Sunday, June 20, 2021


     The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake, thirteen miles long, eight miles wide and 141 feet deep so there’s plenty of water to drown in. Set among mountains and hills it is also 700 feet below sea level. Being set among hills and so far below sea level means that air currents can cause sudden violent squalls. Boats at that time were little bigger than a large currach. No one wants to face a storm in an open boat on open water. There were no lifejackets back then and water was already filling the bottom of the boat. Imagine then the terror of the disciples. Imagine their panic! It had been our Lord’s idea to cross the Sea and where was He? He was asleep, on a cushion in the stern, in the middle of a storm!

 The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, J.J. Tissot, Brooklyn Jewish Museum.

    There is no experience as striking as one’s own. Our Lord, Who always knew what He was going to do (Jn 6:6), is testing the disciples. He already knew their hearts. Now He was teaching them Who He really is and what He can do. But so terrified are the disciples that they begin to doubt Him. Does He not care? Our Lord certainly wasn’t impressed with their lack of faith. He tersely rebukes the wind and His command to the storm-tossed sea is “Peace! Be still!” Immediately all is dead calm. Notice that our Lord here speaks on his own authority. He does not call on His Father nor on the authority of anyone else. He knew “that by using terms of personal authority … we will be led to recognise His authority as master and creator.”(St Basil On the Holy Spirit 8.21).
    The disciples are stunned. They knew their danger but they also knew that lake. Storms don’t just disappear and dead calm descend. They also knew their Scriptures though. As Job tells us in the first reading God is Lord over the storm and the abysses of the sea. He is in charge even of the chaotic forces of nature. In the Psalms 89 says “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (v.9). We have just read from Ps 107 “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” (v.29).“The sea is his, for he made it”  says Ps 95:5. There are many, many more references in the Bible to the power of God over His creation. The disciples could not have missed the implications. Yet they also needed to learn the lesson that it was not the Lord but their faith that was asleep and it needed to wake up. Our lives can become so comfortable that our faith can fall asleep.

Image found here.

    We are no strangers to storms up here. Wild weather is part and parcel of the charm and beauty of our country. Likewise there is no life that is free of difficulties and troubles. We can be tossed around from problem to problem, at home, at work, between spouses, between parents and children, between relatives, between neighbours, between friends. We are troubled by sick children or parents, debts, mortgages and bills and the threat of unemployment. We are raised up on the crest of a great holiday or happy event, a birth, a first communion, a wedding and then we crash down into the pain of a death, a bout of illness or some other unforeseen difficulty. Some problems can even threaten to swamp us, sinking a friendship, a marriage, even an entire family.
    The winds of our ever-changing society buffet us too. Our values and beliefs are under constant pressure. All that seemed so certain is now questioned. We are tempted to sin and we fall. It can seem that we will never become genuinely holy. The course that seemed so clear, steady and safe seems now more and more difficult to keep to. No matter how we tack across the prevailing wind we seem to be driven back and make no progress. We seem to be stuck. Worse it can seem that we are to be driven onto the rocks of a lee shore. It is no wonder that at times we can get sick of life, bone weary with effort, and tempted to despair. It can even seem that abandoning the boat and drowning might not be the worst way to go.

    We must remember though that Jesus is “the God-man, who according to his humanity is able to sleep and according to his divinity is able to still the storm”(St. Athanasius). The boat carried our Lord in His humanity but as God He supported and saved the boat. He didn’t need the boat just as He does not need the Church nor creation. He does not need us we need Him (St Ephrem the Syrian) and He is with us.
    We are tried by lockdowns, recessions and so many troubles in our families and communities. It can seem that we are like a sinking boat, about to go down, drowned by waves of problems. Has God abandoned us? No, Christ our Lord will never abandon us unless we abandon Him (2 Tim2:12). Yet just as He tested the faith of His disciples so He tests our faith so that we remember who He is and what He can do. He is always with us but do we live as though that were true? Are we witnesses to Him? Is our faith awake?
    How do we ‘awaken’ our faith in Christ who dwells within us through our Baptism? How do we wake up to the presence of Christ within us, within the Church and within our families, and call upon Him to exercise His power to save us?
    We awaken to Christ by checking our conscience daily and going to confession regularly (I recommend monthly!). We awaken to Christ by prayer, fasting and generosity to the poor. By prayer I do not mean merely rattling off prayers we’ve learnt. By prayer I mean lifting up heart and mind to God. Whatever helps you lift your heart and mind to God is prayer. Call upon him whenever you are brought low, down in the depths of your troubles or when you are thrown high by some some unexpected relief. Tell Him everything, “Load everything on to Him” says St Peter “since He is looking after you”(1 Pt 5:7). It is also true that the family that prays together stays together. Pray together as spouses; pray together as families. Pray especially the rosary. The greatest of all prayers is the Mass. Unite your prayers and sacrifices to Christ in the Mass and you will be heard.
    By fasting I mean going without, especially a ‘going without’ that means another does not have to go without at all. Fast not only from food but above all from doing harm to others. Generosity to the poor needs no explanation but generosity begins at home. Be generous with those in need among your relatives and friends but especially those who cannot pay you back. By prayer, fasting and generosity to the poor we awaken our faith in Christ’s presence and in His mercy. When we open our hearts to His  Presence and His help He will calm all our storms.

