Sunday, September 25, 2016

THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS A Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Year C (Luke 16:19–31)

SUNDAY C26 Luke 16:19–31


As usual you can hear the sermon here but this time there are two versions with one from the 11.00 am and the other from the 12.30 pm Mass.


I love reading history, especially ancient history.  From that reading I have learnt that people do not change.  The wealthy two thousand years ago behaved much as the wealthy today.  Often the more we have the more indifferent we are to those who have not.  Christ is not indifferent.  He measures our love for Him by our love for others especially those who are in need.
The rich man is this parable is not just wealthy.  Purple is an ordinary colour to us but at that time it was extremely expensive and associated with the Emperor in Rome.  So this man was in the highest class of wealthy.  Imagine his gated home surrounded by gardens, full of marble, mosaic floors, walls covered with colourful frescoes and many statues and works of art.  He wears fine linen and dines on the best of food everyday.  Imagine the expensive ingredients in his food, the rare perfumes in his house and the costly fabrics of his furnishings of his household.  A man of his wealth and standing would own many slaves, always available to serve him.  This man lives very well, better than most even today.  Note that he is not accused of any wrongdoing other than his failure to care for Lazarus.  It seems his only sins are his pride and indifference to the poverty at his door.  He is without mercy and devoid of compassion and we may fairly accuse him of greed for greed and avarice lead to the loss of charity and compassion. 



In contrast there is Lazarus, sick and starving, whose only friends are the hungry, mangy dogs in the street.  They alone have compassion on him and tend his sores.  The Jews had a horror of skin diseases which they associated with leprosy and so Lazarus is literally shunned like a leper.  Like the Prodigal Son Lazarus is so hungry that he longs to eat the slops from the rich man’s table but he is offered nothing.  The rich man could’ve done something but he chose not to.  He could’ve sent a servant or arranged with someone to help Lazarus but he didn’t.  He did nothing.  This was his sin, a sin of omission.
Note too that he is nameless.  Our Lord does not name him because his name is not written in Heaven.  We have our humanity as a gift, something that we are to unfold, unwrap and explore, to make grow and deepen through loving care for others.  Love is not a feeling it is an act of your will, a choice to treat another person as a good in themselves, to give oneself to them in service.  To choose not to serve, not to care is to choose to become less human and in the end to become inhuman and therefore nameless before God.  We earn our names in Heaven by our compassion and care for those in need, especially those who cannot pay us back.
Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and all the righteous, was a just and hospitable man, compassionate to the poor.  He was a man of faith who sacrificed financial security in this world because of his faith in God and his hope of future, everlasting security in Heaven.  It was he who haggled with God to try to save Sodom from destruction.  Both men die but it is Lazarus who ends up in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ while the rich man ends up in Hell.  The ‘bosom of Abraham’ may refer to Heaven or to that place where the just awaited the resurrection of Christ.  Lazarus is consoled and soothed but the heartless rich man is immersed in fire and cannot escape.  Yet he remains unchanged by his torment.  He is suffering for his pride, greed and lack of compassion but remains as proud and indifferent to Lazarus as always.   This is what he has made of himself. 



In his arrogance the rich man still calls Abraham ‘father’ and expects that Lazarus will be treated like a servant sent to do his bidding.  Yet there is malice here too.  He does not ask to be removed from the fire and to be allowed to join Lazarus but that Lazarus be sent to serve him in his torment.   Abraham explains the reality to him.  He has made his bed in Hell and now he must lie in it for all eternity.  He is suffering for wasting his wealth on himself, for being mastered by his appetites and for being without compassion while Lazarus, who did no wrong, who did not curse, who did not even resent the rich man, is granted everlasting consolation. 
The Fathers take the ‘five brothers’ to mean the five senses.  Wealth and comfort can seduce us into materialism and its spouse atheism.  We can grow indifferent to the needs of others and even to our eternal salvation.  How often do those we mock the things of God and ignore the moral law that one ought to care for those in need?  Moses and the prophets warned about the demands of the moral law and what awaits those who ignore it.  Wealth, if it is not put at the service of charity, is a trap for the careless soul.  The rich man was enslaved to his senses and so lost his freedom in eternity.   Lazarus remained poor but free in this world and so won his freedom in Heaven.  By rejecting the warning of ‘Moses and the prophets’ we are rejecting Christ too.
Christ is the true rich man who has made himself utterly poor for our sakes for He left the wealth of Heaven to enter our spiritual poverty on Earth.   He comes to us not only in Holy Communion, though that is, by far, the greatest of His gifts to us, but He comes to us also in the poor.  He is the poor man who sits at our doorsteps and on our streets.  He hides the wounds of the Cross under those of addiction and poverty.  He suffers in all who are poor, needy or abandoned, from the child in the womb to the old person dying alone, from the poorest of the poor in Africa to those unjustly imprisoned.  What we do to them we do to Him.



