Saturday, February 16, 2019

THE FUNDAMENTAL CHOICE IS FOR OR AGAINST JESUS: a homily for the Sixth Sunday, year C (Luke 6.17, 20-26)

Over the last century many near death experiences have been recorded.  There are numerous video interviews on Youtube.  I have heard a few that impressed me.  One was by an American badly injured in a car crash who had his own death certificate! He also had five sets of the same tests taken because the doctors could not believe he was alive!  He spoke about being given a choice: to go on living the semi-Christian life he had been living or to change and take Jesus seriously.  
It is in the middle of working wonders (healings and exorcisms) that our Lord gives this teaching!  Luke presents it as four blessings and four woes.  It would be easy to misread this teaching as if our Lord was saying that being poor or hungry or grieving or hated and excluded means you should rejoice because God will make it up to you.  Likewise it would be easy think our Lord saying that those who are rich or well fed or rejoicing or spoken well of are done for.  He is not saying such things at all.  Our Lord is saying that those who are poor, hungry, mourning, or hated and excluded because of their faith in Him will be satisfied and rejoice in the Kingdom of God.  Likewise it is those rich, well fed, rejoicing, or spoken well of by the world while denying and opposing our Lord who will hunger and grieve for ever. 

At the heart of this, and the question of religion, is Jesus Christ.  We have to decide whether we stand with or against Him.  A common misconception today is that all religions are equal or the same.  Such ideas are a testament to the ignorance of our day.  For example one cannot believe that Jesus is God made flesh, truly man for our salvation, who established and empowered the Church and that he is only a prophet preparing the way for Mohammed the last prophet.  Islam and Christianity are mutually exclusive.  One must choose between them.  One must choose Christ or reject Him.  There is no middle ground.  This is true for all religions.
Yet in our World there are obviously many religions, many philosophies. They each have members who are good and members who are bad.  Does not each religion have something of the truth?  There are some things that one can admire and find inspiring.  The Angelus was inspired by the Muslim practice of praying five times a day that so impressed St Francis.  But that itself was probably inspired by the ancient Christian and Jewish practice of dividing up the day by times of prayer.  That there are good people in other religions, and all too many bad Christians, does not prove that all religions are equal, only that so few embrace the Christian way with enthusiasm; so few of us make the choice to actively follow the Lord and seek to be saints.  There is nothing to be added to the Christian Faith.  Our Lord revealed everything necessary for salvation to the Apostles and the first disciples and that has been handed down to us in the Tradition and teaching of the Church and in the Bible.

Why does God allow so many religions? That question is related to the questions about why God allows suffering.  Remember, please remember, God is not a puppet master!  We are not tied by strings to God’s fingers!  Theologians usually make a distinction between the active and the passive will of God.  God never wills evil.  God always and only ever wills the good. Indeed God actively wills our existence because it is good.  Every moment is a gift from God.  Your parents, your children, your friends and neighbours, everyone and everything around you is a gift from God.  Every heart beat and every breath is a gift from God. Yet obviously there is evil in the world. When God is said to allow evil this is attributed to His passive will.  He allows evil to happen but he does not cause or desire it.  
There are two basic kinds of evil: natural and moral.  Natural evil involves all the bad things that happen due to the nature of our world and also accidental events: earthquakes, storms, volcanic eruptions come to mind. One could include many illnesses and injuries. Human error, laziness and even malice can make these things worse but they do not cause them.  No one cares if a tsunami or a storm hits a coast where no one lives or an earthquake or volcano devastates the desert.  We care when they affect human beings.  Then they are disasters.  Likewise with bacteria and viruses.  We only care about them when they are a threat to us and our loved ones.  Then we call them ‘evils.’  They are the ‘bad’ things that happen because of the limited nature of our universe.
The other kind of evil is moral evil. Moral evil happens because of choices made by rational beings: terrorism, wars, addiction, theft, sexual abuse, rape and murder.  The list of the evils of which we human beings are capable is long.  It is because of moral evil, its possibility and its reality, that we have so many laws, a police force, a judiciary and legal profession, a penal system and an army.  If people and nations never did wrong we would not need these things. Despite God’s goodness and mercy, despite His loving respect for our freedom, we violate that freedom and we do wrong.  We harm and hurt and betray one another.  We let each other down. God does not actively will this,  He merely allows it for the present moment.  Thus our Lord accepted the evil of the cross because through it He could save us and unite us with His Father.
  So while God never actively wills evil, never chooses it and does not want it in our world, He does allow it so that He can bring some greater good from it.  He allows natural evil as part of his creation for His own plans.  He allows moral evil not only because of His own wise plans but because He really respects our freedom.  God will never ever violate our free will.    While we are here we have the chance to conform ourselves to His plan and His active will for us or not.  Where and how we will spend eternity depends on the choices we make here and  now, above all the choice we make about Him.

