Sunday, August 21, 2016

ENTERING BY THE NARROW DOOR: A HOMILY FOR SUNDAY 21 C (Luke 13:22–30)


 I couldn't get the printer to work this morning so the actual homily was delivered from notes I took based on what I had prepared below.  It seemed to go well!

One Sunday a year our Guardian, on behalf of all the friars speaks to you about the issue of child abuse and apologizes for the harm done to children and vulnerable adults by some of our Capuchin brothers.  There are some people who want that topic to go away perhaps because it is so unpleasant or perhaps because it so painful.  It can bring up dark memories for some.  It can also seem that abuse of children by religious or priests is worse than that any other kind of child abuse.  It isn’t.  Any abuse of children or of vulnerable adults is evil and there is no excuse for it.  The Church’s Tradition has long held that there are four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.  I think they should add the abuse of the young and vulnerable to that list.  The price of peace is eternal vigilance and that applies to protecting children as much as it does to anything else.  I know too many people whose lives have been scarred by abuse whether at home or in care, whether by strangers or those they knew and loved.  We apologize so that we will not forget and we do not forget so that we will take seriously our obligation to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable from those who would prey on them.
It raises the question though how could the perpetrators of these acts do these things and how could those who knew or came to know, whether superiors, neighbours or family members, not act to bring these things to an end?  There are many reasons why those who abuse choose to do so and we would need a psychiatrist to cover that.  There are very few for why anyone would turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to abuse.  I think that one reason that some Catholics do so is a failure to heed our Lord’s warning.  If we think that somehow we will not have to give an account to God or that we can find a ‘backdoor’ to salvation that avoids the narrow door then we are more likely to take the coward’s way out and fail those who need our help the most.
That is why it is an important question ‘How many will be saved?’ and it’s an important question that is not often asked today.  Our Lord does not actually answer it, not directly, but rather urges us to strive for salvation, to enter by the narrow door, the narrow way that leads to Eternal Life.  He warns us that many will try and fail because they are not strong enough.   What is the narrow door?   It is the way of the Gospel, of the Church’s Teaching, of virtue.  It is narrow because it demands that we let go of all that is not necessary and above all of anything that is contrary to the will of God.  We are so attached to these things that it can be painful but once through the door there is the joy and peace of the Kingdom of God.  Do not lose Eternal joy for a joy that cannot last!
Our Lord does not answer the question about how many will be saved directly because He wishes to keep us from two errors.  Those errors, opposites to one another, are that of despair and complacency.  In the past some generations have tended towards despair thinking that so few get through that narrow door that most of us are doomed.  In our present age we have certainly leaned towards complacency with some theologians and even bishops holding that ‘all or most of us are saved’.  Both extremes are a lethal to our salvation.  Salvation, the avoidance not only of damnation forever in Hell but gaining Eternal Life with God is not our achievement.  If we try to save our selves, to enter by the Narrow Door on our own steam, by our own strength, then we are doomed to failure. It is God’s free gift to us, unmerited, unsought, and often unappreciated. 
The middle way between despair and complacency is one of hope, hope not only in God’s mercy but in the power of His grace to empower us and magnify the effects of our efforts so that what is beyond human strength is shown to be more than possible by His grace.
God not only permits, but actively invites us to get involved in our salvation through faith in Christ and through active love for God and our neighbour but it is His grace that enables us to believe and to love.  He saves us we do not save ourselves.  He it is who can heal the harm and damage that has been done even by those who should be the best examples of what it is to follow Christ.   There is the hope in the Cross of Christ: mercy for those who have sinned and repent and healing for those who have been hurt.

