Sunday, December 30, 2018

THE HOME IS A SCHOOL OF HOLINESS: A Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Yeasr C (Luke 2:41-52)

You who are parents want more than anything to keep your children safe and happy.  I know that from my sister with my niece and from the twelve years I pent in a secondary school as well as what parents have told me. Our Lady and St Joseph had the same concern.  They too wanted to keep our Lord safe.  But this was the time of Passover and Jerusalem and its surrounding villages were full of pilgrims, upwards of a million people.  Imagine our Lady and Joseph’s reaction when they discovered they had mislaid not only their son but the Son of God?  How could they lose him some might ask?  Well anyone who has cared for children knows how quickly they can move when your back is turned.  In that society there was no such thing as the ‘nuclear family;’ families were more than Mum, Dad and the kids.  It was easier to assume a child was with cousins or other relatives. In addition Jesus had reached the age of the Jewish Bar-Mitzvah when he legally became a Jewish man obliged to keep the sacred Law of Israel. Technically he was an adult.

How do you find a boy among a million people, in those narrow and winding streets?  The name ‘Jesus’ or ‘Yehoshua’ was a common name so calling it out would not help much, like calling our ‘Pat,’ ‘Mike,’ or ‘Joe’ down on High Street.
Three day they searched for them.  Three days.  Here we have a prophecy of the three days He will spend in the tomb.  Our Lady will knew where He is then but when He was twelve she had to search.  Can you imagine the heartache and worry? The do not give up (what parents would ever give up?), they search and search and they finally find Him in the Temple, the heart of the Jewish faith and culture, the centre of their world.  Our Lord has become legally a a Jewish man and subject to the full weight of the Law so He is there debating the Law with the experts and those very experts are amazed at His answers and His questions.

They are immediately both relieved and exasperated! They are filled with joy and they could throttle him!  Three days they have been searching! Interestingly it is His Mother who questions Him.  St Joseph never says a word in Scripture.  He is a man of silence. Perhaps that’s a message for husbands. Our Lord’s reaction is both that of someone young, and surprisingly beyond His years.  He does not grasp their concern but He already feels the call of His mission, His vocation.  
Our Lord refers to His “Father’s affairs.” The original is difficult to translate and so different bibles will give different translations. Some even have ‘house’ but ‘business’ or ‘concerns’ might be just as good as affairs.  He knows who He is and that He has something to do in life.  Notice that he indirectly corrects His Mother.  She has spoken of St Joseph as our Lord’s Father (which in Jewish law he was) but our Lord’s response has pointed to His true Father in Heaven.  It is the mission that His Father has given Him that He must complete.
But He goes back with them to Nazareth.  In this He shows His obedience and humility.  He continues to grow as any child grows but He does so in wisdom and favour as well.  He shows both normal growth into manhood and the flowering of His perfect human nature.  We are told that His mother kept all these things in her heart, that is, like any mother she treasured them and meditated on them, drawing from them their significance and meaning.  Your children are a word from God to you! Pay attention and discern what He is saying to you.

As I have said parents want their children to be safe and happy.  Ultimately lasting safety and happiness can only be found in Heaven.  What a tragedy to be safe and happy in this world and to lose eternal safety and happiness in the process.  The only thing worse than that is to be miserable in this world and to be miserable in the next!
Everything we think, do and say ought to ordered to ensuring our safety and happiness in Heaven with God.  We need to choose eternal life by our faith in Christ and our behaviour, by how we love those around us.  That’s the most important lesson that anyone can learn in childhood.  My parents had very little in life but they at least shared with me their Faith and their love.  They believed in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Faith and they loved me and they loved others.   They were concerned for my salvation.
We seem to have lost that in our era.  Too many assume that Heaven is easy to get into or even that it’s automatic.  Our Lord made no such promise.  He has warned us to make every effort in order to save ourselves and our loved ones.  If we do that He will look after the rest.  Our priority should be becoming truly holy.
It’s no accident that our Lord chose to have a Mother and a foster-Father.  He wanted to show us how important family life is for this world and the next.  It also points to the importance of the roles that a Mother and Father play in the family.  You are the models what it is to be not just a good mother or father, nor what it is to be a good woman and a good man but what it means to truly love and respect another in Christ. You lay down the foundations of their future relationships and life not only in this life but the next. 
So parents you aren’t just there to provide protection and comfort.  You are the primary educators, formators, of your children. It’s your foremost task.  Your task to nurture your children not only to thrive in this life but even more so in the next.  Through you your children learn what is really important.  Teachers can provide background information and skills but parents are the primary educators of their children.  From you they learn the value and beauty of being human, male and female and the unique gifts of each, as well as the gifs of reason, freedom and conscience, and how to nurture and form them.  From you they learn the value of humility and obedience.
Your children are your work of art, your highest achievement.  It is God who has empowered you to do this.  He has brought them into existence through you and He gave them to you so that you could help Him get them into Heaven.  You are co-workers with God, co-creators with Him. That mission outweighs all others.  
All the other things that we must do in life should be ordered to that goal of getting to Heaven.  That is what concerns our Father in Heaven: that through His Son Jesus, and with the help of those around us, each and every one of us gets to the safety and happiness of Heaven.  We are, all of us, meant to be about our Father’s concerns.

