Sunday, March 18, 2018

TEND THE GARDEN OF YOUR SOUL: a homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent year B

            Before I joined the Capuchins I spent a while as a gardener so I like the image our Lord uses of the seed that dies only to give life.  I'm going to stretch that image and suggest to you that our minds, our hearts and our lives, even our families and our society can be understood as like a garden.  If we care for that garden we will weed it and plant it with wholesome and beautiful things.  It is a lazy and stupid gardener who thinks that he can have a beautiful garden without much effort and time.
            Recent scandals and revelations of the abuse of children remind us that the weeds and thorns of sin, evil, do not go away just because some people get caught and punished or because laws and regulations are tightened.  Laws and regulations are of no help if no one enforces them.  Sin, the doing of evil, remains a possibility for all of us.  The price of peace really is vigilance just as the cost of a beautiful garden is hard work and time.  We change only if we work to change.  Families, institutions, society change only if the people within them work to change themselves.
            When I was growing up we lived in two different places.  We lived in one place until I was ten and then we moved to another area.  In the first place we were friends with another family.  We were always in and out of one another's homes.  Yet I spent very little time in their place.  Usually we were outside and my friend would always usher me out if his grandfather was around.  He didn't like kids around I was told.  The truth was that he was a danger to kids.  We learned many years later that he was abusing his grandchildren and I realised only recently that my friend was protecting me.  Others were not so blessed.
            We can, and should, be vigilant to protect children and vulnerable adults from any kind of abuse.  Let me be clear here.  There never was, nor is there now nor will there ever be a situation or reason that can ever excuse the physical, mental or sexual abuse of a child or vulnerable adult.  Such an evil, such a sin, cries out to heaven for vengeance.  Our Lord Himself said that it would be better for a millstone to be tied around one's neck and that one be thrown into the sea than that one should lead another into evil or harm one of his little ones.  Yet we need vigilance even more over our own selves.
            We cannot do anything seriously wrong without we first think or imagine it.  No one robs, lies or kills without thinking about doing such a thing.   No one suddenly commits adultery just as no one commits rape on the spur of the moment.  People do wrong because they have already become accustomed to thinking about doing wrong.  The person who thinks or imagines evil will eventually do evil.  The person who consistently resists the thought of doing any kind of evil will avoid doing evil and if they instead think of doing good they will do good.  The one who watches images of others doing wrong is pouring fuel on a fire.
            This struggle against our ways of thinking, our habits of the mind, is a kind of dying.  When we try to keep our old habits of thought then we are trying to hold onto this life.  When we seek to put our old habits of thought to death and to bring the new man reborn in Christ into being then we are entering into the battle for our own salvation.  We are cooperating with Christ in our own salvation.  We are tending our interior garden so that it can bloom in Christ.
            This battle is what our Lord means when He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him.  The cross is not primarily some exterior suffering though that suffering can be part of it.  The cross is primarily the suffering we must go through to avoid evil and do good.  It is the suffering we endure whenever we face up to the darker, fallen side of our nature.  It is the suffering of the hard work of changing for the better.
            After I made my final vows as a Capuchin I moved to our house in Raheny, Dublin.  A few months later one of the community there had a stroke and began to slowly deteriorate.  It became necessary to care for him more and more as his needs grew and he became more dependent on us.  There are members of this community that were in Raheny then who leapt to help that man and did great work.  I avoided that job for quite some time but eventually I had to take my turn.  By then he had become doubly incontinent.  Now I can handle my own body's fluids but other people's?  I would prefer to be in the kind of suit worn be those guys handling the nerve agents in England!
            Without any training or preparation I found myself a full-time carer for that old man.  I got him up in the morning, undressed and washed him, dried him, dressed him and brought him down to breakfast where another friar would take over.  I would check in on him during the day, bring him for a walk and change his nappy if necessary.  At the end of the day I put him to bed.  Thank God he was usually like a lamb. 
            That task nearly drove me to leave.  I felt trapped.  I did not want to be doing that job at all though I tried to do it cheerfully.  I only had to do it for a few months.  I do not know how anyone does it for years.  That is heroic.
            Yet in that experience I began to face my self-centredness.  I discovered that I could do what was unpleasant and it did not kill me.  In 'dying to myself' in that small way I discovered that I did not die but rather I grew as a person.  I think now that I got more from that experience than the friar I cared for. 

            The unpleasant tasks, the painful moments in life can be a chance to die to our false selves.  They can be moments of self-awareness when we discover that we do not die but grow towards the person we were made to be.  The unpleasant and difficult task of watching our thinking and struggling to correct it leads to the death only of our false self so that our true self can flourish.  As we replace evil thoughts and images with beautiful thoughts as a gardener replaces weeds with flowers, by God's grace, the garden of our mind flourishes and we bring forth the fruit of good deeds.  As our mind and our heart become like a beautiful garden then God comes to dwell in us.