This path of hope means that we must take our salvation seriously but also do so with knowledge and faith that everything really depends on God and His mercy.  It gives us the courage to keep our eyes and ears open and to stand up to evil especially when it targets the weak.  This path challenges us to really live the Gospel in every aspect of our lives and to never allow the weak and vulnerable to come to harm or to let their cries for help go unanswered.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

CATCHING FIRE FOR CHRIST a homily for the TWENTIETH SUNDAY, YEAR C (Luke 12:49–53)


Does anyone want their family divided?  Who wants the members of their family falling out with one another, not speaking, saying hurtful things?  It is a sad thing to see and I have seen it.  I have seen funerals here in Cork where one part of the family sat at one end of the front seats and the other part at the other end.  I have seen funerals where some members of a family stood at the back of the church or did not even show up for their own Mother’s funeral!  I know of families where members have not spoken in years.  The pain that such conflicts inflict is immeasurable.  We should make every effort to forgive and be reconciled.  But that is not the topic of my sermon.
Our Lord says He has come to divide.  He says that the fire He will send upon the Earth through His baptism will bring this division, this conflict.  Is not the Lord the Lord of Peace and Love, Mercy and Forgiveness?  How can He talk of conflict and division? Are we not supposed to be kind and merciful to one another, tolerate one another and be nice?
Actually I have come to hate that last word ‘nice’! Originally the word ‘nice’ meant ignorant and later it meant ‘stupid’.  Nowhere in the Gospels are we called to be ignorant or stupid or even ‘nice’ in the modern sense of the word.  We are called to stand up for Christ and the Truth.  We are called not to be afraid but to be willing to risk everything for Him and His Kingdom.
This Fire that our Lord speaks about is above all the Fire of the Holy Spirit which through His Baptism, His passion, death and resurrection is now cast upon the world in the form of the Church.  In receiving Baptism and Confirmation we are immersed in that Fire so that it dwells in our souls and we are commanded to spread it.  Why does He call it Fire?  Fire burns, of course, it consumes.  This Fire from Heaven consumes evil and sin, purifying humanity and the world. Fire brings about change and the Fire of the Spirit empower us to confront and overcome evil and to do good.  Fire warms and, if we let it, the Fire of Christ warms our hearts with Divine Love, enlivening us and giving us zeal for good and for the Gospel.  Fire gives light and the Fire of Christ gives light to the world, showing us the Truth and driving out error, so that we do not remain ignorant or stupid.  Fire is a symbol of love and the greatest love is the Love of God.  God wants to soak the world in His Love for us and restore us not just to what we were before the Fall but to lift us up into the very Heart of the Most Holy Trinity.  He wants to place us in the very heart of the furnace of Divine Love.
But we must choose.  God has too much love for us to force His love upon us.  We must choose and choose in the Truth, choose the Gospel of Christ.   Choice divides.  Every position is a choice and so it is divisive.  This division exists first of all in our own hearts.  We are divided within ourselves because we are fallen and are uncertain about the right path to follow.  We can only be whole by letting Christ fuse us with Himself.  Only in union with Christ can we know real peace and happiness and the right way to go.  This division runs from our hearts and out through the world.  So it is no surprise that modern secular society struggles with the question of Truth and of right and wrong.  They have a home in their society for everyone but Christ and those who side with Him.
Choosing therefore also demands rejecting and being rejected.  If we choose Christ then we choose His Church, His Truth, His Authority and we reject that of the world, of immorality, false freedom and ignorance.  To choose Christ is to choose Eternal Life but it is also to choose to suffer rejection and conflict in this life.    That conflict is firstly in our own hearts as we struggle to keep to the Truth but it is also in our families and homes.  There will be members of our families who will not choose Christ, who will resist or who will even side with the world.  I know how painful this is.  Here I made reference to family situations that I will not put on the Internet!  That’s not the way my parent’s and their generation brought us up.  What are we to do?
Long ago a monk living in the desert of Egypt went to his abbot and asked him how he could make progress.  The abbot told him to live their rule of life and pray continually doing all and enduring all for the love of God.  The monk said he did all this.  Then the abbot stood up and his hands became like flames.  He said to the monk “Then become all fire.”  The answer then is ‘Fire’!  Become afire for God by doing everything and enduring everything for the love of God.  Fan into a flame the faith God has given you!  When you are ablaze for Christ others will catch fire from you and the blaze will spread.  The faith is dying in Ireland because of lukewarm Christians and our Lord has promised to spit them out of His mouth.  Fan this flame of faith and protect it from the icy winds of our present time.  Feed it and make it grow, brighter, hotter, stronger.  If we take our faith seriously and put it into practice it we will not be lukewarm but on flame for Him and we will bring others to the faith.  This fire will demand that we allow it to purify us not just of all that is sinful and wrong in our lives but even what is unnecessary too.  If we would love God as He wishes to be loved, as He deserves to be loved, then we must let go of any love that is incompatible with that love.  In return we have been promised that if even one person in a family practices their faith wholeheartedly and trusts in our Lord and His Blessed Mother then the rest will be saved.  As one Russian saint said “Become a saint and you will save a thousand souls.”
How do we do this? First, pray!  Here I recommend the book “The Practice of the Presence of God”, it’s short, easy to read and costs less than €5 on Book Depository.  Secondly know your Faith, read a piece of the Catechism each day or use EWTN or other sources on the net to get to know your Faith better.  Thirdly put it into practice especially by charity to the poor which covers a multitude of sins.  Fourthly attend the Sacraments especially Confession.  Examine your conscience daily and go to Confession regularly.  Fifthly do the duties of your state of life, avoiding evil and doing good, enduring what comes your way for the love of God.  This is the way to become a saint, on fire for God.

