Homily on the hard task of doing God’s will

Let us remember, as we approach the Feast of SS.Peter & Paul, that when Jesus gives Peter, and thus gives us, the keys of the kingdom, it’s rather like that moment when we move into a house of our own for the very first time. Suddenly we have the joy of organising things just as we want them, and deciding who we will invite in, and who we will leave on the doorstep. But the problem is that however much fun it is to have a home of our own, or a country of our own, it also brings with it a lot of big problems. There’s no-one else to pay the bills, or to organise repairs when inevitably something goes wrong with the building. Think of the people in the past few years who have had their houses flooded. We know how dreadful we would feel if something like that happened to us., so having your own home can sometimes be very tough indeed!

 

As with our own home, so with our life as Christians, there is both great joy but also heavy responsibilities involved. That’s precisely why Jesus in our Gospel today (Luke 9:51-62) points out how hard it is to follow him. I don’t think he means us to take him literally when he says, “Leave the dead to bury their dead”or “No-one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” but he certainly means us to realise how demanding it really is to be a Christian, and that hard things will be required of us.

 

Our world doesn’t really like messages of this kind. We tend to vote for selfish reasons. We elect politicians who make us feel good and charge us less taxes. We want to help the poor of the world, but not in a way that will make us less well-off.  We worry about climate change and environmental pollution, but we don’t really want to change our lifestyle if it will make us less comfortable. And on life issues, which we were thinking about last Sunday here in the UK, many people will “say” that every baby is precious, and indeed if they have an early miscarriage will mourn their loss, yet faced with a baby in the womb that the Doctors say will cause them difficulties, they will then take the Doctors recommendation, what they think of as the easy option, of an abortion….. although it will be politely called a “termination.”

 

I think another problem is that if we do choose to do something hard, we do it for a greater pleasure in the future. Basically we are therefore still ruled by a pain/pleasure ethic, even if the pleasure has to be won through a bit of pain. We are like someone who is keen on sport and who is prepared to be put through hard training, training that really hurts, but all for the greater prize and pleasure of doing well, even winning, later on. Thus the basic principle is then ultimately selfish, “Will it give me pleasure eventually?”, rather than “Is it the right thing to do?”  

 

St Peter fell into that trap too didn’t he? So we mustn’t think we are immune from it. He acclaims Jesus as the Christ, but then almost immediately tries to stop Jesus when he starts saying that the Christ must suffer and die. Notice that Jesus is quite brutal with him for thinking that way, as he will be with us. “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus knows that this avoidance of pain is lurking in every human heart, yours and mine, and so although in other places he shows his compassion for us sinners, he also makes it clear that it is an attitude to life that needs confronting head on.

 

Paul too in our 2nd reading (Galatians 5:1.13-18) has to be equally tough with Christians in Galatia who think that “liberty” means doing all the things you like that make you happy. He has to be very stern with them – “You were called to liberty; but be careful or this liberty will provide an opening for self indulgence” and then he tells us how we should use our Christian liberty – “Serve one another rather, in works of love.”

 

Now I don’t want us to think that we should not enjoy ourselves and do pleasurable things. Far from it, but we must not let pleasure rule our decision making. Faced with the very human temptation to seek pleasure – to be self-indulgent – Paul tells us to open ourselves to God the Holy Spirit. He wants us, as he says a few lines later (but sadly not in our text today or next week) to pray for the Spirit to give us the things we need to be really good Christians. Some of you will remember this list of the fruits of the spirit – things we certainly need to pray for  – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22) If we really want to follow Jesus and do God’s will whatever, then we need to pray regularly for the Holy Spirit to give us these things, so that we may have the courage we need to face anything for God.

The radical challenge

Some of you, who have asked, will be glad to hear that I have turned some of the stuff in these Homilies into a book, which I hope to self-publish in time for my 70th Birthday in July. But it is not actually a book of Homilies, but a book about my life, because, as you know, it is from my experiences of life that I draw most of the material I preach. And one of the things writing this book has made me ponder, is why I ever became a Christian at all?

