Sunday, January 22, 2017

NOT HAUNTED BUT ALIVE: a homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A

I only found out about this because it was on the front page of a daily newspaper.  On a recent Late Late Show a guest referred to the Blessed Sacrament as  ‘haunted bread’ and the ‘ghost of a two thousand year old carpenter’.  There was a moment of hope when another guest did describe the Blessed Sacrament as “the Body of Christ” but then she went on to state that it scared her as it sounded like cannibalism.  It was also claimed that the Church does not want us to use critical thinking.  Considering that some of the world’s greatest thinkers were Catholic theologians and philosophers and that the Church founded many of the greatest universities of the Western world e.g. Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna, Salamanca, etc., one can only call such claims pernicious disinformation.  I spent eight years in Catholic colleges getting educated to be a priest and never was I discouraged from thinking critically.  Quite the opposite I was encouraged and thought how to think and to think critically. 
The whole conversation on the Late Late was jocular and irreverent and the priest in Kerry who complained was right to do so.  Such ignorance and disrespect are the by-products of poor teaching both at Mass and in our schools.   I don’t really understand why secular people are worried about the Church’s role in education, since for the last half century her failure in that area has lead to the decline in the Faith in Ireland.  Yet people must also take responsibility for their own ignorance.  Never before in the history of the world have we had such easy access to information even about our Faith.  If people do not know what the Church teaches on some matter it is because they have not bothered to go and find out.
Part of our problem is the practice of having children receive Holy Communion before Confirmation which has lead us to misunderstandings and a failure to appreciate what being Catholic means.  Another problem is that children today are told that Holy Communion is ‘Holy Bread’.  Children’s minds can make great leaps of the imagination and put their trust in the assurances of adults but they are often quite literal in their thinking.  To tell a child that the Blessed Sacrament is ‘Holy Bread’ is risking a fatal misunderstanding.  Apart from the failure of Catholic educators and schools there is the failure of parents to appropriate, understand and hand on their faith to their children – for too long have Irish Catholics assumed that they could live on a minimum diet as regards their faith.  The great English Cardinal Heenan in the 60’s pointed out that Irish Catholics were largely ignorant of their Faith and for too long have Catholic parents assumed that the schools would their do their job for them and do it better.
What do we believe though?  We believe that Christ instituted the Church and the Sacraments for our sanctification, our salvation.  In the Eucharist, the Mass, Christ, through the ministry of the priest, makes the bread and wine into His Body and His Blood so that He is truly present here with nothing lacking.  God is all self-gift and this is just as true in His Eucharistic Presence.  At the words of consecration, when the priest says “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” Christ, truly God and truly Man, is really and completely Present on the Altar.  Nothing visibly changes but it is only the outward appearances of bread and wine that remain.  In Holy Communion we receive Christ whole and entire, body and soul, humanity and Divinity,  - He gives us His whole self not as a ghost, not as an echo, not a ‘blessed’ or ‘holy bread’ but the Bread of Breads, God Himself, whole and entire.  This is not something that one can grasp other than by faith.  Only with the eyes of our faith can we see this reality.  The reality of His Presence does not depend on our faith but our faith depends on Him.
At every Mass, the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present and it is offered to the Father on our behalf.  On Calvary Christ made His eternal adoration of, worship of, perfect obedience to  and love for the Father visible through His suffering and death on the Cross.  He offered that eternal worship to the Father on our behalf.  Whatever is sincerely united to that Sacrifice, however small, takes on the infinite value of the Sacrifice of Christ.  So it is important that we bring our sacrifices, our cares and trials, indeed our whole being, to Mass with us and unite them with the bread and the wine, offering them to the Father with the Priest, the icon and minister of Christ.
We do not eat part of Christ in Holy Communion.  Think what receive means: to receive is to be the beneficiary of a gift but it can also mean to make welcome.  We, each of us, receive all of Him or rather He receives us, He makes us welcome in Himself.  Christ does not benefit from us since He is all-sufficient but He makes us welcome in Himself.  He has made us into Himself in Baptism and Confirmation and in Holy Communion He confirms that welcome with a taste of Heaven, a taste accessible not to the senses but to faith.  We can do this because in Baptism and Confirmation He has made us one with Himself.  As one of the early Church Fathers said “we receive what we will be”.   In Holy Communion we receive what we already are and what we are yet to be because we are already in union with Christ, but in Heaven we will have a complete and perfect union. So the idea of cannibalism is a gross misunderstanding – one cannot eat one’s true self.
Christ has not abandoned us.  His Resurrection and Ascension did not place Him at a distance from us but, because of His power working through the Sacraments, we now have a real, supernatural link uniting our nature with His in heaven.  It is said that we all have one foot in the grave but in truth all the Baptised have one foot in Heaven.  Out task is lift the other and plant it beside the first.  It is through our Communion with Christ that we receive the power, the grace to do this.  If you want to love more, to love better, draw close to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, receive Him in a proper manner, worship Him and attend to Him and He will give you all the graces you need and more.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

