Sunday, March 26, 2017

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

           As usual you can listen to the homily here.

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

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

You can listen to the audio here.

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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Disclaimer: I don't own the copyright to the text below, in fact, I can no longer remember where I found it!  I reproduce it here purely for the information and inspiration of others.

1 I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our desserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners. 

2 And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.  3 Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognising him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven. 

4 For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name. 

5 He himself said through the prophet: 'Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.' And again: 'It is right to reveal and publish abroad the works of God.'  

6 I am imperfect in many things, nevertheless I want my brethren and kinsfolk to know my nature so that they may be able to perceive my soul's desire. 7 I am not ignorant of what is said of my Lord in the Psalm: 'You destroy those who speak a lie.' And again: 'A lying mouth deals death to the soul.' And likewise the Lord says in the Gospel: 'On the day of judgement men shall render account for every idle word they utter.' 

8 So it is that I should mightily fear, with terror and trembling, this judgement on the day when no one shall be able to steal away or hide, but each and all shall render account for even our smallest sins before the judgement seat of Christ the Lord. 9 And therefore for some time I have thought of writing, but I have hesitated until now, for truly, I feared to expose myself to the criticism of men, because I have not studied like others, who have assimilated both Law and the Holy Scriptures equally and have never changed their idiom since their infancy, but instead were always learning it increasingly, to perfection, while my idiom and language have been translated into a foreign tongue. So it is easy to prove from a sample of my writing, my ability in rhetoric and the extent of my preparation and knowledge, for as it is said, 'wisdom shall be recognised in speech, and in understanding, and in knowledge and in the learning of truth.' 

10 But why make excuses close to the truth, especially when now I am presuming to try to grasp in my old age what I did not gain in my youth because my sins prevented me from making what I had read my own? But who will believe me, even though I should say it again? A young man, almost a beardless boy, I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun. So, consequently, today I feel ashamed and I am mightily afraid to expose my ignorance, because,[not] eloquent, with a small vocabulary, I am unable to explain as the spirit is eager to do and as the soul and the mind indicate.  11 But had it been given to me as to others, in gratitude I should not have kept silent, and if it should appear that I put myself before others, with my ignorance and my slower speech, in truth, it is written: 'The tongue of the stammerers shall speak rapidly and distinctly.' How much harder must we try to attain it, we of whom it is said: 'You are an epistle of Christ in greeting to the ends of the earth ... written on your hearts, not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.' And again, the Spirit witnessed that the rustic life was created by the Most High.

12 I am, then, first of all, countrified, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.  13 Therefore be amazed, you great and small who fear God, and you men of God, eloquent speakers, listen and contemplate. Who was it summoned me, a fool, from the midst of those who appear wise and learned in the law and powerful in rhetoric and in all things? Me, truly wretched in this world, he inspired before others that I could be-- if I would-- such a one who, with fear and reverence, and faithfully, without complaint, would come to the people to whom the love of Christ brought me and gave me in my lifetime, if I should be worthy, to serve them truly and with humility. 14 According, therefore, to the measure of one's faith in the Trinity, one should proceed without holding back from danger to make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, to spread God's name everywhere with confidence and without fear, in order to leave behind, after my death, foundations for my brethren and sons whom I baptised in the Lord in so many thousands.  

15 And I was not worthy, nor was I such that the Lord should grant his humble servant this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favour in these people, a thing which in the time of my youth I neither hoped for nor imagined. 16 But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.  

17 And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: 'You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.' And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: 'Behold, your ship is ready.' And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.  

18 And on the same day that I arrived, the ship was setting out from the place, and I said that I had the wherewithal to sail with them; and the steersman was displeased and replied in anger, sharply: 'By no means attempt to go with us.' Hearing this I left them to go to the hut where I was staying, and on the way I began to pray, and before the prayer was finished I heard one of them shouting loudly after me: 'Come quickly because the men are calling you.' And immediately I went back to them and they started to say to me: 'Come, because we are admitting you out of good faith; make friendship with us in any way you wish.' (And so, on that day, I refused to suck the breasts of these men from fear of God, but nevertheless I had hopes that they would come to faith in Jesus Christ, because they were barbarians.) And for this I continued with them, and forthwith we put to sea. 