Sunday, June 13, 2021


     Every life, every era has its own particular trials, tribulations and challenges. The last year has been one for many people. To put it into perspective, though, just study the impact of the Spanish Flu or the far worse Black Death. Just go to and look up the records of deaths in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. I had to do that while researching the lives of our deceased friars. It shocked me how many people died from TB and how many did not even make it out of childhood. It is easy to forget that our ancestors suffered poverty and oppression that we can only imagine.
    Israel, the Jews, also suffered. They believed God had chosen them. He had made covenants with them. A covenant is a free, sacred agreement established by ritual and oath. God’s covenants with them were the most sacred kind, the kind that established a permanent family bond with them “I will be your God and you shall be my people” He repeatedly told them. He did this with Adam, with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, and with King David.

Festivities in Honour of King David by J..J. Tissot, (1896-1902), Jewish Museum, Brooklyn.

    God had said to David, "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.”(1 Sam 7:12; 1 Chr 17:11) But the Kingdom established by David had split in two after Solomon, Davis’ son, died. Then the people of Northern Israel were taken as prisoners to Syria in 734 BC and again in 722 BC. For a while the southern part, Judah and Jerusalem, remained until 587 BC when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians. Most of the people were deported to what is now Iraq.
    So Ezekiel wrote to console the suffering Jews in Babylon (Iraq) as their world fell apart.  In that quite depressing and traumatic time in the history of God’s people Ezekiel gives a prophesy of hope.  God had not forgotten the word he gave through Isaiah: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Is 11:1) Jesse was David's father and an ancestor of our Lord. God has a plan and his promise, his covenant oath to David, is not forgotten. There be will growth once more.  However no dynasty had ever re-established itself having been brought down.  People found this hard to believe. How could this happen?  Surely Ezekiel was mad?


The Flight of the Prisoners (1896) by J.J. Tissot, Jewish Museum, Brooklyn.

    The “just one” in the psalm is compared to a tree that flourishes, grows, and bears fruit. Behind this is the idea of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil in Eden, the primordial orchard or garden-temple of God. Adam and Eve didn’t get to taste the fruit of the Tree of Life because they chose to take what had not yet been offered, what did not yet belong to them, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. The “just” are those who live their lives according to God’s will and they will become like the Tree of Life. The just will bear the fruit of holiness. 
    The true “just one” is Jesus Christ and He is the only one who is truly “just.” He is the true 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 makes us part of the Body of Christ and in the Mass He feeds us with His Body and Blood, so we too are called to be the “just one" flourishing in hard times. 



 Crucifixion, apse mural, by Anton and Ekatarina Daineko iconographers, Minsk, Belarus

    The Lord, in the Gospel passage, tells two short parables. In both of them, the “seed” is the Word of God but in two senses. The proclaimed Gospel is the “word of God” and Jesus Himself is the Word of God.  In the first parable Jesus reminds us that a gardener cannot make the seed grow he can only provide the best conditions within his power. Jesus means 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. We are responsible for planting the seed of the Kingdom 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.
    In the second parable the Lord also tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a great shrub.  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 to King David to “raise up”.  Christ is the “smallest of seeds” because he is poor, humble and lowly, despised by all.  As the prophet Isaiah 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.”(Is 53:2-3)  Those words were fulfilled on the Cross and from the Cross our Lord says to us "Come to me, all who labour 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.”(Mt 11:28-29)
    Our Lord 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.”(Jn 12:23) After His death on the Cross our Lord was planted, that is buried, in the ground. With His resurrection the “mustard seed” of Jesus 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.  The new Kingdom of David is the Church that has spread throughout the world. It is an 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. Christ our King offers us the grace to grow spiritually strong and resilient despite life’s troubles, and to bear the fruit of the Spirit and of good works. It is our task to ensure that we are sowers of good seed not of weeds. When we speak well of others, forgive others, do good to others, when we speak the truth in love, and when we oppose evil we are sowing the seed of God’s word. When we do the opposite we are sowing weeds.
    Let us rekindle our faith in Christ and care for it as we would a cherished plant.  Let us have faith in Him and His power to save us. In this dark time when the world is tormented by viruses and lockdowns and their economic and social effects, when the Faith and the Church seem to be failing it’s helpful to remember that times were frequently darker in the past.
    Ezekiel prophesied in exile in Babylon.  Our Lord ministered under Roman occupation. How many centuries were our people oppressed and persecuted here in our native land?  Yet how many saints did our Lord raise up among our people? How many missionaries?
    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 cannot be conquered by death, He gives life and He makes things grow; He upholds and overshadows the whole Universe and 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 the fruit of His Passion, His very Self, and we will flourish forever.

