Sunday, July 1, 2018

TOUCHING THE LORD: a homily fo rthe Thirteenth Sunday, Year B (Mark 5.21–43)

            What does it mean to touch Jesus?  What does it mean to have contact with God-made-man, to receive Him into our bodies and lives?  It is the easiest thing to do and yet it has consequences beyond our imagining.
            Our Gospel text today has two interwoven events.  Our Lord is asked to save a man's daughter and a woman reaches out to be healed.  At the heart of these two events lies that very question: what does it mean to touch Jesus and how do we do it?
            Every culture has its rules and customs about touch as it has about everything.   There are some things that are common to all.  Think for a moment of who you can and cannot touch, where and when.  Even more so did the Jews of our Lord's time.  
            Jairus, the leader of a synagogue, an important man, comes to our Lord and asks him to save his daughter.  She is dying and he's desperate.  If you've had a child or a relative near death you will know what it feels like.  The light of his life, the apple of his eye, is dying and there's nothing he can do except humiliate himself in public and beg another man to help him. He asks our Lord to come and lay his hand on her and do his magic or whatever it is that he does.  This man does not believe in our Lord: he's just desperate.
            Today, all over Israel archaeologists have found what appear to be cisterns and they were for storing water but not for drinking.  They were there for purification.  Under the Jewish Law there were many ways to become impure and people generally lived with the idea that most of the time they were ritually impure.  They still did what they could as often as they could to purify themselves.
            One of the ways to be impure was by blood. We are told that the woman in this story had suffered for over a decade with bleeding and despite spending all her money she was worse.  She too is desperate.  Can you imagine what she has suffered?  This is long before anesthetics and modern medicine. This problem is not only personal to her but it is also intimate.  It humiliated her.  It limited what she could and where she could go and it isolated her.  She was permanently impure and therefore she was excluded from the synagogue and the Temple and there was nothing she could do about it. 

            So desperate is she that she takes a risk to reach out and touch our Lord.   At the very moment she touches Him she is healed and He knows.  The could is packed around Him so his disciples are shocked that He wants to know who's touched Him.  But He's insistent.  This woman now shows that not only has she faith she has courage and gratitude too.  She comes forward and despite her fear and despite the humiliation (can you imagine her embarrassment?) she tells her story.  In return she hears those wonderful words of our Lord "you faith has saved you. Go in peace..."  So she is not only cured of her sickness she is now at peace with God something that not even a lifetime of sacrifices and prayers in the Temple could do.
            Then Jairus gets the news that he dreads, his little girl is dead.  Those are words every parent dreads to even think of hearing.  Can you imagine the pain and grief that must've struck him then.  He has failed and lost his beloved daughter.  Yet the Lord has not abandoned Him despite his lack of faith. Faith is what he needs now and to put away his fear.  Taking only his closest men, his inner circle, our Lord goes to Jairus' house.
            We don't keen as our people once did in the past.  Back in our Lord's time there were even professional mourners who would produce the appropriate wailing to accompany a death.  It is probably these that our Lord confronts when he gets to Jairus' house. Either way they're not impressed. Our Lord's words that the little girl is not dead but asleep could either mean that she is still alive but in a coma or that, though dead, she is not lost, we don't know.  Either way he does not tolerate their mockery. Although it is Jairus' house He throws the mourners out and so creates a bit of peace and quiet.  
            With the girl's parents and His closest men He goes in to see her, into the heart of their home.  All He does is take her hand and call her and she is restored to her parents.  Can you imagine their joy?  Moments before they were cut to the heart with grief and all their days to come were ashes and misery and now hope and joy are restored to them.  He tells them to feed her so that they and everyone else can see that she is really healed and restored to them.