Monday, December 24, 2018

WE OWE HER EVERYTHING: A homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C (Luke 1:39–45)

Some people were will tell you that Our Lady was an unmarried mother.  That was based on ignorance of Jewish marital practices back then.  Our Lady was a legally  married woman from the time of her betrothal and if you had called her an ‘unmarried mother’ back then she and St Joseph would‘ve given you a hiding to remember.  Just because it has become socially acceptable now, to some extent, doesn’t mean it was back then; not at all.   By the way if anyone ever says to you that Our Lady was an ‘unmarried mother’ you have my permission to wash out their mouths with soap.

In Luke’s Gospel just before the passage we have just heard our Lady has just been told that God wants her to be the Mother of His Son.  She has said ‘yes.’  Having got this extraordinary news and having committed herself to God’s plan she heads off to Ain Karem, the traditional home of John the Baptist, near Jerusalem.  That’s a journey of between 95 to 100 miles, a good bit further than a hike to Dublin or Cork from here, and she did it on foot unless she got a lift on a donkey.  That’s a journey made on rough roads too with the danger of robbers, thieves and other evil men.  Why did a young woman make such a journey?
Our Lady was compelled by charity for Christ her son was already working in and through her.  He had already begun His mission and she was ever the perfect instrument of His will.  St Francis calls Our Lady the “Virgin-made-Church” and as both the Mother of Christ and His Body, and part of the people of God the Church, she reaches out in care and concern to Elizabeth in her need.
Elizabeth was Zechariah’s wife.  Zechariah was a priest who served in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Elizabeth is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Elisheba.  The original Elisheba who was Aaron’s wife and therefore sister-in-law to Moses, and her name means ‘God is my abundance’.  Her name may  also be a sign that she, and her cousin Mary, are themselves of priestly descent.  This is a priestly home.  One did not merely enter such a house but had to be careful not to breach any of the purity laws.  Mary marches in because she is the purest of human beings and now home to the Purest, the Holiest of all, God Himself made man.  She has through her ‘yes’ to God become holier than the Temple.  She has become the Holy of Holies.

Our Lady greets Elizabeth and on hearing the greeting John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit; God has filled her with His abundance.  Immediately Elizabeth cries out in prophecy for the Holy Spirit has revealed to her who Mary is carrying in her womb. Elizabeth is the first after our Lady to hear the Gospel in its essence.  God has become fully man.  God has fulfilled and over fulfilled His promises.  He had promised a priest to offer a truly perfect sacrifice, a prophet, likes Moses, to teach the people how to live truly holy lives and a king like David to rule God’s people forever.  He has more than kept His promises.  He has come Himself in His Son.  John leaps in his mother womb not because he is a baby and babies kick but because he too hears the gospel in his soul.  He leaps in fulfilment of prophecy for in the Old Testament it was said that the poor in spirit, those who truly put their hope in God would leap with joy at God’s fulfilment of His promises. 
Our Lady is blessed because she believed God’s word and cooperated perfectly with the Holy Spirit.  She actively engaged in the conception of her Son and our salvation.  We are the body of Christ - we were in a sense also in Mary’s womb and she is our mother.  His birthday is our birthday.  We too are called to leap with joy at the message of our salvation and liberation.  We too are called to go out to those in need with the gospel of Jesus, the truth that sets us free.  

If we say yes to God and put His word into practice, take the Gospel and the teachings of the Church seriously and live them, then God will speak and act through us. We were promised this in baptism.  We are each of us members of His Body.  We are each of us priests, prophets and kings.  Each of us can offer up sacrifices pleasing to God, each of us can act and speak on His behalf, and each of us can act with His authority if we do what He commands us.  Our Lady said yes and we were given the greatest gift ever.  Let us also say yes and receive what God has to offer.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

