Homilies Canon Vincent Morris

Through the Liturgical Year

Cycle C

 

With Canon Vincent Morris DD Castleblayney (1926 – 2009)

 

INDEX

ADVENT                                                                                                                  
1st Sunday
2nd Sunday
3rd Sunday
4th Sunday
John the Baptist

CHRISTMAS SEASON                                                                                         
Midnight Mass
The Gift of Christmas Day Mass
Sunday after Christmas
NEW YEARS DAY
Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God
2nd Sunday after Christmas
Epiphiny
Baptism

PRE-LENT

2nd Sunday
3rd Sunday
4th Sunday
5th Sunday

LENT

Ash Wednesday
1st Sunday
2nd Sunday
3rd Sunday
4th Sunday
St Patricks Day
5th Sunday
Passion/Palm Sunday

PASCHAL TRIDUUM

Holy Thursday
Good Friday
Easter Vigil

EASTER SEASON

Easter Sunday

 

2nd Sunday after Easter
3rd Sunday
4th Sunday
5th Sunday
6th Sunday
Ascension Day

SEASON OF THE PENTECOST

Pentecost Sunday
Holy Trinity
Corpus Christy the Body & Blood of Christ
Feast of the Sacred Heart

 

 

Dear Friends of Canon Vincent Morris,

Two years have passed since the canon’s first book was launched. After a long pause I dipped into the treasure trove once more and began putting together a selection of his homilies for Year C which is now upon us. This time it is a humbler target of script only which is attached. Also, it is coming in two instalments. The present attachment covers the first half of the year, to the season of Pentecost. By Easter or so, all being well, the second half to the end of the year should be ready.

Like last time, it is worth remembering that these pieces were first recorded for spoken not written delivery. I have tried to be true to the canon’s turn of phrase, punctuation and style of communication. This time I have kept closely to the script even when examples given may now be out of date. No doubt your memory will be jogged. Time moves on while vision and values endure.

Since this is for private circulation only, I did not source authors of stories relayed here. I presume authors’ permission and will acknowledge them in future publications if I get to know who they are.

To all relatives, brother-priests, sisters, colleagues and friends of Canon Morris, I hope this collection, in bringing his memory to life, will enable his wisdom to live on and touch your lives in ways you never dreamt of. May his words, born out of long pondering in the heart, continue to inspire, encourage and challenge us all.

 

Sr. Joan Mc Manus ( Editor)

Through the Liturgical Year, Cycle C

with

Canon Vincent Morris D.D. Castleblayney

( 1926 – 2009)

 

ADVENT

1st Sunday of Advent

Today we begin the Church’s year – a new year, and it always starts with Advent – the Coming. It’s a time when we’re called to action – to wake up, to be alert, to get ourselves ready for the coming.

The story is told of Satan holding a workshop with apprentice devils. He asks them for suggestions to increase the population of Hell. One suggests – Persuade them there is no God.  Useless, says Satan – we tried that for 70 years in Russia and when the churches are allowed to open what happens? – the mugs crowd in.

Number 2 says – Persuade them there is no Hell.

No good, says Satan, they have experienced already Hell on earth – in the camps of Dachau, Belsen etc. – in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, even in a mild way in Ireland by killers, and anyway even the dumbest of them can see that a serial unrepentant killer is not going to the same place as a Mother Teresa. So that’s out.

Number 3 said slowly:  Persuade them there is no hurry.  Satan smiles and pencils him in for quick promotion.

There is no hurry. Life stretches out before me. Thank God I’m in the pink, I’m in the whole of my health, I have years to enjoy myself, to have a good time. Like in the days before the Flood – eating and drinking and making merry. What’s the rush, where’s the hurry? I’ll have time for God and for prayer when I retire, when I get old, when I know that my days are numbered. There is no hurry – God doesn’t mind waiting.

And we remember the wealthy man in the gospel: his barns weren’t big enough; he’d level them and make bigger ones and enjoy his wealth. Fool – this night the demand for your soul will be made.

There is no hurry. How easily you and I can be lulled into a sense of false security. There is plenty of time – maybe at the next Mission, maybe I’ll make a pilgrimage to Lough Derg or somewhere, maybe when the new century comes in – remarkable all the things that are going to happen in the 21st century.  Manāna is a great Spanish word that sums it up. Tomorrow will see to it – next year, next Easter, next….

And the whole point of Advent is to be awake, to be alert, zero hour has come, the axe is laid to the root of the tree – all strong language impressing on us not to dally or delay – to get rid of the no hurry syndrome and get ready for the coming of the Lord.

It has been wonderfully well said – At death the veil is simply drawn back and we see that the Lord has been there all the time. That’s what we see. But what does he see? Someone who is totally taken by surprise, someone who has to say, Lord I made a terrible mistake – I thought there was no hurry – I thought I’d get plenty of time to prepare for our meeting and to let you know how much I love you.  I thought I’d get plenty of years ahead of me but now I discover I was deaf to all your warnings and pleas.

So let this Advent make a difference. If there is a big barrier between the Lord and myself I’ll deal with it; if I have been blocking God’s grace by carelessness, negligence, constant sin, I’ll take steps to remedy it. I simply cannot afford not to be friend to the Jesus who loved me enough to die for me. I must heed the solemn warnings dished out to me at advent. Who but the Lord knows if there will be another Advent for me?

 

2nd Sunday of Advent

The problem for Advent as for Lent is, how do we change?  We all know that we need to change. We will admit there are things to be set right, but then, like St. Augustine, my only answers are those dreary answers: soon, soon, presently, presently, or  leave me alone for a little while.  But mypresently’ came to no present and my little while lasted a long time.  None of us is easily changed.

Today’s Readings approach the task in an interesting way: they invite us to imagine the best and then act accordingly. The old prophet Baruch asks the people to change their wardrobe, get rid of the robes of sorrow and distress and wrap the cloak of God’s integrity around them. Things are going to look up so get dressed for the new ways.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians does the same; he compliments and praises the people for helping him in his work, assures them of his love and invites them to get ready for that day ‘when you will reach perfect goodness’.

And John the Baptist, that man of blood and thunder is telling anyone round the Jordan that will listen to him about the great day to come when all mankind will see the salvation of God.

That’s a change from the usual treatment we get. In this season of sore backs not many are hurting from being clapped too often. How seldom the gracious word escapes our lips – a lovely job you did, a beautiful meal, a lovely arrangement of flowers, how did you manage to do such a nice job on the car, the lawn, the house? No, but the complaints come thick and fast and straight – As the grieving girl put it to her father – No, we never talk; you just lecture me and look very pleased with yourself when you do.

In olden days we got the same treatment from the pulpit. We were battered and condemned – sinners to our fingernails, all headed for damnation. We were assured we were beyond redemption, it was made clear to us we were stupid, didn’t know what was good for us and the result was really to paralyse us instead of making us take action.

None of our Readings today take that line – they don’t daunt us with the bare truth that might make us helpless. No – they all give voice to hope, telling us to change our ways and grow because good things will come of it.  So we are to imagine the best in God and in ourselves.

The reason is people begin to change when encouraged to see the best of themselves and not when asked to dwell on the worst in themselves, enclosed in their own weakness and staring at their own mistakes.

We all need help and encouragement to get out of familiar ways that have become destructive. We need the clap on the back the footballer gets – go on, you can do it. We need to call out the best in each other as Paul does with his converts, and congratulate and rejoice with people when they do change for the better.

Maybe that’s the Advent and Christmas task – to give each other encouragement, to do it in a simple, practical way – to see the efforts the other is making and give praise – to leave the harsh criticism to one side, to help carry the other. As a watcher observed at a sad funeral when so many were willing to carry the coffin – if only a few had carried him while he was alive, how much easier his life would have been.

So we will carry them when alive. We’ll give sore backs all round with clapping them and marvellously we shall all change a bit for the better.
 

3rd Sunday  of Advent

This is Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday. The second reading tells to be happy, always happy in the Lord. Maybe it’s the time to look at why we should rejoice.

For the Jews the great Exodus was the answer. This is the story of the journey from the slavery of the Pharaoh in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.

The human journey is a similar one, individually and communally.  We face our own walls of sea on each side, slippery ground under our feet and Pharaoh and his chariot charging behind. We need to keep moving step by step to where the Pillar of Fire is guiding us. And the greatest fear is not the lightning on the walls of the sea but the pharaoh inside us, re-echoing voices louder than any outside noise: you’ll never make it; where do you think you’re going?  What makes you think God will help you? Who do you think you are? Go back to where you belong.

What courage and strength it takes to withstand that pharaoh inside? A deep breath – on we go. Shut up you; God values me; his light guides me, the ground will hold me up. And I’ll walk to where God leads me – a place where there is respect and meaning and real caring. I’ll let go of fear and I’ll never go back to bondage and being a slave again.

That’s got to be one of the greatest joys of life – to be liberated from fear – from the voice of the pharaoh inside us which is the voice of anyone who puts us down. How many today can’t rejoice because inner voices won’t let them? What voices? The voices that tell me I’m stupid, or ugly or no good, that I’ll never go anywhere in life, that ignored me and lavished praise on the intelligent brother or sister, that ridiculed me, made fun of my defects – ears too big, nose too long, four eyes, brain slow, no use at games.

Voices can mock our efforts at good Christian living – mocking you for being a goody goody. Do you think God is really bothered about you, ignorant and bad-mannered as you are – the hopeless family you belonged in? Voices that should have spoken the desperately-needed words of praise and encouragement – that never said; I love you, child.

Yes, so many voices re-echoing in many ways – you’ll never be free; you’ll never amount to anything. These are the pharaoh voices – voices that hold us in a vice-like grip of slavery. What a joy to be liberated from such voices!

So on ‘Rejoice’ Sunday can we do anything to help such liberation?  Of course we can. We are a community that cares. And we have a Lord who loved enough to die for us. So we can remind people, tell them they are good, are indeed in the image and likeness of God and so worthy of respect, not shame.

Surely the greatest crime is to trample on God’s image and it’s something we should never do. Maybe with Christmas in our sight we’ll pick up someone in need – give them a phone-call, a Christmas present, a card – little things that say: I see you and what’s more, Jesus sees you and he likes what he sees.  And so, liberated by a new voice, they will begin to rejoice.

 

4th Sunday of Advent

With the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle winding down, it is time to stand back and look at the heart of it. And that’s what the two women in today’s gospel, Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, are talking about – what Paul calls the mystery kept secret for endless ages.

A secret is a difficult thing. So many of us burst with curiosity to discover another’s secret – yet once a secret is out its value drops – a secret that everyone knows has no value. So we are all careful when and to whom we reveal a secret. We weigh up the ability of the other to handle it sensitively so that neither the secret nor my trust is abused. For us all a secret is a precious thing that we are not prepared to put on the airwaves.

God’s secret, like every precious secret, was a deep truth about himself. It was that his love for us, his children, is so intense that he now was asking his beloved Son to become one of us, to live our kind of life, in such a way that we qualify for God’s company both in this life and after death. This was the marvellous secret that God kept to himself for endless ages.

When it was time to reveal it, God did what you and I might do – find the right person, able to handle it for the precious thing it is. And Mary was the choice, the perfect choice. There wasn’t the slightest chance that she would laugh at it or rush out into the street shouting -you’d never guess what happened to me. No, as Luke often reminds us: she pondered these things in her heart, and now she goes off to share with another who will understand and advise.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a full record of the meeting of these two holy women? Surely puzzled – why did God choose me? What task has he in mind for these two sons of ours? How do we best prepare our children for the task God has planned for them? How best do we serve God and carry out his will?  This God who has so favoured us with gifts and pours out such abundant love in all his people!

Mary would give the result of her pondering to Elizabeth, how important it is to trust God – what the angel told her and what she said to the angel – how difficult things were until God himself brought Joseph into the secret. Elizabeth too would marvel at how she and Zechariah at their age could have a baby and how important it is to trust God and let God be God and have his way.

In their pondering they would return again and again to what the secret involved. It meant not only that God wants to become one of us but that also he wants us to become like him.

That surely is what Christmas is all about. That he wants each one of us to resemble the Son he sends to earth – that he wants us to trust him; to surrender to him in our life and be the kind of person He wants me to be – to be able to repeat with Mary: behold the handmaid of the Lord – be it done unto me according to thy word.

 

Advent is supposed to help us find out how much we fail in this way, how deep-seated in us is our selfishness, our pushing for our own way, how self-righteous we can be – so quick to condemn others that maybe are far ahead of us in their love for God. The one obstacle to our friendship with God is sin – and how blasé we are about sin. In our Penitential Service tonight we could do a bit of real digging and see how far away from God we really have drifted – careless and lax we may have become as we don’t do any pondering in our heart – drift, and don’t ask awkward questions about our attitude to God, his worship, his laws, our attitude to neighbour or to our own destiny. How important in my life is God’s secret? Maybe in the few days left before Christmas we may give some time to God’s secret.

