Sunday, August 28, 2016

GETTING OUR PRIORITIES RIGHT: SEEKING THE LOWEST PLACE, A Homily for 22nd Sunday in year C (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

To hear the sermon as it was delivered just check out my page at  BrTomFordeOFMCap

It would be a hard-hearted individual who was not moved to pity at the plight of the people of Amatrice and the other Italian towns and villages flattened by last Wednesday’s earthquake.  Hundreds are dead, babies, children, parents and grandparents, and many others have lost homes and livelihoods on top of their bereavements.  Yet we so easily forget that many more have had their homes flattened, have lost their lives or the lives of their loved ones in the dreadful insanity of the ongoing war in Syria.  Others around the world have lost loved ones and their homes and livelihoods to floods, mudslides and to forest fires.  Why does our Lord permit these things? 
The answer is a little complicated.  As for natural events like earthquakes, floods and fires they are part of a world that is alive and therefore constantly changing.  If you live in an area where there are fault-lines and therefore there are earthquakes one can choose to endure the risk of death and injury or move away.  Likewise if you live on the flood plain of a river  you risk being flooded or in a region where it gets very hot and very dry you risk runaway fires.
 When it comes to war and other moral evils, though, the case is very different and we must deal with the issue of human freedom and the consequences of human choices.  All our choices have consequences in little things as in big.  We can choose to listen to reason and to God or we can choose to listen to irrationality and the evil one.  War is the product of humans listening to irrationality, of choosing to put their will before God’s will.  Our Lord permits this because He respects our freedom.  God is not and does not want ever to be a puppet-master managing everything.  He respects our freedom even if it means we end up separated from Him in Hell, forever.  God loves us enough to let us go where we choose but He will still offer us every help to go the right way, to do the right thing.  He wants us to freely believe and trust in Him and to freely choose eternal life with Him.
There, then, is another reason why our Lord permits evil whether natural or moral.  He permits it so that we do not forget that this is not whole of our existence but only the beginning.  Our souls are immortal – we will never cease to exist.  Therefore where we will spend eternity is vitally important.  If we become engrossed in this life we risk losing eternal life with God.  We must get our priorities right if we are to avail of what the Father has offered us in Christ.
That is why our Lord tries to reach the Pharisees with whom he had a constant battle.  The Pharisee movement was largely composed of lay people, wealthy and devout.  They devoted themselves to living the Law of the Jewish religion in every aspect of their lives.  Many devout Jews still do.  But the Pharisees fell pray to externalism, the belief that how you appear to others is what is important, a kind of religious version of ‘keeping up with the Jones’.   Externalism is always a danger for us so that our Faith is lived only on the surface and not from our heart, the core of our being.   It so easy to confuse the values of our society, in which the Church has lived for so long, with the values of our Faith, especially when we do not know our Faith well.  The Pharisees, like many people of that time and our own, thought of illness and poverty as curses from God, sure signs that the individual or his forebears had sinned and were being punished.  Therefore they despised the poor, the sick and the disabled.  Our Lord rejects this as false.  The greatest honour is that which is stored up in heaven for those who have cared for those in need.  They should emulate God in His loving mercy and reach out to the poor and the lame.
Our Lord therefore uses their thinking to try and reach them with the Gospel.  He points out to them through the parable that searching for public honour and respect leads only to embarrassment, shame and humiliation.  In contrast being humble can lead to honour and personal satisfaction. 
Our Lord is inverting their value system.  He, the Son of the Father, is God’s ambassador to us.  Indeed He is God’s greatest gift to us.  He brings us the Father’s invitation to Great Wedding Feast of Heaven.  He wants us to seek the highest possible honour and glory there.  How? By seeking the lowest place here.   In seeking the lowest place in this world we are seeking to be with our God is always humbler yet.  We do this by reaching out to those around us who are lame and find it hard to walk in our Lord’s footsteps, who are deaf to the Gospel, blind to His merciful love, who cannot cry out for help.  He wants us to reach out and find Him in those around us who are in need: lonely, in need, or lost.  It is up to keep our eyes and ears open and bring Christ to them.  We are to be ambassadors for Him and extend to them the love and mercy we have found in Christ.
The great English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton said of St Francis that he stood on his head and saw the world the right way up.  He was only following our Lord’s example.  The world exalts the beautiful, the young, the healthy and the talented.  It weighs our value by our usefulness.  In contrast our God looks to the heart.  He sees us in Christ and knows our true value, that value which He has given us in Christ.  Let us reject the false valuation that the world offers and see ourselves as God does in Christ.  As Catholic Christians we are not to be concerned to keep up with Jones but to keep up with Christ and His saints.  We are to be concerned not with our position and place in this world but in the next. 