THE REAL MEANING OF THIS SEASON a homily for the Second Sunday in Advent Year C

I remember when my niece was born.  She was a month premature and weighed only six and a half pounds. She was so small and vulnerable yet what I remember most was the heat that came off her.  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.  We can say that 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 the wonder of this approaching feast of Christmas 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 flows 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.  
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 this season and the coming feast is that our true value comes not from ourselves, not from what we have nor from our achievements, not from what we have made of ourselves nor 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 world and become fully human.  Nothing was good enough but that He should offer the perfect, eternal obedience and love of the Son on the Cross of Calvary to the Father on our behalf.  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.  He gives us His own infinite value. 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 and He cannot have died and we are not saved. 
All our traditions of this season point to this mystery.  In the ancient world colours were expensive.  Purple came from a sea-snail.  When caught and crushed it gives a small amount of a greenish-yellow substance but expose that substance to the sunlight and it turns purple.  To the ancients it was magical that the divine sunlight could work such a transformation and purple came to symbolise not only luxury but royalty and divinity.  For the Church it came to mean more.  It points to Christ’s action in becoming human.  He has descended into the darkness and chaos of this world and lifted us into the light of His grace, transforming our nature through the Sacraments and giving us a share in His Royal Divinity.
The Christmas tree too points to the Mystery of Christ for it represents the Cross.  The Cross is the true 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’s Passion.  Our Christmas dinner, is meant to be an icon of the Mass in which we already share in the eternal Feast of Heaven.  Therefore if 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. Our task in Advent is to clear out of our lives everything that stands in the way of doing His will.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

BE READY FOR THE RETURN OF THE KING a homily for the Thirty-third Sunday, year B (Mark 13:24–32)

My mother was born in 1927.  I can imagine her telling me “Don’t tell them that!”  She was old enough to remember the kind of sermons that were once given.  She told me she would get a thrill from being told that someone once sat where she sat that was now burning in hell.  Thank God we don’t preach like that anymore.  If you want to read stuff like that you can look up a man called von Cochem, a nineteenth century priest, whose stuff is still in print.  His sermon on Heaven is beautiful but his stuff on Hell - well, he preached on Hell like he was born and bred there.
Somehow though the idea has gotten around that we will all of us, or most of us, get to Heaven.  That’s not Church teaching.  Our Lord never, ever, anywhere gives us that idea.  In fact, in some places He seems to say the opposite.  All we know is that we do not know how may will be saved or how many lost.  Our Lord has left us in suspense and we have to trust to His mercy as long as we sincerely repent and try to love God and our neighbour.
That brings us to this Sunday’s Gospel passage.  But first I must clear up something from the very end of it:  How can the Son not know what the Father knows? Is our Lord not fully God?  He is but the Lord Jesus was truly God and truly man.  He had both a Divine and a human nature, a Divine and a human will, a Divine and a human mind, Divine and human knowledge. In saying that He does not now the hour of the Last Judgment our Lord speaks of His human knowledge. He could know things as God yet not know them as man.  That is a mystery to us because we are not God, we are not even perfect and sometimes we don’t even know our own minds!
But what He does not know as man is only WHEN the Judgment of mankind will come but He knows and He warns us that it will come.  On that day all the powers of the Universe both natural and supernatural will be shaken and disturbed, and He, the God-man, will return, no longer hidden, but brilliant as lightning, and accompanied by the countless angels of His army.

The generation that will not pass away does not refer to the generation alive at that time but to the ‘generation’ of the time between His Ascension back to the Father and His return in glory to judge the living and the end:, that is, US!
What He reveals to us is eternal truth.  We have been warned.  The day of his return and our judgment will come and we ought to prepare for it.   The Church has always taught, based on Scripture, that there is both a particular and a general judgment.  
The particular judgment comes when we die.  Remember those two basic facts, basic certainties in life: death and taxes.  You may avoid or evade paying taxes but you will never avoid or evade death.  Each of us will die.  The older we get the more certain we are of that and with death will come facing God and accounting for every thought, word, and deed and for every good deed not done. We will see our whole lives in the light of God’s generosity and loving mercy.  We will know every opportunity taken or missed.  We will see clearly what we have made of ourselves and whether or not we have sincerely loved God and our neighbour, whether or not we have sincerely repented for each and every wrong done.  It will happen.  ‘When’ we do not know but each moment brings it closer.
Those who die in the state of grace having lived holy lives will enter immediately into the beatific vision -  the blessing of infinite joy and the eternal sight of God, impossible for us to imagine.  Those who die imperfect, repentant but in need of conversion go to purgatory to do there what they should have done here - to learn to sincerely love.  Those who die unrepentant are lost forever in the torments of Hell.  Yes it exists and yes, you and I could go there if we do not repent and learn to love as the Lord has asked of us.  
The general judgment will come at the end of time when He brings everything in the created Universe to an end.  On that day we will all face God together and know the truth. It could be tomorrow or it could be in a billion billion years - we don’t know.   
Some will mock and dismiss such teaching.  Yet at Fatima in 1917 our Lady came to warn us.  At Fatima 50000 people gathered in pouring rain for the final appearance of our Lady.  They saw the Sun pulsate in the sky and seem to rush towards the earth.  Only our Lady’s intervention stopped it.  When it was all over they and the ground around them were all bone dry.  Secularist journalists had been there to mock and saw what happened and to be fair to them it was all reported in the Portugese secular press.  She warned us but who listened?
My father died in September 2011 and my mother in April 2012.  Their home is sold, all their clothes given away, and most of their knick-knacks.  The sets of china that my mother would not let us touch went to a charity shop.  That has been a lesson for me.  When we leave this world we take nothing with us except the good and the evil we have done.  Why worry and fret over what will not last?  

