Sunday, November 11, 2018

GOD WANTS OUR TOTAL FAITH NOT OUR COIN A homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday, Year B (Mark 12:38–44)

Imagine for a moment a huge stone platform 90 ft high, ten stories or 30 m, stretching all of Ormonde street down to High street to just past Rothe House and from High Street up to a line between the end of De Loughry place and the old Atlantic store on Lower New Street.  All one stone platform, 144,000 sq.meters.  It’s still there in Jerusalem - one huge platform for the Temple and its surrounding plaza.  The most important building, the Temple itself, stood in the middle of one side.  It was about the same size as St Mary’s Cathedral but wider, almost 90 ft. No one ever went in there but the priests.  Along another wall was another building open on one side were people could gather and the other walls had covered walkways.  
The Treasury was in the court of the women, that is, of women Jews.  Apparently there were thirteen wooden boxes with trumpet shaped funnels that rang when coins were dropped in.  Each box collected offerings for different purposes.  Her offering seems to have been a simple gift of two lepta, two small copper coins.  What she gave, all she had to live on as our Lord tells us, was very little.  The denarius was the usual pay for a twelve-hour work day for a labourer.  Those two small coins would equate to only a few minutes work.  In other words the coins were next to worthless, she had nothing to live on.  She was destitute and yet she gave her little away.

This Gospel passage could be used to speak about why and how much we should support the Church and the clergy but that would miss the point.  Those who wonder about what happened to the woman afterwards also miss the point.  Our Lord is pointing to her because she truly believed and truly worshipped. This poor woman could’ve held onto her coins, near worthless though they were, for herself.  There would’ve been nothing wrong in that.  It would’ve been prudent to do so.  Yet her faith was such that she trusted in God’s power to provide for her and to save her and so she gave to help others.  She entrusted herself entirely to God not realising that He was sitting there watching her.  

She is not alone in Scripture.  She stands in a long line of widows and women of faith. There was the widow of Zarephath, again a woman who was not a Jew, who had only a little flour and some oil to feed herself and her child but who listened to the prophet Elijah, trusted in God and God provided for her so that they survived the famine.  There was king David’s great-grandmother Ruth who though not a Jew remained faithful to her mother-in-law and returned to Israel a widow.  Despite her poverty she trusted in God and He provided for her.   God provides for those who entrust themselves to Him and cannot be found wanting in generosity.
The Jewish law commanded that they care for the poor, the widows and the orphans yet this was not done.  In fact the Scriptures tell us that often the externals of the law alone were observed.   The poor and the needy were neglected and the rich took their wealth as a sign of their righteousness, moral worth and superiority.  Things don’t really change do they?  Wealth can easily make us think we are better than those who have nothing.  Real wealth is faith and grace.  Without the grace of God we are indeed poor.
There are times in our lives when our faith is tested. It is easy to believe when times are good and life is easy.  It is much harder when we find the going tough.  It could be the long or serious illness of a loved one, a spouse or a child, or our own suffering.  It could be unemployment, difficult work conditions, relationship difficulties, or any of a long list of troubles that can afflict us. It could be that we are offered an opportunity to sacrifice in order to help someone else. It is at these times that our faith is tested. 
When I say our faith is tested I do not mean that God needs to find out.  God already knows how strong or weak our faith is.  God already knew Abraham’s faith when He asked him to sacrifice his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loved.  Abraham discovered how deep his faith in God was, indeed how deep Isaac’s faith was, when he actually reached for the knife to kill his own son and was only stopped by God’s intervention.  God, in testing Abraham, led him to a deeper faith and trust in God.
Mark in this Gospel passage presents us with a choice.  We can be like the Pharisees who have faith in our own worth, comparing ourselves to others, keeping up with the Joneses, who give only out of our surplus, only what we have to give, and who trust entirely to our own efforts for our salvation or we can be like the poor woman who entrusts herself entirely to God’s mercy and providence.
If we place our whole hope in God’s power to save us and put ourselves entirely in His care God will not be found  wanting.  I am not recommending that you put your entire weekly income into the collection plate or a charity box but that you put your faith in God and not in your own efforts.  Our good deeds must flow from our faith and trust in God, as a response to His goodness and love.  It was such a faith that built this church and our cathedral.  It is such a faith that makes saints.  God does not need our money.  He wants our faith.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

ON THE PRESENT CRISIS IN THE CHURCH a homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday, Year B (Mark 9:30–37)

When I read that line “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me”  I was immediately reminded of that other verse “whoever causes one of these little ones to sin it would be better for him to have a millstone tied about his neck and for him to be thrown into the sea.”  Our Lord also obviously means to include in that curse anyone who deliberately and seriously sins against a child.  That curse would logically include anyone that covers up such abuse.  So I must apologise to anyone here who is the victim of abuse, especially child abuse.  I cannot imagine what you have suffered but part of the process of ensuring that such abuse does not happen again or at least that it is dealt with swiftly and properly when it does is reminding everyone just how seriously wrong child abuse is.  By this means we may begin to ensure that your suffering was not in vain.

