Sunday, June 26, 2016

SERMON FOR THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN YEAR C LUKE 9:51-62

Imagine you set out to drive to Dublin or Cork but instead of watching the road in front you kept looking in the rear view mirror or wondering what was over that hill, or down that road on the left or right. Even if you somehow managed not to crash or drive into a ditch surely you would soon be lost? Having the end of one’s journey in mind and keeping one’s eyes on the road is essential to getting there in one piece and on time, safe and sound. That’s what our Lord is saying to us today.

He has set His face for Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, the holy city, the heart and symbol of all the Jewish hopes and dreams. He is going there to suffer, to die and to rise again. He knows He will face rejection and that His own people will be the ones to hand Him over to the pagan Romans to be murdered on the Cross. He does all this because it is His mission, His task from the Father to be the bridge between heaven and earth, to be the Father’s love and mercy made visible for and to us. On the Cross at Calvary He opens heaven to us and unites us with the Father. Every good thing comes to us through Him upon that Cross and He is determined to see it through.

He begins though by sending out His disciples to preach ahead of Him. People are to be informed of what is coming, to hear the Good News of God’s saving plan. They themselves are to undergo rejection and trial in the future so this is a training program to toughen them up for what is to come later in life. They are to learn how to remain at peace and not lose heart because of difficulties. This is something we need to learn as well. We must never give up, never lose our trust in the love and mercy of God.
The Samaritans reject the Gospel because Christ is on His way to Jerusalem. Such are those who can only see this world and think that the only important matters are those of this life: politics, power, wealth, fame etc. By their foolishness they lose what God has to offer. For us it is a warning not to let our fallen nature overcome us and so replace the will of God and His plan with the hunger to be in control, to use others, to have more and more beyond what we need, to always be the centre of attention. Such shortsightedness has done so much damage to the world we live in and, worst of all, deprives us of the blessed joy of life forever with the Lord.

Then there are those who think that religion is a way to enrich themselves such as with the man who says he will ‘follow Christ wherever He goes’. Christ has not invited him to such a path; he puts himself forward. Christ does not come to build a merely earthly kingdom or to enrich his followers. His kingdom is not to be like that of this world. There is a deeper meaning, though, in the reference to the foxes’ dens and birds’ nests. The great St Cyril of Alexandria sees here a reference to evil spirits and sinful habits. How can Christ find a welcome in our hearts and in our lives, he says, if we allow what is evil to have a home in us? We must get rid of the vermin in our lives so that Christ will have room to be King of our hearts, our families, our nation and our world.

Then there are those who though invited to follow Christ make excuses about family and other concerns. There is no greater offer than the call to follow Christ and serve Him. It is a shame that there are those who lack the faith or courage to serve Him in the priesthood and religious life as well as those who lack the generosity to encourage and nurture vocations in their families. Our Lord tells the bereaved man that the Kingdom of God outweighs even our duty to our dead. He is not telling the man not to bury his father but to not use his dead father as an excuse to avoid doing God’s will! In fact the Kingdom and Kingship of Christ is so important that it must affect everything and every aspect of our lives. That is why one cannot be a Christian in private and something else in public even if you are a councillor or a TD. We cannot compartmentalize our lives, we cannot be a Christian in one part and someone else in another part and still be a true Christian, a true follower of Christ. God wants all or nothing.

So He gives us the image of the man ploughing a field. Back at the time of Christ there were no tractors or machines for ploughing. The plough was made of wood and usually it was drawn by oxen. It was slow, hard work and if the ploughman did not keep his eye on where he was going then he could find himself tearing up ground all over the place wasting valuable time and energy and damaging the plough as well. Our Lord offers us this lesson: do not waste the time you have been given, keep your eyes on what is really important, not this life but the eternal life that God offers you. Put God’s will and the Gospel first and then you will plough straight, you will not wander from the right path, you will safely get to your journey’s end, life with God for ever.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

THE PARDON OF THE SINFUL WOMAN IN THE HOUSE OF SIMON THE PHARISEE ( 11th Sunday, year C, Luke 7:36-50)


