Sunday, April 8, 2018

DOUBT NO LONGER BUT BELEIVE: a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, year B (John 20:19–31)

What it must have been like to be alive at that time, to be a believer just as the Church is beginning!  What drama there must have been as they struggled to deal with not only the horrific death of Christ but with the shock of His resurrection!  Remember orthodox Jews had no such expectation of a resurrection before the Last Day. They did expect the Messiah, the Christ to herald a new Jewish Kingdom.  There world was turned upside down by the shameful death of our Lord upon the cross – that’s what the Jewish leaders intended!  Then they find the empty tomb.  Then He starts to appear to believers. Peter sees Him, and the other apostles, then five hundred disciples.  There are many appearances.  This is just one of those.
Christ is not restricted by His humanity or the materiality of His body.  He could work miracles before but He still respected the laws of science and knocked on a door rather than walk through walls.  Now He does not even bother with that.  As Lord and Creator the Universe is His sandbox and as its Creator He can play with the laws He has decreed as a harpist plays with the strings of His harp.  
There is a playfulness in His sudden appearances.  They are in hiding afraid for their lives and He just shows up and confronts them with His reality.   They are incredulous so He gives the evidence of His identity – His wounds – proof of His suffering, His love, His obedience to the Father, of His resurrection.  He eats and drinks with them to show them that He remains truly human.
Peace is His first wish and gift to us – not just any peace but real peace, peace between us and God.  To make that peace effective He gives them, the apostles, the power to forgive sins or to retain them!  Our sins can be forgiven!  Any evil we may fall into can be wiped away if we repent and allow the Church to apply the healing salve of Christ’s grace in the Sacrament of confession.  His Sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, His offering of His eternal worship of the Father on our behalf, infinitely outweighs any and every evil we could commit.  His song to the Father corrects all our errors and makes us fit for the choirs of Heaven.  
Our sins can not only be forgiven but they can be retained!  That’s not a fact that is often mentioned today! Absolution can be withheld if the penitent does not admit his guilt, or denies some article of the Faith, or for some other serious reason.  Let us not fall into that trap!  Let us not take the grace of God for granted.
Thomas, the positivist, one who asserts that only those things that can be proved are worthy of belief, wants his experiential, measureable evidence.   He is much like many in the modern world that thinks it is being scientific and mature by demanding proof for everything it would rather not acknowledge.  
Science can only deal with the material world, it cannot prove quite a number of things, rational beliefs that cannot be subject to scientific measurement or examination.  It cannot prove logical or mathematical truth since it presupposes them.
It cannot prove metaphysical truths such as the existence of minds other than my own, the reality of the world around me or existence of that world prior not only to my existence but to my present self-awareness.  It presupposes these truths.
It cannot prove the truth or falsehood of ethical judgments about right and wrong.  Science cannot tell us whether the Nazis were right or wrong in what they did to the Jews and other minorities in the concentration camps. It cannot tell us why it is wrong to kill or abuse an innocent human being or to steal, or lie.
It cannot prove the truth or falsehood of aesthetic judgments on the beauty of anything.  Scientists can weigh and measure a painting and subject the materials to various tests but as scientists they have no more to say on its beauty than anyone else.
Lastly science cannot prove science! Science assumes and cannot prove the truth of the mathematics and logic upon which it depends.  Mathematics and logic do not proceed from experiment but from self-evident principles.
Christ’s response to Thomas and His doubt is to present him with the tangible proof of His resurrection, His Real Presence.  Thomas still needs faith to see beyond Christ’s humanity to His Divinity and he is not found lacking.  He goes further than the other disciples and confesses Christ’s Divine personhood.  According to tradition he also went further than the others geographically and ended his days in India.
What proofs can we offer the doubters today? What evidence can we present? We must first know our Faith and hold to it.  We should also know how to present it in ways that are rational and reasonable.  I recommend one book: The Case for Christwhich, although written by a Protestant, lays out the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament accounts of our Lord and his resurrection.
We are also called to be the proof of the resurrection by living our faith.  No one will believe what we say if they are not convinced by what we do, by how we behave.  We must seek to be saints, really and genuinely holy, devoted to the will of the Lord.  Not only will people know we are Christians by our love they will know Christ.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