            As I prepared this I noticed that the first woman suffered for twelve years while this little girl was twelve years old. What is the significance of that? Perhaps she was allowed to suffer that long so that her faith and her healing would touch Jairus and bring him to the faith that our Lord could save his daughter.
            In asking our Lord to touch his child he was really asking the creator to recreate her.  Touching Jesus and being touched by Him is not magic.  We cannot benefit without faith.  Yet how often is He ignored though he is readily available to us in the Sacrament of Confession?  Jarius sought our Lord to save his daughter why do so many fail to seek Him in Confession to save their souls?  How often is He received in Holy Communion not only without faith, not only without respect but even without any acknowledgement of the need of repentance and conversion of life?
             In Holy Communion we can not only touch our Lord, who is really and truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, but we receive Him into our bodies and souls.  Do we invite Him into our hearts and lives with faith or do we mock Him with our indifference or even our lack of sorrow for our wrongdoing?  
            If only we not only sought to touch Him but let Him touch us He would raise us up and feed us with Himself and our joy would be complete.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

IN THE WILDERNESS PREPARE A WAY FOR THE LORD: a homily for the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist (2018)

            John the Baptist must've been an extraordinary character.   John was the son a priest of the Jerusalem Temple and through his mother he was a descendent of Aaron, brother of Moses.  That made him a priest and put him at the heart of the Jewish Faith.  The instruction given to John's father before he was born is very like that given to the parents of Samson.  He was to be dedicated to God from birth and so he had never touched alcohol, never cut his hair and lived from an early age in the hard rocky hills and desert of Israel.  John's austere diet of insects and wild honey recalls the stern self-sacrificing, self-denying ministries of the Old Testament prophets, not that of a comfortable and wealthy priest.  John would not have had weight problems!  He chose to wear camel hair clothes and a leather belt, the same clothing as the great prophet Elijah. Therefore his very clothing was a proclamation of his ministry and his mission.             
            There had not been a prophet in Israel for over four hundred years.  John was sent by God as a prophetic herald to prepare the way for Christ and so his clothes were appropriate to the humility of the arrival of the King who was born to an unknown family, laid in an animal trough, and announced to mere shepherds.  In addition John's clothes were an visual parable protesting the barrenness of a people who no longer listened to God and calling them to prepare for the Lord's coming through repentance and conversion of heart.  
            If you read the bible, and I do hope you read it, you may remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  So awful was their behaviour, the story goes, that the screams of their victims were heard in Heaven and God goes down to investigate.  He visits Abraham who, assuming that God is about to destroy them, starts to haggle with God. How many righteous men does God need in a town before he will not destroy it Abraham wants to know? He haggles God down to ten righteous men and since there aren't that many in Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham, Lot and their families have to flee before the Divine wrath descends.  
            That's how the story has often been read. I recently read an article that argued something else.  Abraham is the first of the prophets and as a prophet he has access to God's counsel as God's friend and co-operator.  God gives him the chance to plead for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, to ask for mercy, but since Abraham has yet to grasp just how deep God's mercy is he stops short at ten men.  God accepts Abraham's decision, removes His protection, and Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed not because God wanted to destroy them but because that's what Abraham had decided.  The later prophets did not make the same mistake and had no hesitancy in pleading with God for mercy, a mercy He wants to give but which He will not force on us.  His hand is extended to us and we must reach out and grasp it.

            So the man whose birth we celebrate today was an outsider, the last of the prophets and among the first of the saints.  John gave up the possibility of marriage and a home, of social status, power and influence, of mere everyday comfort to live on the extreme margins of his society so that he could speak God's word to the people of Israel.  John had the courage to respond to God's grace, to listen to His word, and to put it into practice regardless of the personal cost.  By making those sacrifices John prepared the hearts of his fellow Jews to hear the Word Himself, God Incarnate, Jesus Christ out Lord.
            Celebrating this feast is a way to remind ourselves that if we are truly followers of Christ then we too are called to prepare a way for Him into the hearts and lives of others.  We too are forerunners of God, heralds and ambassadors for Christ.  We too are prophets called to speak the truth, God's word, to our nation, our society and our families.  We too are called to ask for mercy and forgiveness for ourselves and for others.  To do that we need to be in this world but not of it.  
            There are no deserts nor are there even proper wilderness in our little green island.  We have family and vocational commitments, jobs and roles in our society.  Do we need to give them up to be disciples of Christ?  Not at all.  Yet we do need the desert, a wilderness space, in our lives and we can create that desert by withdrawing from unnecessary and distracting activities, conversations and entertainments and giving the time instead to listening to the Lord.  
            The purpose of our life here on earth is not a happy retirement in a comfortable old age but to get to heaven. Getting in to Heaven is not automatic.  There's no easy way in.  You have to choose eternal life with God by having faith in Him, putting His will first here on earth, by avoiding doing evil and actively seeking to do good.   God will not force His love nor will He force Heaven on us.  We have to reach out and grasp His outstretched hand.