If you have ever watched Zefirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth  you will have seen this episode acted out in all its drama.  Our Lord, although a guest, is not among friends.  To understand this demands that I explain a few things.  The Pharisees were largely a lay movement and usually wealthy.  They were devoted to their faith and to their Law, in particular its rules on ritual and personal cleanliness.  In the culture of Jesus’ time the custom for welcoming a guest was that they were offered water to wash their hands and arms, as well as their feet and for an honoured guest oil was provided to anoint their head.  They did not eat at table as we do.  For one thing they lay down on couches and reached forward to take their food from the dishes – they ate with their fingers.  For large groups the tables were set in a horseshoe pattern and the guests sat around on one side of the tables all facing into the centre where the servants served the food.  The Pharisee has deliberately neglected to offer the basic signs of welcome for our guest.  So you see our Lord has been offered real insults.  The Pharisee is trying to provoke Him.  The whole meal is a trap.
It is into this charged situation that the woman comes.  She is not named – we are only told of her bad reputation.  Our imaginations can fill in the blanks here.  She is even more unwelcome than the Lord.  As a public sinner she risks making the Pharisee and his guests unclean by her very presence.  They are lying on the couches so she has easy access to the Lord’s feet.  She weeps over Him, and her tears drip down onto His feet. His feet that are filthy from the street.  Remember there were very few sewers outside the major cities back then and there was every kind of filth in the streets.  To touch and kiss His feet she must bow or even kneel before Him.  Then she does something that perhaps women understand better than men.  Hair means so much more to women. A woman’s hair is described in the bible as her glory and it is this woman’s glory that she uses to dry the feet of our Lord.  Then she goes further, anointing his feet with ointment, an expensive gift from what she treasures most.
Our Lord then confronts the Pharisee.  He points out his rudeness and challenges him with a case: who will love the master more, the servant forgiven less or the servant forgiven more.  Our Lord points to the woman.  She has been forgiven more.  Here Jesus is sometimes misinterpreted.  He is not saying that the woman has sinned so much because she has loved so much but that she is forgiven so much because of the amount of love she has shown for the Lord.  Her tears and her drying of His feet with her hair are a sign of her faith in Him and His mission and her true sorrow and repentance.  So He responds to her with mercy, forgiveness and absolution because she is the believer not the Pharisee. 
The Pharisee who is so devoted to his religion cannot see God at work in Jesus.  He is so convinced of his perfection that he is unable to do as this poor woman has done.  He cannot weep for his sins.  He cannot even humble himself to offer water to the Lord let alone wash the Lord’s feet with his tears, nor dry them with his hair.  He certainly cannot put his wealth at the Lord’s service.  But this woman with a bad reputation has acknowledged Christ’s Lordship and mission by weeping for her sins at His feet.  Her lips have been made holy by the feet she has kissed.  In anointing His feet she places her most valuable possessions at His service.  Christ means ‘anointed one’ and by anointing our Lord’s feet she proclaims her faith that He is the Messiah, the ‘anointed one’, the ‘Chosen one’ of God sent to save sinners.  She knows that Scripture has foretold: Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! So our Lord proclaims peace to her and sends her away at peace with Him.  She was still reviled by the people of her town but she was no longer cut off from God.  Christ has reconciled her.  Whatever the world might think she is a new creation.
So note the four things she has done:
She has courageously come to the Lord with faith.
She has wept at His feet in repentance.
She has wiped His feet clean in penitence.
She has anointed His feet in loving self-sacrifice.
This woman with a bad reputation is a model us and for the Church, and for all who would be truly repentant.
This Autumn I will be seventeen years a priest.  In all that time I have rarely heard a penitent weep for their sins.  I have heard people weep over other things but rarely over sin. I do not suggest that they lacked sorrow for their wrongs or were not penitent.  Perhaps it is our lack of faith or a lack of understanding of Who Jesus is and What He has done for us.  Perhaps it is a poor understanding of the nature of sin and the harm it does to ourselves and to others. 
Whatever the cause the Lord is always inviting us to move deeper into our knowledge of Him.  He wants us to draw closer to Him whatever the Pharisees (and all the others who think they have no need of God and can save themselves), whatever they might think.  He wants us to come to His feet in genuine sorrow and repentance, to recognize that He is the Love and the Mercy, the Compassion of the Father made truly human for us.  He wants us not only to recognize but to weep as best we can over our faults and failings, our wrongdoing, our sins, for we can only find rest in Him.  He wants us to show Him that we really are sorry, really do want to change, that we really do want to make amends and heal what we’ve broken.  He wants us to love Him in return for His love and to kiss and anoint His feet with our good works, with the love, mercy and forgiveness we show to others. He wants us to:
Courageously come to Him in Confession with faith in Him and His mercy.
To weep at His feet in repentance through asking for the gift of true contrition.
To wipe His feet clean in penitence through prayer, fasting and service of our neighbour.
To anoint His feet in loving self-sacrifice through care of the needy and the most needy are those who need our forgiveness and to place all that we are and all that we have at His service.
It is by coming courageously to the feet of the Lord in humility and sorrow and trusting in Him that we discover His mercy and kindness.  It takes courage and humility to go to Christ in the Sacrament of Confession.  I know, I have to go often enough myself.  Every time we go to Confession, and we ought to go often, we ought to pray that we go as this woman went.  We should go bravely no matter what others might think or say and put our trust in the Lord, asking Him to bless the priest with all the graces he needs to help us.  Perhaps you think that you have no sins.  If you have no sins that what are you doing here?  The Church is a hospital for the sinners not a museum for saints.  Perhaps you think that the Lord will not forgive you.  Who do you think He died for?  He has told us often enough that He would die for each of us even if we were the only one.  Therefore we ought to run to Him in the Sacrament, confess our sins to the best of our ability and do our penance – after all a few prayers is nothing compared to drying someone’s dirty feet with our hair.  When we do what is ours to do, when we confess our sins in sorrow, when we forgive from our heart and care for those in need, then He will do the rest.  The Lord is never found wanting.