 It all happened when I was deeply unhappy at my very traditional all boys secondary school. There I met a friend who introduced me to Jesus. I had begun to put the stories of Jesus into the land of fairy tales, when suddenly he was presented to me as a very real person, and someone I could follow. And why was I attracted to follow him? One of the main reasons was precisely because he rejected the traditional establishment – just the kind of people I hated at that horrid school. The rest of my story – how following Jesus led me, to my amazement, to become first a Vicar and then a Catholic priest, is what the rest of the book is all about, for which you will have to wait till you read it, (if you want to!) but let’s have a look today about what the Gospel has to do with all this. (John 21:1-19)

You see there Peter and his friends going back to their old way of life – to the traditional ways that they had been brought up with. In their case “fishing”. “I’m going fishing” says Peter, and off they go. The story then shows the futility of this choice because they catch nothing, and St John, the writer of this great Gospel, adds that it was night; because he wants to link us back to the great beginning of his work that we hear at Christmas, where he writes of Jesus. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:4-5)  So we see that the disciples, who failed to catch a single fish in the dark without Jesus, meet Jesus when it is light, and then their fishing is transformed and they are able to make a great catch.

Thus we are shown that following Jesus will affect every part of our lives as it affected theirs ; and that reminds me of an incident when talking to the children last Sunday. One boy said his favourite activity was playing computer games. You ought to have seen the astonishment on his face when I told him that without God there would not be any computer games. Indeed I don’t think he believed me!  He could not see the connection between God and his normal everyday activities. We all need to be reminded that it is God who created the Universe and everything in it. As we heard in our 2nd reading (Rev 5:11-14) it is “All the living things in creation” who cry out the praises of God . Unless we realise – that, however clever we humans are, all things come from God – we are getting everything in the world upside down. Thus we humans exalt ourselves in stupid self-praise, quite forgetting our weaknesses and our failings; and this ends up encouraging us to believe that whatever we think is right must be the right thing to do. Thus the status quo, the thing that most people think is OK, becomes accepted as OK. No wonder my favourite saying of Jesus is “No one is good but God alone!”

 We see this played out in the rest of the Gospel too. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and why three times? Because although Peter had promised never to deny Jesus, when confronted with a world who had turned against Jesus and was about to crucify him, Peter simply went along with that world, and denied three time that he even knew Jesus. See then how Jesus does not condemn him for his failure, just as he does not condemn us. Like Peter, we also often go along with the ways of the world. And why? – simply for an easy life – simply because we do not want people challenging us, or mocking us, or making us feel different.

 No Jesus does not condemn. He simply asks us again and again, as he asked Peter. “Do you love me?  He asks us this most clearly when we are at Mass. In our own private prayers we can easily excuse ourselves, or convince ourselves that God doesn’t need us to be so openly against the ways of the world ; but at Mass Sunday by Sunday we hear all sorts of challenges to these false assumptions. They remind us all too vividly that as Christians, as followers of Jesus, we will often have to do or say things that we do not particularly want to do or to say.

So Jesus reminds Peter at the end of this Gospel that in the past he often did what he wanted to do, but that in the future he will have to accept the fact that he will have to go and do things that he would rather not do. Such is the radical challenge of the risen Jesus for all of us, whether we like it or not.

Apocalypse means opening up the glory of heaven

The other day I was trying to encourage some young people to offer to pray for their friends, and was a little startled when they told me that if they did so, some of their friends would just laugh at them. I suppose I was startled, because I had the naive idea that even if people don’t believe, they quite like the idea of being prayed for. It certainly works for some people, but clearly not all. Sometimes all we get is mockery and scorn!

 

We don’t like being laughed at by people do we? Especially if they’re our friends! Deep within us we have a strong desire to be liked and accepted by those around us. Indeed it is why many people give up practising the faith publicly. Some may continue to believe in the privacy of their own home, but others will give up even that, just accepting and absorbing the common view around them – that faith is just a fairy tale from the past!

 

So what sprung out at me from all our readings today (Rev 7:2-14. 1 John 3:1-3. Matt 5:1-12) was that putting one’s faith in God, far from being a modern problem, has always been a struggle for believers. Some atheists and sceptics have the idea that they are “modern”, but this is just nonsense, for persecution and mockery of those with faith has occurred all through history.  This is particularly the case for those that we call saints. The first official saints of the Church were those who were prepared to face not just persecution but actual death for their faith. We heard about them today in our 1st Reading where John, in his vision of the glory of heaven, asks who the people dressed in white robes are, and is told, “These are the people who have been through the great persecution..”