Here at Mass we have a foretaste of Heaven’s Feast – let us take some of that beauty and good out to others to let them taste Heaven through us.  Let us be real ambassadors for Christ.  Let us seek to be truly converted to Christ, to change direction, and return to God’s way.  Let us replace in our lives the values of the world with God’s values: sincere repentance for our wrong-doing, forgiveness for those who hurt or offend us, prayer to God from the heart, compassion for the suffering and generosity to those in need, humility before God and neighbour and commitment to virtue and to the Truth.   By this path we be His ambassadors, we can travel in Christ’s footsteps and though we may lack prestige and honour in this world we will not lack them in the next.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


 I couldn't get the printer to work this morning so the actual homily was delivered from notes I took based on what I had prepared below.  It seemed to go well!

One Sunday a year our Guardian, on behalf of all the friars speaks to you about the issue of child abuse and apologizes for the harm done to children and vulnerable adults by some of our Capuchin brothers.  There are some people who want that topic to go away perhaps because it is so unpleasant or perhaps because it so painful.  It can bring up dark memories for some.  It can also seem that abuse of children by religious or priests is worse than that any other kind of child abuse.  It isn’t.  Any abuse of children or of vulnerable adults is evil and there is no excuse for it.  The Church’s Tradition has long held that there are four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.  I think they should add the abuse of the young and vulnerable to that list.  The price of peace is eternal vigilance and that applies to protecting children as much as it does to anything else.  I know too many people whose lives have been scarred by abuse whether at home or in care, whether by strangers or those they knew and loved.  We apologize so that we will not forget and we do not forget so that we will take seriously our obligation to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable from those who would prey on them.
It raises the question though how could the perpetrators of these acts do these things and how could those who knew or came to know, whether superiors, neighbours or family members, not act to bring these things to an end?  There are many reasons why those who abuse choose to do so and we would need a psychiatrist to cover that.  There are very few for why anyone would turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to abuse.  I think that one reason that some Catholics do so is a failure to heed our Lord’s warning.  If we think that somehow we will not have to give an account to God or that we can find a ‘backdoor’ to salvation that avoids the narrow door then we are more likely to take the coward’s way out and fail those who need our help the most.
That is why it is an important question ‘How many will be saved?’ and it’s an important question that is not often asked today.  Our Lord does not actually answer it, not directly, but rather urges us to strive for salvation, to enter by the narrow door, the narrow way that leads to Eternal Life.  He warns us that many will try and fail because they are not strong enough.   What is the narrow door?   It is the way of the Gospel, of the Church’s Teaching, of virtue.  It is narrow because it demands that we let go of all that is not necessary and above all of anything that is contrary to the will of God.  We are so attached to these things that it can be painful but once through the door there is the joy and peace of the Kingdom of God.  Do not lose Eternal joy for a joy that cannot last!
Our Lord does not answer the question about how many will be saved directly because He wishes to keep us from two errors.  Those errors, opposites to one another, are that of despair and complacency.  In the past some generations have tended towards despair thinking that so few get through that narrow door that most of us are doomed.  In our present age we have certainly leaned towards complacency with some theologians and even bishops holding that ‘all or most of us are saved’.  Both extremes are a lethal to our salvation.  Salvation, the avoidance not only of damnation forever in Hell but gaining Eternal Life with God is not our achievement.  If we try to save our selves, to enter by the Narrow Door on our own steam, by our own strength, then we are doomed to failure. It is God’s free gift to us, unmerited, unsought, and often unappreciated. 
The middle way between despair and complacency is one of hope, hope not only in God’s mercy but in the power of His grace to empower us and magnify the effects of our efforts so that what is beyond human strength is shown to be more than possible by His grace.
God not only permits, but actively invites us to get involved in our salvation through faith in Christ and through active love for God and our neighbour but it is His grace that enables us to believe and to love.  He saves us we do not save ourselves.  He it is who can heal the harm and damage that has been done even by those who should be the best examples of what it is to follow Christ.   There is the hope in the Cross of Christ: mercy for those who have sinned and repent and healing for those who have been hurt.

