Sunday, January 28, 2018

EMBRACING WHO WE ARE AND WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US: a homily for the Fourth Sunday in ordinary time , Year B (Mark 1.21–28)

As usual you can hear the audion here.

            The Sabbath is the Jewish weekly holy day celebrated on a Saturday in memory of God's rest after creating the Universe. We celebrate our Sabbath on a Sunday in memory of the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead.  The Sabbath was meant to be a day without unnecessary work, a day of rest even for the animals and for the land.  It was meant to be a day for prayer and reflection.  Our Sunday is no different.  We too are supposed to give time to express our gratitude to God for what He has done.  The most important but not the only part of that is coming to the church and assisting at the Sacrifice of the Mass.
            Capernaum was a busy fishing village so the Sabbath in the synagogue would mean a lot of people.  Synagogue does not necessarily mean a building.  The synagogue is wherever the quorum of ten Jewish men could be found to gather.  Where the people were too poor to own a separate building they used what they could get.  Jesus goes there anyway like the good and devout Jew that He was.
            Jesus taught, though he had not studied with any of the recognized masters and their schools. Jesus taught with authority. He did not cite this expert and that nor did He present elaborate arguments in favour of His position.  He taught with authority as the new Lawgiver, the new Moses, the one promised for so long.  He taught as one who has the authority to teach because He is in charge.  He taught as one who has the power to say that things are so and they are so.

            There was a man there under the power of evil spirit, a demon, a fallen angel.  Yes, they do exist and yes, you can fall into their clutches for they wage continual war on us especially through temptations.  Yet they cannot harm us as long as we have faith in the Lord and avail of the Sacraments especially confession.  While we are in a state of grace, that is free of mortal sin (dabbling in the occult is a mortal sin), they can do nothing to us.  They are more terrified of us, members of the Body of Christ than we should be of them.  Remember: as long as one repents of one's sins, confesses them in confession and is absolved they can do us no harm. 
            This evil spirit uses the man's voice to cry out against Jesus.  It claims to know who He is "the Holy One of God."  But like all evil spirits it is a liar.  Right up until our Lord died on the Cross Satan did not know for sure Who Jesus was.  He could not grasp that God had become man.  He would not do it nor could he actually do it so neither could he conceive that God could and would do it.  The demon is playing a game, trying to flatter his way out of trouble.  Our Lord does not tolerate its nonsense.  It is rebuked and driven out with a command.
            Why does our Lord not accept the evil spirit's witness?  Why does our Lord not command all the demons, the fallen angels, to show themselves to us and give witness to Him?    Surely if all the demons, were to manifest themselves and witness to the Lord the whole world would be instantly convinced of the existence God and the supernatural?  Would the world not then be converted overnight?  They might but their acceptance would not be faith and would be built on fear and horror.
            Our Lord does not accept the witness of the evil spirit that torments the young man.  Why?       The Lord Jesus does not want the witness of demons but our witness.  We are to confess Him by our obedience in word and deed, by living holy and God-fearing lives, by avoiding evil and doing good and standing up for truth and in defence of the vulnerable.
            Note Jesus' authority: He has but to order the demon to leave the young man and it is gone.  As I have already said demons, evil spirits, or fallen angels do exist and Christ's power over the evil spirit is an affirmation of His teaching and His authority.  He is God become man and He teaches us with Divine authority. 
            The key question asked in this passage is asked of us too: "Who is this?"  Who is Jesus?  Who is He to you? Is He just a good man, a prophet, a wonder worker or is He more?  Is He God made man who has entered history and with His entry changed everything?
            Jesus is not some historical figure, still less is He a character from fiction made up to inspire us.  He has not abandoned us but remains with us in the Church and in the Sacraments above all the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle and that we receive at Holy Communion.   When you and I were baptized we were baptized not only into His death and resurrection but into His very Body.  Each of, individually and collectively, is a walking tabernacle of God's presence and an ambassador for Christ. 
            This is why we gather to worship and offer Holy Mass.  We are to remember and to offer not only His Sacrifice of Himself on our behalf but the Father's raising Him from the dead.  In His death our old selves die; in His resurrection we too are raised and the gates of Heaven are opened to us.  We are the beneficiaries of His many blessings above all the gift of eternal life.  We are here to offer and receive Him and so have entry into the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. 
            This is why missing Mass through one's own fault is a mortal sin because we do mortal, that is deadly, damage to our souls.  By deliberately, or through our negligence, missing Mass we are saying to God: "I know you made me, saved me, blessed me and invited me to spend eternity in happiness and joy with you in heaven but I just can't be bothered."   It's like a baby refusing its mother's milk it starves.           