Compared to so many people in our world we are rich.  We have a low crime rate, a huge variety of food in our shops, heating, light and a health care system, good schools and so many other amenities.  Yes we pay for them but they are luxuries beyond imagining to most of humanity.  There are families in some parts of the World today where their annual income is about €100.  Here in Ireland there are 228 people homeless in Dublin alone and yet how many houses and apartments lie idle?  We deplore this fact but how many of us have called or written to our elected representatives to complain about this situation?
We are faced with this choice: either we serve the world or God, wealth or good.  Christ demands of us that we care for those in need.  He expects us to use what we have on Earth to invest in Heaven by looking after others, firstly among our family, friends and neighbours but among strangers as well.  As St Ephrem said “we cannot hope for pardon at the end unless the fruits of pardon can be seen in us.”  Show your faith and the work of God’s grace through charity to those who are poor and struggling.  The rich man got no mercy because he showed none.  You will receive from God in accord with how you have given.  If you want to show sorrow for your wrongdoing look after the poor and needy.  You will not have to look far to find them.  Go further than money.  Volunteer your time, offer to fundraise, search for things to do for those in need and you will find plenty to do.  

The rich man did not hold faith with Lazarus, his fellow Jew, in his suffering and poverty on Earth so he could not share with him in his blessedness and good fortune in Heaven.  Likewise we too cannot share in the blessedness of Heaven if we ignore those who are in need here on Earth.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

INVESTING OUR WEALTH WITH GOD: A homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday year C (Luke 16:1–13)


You can listen to the homily here.


It is not often that a Sunday homily begins with a poem, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”



