Monday, December 25, 2017

OUR TRUE VALUE IS CHRIST: a homily for CHRISTMAS DAY, Year A, (John 1)

You can hear the audio here.
            I remember when my niece was born.  She was a month premature and weighed on six and a half pounds yet what I remember most was the heat that came off her.  She was so small and vulnerable.  Without her Mam and the nurses she was helpless.  Christ too was helpless when He was born among us.  He was helpless at His birth and He was helpless at His death on the Cross.  Christ was born in the shadow of the Cross.  He, the All-Holy, All-powerful God made Himself helpless for us who are without help without Him.
                        It is so easy to bury Christmas and the wonder of this feast under excessive eating and drinking, under presents, wanted and unwanted, to build ourselves up to expect some perfect event that can never happen in our fleeting and fallen world.  It is because we are fallen that we so easily take our value from the wrong source.  It is because we are fallen that it is so easy for us to fall into the trap of imposing our own will on others, to try to put ourselves at the centre of everything rather than recognise that the only centre that can ever be is God.  From that temptation to put ourselves at the centre flow all our troubles and sins, from squabbles over what's for dinner right up to who controls what valuable resources.  All our moral ills in this world flow from that one source: we take our measure from the wrong template. 
            What I am about to say may upset or even offend some people but that is not my intention.  Please bear with me for there is a point to what I am about to say.  While we are made in God's image and likeness, you and I do not matter.  We, each of us, individually and collectively, are of no importance.  One day most of us will be completely forgotten, gone without a trace at least from the perspective of this world.  Even the few who are remembered for some time will be but footnotes, background noise to someone else's life.  To those whose hope is for this world we are not important; we are nothing and of no value in and of ourselves.
            The mystery and wonder of Christmas is that our true value comes not from ourselves, not from what we have nor from our achievements, from what we have made of ourselves or from what we leave behind.  Our true value comes from what God has given us.  In choosing to become one of us God has glorified us.  More than this He if offering each one of us access to the very heart of God forever. 
            He could've created us and left us in a state of natural bliss but that was not enough for Him.  After our first parents fell He could've simply declared us forgiven but that was not enough for Him.  Nothing was good enough but that He should enter our existence and become fully human.  Nothing was good enough but that He should offer to the Father on our behalf the perfect, eternal obedience and love of the Son on the Cross of Calvary.  Nothing was good enough but that He should make us one Body, one Spirit with Him, His Temple, and that He should feed us with Himself, heal our wounds Himself and unite us with the Most Holy Trinity in Himself.  Nothing was good enough but that He should give us Himself, completely and without reserve.  It is He who declares us and makes us valuable.  It is from Him that we derive our dignity and worth.  It is a value that we cannot lose because it is founded in Him not in us.  
            The true foundation of all our celebrations is not the birth of a baby they are born all the time but the birth of a baby who is also God.  If He was not God then His birth is no more worth celebrating that anyone else's and if He is wasn't human then He cannot have been born. 
            The Christmas tree points to the Cross.  The Cross is the Tree of paradise which bears fruit for our healing and sanctification.  That's why we cover it with baubles and glitter to symbolise the graces and blessings that come to us through Christ and His Cross.  Our feast, our Christmas dinner, is meant to be an extension of the Mass in which we already share in the eternal Feast of Heaven.  Therefore is you get the chance to give someone a place at your table you should take it for then Christ will welcome you at His in Heaven.
            Everything about this season points beyond itself to Calvary, through and beyond Calvary to Heaven.  Even the presents are not just echoes of the presents given by the Magi still less are they mere signs of affection and appreciation.  We can do that anytime of the year.  The presents are meant to symbolise the gift we are given in Christ. 
            The conception and birth of a child is an act of hope and trust in God.  Every life is sacred for each one is made in His image and likeness.  More, each one of us is made for eternal life with God.  The birth of Christ means we are no longer nothing.  We are no longer valueless.  Our value comes not from us but from God who has made us equal to Himself in giving us a place in His Son.  We are, each and every one of us, equal to God because God has made us so.  This is the true magic of Christmas.  God has emptied Himself.  He holds nothing back.  In His birth we are reborn.  We are no longer mere humans, here to strut our stuff for a few years and then fade away.  In Christ we are a new Creation, cracked pots called to become Immortal Diamonds, filled with the treasure that is Christ.
            He has given us the present of eternal life let us not leave it unopened.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