            John understood this and he reached out for God's hand will all his might.  His devotion to God's plan cost him his life.  He literally stuck out his neck and put his head on the line. He paid the ultimate price but won a glorious place in Heaven.  Who among us today has a like courage?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

CHRIST IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF TRUE FLOURISHING: a homily for the Eleventh Sunday, year B (Mark 4:26–34)

Full disclosure: I was struggling all week to decide what I should preach on and then on Saturday morning I found the sacred page blog.  I used John Bergsma's reflection on the Sunday readings to construct this Sunday's homily!

Every life, every era has its own particular trials, tribulations and challenges.About 600 years before Christ Ezekiel wrote the words of the first reading to console the Jews as their world fell apart.  The Kingdom established by David had long split in two and now only the southern part, Judah and Jerusalem, remained and that wouldn't last long.  The Jews of Northern Israel were exiles in Syria, and Babylon had already deported many Judeans.  A few years later in 587 BC, Jerusalem and the Temple would be completely destroyed.  
            It was a quite depressing time in the history of God’s people and Ezekiel gives a prophesy of hope: God has a plan and his promise to David is not forgotten. There be will growth once more.  However no dynasty had ever re-established itself having been brought down.  How could this happen?  Surely Ezekiel was mad?
            The “just one” that we heard about in the psalm is compared to a tree that flourishes, grows, and bears fruit.  It's a not uncommon image in the psalms.  Behind it is the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil in Eden, the primordial garden-temple of God.  The “just”—those who live their lives according to God’s will become like the Tree of Life.  They will bear the fruit that Adam and Eve didn’t taste, because they chose to take what had not been offered, what did not yet belong to them.  
            The “just one” is first of all Jesus Christ—the only one who is truly “just.”  He is truly the Tree of Life who bears good fruit in all seasons, eternally. There's an Irish prayer that goes "O King of the Friday, whose arms were stretched on the Cross.  O Lord who did suffer the bruises, the wounds, the loss.  We stretch ourselves beneath the shield of Thy Might.  May some fruit from the Tree of Thy Passion fall on us this night."  It is Christ who has made the Cross and all our personal crosses fruitful. Baptism and the Mass make us His Body and so we too can be the 'just one" flourishing in hard times.  The Lord offers us the means togrow spiritually strong and resilient despite life’s troubles, and bear the fruit of the Spirit and of good works.  

            Again in the Gospel we hear about trees and fruit.  The Lord tells two short parables.  In both of them, the “seed” is the Word of God, in two senses: the proclaimed Gospel is the “word of God”; and Jesus himself is the Word of God.  In the first parable, Jesus tells us that the growth of God’s kingdom is a mystery, the work of the Holy Spirit, and no more dependent on human effort than natural growth depends on us.  A gardener cannot make the seed grow he can only provide the best conditions in his power.  We are responsible for planting the seed by our words and deeds but the growth belongs to the Lord.  We cannot control God's work in our own heart let alone another's. It is the work of God and we must trust Him.
            The Lord also tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.  Again the “smallest of seeds” and the humblest is in fact Christ himself, who is both the Word of God, and the “seed of David” whom God promised by covenant oath to King David “raise up”:  "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom."  Isaiah prophesied that "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Jesse was David's father and an ancestor of our Lord.