            Lent is not far away now.  How will we spend that sacred time?  How often have we let is slip past and grown no closer to God?  Let us resolve over these weeks to spend some time, to make some effort so that by Easter we will have drawn near to Him Who longs for us to know Him as fully as we are known.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

TAKE TIME TO BE STILL AND SILENT SO YOU CAN HEAR: "REPENT AND BELEIVE" A homily for the Third Sunday, year B (Mark 1:14–20)

As usual the homily can be heard here.
            Jesus is under threat that is why He moves to Galilee.  His teaching threatened the influence and power of others.  It was a challenge to all those who distorted God's word or rejected it outright.  He does not give up preaching the Gospel though.  He continues to do it through His words and deeds.  Yet our Lord's mission was not just for His own time.  He is building a Kingdom, a Church, which will spread throughout the world and continues to spread because He continues to touch people's lives and bring them to believe in Him.  It is not just near us it is here with us for we are His Body and when we gather He is truly present.  Above all He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle and we get to receive Him into our very selves at Holy Communion.  By His power we become and we are the Kingdom of God  if we listen to Him and do His will.

            To build His Church He calls His new disciples.  Last week we heard that some of them had initially met him at Barabara on the far side of Jordan not far from the Dead Sea.  Since then they had returned to their ordinary lives and work over ninety miles north in Galilee.  There was no social welfare back then.  One worked or one starved.
            It is in the ordinary tasks of their day that He comes to them and calls them to work in a new way for something more important than fish.  They stop what they are doing and follow.  From the start their calling meant sacrifices not only for them but for their families and friends.  The things worth doing in life always come at a price.  They always mean sacrifice.  Every calling, every vocation, is a calling to serve and therefore also a calling to sacrifice.  This call doesn't come in a voice or a vision from heaven.  It is heard in the heart, in one's conscience, urging us to take a certain path despite the cost to ourselves and others.  
            So few today are answering that call.  God has not stopped calling but people have stopped listening.  As Cardinal Sarah has pointed out all too many today are deafened by the noise, the distractions, and the false gospels of the modern world.  They have no time for the stillness and silence where God can be heard.  This is true even of Christians who go to Mass every Sunday.  I wonder how many really pray, that is, make time for God in silence and stillness so that His voice can be discerned in their hearts?
            In addition there is a spirit of selfishness and disobedience in the world and in the Church.  Western culture has come to value individual rights and benefit over that of the community, to value freedom from constraint over the duty of care.   It is one reason why voluntary groups often find themselves short of staff.  This individualism runs counter to the message of our Lord that we put God and our neighbour before ourselves.  This selfishness leads to not listening to the Lord and to not putting the Gospel into action.  We need to remind ourselves that God won’t ask us to answer for our neighbour’s inaction and sin but for our own.

            Who has the courage today to listen to the Lord and seek to serve Him?  Who will encourage their children to take that risk?  I made the sacrifice and so did my family.  Why should my parents do without grandchildren?  My parents both died with their son, a priest, praying at their side and they are remembered in all my Masses and prayers.  Christ Himself has promised those who sacrifice for Him that He will more than replace all that they have lost.
            Lent is not too far away now.  During that holy season we will be called to listen more attentively to the Lord speaking in His word.  Especially we will hear again His call to "Repent and believe in the Gospel."  The original Greek word that we translate 'repent' literally means to do a u-turn, to realise that one has gone down a wrong road somewhere and to get back to travelling in the right direction.  The right direction is the path of the Gospel.  The right direction is serving God and our neighbour.   The right direction is making the sacrifices that He asks of us.
            Lent is not too far away.  The Lord will not come to us in visions or voices but in the ordinary events of our day.  He will speak to our hearts if we give time in stillness and silence to listen to His word, the Scriptures.   If we make space for God He will give us the strength to make space for others.  It is in the sacrifices that space demands of us that we will come to know that we are truly loved and that we are never alone.

THE LORD IS PASSING BY. A Homily for the Second Sunday of Year B (John 1:35–42)

As usual the homily can be heard here.

