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.


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