This path of hope means that we must take our salvation seriously but also do so with knowledge and faith that everything really depends on God and His mercy.  It gives us the courage to keep our eyes and ears open and to stand up to evil especially when it targets the weak.  This path challenges us to really live the Gospel in every aspect of our lives and to never allow the weak and vulnerable to come to harm or to let their cries for help go unanswered.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Does anyone want their family divided?  Who wants the members of their family falling out with one another, not speaking, saying hurtful things?  It is a sad thing to see and I have seen it.  I have seen funerals here in Cork where one part of the family sat at one end of the front seats and the other part at the other end.  I have seen funerals where some members of a family stood at the back of the church or did not even show up for their own Mother’s funeral!  I know of families where members have not spoken in years.  The pain that such conflicts inflict is immeasurable.  We should make every effort to forgive and be reconciled.  But that is not the topic of my sermon.
Our Lord says He has come to divide.  He says that the fire He will send upon the Earth through His baptism will bring this division, this conflict.  Is not the Lord the Lord of Peace and Love, Mercy and Forgiveness?  How can He talk of conflict and division? Are we not supposed to be kind and merciful to one another, tolerate one another and be nice?
Actually I have come to hate that last word ‘nice’! Originally the word ‘nice’ meant ignorant and later it meant ‘stupid’.  Nowhere in the Gospels are we called to be ignorant or stupid or even ‘nice’ in the modern sense of the word.  We are called to stand up for Christ and the Truth.  We are called not to be afraid but to be willing to risk everything for Him and His Kingdom.
This Fire that our Lord speaks about is above all the Fire of the Holy Spirit which through His Baptism, His passion, death and resurrection is now cast upon the world in the form of the Church.  In receiving Baptism and Confirmation we are immersed in that Fire so that it dwells in our souls and we are commanded to spread it.  Why does He call it Fire?  Fire burns, of course, it consumes.  This Fire from Heaven consumes evil and sin, purifying humanity and the world. Fire brings about change and the Fire of the Spirit empower us to confront and overcome evil and to do good.  Fire warms and, if we let it, the Fire of Christ warms our hearts with Divine Love, enlivening us and giving us zeal for good and for the Gospel.  Fire gives light and the Fire of Christ gives light to the world, showing us the Truth and driving out error, so that we do not remain ignorant or stupid.  Fire is a symbol of love and the greatest love is the Love of God.  God wants to soak the world in His Love for us and restore us not just to what we were before the Fall but to lift us up into the very Heart of the Most Holy Trinity.  He wants to place us in the very heart of the furnace of Divine Love.
But we must choose.  God has too much love for us to force His love upon us.  We must choose and choose in the Truth, choose the Gospel of Christ.   Choice divides.  Every position is a choice and so it is divisive.  This division exists first of all in our own hearts.  We are divided within ourselves because we are fallen and are uncertain about the right path to follow.  We can only be whole by letting Christ fuse us with Himself.  Only in union with Christ can we know real peace and happiness and the right way to go.  This division runs from our hearts and out through the world.  So it is no surprise that modern secular society struggles with the question of Truth and of right and wrong.  They have a home in their society for everyone but Christ and those who side with Him.
Choosing therefore also demands rejecting and being rejected.  If we choose Christ then we choose His Church, His Truth, His Authority and we reject that of the world, of immorality, false freedom and ignorance.  To choose Christ is to choose Eternal Life but it is also to choose to suffer rejection and conflict in this life.    That conflict is firstly in our own hearts as we struggle to keep to the Truth but it is also in our families and homes.  There will be members of our families who will not choose Christ, who will resist or who will even side with the world.  I know how painful this is.  Here I made reference to family situations that I will not put on the Internet!  That’s not the way my parent’s and their generation brought us up.  What are we to do?
Long ago a monk living in the desert of Egypt went to his abbot and asked him how he could make progress.  The abbot told him to live their rule of life and pray continually doing all and enduring all for the love of God.  The monk said he did all this.  Then the abbot stood up and his hands became like flames.  He said to the monk “Then become all fire.”  The answer then is ‘Fire’!  Become afire for God by doing everything and enduring everything for the love of God.  Fan into a flame the faith God has given you!  When you are ablaze for Christ others will catch fire from you and the blaze will spread.  The faith is dying in Ireland because of lukewarm Christians and our Lord has promised to spit them out of His mouth.  Fan this flame of faith and protect it from the icy winds of our present time.  Feed it and make it grow, brighter, hotter, stronger.  If we take our faith seriously and put it into practice it we will not be lukewarm but on flame for Him and we will bring others to the faith.  This fire will demand that we allow it to purify us not just of all that is sinful and wrong in our lives but even what is unnecessary too.  If we would love God as He wishes to be loved, as He deserves to be loved, then we must let go of any love that is incompatible with that love.  In return we have been promised that if even one person in a family practices their faith wholeheartedly and trusts in our Lord and His Blessed Mother then the rest will be saved.  As one Russian saint said “Become a saint and you will save a thousand souls.”
How do we do this? First, pray!  Here I recommend the book “The Practice of the Presence of God”, it’s short, easy to read and costs less than €5 on Book Depository.  Secondly know your Faith, read a piece of the Catechism each day or use EWTN or other sources on the net to get to know your Faith better.  Thirdly put it into practice especially by charity to the poor which covers a multitude of sins.  Fourthly attend the Sacraments especially Confession.  Examine your conscience daily and go to Confession regularly.  Fifthly do the duties of your state of life, avoiding evil and doing good, enduring what comes your way for the love of God.  This is the way to become a saint, on fire for God.