GOOD NEWS VERSUS FAKE NEWS: a homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A (John 1:29–34)

As per usual I have recorded the homily and you can hear it here.
            Unless you never look at the news or have been living in an enclosed monastery until today you will probably be sick to the back teeth of American politics at this stage.  Most disturbing is all the talk of ‘fake news’ as if we had any real way of checking how true the news is.  There are seven billion people living on the Earth today and with that many people lots of interesting things happen but the RTE main evening news only lasts half an hour including the weather forecast and the adverts.  All our news is filtered and all of it is filtered by a tiny group of people.  It is they who get to decide what we hear and see.  There has always been fake news since the devil tempted Adam and Eve and lied to them in the garden.  He has added to his lies over the millennia.  How are we to know the truth then?  Might I suggest that he is a credible witness who is prepared to die for the truth.

John the Forerunner, 25 x 20 cm, Maria Bonef, 2007

Is John the Baptist a credible witness?   Is his news worth listening to?  Would you listen to John if he were preaching today?  A man who wears camel skins and eats insects?  Why should we listen to him?  I say we listen to John because he put his money where his mouth was, he paid for his ministry with his life.  The extraordinary thing is that while the Church calls John a martyr he did not die for witnessing to Jesus, at least not explicitly, but for witnessing to the sacredness of marriage and the evil of fornication and adultery.  In this he affirmed what our Lord was teaching just as he affirmed who Jesus is.
John, as a good disciple and a good Jew, testifies to Jesus but although he was his cousin he did not know Him as God before Jesus came to him to be baptised.  It was at Christ’s baptism that Jesus’ true identity was revealed to John.  John, because of his fidelity, was given a vision of the Holy Trinity and therefore an insight into who Jesus is.  The baptism offered by John was not sacramental but merely symbolic of our need and desire for repentance and conversion of life.  Christ had no need of baptism but by submitting to John’s baptism, in an act of humility, He identifies Himself with all of us who do need to repent and to be saved.  The word ‘baptise’ means to immerse and so our Lord, by the act of submitting to baptism, immerses Himself in the waters of the world and thus sanctifies all water and lays the foundation for the Sacrament of Baptism by which we are immersed into Christ and into His death and resurrection.
Our Lord’s act of humility draws down the loving care of the Father who reveals to John that He sends the Holy Spirit upon our Lord as His Son or rather makes the eternal movement of the Spirit from the Father to the Son visible to John, and so affirm our Lord’s identity and mission.  It is into this eternal movement of love that we are baptized for what Christ is by nature we are given by His gift and we become Son to the Father.
To be Catholic, therefore, is to be the beneficiaries of this extraordinary gift and privilege.  We are given so much and so little is asked of us in return.  God the Father has given us His Son, has made us equal to the Son through baptism.  He created us for Him and even though we have fallen into sin He has not abandoned us but sent His Son to us, as one of us, fully human, to make in Himself a bridge that we might be united with Him forever.
We talk of the ‘love’ of God for us and what a pathetic expression that is for it cannot begin to do justice to what God has willed for us.  God has held nothing back from us in giving us His Son.  He has offered us what is most precious to Himself, He is really and truly made present in every Mass, is in every tabernacle in every Catholic church, and we can receive Him every day if we wish and are in a state of grace.  All this for free.  We can see God here under the veil of bread and wine, hidden to our sense but visible to our faith. 

Crucifixion by Ekaterina and Anton Daineko

God has held nothing back so why are we so cold, so lacking in charity?  I suggest it is because we hear and then we forget.  We do not protect the candle of our faith from the winds of disbelief.  We let the fake news of the world drown out the good news of what God has done for us.  How many hours have we given to radio and TV  listening to or watching rubbish and how many minutes to the Lord in prayer and reading?   How often are we late for Mass or arrive rushed and distracted with no time to slow down and focus on what we are about to do?  How often do we rush away from Mass, having received Christ in Holy Communion, with hardly a prayer of thanks?  St John Vianney, patron of priests, said that the most important moments of the day are those fifteen minutes after Holy Communion when we are as close to Christ as we will ever get in this world.  He said that if you want to become a saint give that time to Christ in thanksgiving and adoration!  Cherish and meditate on what God has done for you and you will be drawn ever closer to His Heart and you will know His loving care for you.
As Catholics we are called to be martyrs.  The word martyr means a ‘witness’.  Unlike in Islam one cannot be a witness, a martyr, by killing anyone.  The only way to be a Catholic martyr is to witness with one’s life to the truth of Christ, to stand up for the truth even if it costs one’s life.  All the saints are martyrs, but though not all of them had to die for Christ, all of them lived for and witnessed to Him.  They did so because they listened and believed, they paid attention to Him and discovered His Presence and His love. 