What can we do then to prepare for that judgment?  Take the gospel seriously.  Take our Lady seriously. Seek the conversion of your life and make reparation for all the indifference, lovelessness and sin in the world that so offends God.  Fast, pray, and do penance for yourself and for others.  Do as much good as you can especially to those who cannot thank or reward you.  This is the best remedy for sin after repentance and confession.  While we are in this world let us prepare for our end.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

GOD WANTS OUR TOTAL FAITH NOT OUR COIN A homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday, Year B (Mark 12:38–44)

Imagine for a moment a huge stone platform 90 ft high, ten stories or 30 m, stretching all of Ormonde street down to High street to just past Rothe House and from High Street up to a line between the end of De Loughry place and the old Atlantic store on Lower New Street.  All one stone platform, 144,000 sq.meters.  It’s still there in Jerusalem - one huge platform for the Temple and its surrounding plaza.  The most important building, the Temple itself, stood in the middle of one side.  It was about the same size as St Mary’s Cathedral but wider, almost 90 ft. No one ever went in there but the priests.  Along another wall was another building open on one side were people could gather and the other walls had covered walkways.  
The Treasury was in the court of the women, that is, of women Jews.  Apparently there were thirteen wooden boxes with trumpet shaped funnels that rang when coins were dropped in.  Each box collected offerings for different purposes.  Her offering seems to have been a simple gift of two lepta, two small copper coins.  What she gave, all she had to live on as our Lord tells us, was very little.  The denarius was the usual pay for a twelve-hour work day for a labourer.  Those two small coins would equate to only a few minutes work.  In other words the coins were next to worthless, she had nothing to live on.  She was destitute and yet she gave her little away.

This Gospel passage could be used to speak about why and how much we should support the Church and the clergy but that would miss the point.  Those who wonder about what happened to the woman afterwards also miss the point.  Our Lord is pointing to her because she truly believed and truly worshipped. This poor woman could’ve held onto her coins, near worthless though they were, for herself.  There would’ve been nothing wrong in that.  It would’ve been prudent to do so.  Yet her faith was such that she trusted in God’s power to provide for her and to save her and so she gave to help others.  She entrusted herself entirely to God not realising that He was sitting there watching her.  

She is not alone in Scripture.  She stands in a long line of widows and women of faith. There was the widow of Zarephath, again a woman who was not a Jew, who had only a little flour and some oil to feed herself and her child but who listened to the prophet Elijah, trusted in God and God provided for her so that they survived the famine.  There was king David’s great-grandmother Ruth who though not a Jew remained faithful to her mother-in-law and returned to Israel a widow.  Despite her poverty she trusted in God and He provided for her.   God provides for those who entrust themselves to Him and cannot be found wanting in generosity.
The Jewish law commanded that they care for the poor, the widows and the orphans yet this was not done.  In fact the Scriptures tell us that often the externals of the law alone were observed.   The poor and the needy were neglected and the rich took their wealth as a sign of their righteousness, moral worth and superiority.  Things don’t really change do they?  Wealth can easily make us think we are better than those who have nothing.  Real wealth is faith and grace.  Without the grace of God we are indeed poor.
There are times in our lives when our faith is tested. It is easy to believe when times are good and life is easy.  It is much harder when we find the going tough.  It could be the long or serious illness of a loved one, a spouse or a child, or our own suffering.  It could be unemployment, difficult work conditions, relationship difficulties, or any of a long list of troubles that can afflict us. It could be that we are offered an opportunity to sacrifice in order to help someone else. It is at these times that our faith is tested. 
When I say our faith is tested I do not mean that God needs to find out.  God already knows how strong or weak our faith is.  God already knew Abraham’s faith when He asked him to sacrifice his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loved.  Abraham discovered how deep his faith in God was, indeed how deep Isaac’s faith was, when he actually reached for the knife to kill his own son and was only stopped by God’s intervention.  God, in testing Abraham, led him to a deeper faith and trust in God.
Mark in this Gospel passage presents us with a choice.  We can be like the Pharisees who have faith in our own worth, comparing ourselves to others, keeping up with the Joneses, who give only out of our surplus, only what we have to give, and who trust entirely to our own efforts for our salvation or we can be like the poor woman who entrusts herself entirely to God’s mercy and providence.
If we place our whole hope in God’s power to save us and put ourselves entirely in His care God will not be found  wanting.  I am not recommending that you put your entire weekly income into the collection plate or a charity box but that you put your faith in God and not in your own efforts.  Our good deeds must flow from our faith and trust in God, as a response to His goodness and love.  It was such a faith that built this church and our cathedral.  It is such a faith that makes saints.  God does not need our money.  He wants our faith.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