'HE IS RISEN, HE IS TRULY RISEN': a homily for Easter Sunday (John 20:1–9)

            “Christos Anesti!” and the reply is “Aleithos Anesti!”   These are the greetings among the Greek Christians as they greet one another this morning. ‘Christ is risen!’ and ‘He is truly risen!’.   How do we greet one another?  “Happy Easter” A bit lame, is it not?  Not exactly a proclamation of our joy at the great work of the Lord and the central belief of our Faith is it?  We have contemplated the life, sufferings and death of our Lord and now we celebrate His resurrection. Yet for how many of us does this go much beyond a mere piece of information, something else we ‘kind of’ believe?  It is a common place to disparage the Christian faith today but that only shows the ignorance of those who do not believe.  If one examines the evidence the solid foundations of our Faith appear.  
Let us examine the evidence for the resurrection of our Lord then.  We have John’s own account.  John tells us that he entered the tomb after Peter and while Peter could not believe that our Lord had risen from the dead he, John, saw and believed.  What did he see? He saw four things, four facts. He saw that the guards were gone. He saw the heavy stone was rolled away.  He saw the body was missing and he saw the cloths were rolled up, left behind.

I propose to you that there are four facts that alone point to the truth of our Lord’s resurrection: His burial, the empty tomb, His post-mortem appearances and the disciple's belief in His resurrection.  I don’t have the time to go into all the details but there are plenty of reliable videos and books that lay out the evidence more thoroughly than I can. First though I must tell you about the principle of embarrassment which states that if an account includes facts embarrassing to the community it affects then it is likely to be true.  Made up stories do not have details that are embarrassing to the storyteller!
It might surprise you that I begin with the fact of our Lord’s burial.  There can be no resurrection without a burial.  How do we know He was buried?  Well even Jewish archaeologists accept that the Sepulchre in Jerusalem stood in a graveyard and is, I quote, “almost certainly the tomb of Christ.”  There are no other contenders for that.  The Christian community in Jerusalem remembered where the tomb was even after the Roman’s built a pagan temple on top of it.  That the Roman’s went to the trouble of building a temple there is itself evidence that we have authentic tomb of our Lord. We also have multiple independent sources attesting to Christ’s burial.  In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul quotes an early creed and it mentions the burial.  That creed is now dated to within five years of our Lord’s death.  The embarrassing facts are that our Lord died as a condemned criminal by the most dreadful death the Romans could impose and that his tomb was provided by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the very Sanhedrin that had just condemned Him.   
Then there is the empty tomb.  Christ was buried but then the body disappeared.  The apostles, like all Jews, had an obsession with ritual cleanliness and a horror of touching the dead, especially someone who had bled to death. They would not and could not have taken the body and yet no one else had it.  The embarrassing fact in the finding of the empty tomb is that the first people to discover it are women.  These women are listed as witnesses to this.  In first century Israel women were not considered reliable witnesses and some would not even accept their testimony in court.  (There are those who argue they are still not accepted).  The embarrassing fact that they are listed as witnesses is a sign that the story of the empty tomb is true.  Our Lord’s body disappeared.
Thirdly Christ appeared not just to individuals but to large groups of men and women.  The New Testament records the principle names even of the women who saw Him.  As I have just said  women were not considered reliable witnesses so why mention them?  They are mentioned because they had seen the Lord.  These appearances were not visions, for they ate and drank with Him, walked and talked with Him, and even put their hands into His wounds.  Many years later John writes in one of his letters of his amazement at the resurrection.  Paul, in listing those who had seen the risen Lord, including himself, says in passing that many of these witnesses were still alive.  Why does he mention them?  He mentions them so that they could be consulted on what they had seen.
Lastly the apostles and disciples insisted from the very beginning that our Lord had risen from the dead.  It is thecentral point of their preaching: Christ died and is risen!  Jews at that time had no expectation of any resurrection before the Day of Judgment.  In addition their understanding of the Messiah was of one who would establish an earthly Kingdom.  The shameful crucifixion and death of our Lord was seen as a contradiction of this.  That’s why the Jewish leaders had pushed for our Lord to be crucified! Yet the disciples go out to proclaim that our Lord is the Messiah and the evidence they point to is His resurrection.  In return they were persecuted, tortured and all but one of them was martyred.  The gospel, the message of the death and resurrection of our Lord, brought them toil and suffering.  It separated them from their families and communities and sent them all over the known world and beyond.  It even cost them their lives.  It did not make them famous, nor did it make them rich or powerful. Yet they continued to assert Christ rose from the dead.  If someone is willing to put not only his money and his comfort but also his very life where his mouth is then he must be telling the truth.
There are other evidences that support the truth of the resurrection and of our Faith. I could point to the extraordinarily rapid growth of the Church despite persecution.  I could point to the work of His grace in all the saints down the ages.  I could point to the Shroud of Turin and all the recent work on it that reinforces the belief that it is not only Christ’s shroud but also a witness to the resurrection.  I urge you to research these things for yourselves.  Arm yourselves with the truth of the Faith.  

