Friday, April 19, 2019

LET US GO TO THE TREE OF LIFE a brief homily for Good Friday



Christ is upon the Cross or as even scripture calls it the ‘tree’.  This ‘tree’ symbolises both the Trees of Paradise and the Oak of Mamre.  Under the Oak God sat down to eat with Abraham and Sarah and promised them descendants, as many as the stars of Heaven, royal and holy.  The Trees of Paradise bear fruit that heal the nations.  Under this Tree we are offered healing, we are offered life or death.  His crown of thorns echoes His Eternal Crown as Lord and King of all that exists.  His arms are outstretched for they embrace all space and time, the past and the future.  Everything is in the shadow of the Cross for by the blood of Christ all things in heaven and earth, whether visible or invisible, are subject to Him and reconciled to God.  The cross is the epicentre of history.  Like a tree it is rooted in the earth but it reaches Heaven for Heaven has reached down and sanctified the Earth in His Incarnation.


What does He do that cross? What can the death of one man achieve? But He is no mere mortal.  He is both God and Man. On the Tree of the Cross Christ offers the Father a perfect act of worship. His whole life has been one long revelation of the Father for that is not only His mission but His very nature as Son. It is as if His whole life were one symphony that now reaches its extraordinary crescendo. It is on the Cross that the Son shows us how loveable, how worthy of obedience, how truly good the Father is by suffering and dying.  On the cross He reveals to us the Son’s love for the Father and offers that perfect love to the Father on our behalf. He offers the Father His loving humility and obedience and empties Himself even to embracing death for us.  The Cross is the heart of the Most Holy Trinity laid bare. Offering His Sacrifice through His human nature, His human body and soul, He makes of Himself and His Cross our means of salvation. He makes of the Cross a Throne of mercy, the Throne of Heaven and a Gateway to that Heaven. 
Come forward then and kiss the wood of the Cross and with your lips and your heart knock upon the Gate of Heaven and ask entry.  His arms hold the Gates  open for you.

Come kiss the tree of life and ask Christ to plant the root of His Cross in your heart.  Ask him to break the rock of sin and the hardness of all our hearts so that the Living Spring of the Spirit can well up to Eternal Life within us; so we can bear fruit in union with Him, fruit for the healing of the world.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

CHRIST THE BRIDEGROOM EXTENDS HIS MERCY TO US: a homily for the Fifth Sundayof Lent, year C (Jon 8:1-11)

This is one of the more famous stories about our Lord, made famous in modern times by films like Jesus of Nazareth and the Passion of the Christ.  It is poignant too.  The sinner, a woman, dragged out into public and exposed, faced with judgment and the risk of a horrible death. Now I am sure we all know, even among our relatives, married people who are in second ‘relationships.’  I have relatives, close relatives, in that situation.  Loving others does not mean approving everything they do but neither does it mean we can be judge and jury.  We are to be the mercy of God that helps others live according to God’s plan.
Our Lord is in the Temple, the centre of Jewish religion and here at the centre of Jewish religion our Lord is confronted by his enemies while He is teaching.  The Pharisees and scribes (lawyers) set up a trap for our Lord, that is, trying to set up a conflict between him and the people. They drag in a woman caught in adultery.  Could you imagine that happening to someone in your family?



Adultery had a double infamy among the Jews of that time because in the Old Testament it is often used as a metaphor for idolatry: of infidelity to the true God and the worship of false ones in His place.  If He allowed the stoning they could accuse Him of inconsistency since He taught about the mercy of God.  If He rejected the stoning they could accuse Him of rejecting the Law and their religion and by extension of approving of sin and even idolatry.  Note that His opponents misrepresent the Old Testament.  Yes it punished adultery with death by stoning. It did so teach the Jews the seriousness of sin. The Law commanded the death of both parties to the adultery and since it takes two to tango: where is the man?  Where, indeed, are the Old Testament injunctions to seek the conversion of those who do wrong?
Our Lord bends down and writes on the ground, in the dust of the temple floor, but John does not tell us what our Lord wrote! It could be a reference to an event in the book of Daniel where a hand appears and writes on the wall warning the pagan King Belshazzar that he and his cronies have been measured, weighed, found wanting and their kingdom would be given to another nation, the Persians.  Jeremiah says that “Those who depart from you shall be written in the earth” which means that  they will lose everything and no one will remember them. Perhaps He is pointing to Exodus where God wrote the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Law, on stone tablets. If so then our Lord is reminding them that He is the author of the Law and knows its true intent.  This would fit with the most common suggestion that He was writing down their sins.  Perhaps all of the above are alluded to.  