19 And after three days we reached land, and for twenty-eight days journeyed through uninhabited country, and the food ran out and hunger overtook them; and one day the steersman began saying: 'Why is it, Christian? You say your God is great and all-powerful; then why can you not pray for us? For we may perish of hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see another human being.' In fact, I said to them, confidently: 'Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds.' And with God's help this came to pass; and behold, a herd of swine appeared on the road before our eyes, and they slew many of them, and remained there for two nights, and the were full of their meat and well restored, for many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half-dead by the wayside. And after this they gave the utmost thanks to God, and I was esteemed in their eyes, and from that day they had food abundantly. They discovered wild honey, besides, and they offered a share to me, and one of them said: 'It is a sacrifice.' Thanks be to God, I tasted none of it.  

20 The very same night while I was sleeping Satan attacked me violently, as I will remember as long as I shall be in this body; and there fell on top of me as it were, a huge rock, and not one of my members had any force. But from whence did it come to me, ignorant in the spirit, to call upon 'Helias'? And meanwhile I saw the sun rising in the sky, and while I was crying out 'Helias, Helias' with all my might, lo, the brilliance of that sun fell upon me and immediately shook me free of all the weight; and I believe that I was aided by Christ my Lord, and that his Spirit then was crying out for me, and I hope that it will be so in the day of my affliction, just as it says in the Gospel: 'In that hour', the Lord declares, 'it is not you who speaks but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.' 21 And a second time, after many years, I was taken captive. On the first night I accordingly remained with my captors, but I heard a divine prophecy, saying to me: 'You shall be with them for two months. So it happened. On the sixtieth night the Lord delivered me from their hands.  22 On the journey he provided us with food and fire and dry weather every day, until on the tenth day we came upon people. As I mentioned above, we had journeyed through an unpopulated country for twenty-eight days, and in fact the night that we came upon people we had no food. 

23 And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents [kinsfolk], and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go an where else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: 'The Voice of the Irish', and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.' And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many ears the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry. 

24 And another night-- God knows, I do not, whether within me or beside me-- ... most words + ... + which I heard and could not understand, except at the end of the speech it was represented thus: 'He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you.' And thus I awoke, joyful. 

25 And on a second occasion I saw Him praying within me, and I was as it were, inside my own body , and I heard Him above me-- that is, above my inner self. He was praying powerfully with sighs. And in the course of this I was astonished and wondering, and I pondered who it could be who was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer it was revealed to me that it was the Spirit. And so I awoke and remembered the Apostle's words: 'Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.' And again: 'The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.' 26 And then I was attacked by a goodly number of my elders, who [brought up] my sins against my arduous episcopate. That day in particular I was mightily upset, and might have fallen here and for ever; but the Lord generously spared me, a convert, and an alien, for his name's sake, and he came powerfully to my assistance in that state of being trampled down. I pray God that it shall not be held against them as a sin that I fell truly into disgrace and scandal.  

27 They brought up against me after thirty years an occurrence I had confessed before becoming a deacon. On account of the anxiety in my sorrowful mind, I laid before my close friend what I had perpetrated on a day-- nay, rather in one hour-- in my boyhood because I was not yet proof against sin. God knows-- I do not-- whether I was fifteen years old at the time, and I did not then believe in the living God, nor had I believed, since my infancy; but I remained in death and unbelief until I was severely rebuked, and in truth I was humbled every day by hunger and nakedness. 28 On the other hand, I did not proceed to Ireland of my own accord until I was almost giving up, but through this I was corrected by the Lord, and he prepared me so that today I should be what was once far from me, in order that I should have the care of-- or rather, I should be concerned for-- the salvation of others, when at that time, still, I was only concerned for myself.  

