Friday, July 29, 2016
Someone asked about my painting. I've been trying to get this san Damiano Crucifix finished. I started it ten years ago and finally I've gone as far as I intend to go short of some small bits of sgraffito and varnishing which I hope to do next Spring/Summer.
It's painted on MDF in egg tempera.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Most of us have had guests over for a meal. If you’re the one who did the cooking you will know how stressful that can be. You want everything to go well and there are so many things that can go wrong. All you need is someone who doesn’t pull their weight or simply refuses to co-operate with you. That’s at the heart of this Gospel but it is not Mary who is refusing to co-operate, not doing what she should, it is Martha!
Martha, Martha, her name has rolled down the centuries as the hostess corrected by the Lord. All she wanted to do was look after her guests, especially our Lord. In John’s Gospel she gives powerful testimony to her faith by proclaiming that she believes that Jesus is the Messiah; a proclamation on a par with that of Peter himself. Her efforts to please her guests are testimony to the goodness of her heart and her love for the Lord.
Her culture and her faith commands her to be hospitable. She wants to show her guests her family’s best side, not let the family down. She wants to play a motherly role and be a hostess and to feed and care for them. But on this important occasion her sister is sitting there on her big, fat backside doing nothing! One can almost hear the banging and the muttering as she goes about getting everything ready. There is our Lord sitting in the midst of his disciples teaching, with Mary sitting near him listening attentively, while Martha busies herself with her work.
Martha finally loses it. She does not address her sister but the Lord. What is going on here? Has there already been a row? Are they on speaking terms? Is she afraid of Mary? She appeals to the Lord, trying to get Him onto her side but to no avail. She is corrected instead. ‘You worry and fret about so many things’ could be said of many of us. “There is one thing necessary.’ And Mary has chosen it. The Lord will not deny her. Why?
He will not deny Mary because the Lord is the One who is providing the food. He is the true Host at this meal. Here it is the food of His Presence and His Teaching. Soon He will give the food of His Body and Blood. It is not He who needs food from Martha but Martha who needs food from the Lord. Mary has realised where the true food is and the Lord is feeding her.
So often are we not just like Martha. We worry and fret about so many unimportant things and miss the one thing necessary. The Lord wishes to save us, take away our sins, feed us, and bring us into Eternal Life and few there are who, like Mary, take the time to let Him.
How do we feed on the Lord?
First by listening to Him in His Word the Bible, especially the Gospels, and in the Teaching of the Church. We also feed when we give time to prayer – that is spend time talking to God and giving space for Him to speak to our deepest inner self. We also feed when we listen to the events of our lives or the beauty of this world He has given us. All this requires the sacrifice of time – time given to the Lord, to sit and to listen to Him. We feed on Him especially when we celebrate the Sacraments, above all when we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace i.e. free of mortal sin.
I will restrict myself though to just prayer and that is a huge topic. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are always in His Presence and under His care. Being attentive to that Presence is the heart of prayer. The Church still defines prayer as ‘lifting our heart and mind up to God’ and that is what being attentive to His Presence means. So here is a simple, ancient way to pray. Pick a short phrase such as ‘Jesus have mercy on me’ or ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in thee’ or any phrase that appeals to you. Say it slowly as you breath in and breathe out while you sit quietly, paying attention to the Presence of God. You will get distracted. Getting distracted is normal. When you notice your distraction just return to the Lord’s Presence. All the saints had to do this.
Another way to pray is to read the Sunday or daily Gospel slowly and with attention and care. One can read and reread it aloud. One listens to the words and pays attention to any word or phrase that strikes you. One talks to God about it and looks to see how it applies to one’s life. Slowly we become more and more attentive to the Lord and His Teaching.
When we pray daily the Lord comes to mean more and more to us and we become more and more aware of His Presence in our lives and how He cares for us. We begin to want to love others more because of the love He has for us.
A Catholic who does not pray, who does not give some time to God each day is not a real Catholic. Making space for God in our day, in our lives, taking the time to sit at His feet and listen to Him with our mind and heart is how we begin to grow spiritually. It is how we learn to trust Him, to love Him and to want to follow Him wherever He leads, to not only avoid doing wrong but to want to do more and more good for love of Him.
It is your choice. God has provided the food of Eternal Life for you. You can choose to eat or you can choose to go hungry.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
I must begin with apologies to those who have heard this story before but I find I return again and again to my Mother’s actions when one bitterly cold Christmas morning she found a young traveller boy crying outside our front door. He had sprained his ankle and my mother took him in, checked his ankle and would not let him go until she had fed him. She understood that everyone is our neighbour and she therefore could never pass by someone in need.
