Sunday, October 15, 2017

MANY ARE CALLED BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN: A homily for the Twenty-Eight Sunday in Year A (Matthew 22:1–14)


 The audio is here.
“Many are called but few are chosen.”  Are we to take this statement literally?  What does our Lord mean?  Are there those who are doomed to be excluded from Heaven?  Why can’t everyone but the worst people go there?  Surely most people get to go to Heaven because most people are not murderers or rapists or thieves?  Surely Hell is nearly empty?  How many will be saved in the end?  Elsewhere in the Gospels our Lord refuses to answer the question of how many will be saved.   He will not answer the question.  Why?
To understand our Lord we must understand a few things.  First the passage I have just read must be understood in the context of our Lord’s confrontation with His fellow Jews who will not believe in Him.  For generations, centuries, they had been promised a Divine intervention, a Saviour who would grant them the power to truly keep the Law.  Our Lord is the fulfillment of these promises.  He is God made flesh for us, the Word of the Father, the True and Perfect Lawgiver, and they owe Him obedience and worship.  They have been called to the Wedding that is the Kingdom promised to them but have made excuses, preferring the things of this world to those of the next.  Therefore, our Lord points out that the Gospel will be directed to those who are outcasts, the sinners, the Gentiles, us.  Yet there is a condition on entering the Kingdom even for us; it is not a blanket welcome.  The wedding garment that is asked of us may be the Sacrament of Baptism, or faith in Christ as God made man or a life of virtue.  Indeed the wedding garment made of all three. 
The “few” might mean that there are very few who will get to Heaven or that few among the Jews will or that few will freely co-operate with God’s grace and seek the heights of holiness.  The “many” obviously means all mankind for, as St Paul says, “God wants everyone to be saved.”  Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we read that “many will come from East and West” to take the places in the Kingdom that should have gone to the Jews.  The passage, therefore, is not entirely clear.  Why does our Lord leave it so vague?
The reason our Lord refuses to answer the question of how many will be saved and does not clarify what he means by “many are called but few are chosen,” is that He wishes us to avoid two extremes, two dangers.  These two dangers to be avoided are those of despair and complacency.  If we think that few are saved, as many fundamentalist Protestants do, then we risk driving others and even ourselves into despair.  On the other hand, if we think that few will be lost and most of us are going to heaven, there is the risk of complacency.  The complacent make no effort to produce the fruit that our Lord asks of us while those who despair no longer try to avoid evil.  Neither seek to repent and to change and make no effort to convert others to Christ.   The complacent do so because they do not believe in God’s justice while those who despair do not believe in God’s mercy.
The Catholic understanding of our Lord’s teaching is that we do not know who is saved, apart from the canonized saints of the Church, but neither do we know who is lost.  “Count no one lost before the day of Judgment” say the Fathers of the Church.  They would add though that neither should we presume on our own salvation.  St Paul tells us that we should do as he does and strive like an athlete in the Olympic games not to win a medal but to win eternal life.  St Peter says that we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  By this he means that we must avoid despair by making every effort to do our Lord’s will and co-operate with His grace but also know that without final perseverance we cannot be saved.  We should fear and loathe evil, any sin of any kind, especially our own sins, while trusting that God is merciful to any and all who turn to Him.  Now is the time that we have for salvation.  Now is the time we have been given to win the race and enter Heaven.
What of those we love who no longer practice their Faith?  What of those immersed in second unions, bogged down in addiction, or heedless of God’s commands?  What of brothers and sisters, children and friends who have turned their back on God or so it seems?  What about them?  St Therese of Lisieux once took it into her heart to pray for a condemned murderer.  She prayed earnestly for him and just before he was about to be executed he reached out, seized the crucifix the priest was holding and kissed it.  This she took to be a sign of sincere repentance and that the man was saved.   Only God knows how long he may have had to spend suffering in purgatory but at least he was on the way to Heaven.

If we want to see our loved ones saved then we must take our own salvation seriously.  As a Russian saint said “become a saint and you will save a thousand souls.”  God wants everyone to be saved for the very small price of faith, a gift He has given to all though many neglect to unwrap it.  When we seek to become holy we become reservoirs of grace and when we pray sincerely and earnestly for others we become channels of Divine grace to them.  We may not see the fruits of our prayers in this life but God always rewards faithfulness and obedience.  He wants us to put our whole faith and trust in Him, to let Him be the center of our lives.  When He is at the center then everything falls into its proper place and our lives and the lives of others are transformed.  This is our time to become saints.  We are running the race now.  Let us not get distracted, fall away and lose.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

FOTA X: session III

There was only one talk on Sunday afternoon (one of the speakers is unwell) and it was worth waiting for.  Fr Mark Withoos, an Australian, spoke on 'ad audiendum silentium narrationis eius' (Ep 147): Silence and Liturgy in St. Augustine.  I make the same provisos as on the previous posts.

For Augustine silence is a rich concept.  Faithful to tradition Augustine has a great veneration for silence not merely as the absense of noise but the cultivation of an attitude, an attentiveness to the Lord who is speaking to us above all in His Mysteries.  Silence makes possible our attention to the God who speaks to us through His self-revelation in history, through the Sabbath rest, and through the inward turning of the heart.

Our God is not averse to revealing or hiding Himself according to the needs of the soul.  He reveals Himself through mystery and bids us to enter mystery not to understand but to engage with endless future opportunities for growth.  He urges us to engage with this God who is in mystery and in silence to wage war on our vices.

The Augustine saw in the seventh day of the old dispensation, the Sabbath rest, an anticipation of Heaven while in the new dispensation, the eight day, a day outside time.