Thursday, June 2, 2016

BOOKS





Some months ago I read this book, the Great Facade, by Ferrara and Woods having previously read Sire's Phoenix from the Ashes. Now while I cannot agree with all that they say and I think that at times, in their indignation, they throw different matters into the same mix, they do make some interesting points. I guess I am no longer a 'conservative' Catholic but a 'traditionalist' one whatever those terms mean.






Unlike Ferrara and Woods, Sire's book is much more historical and touches more on the philosophical-theological issues that have lead to the modern crisis in the Church.  Though not as philosophical as Roman Amerio'c Iota Unum it is still a good read.

All the same I feel I need to reread these books with a pencil in my hand to note those points where I thought matters where not handled correctly.





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THE FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART

So it has been quite some time since I posted anything and I am not sure why.  Perhaps I am now turning over a new leaf.  At the moment one of the books I am reading is the Devotion to the Sacred Heart  by Fr Jean Croiset SJ.


Fr Croiset was spiritual director to St Margaret Mary Alacoque and it was he whom our Lord commissioned, through St Margaret Mary, to write this book, the original book on the devotion.  It's well worth getting and I found it clear, well-balanced and helpful.  You can get it here at Book Depository.

Friday, February 19, 2016

WHERE I LIVE NOW






So this is where I live now on the Ards peninsula Co. Donegal, not far from the village of Creeslough.  The friary looks out onto Sheephaven bay with a National Forest behind us on the hill.  Unfortunately with my disability I cannot go exploring as I once planned to do before my accident but that means I have more time to read or listen to stuff on the internet.  Our connection is poor (at times it would be quicker to communicate by smoke signals) but I am working on that.  The weather, it being Winter, is usually grey, wet and windy.  Add to that the nearby boom of the sea and it can be quite noisy here; I thought the countryside was supposed to be quiet.


My room would give me a view of Malin Head but for the trees planted by previous generations of friars.  Not that I can complain after all I spent the six months from June to December with a view of another friar's window and the roof above him.  I have far more room here and the use of another beside me for painting.  The downside is that this house is so big.  It was built as a student house a few years before they  moved the students to Dublin and numbers began to decline.  




So even for the more mobile friars this place is, at times, a chore. Any activity means a hike up and down stairs and along long corridors. I guess it counts as exercise. The locals, both those who work here and those who come to attend the Mass or get confession or just visit, are very welcoming. Time passes at a more sedate pace here. Such a change from UCC. There's more time to pray of course even with 'duty' everyday. It really only gets busy at the weekends, especially Sunday. I fill my time with sorting out my stuff, getting rid of rubbish and stuff I don't need or use anymore. I am also transferring my pigments from glas to plastic jars so as to shed weight; it was embarassing how much I had accumulated on top of what I had when I moved from Dublin to Cork. I filled a Hiace.


I must do a post on some books I am reading. But for the moment this is enough.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

MEDITATIONS WHILE STANDING ON ONE LEG OR THOUGHTS FROM AN INVOLUNTARY HERMIT

I don’t know if I have any wisdom, pearly or otherwise, to offer you.  I am still in slow recovery from my encounter with a Frenchman’s Audi on June 13th.  I have a shattered talus bone (that’s the one between your tibia or leg bone and the heel bone) not a bone you want to break.  I face six to eight months attending CUH and possible further surgery and I have only know begining to put weight on the foot.  I have pictures up on Facebook if anyone is interested!   I was looking forward to the challenge of Ards after UCC but God seems to want to pin me hear in Cork for a while.  I have certainly felt confined.  Whatever plans we may make God has His own and they take priority.  It is amazing that in what amounted to a head-on collision mine was the only injury.  I could’ve been more seriously injured or even dead but someone was praying for me.  Thank God Ford built that car.