That is the heart of this Gospel passage. We start with the Lawyer’s question of how we are to attain Eternal life. Our Lord refers him to the Law. The lawyer rightly recites the Shema Israel – the Jewish Creed still recited to this day. This is the path to salvation; honour God and love your neighbour. But the Lawyer wants to cover himself, to set limits and conditions. ‘Who is my neighbour?’ the lawyer asks. He is testing Christ, that is, God-made-man, the very author of all true law and creator of everything. Christ who stands before him is both his neighbour and his God. Our Lord’s response does not change the Law but expands it. He tells the Lawyer and us the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’. In order to understand how shocking this parable is we must replace the Samaritan with another character. We need to replace him with some person or a representative of some group we believe to be unacceptable. WE might call him the ‘Good Unionist’. It is then we can hear what our Lord is saying. There are no limits to love, not the rather confused modern notions of love, but real love, love that is self-giving, self-sacrificing. The Samaritan responds to the need of his neighbour though he is a member of an enemy people. The priest and the Levite, professional religious men, caught up in religious and nationalist issues of purity choose not to reach out to the other and are, paradoxically, breaking the very law they would uphold.
Christ is our Good Samaritan. We were, through our sins, enemies of God and yet He came into the world to save us. St Augustine tells us:
“Robbers left you half-dead on the road, but you have been found lying there by the passing and kindly Samaritan. Wine and oil have been poured on you. You have received the sacrament of the only-begotten Son. You have been lifted onto his mule. You have believed that Christ became flesh. You have been brought to the inn, and you are being cured in the Church. That is where and why I am speaking. This is what I too, what all of us are doing. We are performing the duties of the innkeeper. He was told, “If you spend any more, I will pay you when I return.” If only we spent at least as much as we have received! However much we spend, brothers and sisters, it is the Lord’s money.”
He has brought us to the Church as a place of healing. He has poured over us the purifying wine of His Blood and washed our wounds in Baptism and anointed us with healing oil in Confirmation. He has given us into the care of the inn that is His Holy Church, a place of refuge for those on the journey to Eternal Life. In this holy inn our task is to be the Good Samaritan to others, to be obedient as the innkeeper was and to care for those who are broken and in need. Again as St Augustine tells us:
“He shows mercy to us because of His own goodness, while we show mercy to one another because of God’s goodness. He has compassion on us so that we may enjoy Him completely, while we have compassion on another that we may completely enjoy Him.”
Even when we wander off and are brought down by our sins it is Christ who finds us and with His grace brings us to the Confessional where our wounds are bound and healed. What foolishness it is therefore for anyone to avoid going to Confession or to neglect to confess all theirs sins. Let Christ our Good Samaritan heal you!
There is no private or partial living of the Faith. It must be public above all in our actions. This does not mean that we force our faith down other peoples’ throats but neither does it mean we let them force their faith down ours. Still less does it mean that we neglect to behave or to speak up in ways that make our faith obvious to everyone. Our Lord is telling us that there are to be no limits to love or to mercy. If we find someone is in need then we ought to do what we can for him or her regardless of whether he or she is our enemy and regardless of the cost. This visible proclamation of the Gospel is the most powerful witness of its truth and when we neglect it we are in fact offering a counter-proclamation, a denial that could cost others their salvation.
On the other hand in keeping Christ’s teaching, in extending to others the love and mercy He has extended to us we truly become His disciples and we will one day hear Him say to us “Come, you blessed of my Father, for I was in need and you looked after me. Enter into the joy of my Kingdom!”
Monday, July 4, 2016
Every business, every enterprise requires training, especially on the job training. My training as a school chaplain was all on the job. There’s your class go in and teach them. Here the Lord is training His disciples, particularly the non-Apostles and it’s on the job training, sending them out to proclaim the Good News, to experience the highs and lows of ministry. They are learning to cast their cares upon Him and how to trust in His power. It is a long time since there were wolves in Donegal or anywhere else in Ireland. Christ sends these disciples to the wolves, that is to sinners, to those who are beasts of prey to their neighbours that through the Good News they might become sheep and walk in the way of peace. They go empowered by Him who is peace itself, by the Lord of the harvest.
Here the Lord points out to us the importance of prayer and commands that we call on God for an increase in the number of those working for the harvest of souls. All that we do in His name is done by His power, in fact nothing good can come about but by His power. The Good News of peace is not merely absence of conflict, still less an absence of effort and labour. It is the peace that comes from the reconciliation between God and man in Christ. From this follows His instruction that they should greet no one. He doesn’t mean they should be rude but that the Good News of this Peace with God is more important than any social nicety.
What an honour to speak in His name! What a responsibility. He urges us that if we rejoice in anything it is that our names are written in heaven. They are written first by Baptism and Confirmation but they are affirmed whenever we proclaim His name and do His will above all in our actions.