 It is the humble attitude necessary for hearing the Lord interiorly.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

FOTA X: Session II, talk ii

After Fr Böhler's talk and a brief break we came back to hear Fr Johannes Nebel on The Paradigmatic Change of the Post Conciliar Liturgical Reform from actio to celebrate in the Light of the Latin Fathers.   I begin again by reminding any reader that this is based on hastily taken notes and
on my memory and is not a verbatim report!  Nor is it official!

Wow what a talk.   Fr Nebel began by giving us the example of the offertory composed for the new Rite of Mass and the addition that B. Paul VI insisted on putting into it.  Archbishop Bugnini, following the thought of Fr Odo Casel OSB,  wanted to place the emphasis on the cultic mystery, the presence of Christ in the faithful united to worship (celebratio) whereas the B. Paul VI wanted to retain the Conciliar emphasis on the offering of the priest, the cultic act or actio.   This leads to a tension in the text of the new Rite between these two concepts.

Fr Nebel took us on a whirlwind tour of the Latin Fathers and their understanding of celebratio and actio.  For the ancient Romans they were distinct but inseparable concepts.  Celebratio was a gathering of the people, often festive, on sacred days to do actio, that is cultic worship of the gods.  This involved the concepts of religio and pietas which was how one venerated the gods and did them justice both through ritual and behaviour.  This often had a public character.

The early Latin Fathers took over these concepts to explain the Faith.  They linked them to the Liturgy and to Christain daily life and values.  To separate celebratio and actio would make sense neither to the ancients nor to the Latin Fathers.  What was offered in the Liturgy and in daily life was for the common good and welfare of all and it was also what was due in justice to God.

The importance of Vatican II in this matter is its refocusing of attention on the Paschal Mystery based on the Pietas Dei.  After Vatican II however Casel's ideas found their way into certain documents so that there is tension between the Conciliar emphasis on the actio of the priest offering what is due to God and the new emphasis on communal involvement and Christ's presence in and through the local community with a resultant loss of a sense of the universal Church.  But both of these approaches are approved by the same Pope!

I think that is about as close to the gist of the talk as I can get!

FOTA X: Session II, talk i

This afternoon we began with Fr Dieter Böhler SJ (see not all Jesuits are enemies of the Church as some are claiming!) who spoke on Jerome and the Recent Revision of the German Einheitsübersetzung Bible.  Please note again that this is not a verbatim report and it is entirely based on my notes and memory.  Apparently the Einheitsübersetzung is the fruit of a long project to produce a common German translation of the Bible for all the German-speaking dioceses in Europe.

Fr Böhler gave a brief history of the project and then went on to explain the origins of the Septuagint and its relationship to the Masoretic text of the Old Testament.  From there he explained how the Vetus Latinus came about and Jerome's commission to translate the Bible into Latin for the Western Church.  Jerome, having translated the New Testament from the Greek, initially set out to use the LXX for the Old Testament.  Upon seeking the number of variant readings, though, between the Greek and Hebrew texts he set himself to make the Latin translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew instead.

Fr Böhler then explained how this translation was received and the Church's approach to translation since.  Jerome's approach if not all of his work has received the imprimatur of the Church.  While the LXX is valued the Masoretic is now the primary source.

The German translators following that approach have used the Masoretic text.  The policy of Liturgicam Authenticam of staying close to the imagery of the original texts has lead the text to be a little difficult in places.   That said Fr Böhler presented a number of examples from the psalms where the policy has lead to the re-emergence of richness of the Hebrew text.  That said the Greek is not to be despised.  It is also inspired as Augustine maintained over against Jerome and the Church agrees.

As Fr Böhler explained there are two distinct approaches to the Old Testament, one Hebrew and one Greek.  Both are valuable and inspired but they have their own frameworks and they should not be confused or mixed.

FOTA X: First session, talk ii

For our second talk of the morning, refreshed by our coffee, we heard Gregory DiPippo on the Patristic Sources of the Roman Lectionary in Lent.  Again what I write is my memory based on my notes.  It is not verbatim nor is it exhaustive.  If Markus Bünning had a strong German accent Gregory DiPippo had a fast and soft spoken American one but I managed to understand both of them, mostly.

There was so much in Mr DiPippo's presentation that it is impossible to do it justice.   I look forward to reading the final article.  Using the two of the oldest surviving liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, the lectionaries of Wurzburg (Wurzburg Capitulary, c.700) and Rohrbach.  These lectionaries are from about 250 years after the era of the Great Fathers of the Church.  They reflect the readings used by the Roman Church as the Pope visited the various station churches in the city during Lent to offer Mass.  Mr DiPippo showed how the Church in Roman meditated on and used the readings to make connections not only to the mystery of Christ but also to events in the history the Church and her ancient conflict with Judaism as well as the ongoing struggle against heresy.

Here in the readings were the echoes of the Church's own ancient origins.  In the lectionary and in the  history of how the Church has used scripture in the Liturgy we have the finest commentary on those scriptures.  There is always more than meets the eye in the texts and the contexts of their use by the Church.  As Mr DiPippo remarked there's a book (perhaps more than one) in all of this.

FOTA X: First session, talk i.

So obviously I made it to FOTA X.  For FOTA VIII I was stuck in the very room where I write this, before this very computer but with my foot in a cast while for FOTA IX I was up in Ards, Co. Donegal ministering to the faithful (Confessions and Mass, etc).