God so loved the world as to give his own Son. If I allowed this reality to sink in what a happy peaceful Christmas would be mine!
 

The Advent Prophet: John the Baptist

It is interesting to see how St. John tells the story of the Baptist compared to the other evangelists. For example in John there is no picture of the ascetic Baptist, in his cloak of camel hair, feeding on locusts and wild honey. None of the punitive words to confront religious bodies, no sending of disciples to enquire if Jesus is the Messiah. In fact all the time, as John tells it, the Baptist speaks only about Jesus and reveals to others the mystery of his person: I am the witness that he is the chosen one of God.

The reason for this approach is of interest to us who in our own days have seen the growth of a number of cults and sects that are appealing for our attention alongside the major religions. We can appreciate the longing and need of many people to belong to something that is greater than the wage-packet. When people speak of cults they usually refer to unorthodox religion or to the excessive admiration of an individual person. Most cults are movements that at one time or another broke away from mainstream religion; they often come from the supposed failure of these religions to meet the personal needs of dissatisfied individuals. Because of this, cults are usually taken as a critical challenge to institutional religion.

It is worth noting that in its very early days the Christian movement or way as it was usually termed was mostly regarded as an eccentric cult focussing on Jesus. And one of the problems the early church had to face was the Baptist sect who believed John the Baptist was the messiah. Their argument was two-fold. The Baptist was prior to Jesus, so superior; secondly, Jesus submitted to John’s baptism of repentance as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel. Faced with this, the early church had to make clear its own position on the Baptist.

The evangelist puts the Baptist in his proper place, puts him in his box if you want to put it that way. Does priority mean superiority? So the evangelist tells us Jesus is superior because he pre-existed the Baptist: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. And notice that the 4th gospel drops the account of Jesus’ baptism and simply has the Baptist interpreting the meaning of that event by affirming that the Spirit of God rests on Jesus.

All the time in this 4th gospel the Baptist is pointing to Jesus. He protests he is not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet. His whole function is to highlight the Great One to come.  He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light. Indeed in this gospel the Baptist has a unique role: he is the first Christian witness, the first person who leads others to Jesus whom he clearly identifies as the Messiah.

St. John really is the first in a long line of witnesses who give testimony to the truth about Jesus. Later in the gospel Jesus tells the disciples that when they receive the Spirit of Truth: you too will be my witnesses.

And that charge is placed on each one of us. We have all been baptised in the Spirit; we have all been called to witness to Jesus. We are asked to point away from ourselves to Jesus; we are challenged to lead others to the person of Jesus.

Of course the ideal way to fulfil that task is through our own personal, genuine attachment to the Lord. Many people need help to come to Jesus; none of us comes to him alone. If only we had the courage to speak about Jesus to each other. People are generally moved only when others share with them what really matters in their lives; remarkable we all get hesitant when we come to speak of real religion. We get so inhibited lest we seem to be preachy, or to be goody-goody – and so we waffle on, be it in times of trouble or bereavement, about matters of no moment like the weather or the price of cattle. I’m not going to be caught wearing my heart on my sleeve. Perhaps we have lost the courage to say any more what matters to us; perhaps we doubt if anyone cares.

The two Johns – the Evangelist and the Baptist – might help us to get back our courage and share what we believe. As Cardinal Newman put it – we know that we believe because we love. In the power of that love let us share that power with one another.

 

CHRISTMAS SEASON

 Christmas  – Midnight Mass

We oldies can often be correctly accused of forgetting, even important things. Guilty! But we don’t stand alone. It’s a universal failing especially about the meaning of Christmas. Some say it’s a time for bringing family together – not a word about Jesus. Even when he does come into it – we focus on the wrong things – the soft sentimental stuff – baby, so appealing, animals, gentle etc. Not many now know the message of scripture and tradition – we have forgotten the word at the heart of it.

What is this word? It’s a shocking word. Not sweetness, gentleness, softness. No; Passion. What we have is raw unmixed passion. Sure there is the cuddly baby but behind this there is more, behind the tenderness is a fierce and passionate God. The whole heart of the feast is God’s tremendous love for us – the commitment not to leave us abandoned, in deep darkness, in a land of deep shadow as the first reading has it.

The message of the Christ – Child is found in the conversation of Gabriel and Mary. You shall call his name Jesus and he shall be known as Emmanuel, God with us. John’s Gospel has it – the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

Why, why, why does God want to dwell with us? Simply – love – union – to be with the beloved. So, whatever name we put on it, God has a passion for us. So focus not on a sweet seductive baby but on an active, desiring God. Christmas tells about the drive in God to be with us, to pitch his tent among us.

William Bausch tells a story of a one-year-baby boy, Eric, on a journey of 400 miles to Los Angeles with his parents on Christmas night. At a café stop at King’s City the baby falls for an old dishevelled-looking tramp, one of the few in the place. Eric comes to life and engages in baby-talk with this bum, much to the embarrassment of his mother when the father went to pay the bill.  She made a bee-line to the door, sidestepping to avoid the bum. But no, Eric almost leapt out of her arms into the arms of the bum – suddenly a very old man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship, as a petrified mother looked on. Then in a firm voice: You take care of this baby, and ever so gently dislodged Eric – God bless you, ma’am; you have made my Christmas. Denis, her husband, when she got to the car, did not understand her tears and her cry: My God forgive me.

This story points to the real meaning of Christmas. Simply put, Eric is God. The bum is us – I and you. Eric is God’s yearning and passion for us tattered bums, with our tattered life, hurts, relationships, sins. Eric has two arms determined, despite everything, to hug us. Eric is the fierce little baby who makes no distinctions but would embrace the least likely – people like myself – you too maybe. The Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us.

That’s what Christmas is about. Forget the commercialism: cash, gifts, presents. It’s a very unrelenting kind of celebration – not soft, not sweet baby Jesus. Christmas is Eric on the loose. Not a cooing baby in the manger but love, searching for a return. And when everything else is stripped away that’s why we have Christmas

Let us get it clear. If God, Emmanuel is not with us, if God hasn’t embraced my tattered life and yours, woe betide us. There is no hope. And the people who walked in darkness would be left there.  No great light – only darkness and despair. And what would we be doing here in Church – sociology, an empty routine, a night of sentimentality with a baby?  But if we are here because of love, aware of God’s tremendous love – we are like the rag-tag shepherds of Christmas night. If we come to kneel, to  rejoice, to celebrate that so powerful, even terrifying love of our God, then we have the message correct. Emmanuel, that passionate God, has won us and hugged us fiercely. That’s Christmas – and so the message and greeting is tremendously simple.

A merry, passionate Christmas to everyone in our parish – the jealous love of the Lord Our God will make our day.

 

 

The Gift of Christmas [Day Mass]

Really the heart of Christmas should be an exchange of gifts between a Father and his loving family. God gives to us the best thing he has – indeed everything he has. The question is: what return do we make?

Let us look at what God gives.  He gives us life, health, shelter, food, everything the good earth can supply: indeed enough for everyone if only we could learn to share. Everything we have is gift – a lovely token of love from a doting father.

In return he would like us to come every Sunday with our gift. And the big thing we bring with us is ourselves. The sad thing is so many fail to see this and they arrive even at Christmas to the stable door with empty hands and empty hearts.

What God would love is that we should bring ourselves – all of us – every Sunday: our bodies to worship: rising, sitting, kneeling, genuflecting; our senses: eyes to watch what’s happening on the altar, ears to hear his Word, our voices to speak out and sing out the responses, our mind and heart: to believe with a deep faith, to love with a full heart and surrender of our lives to God. Even our money is important – we give and we share.

So on a Sunday we bring all we are – good parents, good children, good works we did all week. And we bring too our brokenness – those mistakes we make, those stupid things we do – those failures in love – and we humbly put those in for healing. God looks kindly on all we bring – which is represented by the bread and wine we offer – that are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ which again we offer to that loving Father.

So the Mass is a two-way giving: the Father out of love giving wonderful gifts: of grace, truth, light, courage, strength, love, all given to us in that wonderful Son – we returning to God all we have and are – our bodies, our spirits, our love, our little sacrifices, our mistakes repented of, our prayer. The sad thing is that some give so little – hardly taking the time to be there; give little or no attention, spend time talking and being distracted, look on it as a rush job to be quickly got over, lack interest or enthusiasm and so miss a wonderful chance to give a precious gift to a loving Father.

The story is told in a modern novel about a young woman on a cruise. She met an odd priest [ all priests are a bit odd!]  who put this question  to her:- How much longer are you going to go on like this, shutting the door against God? Listen. Shall you come back when it is taken out of your hands – when you have nothing to offer God but a burnt out fire? and a fag end? Oh! He’ll take it; he’ll take anything we offer. It is you who will be impoverished forever by so poor a gift!

Isn’t it sad that so many have to wait until that stage – when they have hardly any choice about it – to give a gift to God. Marvellous to see children giving themselves when young. Today as you [children] bring your parcel to give, make sure that you tell God you want to give him everything because He is such a loving friend that He gave you everything.

 

 

Sunday after Christmas : Holy Family

It’s important in our day to take a long look at Family Life as lived by the real experts at the job – Joseph, Mary and God himself, Jesus. We now know that it took a long time to realise and believe that by destroying rain forests, using motor cars with highly leaded fuels, building factories and toxic [poisonous] emissions – we were destroying the ecosystem within which we live and breathe. Now we know to our cost!

But it’s harder to realise and believe that by destabilizing marriage, accepting as ordinary, casual sex, serial relationships, divorce and single parenthood as norms, we are rapidly destroying the social structures on which humanity depends – I’m afraid our liberal attitudes have that result.

Let us look first of all at how marriage can be and was for the Holy Family. On a visit we’d meet Joseph, a workman who carried so much of the problems of the marriage – the strange pregnancy and what might have been the consequences for their marriage, the census when they had to travel to Bethlehem at an awkward time, the birth in a stable, the need to flee to Egypt. Joseph had to arrange so much of this – and not a word of his is recorded, not even a complaint – surely a record from the man of the house.

Then Mary – her life thrown into confusion by God’s request for her to mother His Son on his coming among us. And how do you manage to rear a child that is God? Some of us as humans are problem enough, but how do you cope with a divine child? And for both Joseph and Mary, how to accept that it is a normal ordinary thing to nurture and rear this special child.

Familiar matter in so many ways? Children are among the most vulnerable members of society.  How we treat them is one of the best guides of the kind of people we are.  And what they have suffered in scandals – and apart from that they don’t fare too well in our affluent world. They have less of their parents’ attention and time, less security than in our early days and a vast amount of research tells us the cost – they are more prone to depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and crime, than we knew.

As one who opted out of marriage and family at ordination, it ill-behoves me to make rules for others, but I think, on the Feast of the Holy Family, it’s wise for all to check our life-style. All sorts of families now go to make up the definition of family – same-sex unions now legitimate in some countries, and on grounds of so-called equality very liable to arrive here.

We have a lot of thinking to do on these matters and it’s up to families to make their views known and respected.

Devotion to the Holy Family is one way to show our concern. Look at how Mary and Joseph met the problems in their life.  Ask them to show us how to manage our concerns – because really and truly the meaning and reality of the family is at stake.

 

 

New Year’s Day – Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.

They found Mary and Joseph and the babe…when the 8th day came they gave him the name Jesus  (Luke 2: 16-21)

What this feast is all about is the power of God’s love. At times when we are honest we can get very depressed  when we try to mend our ways. We try this tip or that technique to beat an undue addiction to drink, smoking or any other undesirable habit. We have flaws and cracks in our nature that pull us down and make us misbehave in all sorts of ways. We get trapped in habits of sin – theft, anger, lust, bullying, selfishness of all sorts – and our efforts to break free end in miserable failure. We learn the hard way that we cannot pull ourselves up by our own shoelaces. And we might end up wondering is it worth even trying: we might reach the stage where our new year’s resolution is to make no resolution as it wouldn’t work.

 

 

Second Sunday after Christmas

Christmas has come and gone. Another year has started and if the past ones are anything to go by it will run in quickly too. Nearly 2000 years since the Word became flesh. And there is a remarkable resemblance between the world then and the world now.

He dwelt among us. Literally, he pitched his tent among us. God’s Son came on earth and his lot was that of a tent-dweller – a person with no fixed address and with minimum of property, always moving on. A tent-dweller pitches camp at evening at the edge of a field and early next morning has to move on at the insistence of the field’s owner angered by such trespassing. Christ when he dwelt among us had nowhere to lay his head. From the day of his birth there was no room at the inn.

Is there any more room for him in our world? If anything, evil seems to have a tighter grip on the world now. Greed is rampant. Rich countries refuse justice to the poorer ones; injustice is world-wide – the weak go to the wall. Violence is universal, with our own country well up the charts. Respect for life is so low. God is mocked; his laws trampled on, his poor treated abominably.