So the resurrection of our Lord is well attested.  In rising from the dead He did not merely resuscitate.  He did not return to His earthly life.  Instead He no longer hid His divinity but rather He began to manifest it through His Church.  His life was one long revelation of His loving obedience to, and His worship of, the Father.  It reached a crescendo on the cross on Good Friday when He offered all of Himself, His humanity and His divinity, to the Father on our behalf.  It was the completion of His 'YES!' to the Father.  Then came silence, the silence of Holy Saturday.  On the third day the Father gave His 'YES' to the Son by raising Him from the dead and in His resurrection we too rise.
Perhaps the most accessible evidence of the resurrection is us.  If we inform and live our Faith, we will come to understand better what we believe.  As we believe more deeply, we will love our Lord more.  As we love our Lord more we will love our neighbour more.  As we love our neighbour more they will come to see that Christ is not dead, He is risen.  Indeed He is truly risen!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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

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

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

Feast of St Patrick 2018

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

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

Sunday, March 4, 2018

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

You can listen to the audio here.

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN: a homily for the Second Sunday of Lent year B (Mark.9:2–10)

The audio is here.
            I hope that all or most of you have climbed a mountain at some point.  It's one of the things one should do in life.  The view from the top makes the effort worth the while.  It is no surprise then that mountains appear again and again in the history of religions.  They are a natural symbol of the upward journey to God.  We have one here in this church and in every church.  I am standing on top of it.  It is the sanctuary where the altar and the tabernacle stand.  It is a symbolic mountain for it stands not only for Calvary where they crucified our Lord but also for Sinai where Moses received the Law and for Tabor where He was transfigured.
            It was in late Summer that the Lord took His disciples up Tabor.  We know this because Peter talks about making tents or booths for our Lord, Moses and Elijah.  At the harvest festival of Tabernacles, when people stayed out in the fields, they made shelters from the branches of the trees and so Peter thinks of making shelters on the mountaintop. 
            Our Lord brings His closest men up the mountain so when at its top He is transformed, transfigured, they can be reassured and strengthened for the trial to come, the trial of His suffering and death.  He allows His Divinity to shine through His humanity and so illumine these men.  Moses and Elijah appear, Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the greatest of the prophets, speaking to our Lord.  They stand for the whole of Jewish religion pointing to Jesus as its completion and fulfilment. 
            The apostles cannot comprehend what they are seeing.  They are stunned at this mystery.  Peter then, as usual, puts his foot or rather his mouth, in it.  He speaks as if our Lord were merely on a par with Moses and Elijah.  A cloud descends, an event that happened often in the Old Testament when God appeared, and a voice from Heaven speaks: "This is my Beloved Son.  Listen to Him."  What more affirmation does one need?  Still they do not grasp what has been revealed to them.  They are obedient to our Lord but they still argue over what 'resurrection from the dead' means.
            At every Mass we come to the Mountain of the Lord.  At every Mass we are in the Presence of the Lord.  At every Mass the Sacrifice of the Lord on Calvary offered to the Father but that is so much, much more than it appears.  On Calvary our Lord offered to the Father His entire Divine Person through His humanity on our behalf.  He offered the Father His total, absolute and unconditional obedience and His utter worship, the total adoration, obedience and worship that He gives freely in eternity to the Father.  He made it visible, and available to us, in becoming human and, above all, in His suffering and death on the Cross. He offered it freely, gladly, to the Father on our behalf.  His sacrifice infinitely outweighs any and all sins that the human race could ever commit.  It is an inexhaustible fountain of mercy and forgiveness.