Then He famously tells them His judgment “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Remember that our Lord elsewhere said “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”  In other words if they want to stone the woman for her sins they ought to expect the same punishment!   Again He bends down and writes.  By bending down He shows both that He is not intimidated by them and He gives them the psychological space to reconsider.
The accusers leave starting with the eldest. At least they know their sins. As it says in the Psalms: “They have all turned aside, all alike have become unprofitable; there is not one who does good, no not even one.” But our Lord is the source of the Law and Justice itself so how can he let the woman go?  
Perhaps here we have another allusion to Genesis.  In Genesis 18 God and Abraham haggle over how many just men it would take to save Sodom - a city so evil it gave its name to a sin.  At least haggling is how it is usually understood.  If one reads the story carefully it emerges that God chooses to consult Abraham as the one would consult a  trusted advisor.  God destroys Sodom not because there are no just men in it but because Abraham does not believe in God’s compassionate mercy enough to ask for its salvation.  These people do not believe in God’s compassionate mercy enough to ask for the woman’s salvation but Jesus shows it anyway.  
In response to his question “Has no one condemned you?” she says “No one, Lord.”  ‘No one’ He takes to be a confession of her guilt.  “Lord’ He takes as a confession of faith.  He who writes His Law on our hearts by the power of the finger of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit shows mercy to whomever believes in Him and asks.  Note that Jesus does not say to the woman “It’s ok, I understand.  Take your time to think about changing your life.”  Nor does He say “Don’t worry I am full of mercy.  Keep on with your way of life and all will be OK.  I will look after you and you’ll get to Heaven.”  He says none of these things.  Instead he is direct: “Go and do not sin again.”  Our Lord revealed His justice and His mercy.  He neither denies the Law nor approves its enactment.  He is the one without sin and He chooses not to stone the woman. Yet He does not let her sinful accusers stone her either.  That they turn away shows that they had no real concern for the Law anyway nor did they care for the woman’s soul.
All sin is a form of idolatry: putting something other than God at the centre of our lives, usually our own will. Earlier in John’s Gospel, at the wedding at Cana and again at the well in Samaria, our Lord revealed that He is the true Bridegroom of Israel.  It is against Him that all sin is ultimately done.  He is the true and faithful spouse who has been betrayed by the idolatry of mankind; our idolatry.  He is the victim of our adultery. Therefore we are that woman dragged before the world and condemned by the evil spirits.  Christ the true bridegroom extends to us His mercy and the commands that we ‘do not sin again.’
The Lord has shown us how we are to deal with our own sins and the sins of others.  As sinners we should acknowledge our wrongdoing and throw ourselves at His feet trusting His mercy.  When it comes to the sins of others we should bend down in prayer and reflection, read the Law of God written in our hearts, that is, our informed conscience, and remembering our own faults and failings, extend to others the mercy God has extended to us. Let us drop from our hands the stones of judgment and condemnation so that we are free to receive God’s mercy and to be of service to others.  

However let us not call evil ‘good.’  Let us not pretend that adultery or any other sin is OK with God or with us.  Let us remind each other not to do evil but to do good instead.  Christ has extended HIs loving mercy to us and driven back the forces of evil that would condemn us.  He has restored us to life and made us holy by His grace.  It is up to us to share that mercy with others but in the truth and in love.  

Sunday, March 24, 2019

YOU KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR: REPENT AND BE CONVERTED. A homily for the Third Sunday of Lent Year C.

The one fact of life is that we will all die. With death will come judgment.  The Church teaches that not only will there be a general judgment on the last day when all mankind shall face God together but that each of us will face a particular judgement at the time of our death.  Those who die in the state of grace (that is without un-repented mortal sin on their souls) and are worthy go straight to Heaven.  Those who die in a state of grace but not yet made amends for their sins or though they have unconfessed mortal sins on their conscience die in sincere repentance go to purgatory.  Those who die unrepentant of their mortal sins go to Hell not because God wants or sends them there but because they have freely chosen to go there. Both Heaven and Hell are eternal and we must choose one or the other.  Purgatory, though the souls there suffer terribly, is only for a time until those souls have made amends and learnt to love as ought to have here on Earth.  We do not know how long we have left so sort things out while you have the chance.  In confession we are like a rotting corpse that by the power of God is raised to life and the fullness of health.  When we confess a sin God chooses to erase it.  It is gone forever.  We still have to try to undo that harm we have done but to God we are innocent.