 This year it seems well attended with a mix of clergy and laity, Irish, German, French, American and British.  The first talk this morning was not the scheduled one by Fr joseph Briody but instead we had Mr Markus Bünning, from Munster Germany.  He spoke to us on Panis animarum - The Eucharist in St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  I must point out that what I write here is my poor impression based on my own notes and not a verbatim record.

Mr Bünning introduced us to this giant of the Church, a true Father of the Church, for he was a holy, orthodox and loyal witness to Tradition.  Bernard's spirituality emerged from the talk as deeply Christocentric but a Christ encountered intimately in the Liturgy of the Church as it has been handed down from the earliest days.   Bernard was not a monk cut off from the sources of the Faith in a remote monastery but a man who used Latin as if it were his mother-tongue.  Indeed Bernard's Latin is that of antiquity not the Middle Ages.  He knew the Fathers, especially the Latins, but he knew Christ more, his 'Iesus meus'.  He was not a scholar in the mold of Aquinas but a pastor in the line of Ambrose and Augustine.  Bernard was a man who radiated holiness and challenged his age and those subsequent to really encounter Christ.  Like Francis of Assisi to see him was to see a prayer and feel the call of God.

It was Bernard's profound love for Christ that fueled his love for the Liturgy and his fear of any innovations.  In the Liturgy Heaven and Earth mingle. He believed that to change the Earthly liturgy was to risk adding to the heavenly praise and so to weaken it.   Therefore it was safer to stay with Tradition.  Prudence was needed when dealing with the Liturgy especially when it came to necessary changes such as the addition of feasts for new saints.

Bernard believed in the virtue-promoting power of the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist.  The Eucharist was the  refugarium (place of rest) of souls and our link between Heaven and Earth.  It was the panis animarum our food for the growth of our souls.  This is why in his sermon for the Feast of All Saints he preached on the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is primarily food for the soul given by the Father through the priest to His people.  We are beggars before the door of the rich King.  We must be properly disposed to receive this richest of food.

Note that Bernard's understanding of the Liturgy is not priest-centered.   The Father gives through the priest's ministry.  Bernards ultimate concern is the relationship between the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist.  He believes deeply in the 'sin-inhibiting' power of the Sacrament, that if we remain free of sin it is because of the grace we have received in the Eucharist.  But proper disposition is necessary.  Bernard does not believe in cheap grace.   The Eucharist requires all our attention, intention and preparation.  Since in every Mass the Sacrifice of Christ is offered, that Sacrifice whihc restored peace between God and man, we must have a peacefull  attitude toward, God, our neighbour and our own self.

In his great and influential work on the Song of Songs Bernard explores his nuptial mysticism.  He sees in Sg 2 "sweet to my palate" a reference to the Eucharist.  In the overshadowing of Mary he sees the flesh of Christ as that which shadows her and so combines Mariology and the Sacraments.  In the Mass, the Wedding Feast of Christ and His Church, Christ renews His love for His Bride.  This love drove Bernard to be a peacemaker.

Friday, May 19, 2017

TENTH FOTA LITURGICAL CONFERENCE


 I missed last year's conference because I was stuck in Donegal and the year before I was only down the street but stuck in my room with a shattered ankle.  So perhaps this year I will be able to make it even though I am in Carlow at the moment.  If you can it is worth attending as it's always interesting and stimulating.

Monday, May 8, 2017

THOMAS THE BELIEVER: a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A, (John 20:19–31)

I am in Carlow at the moment and have no opportunity for proper preaching so this is a draft homily.


What it must have been like to be alive at that time, to be a believer just as the Church is beginning!  What drama there must have been as they struggled to deal with not only the horrific death of Christ but with the shock of His resurrection!  Remember orthodox Jews had no such expectation of a resurrection before the Last Day.  They did expect the Messiah, the Christ to herald a new Jewish Kingdom.  There world was turned upside down by the shameful death of our Lord upon the cross – that’s what the Jewish leaders intended!  Then they find the empty tomb.  Then He starts to appear to believers.  Peter sees Him, and the other apostles, then five hundred disciples.  There are many appearances.  This is just one of those.
Christ is not restricted by His humanity or the materiality of His body.  He could work miracles before but He still respected the laws of science and knocked on a door rather than walk through walls.  Now He does not even bother with that.  As Lord and Creator the Universe is His sandbox and as its Creator He can play with the laws He has decreed as a harpist plays with the strings of His harp. 
There is a playfulness in His sudden appearances.  They are in hiding afraid for their lives and He just shows up and confronts them with His reality.   They are incredulous so He gives the evidence of His identity – His wounds – proof of His suffering, His love, His obedience to the Father, of His resurrection.  He eats and drinks with them to show them that He remains truly human.
Peace is His first wish and gift to us – not just any peace but real peace, peace between us and God.  To make that peace effective He gives them, the apostles, the power to forgive sins or to retain them!  Our sins can be forgiven!  Any evil we may fall into can be wiped away if we repent and allow the Church to apply the healing salve of Christ’s grace in the Sacrament of confession.  His Sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, His offering of His eternal worship of the Father on our behalf, infinitely outweighs any and every evil we could commit.  His song to the Father corrects all our errors and makes us fit for the choirs of Heaven.  Our sins can not only be forgiven but they can be retained!  That’s not a fact that is often mentioned today! Absolution can be withheld if the penitent does not admit his guilt, or denies some article of the Faith, or for some other serious reason.  I have come across penitents who denied the sinfulness of their actions or obstinately denied Church teaching.  Any priest will do his best to bring someone around, to open even a tiny crack, to give a penitent the benefit of the doubt but there are times when one is confronted with obstinate refusal to face reality.  Let us not fall into that trap!
Thomas, the positivist, one who asserts that only those things that can be proved are worthy of belief, wants his experiential, measureable evidence.   He is much like many in the modern world that thinks it is being scientific and mature by demanding proof for everything it would rather not acknowledge.  Such people get stuck in their teenage years with a narrow understanding of science and knowledge and however highly educated they may get manage not to let that inner teenager grow up.  Growing up is hard and we have to face up to our responsibilities! 
Science can only deal with the material world, it cannot prove quite a number of things, rational beliefs that cannot be subject to scientific measurement or examination.
It cannot prove logical or mathematical truth since it presupposes them.
It cannot prove metaphysical truths such as the existence of minds other than my own, the reality of the world around me or existence of that world prior not only to my existence but to my present self-awareness.
It cannot deal with ethical judgments about right and wrong.  Science cannot tell us whether the Nazis were right or wrong in what they did to the Jews and other minorities in the concentration camps.
It cannot deal with aesthetic judgments on the beauty of anything.  Scientists can weigh and measure a painting and subject the materials to various tests but as scientists they have no more to say on its beauty than anyone else.
Lastly science cannot prove science!  Science not only assumes mathematics and logic but also many other concepts such as the constant speed of light between two points upon which so much cosmology is based.
Christ’s response to Thomas and His doubt is to present him with the tangible proof of His resurrection, His Real Presence.   Thomas still needs faith to see beyond Christ’s humanity to His Divinity and he is not found lacking.  He goes further than the other disciples and confesses Christ’s Divine personhood.  According to tradition he also went further than the others geographically and ended his days in India.
What proofs can we offer the doubters today?  What evidence can we present?  We must first know our Faith and hold to it.  We should also know how to present it in ways that are rational and reasonable.  I recommend one book: the Case for Christ which, although written by a Protestant, lays out the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament accounts of Christ.
We are also called to be the proof of the resurrection by living our faith.  No one will believe what we say if they are not convinced by what we do.  We must seek to be saints, really and genuinely holy, devoted to the will of the Lord.  The important thing is faith in Christ and His teaching and obedience to it.