We can choose to reject and oppose our Lord, or to ignore Him, or we can choose to embrace His teaching and put it into practice.  In the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations (also called the Apocalypse), our Lord warns us that He would rather have us against Him than indifferent, tasteless and bland like lukewarm water.  He warns us He will spit us out of His mouth!  Let us not be cold or indifferent to the Lord.  Let us draw near to Him and follow in His footsteps regardless of the price.  He will replace all that we sacrifice for Him a hundred times over and more; we will have eternal joy and gladness with Him forever. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

IF YOU WANT TO SEE MIRACLES OBEY THE LORD: a homily for the Fifth Sunday, Year C (Luke 5:1-11)

During the week I was listening to an interview between an American Catholic journalist and a Dutch Catholic.  The Dutch Catholic was explaining what things are like for the Church and ordinary  faithful Catholics in Holland.  He explained that back in the 1950’s Catholics accounted for about 45% of Dutch citizens.  They were devout and staunch so much so that one in nine Catholic missionaries  worldwide were Dutch.  Ireland has a great missionary tradition but it’s not as great as that!  Today only 19% of Dutch citizens identify as Catholic and of them only 5% attend Mass regularly.  There is a real danger that where they are we too will soon be.
How did this happen?  To explain how I must make a distinction you may or may not have heard before.  Theologians usually make a distinction between the active and the passive will of God.  God always and only ever wills the good. God actively wills our existence.  Every moment is a gift from God.  Your parents, your children, your friends and neighbours, everyone and everything around you is a gift from God.  Every heart beat and every breath is a gift.   God never wills evil.  Yet obviously there is evil in the world.  This is because while God never actively wills evil, never chooses it and does not want it in our world, He does allow it so that He can bring some greater good from it.  Despite God’s goodness and mercy we do wrong.  We harm and hurt and betray one another.  We let each other down. God does not actively will this,  He merely allows it for the present moment.  Thus our Lord accepted the evil of the cross because through it He could save us and unite us with His Father.  When God is said to allow evil this is attributed to His passive will.  While we are here we have the chance to conform ourselves to His plan and His active will for us or not.  Where and how we will spend eternity depends on the choices we make here and  now.
In Holland God has allowed the Church to collapse, as it is collapsing here in Ireland, through the failure of Catholics to remain faithful, through embracing false teaching, through failing to hand on the authentic faith to the next generation, through choosing to neglect, abuse and hurt others.  Fundamentally the collapse came about through disobedience and God has allowed the Church to experience the consequences.

In this Sunday’s passage from Luke our Lord meets his first disciples in their ordinary day, in their ordinary lives, while they are engaged in the boring and time consuming task of mending their nets.  He comes to them and calls them to follow Him and become his disciples.  I find it interesting that none of the Gospel’s ever portray the disciples who were fishermen ever catching fish unless our Lord helps them.  
They listened to that call and despite what it cost them they followed our Lord and it did cost them.  There were no motorways or cars back then.  Only the rich could afford horses.  If you wanted to go anywhere you walked.  In addition the terrain of Israel is quite hilly and rocky, with long hot Summers, there were bandits and robbers, and not much in the way of police nor even hospitals.  Their following of Jesus lead them out across the Roman Empire and ultimately to their violent deaths.  They did not become rich nor were they influential.  They joyfully suffered to hand on what they received from our Lord.  Generations of Catholics handed that Faith on to the generations after them so that it came to Ireland and was handed down to us by our ancestors. 
Our lives have their troubles but nothing like that of our ancestors.  A French visitor to Ireland  in the Nineteenth Century, just after the Penal Laws were repealed, recorded searching for a Chapel for Mass one Sunday in Kerry.  He was directed to a local hill covered in trees.  It was raining heavily and the ground was sodden.  As he rode up the path he noticed the people moving through the trees until he arrived near the top of the hill and was met by a crowd packed around the chapel.  It was too small for them all to get in.  What amazed him the most was that when the bells rang for the consecration the people fell on their faces in prayerful adoration.  To their landlords and masters they were mere uneducated peasants but they knew where their treasure was and had held on to it despite great suffering.  Are we to be the generation that discards that treasure, that Faith?
We have no excuses.  I have on my phone apps that give me the whole text of the Bible as well as  one that gives the daily Mass readings.  Some are free; some cost a few euro.  There are apps and podcasts and websites providing almost any text of our Faith at the touch of a button.  Our ancestors would look on in awe if they could see what we have and how easy it is for us to learn about the Faith.  Never before in the history of the Church have so many Catholics had such easy access to the Scriptures, to the Catechism, to the writings of the Saints and to the vast treasury of knowledge of the Church.  Yet never before have so many Catholics been so ignorant of their Faith.  Never before has there been such indifference and disobedience.  If you fail to put fuel on a fire it will go out and if you do not feed your faith with knowledge then you starve it.  We cannot hand on what we have not got.