We cannot sit on the fence if we are followers of Christ.  We cannot run with hares and hunt with the hounds.  The price of Eternal Life with God is total commitment to Him in this world according to our state of life.  We cannot remain ignorant , still less must we be stupid.  We must face up to this battle, this war within ourselves, our families and our society and enflamed with the Love of Christ set our world on fire with love for Him.  Be on fire with love for Christ and others will catch fire from you.

Friday, August 12, 2016


As of Sunday a week ago I am now back in our friary in Cork city: Holy Trinity Friary.  I am even, thanks to the kindness of the Guardian, back in my old room.  I have managed, by dint of divesting myself of a number of boxes of books, a box of CDs, and a large bag of clothes, to squeeze myself back into my old haunt.  I have to confess though that I did leave a box of diaries a large easel and the San Damiano Crucifix I have now finished (bar varnishing) in Dublin.

This house is much easier for me to get around and the city being all around me means that I actually have an incentive to go out.  In Ards the ground being largely irregular and uneven and miles from anywhere meant I kept indoors.  Unless I needed to get something at which point I would borrow a car and go into Letterkenny, a half hour drive away.  Here I just have to walk around the corner.  It's still difficult and I need both crutches for comfort and speed but I am only a few minutes from Cork Art Supplies (a little Aladdin's Cave of art materials) and about fifteen minutes from Dunnes.  I've managed to get as far as Peter and Paul's (Tescos) but those walks are a once a week adventure.  I pay for them with quite an ache.