            It’s  a powerful image the head and legs are all that remain of one man’s ambition.  I wonder was it inspired by the remains of the statute of Constantine?  Shelley’s poem is, in part,  a warning of the transitory nature of all power and wealth.  Nothing lasts and yet we continue to strive to have, and to hold onto, those very things that are passing away, even physical life itself.   We are bombarded from the time we wake up almost until we fall asleep at night with images and stories that tell us how we are expected to behave in our brave, new world.  We are to be beautiful, healthy, slim and successful, talented and out-going, confident and tolerant and broadminded.  God help you if you are plain, imperfect, of indifferent health, overweight, and mediocre, not particularly good at anything, if you prefer your own company, can’t tolerate nonsense and have an opinion that differs from the politically correct.  Rarely are we urged to consider that one day we will die or that to live a good life has far more to do with how we behave than in what we have or still less with how we look.  Today when you get home look at your home and say to yourself “One day it will all be dust and rubble”.  Say to your favourite clothes “You will one day be rags” and to your most valuable possessions “I will one day part with you and you will eventually end up on the rubbish dump.”   This is truth: all earthly things pass away.  Wealth, power, beauty, property, fame, nothing exists in this world but it will cease to exist one day.  Only God is eternal by His very nature.  So you and I will die and leave it all behind us.  That we will face eternity and God is certain. The only wealth you can keep forever is the standing you have with God.
            Not that the world around us will tell us that.  There was a time when Irish people could talk easily about bereavement, death and judgment and were embarrassed even to mention sex.  Now it is the other way around.   Now we need counsellors to help us deal with the very events we will all experience: the loss of loved ones and the end of our own life on Earth.   
Yet some seem to live as if there were no death and no afterlife and many more as if there were no judgment and no risk of damnation. As a society we are all too familiar with stories of crooked and corrupt individuals these days.  I’m not talking about organised crime, which is bad enough, but about those individuals found making backroom and under the counter deals, scandals around the Olympics and questions about Nama.  It seems that corruption touches even the bodies that are supposed to have the highest ideals. 
What then are we to make of this parable from the Lord where He seems to praise someone for being a crook?  This man swindles his employer and then when he’s caught he goes to his boss’s debtors and does deals with them making more money for himself and robbing his boss again.  The only thing one can say in his favour is that at least he is honest in that he admits he is too lazy to work and too proud to beg.
What is our Lord up to?  Why is telling us to emulate this man who is so dishonest and selfish? Firstly we need to remember that being Christian does not mean that we can ever be selfish, manipulative or corrupt.  Still less does it mean we are to be stupid, lazy or foolish.  More importantly our Lord is praising not the man’s corruption but his astuteness.  The crook is clever enough to use the passing things of this world to secure his future in this world.  Our Lord wants us to be clever enough to use the things of this world to secure our future in eternity.  He wants us to be as innocent as a dove in our dealings with others but as wise as a fox in our dealing with things so that we use them to gain wealth in Heaven.
It is a modern falsehood that everyone or almost everyone goes to Heaven.  Our Lord nowhere says this or implies it.  The saints nowhere believe it and the Church nowhere teaches it.  Hell is a real possibility and Heaven is not guaranteed.  We must choose to go to Heaven by believing in Christ and following His Gospel and so we must use the goods of this world to help us to attain to eternal life in the next.  We choose Heaven by having faith in Christ, by repenting of our sins, by seeking conversion of our life and by doing good above all to the poor.  What we do to them we do to Christ. He gives Himself to us in Holy Communion so that we can give ourselves to others in service.  If you want to go to Heaven do what He has asked of you.



Our Lord commends the unjust servant for his foresight, for looking ahead and planning accordingly.  He wants us to do the same but to look forward beyond the worries of this life to the reality of eternity and the judgement that precedes it. He urges us to think of eternity and to use our wealth, our talents and skills for the good of His Kingdom and His Church.  In return He will reward us, storing up our investment in the bank of eternity where it cannot be lost.  He expects us to unite even our smallest efforts with Him so that His grace can make our small investment grow into a rich dividend.
The things of this world, all that we own and value and hold on to, are only on loan to us.  On the one hand if we are unfaithful, if we seek to store up treasure for ourselves here on Earth we will lose both that treasure and Eternal life.   On the other hand if we are faithful in using the goods of this world for the good of the Kingdom of God then God will reward us.  We can leave no lasting monuments behind us but we can store up glory with God.




Friday, September 16, 2016

THE IRRESPONSIBILITY OF THE IRISH CATHOLIC

The Irish Catholic is doing Irish Catholics a diservice this week with their headline "Divorced/remarried Catholics can now receive communion" and the ensuing article.  The article, by Greg Daly, fails to note that the Pope's letter, leaked by persons unknown (in Rome or Argentina) was commenting on a draft document proposing criteria for the implementation of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia.  This can only be called downright irresponsible.  The only consolation is that the Irish Catholic has such a small readership that damage will be slight (I hope) but not if national newspapers and the media in general take it up.  Not that divorced and remarried Catholics are actually lining up for Holy Communion.  What this gives is carte blanche to 'liberals' or 'progressives' to do what they have been doing and pretend their actions are approved.  I note that there is no reference in the article to the bishops of the Irish Church and their approach to Amoris Laetitia and its implementation.  They have jurisdiction here and not the Argentine bishops.

I have not found any article within the Irish Catholic refering to the events last Sunday in Athy where two Lesbians, having 'married' in a civil ceremony and then left their roles due to protest from the faithful, were welcomed back into their roles within the parish and given Holy Communion!  Not a word!