 

Of course this vision of heaven is just that, a vision, for remember there is no space or time with God. So we are given images to evoke something that is beyond our imagining. Sadly some people have taken such images literally, so that “Apocalypse” instead of meaning the opening up of heaven, the revealing of the full glory of God, an image of beauty beyond words, has become some cataclysmic event on earth. Likewise, John, in order to show that the land and sea are material things that will one day be no more, uses the image of 4 angels destroying them. Again we must not take this literally and think of God as a puppet master sending out destruction when he feels like it. These are images given to those facing dreadful fear, and John hypes up these images to show such people that the in the end it is only spiritual things that will last, the things of God – whilst all that is physical, material, will one day be no more.

 

He goes on to say that the saints are a “huge number, impossible to count”. This was important for those facing persecution then, but is also important to us, precisely because we are part of that great number. They, like us, were ordinary people who tried to be faithful to Jesus, and found that what they did made them unpopular with others ; ordinary people who were given the grace to stand out against the mockery of the world.  No wonder we ask them to pray for us! But, don’t think that they all succeeded easily. St Peter ran away from Rome when death threatened him, and only turned back when he had a vision of Jesus on the road asking him where he was going. Others crumbled in the face of persecution and, like many today, gave up practising the faith publicly, even if they maintained it privately.

 

Jesus knew that this would happen, just as he knew that eventually he too would be killed. We know this from the very end of our Gospel today when he says, “Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of false and evil things against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.”

 

So All Saints Day is not really about those saints we can name. The named saints each have their special day throughout the year, whereas today’s Festival is principally about the unknown saints. The ones who are just like you and me, ordinary people who were never famous but were faithful Christians. Many, long before our time, have names that now only God and his angels know; but there are others we may know. People who helped us and are now with God?  Priests?  Teachers?  Family members? Today is the day to give thanks for them as well, and to try as best we can, aided by the grace of God, to live the same kind of life they lived… quietly but persistently – despite the mockery of some around us – to love for the glory of God and for the good of our fellow men and women, whether they appreciate us or not!

Homily on the challenge of being a Christian

Some of you may know that I was born and brought up in Wimbledon, and going to watch the tennis was a big part of my teenage life at this time of the year. Even today, although I don’t have time to watch a lot, I keep my eye on what’s going on, and love the chance to watch a really good match. Like any great athlete, these tennis players are amazing aren’t they? Think how fit they must be to keep playing brilliantly for hours as they strive for the big prize! Now they didn’t play tennis in the times when the Bible was written, but they did have the early form of the Olympic Games, which is why St Paul can talk about running a race in our 2nd Reading today. “I have fought the good fight to the end: I have run the race to the finish.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8) So what exactly is he talking about?  What race was he running in, and what has that got to do with us?

 

The Bible is full of the writings of St Paul. He was the man, much more than St Peter, who travelled around from place to place especially in Turkey and Greece telling people about Jesus, and it’s the letters he wrote to some of these people that we now have in the Bible.  It was a hard life.  He tells us “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked” (2 Cor 11:25) 

 

This was the “race” he was talking about, and it’s the race that all of us who claim to be Christians have to get involved with. I don’t mean that we all have to travel round the world telling people about Jesus like Paul did. But it might be what God is calling some of you here to do. For somebody has to do it. Somebody has to give up their normal life, as St Paul did, and be a priest or a religious. We tend to think that people like that come from somewhere else, but they don’t. Every church must hope and pray that there are some in their midst who may take up this particular challenge for Jesus.

 

But Paul’s “race”, as I said, is something all Christians have to run whatever kind of life they lead. It’s much easier not to be a Christian, not to be a Catholic. When people find out that we’re Catholics, lots of them will say things like, “But why do you have to bother to go to Mass when there are so many other more interesting things to do?, or “Do you really believe in all that old-fashioned stuff? And we will wriggle uncomfortably, because when we say we do it for God, they will look at us as if we are a little mad!  They may even say “Well if you have to believe in God, surely you can say some prayers quietly at home, why bother with all this weird church stuff?

 

Standing up to this is really hard, and that is why Paul calls it a “race”, because if we are to manage it we have to be prepared, like an athlete is, for these challenging moments.  It’s no good just slumping around vaguely hoping we’ll be fit when the moment comes. God, you know, is a bit like a mixture of a sports coach and a physiotherapist.  He will help us in our life, but he can’t get anywhere with us if we don’t co-operate.  The athlete who fails to turn up for training, or eats the wrong kind of food and gets fat, won’t win any kind of prize! Indeed he or she will be lucky to get into the race at all. Those who think that a vague prayer to God ought to solve all life’s problems are just talking nonsense.

