Sunday, September 9, 2012


The coming Sundays, as we approach Advent, will see the readings gradually move towards the theme of the Last Judgement and the end of time. We are confronted by Christ's teaching that to truly be a disciple we must follow Him Cross and all.

This Sunday's Gospel appears at first sight to offer little ground for the preacher. Jesus heals a deaf mute. He does so in an unusual way. Others are healed merely at his command, as the cripple in the synagogue or at a distance like the centurion's servant. Why then does the Saviour take this man aside and so such very intimate acts: He sticks His fingers in the man's ears and puts His spittle on his tongue. This last reminds me of my mother spitting on a hanky to wash my face. Perhaps the man needed this kind of personal ministry. He needed to be touched! Jesus came to the man where he was and as he was. The touch of Christ brought Him healing, it freed him. Imagine, the first words he heard were uttered by the Word Himself!

So Christ comes to us. He does not love us as we are but He loves us as He created us and redeemed us to be: perfect. He does not wait for us to become perfect though. He comes to us and loves us towards that perfection which He had predestined for us. Indeed we cannot become perfect without His grace, we cannot even begin to approach the state our first parents had before the fall. We cannot become perfect or even better without His grace. He comes to us to love us despite our sinfulness and imperfection and to offer us healing and salvation.

But we must co-operate. We must, like the man in Gospel, go aside with Him and allow Him to minister to us. We must allow Christ to touch us. We must allow Him to bathe us - even if it is in 'spittle'. We must allow Him to do whatever He wishes to do, to use whatever He needs to use to heal and renew us.

You have already been bathed in the waters of Baptism and He has touched you in your anointing then and at Confirmation and it is He who feeds you, His Body, with His Body and Blood at Mass. He it is who wishes you to see His Face and the light of His Divine Radiance. He wishes you to hear His voice in His Word and in His Church. He wants you to be whole, to be truly free. He restores Your speech so that you can tell everyone about what He has done for you. That's what your tongue is for.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Well, now I am back in harness! It was a miserable Summer weather wise. At least I had the privilege of travelling to Assisi with two of my confreres for two and a half weeks in August. We went from the wettest Irish Summer on record to the hottest Italian Summer on record. In Assisi it averaged about 35 Celsius each day. Still despite the heat (even the Italians were complaining) it was a great chance to recharge our batteries. Unlike many Orders Franciscans have a particular attachment to the town of our founders birth, life and death. So many places are marked by his extraordinary life and going there for me was a time to reconnect with his vision. Not that I am living it very faithfully but at least I reminded myself how high that standard is.

Non-Franciscans sometimes accuse us of idolising Francis but in truth he is not an idol but a model - the forma minorum - the man who lived the Gospel wholeheartedly and without reserve and therefore serves as the measuring stick for all Franciscans.

Teaching morality to sixth year students today I also felt the more fundamental challenge of Christ's own teaching that we should turn the other cheek, give to all who ask and do not seek back what we have lent. Here is the standard of the Incarnate Word who asks that I give all and not count the cost, that I love without return, that I be willing to join Him on the Cross.

I still struggle to make the time for prayer. I made my retreat in our house in Ards. Co. Donegal at the end of June and it was very refreshing but breaking deep-seated habits is not easy. I find I waste so much time on unimportant things (such as this computer). I did discover that it is transitions that I dislike: the 'getting out of' or 'getting into bed' rather than being in or out of bed! I know it must be difficult to believe but after all these years as a friar and priest I'm still struggling with the basics.

Going to Assisi, like teaching the faith, was a reminder of priorities and an encounter with my own limits. It reminded me again that I can nothing without the grace of God but that unless I co-operate the grace of God will do nothing.

Speaking of the grace of God, once we knew we would have to spend a day or two in Rome on the way back we began to plan our shopping spree (for books of course). Thanks to my reasonably good memory for places we went back to the Leonina bookshop (Via dei Corridori) where I spent a few euro on books. One of those, Aidan Hart's book on icons Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting which, surely by the hand of God, was practically put into my hands. I was standing, browsing, not about to buy anything when the proprietor asked a fellow friar to put this very book back on the shelf for him. He turned to me as I turned to look at the book. I thanked God heartily for such a gift and went on to buy another three books (one of them was in another shop)! Hart's book is the most comprehensive book ever on this topic and far outstrips Ramos-Poqui's book from some years back.

Those other books were The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, John Anthony McGuckin's The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture, and a new translation of Sergei Bulgakov's Icons and the Name of God which has me blown away. I already had Aidan Nichols' book on Bulgakov but actually reading his work is an entirely different experience. I had laid Nichol's book aside having only gone a few chapters into it but now I am using it as a guide through this extraordinary mind's theological vision.


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