Homily Easter Sunday 2015.
I want to begin by recalling an experience I had on my birthday 30 years ago. I was at the end of my tether, tired and suffering from emotional exhaustion. While I was celebrating Mass on my birthday a great and unexpected anointing came upon me and the congregation. We all had a powerful awareness of the awesome presence of the risen Lord. I thought a lot about it afterwards. What was most striking was the Paradox of experiencing God's power in powerlessness. I repeatedly asked myself the question, Did Jesus experience this sort of thing?
The Bible tells us that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. In Heb 5:15, we read, "This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin." Most commonly we experience powerlessness over sin and its consequences. As Paul says in Rm 7:19, "I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway." Although Jesus didn't sin, St Paul says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). In other words he became our scape goat by taking our sins and sufferings upon himself. As St Peter pointed out, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross " (1 Pt 2:24). In other words, although Jesus did not commit any sins he suffered the typical effects of sin, such as suffering and separation from God. All that was evident during Holy week
· Garden of Gethsemane, no reply from God.
· On the cross felt separated from God. "My God My God why have you forsaken me" (Mt 27:46).
· As his life blood drained away, he sank into the radical powerlessness of death saying, "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46).
It looked as if powerlessness, sin, suffering and death had the last word.
Easter Sunday celebrates the triumphant fact that God had the last word when he raised Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit from death to glorious new life. We can experience God's power in our weakness. For example in our
-Struggle with sin, e.g. when an alcoholic trusts in the higher power to stop drinking alcohol.
- In our struggle to forgive and love those who hurt and mistreat us.
- When we have to minister effectively to others, e.g. praying for an infilling of the Spirit, a healing, or deliverance from an evil spirit.
As St Paul said in 2 Cor 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." In Phil 4:13 he says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
I received a letter from a priest I know well during the week. He is old and he knows his days are numbered. As he said, "my candle is burning low." He is facing what we all will have to face, namely the radical the powerlessness of death. As we die we need to trust in the power of God which we have experienced so many times in our weakness during life. In replying to the priest I mentioned, I quoted these words from Eph 1:18-20 which are full of Easter faith, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms."
Homily on The Baptism of Jesus
The baptism of Jesus was the first of the new mysteries of light, which was added to the Rosary by St John Paul II. It was appropriate because this event was crucially important in the life of Jesus. The first thing we can say about it, is that it is really surprising that Jesus, the sinless one, submitted to a baptism of repentance as if he were a sinner. But as Is 53:6 explains, he became our scapegoat, “the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.” Saint Paul echoed that thought in 2 Cor 5:21 when he stated, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” In other words, although Jesus committed no sins he allowed himself to suffer effects of sin, such as a certain sense of separation from God. For example, on the cross he cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Unlike Matthew’s gospel, Mark’s account says that the baptism of Jesus was a private experience shared between the Father and the Son. Mark tells us that God the Father referred to two texts from the Old Testament:
(A) The first was taken from Is 42:1: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in
whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him.”
(B) The second quotation was from Ps 2:7: “He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have
become your Father.”
When he heard these words, Jesus realized a number of things.
· Firstly, what the Father said, confirmed Jesus’ awareness that he was loved. As Bl Paul VI observed in his encyclical On Christian Joy: “Jesus.....knows that He is loved by His Father. When He is baptized on the banks of the Jordan, this love, which was present from the first moment of His Incarnation, is manifested (to the onlookers)… This certitude is inseparable from the consciousness of Jesus.”
· Secondly, at his baptism, Jesus recognized that the time had come for him to make known his identity as the promised Messiah. For centuries the people had been expecting a political liberator, like King David of old, but Jesus knew that his vocation was to be the suffering servant referred to by the prophet Isaiah. He was the One destined to suffer and die as a ransom for sinners.
· Thirdly, as a result of his baptismal experience, Jesus knew that the Father was commissioning and equipping him to embark on his evangelizing mission. Jesus expressed its purpose in his local synagogue when he stated: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). He was being called to show to others, especially those who were “sad and dejected like sheep without a shepherd,” the infinite love that God the Father was showing to him. As he said in Jn 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”
This mystery of light has great relevance for all believers because, as John the Baptist declared in a prophetic way, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” We all received the Holy Spirit in a sacramental way when we were baptized and confirmed. But we need to claim that grace in an experiential way, in adult life, by being baptized in the Spirit. Presumably Pope Benedict XVI had this in mind when he said, “let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; let us recover awareness of our Baptism and our Confirmation, ever timely sources of grace.”
A number of years ago I conducted a mission in a Dublin parish. One of the evenings I was there I asked members of the congregation who had wept for joy because they were so aware of the love of Jesus, to put up their hand. Only a few hands were raised. I said, “what a pity,” and went on to suggest that the people should ask for that grace during the mission. Two days later a woman spoke to me in the church. She told me that she had been impressed by what I had said about the love of God and had prayed to experience it in a joyful way. She said her prayer had been answered because she had woken up at 3 A.M. that morning weeping profusely. She was vividly aware of the love of Jesus for her and was full of joy. She got up went into another room and wept for joy, on and off, for an hour. Evidently, she had been baptized in the Spirit. We can only evangelize effectively when we experience the joy of the Gospel, which is the joy of receiving the free gift of God’s love.