If we give time to Christ we will find the power to really love and forgive others, to walk the extra mile, to turn the other cheek perhaps even the courage and strength to die for Him.  In getting closer to Christ and what He has done for us we will discover the joy of the Lord and what it means to be truly alive.  We will taste Heaven in this live and gain it in the next.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

WHAT WE CELEBRATE: a homily for Christmas Day (John 1)

As usual you can hear the homily here
I remember one Christmas day as we were having breakfast my mother heard a child crying and when she went outside there was a young traveler boy just outside our front door.  He had hurt his ankle and could not walk.  It was bitterly cold and he had only a thin jacket and shorts on while on his feet were a pair of wellys.   My mother brought him in and sat him down at our table.  She took the boot off the injured foot and checked it for any injury.  Once she had made sure he was ok, that it was only a sprain and she had strapped it up, she gave him breakfast.  I wasn’t too happy having a traveler sit at our breakfast table but the memory has stayed with me and its lesson: charity comes first and one never turns away a human being in need.   It was also a lesson in the real meaning of what it is to be a Christian.

Do you ever ask yourself what is this day that we celebrate?  Do you ever wonder what is this day about?  Why do we decorate our houses, give gifts and eat so well?   It’s an old tradition that the wood of the Cross was made from the same tree as was his cradle.  There is a truth in that.  Christ is conceived, born and lives in the shadow of the Cross that He will suffer and die on.  It means that this day is about what God has done to keep us out of Hell.  We are celebrating that God the Father has sent the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity into the world to save us from eternal damnation through His death and resurrection.   Or least that is what one school of theology says anyway and they are right but it’s not the whole story.  Being intelligent and discerning persons you have chosen to worship in a Franciscan church and in Franciscan theology the answer to our questions about this day is much richer. 
You see, God made us for Himself.  The Son did not become man for us because we fell but He created us for Himself so that He could become one of us and unite us to Himself forever.  He did this because of His own goodness and love.  Whether we had fallen or not He would still have become human, still have become the man Jesus for us.  We are made for communion with God and it is through Christ that all creation has its existence.  It is through Him that even the angels are preserved from falling.  It is through Him that every good thing comes to us: every grace, every blessing and every joy.  That our first parents fell into sin merely gave Him another reason to become one of us and, to go further, to show us His love for the Father and for us by dying on the Cross.
God could’ve just forgiven us but that was not enough for Him.  The Son became fully human for us and was born of the Virgin Mary but that was not enough for Him.  He walked and lived amongst us but that was not enough for Him.  He suffered and died on the Cross for us but that was not enough for Him.  God the Father raised Him from the dead but that was not enough for Him.  He unites us to Himself in Baptism and Confirmation but that was not enough for Him.  He remains with us, really and truly Present, body and soul, humanity and divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament that we receive at Holy Communion but that was not enough for Him.  He cleanses us of our sins and sanctifies us through Confession but that was not enough for Him.  He has sanctified Marriage and made it holy, and given us the Priesthood so that we could have Him in the Sacraments but that was not enough for Him.  He even offers us bodily and spiritual healing in this world but that was not enough for Him.  He has invited us to take the narrow way of faith into the Kingdom and into Eternal Life with Him and only that, only that is enough for Him.  Only if we are with Him forever in Heaven will He be satisfied.  Our salvation was the primary objective of His suffering and death and His becoming truly human and being born is the beginning of that work.  Without His intervention, without His grace we cannot attain salvation and are destined for the horrors of eternal damnation, cut off from God and without hope, without blessing of any kind, lost forever.  Through His birth as man we are offered a lifeline, a chance to be truly and eternally happy and at peace.  This is what we celebrate and this is why we decorate our homes, why we give gifts and feast so well.  We celebrate the greatest gift ever given: God has given us Himself.

Since He is so good to us, since He loves us so much how then ought we to respond?  What thanks can one offer the One who saves you from eternal death?   He has given us the answer: to believe in Him, to love Him and to love our neighbour, to avoid evil and to do good.  These are the simple steps that mean we are following Christ.  These are the steps to holiness, to eternal life.
If we are not seeking to be holy then we are not really Catholic.  By holy I do not mean ‘pious’ or ‘devout’; those are good things but not necessarily signs of holiness.  Holiness is being right with God and our neighbour.  To be holy is to seek the will of God in everything and that is not hard to know – just do the duties of your state of life while seeking to avoid evil and do good, to avoid sin and maintain oneself in a state of grace.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The greatest gift we can offer the Lord on His birthday is to seek to do the will of His Father. 

