to suffer and die, so that when He was lifted up He could bring us to heaven, to the Father. The Son’s journey is a unique journey: only He has come from God and returned to God. But what does it immediately tell us? but that the God of the Bible is not closed in on Himself, a single person, a solitary ego, loving Himself alone. Instead the One who sent the Son wants to communicate itself; He is openness and relationship itself. He is not a unit; but a unity of love and life!
Throughout Scripture, words like ‘merciful’, ‘compassionate’, ‘faithful’, ‘rich in grace’ all speak to us of a relationship with an essential Being who constantly creates, who offers Himself, fills every gap, wants to give and to forgive, to make a marriage bond, a lasting covenant. This is the God whom Jesus revealed, whose face shines from every page of the new testament. And today we say that this relationship is His nature!’ He is like this towards us because he is like this in Himself. ‘Just as I am, and know, and love and yet am one being; … just as the heat, power, and light of the sun do not make three suns, but one; just as water, air, and steam are all manifestations of the one substance; just as the form, color, and perfume of the rose do not make three roses, but one; … just as one times one times one times one, does not equal three, but one: so too, in some much more mysterious way, there are three Persons in God and yet only one God.’ (Fulton Sheen, Divine Romance).
The Good News is that this communion of love is the One who comes in search of us, His lost children. We tend to see our lives as our journey in search of God. And in some sense they are. Our restless hearts want to find Him, find rest in Him. That we have confirmation candidates treading the same path that all the saints have trodden before is proof.
But the truth that the scriptures reveal is that God seeks us first; God draws us to Himself.
As our Blessed Lord Himself said, ‘No one can come to me … unless the Father who sent me, draws him.’ (Jn 6.44) He is the one who calls to us, who touches us with His nature: who gives Himself to our incomplete and searching hearts, that long for His goodness and peace.
Actually unless God draws us, we’re doomed. When we search for love and identity and fulfilment on our own, we end up disappointed and frustrated. Our fantasies fail to remove our emptiness; and our bondage, and anger, and misery tighten their grip. Like a desperate man on a desert island we try to quench our thirst with sea water, not knowing (may be not caring) that its saltiness overwhelms us, poisons us, and only makes us even more insanely thirsty. Material possessions, ideologies and ambitions, and all the human loves that trap our desires, poison us; make us even more thirsty for life and love. We need the pure water that we long to drink: we need, as Jesus says, to be re-born, in God.
In his lectures on St John’s gospel [Tract 26], St Augustine asks ‘What does it mean to be drawn by desire? … His answer is, ‘There’s a saying “Everyone is drawn by what he desires”, not by necessity, not by compulsion, but by the pleasure in it. Surely then we can say that anyone who finds pleasure in truth, in happiness, in justice, in everlasting life, is drawn to Christ, for Christ is all these things.’ Our desire for God – our restless, sometimes obscure and always stretching search for Him – happens because He has already found us. And when we realise that our search for God is only ever a response to His having found us in Christ, and having put the Spirit of Truth in our hearts to cry ‘Abba Father!’ will we be able to take up the cross and follow every step of the way where our desire and longing for God will lead.
It is Christ, who has been set before us by the Father, who succeeds in drawing us because it is our nature to hunger and thirst for nothing more than for love and truth. ‘We are hungry’, to quote Augustine again, ‘to eat and drink wisdom, justice, truth, eternal life’. God’s grace gives us confidence and freedom to step forward, in prayer and worship, in penitence and single-minded dedication, in lives of sacrifice and costly service of others, including strangers and enemies, undeterred by difficulties or obstacles that come from our sin, knowing that nothing can deflect or weaken God’s will and grace at work within us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.