Why did the Word – the God who made the world – not change things? He is not a light that dazzles. He is the true light. Motorists driving at night with full headlights only blind one-another. The true light can be followed; it blinds nobody. It gently enters into people, it penetrates their joys and sorrows, their occupations, their daily round.

Despite the appearance there is good news. The Word has become flesh, he dwells among us; in his risen state he is in our world, gradually like a true light getting people to see the real state of things, to see their selfishness, to change their ways.

The big thing is that he has given us the power to become children of God. He doesn’t force – he stands and knocks. He knocks at the door of each heart – offers the true light to every child of the Father, offers the gift of his Father’s love to each one of us – a love that can change our lives and make us into what we ought to be.

The decision is ours. As Mary was offered the choice at the Annunciation, so each of us gets the choice.  The advantages of saying yes are: [1] Peace in our hearts – right with God, with a new outlook on things and [2] Peace in our homes – not merely the absence of quarrelling that can so disfigure Christmas – but tremendous new power throbbing through our lives when we see things in God’s light. [3] Peace with self and all world – we see in light of the Word that we must cut down on our selfishness and give to others the space to grow and their fair share of God’s lovely world.

Prayer: Open our hearts and minds to your light – to grasp the truth that the Word became flesh and dwells with us, walks with us in sorrows and in joys, takes our hand in pain and sickness and leads us along dark roads which only his light can make clear.

 

 

Epiphany

Epiphany is a strange word. What does it mean? A showing, a direction for our search. And search is the word we’ll stay with.

Scripture tells us that’s a search everyone has to make. Luke focuses on poor shepherds, Matthew on rich and learned kings whom we call magi.

Who were the magi? Three searchers who didn’t find the answer to life in their horoscopes but made a long and difficult journey in search of the Christ. It’s important to look at their decision.

To help us Scripture tells us there were two sets of experts. The first were those wise men with charming names – Gaspor, Melchior, Balthaser. But there was a second group – the experts Herod called in. He told them – I’ve got a problem. People talk about the birth of a Messiah – where is he to be born? They know the answer to that. In Bethlehem of Judea. And that’s all we hear about them. Why no more? Like so many – in complete contrast to the magi, their hearts didn’t follow their heads. They gave lip-service – you know how many will say – Oh this religion business – I’ll look into it some day; I’ll try to figure out life’s meaning – some day. I’ll be kinder and more forgiving – some day. So this group went no further with the question, took no risk. And of course, had they searched there was risk. Suppose they made the journey and found the messiah, what changes there would have to be in their lives! But no, it was easier to talk about it and do nothing.

The Magi – they took the risk, a risk of searching – what might they learn? A risk of the journey – whom would they meet and what might they find? And as we know they found the Messiah.

Now this Gospel is challenging us. Which group of experts are you going to choose? Those who play it safe, talk, but do nothing? Or those who take the risk? Those who sit around and talk about becoming closer to God, making some thing worthwhile of their lives?  Or those who get up and do something about it?

So the question tonight – What about you and me – where do we fit into the gospel story about the searching?

(a)   The first thing to say is that we are part of a community – a caravan.  In sense of numbers together – that is a great bonus to start with. This is a journey impossible to make on my own – we all need each other’s wisdom, balance and encouragement.

(b)   The fact that we are all on a common journey makes us realise that we are in different spaces on that journey. Some are way out in front; some are at the rear. Some are very willing, some are dragging their feet – needing almost to be pushed along.  Some journey with great certainty – they have found Jesus and are very content to walk along with him. Others carry great doubts. They are struggling with very deep questions of sickness and death and hurt – broken relationships – terribly difficult questions – things that say there can’t be a God if God is the one who allows babies to be born with AIDS or cancer etc.

In the caravan – convoy – we have veterans as well as those who are newcomers to the group. It’s hardly important where we are in the caravan. What is important is that we are making the journey. That means we have listened to the gospel and are taking the risk. The search is on and because Jesus is the target He will see to it that we will find what we’re looking for.

Those of us who are so certain can encourage and support those who are struggling with doubts – doubts about faith, about whether there is a God, about what life is all about  – about this love God keeps talking about. And those who are fully committed can be an example and a sign to those of us who may be half-hearted and lukewarm.

So I would like that we all would see Epiphany as a feast-day of Hope. People, parishioners give the priest hope as I like to think that I do for you. You give me courage – help my faith when it could almost despair at the problems that are in our world.

When you look round the congregation – the caravan – you have children, you have seniors, even octogenarians, students, middle-aged people – all sorts. We have people of great virtues, people of extraordinary generosity and people maybe loaded with vices. No matter. Each one of us is part of the caravan, each is journeying, each is engaged in the search.  This is Epiphany – time of Promise. And that promise or that search will reach the goal/target of the journey – that means we too will look into the face of Jesus the Messiah.

 

Baptism

Today as we baptise a young baby we shall keep to the Readings’ description. There is a wonderful way God describes His action. A seed is planted, ever so tiny, just as it was, planted in you and me and it grows throughout our lives be they long or short. The mustard seed is the Lord’s own example. I have never seen one – very small – and tree that results is very, very tall.

That seed is growing away in us. How, we not know? None of us can see what is happening in ourselves – how we are growing in the likeness of Christ. I imagine that in most of us that likeness is not recognisable except to his own sharp eyes. In a way it is comforting to know that we have nothing to do with that growth. Try as I may I cannot produce even a tiny degree of holiness – just as a farmer cannot make a thing grow, however hard he tries.

That doesn’t mean the farmer and I have no role to play. The farmer has no control over growth but if he doesn’t look after the plot, cut back the weeds, ensure the conditions for growth, then the good plant is choked – if the farmer doesn’t attend to it there will be no worthwhile crop.

So with my role. I have no control over the growth but I have very much to say about the conditions – if I let weeds go unchecked, if I let bad habits and lack of discipline invade my life then the growth is choked. The Lord does the big job but he won’t save you or me without co-operation. I cannot produce one grain of holiness but I have to act as if all depended on me.

Now that’s important for all of us. What have I made of my baptism? Nothing is asked of me when small – parents make decisions, but when I reach the age of making decisions then it all depends on me. I can encourage this seed of life by prayer, by Holy Communion, by obeying God – and so become more and more like God while I live here: or I can neglect the whole lot, live as if it didn’t matter and go on my way until the end.

Then as Paul says : the truth about us will be brought into the law court of Christ. There will be no hiding, no bluffing, no pretence. All will be made clear and each of us will get what he/she deserves for the things he/she did, good or bad.

That’s where it will all be settled – and no unfairness to anybody. Rank, status, money, influence – none of these count there. Every effort we make will be measured accurately and the decision given with God’s accuracy.

So as we see this child start off on that road I have my questions to answer: is there much to be corrected or changed in my life, what place has prayer, what value on Christ’s Body and Blood? Am I managing nicely without God or maybe I think I am? Remember God does his part – he plants the seed and makes it grow: now it’s up to me and each makes that decision for one’s self. Pray today that we decide wisely.

 

PRE-LENT         

 ( Date of Easter determines the number of Sundays in this section)

 

2nd Sunday

The Marriage Feast of Cana

I suppose the most famous marriage feast of all time took place in the insignificant place called Cana of Galilee. On the face of it it’s a simple story. Two young natives are getting married. Invitations go out. Mary is asked. Probably on her account the son is asked and he brings along his friends. Indeed that may well have been part of the reason why the wine ran out!

Mary is one of the first to notice the situation. What an embarrassment it will be to the young couple – talk of the country – couldn’t even give you a decent drink at their wedding! Mary’s action is interesting. She makes no request – merely states a fact: they have no wine. Our Lord’s answer sounds rough, even harsh: What’s that to me? Yet something in his answer alerted her –she doesn’t know what he’ll do but he’ll do something – so, Do whatever he tells you! We know the result – an abundance of wine, and a joke from the head-waiter – best wine to the last.

Now why is this rather homely event – a wedding in an obscure village – worthy of being recorded as Christ’s first miracle? A number of reasons:

[1] The whole time-scale of the redemption of the world has to be advanced – and for what reason? To relieve a bit of embarrassment – God’s kindness and willingness to help.

[2 Power and influence of Mary. At her word God does this tremendous thing – as soon as she states the case.

A whole world is opened up for us. Mary shows us how to come to God and seek what we want. It’s all there for the asking.

There is one condition. Mary states it quite clearly – do what he tells you. That’s the secret of Mary’s own influence – her willingness always to obey God, to carry out his will in everything. That secret she now shares with us. Go along with God’s will; try to carry it out in your life. Be willing to always obey God as best you can, and that gives God the chance he’s always waiting for - to heap graces and favours on all his children.

When we claim: I prayed; made a novena , and God doesn’t listen to me – check back on that condition.  Am I prepared to do God’s will – to let God be God – even accept the assurance that he knows best and not be trying to meddle in things beyond me? God always does what’s best for us – we try to accept that.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all is how much God is at home in the ordinary, earthy things of life. We search for God in the places we think he should be – in the churchy things, the pious things, the so-called holy things. But here is Christ in the very ordinary setting of a wedding party, a celebration where people let their hair down and enjoy themselves. Obviously he approved, he didn’t sit in a corner wishing the whole thing was over, he didn’t order them to close down the celebrations when the wine was running low and maybe some of the guests were getting too gabby as they can do at a marriage celebration. No, he took his part and when the need arose he did the neighbourly thing and quietly put his power to work to relieve the young couple’s possible embarrassment. Sparing enough in performing miracles – yet no hesitation in this one, I think Our Lord is here canonising the ordinary things and events of life. There is the place we find him first. Sure we come to church to honour God and please God because he has told us so – but he is also telling us to search for him in our homes, in our work, in our neighbourly deeds and celebrations. If we neglect him there, the odds are that we won’t find him anywhere.

So - do as he tells us, is the formula for running our ordinary lives. Try to obey him in our homes – attentive to partner, to children, to parents; try to carry out his will in our work, our dealings with others in justice and charity – in the neighbourly help and support we can give to those around us. Then I’ m much more likely to find him in the holy and pious things.

God walks among the pots and pans. We forget it at our peril.

 

3rd Sunday

Regularly we hear complaints about the Sunday sermon. There is nothing in it for me – the priest on his usual hobbyhorse. If only I knew what God wanted from me - if only I heard the Lord put something to me firmly and simply, I’d know that was the sure way to God.

So today we have Our Lord’s first ever sermon, and it’s worth delaying over.  Imagine you were in that synagogue as one of the congregation. What did they expect? Surely they expected to be told about the Law – the need to observe every detail; they surely thought this young rabbi would praise them as God’s chosen people, as people who had a special link with God, people who had a very special place to themselves, and other people were of no account.

That’s what they could reasonably expect from the new preacher. But what in fact did they get? They got a text from Isaiah stressing God’s care for his people, and part of that was very shocking. They were told to put non-religious values [ care of distressed] before religious values, and toughest of all to swallow they were told God wants it that way.

Now of course Jesus the Word of God puts into effect God’s Word and so he lives out what he has preached. In his life there was considerable selection of sick, mourners, deprived, sinners, poor of all sorts – there was a one-sided choice of those that put him on a deliberate collision course with all the religious leaders of the time and led eventually to his death.

So are we listening? What is religion to me? – a cosy little relationship with God – I say my prayers, fulfil my duties as suits and when I’m dead they’ll say – God love him, he did no harm to anybody except himself!

Christ spells it out in no uncertain way: Be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate – he has an undiscriminating love for all – the bums and layabouts, the wayfarers and strays, the abused, the oppressed. It means you reach out and care, even – maybe especially, when it costs – that you take your stand against injustice – maybe as the Lord did have to fight the establishment for justice.

For Jesus these things came first – they put the stamp of genuineness and sincerity on human life because God wants it that way. There is no use in giving to God in our private capacity if we don’t care about those he is proud to call his brothers and sisters. It was the covenant in the past to distinguish between spiritual and non-spiritual works.  That partition has to be broken down. We must see to basic human values – to see people as the image of God – bruised at times and dented but still God’s image and likeness. They have to be treated with dignity – fed, clothed and housed as befits human beings – and that means an every day must; we cannot just be nice to nice people.

Jesus lays it on the line – that’s the way to follow him. You cannot pick and choose your own road. Of course it costs – it cost him his life – it may cost us a lot in time and money. But to think there is an alternative is to fool yourself. As John puts it: if you do not love the neighbour you can see, how can you love God whom you cannot see?

 

 

4th Sunday

Try and picture yourself in the synagogue on that Sabbath. The young rabbi had made a reputation for himself as one who could preach and one who could heal. And the first reaction was positive – we are told he won their approval and they were impressed by his gracious words.