We cannot sit on the fence if we are followers of Christ.  We cannot run with hares and hunt with the hounds.  The price of Eternal Life with God is total commitment to Him in this world according to our state of life.  We cannot remain ignorant , still less must we be stupid.  We must face up to this battle, this war within ourselves, our families and our society and enflamed with the Love of Christ set our world on fire with love for Him.  Be on fire with love for Christ and others will catch fire from you.

Friday, August 12, 2016

AN UPDATE



As of Sunday a week ago I am now back in our friary in Cork city: Holy Trinity Friary.  I am even, thanks to the kindness of the Guardian, back in my old room.  I have managed, by dint of divesting myself of a number of boxes of books, a box of CDs, and a large bag of clothes, to squeeze myself back into my old haunt.  I have to confess though that I did leave a box of diaries a large easel and the San Damiano Crucifix I have now finished (bar varnishing) in Dublin.

This house is much easier for me to get around and the city being all around me means that I actually have an incentive to go out.  In Ards the ground being largely irregular and uneven and miles from anywhere meant I kept indoors.  Unless I needed to get something at which point I would borrow a car and go into Letterkenny, a half hour drive away.  Here I just have to walk around the corner.  It's still difficult and I need both crutches for comfort and speed but I am only a few minutes from Cork Art Supplies (a little Aladdin's Cave of art materials) and about fifteen minutes from Dunnes.  I've managed to get as far as Peter and Paul's (Tescos) but those walks are a once a week adventure.  I pay for them with quite an ache.

The light, of course, is much poorer but I have compensated by installing a string of LEDs above my desk so that I have daylight illumination whenever I want!

Monday, August 8, 2016

"WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS" HOMILY FOR THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY, YEAR C (Luke 12:32–48)