Feast of St Patrick 2018

I have for the past years begun my day with an act of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for me beginning with creating me and then calling me to be a Catholic Christian, one who has the Faith and is in the Church established by Christ Himself.  He did this by giving me parents who shared that Faith with me.  I am sure you could all say the same.
            Where did they get this Faith?  From their parents and their priests.  They in turn got it from the generations before going right back to Patrick and the first Christians to come to Ireland over fifteen hundred years ago.  They were not Irish.  They were foreigners but they adopted Ireland and gifted us with the Catholic Faith.  Where did they get it?  They got it from the generations before them who got it from Peter and the Apostles who got it from Christ Himself.
            That's what this day is really about.  Being Irish is nothing if it is without the supreme blessing of being Catholic.  Better that we cease to be Irish than we cease to be Catholic.  Better that our culture, language, music, art and all that makes us Irish were lost than we lose the Catholic Faith.  Patrick did not come here to tell us how wonderful we were but to enlighten us and save us with the Catholic Faith.  If we lose that Faith we lose everything.  Our Faith brings us into full communion with the Most Holy Trinity and in that union nothing is lost but it is sanctified and saved.  In that communion we become who we were made to be.
            Is it not amazing that when St Anthony’s relics came here a few years ago people were queuing out the main door of this church around the corner, right down the lane onto the South Mall and a fair ways down that street for hours just to venerate his relics.  It is sometimes debated among the friars whether St Pio would get as much attention or more.  How come we do not venerate our own as much?
How many Irish people have actually read the Confessio or the Letter to Coroticus?  These are among the oldest documents in our nation, a testimony to the work of Patrick and the first Catholic Christians here in Ireland.  The Welsh have their own St. David but the Scots must make do with St Andrew the Apostle, while the English have only a Syrian, St George, for a patron. (Perhaps they couldn’t find an Englishman holy enough).  None of them left a written record of their lives, their faith and their efforts on behalf of the Kingdom of God but Patrick did for us.
Patrick came from Britain but that does not make him English.   The English arrived much later.  Patrick was but a Briton, related either to the Welsh or the Scots, a Celt like ourselves.  Though, as he refers to himself as Irish in the Letter to Coroticus, it is also possible that he came of Irish people living in Britain.  Whatever his origins he came here first under duress as a teenager, suffered enslavement and harsh treatment, and later escaped back to Britain via France. 
Having become a monk and received Holy Orders he felt the call to return to our ancestors and eventually he returned with the Catholic faith.  He did not come alone but brought religious and clergy with him.  The time was right for our Irish ancestors were ready to abandon their paganism.  It is one of the great success stories of the Church and has brought great blessings on the world.  It was in Ireland, centuries later, that the intellectual tradition of the ancient world was preserved and it was from Ireland that Europe was re-conquered for Christ.  It was Irish monks and nuns who carried the Faith back into Britain and across Europe.  Irish slaves also carried their faith with them into Scandinavia, as later generations brought it throughout the British Empire and beyond.  
Patrick laboured here until he died laying the foundations of the Irish Church and despite the ravages and scandals of history is still here today.  There are those who foretell her end and see a day coming when there will be little or no Catholic Church in Ireland.  They do not know the power of God nor how He works.  The Faith will not die out here because it was planted by the grace of God and nourished by many saints and martyrs.
That does not mean that the Irish Church and Irish Catholics will not suffer.  If you read the accounts of the lives of the saints you will know that suffering is part of the battle for holiness.   On such a feast as this, when many of our fellow country men and women are devoted solely to merriment and even debauchery, drunkenness and self-indulgence, we as Catholic Christians must recommit ourselves to the fight for the Faith in Ireland.  Let us fan into a flame the gift that God has given us, supplying our faith with the oxygen of good deeds and the fuel of prayer, and return to the path laid out for us by Patrick.

I urge you to get a copy of St Patrick’s Confessio and take the time to read it.  You can get it free online!  Rediscover what he did for us, what he handed on to our ancestors and they in turn handed on to us and recommit yourself to doing it for others.  Strive to hand on what you received from the generations before and the Lord Himself will bless the work. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

CLEAN OUT YOUR TEMPLE: a homily for the Third Sunday in Lent, year B (John 2.13–25).

You can listen to the audio here.