            Christ is the “smallest of seeds” because he is poor, humble and lowly, despised by all: as Isaiah again said:"For he grew up before us like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Those words were fulfilled on the Cross and from the Cross our Lord says to us "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
            After His death on the Cross our Lord was literally planted, that is buried, in the ground.  He said the grain of wheat that dies bears much fruit:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  The “mustard seed” of Jesus, planted in the ground in the mountain heights of Israel (Jerusalem), rose from the dead and became the Church, which grew despite persecution and grows throughout the world still.  
            In Christ, the royal Son of David, Ezekiel’s prophecy did come true but not as expected.   Christ turned defeat into victory and the Cross into a throne.  The House of David was reestablished not in Jerusalem but in Heaven, and the Kingdom of David is the Church has spread throughout the world, an international empire of Faith.
            Every life, every era has its own particular trials, tribulations and challenges.Without our Faith in Christ we are no good to anyone.  We need to rekindled our faith and care for it as we would a candle in a cave.  We need to have faith in God and His power to save us.  In this dark time when the Church seems to be failing it’s helpful to remember that times were frequently dark in the past as well. Ezekiel prophesied under the oppression of the Babylonian Empire.  Our Lord ministered under the oppression of the Roman Empire.  How many centuries were our people oppressed and persecuted here in our native land?  The Lord prefers to work through the small, the weak and the powerless: mere mustard seeds. He prefers to work in and through ordinary people in ordinary situations.  In unseen ways He makes things grow and change.  He does not die, He grows; He fills the whole earth, brings eternal life to those that seek His shade.  He is the Tree of Life and if we turn to Him He will feed us with Himself and we will live forever.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER: a homily for the Tenth Sunday in year B, (Mark 3.20–35)

            What a homecoming!  Our Lord returns to Nazareth and faces two challenges. The Jewish lawyers and theologians are accusing Him of being possessed while His relatives are putting Him under pressure to conform.  In the intensely clannish climate of Israel the question is this: where does His authority come from?  In other words who is Jesus and what should we do about Him?
            In the midst of all this our Lord offers His defense: He is the strong man who has robbed the robber Satan.  He is the center of history and the source of salvation.  Anyone who does His Father's will is mother, sister, brother to Him.  It is not biology but obedience to the truth that forms the family of God.
            One would have to be totally indifferent to one's salvation or dangerously complacent not to wonder about that sin against the Holy Spirit.  What does that mean?  The sin against the Holy Spirit or the unforgiveable sin is the refusal to admit one's sin or the power and will of God to forgive it.  It is a rejection of God's mercy and forgiveness. A drowning man who resists any help or a dying man who refuses life-saving treatment cannot be saved and likewise those who refuse God's mercy remain in their sin.  It does not mean that God does not or cannot forgive but that His forgiveness is not welcome and until that changes the sin remains and the sinner cannot hope for Heaven.
            All too often we think of sin in terms of breaking rules, especially breaking Church rules.  That in part is due to the Church's practice in the past of using such penalties to enforce discipline.  Sin is not about breaking rules but about doing evil. Sin is a rejection of God's authority, His mercy and His love, and His plan for us.  It follows that any thought, word or deed that freely and consciously rejects God's plan is evil and therefore sinful.
            You will remember that our Lord says that if anyone looks lustfully at another person he or she has already committed sin in their heart.  This is because the one looking with lust has given their will to an act they know to be wrong and though there was no physical action they have turned their will to an evil end.  Each time you or I do such a thing we make it easier to do it in future until we end up so evil that we can no longer do good.  I knew a female student once who could not tell the truth even if it got her out of trouble.    
            Of course the opposite is also true. The more you choose to do good, to do the right thing, the more likely you are to choose good in future until it becomes nearly impossible to do wrong.  It is a habit, that is, a settled disposition of one's charachter. Such a habit is a virtue if it is good and a vice if it is evil.
            As I have pointed out to you before there is an objective moral order. It is Objective because it exists independently of us, Moral because it governs right and wrong and an order because it has a hierarchical structure.  We do good when we live by it and respect it and evil by ignoring it and acting contrary to it even if only in our thoughts.  This is why even seemingly small acts can be morally significant.
            For instance, Adolf Hitler did not, as far as we know, kill anyone.  Yet by his signature he gave power to Himmler and Himmler gave power to Heydrich and Heydrich thought up the 'final solution', that is, the mass murder of millions of innocent Jews.  The pen is mightier than the sword because it so often unleashes it. So even our smallest acts can bring great good or great evil and we will answer to God for the consequences of every one of them.
            The good news is that God has extended to us His mercy and forgiveness in His Son.  In Christ He has given us everything, every grace and every blessing.  It is up to us to avail of it.  He will not force Himself on us.  He will not violate our free will in even the smallest way.  He would not force the scribes and the Pharisees; He will not force us.
            More, any and every sin, no matter how dreadful or disgusting, no matter how shameful, no matter how often committed, no matter how many affected, any sin will be forgiven if it is repented and confessed.  If we cast ourselves on His mercy we will not be disappointed.  But only those sins are forgiven that are repented and confessed in this life.  We cannot confess or repent in the next.  What we hold back, what we refuse to acknowledge as sin, or if we refuse to trust in His mercy and forgiveness, then that cannot be forgiven.  What is not dipped in the water is not washed.
            Through Baptism and Confirmation He has made us one Family, one flesh with Himself.  More, He has given us a share in His own Sonship and a place on the Throne of Heaven.  In Holy Communion He offers us His Body and Blood, His own soul and Divinity as food for us.  He asks that we believe in Him, trust Him and give Him each and every in sin in the Confession. He wants to see, touch and heal each and every wound.  He will not force His love on us and neither will He force His mercy. 
            Don't let pride or false humility, weak faith or laziness, keep you out of heaven.  The more and the swifter we turn to His grace in the Sacrament of Confession the quicker and the greater will we grow in holiness.  That holiness will attract others to Christ and His mercy, especially those we love.  If you really love your loved ones you will strive to get as close to Christ as possible because only through, with and in Him can anyone be saved. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES: a homily on Trinity Sunday, May 27th, 2018