We have been given an infinite gift in Christ.  Like all gifts it must be unwrapped.  If we really know Christ then we cannot keep Him to ourselves but must share Him with others above all in the way we behave.  We will want to share Him with everyone, even the traveler, the immigrant, or the homeless at our door.  So this Christmas day do your best to share the good news that God has become man for us by how you treat those around you: point your anger away from others, try to be patient, kind and generous, forgive others and share with them the mercy God has shown you.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

CONSIDER JUST WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR US: a homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent year A (Matthew 1:18–24)

Unfortunately I did not record this homily!
Who would you pick to look after your child?  Who would God the Father pick?  If you could know everything about them wouldn’t you pick the best of the best?  This is Joseph.   This is the man that God picked to care for His Son and His Son’s Mother.  Joseph is a most extraordinary man – humble, obedient and silent – not one word he said is recorded yet this is the man that the Father chose to be foster father to Christ – God made flesh for us.  Some wits have said he is the perfect model for a good husband – he knew to keep his mouth shut.  Yet as the only sinner with a perfect wife and a perfect son if anything was wrong he knew it was his fault!  In his response to Gabriel Joseph showed both his humility and his obedience for he was not just righteous in exterior matters but in his very heart.
Jewish marriage was a two part process.  Mary and Joseph had entered into the first part but not the second.  They were actually married.  Yet Christ is not Joseph’s son, He has only one Father, the first Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  Christ is the work of God the Holy Trinity, by the Father’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Father became truly human for us in the womb of the Virgin.
Some suggest that Joseph believed Mary had committed a sin in conceiving Jesus but out of compassion was covering up for her.  As a righteous Jew though, obedient to the Law, he was bound to uphold God’s revealed will and expose Mary to justice, and to stoning, yet he did not.  The fathers of the Church say that Joseph was concerned because, knowing her to be holy and pure, he discerned that this was the work of God and he felt himself unworthy to be her husband and a father to her child. Joseph is of the line of David and his adoption of Jesus makes Jesus legally a descendent of King David so that the King of Heaven could also be the King of Israel. 
Now in Joseph’s dream there is a lesson for us.  Most of our dreams are merely our brains sorting out our day and usually it is a waste of time to pay any attention to them! Sometimes, though, the Lord uses them to speak to us, often through our deceased loved ones (as I have myself experienced) and when He speaks YOU WILL KNOW IT, THERE WILL BE NO DOUBT.  ‘Do not be afraid’ is a very common theme in the Gospels and therefore we ought to pay attention.   We are to trust that God has everything worked out and that as long as we are humble and obedient all will be well for us.
Twice we are told that Christ’s conception is a work of the Holy Spirit.  Here is the heart of our Gospel: Jesus is the incarnate Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Yet he is given the name ‘Jesus’.  ‘Jesus’ is a sacred name to us but although ‘Jesus’ or Yehoshua, means God saves – it was not an exceptional name but rather quite common.  Still for Him it was appropriate for He is the One who is save all mankind.  He is ‘God with us’.   God has not abandoned us.  He remembers His promises and His plan and He remains with us.  He came among us to fulfill His plan for our union with Him in Heaven.  Not only is God with us but God embraced death for us on the Cross, He has poured out His graces on us through the Cross and He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament and we remain in union with Him through the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion, and our unity in the faith of the Church.
As we approach the celebration of the Birth of our Lord we need to keep this mystery central in our hearts and minds: God became truly man for us.  All our symbols we use at this time of year point to this.  The Christmas Tree stands both for the trees of paradise that bear fruit in all seasons and more for the Cross, the Tree of New Life, by which we are saved.  The baubles we hang on the Tree refer to the gifts and graces, His blessings that He has poured out upon us.   That our decorations are bright, colourful and sparkling refers to the glory of His grace and His Presence.  Even the Christmas dinner refers both to the feast of the Eucharist and to the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Heaven.  All these and more are present in our celebrations.
It is a tradition though to give gifts to the one whose birthday it is!  What will you give to Christ for His Birthday?  He says ‘Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me’.  If you want to offer a gift to Christ make it the gift of charity to the poor and needy.  Begin with your family and friends, making sure no one is alone at this time of year but also do not neglect the stranger.  Offer Christ too the gift of repentance and sincere confession of your faults.  Seek to be reconciled to those you are not at peace with and to forgive those who have hurt you.  Offer these sacrifices to Christ as gifts too and as a response to His immense generosity to you.  What is offered to Him He sanctifies and blesses, making them grow and baring fruit in due season for our healing.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

LISTENING TO JOHN, a homily for the Second Sunday of ADVENT year A, Matthew 3:1–12

As usual you can listen to the homily here.
What’s it like when someone is not speaking to you?  What is it like when having gotten so used to hearing from someone and then they just cut you off?  No word, just silence.  God had not spoken to the Jews, there had not been a prophet , for 500 years!  500 years of silence!  Think about that.  Then comes John, dressed in camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey proclaiming a message from God. Camel hair cannot have been very comfortable nor was living out among the rocks of the desert.  A few years ago on pilgrimage in Assisi we met an Italian man dressed in sackcloth and going bare foot.  He  seemed to be genuine and not just a bit ‘gone in the head’.  What would we make of someone were they to dress that way here?  What a strange sight John the Baptist would make even to us Catholics.  Would we  laugh him at or even refer him to psychiatric services not because he was odd or mad but because he just does not fit into our categories of acceptable behaviour?