            John the Baptist must've been some sight.  His hair had never been cut.  Given his diet of locusts and wild honey he was stick thin and he wore camel skins.  John must have looked something like an undernourished caveman, someone primitive and barbaric.  Yet people listened to him because he listened to God.
            According to tradition John ministered in Bethabara, over the Jordan river from Judea, in Southern Israel.  Andrew and most of the Apostles came from Galilee, which is in the North of Israel.  That's about 90 miles or 145 km away or the distance between here and New Ross, Co. Wexford and the journey was done on foot.  Our Lord, Andrew and the other disciple are far from home.  To have travelled so far they have been searching for something.
            Andrew and his friend, who is probably John the author of this Gospel himself, are so serious in their searching that they have become followers, disciples of John the Baptist.  The Baptist does no fit in any category the Jews recognise.  Though he is a priest of the Temple he does not go there and he is not a member of any faction or school.  He lives in the wilderness on the most basic of food.  He baptises not in stagnant stone vats of water but in the living water of the river Jordan.  He calls for repentance and conversion.  He is not like any of the other groups in Israel and people flock to him.
            Yet this extraordinary man points beyond himself to Christ.  Just before this passage John tells us that the Baptist had seen Jesus before when Jesus had come to him to receive baptism.  By this act of humility our Lord sanctified the waters of the world and made our baptism possible.  The Baptist himself gave testimony that he had seen the Holy Spirit descend on our Lord from Heaven and remain upon Jesus.  Seeing Jesus again the next day he points to him and says “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  We are so used to such words that we can easily miss their meaning.  Most of the sacrifices in the Temple were of lambs, male lambs without blemish.  So many lambs were sacrificed that one wonders if the smoke of incense could cover the stench of blood and burning flesh.  Most of these sacrifices were sin offerings as well as those offered in thanksgiving or to redeem a firstborn. 
            So when John the Baptist says that Jesus is the Lamb of God he is saying that Jesus is the one to make and be the sacrifice that will make all other sacrifices superfluous.  He is the One who takes away the sins of the world not just yesterday nor in the future but now and always.  He it is who absolves us of our sins, taking them away and restoring us to holiness through the ministry of the priest in the Sacrament of Confession.  
            The disciples hear and they understand.  John the Baptist is pointing them in a new direction.  He humbly seeks to grow less not more and he points his friends to the next step on their journey.  They go after the Lord and he turns to them with the simple question “What are you looking for?”  There's an important question.  How often do we seek after so much that is not important, that we cannot take with us, that promises a happiness that cannot be delivered?  How often do we neglect the one thing necessary?

            Their answer is curious: "Teacher, where do you live?"  It means more than it seems to.   Our Lord is far from hometown of Nazareth.  They are not asking for his address but for welcome and hospitality from Him, for communion with Him.  His response is "come and see."  Some scholars claim that in John's gospel the verbs for seeing and contemplating are connected, that in John there is no simple act of seeing.  John the Baptist has seen our Lord, has contemplated Him, recognised Him and sent these disciples to Him for Christ can deliver what the Baptist can only hope and pray for. 
            So these disciples go with our Lord but what they heard and saw they did not record.  Yet their actions are a kind of testimony.  Andrew travels the 90 miles to Galilee to find his brother Simon and tell him he has found the Messiah, that is, Christ.  Simon is impressed enough to travel to meet Jesus and finds himself renamed as Cephas or Peter, that is, 'rock'.   By meeting our Lord he has met his true self.
            John the Evangelist recorded this encounter because he saw that this was not just for him and Andrew but for all of us.  We are all asked by the Lord “What are you looking for?”  To those of us who choose to answer, to engage with Him in prayer, He offers us the invitation "come and see."
Our Lord is present to us on the Altar and in Holy Communion at every Mass.  He remains with us in the Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.  He is always available to us in our hearts. He awaits our seeking Him and our attentive listening.  He wants to reveal to us our secret name and our true self. We, each and every one of us, are invited to the heights of holiness, to the heights of encounter with the Lord.  We are invited to enter the wilderness of self-denial and find the burning bush of God's Presence within us, His dwelling place in our souls, and there discover His loving care. 

            If we sincerely seek Him in prayer we will find Him and He will turn every wilderness in our lives into paradise.  He has given us the invitation.  It is up to us to follow and to find.


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