            Friday was a day of choice.  It is a privilege of our democratic constitutional system that we get to vote on changes to the fundamental law of the land.  Our people voted and they made a choice.  Every choice, no matter how small has consequences many of them unseen. There will be consequences to the choice our people have made whether we like those consequences or not.  
            This was not a vote about being Catholic but a vote about respecting that objective moral order about which I have spoken to you before.  Our nation has voted to reject that objective moral order.  It has chosen to remove the protection on the life of the unborn child and so to give the government a free hand in legislating for abortion. It has done so with such a majority that the same government may feel free to go further than they claimed they would go.
            One consequence of the vote will  definitely affect every one on this island but not immediately.  Within the last few weeks Minster Zappone herself announced that she was going to take action to try to stop the decline in the nation's birthrate.  This is a problem that has been there since the 1980's mind you.  The problem with our birthrate is not ours alone; it affects all advanced nations.  It is due to many reasons but the technology that has allowed it to happen is primarily that of contraception and surgical and chemical abortion. This will mean that the day will come, about twenty to thirty years from now, when there will not be enough young people in the population to support all the old people.  No one knows how this will play out because never before have we been able to observe whole nations go down this path together. We do know that such events have lead to the collapse of whole empires in the past. It happened to the Romans.  
            It's because of that prospect that there's already talk of raising the age at which people retire.  It's one of the reasons that there's so much emphasis on private pension schemes.  It is also why there's a push to bring in euthanasia.  I would've thought it was obvious that you don't save a sinking ship by poking holes in the hull and then trying to plug them.
            Friday's vote means that for those of us who are Catholic we too must make a choice.  If it wasn't obvious to you before it should be glaringly obvious now that 'Catholic Ireland' has been dead for some time.  Not just Catholic Ireland but even the capacity to reason about right and wrong seems to have left us.   We have only ourselves to blame though some may carry more blame than others.
            We are now a minority Faith on this island.  There was a time when everyone went to Mass.  Many went because they believed but some went to be seen and others so no would talk about them.  The Church was as part of Irish society as the GAA, the pubs and the national school.  There is still a certain amount of that.  It is called 'cultural Catholicism' where the Faith is not embraced but simply worn like a badge of identity, an expression of a brand of Irishness like wearing green on Patrick's day.  It is cultural Catholicism that makes an avowed atheist think that he can be a sponsor for someone's Confirmation.  
            The 'cultural Catholics' may still hang around but we will have to offer them a choice: "Take the Faith seriously or move on."  We can't afford to carry those who don't really care, who don't really believe.   I'm not talking about those who struggle with sin. We all struggle with sin.  I am talking about the superficial Catholics, sometimes called 'a la carte' or 'pick'n'mix' Catholics.  About those who can't be bothered to be one thing or the other our Lord Himself has said: "I will spit you out of my mouth." (Rev. 3.16)
            Our choice is whether we take our faith seriously or not.  It's a choice about whether we allow our Faith to touch every aspect of our lives and our behaviour or not.  There's much that must change in the Irish Church but not in the way some may want it.  We cannot go back to the 50's but we can live the Faith handed down to us from the Apostles, the Faith lived by St Anthony of Padua, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa and all the saints.  We can take the Gospel and the teachings of the Church seriously and put them into practice or we can walk away.  That is the real choice before us and it will have its own consequences.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

TO KNOW THE NATURAL LAW IS TO KNOW THE MIND OF CHRIST: a homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B.