For the Jews it was a time of great expectation and ferment and there were movements seeking holiness and reform as well as political change.  Yet John does not go into the towns and villages.  Instead he preaches out in the desert of Judea.  Not that the desert is all that far away but in the minds of the people it was a place for bandits, wild animals and demons.  By going to the desert John separated himself from the official Jewish religion and the Temple – he stood outside the State and over against the accepted ways of doing things.  John points back to the earlier prophets and their call to holiness.  By going out into the desert John aligns himself with Elijah, the greatest of the prophets.  He is engaging in spiritual warfare.  John, an only son and member of a priestly family, has turned is back on comfort and respectability in order to follow his calling to be the forerunner of Christ, someone totally dedicated to God and attentive to His will.  He gives up all in order to do God’s will and prepare the way for Christ. Remember our Lord said that there was no one born of woman greater than John.  Christ was born not of human will but God’s.
His food was locusts and wild honey.  Nourishing food but not easy to get as you will know if you’ve ever tried to catch a grasshopper (it does not say whether they were eaten raw or cooked) and wild honey is always protected by wild bees.  He is cut off and set apart from the comforts of civilization and so dependent on what God provides through nature.  This separateness means he has the space and time to listen to God’s voice in his heart.  After 500 years God is once more speaking to the Jews, His Bride, His people.  For them and for us it is a call to prepare for the coming of Christ through repentance, change and conversion of life.
John openly and humbly declares his subservience to our Lord.  When he says “I am not worthy to carry his sandals” he means he is unworthy to be the lowest of the lowest of the servants, literally the slaves, of Christ.  This shows his humility and his faith.  It is because of his humility and faith that God enlightens John about Christ.  John knows that what he does is only a foretaste of the work of the Lord.  Christ will take the symbolic water baptism and transform it into a giving of the Holy Spirit and the means of salvation.  He will wash away not just bodily dirt but the contamination of sin.  God in Christ will use baptism to immerse us into the communion between the Father and the Son.  Through baptism He unites us to Himself.  More than that Christ will clear the threshing floor of creation and gather his wheat, His faithful, into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.   He will separate sheep from goats, wheat from chaff, the good from the bad and those who do not belong to Him He will destroy.  The people of faith heard John’s message and responded to it and it is still the same today.  By faith and by humble obedience we can draw down God’s mercy on ourselves and our families.
John did not mince his words.  Those who claim to be religious, to be servants of God but who do not do God’s will, who do not seek to be truly holy and good are like poisonous snakes!
From the voice of God in his heart John gets his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  To repent means literally to rethink our route and do a u-turn, to reverse one’s course and go back to a better way.  Why?  Because God’s Kingdom, His Lordship and long promised, direct governance of man is close.  How do we repent?  We ask for the grace and we examine our conscience.  Every Catholic serious about their faith should do this every day: to pray for the grace of sincere repentance and sorrow for sin and to examine one’s conscience.  There are many ways to do it but to put it simply we look at our day and how we have treated God and our neighbour.  We also need to inform our conscience by learning our faith and not assuming we already know all we need to!
We are to produce the good fruit of good works as evidence of our repentance.  Here is the heart of our Gospel.  If you are truly sorry for your sins then show it by your behaviour – change and do good!  Advent is not about cleaning the house for Christmas and putting up decorations, still less about shopping.  It is about preparing the way of the Lord so that we will be ready to receive Him when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  We must produce good fruit to present to Him.  We cannot appeal to the good our parents or our ancestors did.  We cannot appeal that Ireland is the land of saints and scholars if it ever really was. God has no national favourites.  He does not love one people more than another, nor one person more than another.  God loves us all but He shows His mercy to those who repent of their wrong-doing and do His will.  God does not need us.  He created us out of His own goodness and love and saved us through His Mercy.  Indeed Christ has raised us up, for our ancestors were pagans and now we are to know and do God’s will. We would be spiritually dead but through baptism He has given us life.  Not only are we children of Abraham, spiritual Jews, we are more importantly, children of God.  Yet even more than that we are, in Christ, Sons to the Father for He has granted us this gift that we are to the Father as the Son is to Him.  This great, unexpected, unasked for, unmerited gift demands a great response.  God demands that we listen to Him. He demands good deeds from us, deeds that show our love for Him, that share with others His love and mercy towards us.  He demands that if we are to enjoy being sons to Him we ought to behave as His Son to others.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