TAKE A HIKE: a homily for the Third Sunday in Easter year A (Luke 24:13-35)

I am stationed for the moment in Carlow where there is no public Mass on a Sunday and so no opportunity to preach.  So the homily below has not actually been delivered and is a draft!

How often have you gone for a long walk?  How often during times of stress will someone go for a walk to clear one’s head, get away from a place of stress and conflict?   My late mother was forever threatening to leave us but she didn’t.  I would go for long walks as a teenager to clear my head.  Sometimes the only thing you can do is walk away if only for a time.
Here are two disciples walking away from the stress and danger of Jerusalem.  They are escaping, getting away, perhaps even giving up.  Jerusalem is set on seven little hills well above sea level so these two disciples are not only leaving Jerusalem they are also going downhill.  They are leaving Israel’s sacred city and walking away from all their hopes, dreams and beliefs. 
It is while they are going downhill that the Lord appears and walks besides them.  He opens up the conversation and draws out their feelings of disappointment and fear.  They had expected so much of Jesus.  They had looked forward to a free and holy Jewish Kingdom.  They felt betrayed not only by their religious leaders but also by their own friends.  Perhaps they also felt betrayed by the Lord.  They could not stomach the stories of a risen Jesus that the women told.  Remember that women were not considered reliable witnesses!  It was all too much for them so they are walking away.
It is at this point that the Lord lays into them.  Fools!  They had been with Him for so long and still understood so little.  He explains the scriptures for them to the point that their hearts burn with His Light and the recognition of the Truth.  Still when they reach Emmaus they have to insist on His staying with them.  It is not until He has taken the bread, blessed it and broken it that they recognise Him.  As soon as they do He disappears.
It is then that they rejoin the believers in Jerusalem, their fears dispelled, their faith renewed.  They walk back up the road to Jerusalem, back to the danger and fear but full of joy and hope.  Jesus is risen and the world is changed, changed utterly.  The greatest beauty of all has come into being.
Often we are battered and bruised by the world we live in, the people who surround us.  Our faith in Christ and His Church can be shaken or even snuffed out by scandals and abuses.  It can seem easier to walk away and start afresh somewhere else.  It can seem easier to throw in the towel and abandon the Lord.  We can forget the wonders that have been done for us, the blessings we have received.  It is all too true that eaten bread is soon forgotten. 
Yet the Lord never abandons us.  He walks with us and speaks to us if only we would listen.  Hearing is one thing but really listening is another.  Paying attention to what the Lord is saying takes time and effort for as Elijah discovered the Lord is often found in the gentlest of voices. 
When we give time to the Lord to listen to His voice in the Scriptures, in the Teaching of the Church and in the depths of our hearts we discover the power of His word to transform us.  He wants us to know that everything is ok.  There’s nothing that can happen that we cannot overcome with His help.  There is nothing we ought to fear except sin, that is, doing the things that separate us from Him.  To walk away from Him and His Church is to abandon all hope for our only hope is in Him and the Church He has founded.  There is no other way to Heaven but in and through Him.