ON THE PRESENT CRISIS IN THE CHURCH a homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday, Year B (Mark 9:30–37)

When I read that line “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me”  I was immediately reminded of that other verse “whoever causes one of these little ones to sin it would be better for him to have a millstone tied about his neck and for him to be thrown into the sea.”  Our Lord also obviously means to include in that curse anyone who deliberately and seriously sins against a child.  That curse would logically include anyone that covers up such abuse.  So I must apologise to anyone here who is the victim of abuse, especially child abuse.  I cannot imagine what you have suffered but part of the process of ensuring that such abuse does not happen again or at least that it is dealt with swiftly and properly when it does is reminding everyone just how seriously wrong child abuse is.  By this means we may begin to ensure that your suffering was not in vain.

I don’t know to what degree you are aware of the current crisis and scandals in the Church.  It seems today that there are so many but the media coverage is uneven and unbalanced.  For those who are not aware I will briefly summarize what has been happening.  Earlier in the Summer an American Grand Jury issued its report into six American dioceses and listed, from the past 70 years,  300 priests against whom they were credible allegations of abuse against over a thousand minors.  There was extensive cover-ups.  Some of this abuse was quite recent.  Bishops still in office were involved in those cover-ups.  This has lead to many states in the US starting their own investigations.  In addition the most senior churchman in America, now ex-Cardinal McCarrick was exposed as a serial abuser of boys and young men, especially seminarians and priests.  This was, apparently, widely known in certain quarters even in Rome, even at the very top.  Pope Benedict tried to do something but was thwarted. 
This scandal is not confined to the US.  There have been similar scandals not only in Chile, but in Argentina, Nicaragua, India, Italy, Holland, Germany etc.  Again and again the statistics show over 80% of the victims are adolescent boys and young men, that is, the abuse is not primarily directed against young children, those who have not yet reached puberty nor against girls and young women.  One can only conclude that we are looking at homosexual predation on young males.  Worse it was organised and it was covered up.
More recently a former papal nuncio, Archbishop Vigano, alleged that the Church, including various bishops and cardinals, was riddled with a homosexual mafia who were actively involved in covering up abuse.  He claims that this was made known to the present Holy Father and nothing was done about it.  I cannot verify these allegations but others have come forward to affirm both Vigano’s integrity and the truth of his claims.  
When one thinks back to all that Irish Catholics have endured due to the crimes of certain priests and religious, the pain of victims and their families, those scandalised, those whose faith has been undermined, whose salvation has been jeopardised, I can only conclude that for all the publicity that  those events incurred no one was listening.  
How could this happen? How can men dedicated to God be guilty of such crimes? To answer that we need go no further than a verse or two earlier in our passage when we are told that the disciples had been discussing “who was the greatest.”  When God’s word is ignored, when self-interest and self-glorification are allowed to triumph over God’s call then scandal becomes possible.  The great Cardinal Burke has said that ‘where there is a want of chastity there is a want of obedience.’ There has been a great want of obedience in the Church, especially among certain clergy and religious and from it has flowed this evil. The prophets of the Old Testament railed against those shepherds who pastured themselves on their sheep, that is, who put their own interests before the welfare of God’s people.  Our Lord teaches us that His way is a way of self-emptying, a way of and through the Cross not a way of domination.  When men see in the priesthood a career move, a place to hide from questions about their sexuality, or worse a means to gain access to vulnerable persons, then we have a recipe for great evil and harm.  A culture of secrecy and blackmail can easily develop and power abused to try and protect immoral persons from facing up to their crimes.  I don’t know if similar evil is active here in the Irish Church.  I hope not.
One wonders whether any of these men have any real faith at all!  Do they never think that they will have to stand before the Judgment Seat of God and give an account of their lives and ministry? It causes me to beg for mercy when I consider my own Judgment! How will they explain such abuse, such cover-ups?  There is a disturbing video online from an Italian documentary (it seems that Italian and German media are well ahead of the English speaking media on this) in which an abuser is interviewed by means of a hidden camera.  It seems that in his mind the abuse was all a joke, a bit of messing about, not serious, not a moral issue!  How twisted must one’s thinking be to think that way?  I am reminded of the line from the book of Daniel “you have grown old in wickedness.”
There is much more but I have said enough.  Church militant is one site that is giving these events exstensive coverage. I warn you that if you go researching these events you will need strong faith and at times a strong stomach.  So much of what has been done to these boys is truly demonic. 