Monday, June 7, 2021

TASTING HEAVEN, A homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Year B

In San Giovanni Rotundo, where St. Pio lived, there was a man, born blind, who met Pio practically every day. After a while it occurred to him that here he was blind yet he got to meet a miracle-working priest every day. Why was he still blind? That thought, wherever it came from, wormed its way into his heart and caused him great distress. Why was he still blind? Why was God ignoring him? 

Then one day St Pio, as he was passing from the church to the friary, stopped and laid his hand on this man’s head. Instantaneously the man was filled with a joy so great he felt he was about to die. He was so afraid he pulled his head away. Pio said to him “That is a little taste of heaven. You can have your sight and risk losing it or you can stay blind and be guaranteed it.” I know this story is true because not only did I get it from a reliable source but it was confirmed for me by an old lady I knew in Dublin. She had been an early devotee of St Pio, went to San Giovanni and met St Pio many times, and even met the man in question. When she met him he was very old and he was still blind.

Last Sunday we celebrated the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the extraordinary privilege we have of not only knowing about the inner life of God but being invited into that Life for all eternity. We have been offered not only the sight of God but a place above the angels on the throne of God. This Sunday we celebrate another aspect of that gift. It is through communion with the Son of the Father, who became man for us, suffered and died for us and rose from the dead for us, that we have eternal Life with the Father. In Baptism we were really and truly united to Christ and all that He has is ours.

God the Son, second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, became truly human for us without ceasing to be divine. His whole life and ministry was one long revelation, a revelation of the Father. On the Cross of Calvary He revealed to us how much He loved the Father and how loveable the Father is. On the Cross He made His eternal worship and love of the Father visible to us and offered that eternal loving worship to the Father on our behalf. This is why the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary infinitely outweighs our sins. That Sacrifice of Calvary is made present at the Mass. We participate, by the power of the Holy Spirit, not only in Good Friday but in the Eternal Worship of Heaven.

The Holy Synaxis, fresco  by Panselinos (late 13th to early 14th century) in the Protaton church, Karyes, Mount Athos, Greece.

At the Mass the Sacrifice of Calvary, and the Eternal worship of the Father by the Son, is represented in an un-bloody manner. At the Consecration., when the priest says “this is my Body” and “this is my Blood”, the bread and wine, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become really and truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. There is no change that can be detected by our senses, yet He is truly and completely present. Yet this is true of all the Sacraments. There is no visible change in Baptism or Marriage or Ordination. The change is beyond the reach of our senses. Only our faith tells us about the reality that is hidden but the reality does not depend on our faith.

When we receive Him in Holy Communion we receive all of Him not a part of Him. We can receive Him because we have been baptised into Him and so we are already united to Him. We receive Him who offers Himself to the Father on our behalf to bring us to the everlasting peace and joy of Heaven.  Or rather He receives us. He makes us welcome in His Kingdom. We receive, as St Augustine says, “what we will be” but also what we are already by Baptism and Confirmation. 

Many years ago I got to meet a famous Catholic composer and musician. I had bought and listened to his music for years. I queued up and shook his hand, exchanging a few words and then moving on. I told my fellow friars “I’ll never wash this hand again!” Needless to say I did. Yet it was wonderful to meet someone who had inspired me for years.  If the Pope, or the President or your favourite TV personality or pop star were to be here this Sunday how would you have come? Would you not have scrubbed yourself spotless, worn your best clothes and gotten here well ahead of time? Would you not have been excited and attentive to everything they did and said?  How much more then ought we to be attentive when it is not some mere human being who comes to us but God Himself?  But God comes to us not once in a blue moon but every time the Mass is offered.  How ought we to receive Him, to attend to Him, to make Him welcome?

He comes to us not in glory and power but in humility and gentleness under the signs of bread and wine but it is not in any way bread and wine that we receive. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ but not only the Body and Blood of Christ. In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ the Son we receive His Father. In receiving the Father and the Son we receive the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion is communion with the Most Holy Trinity and so we have Heaven within us; our souls are on its threshold. We receive not just a taste of Heaven but Heaven itself. Therefore Holy Communion is more valuable, infinitely more valuable, than the whole Universe.

If Holy Communion is so valuable, so important, so Holy is anyone worthy of it? Remember this if nothing else: No one is worthy of Holy Communion. Not the Pope, nor any of the bishops or priests, nor St. Pio when he was alive, nor St. Anthony, nor St. Leopold nor any of the saints. It is given to us as a free, unmerited gift. We never asked for it, expected it nor could we ever, ever have earned it. The Real Presence of our Lord and the possibility of Holy Communion is His GIFT to us because He loves us and He wants to show us His mercy and unite us with Him for ever in Heaven.

If we receive Him with reverent faith, with repentance for our sins and trust in His Merciful Love; if we receive Him with truly open hearts, our lives will be transformed. By the power of His Presence, hidden in Holy Communion, He empowers us to endure whatever suffering comes our way and to unite it with His suffering. He enables us to love and forgive, to turn the other cheek, to hope for eternal life and to work to grow in holiness. He offers not a little taste of Heaven but the whole reality because He offers us Himself.

Allegory of Holy Communion, second half 16C, 54x45.5cm, Byzantine Museum, Athens.


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