GET SERIOUS, STAY AWAKE, a Homily for the First Sunday in ADVENT year A, Matthew 24, 37–44

You can also listen to the homily here.
A man gets a message from God telling him that there is about to be a terrible flood but that he is not to be afraid and that God will save him.  Filled with confidence the man awaits the disaster.  The waters rise and threaten to flood his house.  An army truck then arrives and offers to evacuate him.  “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me.  I will wait on Him.”  The waters continue to rise and he has to move up stairs.  A boat arrives and offers to rescue him. “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me.  I will wait on Him.”  The waters continue to rise and he has to climb into his attic and out onto the roof.  A helicopter arrives and a man descends to him on a cable and offers to take him to safety. “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me.  I will wait on Him.”  The waters continue to rise and so he drowns.  He goes before the Lord in Heaven and he’s very upset.  “Lord,” he says, “you promised to save me and you didn’t!”  “My son,” says God, “I sent you a truck, a boat and a helicopter.  It’s not my fault if you drowned.”
             Cork itself is no stranger to flooding and some parts of the country have seen more than their fair share.  I am sure that you, like me, have known people who lost their homes to flooding.  How quickly the waters rise!  How easily whole towns can be swept away and lives lost by the thousand.  Modern media means that we can access the images of the tsunami that hit Thailand on St Stephen’s day twelve years ago or the one that hit Japan after the earthquake in 2011. Ancient mythology preserves many flood stories.  They are powerful images of the sudden and irresistible destruction that a flood can bring.   By using the story of Noah our Lord is using a powerful image with deep meaning.

To understand how our Lord uses this image of Noah and the flood I must explain the idea of typology.  In typology all the major characters and events in the Old Testament are understood as anticipations, foretastes or types of what God will do for us in Christ.  So Moses the law-giver is a type of Christ the true lawgiver.  King David is a type of Christ the King.  Likewise with Melchizedek, Abraham and the other major characters.  In this use of scripture Noah is a type of Christ the Saviour and the ark is a type of the Church.
             In our Lord’s retelling of the story of Noah the people were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (as if marrying were no more significant than eating or drinking) but they were doing NOTHING MORE – there is no mention of a place for the Lord.  Their whole lives were consumed with doing their own wills and they ignored the warnings given to them through Noah until they were destroyed.  At the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis where Noah’s story is told, the people are said to have conceived nothing but evil in their hearts.  There was no room for good there anymore to such an extent that even the animals, wild and tame, were affected.  So God decided to wipe the Earth clean and start afresh. Their minds and souls, their consciences darkened by the sin of indifference and so they remained blind to their own corruption and the coming disaster.  Noah was a figure of fun and derision to them.  Noah was mad and only a fool would listen to him. 
In refusing to listen to Noah the people were refusing to listen to God speaking through Noah so in refusing to listen to Christ, in refusing to take the Gospel seriously we are refusing to listen to God Himself.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  Sin darkens the mind and blinds us to reality.  When we refuse to make time for God and let Him cleanse our hearts and our lives we think we see and know the truth but we do not and so we cannot see the danger and avoid destruction.

The flood that we cannot avoid is the flood of death and judgment.  Whether we like it or not it will overtake us at some point.  For some it will come suddenly, for others there is ample warning, but it always comes and we cannot avoid it.  We are offered a way to avoid total destruction, an ark to save us, to carry us over and through the waters of death.  Christ is the true Noah, His ark is His Body the Church and those who take refuge in her are saved.  We take refuge through repentance and conversion, through casting ourselves on the Lord’s mercy through repentance and confession, through prayer, abstinence, fasting and giving to the poor.
In saying that one will be taken and another left Christ means that death and judgment come to us in the ordinary events of our day and we cannot know when they will strike nor do we know who will live and who will die, disaster is sudden and takes people in the middle of their daily lives.
Therefore, He says to us, stay awake! Stay awake in the Spirit aware of the demands of discipleship and committed to the Lord.  No one knows what day is set aside as the Day of Judgment and no prophet, no visionary can tell you.  If any claim to know that stay away from them because they are deluded.
The Lord wants us to pay attention and so he says “Be sure of this!”  How many victims of crime would love to have known in advance so that they could take some action to avoid suffering!  Here we are warned about death and judgment!  So we also must be prepared, spiritually ready, in a state of grace (free from grave or mortal sin) like soldiers ready for the call to battle – trained, fed, equipped and psyched up.
We must stand at the ready for He will come.  The Lord gives us many chances to change but not forever.  We need to decide to change and then trust Him to help us whether He comes by truck, boat or helicopter!  Take the help that comes to you don’t wait for some spectacular miracle.   If we do what we can with what we have we need not fear Him when He comes.  He comes for everyone individually at death. He comes also at particular moments in history and acts in the world in a clear way but the Day will arrive when He will come in judgment for the whole world.