29 Therefore, on that day when I was rebuked, as I have just mentioned, I saw in a vision of the night a document before my face, without honour, and meanwhile I heard a divine prophecy, saying to me: 'We have seen with displeasure the face of the chosen one divested of [his good] name.' And he did not say 'You have seen with displeasure', but 'We have seen with displeasure' (as if He included Himself) . He said then: 'He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye.' 

30 For that reason, I give thanks to him who strengthened me in all things, so that I should not be hindered in my setting out and also in my work which I was taught by Christ my Lord; but more, from that state of affairs I felt, within me, no little courage, and vindicated my faith before God and man. 31 Hence, therefore, I say boldly that my conscience is clear now and hereafter. God is my witness that I have not lied in these words to you.  32 But rather, I am grieved for my very close friend, that because of him we deserved to hear such a prophecy. The one to whom I entrusted my soul! And I found out from a goodly number of brethren, before the case was made in my defence (in which I did not take part, nor was I in Britain, nor was it pleaded by me), that in my absence he would fight in my behalf. Besides, he told me himself: 'See, the rank of bishop goes to you'-- of which I was not worthy. But how did it come to him, shortly afterwards, to disgrace me publicly, in the presence of all, good and bad, because previously, gladly and of his own free will, he pardoned me, as did the Lord, who is greater than all? 

33 I have said enough. But all the same, I ought not to conceal God's gift which he lavished on us in the land of my captivity, for then I sought him resolutely, and I found him there, and he preserved me from all evils (as I believe) through the in-dwelling of his Spirit, which works in me to this day. Again, boldly, but God knows, if this had been made known to me by man, I might, perhaps, have kept silent for the love of Christ. 34 Thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently over my soul as a living sacrifice for Christ my Lord; who am I, Lord? or, rather, what is my calling? that you appeared to me in so great a divine quality, so that today among the barbarians I might constantly exalt and magnify your name in whatever place I should be, and not only in good fortune, but even in affliction? So that whatever befalls me, be it good or bad, I should accept it equally, and give thanks always to God who revealed to me that I might trust in him, implicitly and forever, and who will encourage me so that, ignorant, and in the last days, I may dare to undertake so devout and so wonderful a work; so that I might imitate one of those whom, once, long ago, the Lord already pre-ordained to be heralds of his Gospel to witness to all peoples to the ends of the earth. So are we seeing, and so it is fulfilled; behold, we are witnesses because the Gospel has been preached as far as the places beyond which no man lives. 

35 But it is tedious to describe in detail all my labours one by one. I will tell briefly how most holy God frequently delivered me, from slavery, and from the twelve trials with which my soul was threatened, from man traps as well, and from things I am not able to put into words. I would not cause offence to readers, but I have God as witness who knew all things even before they happened, that, though I was a poor ignorant waif, still he gave me abundant warnings through divine prophecy. 36 Whence came to me this wisdom which was not my own, I who neither knew the number of days nor had knowledge of God? Whence came the so great and so healthful gift of knowing or rather loving God, though I should lose homeland and family. 37 And many gifts were offered to me with weeping and tears, and I offended them [the donors], and also went against the wishes of a good number of my elders; but guided by God, I neither agreed with them nor deferred to them, not by my own grace but by God who is victorious in me and withstands them all, so that I might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure insults from unbelievers; that I might hear scandal of my travels, and endure many persecutions to the extent of prison; and so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others, and if I should be worthy, I am ready [to give] even my life without hesitation; and most willingly for His name. And I choose to devote it to him even unto death, if God grant it to me. 38 I am greatly God's debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon a after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: 'To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Our fathers have inherited naught but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.' And again: 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth.' 