Homily Epiphany 2015
When I was teaching the psychology of religion to students, I used to tell them about three types of religious people.
1. Firstly, there are people who have extrinsic religion. They ask, “what can God do for me?” In other words they will only remain devoted to the Lord as long as God satisfies their needs.
2. Secondly, there are other people who are devoted to God, for God’s own sake. Typically, they ask “what can I do for God?”
3. Thirdly, there is an intermediate group of people on a quest. They ask questions about the meaning and purpose of life and are open-minded. They will follow the truth wherever it leads.
The Magi were typical of this third approach to religion. They were gentiles, perhaps priests from Babylon, who were obviously seeking God.
a) We have reason to believe that they had probably heard pagan and Jewish prophesies about a coming messiah. For example in Num 24:17 we are told about Balaam, a pagan. He was inspired by the Spirit of God to say, “The oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the most high, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now, I behold him but not near. There shall come a star out of Jacob, a scepter shall arise out of Israel.” It was a prediction of a coming messianic king over 1000 years prior to the actual event.
b) These men were interested in astrology and astronomy.
Benedict XVI says in Jesus of Nazareth that Jesus was born between 7 and 4 B.C. He refers to the fact that
- In 1614 Johannes Kepler wrote about on alignment of Jupiter and Saturn at the time of Jesus' birth
- Chinese observation of a supernova around 4 B.C.
One or other of these events may have prompted the Wise men to think that the prophesies were about to be fulfilled so they followed the star wherever it led.
C) They consulted biblical scholars in Jerusalem who told them about the prophecy in Mic 5:2 which indicated that Bethlehem would be the place of the messiah’s birth.
Their long journey which was guided by a combination of the natural sciences and scripture texts led them, not to an abstract truth, but to the person of Jesus who is the Truth, God incarnate. Their epiphany experience led them to worship. As Deut 4:29 had promised, “From there you will seek me and if you seek me with all your heart, and all your soul, you shall surely find me.”
In par 165 of The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis talks about the “desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart.” If people tune in to it and follow it, they can encounter God.
Story of the man in Southport.
Here is the recording of a homily I gave at the 1999 Divine Mercy Conference in Dublin. It is on YouTube. You might like to listen to it.
Homily Sun 6A Ordinary Time
Today's first and 3rd readings focus on the role of the law in the life of a believer. Book of Sir 2nd cent B.C. It one of the clearest passages in O.T. on the subject of free will. The moral life is a matter of choice, between the way of water and fire, life and death. If we make right choices, we will enjoy fellowship with God, if not we will be separated from him. Taken literally, this text is Pelagian. The phrase, "to behave faithfully is within your power." seems to assume that if we want to, we can keep the law by our own free decision. This notion seems to virtually ignore the influence of original sin. As Paul was to say in Rom 7:18-25, "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. . . So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jewish Christian was aimed at a Jewish Christian audience. It is contains a quotation from Jesus about the importance of the OT Torah which is very hard to interpret. It seems to reassert what Sir said about the importance of observing he whole of the Jewish law. The first problem with this text is that although Jesus said that, "till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved" There were 613 precepts in the OT law. Significantly, the Christian Church no longer feels bound by many of them. Just to give one example. Num 15:37-40 says that all Jewish men were to wear a cloak with a tassel in each of its four corners. As we all know, nowadays Christian men are not obliged to wear a tallit with tassels.
It would have to be said that the Christian understanding is deeply influenced by St Paul's attitude to the Torah. Although he was a Jew himself, he represented the Gentile Jews. In Gal 2:15-16, he said, "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." It was thinking of this kind that determined his attitude to the issue of circumcision at the Council of Jerusalem. The Jewish Christians wanted all Gentile converts to be circumcised as the law directed. But as Paul said in Acts 15:10-11, "why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." Paul opposed the requirement of circumcision for male Gentile converts in case they got the impression that it was necessary for salvation and implied that the person was also bound to observe all of the Torah. In the event James, the brother of Jesus, and leader of the Jerusalem Church, decided the matter when he supported Paul's argument and said, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15:19-20).
How can we reconcile Jewish and Gentile Christian attitudes to the OT law? When I was thinking about this question I was reminded of the transfiguration of Jesus when Moses and Elijah appeared to him, one representing the law, and the other the prophets. Both streams pointed to Jesus, found their fulfilment in him, and led to a new synthesis. The prophet Jeremiah had said that God promised that at a point in the future, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest" (Jer 31:31-34). That prophecy was fulfilled with the coming of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Once the love of God was poured into people's hearts, they fulfilled the law by loving their neighbour as themselves. As Paul said, echoing the teaching of Jesus in Mt 7:12, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law" (Rom 13:8-10). St Augustine summarized the Christian ethical ideal when he said, "love God and do what you will." This is similar to what Paul had in mind when he said in Gal 5:18, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law."