How are we to prepare for that day?  Well don’t just sit there, do something!  Take action to let the Lord draw you closer to Himself and to others.  Prepare by doing works of mercy, spiritual and corporal.  Be merciful to others.  But don’t just do things, learn to sit with the Lord.  Prepare by giving time to prayer and to listening to God’s word.  Bring some silence into your day and clear out the distractions.  Even a few minutes a day given to reading and thinking about a text from the Scriptures (e.g. the Gospel of the day’s Mass) will bear fruit in time.  Time given to praying and meditating on the rosary is another way – I don’t meant rattling through the Hail Marys with one’s mind far away but actually keeping each mystery before our mind’s eye and in our heart.  Prepare by making sacrifices however small and offering them to the Lord in union with His Sacrifice on the Cross.  These are especially helpful if they benefit others, above all the poor.   If you want to celebrate our Lord’s birth properly, with real joy, then make time for God and for others.  The time we give to God and our neighbour we will get back a hundred times over.  Don’t let yourself be robbed but heed the Lord’s warning.  Get yourself right with God and your neighbour and when we calls you will have nothing to fear.  As it said in the opening prayer of  this Mass we will run out to greet Him our hands full of the good deeds we have done.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

THE CHURCH SURVIVES: a Talk given to a Pro-Life Vigil, Honan Chapel, Cork November 25th, 2016