CRY OUT LIKE A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS a homily for the Second Sunday of Advent Year B (Mark 1:1–8)

            We take water for granted.  Israel is a lot drier than Ireland.  In fact the real dispute in between Israelis and the Palestinians is not so much over land but over access to and control of water.  All over Israel, wherever they dig, archaeologists find different types of ancient water stores.  There are cisterns for drinking water and baths for washing and there is a third kind.  That kind is not for drinking from for the water was often stagnant.  For the same reason one did not swim in them though there are steps down into them.  The capacity of some of the smaller kind was over 14,000 litres of water.  These tanks or baths were used for the ritual cleansing demanded by the Jewish religion of the time.  They were always cut from the rock and were covered so that they were dark and cold.  They are so common that it is obvious that the Jews of the time of our Lord took religious purity very seriously.  So why then do they flock to be baptized by John in the Jordan?
            John is something of a paradox.  The Jewish Temple priesthood was hereditary and John is from a priestly family.   He is a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses, first of the Jewish priests.   (If you have Cohens or Levis in your family tree you too are such a descendant).   Yet he is not living a priestly life. He does not take his turn in the Temple but lives in the wilderness, the hot, rocky emptiness beyond the Jordan.  He lives on wild honey and insects, food allowed by the Jewish Law, but not easy to get nor very filling.  He must've been very thin and wiry, sun-browned and wild-looking.  He wears a rough camel hair garment, his hair of his head and his face is uncut.  What an extraordinary sight he must've made.  In addition, Israel, the Jews, have not seen or heard of a prophet in about five hundred years.  All that time God has been silent.  Then John appears from the wilderness dressed as a prophet like Elijah, living an austere life and proclaiming the need for repentance, for straitening the route for God's grace into our lives and administering baptism to that end.

            John's baptism was symbolic, a sign of desire for real purity.  By baptizing in a river rather than a pool or tank he is pointing to the living power that is come with Christ, a power that is not stagnant like human power.
            John is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament and a saint of the New Testament.   His clothing is that of a prophet and his message is that we repent, that is, we literally change our mind, our way of thinking and return to the Lord's way.   By refusing to be a priest of the Temple John is pointing forward to the new priesthood established by Christ and the new sacrifice He will make that is the Mass.  John speaks of himself as a slave so low that it is not proper for him even to touch the least part of Christ's sandal.  John, like all the saints, points beyond himself to Jesus Who is the fulfillment of all God's promises and more.

            As Tertullian, an early Christian wrote: John calls us to purge our minds of whatever impurity error has imparted, whatever contamination ignorance has brought, which repentance would sweep and scour away, and cast out.  So prepare the home of your heart by making it clean for the Holy Spirit.
            As St Gregory Nazianzus wrote: "Moses baptized, but in water, in the cloud and in the sea; but this he did figuratively. John also baptized, not indeed in the rite of the Jews, not solely in water, but also for the remission of sins; yet not in an entirely spiritual manner, for he had not added: “in the Spirit.” Jesus baptized, but in the Spirit; and this is perfection. There is also a fourth baptism, which is wrought by martyrdom and blood, in which Christ himself was also baptized, which is far more venerable than the others, in as much as it is not soiled by repeated contagion. There is yet a fifth, but more laborious, (a baptism) by tears; with which David each night bedewed his bed, washing his couch with tears".
            How many times have we looked forward to Christmas and something has gone wrong.  How often have disagreements marred our celebrations?  How often have we eaten or drunk too much?  How often has it just been a bit of a disappointment?  For some of us Christmas is a reminder of bad and painful times.  For many it is a reminder of loved ones who have died.  To get the real meaning of Christmas it is necessary not to stock up on food and drink but to stock up on grace.  It is necessary to approach the Birth of Christ by the royal road of Advent.  That is why the priest wears purple, the ancient colour of royalty. 
            To live Advent we need to join John in the wilderness.  I don't mean eating insects by the way though I would not object to honey.  John is a model for us.  The wilderness represents the stripped down space of prayer and quiet.  We need to remove the non-necessities.  We have to make space for God.  In John we see and hear the call to reduce our dependence on the things of this world to the minimum so that we have more time for God and our neighbour.  John's path is one of penance and repentance. 
            We are to acknowledge our sins and seek out Christ in Confession, repenting of them and asking His mercy.  We are to make sacrifices, however small, and unite them with Christ's infinite sacrifice in the Mass.  By these simple means we can open our hearts to really greet Christ at Christmas, to run out to meet Him with the good works we have done, to greet Him with joyful faith not shallow sentimentality and to find that in seeking Him we have found the power to love those around us and discovered the real meaning of Christmas.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