But as in all communities the begrudgers were there. Can’t we picture the sneer and the snigger when someone shouts – isn’t he Joseph’s son? He’s one of the carpenter family – you know the outfit with the motto – our yokes are easy, our burdens light. Sure he was a good carpenter, very tasty in his work but how does that give him the right to become a preacher? Who does he think he is?  – why, we know the whole outfit, seed, breed and generation.

Jesus puts in a little defence – physician heal yourself, and of course they demand that he work miracles here.  After all you did them in Capernaum – aren’t we entitled to have some in your home town?

Jesus’ commented – no prophet is  accepted in his own country. And up comes the name of Elijah – interesting that he was driven out of his home place – and his miracle wasn’t done at home but for a Gentile – the woman at Sidon, and Elisha, another great prophet, was involved with the leper from Egypt, Naaman. So then miracles were for foreigners.

And now the temperature is rising. What? He’s put himself on the same line as these great prophets – so the anger is growing, the mob instinct is let loose – all is needed is a spark, an outcry. And his own people are baying for his blood – give him the same treatment Elijah got. The violence is frightening – the jeers would be recalled in a few years when they would be repeated in Jeremiah. They pushed him up the hill – a foretaste of another hill (Calvary) where their violence would succeed. This time he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

O.K. You were there. What’s your reaction? Could you rightly complain that in words he used later – they know not what they do – how could they know he was God? Of course their actions and reactions were dreadful but a little pardon for their ignorance. God is puzzling – he is so fond of the ordinary.

God has this constant desire to be ordinary. Remember how in the Incarnation his son would be so ordinary – like us in all things except sin. His mother would do the ordinary things – loving him to bits exactly as all mothers do. And the word stamped all over the story is the word ORDINARY.

Again in his Sacraments ordinary things are used. In Baptism, with water and a few words a marvellous change is effected in a child – made a son/daughter of God. In Eucharist God’s priest says a few words over bread and wine.  Ordinary food and drink become the Body and Blood of Christ. A few words of Absolution in a dark Confessional and the gravest sin can fall away. God so ordinary – no spectacular stuff.

The Message there is important – God wants us to use the ordinary life we have to reach him in Eternal Life. Just do the normal jobs with faith and love, lead an ordinary honest life and come to him. Indeed you haven’t even to be honest. Remember the Good Thief. In the desperate situation of being crucified – in concentrated mind he grasps something of faith  and utters: Remember me. I can’t ask for much as I’m the thief, paying the penalty – but think of us now and then.

And the angels must have been flabbergasted at the response: This day you will be with me in paradise.

Here is a good thief who stole the only thing worth stealing – his way into heaven. It’s not advisable to leave it so late, but his method was ideal – humble and prayerful.  Remember me, remember us, ordinary mortals, nothing spectacular, but your brothers and sisters trying to love you.

 

 

5th Sunday

Hindsight, the cynics tell us, is the clearest sight of all. But actually it can be a hindrance especially in reading the Gospel. Today is a good example. We know from later events that Peter, James and John were great men. James and Peter died for the Lord while John emerged miraculously from a cauldron of boiling oil. So we conclude that they must always have been gifted – very special people whom the Lord chose after weeding out lesser clients.

And that’s the mistake. It is important to state it clearly. No person ever created is more special or more valuable to God than another; we are all equally children of God and today’s readings make that clear. God calls each of us in different ways at different times. What happens afterwards depends on our response – and unfortunately there is often no response as we don’t even notice the call.

That’s important. Take Peter – weak, with a trigger-heated temper. He recognises this: Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man. But the Lord doesn’t leave him. Rather he pushes him out a bit – unwillingly into dark unchartered areas; and eventually, because Peter tries, he becomes a great man and an important saint.

Now the Lord’s call comes to each of us – to be a parent, to be a single person in the world, to be a priest or religious. Of course we are frightened at what God is asking of us – when we tell the truth we are weak, sinful and selfish. But when I answer: here I am, send me, God can take that weak, sinful person and use him/her to do his work and become close to him.

It’s our response that really counts. We can ignore God’s call, try to work our own way, set our sights on all sorts of gods that may be offensive to God – Here I am Lord, send me. I’ll do my best though I know that I’m not much.

Lent is a good time to have a think for ourselves. Where is my life at the moment – what kind of a fist am I making of my call – as parent, teacher, worker, priest, nun, whatever?

Perhaps we could reflect on that 1st reading from Isaiah. It gives a wonderful example – how the prophet became aware of the holiness of the great God and recognised his sinfulness. See how God treats him – lovely touch of cleansing his lips and then giving him his commission. From then onwards Isaiah was deeply impressed by the holiness of God.

Wouldn’t that be a good place to start – that we become aware of the immense holiness of God – the God who loves us and calls us to serve him. In his presence we are nothing – sinful, selfish, frightened. But he loves us and is prepared to cleanse us to take away our sins.

That’s the starting point – the holiness of God. We are so unworthy to come to him, to love him. Yet he calls and asks us to come – to come to worship in the Mass, to come to pray, to try and live just, pure lives and he assures us that he is always there to help us.

The 2nd Eucharistic Prayer has a little phrase I love – We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you.

For Lent let us try to stand in his presence – to get out to Mass as so many do each Lent, to try to love the God who reaches down to us, to try and stop every habit that comes between my God and me, to try to be generous to the needy. That’s the real way to serve him: of course we will make little sacrifices as best we can – but make them out of love for him.

Make that our Lenten prayer. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you.

 

LENT

 

Ash Wednesday

The gospel might be taken as encouraging us to have no outward sign of what is happening to us – praying, fasting, giving alms etc. Yet we mark the beginning of Lent in a very definite way. We put ashes on our forehead in the shape of a cross, reminding us that the grave is close and we are making our way to it.

The scripture is very definite that it shouldn’t be just an outward sign – in other words, if we are going to do no more than getting the ashes on it means nothing.

What we are encouraged to do is to come back to God with all our heart – to let the heart be broken. And here right at the start of Lent the emphasis is put on the centre – the heart – the state of the heart is what counts.

So really Lent is a long look at what is in the heart – how that heart is faring. It’s important to be clear on that. We are not going to be condemned or praised unduly for one simple act – we are not going to hell or to heaven because of one fall from or rise to grace. We will be measured by what we have made on all the graces and opportunities we get over our life-span.

So Lent may be the time that is crucial if we need to change direction – if we have been drifting, got careless and casual.  The Lord is saying : Repent – change direction – wake up to reality.

So this is the time for a real reconciliation with God – he knows what’s in that heart and is never wrong. Let us listen to him for Lent and take heed of his advice.

 

 

 

1st Sunday of Lent

For many of us Jesus is not real.  He just wafted through life, knew everything that was going to happen to him and he went through it all in a kind of play-acting – no real worry or hassle to him. Nonsense – he was like us in all things, except sin.

So today we see him tempted. Maybe the temptations would make no impression on us – we wouldn’t consider them equal to what happens to us when our blood is on the boil or our fingers get itchy for money, or whatever. So let us look at what the temptations really were.

Our Lord had come, sent by his Father, to rescue us, poor fish, from a terrible catastrophe. God’s plan for us had been dynamited by our ancestors – sin had come in. Now his Son came to put things right. And he begins his public life with a spell of 40 days of praying and fasting. Weakened and hungry he seems easy prey to the devil who begins a long campaign against him – and he always knows where to get at us. So he approaches the Lord with the simple, crude temptations to greed or sexuality which would trap most of us but with a very subtle plan: right, you want to draw people and teach them about God – now what better way than to give them what they want – bread, material things: show them your power; let them see you can do miracles, marvellous things like falling from heights and landing safely – they are bound to be impressed and listen to you. That Our Lord felt the force of this attraction is gleaned from the sharpness of his replies.

Thus Our Lord was tempted to be different from what his Father had planned for him, to take a different road from the road of suffering and opposition that was the Father’s way – to take the human easier way. That the temptation went right through his life we know: once, when telling about the way of suffering and passion, Peter took him up on it – Oh no – and got a terrible rebuke – Get behind me Satan. That temptation reached crisis level in the garden when he actually prayed to be released: If possible remove…..but not my will….

That’s the real Jesus – battling his way through a constant barrage of a pull against God, to be different from the Father’s plan for him. And my dear people that’s the heart of temptation for us all – to be different from what the Father planned for us: Be he priest, parent, simple man or woman – that’s what it’s all about  – to be a different parent from what God wants you to be – to seek popularity and not condemn the things that should be lashed; to be a different  kind of parent – neglect or be false to your partner, be selfish in the home, spoil the children to save yourself  bother – to give in to selfishness about drink, sex, justice; to be a different kind of person – to fail to stand up for Christ’s values, pretend you are one of the gang and you can swear, drink, use bad language, sexually abuse people as good as anyone.

The difference is of course that Christ battled on without sin. We so often give in, get tired of the struggle and surrender, yield and maybe for years ignore God’s laws. Our weakness is great; the malice can be big too.

Now Lent is the season the Church puts aside to get us into fighting trim each year, to recall to us our Baptism and what road it put us on. For Christ the road was mapped out as a way of rejection and suffering; for us the road is more or less the same – take up our cross and follow. On that road will be suffering, a constant pulling towards material things, to forbidden pleasures, sickness, puzzling disappointments and the rest – and in Lent we learn a bit how to handle these.

Marvellous last week to see response of people – so many made the effort to get out on Ash Wednesday, to commit themselves to 40 days of prayer and penance. Encourage one another in this way – get ourselves back into the battle – fight selfishness, laziness, impulses to anger, extreme drinking, impurities and so on.  The only shame is to put up no fight – to meet the temptation half way.  So we keep at it for this week – Mass – prayer in the family, a bit of penance (cut down or go off drinking, smoking, socialising) – to get us into spiritual fitness. We know that we have Christ’s help – and please God the battle will go our way as it did for him.

 

 

2nd Sunday of Lent

We know at least the bones of the event we call transfiguration. Jesus takes the three – an alerting sign that something very big is about to happen. At prayer he becomes radiant.  Two companions appear – Moses and Elijah of the Old Testament talking about his death and passing on to the Father. Imagine the excitement when that pair got back to the abode of the dead – with that news! Peter of course has to get in on the act  – It is good for us – let us build 3 tents. Blather talk! Then a voice – this is my beloved son; listen to him. Now it’s all over, and only Jesus!

Let’s dwell on it and see what we can make of it.  For Jesus it was clearly very precious. He had taken the decision to go to Jerusalem – and that decision meant, he knew, his choice is to face and accept the consequences. Whatever about his knowledge of future events he had to be absolutely sure he was making the right decision. Here he gets that assurance – immediately from the two great Old Testament figures: Moses and Elijah – and most importantly from the Father whose will was always his rule of life – Yes, you are acting as my beloved Son should act and must act. Without a shadow of a doubt that reassurance was of vital importance to Jesus.

For the disciples the event was also essential. They had been shocked and shattered by his telling them that at Jerusalem he would be tortured and put to death. That would be the end of the few glorious years they had spent in his company, and they were puzzled and bewildered. Things were happening that not merely baffled their minds but were breaking their hearts as well. What they saw and heard on the mountain would give them something to hold on to. They would be strengthened against terrible events that could happen. Agony or no agony, cross or no cross they had heard God’s voice affirm that Jesus was his beloved Son. That would stand them in good stead in bad days ahead of them.

For us too the event, called the Transfiguration, is very precious. At the very least it directs us how to act when we have big decisions to make in life. These decisions are certain to be correct only when we go to the mountain to pray and get God’s approval for them. It does help enormously too on our pilgrimage when we glimpse however faintly something of the Lord’s glory: it helps us when he carries us over the bad patches that are certain to be in everyone’s path on our journey through life.

We surely know and believe in Jesus’ resurrection – we know too that while he is at the Father’s right hand in heaven, his power is now in the world – however diluted it may seem to us at times. Surely we do contemplate the risen Jesus but it’s in a glass darkly, very darkly. Perhaps today there is too great a readiness to reach for the graces of the resurrection and bypass the graces of the passion. We are all so ready to hum our alleluias and skip over the sufferings of Good Friday and the desolation of Holy Saturday. These are times of great darkness for our generation.

Maybe very relevant are the words the Lord spoke as they came down from the mountain – to tell no one what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. It is time enough to talk when the Son of Man is risen in us. Until that happens to me and I love Christ in that way what have I to say? Isn’t it wise to watch and listen on the mountain and like the Magdalene wait until we are commissioned to go tell the brothers that Christ is risen?

So for the 2nd Sunday of Lent the message is clear – get determined to give more time to prayer and God’s word. So necessary to watch and listen to God, to reflect on the gospel passages like this and try to live Lent with this Jesus.