The art of being a Christian lies in learning how to listen to the Lord and to recognise the sound of His voice calling us to follow in His footsteps.  It means giving time each day to prayer, to listening to His word in the Bible, to pouring out our hears before Him.  It also means giving time regularly to learning about our Faith and what it demands of us.  It means examining our conscience and bringing our sins to the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession.   Paying this attention to the Lord leads us over time to become better persons, more faithful to the Lord and to the ones we love.  It leads us to have hearts and minds ever more attentive to His voice so that we co-operate more readily with His grace and grow in holiness.  We become founts of grace for others.  We can walk with others who are in despair and bring them to peace, hope and joy in the Lord.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

FOUR FACTS THAT POINT TO THE TRUTH OF THE RESURRECTION: a homily for Easter Sunday, (John 20, 1-9)

“Christos Anesti!” and “Aleithos Anesti!” are the greetings among the Greek Christians as they greet one another this morning. ‘Christ is risen!’ and ‘He is truly risen!’.   How do we greet one another?  “Happy Easter”  A bit lame, is it not?  Not exactly a proclamation of the great work of the Lord and the central belief of our Faith is it?  We have contemplated the life, sufferings and death of our Lord and now we celebrate His resurrection but for how many of us does this go much beyond a mere piece of information, something else we ‘kind of’ believe?  It is a common place to disparage the Christian faith today but that only shows the ignorance of those who do not believe.  For if one examines the evidence the solid foundations of our Faith appear. 
Let us examine the evidence.  We have John’s own account.  John tells us that he entered the tomb after Peter and while Peter could not believe that our Lord had risen from the dead he, John, saw and believed.  What did he see?  He saw that the guards were gone, the heavy stone was rolled away, the body was missing and the cloths were rolled up, left behind.
I propose to you that there are four facts that alone point to the truth of our Lord’s resurrection: His burial, the empty tomb, His post-mortem appearances and the disciples belief in His resurrection.  I don’t have the time to go into all the details but there are plenty of reliable videos and books that lay out the evidence more thoroughly than I can.  First though I must tell you about the principle of embarrassment which states that if an account includes facts embarrassing to the community if affects then it is likely to be true.  Made up stories do not have embarrassing details!
It might surprise you that I begin with the fact of our Lord’s burial.  There can be no resurrection without a burial.  How do we know He was buried?  Well even Jewish archaeologists accept, as the recent work on the Holy Sepulchre showed, that the Sepulchre in Jerusalem stood in a graveyard and is, I quote, “almost certainly the tomb of Christ.”  There are no other contenders and the Christian community in Jerusalem remembered where it was even after the Roman’s built a pagan temple on top of it.  That the Roman’s went to that trouble is itself evidence of that we have authentic tomb of our Lord.  We also have multiple independent sources attesting to Christ’s burial.  In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul quotes an early creed that is now dated to within five years of our Lord’s death.  It mentions His burial.  The embarrassing fact in all this is that the tomb was provided by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the very Sanhedrin that had just condemned our Lord.   
Then there is the empty tomb.  Christ was buried but the body then disappeared.  The apostles, like all Jews and indeed our own selves, had a horror of touching the dead, especially someone who had bled to death.  They would not and could not have taken the body and yet no one else had it.  The embarrassing fact in the finding of the empty tomb is that the first people to discover it are women.  These women are listed as witnesses to this.  In first century Israel women were not considered reliable witnesses and some would not even accept their testimony in court.  That they are listed as witnesses is a sign that the story of the empty tomb is true.  Our Lord’s body disappeared.
Thirdly Christ appeared not just to individuals but to large groups of men and women.  The New Testament records the principle names even of the women who saw Him.  As I have just said  women were not considered reliable witnesses so why mention them?  They are mentioned because they had seen the Lord.  These appearances were not visions, for they ate and drank with Him, walked and talked with Him, and even put their hands into His wounds.  Many years later John writes in one of his letters of his amazement at the resurrection.  Paul, in listing those who had seen the risen Lord, including himself, says in passing that many of these witnesses were still alive.  Why does he mention them?  So that they could be consulted on what they had seen.
Lastly the apostles and disciples insisted from the very beginning that our Lord had risen from the dead.  It is the central point of their preaching: Christ died and is risen!  Jews at that time had no expectation of any resurrection before the Day of Judgment.  In addition their understanding of the Messiah was of one who would establish an earthly Kingdom.  The crucifixion and death of our Lord was seen as a contradiction of this.  That’s why the Jewish leaders had pushed for our Lord to be crucified!  Yet these men go out to proclaim that our Lord is the Messiah and the evidence they point to is His resurrection.  In return they were persecuted, tortured and all but one of them was martyred.  The gospel, the message of the death and resurrection of our Lord, brought them toil and suffering.  It separated them from their families and communities and sent them all over the known world and beyond.  It even cost them their lives.  It did not make them famous, nor did it make them rich or powerful.  Yet they continued to assert Christ rose from the dead.  If someone is willing to put not only his money but also his very life where his mouth is then he must be telling the truth.
So the resurrection of our Lord is well attested.  In rising from the dead He did not merely resuscitate.  He did not return to His earthly life.  Instead He no longer hid His divinity but rather He began to manifest it through His Church.  We can experience His life in us by keeping His commandments, repenting and confessing our sins, by putting the gospel into action in our lives and by receiving Him worthily in Holy Communion.  He reveals Himself to those who trust Him and do not put Him to the test.
There are other evidences that support the truth of the resurrection and of our Faith.  I could point to the extraordinarily rapid growth of the Church despite persecution.  I could point to the work of His grace in all the saints down the ages.  I could point to the Shroud of Turin and all the recent work on it that reinforces the belief that it is not only Christ’s shroud but also a witness to the resurrection.  I urge you to research these things for yourselves.  Arm yourselves with the truth of the Faith.  I will recommend just one book, written by an atheist who became a Christian, the Case for Christ by Lee Stroebel.  They’ve just made it into a movie.  That is a book that is well worth reading and study.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the resurrection is us.  If we inform our faith, we will come to understand better what we believe.  As we believe more deeply, we will love our Lord more.  As we love our Lord more we will love our neighbour more and as we love our neighbour more they will come to see that Christ is not dead, He is risen.  Indeed He is truly risen!