We are only ‘foot soldiers,’ mere plebs, so what are we to do?  The price of peace is eternal vigilance it is said.  We must keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around not only children but around teenagers and even adults under the power of others.  Think of all the stuff that came out around Harvey Weinstein.  Do you think he’s the only man in a position of power to abuse that position?  Be vigilant and listen to anyone who comes to you with a complaint.  Let us not make the mistakes of the past and dismiss the victims.
I think our Lady tried to warn us at Fatima and again at Akita.  She has asked that we live   good and holy lives by doing the duties of our state of life, confession our sins regularly, devoutly receiving Holy Communion at Mass in a state of grace, praying the rosary, making acts of reparation and promoting devotion to her Immaculate Heart.  She promised her protection to those who did these things and I believe that if we take them up again she will bring get great graces for us and the Church.  She will heal what seems beyond all healing and bring peace to the Church and the world.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

TOUCHING THE LORD: a homily fo rthe Thirteenth Sunday, Year B (Mark 5.21–43)

            What does it mean to touch Jesus?  What does it mean to have contact with God-made-man, to receive Him into our bodies and lives?  It is the easiest thing to do and yet it has consequences beyond our imagining.
            Our Gospel text today has two interwoven events.  Our Lord is asked to save a man's daughter and a woman reaches out to be healed.  At the heart of these two events lies that very question: what does it mean to touch Jesus and how do we do it?
            Every culture has its rules and customs about touch as it has about everything.   There are some things that are common to all.  Think for a moment of who you can and cannot touch, where and when.  Even more so did the Jews of our Lord's time.  
            Jairus, the leader of a synagogue, an important man, comes to our Lord and asks him to save his daughter.  She is dying and he's desperate.  If you've had a child or a relative near death you will know what it feels like.  The light of his life, the apple of his eye, is dying and there's nothing he can do except humiliate himself in public and beg another man to help him. He asks our Lord to come and lay his hand on her and do his magic or whatever it is that he does.  This man does not believe in our Lord: he's just desperate.
            Today, all over Israel archaeologists have found what appear to be cisterns and they were for storing water but not for drinking.  They were there for purification.  Under the Jewish Law there were many ways to become impure and people generally lived with the idea that most of the time they were ritually impure.  They still did what they could as often as they could to purify themselves.
            One of the ways to be impure was by blood. We are told that the woman in this story had suffered for over a decade with bleeding and despite spending all her money she was worse.  She too is desperate.  Can you imagine what she has suffered?  This is long before anesthetics and modern medicine. This problem is not only personal to her but it is also intimate.  It humiliated her.  It limited what she could and where she could go and it isolated her.  She was permanently impure and therefore she was excluded from the synagogue and the Temple and there was nothing she could do about it. 

            So desperate is she that she takes a risk to reach out and touch our Lord.   At the very moment she touches Him she is healed and He knows.  The could is packed around Him so his disciples are shocked that He wants to know who's touched Him.  But He's insistent.  This woman now shows that not only has she faith she has courage and gratitude too.  She comes forward and despite her fear and despite the humiliation (can you imagine her embarrassment?) she tells her story.  In return she hears those wonderful words of our Lord "you faith has saved you. Go in peace..."  So she is not only cured of her sickness she is now at peace with God something that not even a lifetime of sacrifices and prayers in the Temple could do.
            Then Jairus gets the news that he dreads, his little girl is dead.  Those are words every parent dreads to even think of hearing.  Can you imagine the pain and grief that must've struck him then.  He has failed and lost his beloved daughter.  Yet the Lord has not abandoned Him despite his lack of faith. Faith is what he needs now and to put away his fear.  Taking only his closest men, his inner circle, our Lord goes to Jairus' house.
            We don't keen as our people once did in the past.  Back in our Lord's time there were even professional mourners who would produce the appropriate wailing to accompany a death.  It is probably these that our Lord confronts when he gets to Jairus' house. Either way they're not impressed. Our Lord's words that the little girl is not dead but asleep could either mean that she is still alive but in a coma or that, though dead, she is not lost, we don't know.  Either way he does not tolerate their mockery. Although it is Jairus' house He throws the mourners out and so creates a bit of peace and quiet.  
            With the girl's parents and His closest men He goes in to see her, into the heart of their home.  All He does is take her hand and call her and she is restored to her parents.  Can you imagine their joy?  Moments before they were cut to the heart with grief and all their days to come were ashes and misery and now hope and joy are restored to them.  He tells them to feed her so that they and everyone else can see that she is really healed and restored to them.