Corpus Christi 2013
Although Luke has an account of the last Supper in chapter 22 of his Gospel, the Church has chosen the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish as our gospel for the feast of Corpus Christi. Jesus said in his mission statement that the Spirit was upon him to bring good news to the poor. We are told in the Gospel that he had been doing just that. He had been telling the people about the coming of the Kingdom of God, namely, that he was freeing them from the curse of sin and healing their illnesses which were the penalty of sin. Then the apostles suggested that he send the crowds home in order that they might eat and drink. But Jesus said no. Why?
In his Beatitudes he had said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat . . . But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:25; 33). Jesus had been seeking first the kingdom, so he believed that God would supply the apostles and the crowd with their daily bread. He said to the apostles, “give the people food yourselves.” They said they had only 5 loaves and 2 fish and gave them to Jesus. We are told that he did four things. He took the food, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the apostles for distribution. These are the four words we associate with the Eucharist. As the apostles distributed the food they found that they had more than enough, indeed, having fed the large crowd, they were able to fill twelve baskets with food. One implication of this gospel is that those who share in the Eucharist should be willing to share what they have with the poor in times of austerity.
Story of prayer group in Juarez in New Mexico in 1972. It was led by a Jesuit priest called Fr Rick Thomas. One day the members were doing a Bible study on a parable about a great feast in Lk 14:7-14. The Lord said, Don’t invite friends, relatives and neighbours in case they return the invitation, rather invite the poor and the needy who can’t reciprocate. There was a shanty town in Juarez and poor people eked out a living by searching for saleable scrap on the rubbish dump. The members of the Juarez prayer group made a decision to go there with members of another prayer group from El Passo at dinner time on Christmas day. They expected 125 people. But when they got there found that there were two groups with a combined number of 350 people. The members of the prayer groups started to distribute the food they had brought, burritos, a number of oranges, apples, 2 hams and some tamales’. They fed all the people, and gave them lots of food to bring home, and nevertheless they had lots left over. They brought the surplus to two orphanages for distribution. Fr. Rick and his companions were certain that the food had multiplied. That miracle initiated a successful evangelistic outreach to the people in the rubbish dump. Fr. Rick died in 2006. Already a campaign to forward his cause for beatification and canonization is under way.
What today’s feast suggests is that we should care generously for the poor of our day while relying on divine providence for help. I suspect that this understanding of Corpus Christi would be in line with the thinking of St Vincent de Paul. There is a striking painting which shows St. Vincent sitting at a round table with a number of the poor and the needy. The image of Christ’s face can be clearly seen in the white table-cloth which looks like the Eucharistic host. The Christ who is present in today’s Eucharist is also present in the poor. When you come to receive holy communion, the minister of the Eucharist will say, “The Body of Christ,” when we say “amen,” we are affirming Christ’s real presence in the consecrated bread and in the poor we meet.
Fr Rick and others describe what happened at the rubbish dump.
Homily 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013: The Gifts of the Spirit
The Second Vatican Council took place 50 years ago. During the Council an important debate took place on the subject of lay ministry and the charisms of the Holy Spirit. There were two schools of thought.
· The traditionalists, led by Cardinal Rufini, adopted a cessationist point of view. They argued that the charisms were granted to the early Church in order to get it firmly established. When Christianity took root in the Greco-Roman world the charisms mentioned in 1 Cor 12:8-10 were withdrawn.
· The progressives, led by Cardinal Suenens argued that there was a spectrum of charisms ranging from the commonplace to the more remarkable. Many of these, especially the more ordinary gifts, such as leadership, administration, and teaching, were already widely dispersed among the faithful for the edification of the Church. If God wished, he could restore the more remarkable gifts to the Church. In the event the second point of view was supported by the majority of the bishops.
Their prophetic teaching was expressed in paragraph twelve of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. And par three of the Constitution on the Laity. The Council’s teaching can be summarized in the following points;
1] Grace comes to us primarily through sacraments and clerical ministry.
2] Grace also comes through the charisms mentioned in 1 Cor 12:8- 10.
3] The Holy Spirit distributes simple and exceptional gifts, among lay people.
4] These gifts are given to build up the Church in holiness and to develop people.
5] The charisms are a wonderful means of apostolic vitality.
6] These gifts are to be received with gratitude and consolation .
7] In virtue of baptism, lay people have a right to exercise their charisms.
8] Lay people have a duty to use their charisms for the good of the Church and the world.
9] Clergy should test the charisms to see that they are used for the common good.
10] The clergy should be careful not to quench the Spirit by an arbitrary use of authority.
11] Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly sought after.