            At every Mass therefore we come to adore Him at Calvary and yet more than Calvary.  The Christ we adore and receive is not the crucified Christ, still less the dead Christ, but Christ reigning in glory in the heart of the Trinity.  We receive all of God in Holy Communion for He holds nothing back.  Only the cloud of our weak senses and our weak faith prevents us from seeing that glory.  We are blinded by the dust of this world's smog and choked by the fumes of its lies.  We need to climb up above it by our spiritual warfare, by praying, fasting, and giving to the poor.  By ascending the mountain in Lent we prepare to face the Lord not only on Calvary but on that Holy Mountain that is Heaven.
            Unfortunately we cannot be all the time on the mountain of the Mass not in this world.  We are sent out to our neighbour to draw them to the Lord.  We return to the mountain by taking Lent seriously.  We return to the mountain by prayer.  You may have heard of a 'spiritual communion.'  A 'spiritual communion' can be made whenever circumstances prevent us from going to Holy Communion.  Perhaps we are sick in bed, detained by some urgent act of charity or not in a state of grace with no chance to confess yet we want to receive the Lord.  Then we can turn to Him, repenting of our sins, and ask Him that He still make available to us those graces we would have had if we could receive Holy Communion.  He will not deny us what we ask in faith and repentance.  But one can make such a communion anytime, anywhere, whenever we desire to receive the Lord.  The saints recommend us to do so frequently.  Indeed every time we pray it should involve a 'spiritual communion' where we return in faith to the foot of the Holy Mountain of His Presence and ascend to Him, asking for those graces He desires to pour out upon us.  He delights in blessing us.  All prayer, whenever we lift our heart and mind to God, is an ascending of that mountain, a seeking of God's merciful Presence. 
            Not only at every Mass but whenever we read the Scriptures, and above all the Gospels, the Beloved Son of the Father speaks to us and we are commanded by the Father to listen.  The Father has nothing more to say since He has said everything in His Son.  How can we claim to be Christians if we do not even read or listen to His words?  How can we be His sheep if we do not even know the Shepherd's voice? 
            I often recommend that people read Scripture and to want to know more is a holy and noble desire.  The Bible, Scripture, is not a single book but a library and it can be confusing without a map or a plan for reading it and it helps if one has a guide.  If you want to know more about Scripture then I recommend that you read it with the Church, that is, with Her liturgy.  The best way to do this is to invest in a Sunday Missal and, if your pocket stretches that far, even a daily Missal.  In this way we can read and pray our way through the Church's year, listening to the Lord speaking to us in manageable pieces.  In addition the prayers from the Mass are included so that one can use these as models for one's own prayer.
            No one can climb the mountain for you.  Each of us must choose to go up to the Lord or not.  No one who has made the effort ever regretted the climb.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

FOLLOWING CHRIST OUT INTO THE DESERT: a homily for the First Sunday in Lent, year B (Mark 1.12–15).

You can listen to the homily here.
            Why did the Spirit drive Jesus out into the desert?  What good could He do out there in all that emptiness?  Who could he preach to or teach?  Who could He heal out there?  The desert (more rocks than sand) was reputedly the home of demons.  Why would our Lord go out there?
            By going out into the desert, driven out there by the Holy Spirit according to St Luke, our Lord is confronting the enemy, our enemy, the evil one.  The forty days should bring to mind the forty years of the Jews in the desert after they fled Egypt and the forty days Elijah travelled to Horeb, where God revealed Himself not in the stormy wind, the earthquake or the raging fire but in the sound of a gentle breeze.   God appeared to Elijah in a whisper.  Our Lord is not only showing the evil one who is boss He is also making a personal and private pilgrimage.  He goes out into the desert to get away from all the distractions so that He pay perfect attention to the voice of Father whispering in His heart.