An atheist was visiting the South Sea Islands.  While there he commiserated with a Chieftain on how Christianity had damaged his culture.  The Chieftain listened patiently and then said “You see this rock? Before the Christians came I would have killed you with it and eaten your brains.  It is because of the Christians that you are still alive.”  Christianity had taught his people not to treat strangers as enemies but as human beings  
Today there is an attempt to force religion and via religion morality into the private sphere.  But neither religion nor morality are private matters.  We cannot be Catholic only in private or only on some issues.  It is all or nothing.  While there are many areas over which Catholics can disagree with one another e.g. immigration, taxation, water charges etc., the fundamental moral teaching is not for negotiation.  But here I must make an important clarification.
The Church does not get her moral teaching from Revelation (that which has been revealed to us above all through Christ and His Apostles) but rather Revelation affirms, expands and deepens what we already know by reason.  By reason you and I know that it's wrong to take what does not belong to you, to have sex with someone to whom one is not married or to kill an innocent human being.  Just laws are based on such moral principles; that's what makes them just.  It's because we know it is wrong to steal that we have so many laws punishing burglary, shop-lifting, pick-pocketing, fraud and plagiarism.  An act is wrong not because it is against the law.  If it is against the law it ought to be so because it is wrong.  Law also functions to teach people right from wrong.  We show compassion in how we apply the law not in how we frame it.
We can know right from wrong by reason because there exists outside ourselves and our societies an Objective Moral Order.  It is Objective because it is real and not subject to our feelings or opinions. It is Moral because it governs our free actions as self-conscious and sentient beings.  It is an Order because it has a structure and a hierarchy.  This Objective Moral Order is usually called the Natural Law.  
Revelation affirms this Natural Law.  We must not confuse the Natural Law with the Laws of Nature.  The Laws of Nature are what rule the physical world and are studied through the disciplines of science: physics, chemistry and biology.  The Natural Law is what rules the moral world.  The Ten Commandments are a condensation of that Natural Law.  There is a lot more to right and wrong but most of Catholic moral teaching is an ‘unpacking’ of those Ten Commandments.  
Of course as we have just heard our Lord added another commandment that we love one another as He has loved us.  This we could not know by reason but only by Revelation.  It required revelation for us to know about the importance of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile, of imitating Christ in His humility and obedience.  This is why our Lord said that not one iota, not one little dot, of the Law would be changed and that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil, that is, complete it.
The Natural Law is known not so much by experiment (unless all of human history can be understood as an experiment) but it is perceived by reason reflecting on what it is to be human and on the experience of conscience.  Conscience is that capacity of the soul to reflect on and examine our actions, to hold them up to inspection and judge them.  Conscience is not infallible but it is a capacity that we must form and foster, educate and nurture so that it becomes ever more sensitive.  The best education and formation a conscience can get is to be informed by the Word of God in the Catholic Faith.  Indeed to listen to an educated and well-formed conscience is to place one’s ear next to the mouth of God. 
It is conscience that tells us about the demands of the Natural Law.  For instance, conscience tells us, without too many arguments or without much thought, that it is always wrong to deliberately and directly take an innocent human life.  That is why we expect a man to go to prison for killing his neighbour but not for killing his neighbour’s dog.  The fact that we are fallen of course has shaped how different societies have understood that Law.  The more civilised the society the wider the understanding of the sanctity of human life has become. Christianity has widened our understanding of ‘innocent human being’ to the utmost.  Yet there remains a constant battle against those who would narrow that understanding again, who would push us back to barbarism.   
Much of our legal tradition was based on this Natural Law but that is being dismantled and rejected.  It does not suit the intelligentsia, the social engineers and ideologues who run our world.  Where once society held up the virtues for us to emulate and extolled moral goodness now we are subjected to the idolatry of personal freedom and the monstrous worship of depravity.   This goes hand in hand with the rejection of Christ and His Church.  One cannot behave as one wishes and still hold to an objective moral order, a Natural Law, nor can one hold to Christ and His Church.  Reject the Natural Law and one necessarily rejects Christ.
There is a battle for the soul of our own nation.  That is where the matter of the Eight Amendment to our Constitution comes in.  Either we give glory to God, proclaim His Truth and uphold what He has established or we deny Him by our silence and inaction.  The Nazis and Communists came to power in various countries because the good stood by and did nothing when they had a chance to make a difference.  The moral order in our society is under revolution and we are called to action.  A soldier who sits in the trench during a battle might as well be siding with the enemy.  It is not just a matter of voting in the right way or for the right politician.  If we do not speak up and get involved in resisting the evil that is threatening our country and the lives of the most vulnerable then we risk forfeiting Heaven.  We cannot expect a welcome from God if we have stood by and allowed His children to be murdered.  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