Two years after the ending of Vatican II in 1965, the charisms were renewed in the Catholic Church. From that time onwards, they were poured out in abundance on clergy and lay people alike, firstly, in the U.S., and later around the world. It is estimated that by now well over 100 million Catholics around the world have been baptized in the Spirit and received the nine gifts of the Spirit mentioned in this weekend’s second reading.
We are living at a time when we have witnessed the silent apostasy of millions who live as if God does not exist. This is particularly obvious in Europe. This week NPR ran a series called, “Losing Our Religion.” It referred to research done by the Pew Research Centre which indicates that one in five people in the U.S. has no religious affiliation. Many of these people in Europe and the U.S. have little or no sense of the supernatural. In this context, the charisms have an important role to play in the new evangelization called for by the Church. When Christians can demonstrate the truth of the good news they proclaim by means of deeds of power, such as healings and miracles, they manifest the supernatural power and presence of the Risen Lord.
In an article entitled, “The Charisms and the New Evangelisation,” Cardinal Danneels said, “In times of crisis like today, the Spirit multiplies its gifts.” A little later he added, “The more the life of the people of God is harsh, the more God grants his gifts. What would be the particular gifts today which the Lord gives us? Would it not be faith which moves mountains, which brings about miracles and which thus gives weight to the proclamation of the gospel?” Pope Benedict agrees. A few years ago he said, “In the heart of a world adversely affected by rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit has come about, amounting to a worldwide renewal movement. What the New Testament describes with reference to the charisms as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit is no longer merely ancient, past history: this history is becoming a burning reality today.”
Is it any wonder that St Paul said in 1 Cor 14:1, “Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts.” They are rooted in divine love, express that love, and build up the same love in the Christian community. Echoing the words of scripture, Bl John Paul II said at an historical gathering of new ecclesial movements and communities in Rome in 1998, “Today, I would like to cry out to all of you gathered here in St. Peter's Square and to all Christians: Open yourselves docilely to the gifts of the Spirit! Accept gracefully and obediently the charisms which the Spirit never ceases to bestow on us! Do not forget that every charism is given for the common good, that is, for the benefit of the whole Church.”
Homily Notes Sunday 6B 2012
The only real life lepers I ever met were in Ethiopia. There were six of them dressed in white with faces that had been ravaged by Hansen’s disease. They were part of a colony of about 170 who were living on the outskirts of the town. They received no education, had no work and survived by begging.
It may surprise you to know that when the Bible speaks about lepers and leprosy, it doesn’t refer specifically to Hansen’s disease. It was an umbrella term that referred to skin disorders of various kinds such as ring worm, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, leucaderma and possibly Hansen’s disease although scripture scholars think that on balance it was unlikely. For example there is a story in 2 Kngs 5which describes how Naaman the leper was cured by the prophet Elisha. However, it is clear from the description of his symptoms that he wasn’t suffering Hansen’s disease. Those who were afflicted in one way or the other regarded their skin disease as a scourge for three main reasons.
* Firstly, it was sore, itchy and unsightly.
* Secondly, As we heard in today’s 1st reading it made them unclean. As a result they were ostracized and had to live apart from normal society.
* Thirdly, there was a religious stigma associated with leprosy. It was assumed that the bodily affliction was a punishment sent by God for some serious sin that the person must have committed in the past.
In the light of these points is it any wonder that the leper in today’s gospel fell on the knees of Jesus and pleaded with him for healing, saying, “If you wish you can make me clean.” He seemed to be quite confident that Jesus had the power to heal, but he was not sure that he would want to heal him, right then and there of his particular ailment.
Then we are told that Jesus was moved with pity. That phrase in English fails to convey the full import of the equivalent phrase in Greek. It could be loosely paraphrased as follows, “Jesus was moved to the pit of his stomach with a powerful feeling of compassion and empathy for the unfortunate man who had to endure so much suffering.” Apparently in some versions of Mark’s gospel it says that Jesus was angry. Of course he was not angry with the leper but rather with the horrible disease which was like a scourge of Satan.
He said to him, “I will do it, be made clean.” Once again that phrase in English does reallyconvey the full meaning. It could be loosely paraphrased as follows. “What on earth do you take me for, do you really think that I would want you to go on enduring this affliction. Of course I want to heal you, in order to restore your dignity and your relationship with the local community. Be made clean right now.”
We are told that the leprosy left him immediately. Then Jesus asked the leper to have his healing confirmed by the priest, as the law required in Lev 14:2-5. This official verification was intended by Jesus to complete the man’s healing by restoring him to full membership of the community, free from religious stigma.
What can we learn from this gospel? I’m sure that there are many possible implications. From a personal point of view I find that it is particularly relevant for anyone who prays for healing of one kind or another. Like Jesus we need to have genuine compassion and empathy for the suffering person. Usually the man or woman asking for the prayer is like the leper in the sense that he or she can say, “Lord I know you can heal, but do you want to heal me, right now, of this particular ailment?” Usually it is much the same for the person saying the prayer.