STAYING AWAKE! A homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B, (Mark 13:33–37)

As usual you can hear the audio here.
            Three times our Lord says to us WATCH!  We are to open our spiritual eyes and see!  we are to stay awake like security guards at night or soldiers on watch.  He will return and it will be sudden and without warning.  Will we be awake and ready?  How does one stay spiritually awake and alert?  He will return.  How are we to prepare for this?  How are we to stay awake in our faith?
            We can, indeed, we must pray.  The Church defines prayer as lifting up the heart and mind to God.  For years I thought that mean and pathetic.  Now I see that the Church is saying that prayer is a broad and profound experience.  Whatever enables us to lift up our heart and mind to God is prayer.  No two people pray the same but everyone should pray.  Without prayer we fall asleep spiritually.  We also need to listen though, to listen to God's word in the scriptures, the Bible.  The Bible contains His message for us, His mind that we are to put on and if we are not giving attention to His word then we are not listening and our soul starves.  We need to put that word found in scripture into practice in our lives by how we treat others and how we care for those in need.  We need to live the life of the Church not just by attending Mass on Sunday but by examining our conscience everyday and going to Confession regularly. 
            While our Lady is not a tourist visiting visionaries on demand she is a mother and she cares for her children whom she has received from her Son on the Cross.  In 1879 she came to us here in Ireland.  She did not say a word but the whole vision at Knock pointed us to the centrality of the Sacrifice of the Mass and our duty of prayer, worship and belief in the teaching of Christ and His Church.  It is that Faith that we received from St Patrick that has made Ireland the relatively civilized place it still is.  It has been a gift to us from God.
            In 1917 our Lady came to us at Fatima.  This time she did speak.  She called for conversion and amendment of life, that we take the Gospel and the teaching of her Son seriously and put it into practice.  She called for a life of penance and reparation, that is, making acts of faith and love to show our sorrow at our own sins and those of others, sins against God, against her, and against one another.  She called for prayer and devotion to her Son and to herself.
            In calling for penance and reparation she asked that we offer up everything in our life and every sacrifice, every suffering however small, to be offered to God in a spirit of submission to His will.  To do this we consciously unite our sufferings and sacrifices with our Lord's Sacrifice on Calvary.  On their own our sacrifices and sufferings are of no value but united to His they take on the infinite value of His Sacrifice.  We can do this by His power made available to us in baptism fro in baptism we were immersed into Christ and became one flesh, one Spirit with Him.  In His mercy and love God the Father accepts these sacrifices united to His Son's in reparation for all the sins of the world and above all those against His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and those against His Son's Most Pure Mother, for to fail to honour the Mother is to fail to honour the Son.
            Our Lady also asked that we pray especially that we pray the Rosary.  She did not mean that we rattle through it as quickly as possible.  She clearly asked that we spend time with her in the rosary while meditating on the Mysteries and that we do this daily in a spirit of reparation to her and her Son.  When we pray the rosary properly we left our Lady take us by the hand and walk us through the mysteries of her Son's life. 
            She also asked that we give five first Saturdays, that means the first Saturday of five consecutive months in reparation to her and her Son.  We do this by going to confession and confessing all our sins, in number and kind, with sincere purpose of amendment, and then going to Holy Communion, again, with the intention of making reparation to her.  She also asked that we wear the blessed Brown Scapular as a sign of our consecration to her and that we live that consecration to the best of our ability.  Finally she asked that we spread the word.  We are to tell others about her requests and encourage them to respond to the Mother of God.

            None of this is difficult.  None of it is too time consuming.  It may mean we have less time for other things but when you stand before the Lord He will not ask you the sports results or what was on the telly!  He will ask you about whether and how you listened to Him and to His Mother.  If we have listened and obeyed we will have nothing to fear and nothing to lose.  If we have not we will only have ourselves to blame.  While we are then let us stay awake in the spirit.   Let us live our lives as faithful Catholics and stand ready for His return.


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