All of this is addressed to us, priests, friars, nuns and laity, male and female. We are all disciples of Christ, therefore we are all, in a sense, apostles and so sent to others with the Good News. Each of us according to our state of life, gender, age and intelligence is commissioned by the Lord to proclaim the Good News of God’s peace. Therefore we are all called to make sacrifices, to lay aside even some of the good things of this world in order to serve the Lord.
I have noticed over the years that lay people greatly exaggerate the difficulties of the priesthood and religious life. Yes there can be loneliness especially for the priest of a diocese. Life in a marriage that has broken down is lonelier still with many added sorrows. The single life carries its fair share of loneliness. As a priest or friar one hands a lot of power over ones life to a superior or bishop. There are restrictions and there are sacrifices. The same could easily be said of marriage. But just as marriage has its joys so do the priesthood and religious life. Again and again priests score the highest in job satisfaction ratings. The work is varied, and no two days are the same. I have baptised many babies. The youngest was only sixteen weeks in the womb. In the Confessional I get to talk to people about some of their most painful, darkest moments and hopefully direct them on the way to wholeness. Many times have I stood by a couple as they said ‘I do’ to one another. No one else gets as close to that wonderful moment. Yes I have no wife, no children. I taught in a school for twelve years and at times I thanked God I had no children, especially teenagers. Teenagers could make a saint of you. During my time there I had the awful honour of burying four of them: Roisin, Stefan, Kayleigh and Nicole. Of all the simply natural roles we can take on none is higher than that of being a parent, being a mother or a father. The Priest, who represents Christ who represents the Father, is called ‘Father’ because of his spiritual ‘fatherhood.’ For it is through his ministry that our Mother the Church brings us to supernatural life in the Sacraments.
The priest stands at the heart of life. He gets to bring people into the Kingdom of God through baptism, walk with them through life in his ministry, teaching and consoling them, feeding them with Holy Communion, cleansing them in Confession; uniting in Marriage, healing in anointing, praying with and for them as they go to the Lord and then laying their bodies to rest. I have offered many Masses for my parents since their deaths. There aren’t too many of the dead that can claim that. I believe with the Church that the Lord will replace all I have sacrificed for Christ a hundred times over – all I have to do is remain faithful to my vocation. The priesthood is part of all the important parts of life and it leads to eternal life. It is a shame and a loss that so few will even consider it.
As a Capuchin friar I have the support of my brothers in the Order. Yes we fight. As you may or may not know we had our Provincial Assembly recently and there will be changes here in Ards. One of the men coming to Ards gave me such stick about my transfer here that I roared out laughing when I saw he was to come here. Then I thought of his knees and felt sorry for him. Of course when I saw they were leaving me here that wiped the smile off my face. As brothers we each have our own room, our own space and our own stuff (sometimes too much stuff) but we eat together, pray together and often work together for the Lord. Why do so few want to work for Him today?
The Capuchins have been here since the 1930s but we have not had a vocation from Donegal in over 40 years. As I said last Sunday I am the only vocation from my home parish, that I know of, since it was founded nearly 50 years ago. The Lord commands us to pray for vocations, for labourers for the harvest, but is anyone actually praying? Is anyone listening to the Lord? Is anyone encouraging or nurturing the call to serve Him?
My Parents had only one grandchild, my niece. My vocation to the Capuchins and to the priesthood was a sacrifice for them more than for me. Why should they have to sacrifice so that the people of Cork or Donegal can have Confession and Mass? Why are so many today afraid of commitment even to the Sacrament of Marriage? There is a want of faith God’s providence and care.
All across the Western world there is a huge problem. It is behind many economic and social programs and policies. There are simply not enough babies. It affects Ireland too though not as obviously as in other countries. Ask yourself why this is. Such a situation in a Catholic country naturally affects vocations. There are simply not enough children being born to sustain the country let alone the priesthood. There are fewer young men for the Lord to call to be priests and religious. That means fewer Masses and a greater difficulty in finding a priest when you need one. If you want to be able to attend Mass or get Confession here or in your local parish in twenty, or fifteen or even ten years time, someone will have to make sacrifices. Some young men will have to answer the call and be supported in that call by their family and friends.
The answer to our present difficulties is a return to the teaching of Christ and His Church. The answer means sacrifices and a huge act of faith in God’s power to care for us and meet all our needs. It means generosity and courage to face the wolves in our society, our community and in our lives. It means encouraging and nurturing those who express an interest in the priesthood and religious life. Above all it means each of us taking seriously our obligation to spread the Good News of Christ, firstly by how we live but also by what we say. If you wish to have your name written in heaven you need to stand up, speak up and work for Christ.