A year or two ago I can remember conducting a parish mission in a Dublin suburb. Each afternoon I was available in a room in the Church to hear confessions, counsel people and to offer prayer ministry. I can remember that woman came in early in the week who was childless. This was a real suffering for her which left her feeling unfilled, a failure as a woman, and a possible source of gossip among other women. Before I prayed for her I said, “God is love. God loves you. Because he loves you, he really wants what is best for you. His love is the answer to your deepest need.” Then I put my hands on her head and tried to pray in the present rather than the future tense. “Thank you Lord that you love this woman. Your heart is going out to her in her suffering. You want what is best for her and her husband. I believe that even as I pray your Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, it is even now at work in her womb. It is the same mighty Spirit that raised you from death to life. May it enable her to bear new life. I thank you that right now that the Holy Spirit is at work in this woman’s reproductive organs.” As I prayed along these lines, I got a growing conviction that she would conceive. When the prayer was complete I said to her, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you are pregnant within three months. Write to me if you conceive. Within a month or two I received a letter to say that she was pregnant, thanks be to God. I may say in passing that during that mission another woman had exactly the same experience.
Clearly, God answers prayer when it is offered in expectant faith. We can’t will to have such trust. It is evoked by focusing on the love and goodness of the Lord, the One who says to us, “of course I want to.”
Homily Notes for Sunday 5B 2012: Needs and Priorities
When I was a young priest, I can remember looking for a sense of direction in my ministry. Over a period of time I concluded that I should aim to be compassionate. I could see in the Gospels that Jesus often spoke about compassion, and that the evangelists often said that his deeds were motivated by compassion. I strongly identified with something St Thomas Aquinas wrote: "Compassion is heartfelt identification with another's distress, driving us to do what we can to help….As far as outward activity is concerned, compassion is the Christian's whole rule of life." For me being compassionate became synonymous with the will of God. But I must admit that I found that it was demanding and exhausting.
Then in the early 1980s I attended a conference in Dublin, where Fr. Jim Burke, a well known American Dominican preacher, addressed us. During one of his talks I felt he was speaking directly to me when he said, “some of you are tempted to believe that the will of God is the same as compassion.” But he said, “it is a questionable belief. Those of you who try to live on this basis are in danger of burn-out as a result of trying to respond to the suffering of an endless number of people.”
Sometime later I read today’s gospel. I was stuck by the fact that it makes it clear that Jesus acted with compassion when he healed Peter’s mother in law as well as all the sick and oppressed people who came to him for healing and exorcism later that day. But then Mark tells us that very early the next morning, Jesus got up to pray. When the apostles found him they informed him that everyone was looking for him, presumably for healing and exorcism. But instead of returning to the village to perform those compassionate deeds, Jesus said, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.” A number of comments can be made about this unexpected response.
· Firstly, rather than being motivated primarily by compassion, Jesus was primarily motivated by the will of God. When he prayed privately he was seeking guidance from his Father. As he said on one occasion, “I do just as the Father has commanded me” (Jn 14:31). The author of Heb 10:7 added, “As it is written of me in the scroll, behold I come to do your will, O God.”
· Secondly, implicit in the difference between compassionate action and seeking the will of God is a distinction between pastoral needs and evangelical priorities. Pastoral needs are unending because people suffer from an endless ailments. But God’s evangelistic priority for Jesus was that he should preach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God in every town and village of Israel. As Jesus testified when he made his mission statement in his local synagogue in Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tiding to the poor” (Lk 4:18).
· Thirdly, one way that the evil spirit tried to weaken and disrupt the coming of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus was to get him to focus solely on the pastoral needs of the people rather than on the evangelistic priorities of his Father. As St Paul reminds us, Satan sometimes appears as an angel of light (cf. 2 Cor 11:14) by using something good to distract us from something better. It was because the apostles were aware of this that they said, “So the twelve called together the community of disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at tables” (Acts 6:2). Compassionate service of others was a pastoral need, but preaching was an evangelistic priority.
It seems to me that today’s gospel has important implications for contemporary our dioceses and parishes. If you look at recent Church documents they make it clear that evangelisation is the priority of the Catholic Church. Let me offer two examples. In par. 14 of Evangelisation in the Modern World Pope Paul VI wrote: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelising all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church . . . Evangelising is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists to evangelise.” Sometime later, John Paul II said in par. 3 of his encyclical Mission of the Redeemer, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to the new evangelisation. . . No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
Would it not be true to say that often dioceses and parishes get distracted from this evangelistic priority because they tend to get bogged down as a result of trying to respond to endless stream of pastoral needs. Although they are legitimate in themselves, they can distract Catholics from the need to evangelise the two thirds of American Catholics who no longer attend church. Sherry Waddell of the Sienna Institute for evangelisation in Colorado Springs says that research she conducted indicates that only 5% of practicing Catholics make any real effort to evangelise others. I want to conclude with a statement that arises from our Gospel reading. The bishop, priest or lay person, who concentrates on the satisfaction of urgent pastoral needs, to the exclusion of evangelical priorities contributes by the default to the demise of the church.