On that day I got a lesson in the goodness of others.  I had a nurse and at least two doctors with me before the emergency services showed up.  They were very kind to me.  Looking back I can see their professionalism, charity and their generosity to me.  Thank God for Nitrous Oxide and morphine too!  The guardian and  community here have been a great support to me and very patient and kind.  They have truly mothered me.

I am also conscious of all those friars who have suffered far more than me.  At least I have the hope of a total recovery.  Thinking of my brothers I realised how many are sick or invalided in some way and could teach me much about the meaning and value of suffering.

I have learned that if you’re going to break a bone break the weaker one but if you break the stronger bone then you will have to strengthen the weaker.  So for me while I have lost my ministry I have time to work on my prayer.  I have for a long time, on and off, used a single volume english translation of the 1962 breviary just for the psalms.  I use it as a devotional and a supplement to the breviary after all what else have I to do?  It’s not easy to pray but I have the time, especially at night since my sleep patterns are shot to hell since the crash.  The psalms are like a conversation between God and His people.  All human joys and sorrows are in there.  After all weren’t they the prayers Jesus Himself used day in, day out.  Without an interior life our life is not lived.  If Christ is not at the centre of our life we are not Christians let alone Franciscans.  As getting to the choir has beyond my reach until now - steps were not an option - I only see the Lord in the Eucharist at Mass. I offer Mass in my room on a folding table - such a come down from the Honan!  That daily visit from the Lord means a lot to me.  I ask Him to fix my ankle so I can get back to work.  I ask that His will be done.  After all the Father’s will was all He cared about - ought not the same be true for me?

I had boxed most of my books before the crash.  To be honest I did that soon after I was given the news of my move to Ards.  Now that I have time to read it is really hard to get at my books - God has a sense of humour and it has both an edge and a point to it.

Not that I spend all day praying.  The hours of the old psalter break up the day and often I have to struggle to make myself pray and to keep my focus while I am praying.  Outside those times I read or use my computer.  Thank God for Youtube and Netflix.  I can watch old and new films, documentaries etc.  Sleeping so poorly means I don’t have much energy for anything demanding.

One doesn’t know what’s around the corner.  One can control how one moves through life but sometimes it’s the other idiot who does the damage.  No matter what there are too many unknowns.  As I heard in a talk online given by a layman: strive to be in a state of grace and do your best to do your duty - this is the way to heaven.  All that you or I can do is our best to do our duty and then trust in the Lord.    God rarely gives answers.  Instead He asks us to grow in faith.  Many is the night I have wanted to take a hammer to that Frenchman’s ankle.  I was furious, frustrated and mad as hell.  I got no answers.  I got here instead.  God is patience, compassion, gentleness beyond our comprehension.  Later I heard that the Frenchman’s car was a right-off too.  God forgive me but I was delighted that he didn’t go home with only a €200 fine.

We are utterly dependant on God’s Providence.  God has a plan and no you don’t get to see it.  We must let go and let God be God.  Many years ago Fr Gobbi preached in Dublin.  He and seen a sign on the bus: “Let the driver drive the bus”.  Abandon oneself to God.

My novice master taught his novices that ‘he who perseveres perseveres’.  Although a tautology it is still true - anything to do with our character, any virtue grows like muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets.  Likewise for vice.

My biggest enemy is myself.  It is the passions within, the will to be in God’s place, the drive to be at the centre that leads me to go off the rails.  This is the heart of evil, of sin: putting myself in the centre where only God belongs.  We are to orbit about Him not the other way around.  I am made to love, love God and then my neighbour - only in this self-gift do I truly draw close to Christ.  Therein lies the cross; the path I need to follow is the path I draw back from.



Monday, June 22, 2015

LIVING WITH A DFFERENT SET OF CONSEQUENCES

I was to transfer to our house in Donegal this week (yes, it was goodbye to Third level ministry and Cork!) but on my way to Tralee on Saturday, June 13th, I had a collision with another car and in the process my ankle was shattered. I left CUH on Wednesday. Thanks be to Heaven for Larry ( a pilot), Cirar (a Nurse) another Ciara (Doctor) and Peter (an Anaesthetist) as well as Dr Aidan Murphy (Emergency Response doctor) and Peter and his team on the ambulance. I was inspected, kept talking, fed sugary drinks, kept warm and reassured. It really was an example of the best in human beings. There was also the care I got in CUH both in A&E, from my surgeons and in ward 4A. A big thanks to all of them and an assurance of a lasting presence in my Masses and prayers.