We will all die.  That’s the hardest fact of life, probably the most certain fact of all.  There was a time when you did not exist and there will come a time when you will not exist on this Earth.  You will eventually be forgotten and your bones will turn to dust.  What good then will our property, our clothes, books, DVDs, knick-knacks and heirlooms be to us?  There are no pockets in a shroud.  You can bring nothing with you when you leave this life except what you have done, good or bad.  That is the treasure that our Lord wants us to worry about.  Have we invested a store of good with Him or a store of evil with the other fellow?  What is more important to us: where we will spend eternity or where and how we can we can next enjoy ourselves?
At the very moment you and I cease our life on this Earth we will face God and give an account of our life.  When this will be you and I do not know.  It could be at the end of a long life to come or this very day.  When the Lord will come for us none but a few ever know.  That will be the particular judgement when each us dies and faces God.  Be assured that you will not be asked about the Olympics, or how Cork are doing!  These things will no longer matter.  They belong to this world.  As one man who had a near-death experience said “When you are dead all your priorities are different.  What you cared about here you will not care about there!” Those who are just will enter Heaven, the less just will be purified through the sufferings of Purgatory and the unjust will be driven from God’s Presence into the horrors of Hell.  In fact the latter will flee God’s Presence for they will be unable to endure Him.
There will be another Judgment though at the end of time when our Lord will come suddenly upon the whole world and all will be judged whether they are alive or dead at the time.
Therefore we need to be ready, all the time.  We are unlikely to get a warning.  It is true that God will call us when we are closest to salvation but that does not mean our salvation is guaranteed.  Our behaviour might mean that the Lord can call us only when He can guarantee us the least suffering.  The Lord has warned us in the Scriptures, in the teaching of the Church and the lives and writings of the saints that we need to live holy lives.  We have no excuse.  God is not found wanting in grace or mercy and will always help those who ask Him to.   We cannot continually ignore His commandments, the invitation of His grace, and still expect entry into His Kingdom.  How many Catholics today give more than a few minutes a day to prayer?  How many actively seek to do good to those around them?  How many support so-called gay marriage, use contraception, or defraud others?  How many deliberately miss Mass on a Sunday and then receive Communion the following weekend without first going to Confession?  Indeed how many Catholics go to Confession at all?  We will have no excuses when the Lord calls for us nor when He comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The Fathers of the Church believed that when our Lord says “watch” and “stay awake” and St Paul says “Pray always” they meant what they said.  And it possible to do so as many saints have shown.  Do not say to yourself that that’s for saints and not for ordinary folk.  If you want to get to Heaven you must become a saint and there are many ordinary folk who have become saints by following the path of watchfulness.  Sanctity is rare not because it is too hard but because we are too lazy, too faithless, or too proud to try to change.  We won’t make the effort and then tell ourselves it is too hard.  This is falling spiritually asleep and it leads to spiritual death.
The Lord is urging us to wake up and take our faith seriously.  It is hard but it is not impossible.  The way is narrow only if we try to bring all the unimportant things in life with us.  It is hard only if we try to resist the process of change.  The Lord is pouring out His graces upon us and offering His mercy in abundance.  We lack no help and the only one who can stop anyone of us entering Heaven is our self.  We are the biggest obstacle we must overcome. 

We can start by giving more time to prayer, to learning about our Faith and giving more time to care for others.  Remember that what we do to and  for others Christ our Lord will count as done to or for Him.  We can examine our conscience every evening and see how God has blessed us and where we have failed.  We can avail of the Sacraments especially Confession and Holy Communion.  We can, through, doing good for the living and praying and sacrificing for the dead, store up real treasure in God’s Kingdom, treasure that will not rust or wear out, that will wait for us and be with us for all eternity.

Friday, July 29, 2016

A LITTLE SAMPLE OF MY WORK



Someone asked about my painting.  I've been trying to get this san Damiano Crucifix finished.  I started it ten years ago and finally I've gone as far as I intend to go short of some small bits of sgraffito and varnishing which I hope to do next Spring/Summer.