 

 

 

3rd Sunday of Lent

In the time of Our Lord there were no newspapers, radio or TV, yet news of disasters and accidents travelled. And people took some attitude as some still do – a punishment like AIDS today or God’s clout on our badness. Jesus says no – that’s not how God operates at all – in fact it’s an insult to God to think he is mean and revengeful as we can be.

Jesus is the perfect teacher, giving warning and encouragement. Unless you repent you will all likewise perish. He knows how blind we can be – ah yes, the sinners – they are out there all right – murderers, perjurers, adulterers. But me – I’m OK – I have nothing to worry about. I don’t need confession really – sure what harm do I ever do?  And we can turn a deaf ear to that clarion call – to repent – to change – to turn right round – and face God.

Do I need change? Of course I do. When the sinners are being lined up I’m there among them. I’m full of self – totally wrapped up in my own interests. Of course I am cute enough to let the group do my sinning. My trade union pushes for more of the cake and squeezes out lesser folk. Or, my employer’s organization calls for more productivity despite oppressing good, decent, hardworking people. And I’ll sin with the rest of them. Things are different now – everybody’s doing it – claiming benefits to which I’m not entitled, evading my just tax.  In the home I’ll push for my own way, over spouse and children, or over parents. I must have my social life whatever about the family, or just debts at work. I’ll do as little as I can get away with and turn a deaf ear to all cries for help that I hear around me.  Oh, I’m all right Jack. I don’t need repentance. What harm do I do anybody? Prove it.

And I love the image of God as the patient farmer. He plants the seeds. Night and day he waits and wonders and hopes. A serious problem with weeds raises questions round how to get the best harvest possible. Like the unfruitful fig-tree God gives the owner one more year – one more Lent. Lent is the time for reconciliation, producing fruit – maybe he will allow himself to be touched by grace, listen to a sermon on repentance and move. If not I’ll have to move.

So, suppose I knew I just had this one more Lent and then I’ll get the vision of my life, not as I see it through rose-coloured glasses but as it really is in the sight of God. Would I be moved to look a bit more closely at things, especially at my need for repentance? Lent is the time for a good Confession – not a quick run over things that I know perfectly well wouldn’t put dust on an angel’s wings – not saying my prayers, using bad words – but a real good look at the dark corners – how so much of my life at home, at work, at play is dominated by self-interest, wanting my own way, tramping over everybody in my way.

So go to a penance service – even children on Wednesday next – listen to the voice calling you to repentance and like the Prodigal Son in the gospel, say – Father I have sinned against heaven and against you – I am not worthy to be called your child. And the welcome I get will make it all worthwhile.

 

 

4th Sunday of Lent

Perhaps no story in the New Testament, apart from the Good Shepherd, is better known that this one on the Prodigal Son. A little background to it should help. Today psychologists tell us that the deepest fear of children expresses itself in separation anxiety – the fear of being abandoned by the parents who brought them into the world, who gave them security. What if these parents should disown and discard them – leave them at the lost property office, unclaimed and unwanted?

It’s not alone children who suffer that fear. It’s part of the baggage of all of us. We all know – if we have lived at all – that there is no automatic love. It’s not automatic that a father loves his son, that brother loves brother, that a daughter cherishes her mother. We know that when some young people leave home, the reaction is: a good riddance. They may be written off as a dead loss: indeed someone was told to do the human race a favour and get lost.

That attitude of writing people off as a lost cause is the problem of today’s Gospel. The sinners – the lost ones – actually come to Jesus. The Pharisees come to complain that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. Why not let them stay lost – why bother with the likes of them?  The Pharisees don’t see that they have any relationship with them. Jesus sees both groups as children of the Father and so brothers to each other. Rather than argue the point Jesus tells a story from life about a father who has two sons and loses them both.

His younger son gets lost in a far country while his elder gets lost staying at home. The younger leaves home and the journey takes him to a place of hunger, degradation and possible death. He could die away from home forgotten and forsaken. He comes to himself after a good think – in a pigsty – when he realises he doesn’t belong there but has a home to go to. Hunger has this wonderful quality of sharpening our sense of belonging, the thought of regular square meals points him homeward and off he goes composing a speech on the way.

Meanwhile the father hasn’t accepted the loss of his son as just one of those things. He keeps his eyes on the look-out and lives in the hope that the stray will return. When someone comes to meet you the journey is always shorter. The father’s love takes over – the best robe, the ring, the shoes of a freeman, and, rather than listen to a boring speech, he puts up a good party – his son is found.

The elder son is the type who stays out in the fields long after the cows have come home. When he does make his return, unlike the young stray, he doesn’t make it to home. The poor father comes out a second time that day and all he gets is another boring speech: all these years I have slaved for you – the elder sees faithfulness as slavery. He is enslaved by his own sense of justice and no obligation to his brother comes into that. He in fact is the separated one who refuses to recognise the father’s son as his brother. Unlike the father he is not going to surprise his brother with the quality of his mercy. His hard work has made him hard-hearted.

Maybe if we look into ourselves today we can see parts of all 3 characters in ourselves. Like the father we might have a keen eye on those who are lost and a good nose for when a party is needed. There is a lot of the younger son in us which wants to grab everything we can and try everything we shouldn’t. And which of us hasn’t sympathy for the elder brother who would like to make others pay for their sins and for our own loveless fidelity. All three are in us competing to shape our life. Surely this Lent our prayer is that the Father in each of us will win out and that we will be fit and willing to set out on a mercy errand.  There are a lot of people in our lives who are still such a long way off.

 

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day

It’s important to have in mind the difference between standard of living and quality of lifestyle. In our time of the Celtic Tiger there is a real danger that we become obsessed with the standard of living. Like Oliver Twist every group holds out the begging bowl shouting for more. In our obsession with that we might overlook the quality of life.

Could we all here tonight put hands on heart and say our culture is a happy one? The quality of life is excellent when the whole person is happy – when there is physical well being, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Each counts, and if any one is missing we are incomplete, lacking a vital part.

When Patrick and those who followed him preached and passed on to our people faith in Jesus they were driven by the missionary zeal we find in the 72 disciples.

To confuse faith in Jesus with a building (a Church), a parade, a procession is a mistake. It is a giftfrom God that came to us through Patrick and those early Saints. Remember they turned our people to God without the shedding of a drop of blood, a remarkable record.

This treasure has come down to us. We too should be anxious to hand it on to the next generation. Of course the gift is fragile – depending as it does on the words and example of weak human beings. We know today how fragile it can be – but it comes from God, and so the gift is strong and eternal. So our real celebration today is the determination to be steadfast in our resolve to hand on that faith in full – in no way diminished.

 

 

 

5th Sunday of Lent

Stone is a word we use in strange ways. A man can be stoned out of his senses – full of drink: a person could be stone dead or even stone mad. It’s a tough word. It’s meant to put an end to all arguments.

The Sadducees and Pharisees whom we meet today are stone mad. They have got the opportunity they looked for – to get at this Jesus with his sympathy for sinners. They have got the woman – one half of an adulterous liaison – and what did the law say? That a law written in stone says the woman must die – and die by stoning.

And you don’t argue with people who throw stones. Jesus did. He didn’t condemn — he didn’t ask where was the man, to give him his share of stones. No, he didn’t lift a stone. What he did was most interesting – at least it had a wonderful effect on the crowd. A mob is a frightening thing – it sweeps all before it – mindless and destructive. Jesus scatters the mob very quickly – he that is without sin cast the first stone. And they left – notice, beginning with the eldest – we, the oldies, have most to answer for!

The Lord is saying something to all of us. He has pointed out to this mob that they have hearts of stone, wanting to use this poor woman for their own base purposes – to get at Jesus. They are not interested in this woman’s welfare but only in their own foul plot. They don’t distinguish, as he does, between the sinner and the sin. While the sin is to be loathed the sinner is to be won back to God’s favour.

And where do we come in? Don’t let us fool ourselves. We are with the mob in all their fury, pointing the finger, ready to throw stones indiscriminately as we pick our steps self-righteously through life. How hard we can be on the 5% public sinners – the obvious ones, and how we hide our own faults till we are told – he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone. We must stop the stoning, and work at our own cold hearts.

Has no-one condemned you? Neither do I – go and sin no more. If we believed that we meet in Confession the same Jesus who said those comforting words to the poor sinful woman would we have any difficulty with the Sacrament of Penance?  For the last two weeks of Lent we will make the trip – to the penance service, to private confession, and hear those consoling words from the lips of the God man himself: neither do I condemn you – go away and don’t sin any more.

 

 

 

 

Passion/Palm Sunday

Sometimes the kind of advertising we might do for our religion sounds strange – Take up your cross. Who would rush to join that battalion?

Some would give the impression that life is a kind of (marathon) ‘suffrathon.’- the one who suffers most getting Olympic  gold. And if we feel good – oh that’s a bad sign – suffering is a sign of God’s favour!

Some theologians don’t help –with the emphasis on blood as the price of our salvation.  An irate Father God won’t meet us until the last drop is paid. A terrible libel on a loving Father! So in that belief the best way to go is maxi suffering on oneself. Some wallow in programmes on Matt Talbot and his chains.

Suffering in itself is evil. Avoid it. All over Scripture the focus is on life, not destruction. Even Jesus’ prayer is to be freed from it – Abba – if possible let it pass…..

And Jesus declared he was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy – anointed with the Spirit to bring good news to the poor. Because he lived this out he suffered as he was such a threat to those whose power, prosperity and security depended on keeping the poor in poverty and down-trodden in oppression.

If we take the side of Christ and let Christ be Christ and stand up for the victims of injustice and unfairness we too will suffer. That’s to share in the passion. Not to get involved, turn the other way, hear nothing, see nothing, know nothing, keep quiet – is to refuse the passion of Christ.

Much of what we call the cross, our suffering, has nothing to do with the cross of Christ. It can be the pain of a bruised ego, our kingdom threatened by criticism or loss of status. Of course we can let God into this pain and ask him to use it to pull us away from false attachments and securities. Then the pain can be healing.

Maybe instead of trying to enter the passion of Christ we should pray to Jesus to enter our suffering whether that comes from attempts to follow him or the pain when our kingdom is threatened. It is in our own pain that we find Jesus present and willing to walk alongside us through whatever suffering we have.

 

PASCHAL TRIDUUM

 

 

Holy Thursday

This is a special night for the Church – with the institution of the Eucharist. Picture Jesus and the twelve around the table, all resting on the left elbow and eating with their right hand as they share a meal. The emphasis is more sharing – of hearts and ideas – on a night when he really opened his heart to them, to tell them who he was and what he wanted. That he does in pictures – a great way for the Jews to communicate.

It begins with the rich Passover Meal when they re-tell the story of who they are as a people. This leads to his own identity and that puzzling question of who he is. He tells his story in another picture: I am bread to be broken, blood to be poured out, given to a life of service. He demonstrates this by doing the most menial service – even the lowest slave didn’t have to wash the master’s feet. Picture God in an apron!

We listen and try to catch his meaning. The key word maybe is compassion. [com: with and passion: suffer] Jews go to paradise by keeping the law, Christians by compassion. I was hungry, thirsty, naked……

I am the bread of life. What does that sound like today in Iraq, Zimbabwe, Malawi etc? The bread of life is not so easy for them to get, starving, dying in multitudes, giving the rest of the world, what Mother Teresa used to call, a beautiful opportunity for sharing.

It could be very comforting to think of Our Lord’s passion as an event in the past, a happening of 2000 years ago – and one that had a happy ending. So it’s no threat, it’s safely buried and makes no demands on us. It’s totally different when it hits home that it’s an event of today. Calvary is actually happening in our world as it always has been. Forty years ago it was clear in the concentration camps. Today as God looks down from heaven how much suffering he sees in the lives of his children. In Iraq, picture the little boy with arms blown off, in Malawi, in Rwanda, Zimbabwe – all over the place, with abuse, starvation, oppression, violence, drugs, murder. What a scenario, even for God!

Why does God allow such things? The same question as why did he allow Calvary? The real answer is we don’t know. All we are sure about is his love – a love so total that it can bring good out of horrible evil. And that love demands compassion from Mass people. That’s what the Lord is saying: you are Mass people, therefore you must give love and service.

Take the two words – com: with and passion: to suffer – so, it’s to suffer along with; not just giving money, useful as that is, but a concern, a caring, a wanting to help. Sure – financially if possible, but at least to listen, to feel for the one who is hurting, to be anxious and willing to lift the suffering if I can.

Jesus is anxious to close the gap that can often appear between my religion and my life. A real danger is to use religion as a kind of insurance policy, where most of the time religion is out there – for others, to be used when someone is sick or doing exams or looking for a job. When the weather is fine and all are healthy and happy we can take God and such things as Mass for granted and there can be a big divide between my life and my religion.