            As I prepared this I noticed that the first woman suffered for twelve years while this little girl was twelve years old. What is the significance of that? Perhaps she was allowed to suffer that long so that her faith and her healing would touch Jairus and bring him to the faith that our Lord could save his daughter.
            In asking our Lord to touch his child he was really asking the creator to recreate her.  Touching Jesus and being touched by Him is not magic.  We cannot benefit without faith.  Yet how often is He ignored though he is readily available to us in the Sacrament of Confession?  Jarius sought our Lord to save his daughter why do so many fail to seek Him in Confession to save their souls?  How often is He received in Holy Communion not only without faith, not only without respect but even without any acknowledgement of the need of repentance and conversion of life?
             In Holy Communion we can not only touch our Lord, who is really and truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, but we receive Him into our bodies and souls.  Do we invite Him into our hearts and lives with faith or do we mock Him with our indifference or even our lack of sorrow for our wrongdoing?  
            If only we not only sought to touch Him but let Him touch us He would raise us up and feed us with Himself and our joy would be complete.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

IN THE WILDERNESS PREPARE A WAY FOR THE LORD: a homily for the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist (2018)

            John the Baptist must've been an extraordinary character.   John was the son a priest of the Jerusalem Temple and through his mother he was a descendent of Aaron, brother of Moses.  That made him a priest and put him at the heart of the Jewish Faith.  The instruction given to John's father before he was born is very like that given to the parents of Samson.  He was to be dedicated to God from birth and so he had never touched alcohol, never cut his hair and lived from an early age in the hard rocky hills and desert of Israel.  John's austere diet of insects and wild honey recalls the stern self-sacrificing, self-denying ministries of the Old Testament prophets, not that of a comfortable and wealthy priest.  John would not have had weight problems!  He chose to wear camel hair clothes and a leather belt, the same clothing as the great prophet Elijah. Therefore his very clothing was a proclamation of his ministry and his mission.             
            There had not been a prophet in Israel for over four hundred years.  John was sent by God as a prophetic herald to prepare the way for Christ and so his clothes were appropriate to the humility of the arrival of the King who was born to an unknown family, laid in an animal trough, and announced to mere shepherds.  In addition John's clothes were an visual parable protesting the barrenness of a people who no longer listened to God and calling them to prepare for the Lord's coming through repentance and conversion of heart.  
            If you read the bible, and I do hope you read it, you may remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  So awful was their behaviour, the story goes, that the screams of their victims were heard in Heaven and God goes down to investigate.  He visits Abraham who, assuming that God is about to destroy them, starts to haggle with God. How many righteous men does God need in a town before he will not destroy it Abraham wants to know? He haggles God down to ten righteous men and since there aren't that many in Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham, Lot and their families have to flee before the Divine wrath descends.  
            That's how the story has often been read. I recently read an article that argued something else.  Abraham is the first of the prophets and as a prophet he has access to God's counsel as God's friend and co-operator.  God gives him the chance to plead for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, to ask for mercy, but since Abraham has yet to grasp just how deep God's mercy is he stops short at ten men.  God accepts Abraham's decision, removes His protection, and Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed not because God wanted to destroy them but because that's what Abraham had decided.  The later prophets did not make the same mistake and had no hesitancy in pleading with God for mercy, a mercy He wants to give but which He will not force on us.  His hand is extended to us and we must reach out and grasp it.

            So the man whose birth we celebrate today was an outsider, the last of the prophets and among the first of the saints.  John gave up the possibility of marriage and a home, of social status, power and influence, of mere everyday comfort to live on the extreme margins of his society so that he could speak God's word to the people of Israel.  John had the courage to respond to God's grace, to listen to His word, and to put it into practice regardless of the personal cost.  By making those sacrifices John prepared the hearts of his fellow Jews to hear the Word Himself, God Incarnate, Jesus Christ out Lord.
            Celebrating this feast is a way to remind ourselves that if we are truly followers of Christ then we too are called to prepare a way for Him into the hearts and lives of others.  We too are forerunners of God, heralds and ambassadors for Christ.  We too are prophets called to speak the truth, God's word, to our nation, our society and our families.  We too are called to ask for mercy and forgiveness for ourselves and for others.  To do that we need to be in this world but not of it.  
            There are no deserts nor are there even proper wilderness in our little green island.  We have family and vocational commitments, jobs and roles in our society.  Do we need to give them up to be disciples of Christ?  Not at all.  Yet we do need the desert, a wilderness space, in our lives and we can create that desert by withdrawing from unnecessary and distracting activities, conversations and entertainments and giving the time instead to listening to the Lord.  
            The purpose of our life here on earth is not a happy retirement in a comfortable old age but to get to heaven. Getting in to Heaven is not automatic.  There's no easy way in.  You have to choose eternal life with God by having faith in Him, putting His will first here on earth, by avoiding doing evil and actively seeking to do good.   God will not force His love nor will He force Heaven on us.  We have to reach out and grasp His outstretched hand.