It's painted on MDF in egg tempera.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

MARTHA, MARY AND DINNER WITH JESUS -Sun C16 (luke 10:38-42)


Most of us have had guests over for a meal.  If you’re the one who did the cooking you will know how stressful that can be.  You want everything to go well and there are so many things that can go wrong.  All you need is someone who doesn’t pull their weight or simply refuses to co-operate with you.  That’s at the heart of this Gospel but it is not Mary who is refusing to co-operate, not doing what she should, it is Martha!
Martha, Martha, her name has rolled down the centuries as the hostess corrected by the Lord.  All she wanted to do was look after her guests, especially our Lord.  In John’s Gospel she gives powerful testimony to her faith by proclaiming that she believes that Jesus is the Messiah; a proclamation on a par with that of Peter himself.  Her efforts to please her guests are testimony to the goodness of her heart and her love for the Lord.
Her culture and her faith commands her to be hospitable.  She wants to show her guests her family’s best side, not let the family down.  She wants to play a motherly role and be a hostess and to feed and care for them.   But on this important occasion her sister is sitting there on her big, fat backside doing nothing!  One can almost hear the banging and the muttering as she goes about getting everything ready.    There is our Lord sitting in the midst of his disciples teaching, with Mary sitting near him listening attentively, while Martha busies herself with her work.
Martha finally loses it.  She does not address her sister but the Lord.  What is going on here?  Has there already been a row?  Are they on speaking terms?  Is she afraid of Mary?  She appeals to the Lord, trying to get Him onto her side but to no avail.  She is corrected instead.  ‘You worry and fret about so many things’ could be said of many of us.  “There is one thing necessary.’ And Mary has chosen it.  The Lord will not deny her.  Why? 
He will not deny Mary because the Lord is the One who is providing the food.  He is the true Host at this meal.  Here it is the food of His Presence and His Teaching.  Soon He will give the food of His Body and Blood.  It is not He who needs food from Martha but Martha who needs food from the Lord.  Mary has realised where the true food is and the Lord is feeding her.
So often are we not just like Martha.  We worry and fret about so many unimportant things and miss the one thing necessary.  The Lord wishes to save us, take away our sins, feed us, and bring us into Eternal Life and few there are who, like Mary, take the time to let Him. 
How do we feed on the Lord?
 First by listening to Him in His Word the Bible, especially the Gospels, and in the Teaching of the Church.  We also feed when we give time to prayer – that is spend time talking to God and giving space for Him to speak to our deepest inner self.  We also feed when we listen to the events of our lives or the beauty of this world He has given us.  All this requires the sacrifice of time – time given to the Lord, to sit and to listen to Him.  We feed on Him especially when we celebrate the Sacraments,  above all when we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace i.e. free of  mortal sin.
I will restrict myself though to just prayer and that is a huge topic. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are always in His Presence and under His care.   Being attentive to that Presence is the heart of prayer.  The Church still defines prayer as ‘lifting our heart and mind up to God’ and that is what being attentive to His Presence means. So here is a simple, ancient way to pray.  Pick a short phrase such as ‘Jesus have mercy on me’ or ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in thee’ or any phrase that appeals to you.  Say it slowly as you breath in and breathe out while you sit quietly, paying attention to the Presence of God.   You will get distracted.  Getting distracted is normal.  When you notice your distraction just return to the Lord’s Presence.  All the saints had to do this.
Another way to pray is to read the Sunday or daily Gospel slowly and with attention and care.  One can read and reread it aloud.  One listens to the words and pays attention to any word or phrase that strikes you.  One talks to God about it and looks to see how it applies to one’s life.    Slowly we become more and more attentive to the Lord and His Teaching. 
When we pray daily the Lord comes to mean more and more to us and we become more and more aware of His Presence in our lives and how He cares for us.  We begin to want to love others more because of the love He has for us.
A Catholic who does not pray, who does not give some time to God each day is not a real Catholic.  Making space for God in our day, in our lives, taking the time to sit at His feet and listen to Him with our mind and heart is how we begin to grow spiritually.  It is how we learn to trust Him, to love Him and to want to follow Him wherever He leads, to not only avoid doing wrong but to want to do more and more good for love of Him.
It is your choice.  God has provided the food of Eternal Life for you.  You can choose to eat or you can choose to go hungry.