The issue makes me wonder further though.  For quiet some time I have bemoaned, along with fellow clergy and faithful Catholics, the 'secularisation' of Irish society and the loss of the sense of the sacred.  Could this article about the Pope's letter (N.B. Papal infallibility is very carefully defined and it doe not apply to opinions given in private letters, I'm sure even the Ordinary Magisterium does not apply here) and the absence of any mention of Athy be indicative of the spread of secularism within the Church?  Secularisation isn't just visible in the loss of a sense of the importance of Baptism or of how one ought to behave in a church.  It manifests itself as well in a loss of the sense of sin for sin is fundamentally a violation of the sacred.  It also appears in a loss of the ability to be revolted, shocked or offended by evil.  We become accostomed to evil and, God forbid, when we become accostomed we are a step closer to approving, then justifying and even engaging in that evil.

Catholic journalists above all have a duty to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Indeed their duty is to He who is the Truth and they will answert to Him for their failures.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

CURATE SPEAKS OUT ON ATHY SCANDAL

You may have heard about the recent public sacrilege and scandal that occurred in Athy.    If not you can read about it here and here.  One of the curates has responded to clarify the situation and his accidental involvement:

"Dear Editor, 
I write to clarify my position regarding my appearance on a video taken in Athy church. I was one of the five priests, a curate, con-celebrating Mass in St Michael the Archangel’s Church Athy, last Saturday evening on the 10th September 2016. 
My intentions first and foremost was to celebrate the Eucharist which is the source and summit of our community’s Christian life. This Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was also in appreciation of Fr Tim Hannon’s 50th Anniversary of his Priestly Ordination and to mark my own departure from the parishes I have happily served over the past three years. 
I was not present to promote or condone same-sex ‘marriage’ or what appeared to be the apparent triumphant and victorious return of our musical directors which seemed to become the focus of the evening. In my opinion, the Mass was hijacked to support the cause of same-sex ‘marriage’ which is clearly in breach of Catholic Church teachings.

How does this make sense within the Catholic Church?
This breach was displayed openly and in a very public manner from the holy sanctuary. I felt very uncomfortable about this as I had not given my blessing to such a union. I am not been harsh but simply following the teachings of the Church, that we all serve. 
The ladies in question have a very important leadership role in the Church but decided to enter into a civil same-sex marriage which blatantly contradicts and challenges the teachings of their Catholic Church, and the instruction of Pope Francis. To me, this defies belief ? Is it not a contradiction to our faith? How does this make sense within the Catholic Church?"

You can read the rest over at Catholic Voice.

Personally I think the Archbishop will need to take action on this and visible action at that.  This unfortunate priest and his fellow concelebrants (this the celebrant know in advance this was to happen?) were put in an invidious position and the Mass was hijacked to flagrantly flout the Church's clear teaching.  Nothing excuses that.  On top of that, though, it appears that they received Holy Communion.  That is sacrilege.  Have years of bad catechesis left Irish catholics so far divorced from the basics of their faith that even this can happen? It seems that these two ladies were not only involved in the parish choirs but one of them was also an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and no one in the Parochial leadership (here I mean the clergy and in particular the P.P.)  appears to have thought that this latter role was inappropriate.  Homosexuals, even sexually active homosexuals, are welcome in the Church providing they acknowledge their acts as sinful.  We are all sinners seeking mercy.  Being welcome in the Church while seeking to reform is one thing but one is not permitted to receive Holy Communion unless one has confessed one's sins and is genuinely sorry for them.  The  family and human sexuality are now the frontline of the war between truth and falsehood, good and evil.  We have to decide which side we are on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