The commission received by the first disciples is our commission too.  It is not for a specialist few and never was.  The instruction to be ‘fishers of men,’ or ‘fishers of souls’ if you will, is directed to all of us.  Christ is there present in every aspect of our lives and speaks to us, calling us to follow Him, to proclaim Him by what we do but also by what we say.

I suggest to you that one of the reasons that so many get sick and suffer is that we as a people are indifferent and even disobedient to God, partly due to ignorance, culpable ignorance, and partly due to our wilfulness.  Only if we turn to the Lord and seek to know, obey, love and adore Him as He deserves will we find not only a great catch of souls but miracles in abundance.  God will not refuse us anything if we seek to do His will.  He has promised this in the Gospel of John.  If we keep His commandments we will now deep joy and peace in this life and the abundance of every blessing in the next.  

Sunday, January 13, 2019

BE IMMERSED INTO CHRIST! a homily for the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, Year C (Luke 3:15–16, 21–22)

How strange John must’ve looked with his uncut hair and beard, wearing camel hair clothes and living on insects and wild honey.  Traditionally he was called ‘the Forerunner’, the one who went ahead of the Lord,  as well as ‘the Baptist’.  But he called himself the ‘bridegroom’s friend’, and the ‘voice of one calling in the wilderness.’  Here was a man from a priestly family who gave up everything to be totally at God’s service.  John himself identified the Lord as the ‘Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world’ and by calling himself the bridegroom’s friend he identified the Lord as the Bridegroom of Israel, that is, God Himself. 

John’s practice of baptism was not that unusual.  Throughout Israel archaeologists have found large pools cut from the stone for the Jewish purification practices.  They are called mikvahs and are still used by orthodox Jews to purify themselves whenever life makes them impure according to the Law.  So immersing oneself in water was quite common.  They had strict rules though about the kind of water one could use and how it was stored.  The best was fresh flowing water and this is why John is at the Jordan, the boundary of Israel, baptising, that is, immersing people in the flowing waters of Israel’s only major river.  He has placed himself outside and over against the structures of Judaism and offers what people long for: the promise of forgiveness, healing and restoration.  He does not promise to give these things but proclaims that the longing will soon be met.

John’s baptism is therefore symbolic.  It expresses a desire to change and a hope of restoration and renewal.   By submitting to John’s baptism our Lord identifies Himself with us, with our condition, with our holiest longings and gives us an example of humble submission to God.  By this baptism, by His immersion in the Jordan river He sanctifies the waters of the world for through His immersion into our material human nature He has sanctified matter itself.  The whole world is revealed and made holy by His becoming man.  His baptism, his immersion not just into the Jordan’s waters but into our very nature  has made  our baptism, our immersion into His Divine personhood possible.  By becoming one of us, one with us, He makes it possible for us to become one with Him for ever. 
His baptism makes our baptism possible.  Our baptism is an immersion into His death and resurrection, into His Divine Person so that through Him we share in  His Eternal Life.  Through baptism we are no longer mere human beings but our immortal souls have been given Eternal Life of God, a life to its fullness, a life our bodies will share in too on the last day.  
Jesus’ baptism is an act of profound humility.  Indeed the whole of his life, the whole of His incarnation right up to and including accepting suffering and death on the cross and burial in a tomb  was one long act of humility.  He was humbly revealing to us the One who sent Him, the Father.  Everything He did, said or though was about the Father.  He is the centre of His entire life.  On the Cross  He revealed, through His suffering and death, by means of His humility and obedience who worthy of love that Father is.  Not only that He made visible His eternal worship and love of the Father  and offered it to the Father on our behalf.  The sacrifice He offered on the Cross therefore infinitely outweighs any and all sins ever committed and all sins we could ever commit even if the entire human race did nothing but sin for all eternity.  