            We will celebrate Passover, as we do each year, by celebrating the Easter Triduum: the three Holy Days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday culminating with the Easter vigil.  The Jews celebrate Passover to remember and by remembering relive their liberation from slavery in Egypt.  Our celebration is a remembering and a re-living of our liberation from sin and death through the death and resurrection of the Lord.
            Our Lord goes to Jerusalem, the holy city, because it holds the Temple.  Herod had rebuilt and refurbished Solomon's Temple to be one of the biggest temples in the ancient world.  The original Temple was built on a hill so most of Herod's Temple was a platform upon which the Temple proper and the other buildings stood and that platform was about 150 ft high.  That's only a few feet shorter than the spire of this church!  It covered an area of about 144,000 sq m. or 157, 480 sq. yards.  To give you a sense of its size: it was an irregular rectangle with one wall equal to most of the length of the South Mall, from the corner of the Grand Parade to up near Parnell bridge and another stretched from the National Monument on the Grand Parade to Daunt's Square.  That would cover most of Cork City centre from the Grand Parade to the Merchant's Quay Shopping Centre and from the South Mall to the far side of Patrick's Street, all under one building, a huge beautiful building and the pride of the Jews.  It must've dominated Jerusalem.  Imagine trying to get planning permission for it today!

  The Temple was where the sacrifices commanded by the Law were offered.  It had various courts separated by screens or walls.   There were people from all over the Jewish diaspora there to pray.  There were tour groups and priests giving guidance to those who were lost or had a query.  It was a noisy, busy place.  Upon the wall that divided the Northern court, the Court of the Gentiles, from the others there was a sign threatening death to any non-Jew who went beyond that point.  It was this Northern court that was supposed to allow the gentiles to come and pray to Israel's God and it was in that court that those who sold the animals for the sacrifices and the money-changers had set up.  The cattle dealers were there because there were strict rules on what kind of animal could be sacrificed and it made it easier for people if they didn't have to bring their own.  There they had their corrals for their cows and sheep.  That must've been messy and very 'organic.'  With the sacrifice and slaughter of animals just inside the Temple sanctuary there was the smell of blood and burning flesh.  I'm not sure all the incense offered there would cover that.  The money-changers were there because there were many currencies, most of them pagan with pagan images on them, and those coins were not accepted in the Temple.  All this made it difficult if not impossible for gentiles, the non-Jews, to come and pray.
            Our Lord arrives and he drives the dealers and the money-changers out but with the minimum force, a whip of cords, (you see how gentle He is?) and with His Divine wrath.  Can you imagine the noise and the upset?  Animals and men were sent flying in fright.  People must've been shouting and complaining and our Lord in the midst unstoppable.  He has come to unite us with God for Whom we were made and here people are prevented from even approaching Him in the Temple itself.  The Temple was for prayer and communion with God not for business.  It was there so that man might approach God.  It was not to be made into a market.
            The cattle dealers and money-changers no doubt provided extra income for the Temple and its priests.  By His actions our Lord is disrupting the established order.  The Jewish leaders, the priests and the Levites of the Temple, seek a sign, something that will establish our Lord's authority for his actions.  The Lord makes reference to His resurrection that it to come but they do not understand.  With all their knowledge and devotion they cannot see beyond the material and the temporal.  They have no faith in Him.

            Now the Lord describes the Temple as His Father's House.  Yet He also means that the true Temple is His own body.  Is not the true house of the Father our Lord's own body?  St Paul tells us that we are part of the Body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit.  If what our Lord says about the Temple really applies to us then we must ask ourselves the question: how have we turned the temples of our bodies, our souls, into markets?
            We turn the temple that is our body, our mind, our soul and by extension our life into a market by investing time and energy into unnecessary things: TV, computer games, newspapers, and worrying about those things we cannot change.  We do it by gossip and worse, slander and calumny.  We do it by stealing, lying, and by infidelity.  We do it by laziness, arrogance and failing to live by the laws of God and His Church. We allow ourselves to be upset with what this or that person says or does instead of keeping our peace and seeking the one thing necessary: listening to the Lord and doing His will.  More importantly we import the muck and filth of the world through our sins: greed, lust, anger, pride, gluttony, folly, vainglory, by unforgiveness, meanness, and lack of compassion.  By our thoughts and deeds, by evil done and good neglected we make of our lives, our bodies and our souls, instead of temples to God, dens of corruption. 
            Through Baptism and Confirmation Christ has made us His Body, His Temple, holier than the Jerusalem Temple could ever have been.  He wants to be at the centre of our lives.  It is so easy to let the noise and the filth of the world contaminate our lives unless we take the three-strand whip of prayer, fasting and charity to them and drive them out of the sanctuary of our hearts.  His grace will turn our small effort to great effect. 
            We were made for real communion with God.  We were made for the peace and joy of knowing not that some other human being loves us but that God our creator loves us and that love no one, no thing, can ever begin to equal.  All other loves are but dim echoes of His love.  This Lent cleaning out your hearts and your lives and letting God enter the Temple that is His by right.


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