We talk of Communion – another name for Eucharist. In Communion there are all sorts of ties inward – all together, linking us to one another, getting us to accept responsibility for each other, indeed bringing us to unity with God and with each other. All are invited to his house. It’s the one place where no one can pull rank and get special treatment because of wealth, power or influence. I come to church, I don’t know who will be neighbour to me or whose hand I will shake at the sign of peace. I mightn’t even know who the people are or where they come from. In fact it doesn’t matter.

We gather because Jesus told us to do this as a memorial of me. Memorials are all over the place – headstones in graveyards, old photographs, all sorts of things that remind us of the past. This is an annual memorial in that it makes present those events in the past that Jesus talked about at that First Mass – his dying and rising to teach me how I have to die and rise.

Our parishioners really are marvellous. The turn-out for Lent, to accompany me at 10 o’clock Mass, was extraordinary. Please God the Mass, to which our people have been loyal for 1500 years will never fade into oblivion but will be a big element in our passport to the heavenly liturgy.

 

 

Good Friday

Were you there? A haunting hymn with an instinctive reaction – yes. Think of the good people at the foot of the cross: Mary, Salome, Magdalene, Mother, John – all standing in prayer. Yes, I feel kinship with these – sympathy and good wishes. Of course there were others around Golgotha. Scribes, Pharisees, Elders – now in triumph. Mission accomplished. Rid of this new Rabbi in their territory, who had been taking their subjects away.  Rented a crowd to shout for Barabbas: soldiers, gamblers, playing dice for his outer garment;  passers-by wondering what was going on and listening to the shout of triumph: crucify him, crucify him; Pilate who allowed this to happen, a legal expert but a weak politician who yields to the pressure of threatening to blacken his name before Caesar;  Joseph of Arimathea; Nicodemus there too.

Today we listen to John’s version of the passion and death of Jesus. John wants us to focus on the greatest event of all time and to see the great saving action as Jesus passes from the very lowest point of human weakness – passes back to the Father who sent him in the first place. So John’s emphasis is not on the suffering but his kingship, his rule. He has nothing of weakness, no account of Gethsemane, no Simon of Cyrene to support and help him, no weeping women of Jerusalem, no drink to ease pain. Indeed in all the frantic activity life is serenely calm, no passive bullying.  No, he freely allows it all to happen and announces that freedom in his words: It is accomplished. He tells u: I have come from the Father and have  come into the world but now I leave the world to go to the Father. So, in the whole passion, he is both king coming down from above and priest rising up from below.

As king, he is the one who has come from God and is always in line with the Father’s Will – nobody can push him around unless it is in compliance with the Father’s Will. Remember how the trial before Pilate revolved around the issue of king.  Yes, I am a King, I was born for this.  I came into the world for this to bear witness to the truth.  So we today remember and respect our king.  As we reverence/kiss the cross we are proclaiming our loyalty – his obedient subjects who want him to rule over us and lead us finally home to the Father’s house.

If Jesus as king is God bending down to our human standing then Jesus as priest represents humanity rising up to God in offering sacrifice. Notice how John emphasises that Jesus is the true Lamb of God whose sacrificial death took place as the lambs in the Temple were being killed, legs not broken, side pierced and blood and water flowed. So John doesn’t encourage us to weep over events of 2000 years ago but try to grasp what these events mean to us. This Jesus now put to death will of course rise, go back to God to be at his right hand and intercede for us, showing those wounds, now scars of triumph, and pleading, asking, begging that what he so wonderfully did for us on Calvary wouldn’t be wasted in the life of any human being. That’s the legacy coming to us whom he was proud to call his brothers and sisters, inviting us to share in that Paschal Mystery, to do our best to spread his work and encourage others to put the Mass first in their lives.

So, we have our king and our priest. Today we express our thanks, praise and love for him, accept him as king and join him as he makes intercession for us before the Father.

 

 

Easter Vigil

Part of the Easter Vigil Liturgy is the Service  of Light. – I want us to focus on  that one word light – the time when we are asked to come out of the dark, to stop hanging about the graveyards of our past, to leave the murkiness of our mistakes and misdeeds and come into the light of the Risen Christ.

It’s only in that light – in the light of the Risen Christ that we really see. That first of all we see Christ himself, see him as the Risen Son of God who is alive, who is present in the world, who is listening at my elbow with his power – to keep giving me the strength to fight on, to battle my way as he did through darkness, difficulty, almost despair. We had that cry of Psalm 22 yesterday. Eloi, Eloi – why have you abandoned me? Which of us has not uttered that cry when we feel overwhelmed, when we feel God has left us? Christ has forgotten us.

Remember that lovely little story of the Footprints in the Sand. God walked with him; there were double prints and then in places only one set. Why? Those were the times I had to carry you. Easter light helps me to see the times Jesus had to carry me, when the darkness and the strain were crushing me down, when the journey was so difficult – due to sickness, death of a loved one, hurt of treachery, infidelity, betrayal.  He simply had to lift me, as a mother lifts the child into her arms, and take me over the bad patches.

Easter light does something more. It’s only in that light that he give us, that I can look on the face of every human being and there recognise a resemblance of the Lord. We are so quick to write people off, write their epitaphs before they die and put a label on them – cheats, liars, unreliables, traitors, parrots, etc. Isn’t it remarkable the number of possible write-offs we meet in the Easter stories – the lucky thief for one, Judas, the Magdalene, Peter who would later head the infant church. Wouldn’t you and I have written so many of them off?

Perhaps the extent to which I write people off is a good gauge or measure of how blind I am, how much I live in the darkness and how badly I need the light of Easter. It’s only in the light of the Risen Christ that we can really look on the faces of the unfortunate, the sinner, the deprived, the hungry, the oppressed, the needy, and clearly see those whom the God-man is not ashamed to call his brothers and sisters.

A wily old teacher asked an important question – When do you know that darkness is retreating and light of day is coming back?

One guessed – when you can distinguish human from animal or one tree from another, for example a fig tree from a pear tree. No, only when you look on the face of any human being and see that it is a Christ.  Until you can do that, then no matter what time it is, it is still night and dark for you.

And then there is the great gift that Easter light brought to the apostles. How dark it was throughout the passion and death!  The two disciples on the Emmaus Road are a good example – sheltered and glum, walking into the sunset and the dark. The other apostles, cowardly frightened little men hiding in the dark for fear of the religious leaders! And then they meet the Risen Christ and the light shines so brightly. Changed – totally changed. Now afraid of nothing, they put their lives on the line, shout all the time – their Jesus is God – the great light has changed them totally.

So Easter is an important time for all of us – time to come out of the night – Wonderful if Easter Morn brings any of us into the light of the Risen Christ. So our Easter prayer for all parishioners is that the Lord will take away our blindness and point out his beauty in those he isn’t ashamed to call his brothers and sisters.

 

EASTER SEASON

 

 

Easter Sunday

Christ is risen. Christ who died on Friday is alive again. Not like Lazarus – just returned to life for a while and would die again. No, Christ is different. He is back now, but now he is acting and talking as God.

We watch as the disciples discover this. There’s the little story of Peter and John running – the younger outrunning Peter but standing back at the tomb to let his senior go first. Peter sees something to convince him that Jesus has risen. Then John goes in and echoed five most important words: He saw and he believed.

So the Apostles get Paschal Faith. Let us look at the process. For 2½ or 3 years they have been puzzled. Jesus was so human ( tired, hungry, thirsty, even a bit cross) and yet doing things beyond human power – curing Jairus’ little girl,  calling back the widow’s son and Lazarus from the tomb, and forgiving sins – God’s privilege. So now the puzzle is solved.  Now they get real faith.

What is this faith? Basically it’s the discovery that their Jesus is God – that their best brother and friend is in fact the God who made the world and all in it. Their carpenter friend is the infinite all-holy God. No wonder they couldn’t shut up about it. Greeks had a word for it that meant non-stop talking.

And watch the change that happened to all the apostles. Up to now they were timid frightened little men, so terrified of the authorities that they locked themselves into the upper room and kept their heads down. But not anymore! Now they’ll be out on the streets telling anyone who’ll listen, the wonderful news they have – that they know God – that their best friend is God – that their best friend is risen from the dead. From now on they’ll put their lives on the line for their belief – and all (except John) paid the price – all died the death of a martyr.

For us there will have to be a similar pattern. We get our faith so handy – handed down by parents and the faith community into which we are born. But it can easily be a conforming faith – just drifting along with maybe no depth – no real commitment. It takes time and maybe a hard blow or two to waken us up and make us reflect on what our life is all about, what meaning there is in it.

So growth in faith is tremendously important. In earlier times faith was regarded as something from the neck up – a nod of the head to truths, say, that God is a Trinity, that Jesus became human. Yes, we nodded the head and did little more about it.  But Vatican 2 drummed it into us that faith is not confined to the head – it goes into the heart and the will.  It’s a commitment, an acceptance of a person. Because we give our loyalty to the person Jesus, we accept his word that he has the truth and wants us to have it too.

So faith is really our yes to Jesus, our yes to God. We accept Jesus into our lives and this binds us to a way of life. We are to put God first in life – the example of Mary – Behold the handmaid – Ecce Ancilla i.e. the slave. That’s now what was the mark, not merely of Mary, but of the Apostles and of committed people through the last 2000 years. We have to grow into that, year after year, Easter after Easter.

So Easter is a time of great growth – in nature, in people. It’s a great time to look at our faith, to pray for faith, to exercise our faith.       Lord I do believe but please help my unbelief.

 

 

2nd Sunday of Easter – The “Twin”

Tonight we focus on what was a throwaway title in the Gospel – the twin. Thomas was called the twin. So the question we ask is: Who is the twin? By guesswork, we know it wasn’t Peter [Andrew], John [James]. Maybe it’s the twin brother, say, of the Magdalene. Of course the real point of the Gospel is this: Can I, could I be a twin of Thomas? And we begin to sift the evidence. Like Thomas we are often caught between fear and doubt, between pessimism and trust, belief and unbelief.

Certainty. There is such an urge in us, a hankering for certainty. We see it everywhere. Look at U.S.A. spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get certainty if there is water on Mars, and so life there. That desire for certainty runs right through our lives. How we’d love it, say, to get some sign from God, to show us there is a God, to prove to us that he is there and that everything will be all right in the end. If we had that certainty, got that sign we could put up with a lot – we could be so much less troubled by what is in the world – babies born with AIDS, cancers loose in the human race, starving children dying each day, people having to live with bombs and wars, the terrible inhumanity of man to man. How difficult such questioning can be – how much more acceptable if we had certainty that God is in charge and will straighten it all out. No we haven’t the sign – so here we are twins of Thomas.

Thomas was missing from a vital meeting. Why? We don’t know – sulking, shocked, trying to sort out what was happening. We can guess away but the fact was he was absent. Today we have so many absentees. We don’t have to go to Church. I can pray in private to God. A wise old priest imaged it this way. With tongs he took a burning coal out of the fire, placed it on a stone hearth and in a very short time he and his guest saw the lit coals die out. It needed the other coals to keep it burning. Likewise, we need others. So did Thomas, and whatever the problem, he shouldn’t have left the fellowship – you can’t find your way on your own; all need Church. So many of us are twins of Thomas.

Doubts – Many are afraid to question – maybe questioning would shake my faith. Maybe it’s not wise to get in too deep to these questions of religion. Why did God give us a brain – a complex of so many millions of cells? Surely to search for truth. Of course like Thomas we all suffer from the absence of Christ. Like Thomas we must remain in or return to our faith community, and like him cry out: My Lord and my God.

Pilgrimage – the fact is that we are at different stages in our pilgrim journey. Some are up near the front who never had a quiver of doubt; some at the rear and then racing to catch up. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We waver between moving up front and lagging behind. No matter where we are on the parade – strong faith, weak faith, the main thing is to be there – to be on the pilgrim way. I may not have a sign, but I mustn’t absent myself – I cannot survive in my path of the catholic religion without you, nor hopefully you cannot survive without others.

 

 

 

3rd Sunday of Easter

Here we have the third appearance of the Risen Christ as told in John’s Gospel. It contains a lot of material: the miraculous catch of fish, the meal on the shore and the appearance of Peter as shepherd of the Flock.

Here we have seven disciples – who really had little or no appreciation of the new mission – to teach the world guided by the Holy Spirit. No, they were disillusioned and had gone back to the old job – fishermen. Interesting that acting on their own there is no fruit – they caught nothing.

Now we hear it was light by now.  But the eyes of the disciples are still caught in the dark and they fail to realize that the person in the shade is Jesus.

Then they follow instructions as to where to cast their net. It wasn’t easy for professional fishermen to obey; but obey they did, and lo, they took a huge haul. What’s the significance of 153? Interesting. Some commentators think it refers to the number of species of fish classified at that time and so indicates that the mission of the church – to catch people – would be to all peoples. And the net wasn’t broken – a kind of sign that there could be unity in a community of so many different cultures and races. It took many hands to safely land the great catch – wonderful how it could be done in unity.