Sunday, April 2, 2017

CHRIST COMMANDS THAT WE LEAVE THE TOMB: a homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A (John 11:1–45)



You can hear the homily here.
In my time as a secondary school chaplain I buried four students, three girls and a boy.  I felt inadequate that all I could do was offer my prayers and words of condolences to their parents.  I wondered how I could have so failed to cooperate with God’s grace that there was no miracle for each of them and no restoration of them to their families.  This is probably the experience of all who minister to the dying and bereaved.  We want to make the problem go away and end the sorrow.  In this we touch on the mysteries of suffering and death.
Suffering is part of this life because our first parents refused to live in obedience to the Lord and asserted their own will.  The human race morally fell and we have been asserting our own will ever since.  Every family row, legal battle, crime, or sin is a testimony to our addiction to our own will.   Deep down in the core of our being we believe, each and every one of us, that we are the centre of everything, the hero of our own drama, the composer and singer of our own unique song.  We are not usually aware of this but if you examine any evil act there you will find at its heart the human drive to be the centre and to assert one’s own will over all others’, even God’s.  From this arises most of the suffering in our world.
Especially death.  Death is the one absolutely certain fact of our lives.  We cannot avoid it.  It takes from us our family members, friends and neighbours and eventually takes us from those that remain.  We die because our nature is fallen but our soul is immortal.   Here lies the suffering that we all experience in life, the one we dread will come to us inevitably, and the one we learn to live with: the loss of those we love.  As human beings everything we do is done in the shadow of our own mortality.  We fear death and dying and in that fear we flee away into all sorts of what addiction counselors call ‘self medications’.  We use the things of this world to numb us against the profound reality of our own limitedness.  Pretty gloomy thoughts for a Sunday evening yet there is hope.
So many Christians do not grasp the significance of this: we were made for communion with God.  We are a work of God’s goodness and humility and it was so that He could take the lowest possible place that God created us.  But through the disobedience, the self-regard of our first parents we have lost our friendship with God.  According to Genesis God saw that “it is not good for man to be alone” but this not only means that man and woman are made for one another but that we are also made for communion with God.  The ultimate loneliness is to be without God.  That is now reestablished in Christ.  More than the friendship our first parents had we are offered communion with God in the heart of the Trinity, a communion not just on the spiritual level but even on the level of our bodies; all in Christ.
In the meantime though, made as we are for eternal life with God yet subject to suffering and death, we struggle to cope with this tension.  We long for the infinite, the everlasting, the final victory of all that is good, beautiful and true and yet we are constantly facing the reality that even as new beauties and wonders arise, so many are passing away.  If you have read the Lord of the Rings you will understand what I talking about.
So we come to this Sunday’s gospel.  The Lord loves his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, yet delays to visit dying Lazarus in order that His Father be glorified.  The Lord always answers us but, whether He answers with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, He may delay the answer for His own good reasons. Martha gives testimony to the Faith, much as Peter did elsewhere, and our Lord affirmed her.  Mary has faith but not as Martha has.  Mary sat at the feet of our Lord and He fed her with His word but Martha, labouring in the kitchen, heard the word and believed.  In Martha the word has set down roots that have flowered in her confession of faith in the Lord and the resurrection on the Last Day. 
Our Lord gave a sigh that came from the depth of His heart.  He was moved at the suffering around Him.  His Divine love comes to us through a human heart, a human heart that is to be pierced on Good Friday and from which, as John himself testifies, he saw blood and water flow; often understood as symbols of the Sacraments especially Baptism and Eucharist.  It is through the Sacraments that we are given communion with the Holy Trinity.  But He does not love us only with His heart.
Our Lord wept.  He wept but He did not mourn.  Some take the line that He wept so as to give us a model for moderation in our emotions.  We are not to keen and mourn over those who have passed away the way unbelievers do because we have the hope of the resurrection and eternal life.  The only true reason to mourn is over our sins and the sins of others.  Why did He weep over Lazarus though?  He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead so why did He weep?  One does not weep for someone one will see again in a few days (not if you’re a man anyway).  I would suggest that our Lord wept for the condition of man, of the human race, fallen under the power of death and sin, deprived of grace, deprived of truth, deprived of God and His light, of the possibility of the Beatific Vision, the sight of God for ever in Heaven.  He weeps for man stuck in darkness, without the friendship of God, without the Divine illumination, and without saving faith, doomed to the domination of the evil one and his minions.   He wept that at that moment He could only raise Lazarus from the dead not the whole human race from the tomb of sin and death.
Lazarus is us.  We are Lazarus.  Christ has raised us from spiritual death through His suffering, death and resurrection.  He has unbound us and brought us out of the darkness of the tomb into the daylight of grace.  By this means He has revealed that we are made for communion with God and that outside of that communion true peace cannot be ours.  By becoming man, truly human without surrendering His Divinity, He made it possible for us to become one with Him through the Sacraments in His Body the Church.  Our old self died in baptism; it is up to us to apply the death and resurrection of Christ to all aspects of our lives.   We are a new creation in Christ, members of the Body of Christ the New Adam and children of Mary, the New Eve.
            When we die we leave our bodies behind but we will get them back on the Last Day, the Day of Judgment when all mankind, everyone who has ever existed will stand before God and give an account of themselves.  On that Day we shall get our bodies back for we are made to be embodied spirits.  The just will join the Lord in Heaven and the unjust, the unrepentant will go down into Hell.  Purgatory will be no more.  
As one man who had died and came back to life said “when you are dead everything is different.  What is important to you here is not important there.”  One can be confused in this life, ignorant and subject to bad habits and pressure from others but once dead all these fall away and one sees onesefs as one, what you and I have made of our own self.  One chooses where one goes when one dies by how one lives here on Earth.  If you refuse to take Him seriously in this life how can you expect to attain to eternal life with Him in Heaven?  You can delude yourself that you will receive mercy when you die but you will only receive that mercy if you repent of your sins and confess them in this life.  We are to throw ourselves on His mercy now and not some time in the future. 