BE GRAFTED TO CHRIST AND DRAW LIFE FROM HIM: a homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B (John 15.1-8)

My Dad spent a chunk of his working life in a foundry in Dublin. He would say about it that 'once the metal entered your blood you couldn't get it out.'  I would say the same of soil.  Before I joined the Capuchins I worked was a gardener. If you're a gardener then you might understand what I mean.  It never leaves you.  It's more than fresh air and growing things.
I learned to dislike weeds.  Not all weeds are plants growing where they're not wanted. Some weeds entangle, throttle and kill the living things around them.  They grow only for their own benefit and to the loss of others. Thank God most plants are not weeds.  
My favourites are the fruit trees.  Most fruit trees are grafted plants like vines.  I've never grafted plants but I know how it's done. If you look at their base there's always a swollen join where the stock meets the graft.  Plants are grafted together so the strength and vitality of one fuels the potential of the other.  Usually the rootstock is wild and vigorous and the graft is a domesticated variety that lacks vitality.  Graft the two together and you get something vibrant and fruitful.
One still needs to prune.  Pruning isn't just cutting away branches.  It's an art.  It shapes the plant and can determine whether and how much fruit it bears. Careful pruning channels the life of the rootstock into the buds and therefore into the branches and the fruit.  Careful pruning helps keep a plant healthy.  One prunes the diseased and injured branches first and burns them so they don't infect other plants.  
Although it has been years since I pruned or even cared for a plant it still pains me to see them neglected or worse badly tended.  
Trees don't have a nervous system or any means to experience pain but we do.  When I apply our Lord's words on pruning the vine to myself I remember experiences of pruning and shaping.  A number of weeks ago I told you about the time I had to care for the physical needs of brother who was doubly incontinent.  He was a good man and rarely gave trouble but he could not communicate. Having to get him out of bed, wash him and dress him, change his nappies during the day and put him to bed was very hard for me.  I felt trapped.  I felt great relief when I no longer had to do that.  Yet I learned that I could do that.  I got more from him than he did from me.  Through that experience I was pruned and shaped. 
If any of us searches our memories we will find times when we were pruned by others or by our experiences.  Unlike trees we can feel and pruning hurts.  Maybe the pruning has been inexpert and careless. Perhaps it may have helped us to grow and to blossom.  Some of our experiences may have left deep scars that are very hard to heal unless they are tended by the master gardener Himself.
It is the same with our lives as it is with out bodies and with plants. There is within us a wild and rebellious urge to go our own way. If we allow that to happen we end up with lifeless chaos.  If wounds are not treated and healed they become infected and cause more problems.  If diseases are not dealt with they get worse.  If we do not cultivate a healthy way of growing then we become out of shape, and cannot produce the good we should do.  If one part of our life is spiritually or morally out of kilter then all the rest is affected.
Not one of us is perfectly shaped unless we allow the Father, the master gardener, to prune, shape and train us to His plan so that we can bring forth all the potential that lies within us.     Only if we draw our life and resources from our rootstock Christ can we grow, blossom and bear fruit that lasts.  Only through our union with Christ can we be truly alive and avoid the fire.
We remain grafted to Christ through Holy Communion in a state of grace, through prayer, through obedience to His word and to the teaching of His Church, through loving others in the truth and extending to them the love and mercy Christ has extended to us.
God made us so that we should grow, flourish, blossom and bring forth goodness and holiness, let's not turn into weeds.


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