In the middle of my hospitalisation one of my community, Paddy Cleary, died suddenly.  We were all fond of Paddy and will miss him.  He was buried Thursday.  The fallout from his sudden death are only just unfolding as he quietly did lots of jobs around the house.  

For myself I will miss him (he was one of the community here I would've missed the most when I moved) and I still can't think of his death as real.  I would like to help out but I am pinned here.  From the accident there are the physical consequences of not being able to put any weight on my right foot for at least three months.  There's the possiblity of future surgery on the foot and down the road of arthritis there.  Whether by the direct or indirect will of God that accident has pinned me here in Cork.  I am clamped in plaster and confined to barracks, more or less.  Unfortunately I had already packed away most of my books so that my reading options are quite curtailed.  Getting around is not easy partly because I now have to hop using my weaker knee but also because my room, part-filled with boxes and never very tidy, is something of an obstacle course.  My big question for God is why He has allowed this to happen just now and what I am to learn from this?  

At the moment these are the consequences I must live with, not the consequences of my own actions but of someone else's.  I have to relearn to forgive.  I am learning about the generosity and patience of others but also how people can react in such varied and unexpected ways.  Some handle change well and others not so well.  Myself I am struggling with frustration and boredom.  I find it hard to pray.  All I can do is take one day at a time.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

LIVING WITH THE CONSEQUENCES

Since the referendum passed there has been a poster on a pole along the route I take home from work.  I only get a glance at it but it is obviously from the YES side and seeks to build on the momentum to continue their campaign against 'inequality' etc.  As I have written before this is not going to go away. Mr Voris over on ChurchMilitant has the right idea.  What begins as encouraging sensitivity about language will become a campaign against 'hate speech' (hate speech will be whatever the liberal, secularist neo-fascists will define it to be - censorship returns under the guise of respect!).




So we will have to live with the consequences of this vote.  On this feast of the Ungandan martyrs one can't help wondering how it will unfold.

As regards the Irish Church we have a lot of consequences to face.  It have heard it say that Archbishop Martin is wrong to think that the Church has failed to communicate with the young, it happened a long time before that.  We failed to communicate the Gospel to their parents and grandparents.  The Irish Church failed to effectively teach the Church's own teaching and settled for a dumbed-down, no challenge, mushy caricature of the teaching of Christ.  We taught the easy bits and left the hard bits til later (i.e. never).

What concerns me though are the priests, religious and prominent lay people who came out calling for a yes vote.  As a theologian wrote in the Irish Catholic 'what part of Jesus' clear teaching on marriage did they not get?'  Have they not read the Catechism?  How long will public dissent be tolerated?  Are there no repercussions for those who publically oppose Church teaching?  What meaning has Church discipline and unity when those who publicly support the enshrining of an intrinsic evil in the Nation's Constitution in clear opposition to the Bishops suffer no consequences for that opposition.  Have we gone entirely to the opposite extreme of an authoritarian Church (such as is alledged we once had here)?  We have a Taoiseach who, while claiming to be a practicing Catholic, has publicly professed beliefs that are in clear contradiction to that Faith.



There you have it.  Our 'Catholic' (self-described as such) Taoiseach does not believe in God but in an impersonal, indestructible force or energy that drives us all.  Jesus is an embodiment of that force.  He ducks the question of faith in the Real Presence and comes across as theologically, and philosophically, confused.  A pantheist, in fact.  Bear in mind that he would've gotten catechetical training during his studies to be a primary school teacher.  There have been, to my knowledge, no repercussions for our leader for these statements nor for his support for the introduction of abortion into Ireland.  Let's not mention that he lied to the Pro-Life movement!

He's one of many.  Frs Gabriel Daly, Iggy O'Donovan, Peter McVerry and not a few others publicly supported a Yes vote, as did Sr Stanislaus Kennedy and former President Mary McAleese.  One wonders what you have to do to get a rap on the knuckles from the Irish episcopate?  Does it always have to go to Rome before there is action?  Has the ultimate result of the formation of Epsicopal Conferences been the effective esmasculation of our shepherds?

There are many ordinary, faithful Catholics who want to see their shepherds deal with the wolves.  They want to see some real action not words, not press statements, not pastoral initiatives but an effective handling of those who are opposed to the faith but insist on remaining within the fold.  Leaving the wolves there will prove very costly.

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