Published Sat, 26/02/2022 by

Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are times when it feels as if the ground is moving under our feet.  For a long time now we have been living in what the ancient Chinese referred to as “interesting times”.  (It was regarded by them as something of a curse to live in interesting times, the sort of thing you might wish on someone you didn’t like very much – “May you live in interesting times”).  Not many people respond well to tedious monotony, but just at the moment, living as we are through momentous changes, a bit more steadiness and predictability feels as if it would be rather welcome.

There have been four major focusses to last week for me.  Three were clearly to do with the Church.  The fourth is also arguably religious, an outrage motivated by a lethally perverted form of Christian vision.  More of that in a minute.  But first the other three.  

The Diocese is on manoeuvres.  Multiple church closures are being planned for every Deanery, including as you know with regard to St Margaret Clitherow’s.  As this has knock-on implications for the rest of the parish so I spent a significant proportion of last week preparing for a meeting yesterday with the Vicar General and Chief Operating Officer to test and probe their thinking.  Graham Roberts, whom I have asked to prepare a report surveying and assessing our options, came with me.  We understand their thinking quite a bit better as a result, but further investigation remains to be done by the Diocese through their solicitors before we can tell just where this will leave the parish.  I have asked the Diocese to prioritise this.

The second focus was attending the special liturgy held at St Barnabas’ Cathedral on Tuesday evening to celebrate the end of the first phase of the Synodal Process.  Maggie Braley, Mark Smith and Kathy Chapman represented the Deanery in leading the song, “Oh the word of my Lord deep within my being” after the Bishop’s Homily.  My own contribution was to present the highlights from our Deanery discussions which I summarised in thumbnail fashion: as “The upwelling of a deep desire to: realise the opportunities of the Second Vatican Council; to find new and more effective ways of presenting the Gospel, to evangelise and form disciples; and to be more active in Christian witness and ecumenical outreach to the communities around us.”

The third focus comes as a result of the other two.  The Church throughout the Western world is on a journey to discover new and more relevant ways of being church in the 21st century.  Making sure we have the buildings which correspond best to our mission, in the right number and in the optimum places, is one way we have to prepare for the future we can see coming.  But renewing ourselves in faith and faithfulness is even more important.  So study and discussion with the Parish Leadership Team and others about how we can best do that and attending an online training course on parish renewal has been another key part of my week.

… And then there’s been the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  As well as prayer, surely one key aspect of solidarity is just keeping informed.  So, I have been following the distressing news of the last few days closely.  On Thursday, the day Russia’s advance began, I offered a Mass in time of war as a response to this appalling development.  Since then, Ukraine’s tragedy has not been far from my thoughts and prayers.  And I’m sure the same is true for all of us.  We’re helpless really to do much more.  But prayer does make a difference.

The editorial in today’s/yesterday’s Tablet, the international Catholic weekly to which I subscribe, suggests that the roots of President Putin’s strategy lie in a medieval and quasi-mystical vision of Holy Russia, comprising the lands not only of Russia itself but also of territories once integral to it, Bellarus and Ukraine.  Putin is a Russian Orthodox believer, but the idea you can force people at whatever cost to embrace and follow your way of life, however unwillingly, just because you have the might to do it, is in the eyes of most of the globe (excepting China, the United Arab Emirates and, disappointingly, India) deeply repugnant.

And this is where the relevance of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel today is so relevant.  It gives us the key to discern what is going on.  Every tree can be told by its fruits.  “There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit; nor again a rotten tree that produces good fruit”.  By their fruits can you tell them – and if the fruits of Putin’s misadventure don’t stink to the highest heavens, it’s hard to know what would.  He is a bad man who draws from the store of badness in his heart.  But above all, it’s his way of thinking, his perverted religious ideology which is rotten.  This is where good theology is actually so important.  The difference between good theology and bad theology, good religion and bad religion, is not an irrelevance, akin to debates about the number of angels that dance on a pinhead.  It makes all the difference between something that is wholesome and something evil.  Fundamentalism plays out in demonic behaviours.

St Paul encourages us, though, in these dark times: “Never give in … dear brothers, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always.”  As we feel the ground moving under our feet, be like the just pictured in the psalm, flourishing like the palm tree, growing like a Lebanon cedar.  Centering ourselves not in the flux of current events, but in the peace of God dwelling silently but securely in our hearts, through prayer and meditation we can be “planted in the house of the Lord”, “flourish in the courts of our God”.  With our hearts and hope kept safe in heaven, we must bear fruit on earth.  The ground is actually for ever moving under our feet in this world, but if our lives are built on God, the rock in whom there is no wrong, we have nothing ultimately to fear.  The Lord is with us always, until the end of the world.


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