Welcome to Saint Mary’s Church, Harborne, Birmingham, UK.

Order of St. Augustine.

Archdiocese of Birmingham

“Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”  St. Augustine.

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  For the 6th Sunday of the Year

Jesus heals ‘lepers’, - then and now.  Mk 1:40-45.

We know even today what it’s like: we hide skin conditions from others, no one is to know, especially if it’s infectious.

This leper has a twofold shame: on the one hand he has to shout it out publicly, “Unclean!”; on the other hand, in his culture, he’ll be convinced it’s God’s punishment for his sin, or at least that God has abandoned him. Until he meets Jesus.

As a child, I had a strong sense of shame. We lived in a 3 roomed flat above a tobacconist’s shop on the main A6. I shared a bedroom with my sister till she left home at 18; and we shared an outside toilet with the tobacconist and his guests. I knew I could never invite school friends home. As a Catholic I remember the acute shame on reading in the local paper, with my mother, that our Curate had been charged with and found guilty of drink-driving….Oh the shame! There’d be some priests today only too glad to be charged  with just that offence.

As I grew I inherited my parents’ shame. My father, as a labour trade union rep fighting the Communists, went into a depression, - and the GP referred him as an out-patient to the local Garlands Mental Hospital. Dad knew that to go there was the end of his job, and didn’t go. Never air your dirty linen outside the four walls.

Mary Kenny wrote an article in the Daily Mail some years ago about a female friend, - a mother, whose adult son had been charged with sexual offences against children. She wrote that that mother moved heaven and earth to get the trial switched to a distant town, to avoid her neighbours etc. from knowing. And Mary Kenny pointed out the Catholic Church was like any family, - and, as is now known, some twenty years ago was ‘covering up’, hiding abuse by priests, out of shame.

Families, Religious communities, societies of all sorts all have things they don’t want discussed outside the family: depression, a partner’s affair, drinking, gambling, violent abuse, a homosexual son/daughter, bankruptcy, job loss…. It all has to be hushed up, be kept private. There’s a deep sense of shame both in the family and in the individual. Whether it’s sinful or not, it’s natural to want to keep it quiet.

Based on my own pastoral experience, I know that women who have been raped or abused experience a deep sense of shame, even guilt. Similarly those who’ve been trafficked, those who’ve been bullied. It’s not rational, - but it’s very real, and must be taken seriously. This is where they are at.

The heart of our Faith, more important than the Pope or any Church teaching is this: We have Jesus, alive, amongst us. A Jesus Christ who you and I can trust and turn to, knowing He will never betray us, never say a word to anyone else, never disclose. As then with the leper, so now with those suffering shame and isolation, He reaches out to us, wanting to touch us, wanting to help us carry our burden of shame and guilt, even lifting it.

Lent: a time for prayer, and for giving up the stuff that clings to us and does us harm. Take time to see Him: the statue or a picture of the Sacred Heart, the Tabernacle, a Crucifix. Bring Him the shame, - what happened, what you did or was done to you, or is happening to the ones you love. And give it up to Him, talking in your head, or talking aloud but quietly at home or here in an empty Church. Or write Him a letter, - then burn it! Then pause, be still: “Jesus, if you want to, you can heal me!”

We acknowledge: for some the only Jesus you can find will be a priest. Use the Confessional seal, open up to God, - a good priest will listen, allowing you to speak. Just speaking gives you the ability better to deal with the shame and reduces its power.   

                                                                 4th Sunday of the Year.  B.

What is the authority of the Catholic Church like?

Every family, club, society and country has an authority, be it a person or a committee, - all with their rules, laws and regulations.

The best authorities are concerned for the welfare of both the whole and the individual. Less good authorities are concerned with their own image, - with what other people think. The worst authority is despotic, autocratic: law, duty is everything, - with no concern for the individual.

Authority in the Catholic Church, - be it vested in the Pope, Bishops, Priests, Canon Law, Teachers, Parents, - is responsible for putting across God’s Laws: marriage is lifelong, do not kill, keep holy the Sabbath day, do not steal, marriage is to be open to children; - and for putting across Church Laws: Sunday Mass is a serious obligation; priests are to be male and celibate; fasting laws, from meat on Good Friday, Ash Wednesday…

On the one hand, clergy believe they need to be true to God, so as to be good shepherds. This results in some clergy, that in order to defend God’s laws, they apply the laws rigidly, with little concern for the predicament that the individual is left in, - or they genuinely believe that it is what is best for the individual. Other clergy, not wanting to impose rigidity, advise the individual to ‘follow your conscience’…

On the other hand, let us acknowledge that many Catholics apply the laws mercilessly to themselves, allowing no excuses nor exemptions. My own father, faced in a strange town at 11.30am on a Sunday, 1950, with the choice of trying one more hospital to find his dying, estranged father or going to the last Mass (12.00 noon), chose the Mass, and found his dead father too late. Let us acknowledge that many other Catholics dismiss the laws (God’s and the Church’s): “the Church needs to get up to date”; “what a load of rubbish”…

In all of this, the model for every priest, parent, teacher is Jesus. What is His authority like? How does He exercise it?

He knows from within himself just what human nature empowered/graced by God can be like, - and He understands our yearnings and our depths. He speaks from the heart in clear language, at other times in images and parables; and at other times scares us off our downward paths because he knows how low we can go.

Jesus uses God’s loving power for the needs of the individual: he breaks the Sabbath for the hungry and for those in need of healing, saying that both the Sabbath and God’s power are for us. “What I want is mercy not sacrifice.” “I am among you as one who serves.” “What do you want me to do for you?” And the only times he orders is to command anything that limits a person to leave them (evil, disease, paralysis), “Come out of him!”

The clergy have at times, even often, left the individual in a dilemma, between the rigidity of the letter of the law and ‘follow your conscience’. Jesus criticises the Pharisees  (and us clergy) for imposing burdens but not lifting a finger to help. A way forward: “Lord, this teaching, this law: I know the letter, what it instructs me to do, - but I haven’t the strength, haven’t the will to live it. Lord, are you challenging me to be more generous with you? Lord this law taken to the letter might break my partner’s heart.”

At the age of 6 I walked into Grandma’s kitchen  where my Dad sat with his 4 younger brothers, the youngest of whom had got a Methodist girl pregnant, but she would not marry him in the Catholic Church. My Dad was asked to adjudicate: should his brother remain loyal to the Church or to her?  My Dad, yet more Catholic than the Pope, instructed him to remain loyal to her and to marry out of the Church. By God’s grace that brother  was reconciled with the Church on his death bed.

In dilemmas, let us listen to God’s silence, having first emptied our hearts to Him. God’s answer comes as mercy, strength, wisdom. I conclude, rightly, wrongly, that our relationship with Him is more important than fulfilling the letter of this or that Law. “O that today you would listen to his voice!” Over the weeks, this listening softens the heart, instilling in us true conscience, as opposed to either a rigid or a lax one.

Daily Prayershttp://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/prayers.html

Fr. John Reid’s Homilies