I don’t know to what degree you are aware of the current crisis and scandals in the Church.  It seems today that there are so many but the media coverage is uneven and unbalanced.  For those who are not aware I will briefly summarize what has been happening.  Earlier in the Summer an American Grand Jury issued its report into six American dioceses and listed, from the past 70 years,  300 priests against whom they were credible allegations of abuse against over a thousand minors.  There was extensive cover-ups.  Some of this abuse was quite recent.  Bishops still in office were involved in those cover-ups.  This has lead to many states in the US starting their own investigations.  In addition the most senior churchman in America, now ex-Cardinal McCarrick was exposed as a serial abuser of boys and young men, especially seminarians and priests.  This was, apparently, widely known in certain quarters even in Rome, even at the very top.  Pope Benedict tried to do something but was thwarted. 
This scandal is not confined to the US.  There have been similar scandals not only in Chile, but in Argentina, Nicaragua, India, Italy, Holland, Germany etc.  Again and again the statistics show over 80% of the victims are adolescent boys and young men, that is, the abuse is not primarily directed against young children, those who have not yet reached puberty nor against girls and young women.  One can only conclude that we are looking at homosexual predation on young males.  Worse it was organised and it was covered up.
More recently a former papal nuncio, Archbishop Vigano, alleged that the Church, including various bishops and cardinals, was riddled with a homosexual mafia who were actively involved in covering up abuse.  He claims that this was made known to the present Holy Father and nothing was done about it.  I cannot verify these allegations but others have come forward to affirm both Vigano’s integrity and the truth of his claims.  
When one thinks back to all that Irish Catholics have endured due to the crimes of certain priests and religious, the pain of victims and their families, those scandalised, those whose faith has been undermined, whose salvation has been jeopardised, I can only conclude that for all the publicity that  those events incurred no one was listening.  
How could this happen? How can men dedicated to God be guilty of such crimes? To answer that we need go no further than a verse or two earlier in our passage when we are told that the disciples had been discussing “who was the greatest.”  When God’s word is ignored, when self-interest and self-glorification are allowed to triumph over God’s call then scandal becomes possible.  The great Cardinal Burke has said that ‘where there is a want of chastity there is a want of obedience.’ There has been a great want of obedience in the Church, especially among certain clergy and religious and from it has flowed this evil. The prophets of the Old Testament railed against those shepherds who pastured themselves on their sheep, that is, who put their own interests before the welfare of God’s people.  Our Lord teaches us that His way is a way of self-emptying, a way of and through the Cross not a way of domination.  When men see in the priesthood a career move, a place to hide from questions about their sexuality, or worse a means to gain access to vulnerable persons, then we have a recipe for great evil and harm.  A culture of secrecy and blackmail can easily develop and power abused to try and protect immoral persons from facing up to their crimes.  I don’t know if similar evil is active here in the Irish Church.  I hope not.
One wonders whether any of these men have any real faith at all!  Do they never think that they will have to stand before the Judgment Seat of God and give an account of their lives and ministry? It causes me to beg for mercy when I consider my own Judgment! How will they explain such abuse, such cover-ups?  There is a disturbing video online from an Italian documentary (it seems that Italian and German media are well ahead of the English speaking media on this) in which an abuser is interviewed by means of a hidden camera.  It seems that in his mind the abuse was all a joke, a bit of messing about, not serious, not a moral issue!  How twisted must one’s thinking be to think that way?  I am reminded of the line from the book of Daniel “you have grown old in wickedness.”
There is much more but I have said enough.  Church militant is one site that is giving these events exstensive coverage. I warn you that if you go researching these events you will need strong faith and at times a strong stomach.  So much of what has been done to these boys is truly demonic. 

We are only ‘foot soldiers,’ mere plebs, so what are we to do?  The price of peace is eternal vigilance it is said.  We must keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around not only children but around teenagers and even adults under the power of others.  Think of all the stuff that came out around Harvey Weinstein.  Do you think he’s the only man in a position of power to abuse that position?  Be vigilant and listen to anyone who comes to you with a complaint.  Let us not make the mistakes of the past and dismiss the victims.
I think our Lady tried to warn us at Fatima and again at Akita.  She has asked that we live   good and holy lives by doing the duties of our state of life, confession our sins regularly, devoutly receiving Holy Communion at Mass in a state of grace, praying the rosary, making acts of reparation and promoting devotion to her Immaculate Heart.  She promised her protection to those who did these things and I believe that if we take them up again she will bring get great graces for us and the Church.  She will heal what seems beyond all healing and bring peace to the Church and the world.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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

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


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