You can listen to the talk here.
The ancient Chinese author of the Art of War, Tsun Tsu, says that the real art of war is convincing your enemy not to fight at all.  Satan and his minions know this lesson all too well.  He, and the useful idiots who, knowingly or unknowingly, collaborate with him are keen to convince us that we are on the losing side, that there is no hope in our cause, and that we the losers.  So we are bombarded in the media with images and ideas that uphold the secularist, materialist, atheist ideology that dominates the Western world.  They have to bombard us for if they did not people would slowly realise that the masters of our world are wrong and that secularism, materialism and atheism have nothing to offer.  They are parasitical and lifeless.  They are the culture of death.
Still for us who are here, in this day, in this culture it can be hard going.  Among our families and friends, neighbours and colleagues, we can be treated as oddities, fanatics, fundamentalists, ‘haters’ and adherents of an out-dated religion.  We are to keep our ‘rosaries off their ovaries’ when we would not want to put our beads there anyway.  We are told that we are soon to be a minority when the Church continues to grow.  We should keep our beliefs to ourselves, especially our religion, which to quote Hitchens “should be like knitting something that is done in private.”  Indeed what was once deplored and done in private is now paraded on our streets and what was once admired and honoured is increasingly wished into backstreets and backrooms.
We have been here before.  As soldiers of Christ and His kingdom who wage war on evil without weapons that kill we can expect to be shot at and to be bombarded.  We have countless lessons from History:
In the first century after Christianity was legalised there arose the Arian heresy that denied the full divinity of Christ.  It grew to the point where most bishops embraced Arian or semi-Arian beliefs (even, it seems, the Pope) and, as one Church Father put it, “the whole world groaned to find itself Arian”.  Yet the Church survived and overcame that heresy. 
One thousand years ago the majority of Christians, those in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, broke away from Rome and remain separated from her to this day – the Orthodox Christians.  Yet the Catholic Church, though reduced to the Latin, Roman, half survived and indeed grew to be the largest of all Christian bodies.
This era is not the first in which we have been threatened by Islam.  Christians have been battling Islam in way or another since it arose in the 7th Century.  More than once it has threatened to overwhelm Christian Europe and it has long oppressed the Christians within its jurisdiction.  Yet the Church has survived. 
In the late Fourteenth and early Fifteenth centuries the Church in Europe was rent by a schism involving the papacy where there were two claimants to the papacy, and for a few years, even three claimants.  It caused great harm to the reputation of the Church and especially the papacy.  Yet the Church survived.
At the so-called Reformation when most of Northern Europe left the Church and the face of the Catholic West was deformed and her unity broken so that it seemed like the end was nigh.  It is hard for us to imagine how swiftly that heresy, and its offshoots, spread.  It threatened to bring down all of the Church.  Yet the Catholic Church survived, indeed her renewal had begun even before the Reformation occurred, and she went on to open missions in South America, Africa, India and Asia.
The Reformation brought untold horrors to Ireland with centuries of occupation and persecution, yet the Church survived.  Indeed the Church had a major part in building this nation and state. 
In 1917 when our Lady appeared at Fatima she gave a warning that Russia was about to become a threat to the whole world.  She warned that Russia would spread her errors around the world.  No one could’ve forecast that.  Yet our Lady was proved right and there was a great persecution of the Church in Eastern Europe and Asia for many years, indeed it is still going on in China and in other countries.  Yet the Church survived.
Napoleon once boasted to the Pope “I will destroy your Church”.  The Holy Father laughed and said to Napoleon “If the bishops haven’t managed it how will you?”  Of the many things that we can learn from the history of the Church there are two I think that are important.  First is that the State is the usual source or means of persecution whether that be soft or hard.  In every era where the Church has suffered she has usually suffered at the hands of the government.  They use the power to make and to change laws, to imprison and penalise, and even to kill, to try to interfere with and frustrate the Church.  Second is that the most important weapons we have are prayer and sacrifice.  They are intimately connected.  The Church herself believes that the Muslims were defeated and Europe saved by the power of prayer, especially the Rosary.  The Church survives because she turns to her Lord in prayer and offers Him the manifold sacrifices of her life united above all with the Sacrifice of the Mass.  The Church survives revolution, persecution, corruption, scandals etc., because she is a divine institution and draws her life from the Most Holy Trinity.  She belongs to Christ for she is His Body, His Bride, His Temple and His Kingdom.  He established her and so she cannot fail as long He will that she succeed.
This year we are celebrating the Centenary of Fatima.  That visit of our Lady has been raised above all others in dignity by both the power and significance of her message and by the veneration of the whole Church, both cleric and lay.  Is it not time to renew our commitment to the message that our Lady brought us at Fatima?
At Fatima our Lady called us to stop doing wrong.  To do wrong is to reject God’s love for us and to bind ourselves up in evil habits.  It is to abandon the freedom God has destined us for in order to be slaves.  The call to give up sin was the part of the message that made the strongest impression on the visionaries.  She asked us to do penance, to offer sacrifice and reparation, especially through doing the duties of our state of life.  Note that she did not ask for extraordinary fasting or penances but that we unite our daily tasks and obligations to the Sacrifice of Christ in reparation for our own sins and the sins of others.  On their own they have no value but united to the Sacrifice of Christ they take on the infinite value of His Sacrifice, His Offering to the Father on the Cross.  How do we do this?  We can do it because we are already baptised into Him and so intimately united to Him.  We do it by offering in faith what we have to do, the evil we avoid and the good we do, in union with Him to the Father.  Even the smallest irritation endured with charity and patience, the smallest sacrifice offered, takes on an infinite value when united to the Sacrifice of our Lord.  We have only to be willing and make the offering, He does the rest.  Consider how our Lady lived most of her life: It was an ordinary life doing the daily round of housework and later following her Son and looking after Him – always attentive to God’s Presence and His will in each moment.  She was never a missionary.  She never preached or taught that we know of.  She lived a quiet life ever-attentive to God and the needs of her neighbour and she offered it all to Him.  What was good enough for her is good enough for us too.
At Fatima our Lady called for prayer, especially the Rosary, indeed she identified herself as “our Lady of the Rosary”.  How many who say the rosary actually pray the rosary though?  Whether we say it fast or slow is beside the point what matters is where our heart and our mind is.  How often have we rattled through the prayers our mind on the past or the future but rarely on the mysteries of the Life of Christ.  We have in our Rosary beads a ‘pocket Gospel’, a way to walk hand in hand with the Mother of God through the life of her Son and to contemplate His work on our behalf, His love, His humility, His poverty, His obedience, His sacrifice and His victory.  If we let our Lady take us by the hand she will open to us the hidden depths of those mysteries and teach us how to follow her Son as she did.  The saints often referred to the Rosary as a weapon and as a chain.  As a weapon it defeats the enemies of God and as a chain it binds them to the foot of the Cross.
At Fatima our Lady asked for devotion to her Immaculate Heart.  It is through the Immaculate Heart of His Mother that Christ will conquer evil and fulfil His plan.  Herein lies a great mystery.  What is said of Mary is also said of the Church and therefore of us.  As Mary was conceived without sin so the Church was conceived on Calvary without sin.  This is why the Church is known as ‘Holy’.  We, though sinners, are part of that holy Church.  Baptism cleansed us and made us one with Christ, one with His Body and Bride.  When we sin Confession restores that union, restores us to our baptismal innocence.  Living in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary is living in union with the heart of the Church, with the heart of Christ’s Body and Bride.  It is living in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  These two Hearts are inseparable. 
At Fatima our Lady promised us: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”.   This alone should be our consolation and our hope no matter how dark the times may get.  She has warned us that there will be difficult times ahead – soldiers can expect no less!  Yet she has also promised us that we will see her victory.  It is through His Mother that our Lord will conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Nothing can stop the victory of Christ. 


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