So while you are here in this life check your conscience daily and go to confession regularly. There may be sins that you’re forgetting or not taking seriously enough. Never intentionally keep back a sin when confessing.  Besides receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace confession is the most effective way to grow in holiness.   Remember that mortal sins must be confessed, what the sin was and how often you did it.  Jesus wants to touch each of our wounds and heal them one by one.  Before confessing something, try to be resolved never to do it again.  A thief who confesses and then goes out planning his next crime has not actually repented.  Though absolved he cannot benefit from the grace of the Sacrament.  Start afresh and look for things that you can change to help you in your resolution!
One reason that people lack a firm purpose of amendment is that they don’t believe they can actually stop a certain sin. They forget that the real battle is between our ears.  If we persist in turning our thoughts away from evil and toward good we will, by the grace of God, eventually be free of even the most addictive sins. Prayer and reading the Bible and the writings of the Saints helps immensely. The sacrament of confession is far more powerful than our human efforts could ever be. 
How many of us give the Lord the respect and honour He deserves? Try to speak of your God, your creator and Saviour with attention and reverence.  Speak about your God as you would about someone you truly love and honour. It should cause us pain when we hear someone take the Holy Name in vain.  You wouldn’t let someone disrespect a family member like that so why let them do it to Jesus who saved you? Remember that in Church you are in God’s house. Here we talk to God and no one else.



Confession is an act of humility and humility is so important that sins against it must also be confessed.  We need to confess and repent of our pride: like taking credit for something without reference to God and desiring that others give you that credit.  Giving credit externally to God for something while actually believing that you earned it and hoping that others will believe that you earned it, too. Desiring to be esteemed above what you really are. Desiring to be better than others. These are sins of pride.
There are many ‘little’ ways in which we are “unjust and unreasonable” to our neighbour.  We may condemn every little thing in our neighbour and excusing ourselves of important things.  We may selling very dearly and buy at bargain prices.  We like to have things we say taken in the best sense but we are tender and touchy about what others say to us.  Preferring one person over another because of their class, wealth or contacts or because they make us appear socially superior is also an injustice. In short, we often don’t treat our neighbour as we would like to be treated ourselves.
We ought not to judge anyone unless required by our position or office. When we are required to judge, then we must strive to pass along God’s judgment without distorting it with our own ideas and passions.  Gossip can lead to slander, that is, falsely imputing sin to another. This sin is doubly bad because it is an offence against truth and it robs another of their good name. “Beware of falsely imputing crimes and sins to another, revealing his secret sins, exaggerating those that are manifest, putting an evil interpretation on his good works, denying the good that you know belongs to someone, maliciously concealing it or lessening it by words.” (St Francis de Sales)
There’s a multitude of chances to serve Jesus by doing good in each day and we should examine our attitude towards these chances because to neglect them is to miss an opportunity to love Christ. To identify where we are going wrong in this area, it can be helpful to pay attention to when we think or say that we hate doing something or that we don’t like this or that. Doing the dishes, filling out forms, talking to a certain person are all opportunities to love and it would be a mistake to avoid them.
The big sin is relatively easy to avoid, but resisting the little desires in our heart that eventually lead to those big sins is very challenging. For example, we would never think of stealing someone’s property, but some long for the property of others, talk about them at every opportunity and hope some disaster will befall the owner forcing them to sell.  Envy is also a sin!




If these sins were not on your radar up until now, take heart! You may feel weighed down by these “new” sins, but your deliverance is near. St. Francis de Sales tells us, “Sin is shameful only when we commit it; when it has been converted by confession and repentance it becomes honourable and salutary. Contrition and confession are so beautiful and have so good an odour that they wipe away the ugliness of sin and purify its stench.”  “In confession you not only receive absolution from the sins you confess but also great strength to avoid them in the future.”  Do not worry about your past confessions.  If you were doing your best trust in the mercy of God. As Padre Pio said, “If we put into our confession all our good will and we have the intention to confess everything — all that we can know or remember — the mercy of God is so great that He will include and erase even what we cannot remember or know.”  So do yourself a favour and go to confession! 

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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