4th Sun in Ordinary Time
Speaking with Authority
In the book of Exodus Moses is depicted as the man of prayer par excellance. He would go into the tent of meeting which would be overshadowed by the presence of the Lord. There Moses would tell God all that was in his heart concerning leadership of the people. Then we are told that “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face as a person speaks to a friend.” (Ex 33:11). So afterwards, when Moses spoke to the Israelites he did so as a prophet, one who literally spoke on God’s behalf. No wonder the people were impressed by the authority of his words.
In the gospels, Jesus is depicted as the new Moses. When he went apart to pray, he entered the tabernacle of his own heart which was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. There he spoke to his Father about his ministerial concerns and God the Father spoke to him. As he himself acknowledged, “I say only what the Father taught me” (Jn 8:28) and “I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak” (Jn 12:49). No wonder friends and foes alike acknowledged that Jesus spoke with unprecedented authority. It was rooted in his contemplation which led to genuine religious experience.
In Mt 12:36 Jesus warned his followers about the danger of speaking “careless words” Papal preacher Raniero Cantalamessa describes them as follows, “they are the empty, fruitless, purely human words spoken by those whose duty it is to proclaim the living, life-changing words of God . . . They are the idle words of false prophets, that is, the words of those who want us to believe that they speak to us in God’s name, but in fact are simply putting forward their own ideas. They do not draw what they say from the heart of God, but merely think it up themselves.”
St Thomas Aquinas had a motto which said that the purpose of the Christian life is "to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation". The evangelists of today will only speak with authority if they engage in reading of the scriptures by means of Lectio Divina. This form of prayerful reflection and contemplation leads to genuine religious experience. No wonder the the Sacred Congregation for Religious said in a document entitled The Contemplative Dimension of the Religious Life, “The contemplative dimension . . . renews the following of Christ because it leads to an experiential knowledge of him.”
Three of our recent Popes have highlighted the connection between contemplative religious experience and an ability to speak about Jesus and the gospels with authority. Pope Paul VI said in par. 76 of Evangelisation in the Modern World, “This world is looking for preachers of the gospel to speak to it of God whom they know as being close to them, as though seeing him who is invisible.” Pope John Paul II said in par. 91 of The Mission of the Redeemer, “The missionary must be a "contemplative in action." He or she finds answers to problems in the light of God's word and in personal and community prayer . . . the future of mission depends to a great extent on contemplation. Unless the missionary is a contemplative he cannot proclaim Christ in a credible way. He is a witness to the experience of God, and must be able to say with the apostles: "that which we have looked upon...concerning the word of life,...we proclaim also to you" (1 Jn 1:1-3).” More recently, Pope Benedict XVI said in his letter, Everywhere and Always, “To proclaim fruitfully the Word of the Gospel one is first asked to have a profound experience of God.”
Our gospel today is very interesting . It contains the first words preached by Jesus which encapsulate his core message. There are four parts to it.
· Firstly, Jesus proclaims, “This is the time of fulfillment.” In other words, all the time spent waiting for the promised Messiah is now ended.
· Secondly, Jesus says “the kingdom of God is at hand.” This is his core message. It means that God is intervening in a decisive way in human history by pouring out his grace in abundance. In the book of Deut 27:26, it said that all people who failed to live by the precepts of the law were under a curse. Jesus was there in effect to say that through no merit of their own, the curse was being lifted, and that God was offering sinners a torrent of merciful love.
· Thirdly, Jesus urged the people to repent. What did he mean by this? As we saw in the first reading, in the OT repentance usually referred to a change in behaviour, a turning away from sin in order to turn toward God. I don’t think that was the main thing that Jesus had in mind. The word repent in Greek, means to change one’s mind. In the gospel it involves changing one’s thinking about God. His mercy far outweighs his justice. He doesn’t give you what you deserve, but rather what you don’t deserve, i.e. the free gift of his acceptance and love. Yes change is important, but it is not a requirement for blessing, but rather its consequence.
· Fourthly, Jesus said that if the people wanted to receive what God was offering them, all they had to do was to trust in the God of the word and the words of God.