Then the focus switches to the meal on the shore shared with Jesus. He asked for some of the fresh fish, although he already had some bread and fish cooking on the fire.  Surely that is telling us that the Mission of the Church would be a combination of grace and human effort: it can’t be left to God alone or to people alone.

Then there’s the blessing of bread and fish. Very interesting that fish became the secret symbol of the early Christians. The Greek word in ISQUS – Jesus, Christos, Qios, Swtrp -  Jesus Christ Son of God, Saviour – that was how the early Christians identified themselves to one another.

Next we come to Peter – he was the ship’s captain, he was the one who finally hauled the net to shore – the boss. But next is the charcoal fire that rings a bell – it reminds him of another charcoal fire – the one on Holy Thursday night where he went to warm his hands against the night’s cold. Three times he had cursed and swore that he didn’t even know this Jesus. Now Jesus puts it to him: Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these others do? You know I love youFeed my lambs. 2nd time – Simon, son of John do you love me? Look after my sheep; then a 3rd time – and the penny drops. Poor Peter is upset and we can feel the search in his mind – how can he convince the Lord?  And he hits it correctly: Lord, you know everything, you know I love you. And Peter is totally changed. The hot-tempered man who drew his sword in the garden will mature into the perfect follower. How? He will learn to let go in God’s name. He would let himself be led by another – no longer anxious to fight. Peter would lead the church not in his own way but by following Jesus even unto death. You know the story, how in the persecutions he was on the way out of Rome, met the master and turned back – went to his death, crucified upside down as he didn’t think himself worthy to be exactly like the master.

A wonderful story of the presence of the risen Lord in the mission of the church, in the breaking of bread and of the first Pope – Peter.

John’s words  give us a wonderful prayer of faith: It is the Lord -  when we have fallen back into old ways, when we get worried about where the Church is going, why so many walk no more with her, why there is so much criticism and refusal to serve.  When we have laboured in the darkness and come in empty – then we peer through the mists with the courage of knowing that God loves us so deeply and see one standing on the shore. It is the Lord – and he has a threefold question for me: Vincent do you love me? And when we hear it for the third time we answer: Lord you know all things – you know I want to love you. I know that if I don’t give you my heart, you have nothing of me. So we promise to do our best – to love you through all the difficulties, all the problems, all the desertion. Yes, the Risen Lord is waiting for that answer from each of us. You know I want to love you.

 

 

4th Sunday of Easter

Writers about the Holy Land are often intrigued by the variety of calls and whistles that the shepherds use. Flocks might be mixed up for the night to protect them from elements and enemies but in the morning the shepherd gives his unique call and his sheep respond at once, every one of them.

We want to look at how we respond to the voice of our master.  Nowadays there are so many voices in the air. In earlier years the priest’s influence was much stronger and indeed more needed than nowadays: then he needed a fair cargo of theology to cope with heresy. How many nowadays would know enough to be a heretic? The scenario is totally different and the great need is for lay people at the coal-face – people who have listened to the voice and respond.

The story of one of them is worth looking at briefly. Charles Ward, a one-time prisoner was graced with positive over negative attitudes. He helped a fellow-prisoner and was in turn employed by him on his own release. Together they built a thriving company which employed hundreds of ex-prisoners.  He tells us: all kinds of criminals came to us. Believing in them, we helped them to look forward, not back. A murderer tends my garden where my three children play; an executive in my company has a prison record for robbery and one of my best foremen was once wanted by police in eight U.S. states. Hundreds of my employees and friends could give you a detailed description of prison life: they were there and so was I. I don’t count this a crusade but I would like much more help for those who have transgressed.  I firmly believe that rehabilitation is accomplished outside and not inside of a prison wall.

Isn’t that a marvellous example of a man who listened to his master’s voice – what one man can do in proclaiming especially the good news.  As the Apostles found, and priests ever since have found – certain people won’t listen to them but may yield to trust and goodness backed by God’s grace.

A gospel-based life won’t listen to the voice pushing the politics of violence or racism: it will resist the sweet tones of the consumerism that pushes us into the rat-race. It will hold out against the voice that states that profit is the sole aim, however much it causes millions to starve in the underdeveloped world.

The church today so much needs lay people who listen and respond to the voice of the shepherd. Of course it needs vocations so that people will have the Eucharist. But how badly it needs people of the calibre of Charles Ward – how he could inspire all of us to take seriously our Baptism commitment – that we are God’s chosen flock, instructed by the voice of the Lord and sent to bring the Good News to a world where the voice of Jesus is dimmer and dimmer every year.

 

 

5th Sunday of Easter

This gospel with its new commandment to love one another played a big part in a war incident in a small French village in 1943. The village was occupied by German soldiers but the villagers used feel sorry for the invaders.  They were young men, far from home; they couldn’t get supplies easily. Each day the village priest would go from house to house with large baskets, begging food for the invaders. Local produce would come – a few eggs, bread, vegetables and so on.

One day the local resistance blew up a strategic bridge. Furious, the German army wanted reprisals – every man in the village between 18 and 65 was taken to the village square and there, in front of wives, mothers, girlfriends they were shot.

Now the villagers were furious and threatened the old priest – if you come and ask for foodagain for these murderers we’ll kill you.  On the day of the funeral the church was full – every villager had someone. The old priest gave them the gospel we have today. I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you. By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.  Later in the day he stood in the village square and with tears watched his people fill two baskets with food for the enemy.

This commandment, apparently so simple, is probably the most difficult. Of course we give it a nod of approval – we can recognise the wisdom of it. But to practise it takes endless courage. It cost Jesus his life – he died because he was true to this demand to love every human being. In the first reading we find such enthusiasm and such generosity – from these early Christians who gave their lives to spreading the message of complete love and forgiveness. And we mustn’t forget that this was the badge,  the characteristic of these first Christians – the one argument that won over the slick, sophisticated Roman world into which the Church was born – these Christians, see how they love one another.

When we think of the forgiveness and generosity of those French villagers we ask ourselves: could we forgive the almost unforgivable? When a loved one is murdered how difficult it must be to forgive – we have had some glorious examples in our own sad days of both catholics and protestants reaching out in forgiveness for atrocious deeds.

What we must remember is that such love and forgiveness doesn’t come naturally. It is the gift of God. Maybe our Mills & Boon novels and glossy magazines and slick romantic TV would have us believe it is easy to love. To love is to empty oneself of our negative feelings of anger and revenge for the sake of others.

That’s our challenge in today’s liturgy. And isn’t it a very pointed challenge with the reference to the Good Friday Agreement coming up in two weeks time? That needs careful reflection and a good deal of hard thinking. But the challenge is both simple and profound. That’s one area – and the call extends to our homes and workplaces too – a call as fresh today as when it came from the master twenty centuries ago: Love one another as I have loved you.

 

 

 

6th Sunday of Easter

 

Holy Spirit – Consoler and Enlightener

We have something in the gospel today that is familiar to us – how difficult it is to let go – parting, especially to death. A classic example was Victoria, the long-reigning Queen of England. Her husband Prince Albert died at the young age of 42 in 1861 – and the Queen was devastated. His rooms where he died were locked – and every day fresh clothes were laid out and fresh water left in the basin – as if he were still here. In fact she was inconsolable.

That’s the word I want you to focus on – Console comes from two Latin words – cum: with, and solas: alone. So ‘console’ is to be with the lonely and consolation is what troubled or lonely people get when we offer our support. Now, to be a real source of support to others certain conditions must be fulfilled.

First and most important you need to be a sympathetic person. Those of us who have experienced sickness or bereavement know how much it helps when people rally round. Willing to give their effort to help out, they lighten the burden as they don’t leave you on your own.

Secondly and very importantly, when trying to console a person, is the ability to be a good listener. I’m sure many of you have been subjected to an experience if you were hospitalised. Visitors come, station themselves on each side of the bed, tell you that you are looking well or maybe that you are well improved – then talk over you, relating how they were sick or had this operation and discuss their own symptoms. You’re dead anxious to see the back of them. And if the person is really troubled don’t dare use clichés like – snap out of it, or, pull yourself together. People troubled or anxious cannot often find consolation on their own: they need family and friends but not to hear about your aches and pains. No, your job is to listen and give little encouragements to them to talk and talk. So, to be a consoler let people talk, try to listen, offer a few words of support and encouragement if that is wise.

 

 In 1953 an Anglican Priest, Rev Chad Varah set up telephone conversations for people contemplating suicide.  From this initiative the Samaritans were founded and what wonderful work they do. So a good Samaritan is a good listener!

 

Now we come back to a few words on the Supreme Consoler – the Holy Spirit from whom we learn. How lucky a person is who has a real devotion to the Holy Spirit. What can the Spirit  do?  Remember he is God – and God in his role as Consoler, Enlightener, Guide.   Jesus in the gospel often called on the Spirit, the Comforter. Think of him as the bright side of God, the warm, caring side of God, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Love.

And surely there isn’t one of us here tonight who doesn’t at some time need consoling. It may be depression or sickness or conflict in the home or worry about children – money, exams, alcohol, whatever. We need the Holy Spirit to console us in situations like that, to help us through, to help us and especially to bring us the wonderful gift that is peace of mind. That peace is a very soft pillow – and it’s there for the asking: Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.

And then maybe we can share that gift by taking on the role of Consoler – provided we remember that’s it’s a sympathetic presence that we give and especially that we try hard to be a good listener. You have two ears to one mouth so double your listening to your talking. And maybe with a troubled person a little prayer to the Holy Spirit – simple – Come Holy Spirit. We don’t have to give him directions as to what he should do – we just want him into our lives and find ourselves guided and consoled by him. What a wonderful friendship that can be if we give the Holy Spirit a welcome into our family, and trust him with our lives.  Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest. Peace I bequeath to you.

Nigerians have a lovely proverb: Hold a true friend with both your hands – outstretched in a welcome and then joined in prayer – Come Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

Ascension Day

Today we commemorate the day when Jesus physically left our world and returned to the Father where he now sits at his right hand. We celebrate 2000 years of the Father’s love which Jesus brought to our earth.

Let us for a moment throw our minds back and join those who lived at the time. Here was a man going about as the Messiah, indeed as the Son of God. Sure, the Messiah was long expected.  His job description was well known – he would restore the Kingdom of Israel. But that’s not what he did. From his entry into the world he was the victim of extraordinary hostility. People were afraid of him. The local king wanted his death. For thirty years he lived a quiet life in the village as a tradesman, then came into the open and went public as a rabbi. But people neither understood nor believed. He wasn’t understood by his own. His relatives didn’t believe and why should they? He hadn’t received the necessary education. Neither was he a priest. Who did he think he was? The Pharisees, good people, didn’t believe in him – and truth to tell, neither did some apostles until the resurrection.

As well as this he was slandered and libelled: a drunkard, a jerk, a friend of very dubious people like publicans and sinners, possessed by the devil, a mad person. He must be a sinner as he ignores the Sabbath, has blasphemed, pretends to forgive sins (God’s job). Indeed he claims to be equal to God.

 

So a lot of antagonism and opposition meet him. Remembering that, maybe it’s not so odd that many today (including some churchmen) don’t believe in Jesus, or what he teaches about God, life with God, resurrection and ascension, going to God etc. If he is God, why not prove it, like the Golden Boy on T.V. – do some dramatic gestures, like clean up all AIDS victims or end suffering of the innocent.

 

Today is Ascension Day. We thank God for the faith – handed down to us by wonderful forebears who were loyal through thick and thin skin! For us, he is risen, ascended, at God’s right hand, doing what he was always doing – interceding for us. As risen Lord he is present everywhere in the world. And his Holy Spirit is directing and organising the kingdom. So we revere and adore our Risen Lord, wish and pray that all, especially our own people would get and value this great gift of faith as the church obeys his command to teach all nations.

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the vision to see God’s image in all we meet, and be filled with joy as we get the opportunity to serve him and then return home at peace with all?

 

So on Ascension Day we worship with joy and the ideal place for that is our Mass. There, we have Jesus interceding for us, giving thanks and praise to the Father and inviting all of us to share in that. He wants this heavenly worship to come down to our altar – Christ’s priest, by Christ’s power, with Christ’s people joining in the worship, accepting with open hands the love he brought to the earth, taking it into our lives and spreading it as best we can.

 

That’s the map, the recipe the Lord gives for life here, seeing it as a preparation for life beyond death, forming us to be recognisable as images of himself and bringing us to share in the joy he now has living with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

 

As we think a little on this Ascension Day we begin to see these are tremendous gifts, there for the taking. Isn’t it then a pity to miss out and be left simply with the hostility that so many of his own people showed him?