39 And I wish to wait then for his promise which is never unfulfilled, just as it is promised in the Gospel: 'Many shall come from east and west and shall sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.' Just as we believe that believers will come from all the world. 40 So for that reason one should, in fact, fish well and diligently, just as the Lord foretells and teaches, saying, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,' and again through the prophets: 'Behold, I am sending forth many fishers and hunters, says the Lord,' et cetera. So it behoves us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God, and so there might be clergy everywhere who baptised and exhorted a needy and desirous people. Just as the Lord says in the Gospel, admonishing and instructing: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of time.' And again he says: 'Go forth into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. He who believes and is baptised shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned.' And again: 'This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached throughout the whole world as a witness to all nations; and then the end of the world shall come.' And likewise the Lord foretells through the prophet: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days (says the Lord) that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy.' And in Hosea he says: 'Those who are not my people I will call my people, and those not beloved I will call my beloved, and in the very place where it was said to them, You are not my people, they will be called 'Sons of the living God'. 

41 So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ. 42 And there was, besides, a most beautiful, blessed, native-born noble Irish [Scotta] woman of adult age whom I baptised; and a few days later she had reason to come to us to intimate that she had received a prophecy from a divine messenger [who] advised her that she should become a virgin of Christ and she would draw nearer to God. Thanks be to God, six days from then, opportunely and most eagerly, she took the course that all virgins of God take, not with their fathers' consent but enduring the persecutions and deceitful hindrances of their parents. Notwithstanding that, their number increases, (we do not know the number of them that are so reborn) besides the widows, and those who practise self-denial. Those who are kept in slavery suffer the most. They endure terrors and constant threats, but the Lord has given grace to many of his handmaidens, for even though they are forbidden to do so, still they resolutely follow his example. 

43 So it is that even if I should wish to separate from them in order to go to Britain, and most willingly was I prepared to go to my homeland and kinsfolk-- and not only there, but as far as Gaul to visit the brethren there, so that I might see the faces of the holy ones of my Lord, God knows how strongly I desired this-- I am bound by the Spirit, who witnessed to me that if I did so he would mark me out as guilty, and I fear to waste the labour that I began, and not I, but Christ the Lord, who commanded me to come to be with them for the rest of my life, if the Lord shall will it and shield me from every evil, so that I may not sin before him. 44 So I hope that I did as I ought, but I do not trust myself as long as I am in this mortal body, for he is strong who strives daily to turn me away from the faith and true holiness to which I aspire until the end of my life for Christ my Lord, but the hostile flesh is always dragging one down to death, that is, to unlawful attractions. And I know in part why I did not lead a perfect life like other believers, but I confess to my Lord and do not blush in his sight, because I am not lying; from the time when I came to know him in my youth, the love of God and fear of him increased in me, and right up until now, by God's favour, I have kept the faith. 45 What is more, let anyone laugh and taunt if he so wishes. I am not keeping silent, nor am I hiding the signs and wonders that were shown to me by the Lord many years before they happened, [he] who knew everything, even before the beginning of time. 46 Thus, I should give thanks unceasingly to God, who frequently forgave my folly and my negligence, in more than one instance so as not to be violently angry with me, who am placed as his helper, and I did not easily assent to what had been revealed to me, as the Spirit was urging; and the Lord took pity on me thousands upon thousands of times, because he saw within me that I was prepared, but that I was ignorant of what to do in view of my situation; because many were trying to prevent this mission. They were talking among themselves behind my back, and saying: 'Why is this fellow throwing himself into danger among enemies who know not God?' Not from malice, but having no liking for it; likewise, as I myself can testify, they perceived my rusticity. And I was not quick to recognise the grace that was then in me; I now know that I should have done so earlier. 

