Sunday, February 10, 2019

IF YOU WANT TO SEE MIRACLES OBEY THE LORD: a homily for the Fifth Sunday, Year C (Luke 5:1-11)

During the week I was listening to an interview between an American Catholic journalist and a Dutch Catholic.  The Dutch Catholic was explaining what things are like for the Church and ordinary  faithful Catholics in Holland.  He explained that back in the 1950’s Catholics accounted for about 45% of Dutch citizens.  They were devout and staunch so much so that one in nine Catholic missionaries  worldwide were Dutch.  Ireland has a great missionary tradition but it’s not as great as that!  Today only 19% of Dutch citizens identify as Catholic and of them only 5% attend Mass regularly.  There is a real danger that where they are we too will soon be.
How did this happen?  To explain how I must make a distinction you may or may not have heard before.  Theologians usually make a distinction between the active and the passive will of God.  God always and only ever wills the good. God actively wills our existence.  Every moment is a gift from God.  Your parents, your children, your friends and neighbours, everyone and everything around you is a gift from God.  Every heart beat and every breath is a gift.   God never wills evil.  Yet obviously there is evil in the world.  This is because while God never actively wills evil, never chooses it and does not want it in our world, He does allow it so that He can bring some greater good from it.  Despite God’s goodness and mercy we do wrong.  We harm and hurt and betray one another.  We let each other down. God does not actively will this,  He merely allows it for the present moment.  Thus our Lord accepted the evil of the cross because through it He could save us and unite us with His Father.  When God is said to allow evil this is attributed to His passive will.  While we are here we have the chance to conform ourselves to His plan and His active will for us or not.  Where and how we will spend eternity depends on the choices we make here and  now.
In Holland God has allowed the Church to collapse, as it is collapsing here in Ireland, through the failure of Catholics to remain faithful, through embracing false teaching, through failing to hand on the authentic faith to the next generation, through choosing to neglect, abuse and hurt others.  Fundamentally the collapse came about through disobedience and God has allowed the Church to experience the consequences.

In this Sunday’s passage from Luke our Lord meets his first disciples in their ordinary day, in their ordinary lives, while they are engaged in the boring and time consuming task of mending their nets.  He comes to them and calls them to follow Him and become his disciples.  I find it interesting that none of the Gospel’s ever portray the disciples who were fishermen ever catching fish unless our Lord helps them.  
They listened to that call and despite what it cost them they followed our Lord and it did cost them.  There were no motorways or cars back then.  Only the rich could afford horses.  If you wanted to go anywhere you walked.  In addition the terrain of Israel is quite hilly and rocky, with long hot Summers, there were bandits and robbers, and not much in the way of police nor even hospitals.  Their following of Jesus lead them out across the Roman Empire and ultimately to their violent deaths.  They did not become rich nor were they influential.  They joyfully suffered to hand on what they received from our Lord.  Generations of Catholics handed that Faith on to the generations after them so that it came to Ireland and was handed down to us by our ancestors. 
Our lives have their troubles but nothing like that of our ancestors.  A French visitor to Ireland  in the Nineteenth Century, just after the Penal Laws were repealed, recorded searching for a Chapel for Mass one Sunday in Kerry.  He was directed to a local hill covered in trees.  It was raining heavily and the ground was sodden.  As he rode up the path he noticed the people moving through the trees until he arrived near the top of the hill and was met by a crowd packed around the chapel.  It was too small for them all to get in.  What amazed him the most was that when the bells rang for the consecration the people fell on their faces in prayerful adoration.  To their landlords and masters they were mere uneducated peasants but they knew where their treasure was and had held on to it despite great suffering.  Are we to be the generation that discards that treasure, that Faith?
We have no excuses.  I have on my phone apps that give me the whole text of the Bible as well as  one that gives the daily Mass readings.  Some are free; some cost a few euro.  There are apps and podcasts and websites providing almost any text of our Faith at the touch of a button.  Our ancestors would look on in awe if they could see what we have and how easy it is for us to learn about the Faith.  Never before in the history of the Church have so many Catholics had such easy access to the Scriptures, to the Catechism, to the writings of the Saints and to the vast treasury of knowledge of the Church.  Yet never before have so many Catholics been so ignorant of their Faith.  Never before has there been such indifference and disobedience.  If you fail to put fuel on a fire it will go out and if you do not feed your faith with knowledge then you starve it.  We cannot hand on what we have not got.

The commission received by the first disciples is our commission too.  It is not for a specialist few and never was.  The instruction to be ‘fishers of men,’ or ‘fishers of souls’ if you will, is directed to all of us.  Christ is there present in every aspect of our lives and speaks to us, calling us to follow Him, to proclaim Him by what we do but also by what we say.

I suggest to you that one of the reasons that so many get sick and suffer is that we as a people are indifferent and even disobedient to God, partly due to ignorance, culpable ignorance, and partly due to our wilfulness.  Only if we turn to the Lord and seek to know, obey, love and adore Him as He deserves will we find not only a great catch of souls but miracles in abundance.  God will not refuse us anything if we seek to do His will.  He has promised this in the Gospel of John.  If we keep His commandments we will now deep joy and peace in this life and the abundance of every blessing in the next.  

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