Not only that there’s more!  He did not merely offer a sacrifice to wipe away our sins.  His sacrifice gains for us the infinite gift of sonship.  As I have already said by our baptism we are immersed into Christ, into His Divine Person.  In baptism we put on Christ and share in His roles as priests, prophets and kings.  As priests we can offer our sacrifices to God through Christ and they will be accepted.  As prophets Christ can speak and act through us and as royalty we are full members of the royal family - the real royal family not the Mickey Mouse variety across the water.
There’s more!  Baptism makes each of us, male and female, young and old, whatever our nationality or culture, not just a child of God but a Son of the Father.  This means we share, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His Sonship.  We are given a place in the very heart of God, in the very heart of the Most Holy Trinity.  When the Father looks at you He sees His Son, the Beloved.  When you pray He hears His Son.  This is not a mere veil, or a self-deception on God’s part.  It is not God turning a blind eye to our true nature.  In baptism our fallen human nature is changed and we are empowered to become one with Christ.  We are truly one with Him in the Sacraments and have His Holy Spirit in us. 
This is why sin is so terrible.  Sin is not the breaking or arbitrary rules or guidelines.  It is not just doing things our own way.  Sin is the violation of the moral law at the basis of our existence, that is woven into the very fibre of our being.  Sin is even worse for those of us who are baptised for it is an assault on the very likeness of Christ within us and a rejection of the infinitely beautiful and valuable gift He has given us.  It is through baptism and because of baptism that we are called to the heights of holiness so that the likeness of Christ shines out in us illuminating a world that is sunk in moral and intellectual darkness and devoid of hope and peace.  

If we take this gift seriously and embrace it, if we unwrap it and let it flourish within us we will bring great blessings on ourselves, on those we love and those we meet.  We will become saints and brings many, many souls to salvation.  If we live our baptism wholeheartedly the day will come when we will see God the Father and He will say to us “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Sunday, January 6, 2019

WHAT GIFT WILL YOU BRING HIM?: a homily for the Feast of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1–12)

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

Three events are celebrated today in this one feast:  the visit of the wise men to Jesus in Bethlehem,  our Lord's Baptism in the Jordan and his turning the water into wine at Cana.  Each of these events is a revelation of the glory of God's presence in our Lord.  The wise come to Bethlehem lead by a star.  People back then did not view the sky as we do.  The stars belonged to a level next to God.  Their movements reflected God’s plan for the world.  That this star appears and disappears shows us it was no ordinary heavenly event but a spiritual one.  These men used their reason to navigate by the stars and that reason has brought them to Bethlehem to meet our Lord the source of all reason and of creation itself.  They rightly bring Him Kingly gifts in tribute, gifts that point to who He is and what He will suffer.

At Cana our Lord, prompted by His Mother, took on the role of bridegroom and, turning water into the best wine, provided a sign that He is the true Bridegroom of Israel come to wed mankind to Himself.  He is the one to liberate us from our useless way of life and give us the truth, the best wine of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. He revealed His glory in the meekness with which He listened to His Mother and responded to her.  Their lack of wine is a symbol of the lack of real love and the best wine is a symbol of the joy that comes only from communion with God.

At His baptism he showed publicly for the first time the depth of His humility when He who needed no purification, indeed is the source of all purification, chose to identify with sinners.  By His descent into the waters of Jordan He sanctified all water.  In response to His humility the Father and the Spirit affirmed His Sonship, a Sonship we share in through baptism.  He immersed Himself in the Jordan so that we could be immersed into His death and His resurrection.  John’s baptism was a mere sign that our Lord has made a Sacrament for it truly gives what it signifies: it cleanses of sin and refreshes the soul with eternal life. 

Our Lord came to transform our lives and our world and He deserves our worship and love.  He came to immerse Himself in our human nature so that we could, through Him, be immersed into His Divine Nature.  He came to turn the stale water of human love into the living water of God's love.
He did not come with armies and the force of His will but with gentleness and merciful love.  He did not come with power to dominate us into being holy.  He did not come to violate our freedom but to make it possible for it to flourish into holiness.

Our Lord reveals His glory in His humility.  He has made Himself vulnerable for us in the crib and on the cross.  In this He reveals His gentleness and His power.  It is through giving Himself away, through sacrifice,  that He conquers.   He revealed His glory in His humility by accepting baptism from John, a symbolic baptism, but one for repentance.  In identifying with sinners, the sinless one has offered us hope.  He comes not to condemn but to justify, to set us free and make us holy.

So today and in this season we celebrate the glorious humility of God who has become fully human for us.  We celebrate His love, His self-sacrifice, and His mercy.  If we do not experience the joy of these truths it is not His fault.  They are available to us in the Sacraments.  They are available to us in stillness and prayer.  They are available to us for the asking.

Since He is so good to us, since He loves us so much how then ought we to respond?  What thanks, what gifts can we offer the One who saves us from eternal death?   He has given us the answer: to believe in Him, to love Him and to love our neighbour, to avoid evil and to do good.  These are the simple steps that mean we are following Christ.  These are the steps to holiness, to eternal life.

If we are not seeking to be holy then we are not really Catholic.  By holy I do not mean ‘pious’ or ‘devout’; those are good things but not necessarily signs of holiness.  Holiness is being right with God and our neighbour.  To be holy is to seek the will of God in everything and the will of God is not hard to know – just do the duties of your state of life while seeking to avoid evil, that is, sin and do good.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The greatest gift we can offer the Lord is to seek to do the will of His Father.  

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


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