Last Sunday, I went over to say Mass in St. Patrick’s Hayling Island and to encourage and support the parish there during the continuing absence of Fr. Mark Whiting, their parish priest. Fr. Mark is on extended sick leave but making good progress: please say a prayer for him. Here is the homily I preached at the Mass for the Third Sunday of the Year about the “power of God’s Word”.
I am pleased to be with you today and look forward to time together after Mass. I wanted to visit and encourage you while Fr. Mark is on sick leave. He is making good progress, but there’s more to go, so let’s keep him in our prayers. I thank Fr. James, Mgr. Jeremy and the local priests for looking after you. I also thank greatly the stewardship group and all of you for sustaining the mission of the Church in Hayling Island. As you know, we have a ten-year mission-plan to revitalise the parish and the Diocese. It’s called You Will be My Witnesses: it’s on our website. It’s about deepening faith, becoming more missionary and managing better our resources. Please pray for God’s grace that we can turn the ship, bringing more people closer to Jesus Christ through His Church.
One way of doing this is the Bible. Today, the Third Sunday of the Year, has been designated the ‘Sunday of the Word’ and in the Readings, we hear of the power of God’s Word to change hearts and to change lives. God speaks to us in our hearts, at Mass, through the Church, through other people and the events of life. In the First Reading, God sent Jonah to Nineveh to urge people to change. He was successful: they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth. In the Gospel, Jesus announced: The time has come … the Kingdom is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News. And many did! That same day, the lives of four fishermen were totally changed when Jesus called them: Follow me and I will make you fishers of people. The Word of God is all-powerful: it touches hearts and minds; it can turn a person’s life upside down. The Bible records God’s words and deeds, which is why it is a powerful agent of change and why in 2019 Pope Francis established today as a day to thank God, to celebrate, study and share God’s Word. He wants us to read the Bible more, to value its riches, and to discern its meaning for our lives. Using the Bible to deepen our faith is what our diocesan plan is all about.
But there’s another dimension too. For this is the annual week of prayer for the unity of Christians, when we pray for deeper communion in doctrine, life and worship. We have a great deal in common, not least a love for the Bible. At the time of Jesus, the Bible comprised just the 46 books of the Old Testament, but in the 1st Century the early Christians began to compile writings of their own, the New Testament. Eventually the Church authorised 27 of these books for use in the liturgy, in study and prayer. The Church wrote the Bible but once canonised the Bible became a norm that keeps the Church faithful to the original Message Christ gave to His apostles. This is why you have to take care interpreting the Bible. We are not fundamentalists: you have to understand a passage in its context, and you have to read it within the life of the Church and her Tradition. Sadly, Christians can fall out over this, which is why ‘how to interpret the Bible’ is a key issue in the ecumenical dialogue.
Brothers, our time is growing short St. Paul said in Second Reading. In this Mass, let us pray for the unity of Christians, for deeper communion in doctrine, life and worship. Let us also pray for Fr. Mark and his family. And on this Sunday of the Word, let’s take up again our bibles. Let’s renew our love for the Scriptures. Let’s use the Bible to discern what it is God wants to say to us in our lives. If you haven’t got a Bible at home, why not get one, a modern version approved by the Church? But be careful! –Because the Word of God is powerful. It might cut you to the quick. Indeed, like the Apostles in the Gospel, it might even turn your life upside down.
Pictured left to right: Fr James Lewis, Bishop Philip and Deacon Nick O’Neill.