OLD AND NEW

I have an ongoing interest in Liturgy (it goes with the job) and in Church History.  The changes to the Liturgy made after the Second Vatican Council have been much debated in the last sixty years.  Most of the attention has gone to the changes in the Mass.  Much neglected, though it impacted on the clergy as much as the changes in the Mass, has been the Divine Office and its vehicle, the Breviary.  Before the Council, for all but those with special permission to recite the Office in the vernacular, the Office was prayed in Latin so the most obvious change was in language and therefore accessibility.  One of the advantages of the changes has been the number of laypeople reciting the Divine Office.  But the changes did not stop there.   Many of the old, theologically rich, Roman hymns were chopped or dumped and replaced with hymns largely from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century as well as optional poems (I am of course referring to the Breviary I use which is for Britain and Ireland).  The revision of the Liturgical calendar also affected the Divine Office.  The cycle of the saint's feasts was changed beyond recognition.  Most significant though was the shifting of the psalms over to the monthly format.  The psalter, the arrangement of the 150 psalms plus the canticles from the Old Testament, was completely rearranged as the psalms were spread our over four weeks.  Previously anyone reciting the whole Divine Office would cover all the psalms over one week.  So were on an average day anyone reciting the old Office would recite a total of thirty four 'psalms' (many psalms are stretched divided into smaller parts separated by antiphons and canticles are counted as psalms) in the new Office he would recite only thirteen 'psalms.'  Psalm 118, for instance, the longest in the psalter by far was taken from its traditional place on a Sunday and chopped up, spread over the Month.  Some psalms, such 108, are not recited at all and psalm 117 crops up all over the place.


That is all beside the point.  Laslo Dobzay (you can get some of his books here and here) has covered this area in ample detail.  I am writing this because a thought was rolling around my empty head.  In addition to my three volume Divine Office, visible on the left above and below, (which will cost you €483 for the set or €61 each from Veritas here in Ireland) I also have a single volume breviary on the right in each picture.  It's in English but not it is not the edition that priests and religious are obligated to use.  I found it one of our houses along with a three volume Latin and English edition of the pre-Conciliar breviary and three of the four volumes of the Capuchin version of the same (all in Latin of course).  This single volume uses an earlier version of the Grail Psalms that we normally use.  This single volume from 1965 contains the entire pre-Conciliar Divine Office except the Gospel readings and the Martyrology which was usually separate anyway.  It's all in there.


I use it as a sumplementary 'devotional' and praying all the psalms over the week has really helped my prayer and it sanctifies my day.  I've been using it consistently for at least five years.  The reason I am posting abour this is not to blow my own trumpet - I need those psalms to keep me on the right track and I enjoy praying them!  I am posting this to query aloud: 'how can you call a reform successful and yet go from a single volume to three large volumes?  That single volume is lighter and thinner than the thinest of the other three! Vatican II has been accused of verbosity but this takes it to a new level.  There is needless repetition here. Cui bono?

I supply a side by side comparison below so you can compare the size of the text.  It has a very different 'feel' to the post-Conciliar breviary.



Anyway 'just saying...'

Sunday, September 11, 2016

THE GOOD SHEPHERD AND THE LOST COIN: A homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday, Year C (Luke 15:1–10)

To hear the homily as it was preached see here.


We have all lost something, or someone, at some point.  It is a moment when we realise how important they really are to us.  To be sought for by another is an affirmation of how important we are to them.  A writer I follow tells the story about how he lost one of his children.  He has a large clan of kids and they were at the playground.  As he got them together to bring them home he noticed that one he was one short.  He recounted and recounted but quickly had to conclude that one, a daughter, was missing.  The clan was dispatched in all directions, calling out her name.  Other families were recruited and a frantic search unfolded until in the midst of his despair and desperation he stopped and saw her, sitting on top of one of slides, watching them all in calm delight.  He was filled with joy and relief though he probably had other emotions as well.
There was once this Greek philosopher called Plato.  He lived about 500 years before Christ and he said that our human condition was as though we are born into a cave where all we know are shadows and illusions.  He said that the task of the philosopher, once he had achieved enlightenment, was to return to those in darkness and draw them out into the light.  He warned that this would not be an easy task and could cost a philosopher his life.  The Church Fathers drew on this image.  Christ, they said, is the true philosopher for He brings Divine, not human, Wisdom and He enlightens us with the Divine Light.  He has come in search of us and leads us out of the darkness of illusion and ignorance into the brilliant daylight of the Truth.  All Heaven rejoices at each one that, repenting, leaves the darkness of sin for the light of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
It is Christ the True Philosopher who is also the Good Shepherd and He has sought us out to bring us back to the fold, to the flock of those who follow Him and He does so repeatedly for His patience with us in inexhaustible.  He may have to hobble us to get us to stay close to Him, to teach us obedience and patience but never to hurt us.   If he does it is because He carries us on His own arms that are stretched out on His cross. Christ wants us to learn the discipline that must accompany the freedom of faith in Christ, the freedom of the life of grace. 