Let me share Emanuell’s story with you because it illustrates these points very well. I met him a few months ago when I spent a week in Malta preaching. He was in charge of the retreat centre where I was staying. One morning when I was having my breakfast he asked me if I’d like to hear his story. I said, sure, I’d like to hear it. He said that he had been born into a practicing Catholic family. However in his teenage years he stopped being a practicing Catholic and became a trans-sexual. He dressed and acted as a woman, took female hormones and added an e to the end of his name. He asked me if I’d like to see a photo. I said I would. I was amazed when he handed it to me. Not only did Emanuelle look utterly feminine, she didn’t seem to look a bit like Emanuell at all. He told me that when he was a woman he mixed with criminals, transsexuals and homosexuals and led a very permissive life from a moral point of view. Apparently he fell in love with a gay man he had met and they lived together for some time. However, his partner was HIV positive and eventually developed full blown aids. Emanuell spoke lovingly about the man and said that he had many good points. He was devestated when eventually his lover died. He was so bereft without him that he was suicidal. At this point some Catholics he knew invited him to come to one of the meetings of a large community of young adults. Because he was looking for company he decided to go along. It so happened that Andrew the leader was giving a talk that night on the core message of the gospel. He spoke about the offer of God’s unconditional mercy and love. His words really touched Emanuelle’s heart and she wept profusely because for the first time in many years she felt loved and accepted by God in spite of all her sins. I noticed that what had changed was Emanuelle’s idea of God, not her behaviour. In fact I asked, Emannuel about this. “Did you feel that you needed to change either your gender or your behaviour as a result of that religious experience. “At first no” he responded. “I felt that God loved me just as I was. But then as the weeks passed and I attended other meetings of the community I began to understand why I had wanted to be a woman. He explained that it was obvious that his father loved his sister and did not love him. So he had the idea, If I was a girl like my sister, perhaps my father would love me then. But of course when I dressed and acted like a woman my father rejected me even more than he had.” So eventually, he stopped taking the hormones, had his breasts removed, and reverted to being a man. It also dawned on him slowly at first, that his life style needed to be changed. Although he is still gay, he has tried to lead a chaste life for many years now. Meantime he was given an important role in the community and now after many years of membership he is an influential member much loved by the others. His was a remarkable story of conversion.
He heard the good news message of God’s unconditional love, it touched his heart, and he believed in it as he changed his mind about God. A change of lifestyle was not a requirement for that conversion, but a consequence of it. It was striking how un-judgmental the members of the community were. They accepted him as he was. In doing so they mirrored God’s love to him and helped it make it real. That is how we need to evangelise in modern society.
Homily on The Last Judgement
Feast of Christ the King
Jesus the king will be our judge on the last day. Today's account only appears in the Gospel of Matthew. He was writing almost exclusively for Jewish people who had become Christian. He is telling them by what criterion Jesus will weigh our deeds, misdeeds and omissions on the last day. The key to the understanding of the gospel is the answer the Lord gives when he responds to the question, “when did we help you?” "And the King will answer, "I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me."
In the NT the word brother and sister normally referred to the members of the Christian family of faith who had been born again by water and the Spirit. Non Christians were referred to as neighbours, but not as brothers and sisters. Knowing this to be the case, a number of scholars maintain that the judgment passage refers to the agents of God, i.e. the evangelists. To accept them is to accept Jesus. Remember what Jesus said on another occasion in Mark 9:41, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” So some scholars think that the references to taking care of the needs of poor people refers to itinerant evangelists who trust in divine providence as expressed through the provision of others. To help evangelists is to help Jesus. Therefore some scholars believe that it would be misleading to interpret this gospel in a broadly humanitarian way.
There are others scholars including three modern Popes who interpret the passage in a different way. While they would acknowledge that normally the words brother and sister refer to Christian disciples, there is one notable exception and it occurs in today’s gospel. John Paul II said, “The Gospel text concerning the final judgment in Mt 25:31-46, which states that we will be judged on our love towards the needy in whom the Lord Jesus is mysteriously present, indicates that we must not neglect . . . the persons, especially the poor, with whom Christ identifies himself. At the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI recalled that "on the face of every human being, especially when marked by tears and sufferings, we can and must see the face of Christ the Son of Man". Notice that this interpretation is not restricted to Christians, it refers to all those who suffer.
Commenting on today’s gospel, Pope Benedict XVI, stated, “nothing suggests that only the faithful, only believers in the gospel of Christ, are meant here in the parable of the general judgment.” He went on to add: “Christ sees himself generally represented in the poor and lowly especially, people who – quite apart from their ethical quality, . . . appeal to the love of others and make present the master.” Evidently, Jesus identified himself so much with the poor and needy, irrespective of their beliefs or behaviour, that to love them was to love Him with them and in them. So if a non-Christian Chinese woman helped a poor neighbour in a remote mountainous area of her country, she would be told on the last day that she had helped Jesus Christ. And the Chinese woman would say, “but when did I help you?” and the Lord would reply, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me."
There is a temptation in this interpretation to believe that we are saved on the basis of our kind and compassionate deeds. This would be a mistaken notion. As Paul tells us in Eph 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Implicit in what Matthew says in today’s gospel is the fact that we experience the unconditional mercy of God, not because of any merit on our part, but solely because of the free gift of God’s grace. While that mercy is offered to us, we can only appropriate it in so far as we are willing to extend it to others. As Jesus said in Lk 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Good works, such as those mentioned in today’s gospel, do not save us, rather they are the expression of the salvation we have already received. In a way today’s gospel is saying, while you are not saved by works of mercy, we won’t be saved without them. Faith without merciful action is dead.