 

For Christians this training is what Mass is. It is listening to the teaching, really listening. If the coach is trying to teach us something and it gets a bit technical, do we just say it’s too hard to understand? Of course we don’t. For we want to learn anything and everything that will help us. When we are being taught something vital and we go off into a daydream, our coach or our teacher will almost certainly stop and say “ LISTEN TO ME! THIS IS IMPORTANT!” God is much more gentle than that, so we will never hear God shout at us, even if I am sure that sometimes he would like to.

 

Mass is also the way we receive the spiritual food that sustains us in every part of our life. If our coach says we must eat bananas and we stick to chocolate then we’ll quickly lose our fitness and stick to slumping in front of the TV or the Computer. Again it’s up to us. No-one will force us to come to Mass. This is the food of eternal life but if we decide to try to live our life without this great gift of God, we can do so. We can slump away and ignore the great challenge that God sets before us. God wants us to live life to the full, to recognise what he is calling us to be and to do, to share his love and glory with others. This is a race that is really worth running, and this is the race that Paul encourages us to take part in. May the prayers of St Paul and all the saints help us to truly be the people of God. 

Life-changing moments

Frances writes on the readings for the Vigil of SS.Peter & Paul:- These readings are all about life-changing experiences. How this happens to some of us, and the effect we can then have on others, changing their lives forever. It involves being awake, receptive to such offers from God, and allowing ourselves to become vehicles of his grace and change in others. Others indeed will have offers of divine grace and healing made to them, and they in turn will have to be open to God’s call and work in them. Just before Christmas each year, the Divine Office has a reading from St Bernard of Clairvaux, in which he meditates on Our Lady’s answer to God’s call at the Annunciation. Will she respond, and what will happen to a fallen world if she turns her back on the divine plan?

The reading from Acts (3:1-10) recounts the healing miracle worked by Peter and John in the Temple in Jerusalem. They themselves had of course been transformed by their experience of the resurrection of Christ, which had turned them from fearful men – those who believed Christ’s cause completely lost – to active agents in the spreading of his gospel. They approach a beggar, one accustomed to gain his living at the beautiful gate of the temple. He seems to have had no other vision of life and looked expectantly at them, hoping for the gift of a valued coin. Imagine then his amazement when this does not come, but instead he is healed and with it the pathway to a totally different life dawns. How will he react? Is his vision of humanity, of the world, big enough to enable him to grasp the initiative and once more join the productive society? We are not told any of the answers here, but left to meditate on the astounding change wrought by God through his apostles, and invited to travel this route with them. The fact that the man’s joy is recorded bodes well for the new life he can seize upon when he is no longer simply a victim of circumstances and can act independently at last. Similarly, we have to consider the response of the onlookers, described as astonished and unable to explain the miracle.

Our reading from Galatians (1:11-20) similarly speaks of a shattering shift in focus. Paul was born a Jew, into a line of Pharisees- those rigorous for following the minutiae of the law – and as part of his utter conviction that his way was right he persecuted Jews who followed Christ until the extraordinary experience he had on the Damascus road changed his life forever. Our excerpt speaks of his subsequent behaviour, with its emphasis that he avoided any return to Jerusalem and its hard-line Judaism. Indeed, from his description, Paul went off to ‘Arabia’- a pagan province of the Roman Empire – and from there he must have gained instruction in the Christian faith and then went off on the first of his missionary trips which included proselytising in Galatia to pagans. We just take all this for granted, but when we stop to think about it we see the enormity of the shift in the life of Paul the Pharisee. In effect, as we see from his letters, his total reliance on the Jewish law is set aside as he lives out the new Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Son of God and our only redeemer. His entire way of living would have been changed, as he lived and ate with pagan converts to the new faith, something defiling and unthinkable in Judaism, and he gives up his respected and secure life in Jerusalem for the uncertainty of the travelling salesman for Christ, totally at the mercy of others, often persecuted and in danger of death. We too need to recognise these life-threatening and life-changing moments in our own lives and grasp them when they come to us just as Paul and Peter did.