When I was very little I lost my mother’s engagement ring.  She never let me forget. The ladies will understand that better than the men - how important one’s personal jewelry can be to a woman.  At the time of Jesus Jews did not use rings to symbolise marriage but a woman wore her wedding dowry as part of her headdress.  To lose a coin from the dowry was tantamount not just to negligence but to infidelity. It is through the Church that Christ ministers to the world sunk in evil.  The Church is the woman who having lost us when we sin has lit the lamp of prayer and swept out her house through penance and fasting in order to find us and she rejoices over our finding and our healing. 
It was not just to forgive and heal us nor just to restore us to the state of Adam before the Fall that Christ became fully and truly human but in order to lift us up into the very heart of the Most Holy Trinity and give us a place on His throne.  He did this by offering to the Father His own eternal worship through His suffering and death on the Cross.  In this way He made of His own Body the way and the Temple, the price of our redemption and the source of our salvation.  He gives His all to us by giving His all for us.   This eternal life already flows into us through the Sacraments.
All this is to remind us of what He has done and how dear we are to Him.   God has become human for us yet this was not enough for Him and His Love, so He suffered and died for us.  Suffered and dying for us was not enough for Him and His Love, so He gave us Baptism and Confirmation so that we could be truly one with Him.  This was not enough for Him and His Love, so He made His Sacrifice really present in the Mass and gave us the Priesthood to make that happen.  The Mass and the Priesthood were not enough for Him and His Love, so He gave us His Himself really and totally present in Holy Communion so that we could receive Him into ourselves.  Yet this was not enough for Him and His Love, so He gave the Priesthood power to remind us of His Teaching, and to wipe away our sins in Confession as well as to heal us with the Sacrament of Anointing.  He has even glorified the union of man and woman with the Sacrament of matrimony.  He is interested in every aspect of our lives for He loves us.  As He said to King Solomon, this and much more would He do to show His love for us.
Yet how cold and indifferent we are in return.  We are blessed in so many ways and how ungrateful we are.  How many of us count our blessings and give thanks to God even a few times a year let alone daily?  How many times do we go to Holy Communion without thought of Who it is we are to receive and whether we are fit to receive Him?  How many prepare properly for Mass?  How many neglect not only to go to confession regularly but even to examine their conscience daily?  How many have hours to spend in front of the TV or on the computer but have so little time to pray?  He is full of love for us and we are cold in return.  He laid down His life for us and we are so slow to give anything up for Him in return.  We are careless, negligent and unfaithful with sacred things, with the salvation of our souls and of those around us and worry and fret over things that do not matter and do not last.  We wander away from Him and make Him search for us.  Then we resent Him for teaching us the Truth and showing us to the way to the splendour and glory of Heaven.  We do not deserve Him yet He loves us and shows us mercy still.

Let us no longer wander but let us follow faithfully.  Let us no longer abuse His love, His mercy and His patience but begin to respond to it daily.  Let us decide to do the duties of our life out of love for Him who loves us.  Let us decide to learn more and more about Christ for those who love want to know everything they can about the one they love.  Let us offer any and every sacrifice we can, however little, in return for all He has done for us.  By these little steps we can follow in His footsteps to paradise.  By this way we can sweep out our lives and rediscover the faith and devotion to Christ that we have lost.  By this way we can be the means for others to be found by Christ and His Church and we can draw them back into communion with Him.  By this path we will one day rejoice with Christ and with all the angels and the saints in the Kingdom of Heaven where there will be no darkness and no tears are ever shed.

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