47 Now I have put it frankly to my brethren and co-workers, who have believed me because of what I have foretold and still foretell to strengthen and reinforce your faith. I wish only that you, too, would make greater and better efforts. This will be my pride, for 'a wise son makes a proud father'. 48 You know, as God does, how I went about among you from my youth in the faith of truth and in sincerity of heart. As well as to the heathen among whom I live, I have shown them trust and always show them trust. God knows I did not cheat any one of them, nor consider it, for the sake of God and his Church, lest I arouse them and [bring about] persecution for them and for all of us, and lest the Lord's name be blasphemed because of me, for it is written: 'Woe to the men through whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed.' 49 For even though I am ignorant in all things, nevertheless I attempted to safeguard some and myself also. And I gave back again to my Christian brethren and the virgins of Christ and the holy women the small unasked for gifts that they used to give me or some of their ornaments which they used to throw on the altar. And they would be offended with me because I did this. But in the hope of eternity, I safeguarded myself carefully in all things, so that they might not cheat me of my office of service on any pretext of dishonesty, and so that I should not in the smallest way provide any occasion for defamation or disparagement on the part of unbelievers. 50 What is more, when I baptised so many thousands of people, did I hope for even half a jot from any of them? [If so] Tell me, and I will give it back to you. And when the Lord ordained clergy everywhere by my humble means, and I freely conferred office on them, if I asked any of them anywhere even for the price of one shoe, say so to my face and I will give it back. 51 More, I spent for you so that they would receive me. And I went about among you, and everywhere for your sake, in danger, and as far as the outermost regions beyond which no one lived, and where no one had ever penetrated before, to baptise or to ordain clergy or to confirm people. Conscientiously and gladly I did all this work by God's gift for your salvation. 

52 From time to time I gave rewards to the kings, as well as making payments to their sons who travel with me; notwithstanding which, they seized me with my companions, and that day most avidly desired to kill me. But my time had not yet come. They plundered everything they found on us anyway, and fettered me in irons; and on the fourteenth day the Lord freed me from their power, and whatever they had of ours was given back to us for the sake of God on account of the indispensable friends whom we had made before. 53 Also you know from experience how much I was paying to those who were administering justice in all the regions, which I visited often. I estimate truly that I distributed to them not less than the price of fifteen men, in order that you should enjoy my company and I enjoy yours, always, in God. I do not regret this nor do I regard it as enough. I am paying out still and I shall pay out more. The Lord has the power to grant me that I may soon spend my own self, for your souls. 

54 Behold, I call on God as my witness upon my soul that I am not lying; nor would I write to you for it to be an occasion for flattery or selfishness, nor hoping for honour from any one of you. Sufficient is the honour which is not yet seen, but in which the heart has confidence. He who made the promise is faithful; he never lies. 55 But I see that even here and now, I have been exalted beyond measure by the Lord, and I was not worthy that he should grant me this, while I know most certainly that poverty and failure suit me better than wealth and delight (but Christ the Lord was poor for our sakes; I certainly am wretched and unfortunate; even if I wanted wealth I have no resources, nor is it my own estimation of myself, for daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises. But I fear nothing, because of the promises of Heaven; for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who reigns everywhere. As the prophet says: 'Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.' 56 Behold now I commend my soul to God who is most faithful and for whom I perform my mission in obscurity, but he is no respecter of persons and he chose me for this service that I might be one of the least of his ministers. 57 For which reason I should make return for all that he returns me. But what should I say, or what should I promise to my Lord, for I, alone, can do nothing unless he himself vouchsafe it to me. But let him search my heart and [my] nature, for I crave enough for it, even too much, and I am ready for him to grant me that I drink of his chalice, as he has granted to others who love him. 

58 Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing. 59 And if at any time I managed anything of good for the sake of my God whom I love, I beg of him that he grant it to me to shed my blood for his name with proselytes and captives, even should I be left unburied, or even were my wretched body to be torn limb from limb by dogs or savage beasts, or were it to be devoured by the birds of the air, I think, most surely, were this to have happened to me, I had saved both my soul and my body. For beyond any doubt on that day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ, made in his image; for we shall reign through him and for him and in him. 60 For the sun we see rises each day for us at [his] command, but it will never reign, neither will its splendour last, but all who worship it will come wretchedly to punishment. We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ's will, but will abide for ever just as Christ abides for ever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and for ever and ever. Amen.

61 Behold over and over again I would briefly set out the words of my confession. I testify in truthfulness and gladness of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the Gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty. 62 But I entreat those who believe in and fear God, whoever deigns to examine or receive this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that nobody shall ever ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing that I achieved or may have expounded that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it would have been the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.