In our Gospel (John 21:15-19) we meet our final life changing incident, where the resurrected Jesus meets the disciples at the Sea of Galilee and eats with them – that ultimate mark of friendship – and in it remakes or remoulds Peter, the Peter who had failed him and denied ever knowing him at the passion. Imagine what a tense situation this would have been with the world of knowing between the two. Jesus, who had predicted Peter’s denial, and Peter who had been so certain that he would stand by his friend only to reject him at the fatal moment. Never mind the others who behaved similarly, never mind our knowledge of his human frailty, let’s focus on the intense moment in which these two met once more and Our Lord’s testing “Simon, do you love me?” “Feed my sheep”. Within this three fold questioning and answering there surely lies a profound knowing of each other, an openness and transparency to the truth in which Peter’s heart and mind are searched, known and accepted. This time he will not, cannot, renege on his recognition of the truth.

Let’s think of those life –changing moments we have experienced and how they have changed our lives and those of others we have met. Like Peter, we may have found some of those incidents profoundly uncomfortable, but they will have been necessary and of infinite value.

 

 

God’s love for us

Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings : St John most likely wrote from Ephesus on the eastern coast of modern Turkey. Ephesus was one of the great imperial capitals of the east, with its own port and a vast complex of pagan temples, theatres and an amphitheatre. Its population was extremely mixed, made up of many different groups of Greek speaking workers; Romans from all over the Empire, including veterans retired from the legions and others. There would have been traders there; government officials; army detachments; as well as a large collection of slaves some from different parts of Turkey and the Middle East. As well as having to speak Greek to trade and converse, and Latin for the forces, many would have spoken their native languages too. We know from the writings of Paul, and other Christians like John and the author of the Petrine Letters, that this willingness to live cheek by jowl with others of different races was what made and sustained the Empire and indeed, gravestones and other monuments testify that the capacity for ‘brotherly’ love among strangers was what kept things running smoothly. This is not to say that the Roman Empire knew no divisions of class, status and race, far from it; it was an intensely stratified society, yet its many clubs and organizations of fellow workers, (undertakers, cow-herders, builders and sailors etc) deliberately chose to act together with others, often foreigners, for their mutual help and support, and Christians did the same. Some suspicion of the ‘other’ was taken for granted, but there was no room for violent xenophobia in these societies.

 

St John goes to great lengths to spell this out. He does not call them, as does the Jerusalem Bible ‘My dear people’, but much more powerfully, in Greek simply Beloved. (1 John 4:7-10). John goes on to spell out precisely how, since “Love comes from God”, God’s love is the very foundation of all that the believer is and does. The focus throughout this passage is on God who creates and makes us and enables us to share in the divine life granted us by the loving self sacrifice of Jesus the Son. Failure to live in the love of God means that we have no part at all in the life of God which he has given us; it is a deliberate and fatal rejection of the divine, both of his plan for creation and for his action in Christ. In this we begin to understand that our action together in community; our behaviour towards all others in our society, what Catholics call the Common Good, can never be at the periphery of our faith, but must be at its heart and very core.

 

John’s letters make quite clear that this is no mere bright idea on the part of John himself, but that it stems from Jesus’ teaching. (Jn 15:9-17). This passage follows directly on from last week’s gospel of the vine and the vinedresser which served to emphasise our unity with God. Here that theme is explored in even greater depth by Jesus as he considers what love is. Jesus stresses the love between Father and Son focussed on his own keeping of the Father’s commandments, with the insistence that we too keep them and that if we do,Jesus’ joy will be in us and our own joy will be complete. It is an astonishing promise and illustration of the meaning of love, and he goes on to reiterate “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” In case we fail to see the import of this he speaks of dying for one’s friends. Clearly for Jesus and for John this is not about one of a series of options which we might choose, since he reiterates “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Our choices are simply not relevant here, we must obey.

 

Ancient society differentiated between those subservient to one, and true friends, intellectual, social and moral equals; and Jesus remarks that when we truly love as he has loved us we shall no longer be as slaves to masters, totally dominated by them and a prey to their every whim, but truly equals, those with whom every important thing is shared. “I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father.” The Christian, the follower of Christ, is under orders, chosen and commissioned, (as were soldiers) to ‘bear fruit’. There can be few plainer expositions of the Christian understanding of community than this, and the believer who claims this status and yet does not worship and work for the good of others is a sham, an imposter, and not part of the community of the saved.