You and I are Lazarus in the tomb.  The voice of the Lord commands that we come out and join Him in the daylight.  It is up to us to repent of our sins and confess them and step out into the light of Divine grace.  It is only in the daylight of His loving mercy that we can be free to flourish and live.  The tomb has nothing to offer but darkness, dust and death.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

GAINING TRUE SIGHT: a homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A (John 9: 1-41)

           As usual you can listen to the homily here.

            Have you ever had something bad happen to you and immediately blamed God?  Sudden news of serious sickness or the death of family member, something serious and painful, enough for any of us to feel that God has let us down?  How easy it is to assume that God is a puppet master in charge of every little thing, controlling every event or to see Him as a kind of absolute monarch dishing our rewards and punishments as He sees fit.  Bad theology leads to atheism. 
It is important to understand that for the Pharisees everything came down to whether or not you kept the Law.  Not just the Law as it is recorded in the Old Testament but the body of commentary and legal interpretation build up around that body of Law over the previous centuries.  That version of Judaism held that being rich and healthy was a sign of God’s blessing and being poor and or sick was a sign of God’s curse.  If you wanted to be blessed by God you kept that Law but it governed every aspect of people’s lives, what you could eat and when and how, how you dressed, etc and only the rich could easily manage that.
For the Pharisees this meant that the man’s blindness was a sign that he and his parents were sinners and therefore unclean.  They would do nothing to ease their sufferings, in fact, they misinterpreted the Old Testament Law to forbid even doing good on a Sabbath.  It is on this last point that they accuse the Lord of being a sinner because he works a miracle on the Sabbath.  They considered the mixing of clay with spittle to make a paste a breach of the Sabbath because it constituted work!
This also explains why the Apostles ask about the cause of the man’s blindness.  The Lord corrects their misunderstanding that it was caused by sin.  In this particular case the man suffered blindness so that he could receive the greater sight.  We can go further though and say that we must distinguish between so called natural evils such as earthquakes and floods and even many diseases and disabilities and moral evils, that is, real evil, evil that is the result of deliberate human acts.  Moral evil covers every evil choice made by human beings: from adultery to theft, including gossip, lying and murder and everything in between and contained within them as well as all the suffering that results from them.  As the early Church Father St John Chrysostom says “the evils of the present life are not evils, so neither are the good things good. Sin alone is an evil, but blindness is not an evil”. (HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 56.1).  Blindness, though experienced as an evil, a deprivation, is not an evil when it occurs naturally but an absence of the good of sight. 
This is at the heart of this gospel passage.  The Pharisees are so keen to hold onto the sway they have over the people, so keen to keep their interpretation of the Law, that they will  doing anything rather than admit that Jesus’ restoration of the blind man’s sight is a sign of God’s action in the world.  They who have their physical sight and claim to be followers of the God of Israel cannot see, will not see, that the God of Israel is in their very midst.
The paradox is that the man thought cursed, the blind man, is the man who comes to faith in Christ, who has his spiritual sight restored.  It does not happen suddenly. There is a process to this healing so that it differs to other miracles our Lord worked.  In each miracle our Lord responds differently depending on the needs and the openness of the individual, just as He does today.  Then He uses His spit and some dirt to make a paste and puts it on the eyes of the blind man.  Here, as the Fathers tell us, Christ shows that He really is the Light who illumines everything, that pre-existed Creation and that He is the One who created Adam in the Garden of Eden.  He creates eyes for one born blind and enlightens His soul at the same time.  This is the sign that He is giving to the world but the world does not receive. 
This is the beginning of the man’s journey into the light of faith.  At first when interrogated he only acknowledges our Lord as a prophet but at the interrogations go on he grows further in his faith and begins to defend our Lord refusing to admit any sin in Him but rather defending the miracle than our Lord has worked.  That is what we hear when he says “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything”.   The poor, ignorant, former blind man ends up teaching the wealthy, learned, sighted Pharisees the obvious.  Our Lord must be righteous for God listens to Him.  He gets thrown out of the synagogue for his troubles.
It is then that our Lord finds him and asks the final question “Do you believe in the Son of Man.”  The title ‘Son of Man’ refers to the Messiah.  The man, informed that our Lord is the promised Messiah, bows down and worships.  Now there are those who will claim that our Lord never claimed to be God.  It is passages like this, and other parts of His teaching that tell the truth.  Our Lord does not stop him worshiping for it is the proper response to meeting one’s Creator, Healer and Saviour.

