Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Homily for June 22nd, 2016: Matthew 7:15-20.

          Catholics now in their late sixties came of age in a day when the Catholic Church was proud to be “the Church that never changes.” That boast was actually only half true – as such then young Catholics started to discover with the close of the Second Vatican Council in December 1965. The Church’s faith never changes. There has been development, of course. But we believe that this development has been guided by the Holy Spirit, so that what we believe today about the Pope, to take one example, is an entirely legitimate development of what the apostles believed. Just about everything else except our beliefs has changed and will change: styles of worship, of preaching, and methods of handing on the faith to others. No one has stated the need for such change better than the great 19th century English convert, at the end of his life a cardinal, Blessed John Henry Newman. “To live is to change,” Newman said, “and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Catholics less than 65 today have grown up in a Church which is rapidly changing.

          Are all the changes we have seen over the last half-century good? Clearly not. How can we judge such changes? Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: “By their fruits you will know them.” The most obvious change over the last half-century is in worship. Catholics who came to Church in 1960 experienced a Mass which was almost entirely silent; the few parts spoken aloud could seldom be understood: not just because they were in Latin, but because most priests took them at breakneck speed. Fifteen and even twelve minute celebrations of a rite considerably longer than today’s Mass were common. Praying the prayers aloud, as we now do, and in the language of the people, has enhanced popular participation in the Mass, at least where priests have learned to celebrate with reverence. 

          The charismatic renewal is another change. It did not exist before Vatican II. Speaking recently to some 50,000 charismatics in Rome, Pope Francis confessed that he was initially mistrustful of their movement. Now he endorses it enthusiastically because of its good fruits. It has made prayer real for millions for whom prayer was once just reciting words out of a book.

          The renewal of religious life for women has produced both good and bad fruits. The Sisters’ orders which have modernized, while retaining such things as community life, an updated uniform or habit, and enthusiastic faithfulness to Church teaching are growing rapidly. Those which are have erased all signs that they are different have no recruits at all and, though visibly dying, still insist that they are the wave of the future. Once again we see: “By their fruits you will know them.”