            John understood this and he reached out for God's hand will all his might.  His devotion to God's plan cost him his life.  He literally stuck out his neck and put his head on the line. He paid the ultimate price but won a glorious place in Heaven.  Who among us today has a like courage?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

CHRIST IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF TRUE FLOURISHING: a homily for the Eleventh Sunday, year B (Mark 4:26–34)

Full disclosure: I was struggling all week to decide what I should preach on and then on Saturday morning I found the sacred page blog.  I used John Bergsma's reflection on the Sunday readings to construct this Sunday's homily!

Every life, every era has its own particular trials, tribulations and challenges.About 600 years before Christ Ezekiel wrote the words of the first reading to console the Jews as their world fell apart.  The Kingdom established by David had long split in two and now only the southern part, Judah and Jerusalem, remained and that wouldn't last long.  The Jews of Northern Israel were exiles in Syria, and Babylon had already deported many Judeans.  A few years later in 587 BC, Jerusalem and the Temple would be completely destroyed.  
            It was a quite depressing time in the history of God’s people and Ezekiel gives a prophesy of hope: God has a plan and his promise to David is not forgotten. There be will growth once more.  However no dynasty had ever re-established itself having been brought down.  How could this happen?  Surely Ezekiel was mad?
            The “just one” that we heard about in the psalm is compared to a tree that flourishes, grows, and bears fruit.  It's a not uncommon image in the psalms.  Behind it is the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil in Eden, the primordial garden-temple of God.  The “just”—those who live their lives according to God’s will become like the Tree of Life.  They will bear the fruit that Adam and Eve didn’t taste, because they chose to take what had not been offered, what did not yet belong to them.  
            The “just one” is first of all Jesus Christ—the only one who is truly “just.”  He is truly the Tree of Life who bears good fruit in all seasons, eternally. There's an Irish prayer that goes "O King of the Friday, whose arms were stretched on the Cross.  O Lord who did suffer the bruises, the wounds, the loss.  We stretch ourselves beneath the shield of Thy Might.  May some fruit from the Tree of Thy Passion fall on us this night."  It is Christ who has made the Cross and all our personal crosses fruitful. Baptism and the Mass make us His Body and so we too can be the 'just one" flourishing in hard times.  The Lord offers us the means togrow spiritually strong and resilient despite life’s troubles, and bear the fruit of the Spirit and of good works.  

            Again in the Gospel we hear about trees and fruit.  The Lord tells two short parables.  In both of them, the “seed” is the Word of God, in two senses: the proclaimed Gospel is the “word of God”; and Jesus himself is the Word of God.  In the first parable, Jesus tells us that the growth of God’s kingdom is a mystery, the work of the Holy Spirit, and no more dependent on human effort than natural growth depends on us.  A gardener cannot make the seed grow he can only provide the best conditions in his power.  We are responsible for planting the seed by our words and deeds but the growth belongs to the Lord.  We cannot control God's work in our own heart let alone another's. It is the work of God and we must trust Him.
            The Lord also tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.  Again the “smallest of seeds” and the humblest is in fact Christ himself, who is both the Word of God, and the “seed of David” whom God promised by covenant oath to King David “raise up”:  "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom."  Isaiah prophesied that "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Jesse was David's father and an ancestor of our Lord.

            Christ is the “smallest of seeds” because he is poor, humble and lowly, despised by all: as Isaiah again said:"For he grew up before us like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Those words were fulfilled on the Cross and from the Cross our Lord says to us "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
            After His death on the Cross our Lord was literally planted, that is buried, in the ground.  He said the grain of wheat that dies bears much fruit:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  The “mustard seed” of Jesus, planted in the ground in the mountain heights of Israel (Jerusalem), rose from the dead and became the Church, which grew despite persecution and grows throughout the world still.  
            In Christ, the royal Son of David, Ezekiel’s prophecy did come true but not as expected.   Christ turned defeat into victory and the Cross into a throne.  The House of David was reestablished not in Jerusalem but in Heaven, and the Kingdom of David is the Church has spread throughout the world, an international empire of Faith.
            Every life, every era has its own particular trials, tribulations and challenges.Without our Faith in Christ we are no good to anyone.  We need to rekindled our faith and care for it as we would a candle in a cave.  We need to have faith in God and His power to save us.  In this dark time when the Church seems to be failing it’s helpful to remember that times were frequently dark in the past as well. Ezekiel prophesied under the oppression of the Babylonian Empire.  Our Lord ministered under the oppression of the Roman Empire.  How many centuries were our people oppressed and persecuted here in our native land?  The Lord prefers to work through the small, the weak and the powerless: mere mustard seeds. He prefers to work in and through ordinary people in ordinary situations.  In unseen ways He makes things grow and change.  He does not die, He grows; He fills the whole earth, brings eternal life to those that seek His shade.  He is the Tree of Life and if we turn to Him He will feed us with Himself and we will live forever.


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