Monday, March 13, 2017


Thanks to the Mystagogy Resource Centre for the link to this movie!  It appears to be inspired by "Into Great Silence" (2005) the documentary about the Carthusian Order in France.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD: a homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year A (Matthew 17:1–9)

 The audio of this homily is here.

Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo, Ireland's sacred mountain.

I have only climbed a few mountains.  I supposed most of us have, at least once in our lives, gone up a mountain.  Mountains are memorable, for me perhaps most of all Croagh Patrick where, on a fine day, you get a great view of Clew Bay.  Maybe that’s the attraction in mountains, the height of them and the view from the top, the clarity of the air, being above the ordinary as we look down on all that is happening around. 

View of Clew Bay from the summit of Croagh Patrick.

Mountains appear frequently and significantly in the Bible especially  mountains like  Sinai and Horeb.  On Mount Sinai Moses first encountered God in the Burning Bush and it was on Sinai that he received the Law.   On Mount Horeb Elijah encountered God not in the storm, or the fire or in the earthquake but, beautifully, in the sound of a gentle breeze and he was allowed to see God’s back but not his face.  It will be on the hill of Calvary that our Lord will die upon the Cross offering Himself in worship of the Father on our behalf.  So it is appropriate that it is on a mountain that our Lord reveals His Divine Personhood. 

Holy Trinity, Cork.

It might surprise you to know that you are on a mountain here in this church.  It is a symbolic mountain.  You had to climb a few steps to get into the church as you do in any church.  That’s not an accident and not just a flood protection method.  The altar, here, is in the sanctuary, the most sacred space in a church after the tabernacle, and it is set on a height, raised four steps higher than the nave where you sit.  Thus the church building and it’s sanctuary is meant to symbolize the holy mountain where we meet the Lord.  It symbolizes Sinai, Horeb, Tabor and above all Calvary.  It is on this ‘mountain’ that we encounter God in the most intimate way outside of heaven when we receive Him in Holy Communion.  Here we discover God’s gentleness, His mercy and His love for us.