            From that pilgrimage He comes back with His clear and succinct message: 'Repent and believe in the Good News.'  Not just 'repent' and not just 'believe in the Good News' but 'Repent and believe in the Good News.'  The word for 'repent' in the original Greek actually means to 'change one's mind,' to do a u-turn in one's thinking'.  The new direction we take then must be that of Christ our Lord.  We are to believe in His teaching for it is the Truth, the Way, the Life. 
            So our Lord also goes out into the desert to give example to us.  We too must find the desert in our lives and do battle with the evil there.  We too must make the journey to the Holy Mountain of God's Presence so we can repent and discover His gentle mercy whispering His love in our hearts.  We too must discover that the Kingdom of God is not an abstract concept, a theological opinion, but a reality that dwells within us and all around us.  God, through the Sacraments, has made us His, His body, His tabernacle.  We are called to be His ambassadors, His representatives to others, and our behaviour is meant to be a proclamation of His Presence within us. 

            Yet we are weak and fallen creatures.  We do the very things we advise others not to do, that once we swore we would never do or that we promised we wouldn't do again.  We do again and again the things that hurt those around us and hurt us too.  We are all of us slow learners.  On our own we cannot change.  Only God's grace, His very life dwelling and operating within us, can enable us, empower us to become what He made and redeemed us to be.  Lent is the privileged time for starting that effort afresh, of clearing out the rubbish in our lives and making space for God and our neighbour.

            By going into the desert it is not expected that we head off to the wilder parts of Kerry or Connemara.  We are to create our own desert within our own lives.  We do so by turning off the radio and the TV.  By reducing the time we spend on the computer or our phone and by avoiding unnecessary conversations or reading matter.  We make the desert by removing all those things that distract us from giving time to God and discovering His Presence within us.  He is always there but like the gentle breeze that revealed the Presence of God to Elijah one has to be really still and silent to hear it.  By being gentle, still and silent we discover the gentle stillness and silence where God dwells.  There we will also discover peace and joy and the strength to love others.
            In the meantime though it is not enough for us to repent and ask for forgiveness.  If you hurt a child do you not hurt that child's parents and indeed her entire family?   God is our creator and our Father.  Any and every sin is therefore ultimately and most importantly a sin against Him.  If I broke your window and you forgave me, that would be great but it would not fix the window.  In justice I would need to replace that window.  Likewise, with our sins God has forgiven us but even after we have received absolution in Confession the damage we have done to ourselves and to others remains.  We need to repair the relationships we have broken or harmed, returned what we have taken, and undo the harm done.  For those things we cannot fix and for the harm done of which we are unaware we do penance.  We pray, we fast and we do works of charity especially giving to those in need.  These three are the traditional remedies for the effects of our sins.

            Prayer is the first on our list.  To pray does not mean to rattle off the prayers we learnt as children, even the Our Father that our Lord Himself gave us.  Those and the others we learnt were given as models for us in how to pray but prayer itself cannot be limited to a certain set of words.  To pray is to lift the heart and mind to God.  Whatever enables us to truly and sincerely lift our heart and mind to God is prayer.  In Lent we need to make the desert where we can lift heart and mind to God so that we can face and overcome the evils in our life.
            Fasting and abstinence are not popular today.  Our culture values the personal freedom to eat and drink what we like when we like and as we like as long as we can pay for it.  To fast means to withdraw from all the unnecessary food and drink and other things that deaden us to the voice of the Lord and the needs of our neighbour.  It also teaches us the reality of the hunger in which so many people, children especially, spend so much of their lives.  A little hunger can awaken our compassion for them and if that compassion leads to action on their behalf then it has done its job.
            To give to the poor, though, means far more than giving money to beggars.  You may be better giving your money to known charities like the Penny Dinners anyway.  I am reminded of the man I saw on O'Connell bridge so many years ago who dropped food into the laps of the children begging there.  It was quickly, quietly and effectively done.  Any act of charity is giving to the poor for it is giving to someone in need.  Charity includes giving our time and our attention to those in need.  It includes forgiveness of those who have hurt us and our help to those who need it. 
            Find that desert in your life and seek the Lord's Presence.  He will give you the power to dig deeper than your pocket: He will give you the power to dig down into your heart and find the living water.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

MAKING CHRIST A LEPER: A homily for the Sixth Sunday, year B (Mark 1.40–45).