Marantha, come Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

SEASON OF PENTECOST

 

 

Pentecost Sunday

You all know how different was the entry of Jesus into our world from the entry of the 3rd Person, the Holy Spirit. Jesus, as it were, tipped in so quietly as a baby, but we are told in today’s readings about the noisy, shouting entry of the Holy Spirit – strong wind, tongues of fire and of course the powerful effect on the apostles. Strange then that the common symbol of the Holy Spirit is the gentle, graceful dove – almost tame and lily-white. The early Celtic church didn’t go for that – for there the image of the Holy Spirit is the wild goose. Wild geese are uncontrollable, make a lot of noise and are quick to bite whoever would restrain them. They fly faster when together in a flock and are excellent as early warning signals.

So our ancestors had it correct. The Holy Spirit comes like a goose, not quietly but demanding to be heard. He drives people together for support and common travel. He forces those on whom he rests – like the apostles – to become noisy, passionate, courageous spreaders of the Good News. So in those early days we had the wild goose of a Peter or Paul and later Patrick, risking life and limb to teach the Good News.

And of course he has disciples in every age – noisy, irritable people fighting for justice, wanting to house homeless, to get employment, always trying to make a difference. People who look hard at what the rest of us ignore, and see – see how women and children are almost slaves in Vietnam, Philippines, China, working up to 18 hours a day for a pittance, making the runners/sneakers we wear, the footballs we play with, designer clothes so elegant. And the geese babble – that’s neither right nor just.

And the raucous goose of the spirit makes some shout what we would rather not hear.   In the richest country of the World, U.S.A., a small percentage of the population controls most of the total wealth. We of course are lucky not to be among the one billion who live in absolute poverty – 800 million adults and 200 million children who are hungry and never on any day get a decent meal.

Why don’t we see all this? Because the media make sure we don’t. What is allowed to be heard or seen is carefully controlled. The images we see all day on TV show happy people with drink and fags, the humans are gorgeous. Endless entertainment and all the soaps seem to be in and out of a pub. We aren’t allowed to see the other side. Then comes today’s feast, Pentecost, and that terrible Spirit crashes through the media defences and falls mightily on the Church  – telling us that, if his Church is anything like Jesus, if it really has any identity – it must bring harmony and unity out of the babble of voices wanting their share of the rich world’s goods. The Church must identify with the poor and keep caring for others:  love one another as I have loved you. That was the hallmark of the church, whose birthday is today, and must be a mark of the present church. If it doesn’t meet that standard it’s a false church – it has lost its first mark.

But we have forgotten so much of that, become deaf to the Spirit, domesticated the dove and so we go along seduced, until like today we hear that damn honking that the goose utters. That honk is noisy – it recalls stories of the gospel, stories of Dives and Lazarus, the preview we have in Matthew of the last judgement, reminding us where the heart of the gospel lies.

So Pentecost is not the sweet feast of a gentle dove seducing us into self-satisfaction at how well we are doing. The old Irish saw it as a feast of geese – noisy, dirty geese who shout for the Lord and take a bite at those who would exploit the weak.

So really the Feast today makes us think of how the Church began, and our role as disciples.  Remember the Holy Spirit changed the apostles from timid frightened little men who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, into heroes who put their lives on the line and couldn’t be stopped from telling anyone prepared to listen that their Jesus is God, their carpenter friend is in fact the God who made the world and runs it ever since. He comes to us particularly in Baptism and Confirmation but also every time we partake of the Mass and Holy Communion. Jesus told us he had to leave in order to send the Spirit and now the Holy Spirit is here for us. At each Mass, at every Communion we receive Jesus who gives us the Spirit to keep pushing us on little by little, hoping that when our time on earth has run out we will be ready or almost ready for our union with God. So the message is clear.  We welcome the Spirit, plead with him to give us those wonderful gifts that adorned Jesus’ life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Come Holy Spirit – adorn our lives as you did the life of Jesus.

 

 

Holy Trinity

Today is such an important feast-day for each of us. But for the Holy Trinity we wouldn’t be here at all. The whole purpose of being here is to ready us for a never-ending life in the company of the Holy Trinity. And yet it is difficult for us to grasp very much about this mystery. Away back at school we learned a sentence: In God there are three Divine Persons really distinct and equal in all things, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s it, but are we any the wiser? St. Augustine helps by telling us to ask two questions – Who and What? When we ask Who? we get three answers – Father:  I am God. Son: I am God; Holy Spirit: I am God.When we ask, what? We get the answer: There is one divine nature, one God. Of course when we cross the great divide we shall be much more enlightened.

Here we deal at a lower level. So often in a day we bless ourselves – maybe when we get up in the morning, possibly when there is, say, thunder and lightning, surely when we set out to drive our car on a journey. So, we’ll concentrate on that Sign of the Cross. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Father, we touch the head; Son, we touch the chest behind which is the heart, and Holy Spirit, we touch the shoulders. And that can be a wonderful prayer if we attend to what we are doing.

In the name of the Father – and surely as we do that we can think of the beautiful weather we have been blessed with this past few weeks. And how lovely nature is during May and June, say – the whitethorn all over the place, the wonderful growth in the trees and plants and flora. Then, the lovely children receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion – the happiness and pride on the faces of parents and grandparents. So we see the Father as the creator of the world – he made it and saw all was good. And he keeps it going despite all our messing and ignorant treatment of our environment. So really, as I touch the forehead I should marvel at his handiwork. And of course I am reminded of a creator so totally in love with us that he sent his Son to tell us that, and to draw us back into his embrace when we die – Our Father who art in heaven.

Then we move to the chest where the heart is. And surely if I think at all, I think of the love the Son of God poured out on people – how he cured so many, even called back some from the dead, fed thousands; how he ignored racial barriers and made the Samaritan woman his missionary to her people, when he always had time for the sinners and outcasts, didn’t hesitate to share meals with them, when he put skids under the hypocrites shouting for the death of the woman in adultery, above all, when he gave the ultimate and terribly agonising proof of his love for us on that Cross: Greater love than this no one can have than to lay down his life for his friends.

And so we move to the shoulders and we should think of the Holy Spirit, the free spirit, who blows where he wills, giving himself so widely that it takes the whole span of the shoulders to remind us of that – left and right, from one side of the world to the other. He is the warm and caring side of God – God’s desire to be close and intimate with everybody – no favourites really; to be your friend and my friend. And could I think of him as being a power in my life – prodding me on, pushing me mostly in a gentle way, trying to get me to make wise decisions, who consoles me when I slip and make mistakes?

And then at the end of the blessing I join my hands with Amen. And I think that the Amen is the expression of agreement, of assent, an act of faith in all that went before. Then I can renew my faith every day. I want all the Signs of the Cross that I make in the day to be a grateful acceptance of the Trinity’s life in me and my willingness to share in that life. May the hands I join in faith be generous in giving and receiving help.

If we take a bit of time morning and evening to sign ourselves with the cross in that way we are making a beautiful prayer and placing ourselves constantly under the protection of the Blessed Trinity. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

 

Corpus Christi: The Body and Blood of Christ

Today we have a feast that concerns everyone of us personally – Corpus Christi. Suppose we had a visitor from, say, Mars ( If any are on it) who came to our 10am Mass some day and asked: what is this about? Try to answer him. We’d tell him about Jesus coming into our world for one purpose – to free us from sin and ready us for life after death – how he died and rose – and told us to remember: Do this in memory of me. And that’s exactly what we are doing – recalling his dying and rising and then so giving praise and thanks to his Father for all he did.

Our Martian continues: Explain this Communion as you call it which seems to be wafers of bread and a cup of wine.

Yes, on the night before he died he did something important. And being a Jew of his time he did it in pictures. Puzzled for two or three years as to who he really was, he identified himself  He took bread: I am bread that is broken, blood poured out. And so he changed that bread into his body and the wine into his blood, and told me, his priest, how to do that in the words of consecration.

Do you believe you can do that? Yes, 20,000 times over 54 years I’m doing it.  Everybody here believes that. Yes of course, others – some in our own time couldn’t believe, and walked no more with him. Many since have walked away – to many others it’s not really important and they live their lives without it.

Another meaning of Corpus Christi has been downgraded in the last few centuries. Corpus Christi refers also to the whole People of God. The people are the Body of Christ. And in fact the first meaning of Corpus Christi was the gathering of the community of faith for the sake of the other. We refer to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and can overlook his presence in God’s people. Jesus gave us his body and blood in the Eucharist so that we who receive that body and blood should be the Body of Christ in the world. Jesus is present in the Eucharist so that we should be his presence in our world. Both are tied together – so as Jesus nourishes us with his body and blood in the Eucharist we are to nourish the world with our body and blood. His real presence in the Eucharist is to make us his real presence in the world. If we break that connection between the two we wind up with the absence of Jesus’ mission in the world.

Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian and teacher of the Eucharist won’t allow us to separate one from the other. He tells us – the one who takes communion into the self takes on the challenge to become communion to others and to commit oneself to the works of Jesus. So all of us from every culture and way of life are a vast christian community – connected to all working for the spread of his kingdom.

This is illustrated by a lovely story. A reporter covering Sarajevo saw a little girl shot by a sniper. Putting down her pen she rushed over to a man who picked up the dying child, bundled both into a car and raced to the hospital. Hurry my friend, my child is still breathing. A minute passed. Hurry my friend my child is still warm. Finally – oh God my child is getting cold. When they reached the hospital the little girl was dead. Washing off blood the man said to the reporter: It’s a terrible task for me now, to go and tell her father his little girl is dead. But I thought she was your child, said the irate reporter.  No, but in troubled times all are our children.

Isn’t that the heart of it? To show our solidarity with one another.

To return to our visitor from Mars: So you believe you meet this Christ in each other, especially the poor etc? You do? Yes, we do. It must be exceptionally good to be poor?

Very good, as you see in this 10 o’clock gang.

And you must be scrupulously honest in dealing with one another.  Well  fairly!

And you must be particularly sympathetic to marginalised groups, say, travellers, refugees?  Well I suppose so.

And of course you wouldn’t be talking viciously, slandering one another, or would you? Well,  oh – not much.

You did say you were all part of the Body of Christ. And that you really believe that. Yeh, I know what I said.

Perhaps in the past we have slipped up a bit. We have adored and venerated the Body and Blood from afar, in a tabernacle or monstrance, but haven’t been the Body of Christ in our living.  I know there is a real danger that we stay in passive gazing on Presence. We must improve in active presence. We, nourished by our God, show to others what it means to be the Body of Christ – trying to take part in his tasks and learning all the time how necessary it is to be active. He put it to us – I was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison. When? Where? As long as you did it to the least, you did it to me. That’s what Corpus Christi really means. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; we in the world – both bound together.

 

 

 

Feast of the Sacred Heart

All know the Heart has to do with love. The heart is a symbol the world over.

Love of God is a phrase familiar to us. We think we know it. Talking today to a 98 year old, she couldn’t get over how much God loved her.  We are all familiar with it in our own lives, if we’re honest.

But God’s foolish love is beyond us. Our own experience is all we have and we soon reach our limits. In your job, in mine, we soon run out of love – when someone is awkward enough, contrary enough, combative enough we soon say – well I can take no more; I’m glad to see the back of that fella.

The whole point of the little story in the gospel is about that. It’s not a sensible thing to do to leave 99 safe sheep and go away into the wilderness to search for the stray. Really imprudent! Another example – a woman loses a small coin, searches the home, finds it and then throws a party spending forty times the amount. So that’s the point that God’s love is a foolish love, imprudent, not sensible. You see we are very sensible: we love those who deserve it, the good ones, the easy ones, the grateful ones.

God is away above that. One remarkable phrase out of Old Testament: I am God, not man. When man had had enough, he couldn’t be expected to take any more. God says no – I am God, not man – my powers of loving are not limited like that. As Paul puts it – when we were still sinners, ugly, in our filth, God loved us. He loves us not because we are good but to make us good.

 

There is a pattern of love on this feast of Sacred Heart. Our Lord worked so hard to give us this picture of the Father who makes the sun to shine on good and bad alike – universal and undiscriminating.

 

Like Father, like child. That’s how we imitate the Father. This is terribly important for us in the caring professions, you as nurse, I as priest. It’s too easy to love the lovable, the responsive, the good. Don’t even the pagans do that? The test is what we do for the undeserving – the nuisances, the bums, the waifs, the strays, the contrary, the unlovable, the abusive. That’s the Christ-like quality – that’s what separates divine love from mere human feeling. I am God not man.

 

So focus on two things really on this Feast.

 

[a]  Relish, enjoy, appreciate the love God has for you personally. Like the 98 year old who says:  God is so good to me!   Our health, job, family life, things going well – all gifts to be cherished and appreciated.

 

[b] Take up the challenge of that love – what am I doing to spread it?  – for the awkward, unappreciative, selfish, demanding? Can I take God’s love and share it with those who haven’t known love and need it so much? Let the Sacred Heart tonight warm us with his love and let us then bring it to neediest.

 

 

                    

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