In our gospel passage today it is the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, a Jewish Harvest festival that became a remembrance of their journey in the desert after their escape from Egypt.  At this festival, in the heat of August, the people would live outside sleeping in shelters made from branches either out in the fields or on their flat rooftops.  This is why Peter mentions the three tents.  It is at the end of this festival that Jesus takes the inner circle of His followers, Peter, James and John, up a mountain, identified as Mount Tabor.  He is changed, transfigured, that is, He reveals His Divinity in order to strengthen them for His coming passion and death.  His face shines because He is the source of the light.  He is brighter than the Sun because the Sun was made to be a symbol of His Divine Nature.
Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah, the greatest of the Prophets, come to speak to Jesus.  These are the men who spoke with God; Moses did so ‘face to face’ so that his own skin shone and here they are speaking to our Lord.  But Peter, James and John, cannot grasp what is shown them.  Peter, as usual, puts his foot into it because he wants to remain in this awesome moment for he fails to understand its significance.   All he can see is Jesus, Moses and Elijah as if they are all equal.  God the Father, manifesting His Presence by a cloud, another echo of Sinai, intervenes and points out the obvious.  Jesus our Lord is Son of the Father, God made fully and truly man, and He is the One to whom we must now listen for He is the very Word and Image of the Father.   Moses and Elijah are witnesses to Him but He is the fulfilment of all the promises made to them and to the people of Israel.  Indeed He surpasses all those promises for God can never be outdone in generosity.
So the three apostles are left, shaken, with only Jesus our Lord.  It is only beginning to dawn on them Who Jesus really is.  They were shown this to strengthen them for the horror of Good Friday.   They are shown not only Who Christ really is but who He wants us to become by His Power and what He has in store for us in Heaven.  In a sense, Peter has the right reaction but for the wrong reasons.  He is right to want to stay upon the mountain, to have what the Lord offers, but he fails to understand that all of the history of Israel has been building up to this encounter with Jesus our Lord, the Word and the Image of the Father made fully and truly human for us.  He fails to understand that Good Friday cannot be avoided, indeed, it is part and parcel of the Lord’s plan.
The mountain symbolised in a church is not only those of the Bible.  There is also an interior mountain.  Our Lenten journey is meant to be a climbing of our own interior Mount Tabor or Calvary if you prefer.  To climb a mountain is to leave behind the many distractions of the green fields and valleys and to make the effort to pass over and through the rocky way that leads to the top.  We are to remove from our lives all distractions, the other voices that threaten to drown out the voice of the Lord in our hearts.  That is why the Father tells us “This is my beloved Son; Listen to Him”.  He means it: listen to the Lord.  We cannot face the struggle of uniting the sufferings of this life with those of Christ upon the Cross without the strength that comes from our interior encounter with Him.  That encounter comes only through prayer when we climb the interior mountain into His Presence within us.   That is something that each of us must take personal responsibility for; no one can do it for you.
At every Mass we climb Mount Tabor and Mount Calvary.  At every Mass we have the chance to receive Him in Holy Communion, to have His Flesh and His Blood enter into us or, to put it another way, to have Him make us fully one with Himself.  How often do we then flee away as soon as Mass is over or even, God forbid, before it is finished.  Some hardly wait for the consecration!  We receive God, the closest we get to Heaven this side of death and then, with hardly a word of thanks, we fly off home, or to wherever people go on a Sunday.  The Apostles wanted to stay with the Lord and we wish to run away from Him.  St John Vianney said that the moments after Holy Communion are the most important moments of our lives and ought not to wasted.  He recommended spending fifteen minutes in thanksgiving!  Whatever time you give try to give more.  God has given you all of Himself; He deserves that you give something back in return.  Do not rush away, rush down off this mountain back to the world of many pointless distractions.  Take the time to adore and to give thanks, to bring your sorrows and your joys to Him, to draw close to Christ who has drawn so close to you.
If we sincerely want to follow the Lord, to love Him as we ought, to discover His love for us then we must climb that mountain through time given to prayer and to the Mass.  It is a slow journey but for those who persevere they will get to see the magnificent view of the glory of Christ, the real knowledge of His loving care and the guarantee of eternal life.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


I read on Fr Z's excellent blog that the Russian Orthodox Church has added a number of Western, Latin-rite saints to its liturgical calendar.  The original source is the Orthodox blog Ad Orientem.  Patirck's feast is one among fifteen added to the Orthodox Calendar from the pre-schism (pre-1054) Latin West.  They are widely venerated amongst Orthodox Christians in the West.  I wonder how long it will be before they add Columbcille and Columbanus, Brigid, Declan, Ita, Fursey, Colman, Feargal, Gobnait, Dymphna, Gall, Donatus, Aidan, and the many, many saints of the Irish calendar to say nothing of the rest of the Western, thoroughly orthodox but utterly Western, Latin rite and Roman saints?  Pray, pray that through the Immaculate Heart of Mary the division between East and West will be overcome and there be full communion between all Christians confessing one faith in one Lord in one Catholic Church.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

IN THE CLEARING STANDS A BOXER: A homily for the First Sunday in Lent Year A, (Matthew 4:1–11)

As usual you may listen to the audio here.

You will be familiar with Boxing to some degree.  We have all seen a boxing match, at least in passing, with the ring roped off and the fighters facing one another.  They pound away at one another until someone wins at least by the judges’ verdict.  Each seeks a decisive, even a knock out blow, to get beyond his opponent’s defenses and bring him down.  It is a brutal sport but a great image for what is happening in this Gospel passage.