 

Over the last weeks and months we have had to ask ourselves the question of what belonging to the human race and our society truly means, as we watch all those migrants landing desperate on the first bit of Europe they can find, mostly the Italian coast. Italians have, I must say, demonstrated that their Catholic heritage has helped them to see that they must give shelter to these desperate refugees. Britain’s response has so far proved lamentable. It was equally a message which St Peter learned at some personal cost, and was eventually resolved by God’s sending him a dream of a sheet filled with a huge variety of animals and the command to eat. The upshot of the story is our reading from Acts, (Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48) in which the Roman Centurion Cornelius, and a man of power in Caesarea, sends for Peter to come from Joppa. Peter obeys; he could not do less, but is then compelled by the Holy Spirit to argue the equality of pagan converts to those of the circumcision-Jews, who clearly thought his actions reprehensible. Peter then baptised those of pagan background and the important phrase follows “Afterwards they begged him to stay on for some days.” This indicates that Peter not only entered a pagan home and baptised the family of Cornelius, which would have included his slaves and others, but that he ate with them and accepted their hospitality for some time. For strict Torah Jews such behaviour would have been anathema. For Peter, once he understood the essence of divine grace, it was essential and he needs must break the habits of a lifetime. Would that we could do so too.

Homily on St Peter & St Paul

I was a very stubborn little boy! Persuading me to do something I didn’t want to do was very difficult. Some of you may say that it still is, although I think I am a little better than I was back then! Rather like the story of the sun and the wind competing to get a coat off a man’s back, the more people tried to force me to do something, the more grimly I resisted. What would persuade me was not force but love, and thus my mother would persuade me to do all sorts of things that I would otherwise have resisted – including having lessons in public speaking from the age of 4 onwards!

Most of us have gates in our lives. Things we refuse to do. I hated swimming as a child after one unpleasant ducking. Again it took the love and care of one person when I was at University to show me it could be fun. And now I am a fanatic!

When people are depressed they can feel that there is no way out of the darkness that they are in; and perhaps this is what St Peter felt like in our 1st Reading (Acts 12:1-11) when this little group of the 1st Christians was being persecuted. He was in prison and expecting to be executed just as James had been. Then, in the darkness, a light suddenly appeared, and in some marvelous way he found the gates of the prison were opened for him, and he was free. Do remember, that this is a story for anyone who feels there is no way out of their particular darkness. Sometimes a way out will be offered in a way we never expected, and we need to look out for these things.

But we Christians must not expect miraculous deliveries from our problems all the time. Sometimes we are simply meant to struggle on with whatever challenge we face. We see St Paul talking about this in our 2nd Reading (2 Tim 4:6-8 17-18) where he compares life to a battle “I have fought the good fight”, or a race “I have run the race to the finish”. But it isn’t all struggle and sweat! Paul points out that God supported him through all he had to face.  So he writes “The Lord stood by me and gave me power”, thus reminding us that we too can find support from God for the challenges and struggles life will throw up for us.

Finally, in the Gospel (Matthew 16:13-19) we heard what an amazing challenge the Christian life is. It is easy to think that “You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church” is simply addressed to St Peter, and by extension to those who have succeeded him in leading the Church. Yes, we might say, and quite rightly, we must pray today for Pope Francis. For leading the Catholic Church made up of Millions of people all over the world is a daunting task. Pope Francis was however quite right to turn the tables on the crowds on the night he was elected. They were waiting for him to bless them, but he told them to pray for him, and made them all go silent as he bowed his head for their prayers.

That action reminds us that each one of us is called to BE the Church. It is no good thinking the Church is simply there when we need it, to help us and bless us. The Church is also us, you and me, here for other people to help and bless them. I remember once getting to a death bed after a person had died, and the lady actually apologised that she had said prayers for her mother, and given her a blessing. I told her she was quite right. Of course it is wonderful if a priest can be there when a person dies, but you must always remember that you too are called to bless others.

That woman, far from doing the wrong thing, had in her prayers and blessing, opened the gates of heaven for her dying mother. She was, without realizing it, acting on the words Jesus first uttered to Peter “You are Peter…. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against you.”

We must remember this when we die. When we come to the gates of heaven, (metaphorical gates of course) and are asked why we have the right to come in and be with God, we must be careful what we say. If we start listing the things we did to help people, we may find a list given to us of all the things we failed to do. No! When we are asked that question we simply reply. “I have tried to be a follower of Jesus, to be a friend of Jesus.” And once we have said that, then immediately the gates of heaven will be thrown open, and like Peter who even denied once that he knew Jesus, we will be with God in his light for ever. Then, like Peter being helped out of prison, we may well say “Now I know it is all true”. What I sometimes doubted, is now a reality for me.