There’s the story of a parish where there has been a flood. The Parish Priest gives the announcements at the end of Mass and he says: “I’ve got some bad news, some good news, and some bad news. The bad news is that the basement, which is normally used for the Children’s Liturgy, is completely ruined by the flood. The good news is that we’ve got the money. The bad news is, it’s in your pockets.”
Next Friday afternoon, all going to plan, I will be heading back up to my previous parish in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, for my successor’s Induction Mass. It will be good to see the people up there again, and, all going to plan, I will be back here before midnight. Before I left the parish, an architect had visited for the regular five-yearly inspection to see if anything needed repairing. The church was built back in 1891, and yes, some items that I had previously been told could wait for another five years, now needed attention. We obtained at least three quotes for the work, and the best quote was in the region of £190,000. When I was handing over to my successor, Fr Matthew, I told him about this, but that there was no need to worry. We had also received a legacy of £200,000. The donor had written in his will that, whilst it wasn’t an absolute rule, he would like the money to be used for the upkeep of the church building. The Lord provides.
People, of course, are more important than money. Perhaps one of the ways of summarising today’s Gospel is Christ making all things new. Simon’s mother-in-law is cured of fever. Many other sick people are cured, and many devils are cast out. Can you imagine the joy and the celebration that must have caused? There was no NHS back in those days. If you were climbing a tree to shake a few of the branches for the olive harvest, and you fell out and broke your leg, you could face the prospect of having one leg shorter than the other for the rest of your life, once it healed. If you had a stroke, there were not the remedies to help with recovery that there are today. Smallpox is a disease that now is thankfully gone, but in days past it could leave people permanently scarred. That was it. Your life would never be the same again. You just had to get used to it. But now Jesus is here, everything is miraculously restored back to how it was before. No wonder “The whole town came crowding round the door”. Proper cures, and they’re free. And from an amazing teacher as well – we’ve never heard the Scriptures come to life like this before. And we see elsewhere that things sometimes got so busy for Christ and the disciples that they didn’t even have the time for a meal.
The danger with a situation like this, or one of the dangers, is that prayer gets squeezed out. So, “long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there”. If something is important, you make time for it. Even He needed to pray, and not just a quick ten seconds. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He needed that prayer to sustain Him.
February is our deanery month of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and on the back of the bulletin there is a reflection by Luke Theobald, who is training for the priesthood in Rome. One of the things he recommends is for families to pray the prayer printed at the end of the reflection before or after your evening meal together. Next week he’s going to share his vocation testimony, and the role prayer played inthe discernment of his vocation and the growth of his faith. Pope Francis has declared 2024 to be a Year of Prayer in preparation for the Jubilee of 2025, and one of the things we are asked to focus on is the Our Father, which we will look at in a bit more detail in Lent.
Prayer sustains our relationship with God, and keeps hope alive. In the first reading, Job has been put to the test. He has lost his wealth, his children, and his health. Later on, God restores his fortunes, and he has further children, bringing joy to his heart. The Lord provides and makes all things new. But at this point, his life seems to have lost meaning and any hope of getting better. Perhaps it might have been the same with some of the sick people, before Jesus cured them.
Today we have a much better healthcare system, but it doesn’t touch the disease of the soul. Human beings are not robots. Once again, have a look out next week for Luke Theobald’s reflection on this theme as well. Only God can truly satisfy.
Up in Hanley, no doubt scaffolding will be going up in the next few months or so. It’s a beautiful church, worth sustaining for future generations. But the faith it represents, is more important than any of the interior decoration. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ, “the bread of God … [Who] comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).
Curious about exploring things further? If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at email@example.com