    Our Lord is like a boxer who goes out into the open space, the ‘ring’ of the desert to confront His most dangerous opponent and the reigning champion, Satan.  Satan does not know Who Jesus is.  Since in his pride and arrogance he would never dream of becoming human He cannot conceive that God could or would become fully man and so he finds our Lord to be an enigma.  He sees only a challenger, another fool of a human being who thinks he can confront an angelic intelligence and not be bested.  Satan has kept his distance so our Lord must draw him out.  He goes into the desert, to the place the Jews thought of as the dwelling of the demons, to fast and pray, to place Himself there as bait.  The evil one waits because he is a coward and will only attack when his opponent is weak.
Satan makes his move.  They slug it out for three rounds, three attempts by Satan to undermine the Lord, and our Lord wins each time.  It is not a decisive victory for Satan flees before He can be dealt with.  Satan has tapped away at our Lord with his usual punches, the ones he has tried and tested, perfected over the ages, but to no effect.   He tries to tempt Him with concern for His body, with concern for spiritual experience and with concern for power and wealth.  He has fails and he has not even left a mark on our Lord.  He has swung and jabbed but our Lord has ducked and blocked each punch while delivering stunning blows in return.  Satan is not defeated but he flees knowing that he is dealing with someone new.
The desert, as I have said, was seen as a place of danger and death, a dwelling place for demons.  Jesus, lead by the Spirit goes into the desert to engage in this spiritual warfare with Satan as an example to us that we too must struggle with evil in our lives.  Our Lord fasts for 40 days and nights, that is, He removes from his life all distractions, anything that might ‘stand between’ Himself and His Father, He makes space for the Father, a visible, total gift of His attention.  After this He is hungry.  Well that’s to be expected but hungry for what?  Not just food but for the defeat of Satan and the salvation of souls.  Christ is hungry for our freedom and our communion with the Father.
Satan comes to Him with three temptations: care for his physical life, care for the apiritual or religious experience and care for power and wealth.  Remember he overcame our first parents with but one temptation: the physical enjoyment of a forbidden fruit. 
First he says “If you are the Son of God” – for Satan is not sure and he thinks that our Lord may be uncertain too.  He is tempting the Lord to perform a miracle to satisfy both His physical hunger and His curiosity but not the will of God.  Satan wants our Lord to put His own wishes before those of His Father. Our Lord’s response is profound is so many ways.  One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” means not only that God’s will takes priority over everything but that whether we live or die is entirely at God’s prerogative.  He is totally surrendered to the will of His Father and so He fears neither hunger nor death.  In fact He tells us elsewhere that His food is to do His Father’s will.
Satan changes tack then and moves Him to Jerusalem to the parapet of the Temple, the biggest building by far in that city.  He again takes a swing at our Lord and tempts Him concerning His identity, urging Him to prove it to Satan that He is the Son of God, to take a step that will cause a miracle to happen, to put His own will before that of His Father.  He quotes scripture to our Lord “He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone” but he quotes selectively for he leaves out the next line “you will trample on the young lion and the dragon” the last being a term for Satan himself.  Our Lord quotes scripture back and again it has to do with respect for the Father’s will “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. 
Then Satan tries for the kill and takes our Lord to the top of a mountain, showing Him the kingdoms of man and offering them to the Lord if only He will worship Satan.  He thinks he can bring Him own with concern for wealth and power.  Our Lord dispatches him with the simple line “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.  He leaves unsaid that all the worship of mankind rightfully belongs to God and that as Son of the Father He is the One through Whom all things have been made and are sustained.  Satan flees defeated and the angels come to our Lord like attendants to a boxer who has gone three rounds and won his fight.

Brothers and sisters we are entering Lent.  We are entering the ring to face up to the evil in our hearts and in our lives.  This is the time to make the extra effort or to begin if one is making no effort at all.  We are emulating the Lord in confronting the evil one in our lives.  We do this through prayer, through fasting and abstinence and through giving to the poor.  These are the three remedies for our sins, the three punches we can swing at the enemy.  They call down God’s loving mercy upon us and motivate us to repent, to confess and to entrust ourselves to His mercy.  If you fall in the fight then get back up.  If you fall again get back up again.  It is only when you fail to get back up that you give up and lose.  Christ asks not that you win but that you try, that you stand your ground and fight to be better, to be good, to be holy.  Pray, fast and give to the poor: remember these moves and you will not go far wrong.


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