The light, of course, is much poorer but I have compensated by installing a string of LEDs above my desk so that I have daylight illumination whenever I want!

Monday, August 8, 2016


We will all die.  That’s the hardest fact of life, probably the most certain fact of all.  There was a time when you did not exist and there will come a time when you will not exist on this Earth.  You will eventually be forgotten and your bones will turn to dust.  What good then will our property, our clothes, books, DVDs, knick-knacks and heirlooms be to us?  There are no pockets in a shroud.  You can bring nothing with you when you leave this life except what you have done, good or bad.  That is the treasure that our Lord wants us to worry about.  Have we invested a store of good with Him or a store of evil with the other fellow?  What is more important to us: where we will spend eternity or where and how we can we can next enjoy ourselves?
At the very moment you and I cease our life on this Earth we will face God and give an account of our life.  When this will be you and I do not know.  It could be at the end of a long life to come or this very day.  When the Lord will come for us none but a few ever know.  That will be the particular judgement when each us dies and faces God.  Be assured that you will not be asked about the Olympics, or how Cork are doing!  These things will no longer matter.  They belong to this world.  As one man who had a near-death experience said “When you are dead all your priorities are different.  What you cared about here you will not care about there!” Those who are just will enter Heaven, the less just will be purified through the sufferings of Purgatory and the unjust will be driven from God’s Presence into the horrors of Hell.  In fact the latter will flee God’s Presence for they will be unable to endure Him.
There will be another Judgment though at the end of time when our Lord will come suddenly upon the whole world and all will be judged whether they are alive or dead at the time.
Therefore we need to be ready, all the time.  We are unlikely to get a warning.  It is true that God will call us when we are closest to salvation but that does not mean our salvation is guaranteed.  Our behaviour might mean that the Lord can call us only when He can guarantee us the least suffering.  The Lord has warned us in the Scriptures, in the teaching of the Church and the lives and writings of the saints that we need to live holy lives.  We have no excuse.  God is not found wanting in grace or mercy and will always help those who ask Him to.   We cannot continually ignore His commandments, the invitation of His grace, and still expect entry into His Kingdom.  How many Catholics today give more than a few minutes a day to prayer?  How many actively seek to do good to those around them?  How many support so-called gay marriage, use contraception, or defraud others?  How many deliberately miss Mass on a Sunday and then receive Communion the following weekend without first going to Confession?  Indeed how many Catholics go to Confession at all?  We will have no excuses when the Lord calls for us nor when He comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The Fathers of the Church believed that when our Lord says “watch” and “stay awake” and St Paul says “Pray always” they meant what they said.  And it possible to do so as many saints have shown.  Do not say to yourself that that’s for saints and not for ordinary folk.  If you want to get to Heaven you must become a saint and there are many ordinary folk who have become saints by following the path of watchfulness.  Sanctity is rare not because it is too hard but because we are too lazy, too faithless, or too proud to try to change.  We won’t make the effort and then tell ourselves it is too hard.  This is falling spiritually asleep and it leads to spiritual death.
The Lord is urging us to wake up and take our faith seriously.  It is hard but it is not impossible.  The way is narrow only if we try to bring all the unimportant things in life with us.  It is hard only if we try to resist the process of change.  The Lord is pouring out His graces upon us and offering His mercy in abundance.  We lack no help and the only one who can stop anyone of us entering Heaven is our self.  We are the biggest obstacle we must overcome. 

We can start by giving more time to prayer, to learning about our Faith and giving more time to care for others.  Remember that what we do to and  for others Christ our Lord will count as done to or for Him.  We can examine our conscience every evening and see how God has blessed us and where we have failed.  We can avail of the Sacraments especially Confession and Holy Communion.  We can, through, doing good for the living and praying and sacrificing for the dead, store up real treasure in God’s Kingdom, treasure that will not rust or wear out, that will wait for us and be with us for all eternity.


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