As usual you can listen to the audio here.
            We don't have lepers today in Ireland.  No one is at serious risk of contracting that contagious disease where one rots from one's extremities inwards.  In the Middle Ages leprosy was here.  Back then they did as was done in ancient times: they excluded the leper (or anyone suspected of having leprosy).  They even held your funeral and distributed your property to your heirs.  A leper could not enter any town nor could one join in any community activity.  The leper died to his family and friends, became the actual 'living dead,' and lived in poverty among his or her fellow lepers, abandoned, feared and hated.  There were no medications to stop the disease back then, nor any to ease its effects.  Lepers were abandoned to their own devices living a violent and savage existence while awaiting a slow and dreadful death.  In the time of our Lord leprosy was often seen as the symbol of sin and the sinner as the archetypal sinner suffering punishment.

            A leper comes to the Lord and asks not to be merely healed but to be cleansed.  In a culture that was obsessed with purity to the point of having Mikvahs, special pools or tanks used solely for ritual purification, this man's request is profound.  He is asking our Lord not only to be healed from his sickness but to be restored to complete righteousness, to bring him back from living death.  He wants to go home to own people and live a normal life again.
            Our Lord is more than willing to heal this man. It says in the original Greek that the Lord was moved in His very bowels, His guts, meaning that He was moved in the depths of His being, moved with profound compassion.  Not just willing to heal the leper, to restore him to righteousness, but the Lord reaches out and touches him!  This would render Jesus unclean according to the Jewish law.
            Our Lord then tells him to keep silent, to obey the Law of Moses and show himself to the priests, and thus be reinstated to Jewish society.  He probably did not have to go far to do this.  He probably did not need to go to Jerusalem for there were priests living all over Israel at that time.  Our Lord expects him to obey, a small request considering what the Lord has done for him.  Yet the man does not obey.  Whether he went to the priest we are not told but the man did not keep quiet.  He thought he knew better than God.  He would go his own way and so he started proclaiming what our Lord had done for him.
            The result is that our Lord can no longer go into the towns and villages.  The Lord made Himself unclean by touching the leper so that the leper might be cleansed from his sickness and freed from his living death but the leper by his disobedience has made our Lord a leper.  It is the Lord who is driven out into the wilderness by the crowds, by the hostility of those who are threatened by his teaching, his actions and his miracles.  The wilderness was not just empty space.  The wilderness was the home of outlaws, outcasts and lepers.  It was also believed to be the home of demons.  Our Lord is made a leper, an outcast and an outlaw through this man's disobedience. 

            It is the Lord Who has cleansed us our living death in Baptism and poured His Spirit on us in Confirmation, Who absolves us of the leprosy of sin and restores us to holiness and wholeness in Confession, and Who feeds us with His own Body and Blood in Holy Communion.  He holds nothing back but reaches out to us to offer us wholeness and eternal life with Him in Heaven.  He has come to us and touched us, become one of us that we might be one with Him.  He is the source of every good thing in our life and He wants us to be His witnesses, His ambassadors, to others. 
            Yet our sins have consequences.  They offend not only against our neighbour; they offend against the Lord and His Kingdom.  The Second Vatican Council itself said that the greatest cause of atheism was the behaviour of Christians.  When we disobey, when we are unwilling to take the Gospel and the teaching of Christ and His Church seriously and put it into action daily, then our behaviour becomes a counter-witness to that message.  By our disobedience, by our sins, we drive Christ out into the wilderness of our society and He becomes a leper and an outcast, unwelcome and despised by others.  
            Lent begins on Wednesday.  It is a time for us to make space for God and our neighbour in a more intense way.  Giving up sweets or going to Mass daily will mean nothing if we do not seek to change how we treat our neighbour and our Lord.  I would urge you then to make the decision not only to do a little extra but to go further and decide to inform yourself about your Faith.  Never before have Catholics in Ireland been so highly educated and had such easy access to information about their Faith and yet never before have they been so widely ignorant of that Faith. 

            In addition I urge you to pray that Faith and put it into action.  By our obedience to the Lord we give Him the space to shine through our actions and touch the lives of those around us.  By our obedience we bring the Lord out of the wilderness and make Him present to those who do not know or have forgotten Him.  By our obedience we attain eternal life not only for ourselves but for those whose lives we touch.  Do not make Christ into a leper.  By your obedience make Him present instead.


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