The question for us this Lent is am I a Pharisee who thinks he sees but does not or am I spiritually blind and in need of Christ’s healing?  Or am I a disciple who really believes?  Perhaps there is an element of each of them in us all.  Each of us must confront the Pharisee within and overcome him.  Each of us must face up to our spiritual blindness and like the blind man we must go to Christ for healing.  The only true evil is sin and to be in sin is to be truly blind, blind to our state, blind to the harm done to ourselves and to others and blind to where we are going if we do not repent.  We do not have to walk in the darkness.  We can go to Christ in prayer and above in the Sacrament of Confession and there let His light illumine and restore us.  Remember to check your conscience daily and if you find anything that is not of Christ in your life go to Confession.   Only when we choose to see by the true sight, by faith, illumined by Christ’s truth do we see correctly and clearly and will be able to follow Christ. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

CHRIST THIRSTS FOR US: a homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A, (John 4, 5–42)

You can listen to the audio here.

At one time, after I left school, I worked in a garden centre.  It was Summer and hot and at one point I was so thirsty that when I drank back the glass of water I swear it went straight over my lips, barely touching my tongue or my throat and went straight down into my belly. I had been working in the Sun for quite a while and I really, really needed that water.  You know the feeling.  One’s mouth and throat are so dry and all one can think about is that glass, that next drop, that will assuage the thirst.  One can drown with only a cup’s worth of water in one’s lungs yet without water one will last only a few days.  It can kill us but we need it to live.
It is such an ordinary request that our Lord makes of this woman: He asks for a drink, but as with everything that involves the Lord the obvious is not what is actually going on.  On Good Friday, from the Cross, He will again declare His thirst but then as here He is referring not to an ordinary human thirst but His thirst for our communion with Him and through Him with His Father.  Christ  thirsts for our salvation and our eternal life with Him. 
So our Lord reaches out to this woman with the simplest and plainest of requests.  Just as it is today in the Holy Land such a request was a more complex issue back then.  After the time of Kings David and Solomon the Jews were split into two kingdoms: one in the North and the other in the South and this lead to a tension between the two kingdoms.  About five hundred years before Christ most of the Jews in the North had been conquered and deported to Syria and their places taken by Syrian, pagan colonists.  Some of the Jews who remained behind intermarried with these pagans and adopted some of their customs becoming the Samaritans for their capital was Samaria.  They still exist. The Jews in the South around Jerusalem considered them traitors and unclean and that still holds to this day!  So when our Lord asks for water it is not just shocking that he asks it of a woman whom He does not know but that He asks it of a Samaritan, someone considered as an enemy by the Jews.



            But what is this Samaritan woman doing there?  Getting water obviously!  But why she do so at noon?   No one goes to fetch water at noon when it so hot.  That work is done early in the morning.  What is she doing here?  The answer comes when our Lord tells her to fetch her husband and she partly admits her situation, a situation He already knows.  Those who are cruel might call her names but this lady has certainly done the rounds and the women of Samaria have ostracized her.  She comes at noon to the well for her water so as to avoid all the looks, the comments and the hostility she would otherwise have to endure.  This woman is out on her own, outside a people who themselves are outsiders.  So she is doubly an outcast for she is cast out of the people who were cast out by the Jews.  Indeed more so since she has a history of broken relationships. 
He initiates the conversation but she makes it about religion.  He uses that to lead her to faith in Him.  It is like watching a greyhound go after its prey.  She weaves and dodges but she cannot escape Him.  He will not give up the chase because He thirsts for her salvation.
Look at the path the debate takes: she starts by opposing Jew and Samaritan; then she asks Him directly does He think Himself greater than Jacob?  When He brings her to admit her poor relationship decisions, she immediately shoots back that He thinks Himself a prophet!  Then she ducks back to the Jew versus Samaritan question, where is the right place to worship Jerusalem or Samaria?  All along He is not deflected but teaches her that He is the real source of the Living Water of the Holy Spirit and the true Well of Eternal Life.  She has been searching for love but no human love can satisfy us like God’s love and that is what she has really been thirsting for.  The waters of the world cannot assuage the real thirst in her heart nor can they wash away her sins or sooth her longing without His power and it is only through faith in Him that she can find satisfaction.  He thirsts for her salvation and He is the only one who can assuage her thirst for love.
The whole conversation sends her fleeing to the city, forgetful of all the hostility within.  “Could this be the Christ?” she asks because already she is coming to faith in Him and real faith makes us missionaries, makes us evangelists.  She goes from being the public sinner and the outsider to an ostracized people to a herald of the Good News and a missionary to her fellow Samaritans.   She who had no husband has found the Bridegroom of Israel and the Saviour of Man.  She who thirsted for love has found the true love we all thirst for in Christ.
The returning disciples still do not understand.  They have missed both His conversation with the woman and the truth that He offers. They still think in terms of this world and its priorities.  He does not depend on earthly food.  He thirsts for our salvation and finds nourishment, the satisfaction of His real hunger, in doing His Father’s will, in bringing others to faith in Him, and through Him to eternal life.




Lent we are told is a journey but it is also a conversation.  Christ draws near to us in our prayer, in His word and in the Sacraments.  He speaks to us, thirsting for our salvation and our communion with the Father through Him.  We are the ones who raise difficulties, who duck and dive to avoid His call, but He will not give up.  He wants us to become more and more aware of the true thirst that lies in the depth of our hearts so that, awakening our faith, we may begin to drink of Him and be satisfied.  Nothing, however good or beautiful, can assuage our thirst the way Christ can.  No one, no one can love us the way Christ can.  To follow Christ and not to spend time close to Him, drinking of His love and mercy, is to live a half-life, a shallow life.  Turn away from the other voices, the distractions, the hostile and judgmental world, come out to meet Christ at the well of your heart and give time to listening to Him in prayer.  Christ is near us, is with us and in us and now is the time to especially attend to His Presence.  Christ speaks to us and now is the time to listen.  He sits by the well of our hearts and offers us the living water of His love for us.  Why go thirsty?

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