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE GOOD SAMARITAN - A HOMILY FORTHE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN YEAR C (Luke 10:25-37)



I must begin with apologies to those who have heard this story before but  I find I return again and again  to my Mother’s actions when one bitterly cold Christmas morning she found a young traveller boy crying outside our front door.  He had sprained his ankle and my mother took him in, checked his ankle and would not let him go until she had fed him.  She understood that everyone is our neighbour and she therefore could never pass by someone in need.
That is the heart of this Gospel passage.  We start with the Lawyer’s question of how we are to attain Eternal life.  Our Lord refers him to the Law.  The lawyer rightly recites the Shema Israel – the Jewish Creed still recited to this day.  This is the path to salvation; honour God and love your neighbour.  But the Lawyer wants to cover himself, to set limits and conditions.  ‘Who is my neighbour?’ the lawyer asks.  He is testing Christ, that is, God-made-man, the very author of all true law and creator of everything.  Christ who stands before him is both his neighbour and his God.  Our Lord’s response does not change the Law but expands it. He tells the Lawyer and us the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’.  In order to understand how shocking this parable is we must replace the Samaritan with another character.  We need to replace him with some person or a representative of some group we believe to be unacceptable.  WE might call him the ‘Good Unionist’.  It is then we can hear what our Lord is saying.  There are no limits to love, not the rather confused modern notions of love, but real love, love that is self-giving, self-sacrificing.  The Samaritan responds to the need of his neighbour though he is a member of an enemy people.  The priest and the Levite, professional religious men, caught up in religious and nationalist issues of purity choose not to reach out to the other and are, paradoxically, breaking the very law they would uphold.



Christ is our Good Samaritan.  We were, through our sins, enemies of God and yet He came into the world to save us.  St Augustine tells us:
“Robbers left you half-dead on the road, but you have been found lying there by the passing and kindly Samaritan. Wine and oil have been poured on you. You have received the sacrament of the only-begotten Son. You have been lifted onto his mule. You have believed that Christ became flesh. You have been brought to the inn, and you are being cured in the Church.  That is where and why I am speaking. This is what I too, what all of us are doing. We are performing the duties of the innkeeper. He was told, “If you spend any more, I will pay you when I return.” If only we spent at least as much as we have received! However much we spend, brothers and sisters, it is the Lord’s money.”
He has brought us to the Church as a place of healing. He has poured over us the purifying wine of His Blood and washed our wounds in Baptism and anointed us with healing oil in Confirmation.   He has given us into the care of the inn that is His Holy Church, a place of refuge for those on the journey to Eternal Life.  In this holy inn our task is to be the Good Samaritan to others, to be obedient as the innkeeper was and to care for those who are broken and in need.  Again as St Augustine tells us:
He shows mercy to us because of His own goodness, while we show mercy to one another because of God’s goodness. He has compassion on us so that we may enjoy Him completely, while we have compassion on another that we may completely enjoy Him.”
Even when we wander off and are brought down by our sins it is Christ who finds us and with His grace brings us to the Confessional where our wounds are bound and healed.  What foolishness it is therefore for anyone to avoid going to Confession or to neglect to confess all theirs sins.  Let Christ our Good Samaritan heal you!
There is no private or partial living of the Faith.  It must be public above all in our actions.  This does not mean that we force our faith down other peoples’ throats but neither does it mean we let them force their faith down ours.   Still less does it mean that we neglect to behave or to speak up in ways that make our faith obvious to everyone. Our Lord is telling us that there are to be no limits to love or to mercy.  If we find someone is in need then we ought to do what we can for him or her regardless of whether he or she is our enemy and regardless of the cost.  This visible proclamation of the Gospel is the most powerful witness of its truth and when we neglect it we are in fact offering a counter-proclamation, a denial that could cost others their salvation.
On the other hand in keeping Christ’s teaching, in extending to others the love and mercy He has extended to us we truly become His disciples and we will one day hear Him say to us “Come, you blessed of my Father, for I was in need and you looked after me.  Enter into the joy of my Kingdom!”


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