As St John of the Cross once said, “In the evening of our lives we will be judged on love and love alone.” This saying is supported by those who have had near death experiences. They report that when they were in the radiant presence of God’s love they could see their whole lives passing in review before them. As this occurred, they become intensely aware of when they had been merciful and loving and when were not. It is significant that they report nothing about being judged on the basis of their beliefs or religious practices. This is a very challenging and sobering realisation.
Jesus Christ my King,
Help me to recognize the truth about myself no matter how wonderful it is.
Enable me to see and love in others, especially in the poor and the needy,
What you are already seeing and loving in me.
Help me to realise that while mercy without action is sentimentality
And action without mercy is condescension,
Mercy expressed through appropriate action is my passport into your glorious presence.
Homily Ascension 2011
Both of my parents died suddenly, so there was no chance for myself or my brothers and sister to hear their parting words. Today, we recall the departure of Jesus from this world. Fortunately, he had a chance to speak his final words to the apostles and through them to us.
Clearly, he was passing on the baton of his own ministry to the believers. What he had done, they would do in his name. In fact he said in Jn 14:12, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.”
Jesus spoke about two interrelated points before returning to his Father
(a) Receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, and
(b) Evangelisation i.e. spreading the Christian faith.
Jesus speaks about being baptised in the Spirit, i.e. being filled, immersed, drenched, soaked and inundated in Spirit of God. It would do three things.
A] Firstly, as the second reading says, the Holy Spirit will give believers “a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring them to full knowledge of him” (Eph 1:17) i.e. of Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
· Jesus is Lord, he is the divine, the all powerful Son of God. As Heb 2:8 says, God the Father, “put everything under his feet." In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.” We could add, including the evil spirits.
· Saviour i.e. one who forgives sins free gratis and for nothing, and pours out the Spirit of his love, thereby enabling people to grasp “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19).
B] Secondly, the Holy Spirit will give the believers an ability to speak with authority and courage about Jesus and his message. Pope Paul VI said in his declaration on Evangelisation in the Modern World, “It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelisation: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood.”
C] Thirdly, the Holy Spirit will give believers an ability to demonstrate the truth of what they preach, by means of such things as loving relationships, deeds of mercy, action for justice, and by exercising charisms of power such as healings and miracles.
We look forward to Pentecost next Sunday by asking God to fill us anew with his Holy Spirit so that we may carry on the mission of Jesus.
I want to conclude with some words of Pope Paul VI from a talk he gave in Nov. 1972, “The Church needs her perennial Pentecost; she needs fire in her heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her outlook. She needs to be the temple of the Holy Spirit . . . the Church needs to feel rising from the depths of her innermost personality, almost a weeping, a poem, a prayer, a hymn – the praying voice of the Spirit.” Why not say the prayer, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful” each day between now and Pentecost. Let us say it together.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. V. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created. R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us that in the same Spirit we may be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord.
Homily 6th Sunday Easter A 2011
Homily should do two main things, what do the texts say and what is their relevance today. This morning I, going to look at the first reading from these two points of view. Geographical structure to Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In the former, the journey of Jesus from Nazareth to Jerusalem where he suffered and died for us. The Acts begins with the promise of the sending of the Holy Spirit. Luke shows how it spreads out by means of three Pentecosts, the Jews in Acts 2, the Samaritans in Acts 8, and the gentiles in Acts 10.
The first reading today describes the Pentecost of the Samaritans. Who were they? Heretical Jews who only accepted 5 books of the Old Testament and had a temple of their own on Mount Gerizim (cf Jn 4:20). By and large they didn’t mix with Jews and visa versa. For example, when Jesus was sending out the disciples to preach he said, "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans” (Matt 10:5). But before he ascended into heaven Jesus told the apostles, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk 16:15-16). In today’s first reading we are told that the Samaritans were evangelized by Philip. He was one of the seven deacons who were chosen by the apostles to help them by doing practical tasks. However, Philip had become well known as a very effective preacher and wonder worker. We are told that, “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said” (Acts 8:6).
He preached the core teachings of the Good News to the Samaritans. They came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God who had died and risen for the forgiveness of their sins. As a result they received Christian baptism and were born again of water and the Spirit. When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard about this unexpected development they were amazed and decided to come to see for themselves. When they arrived they made the surprising observation that as yet the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen on any of them” (RSV). In other words judging by appearances the Samaritans had not experienced the fullness of Pentecost that they themselves had experienced, such as great joy and the gifts of the Spirit. They were not denying that the Samaritans had received the Spirit, they were saying that its power had not yet been released in them. They prayed for them by means of the laying on of hands, and the Samaritans experienced the fullness of the Spirit. In the three Pentecost accounts, Luke associates reception of the fullness of the Spirit solely with the apostles.
It seems to me it is a highly relevant text today. Like the Samaritans many Catholics have received the Holy Spirit in baptism. It was a sacramental but not necessarily an experiential event. As our Archbishop has observed more than once, many Catholics are sacramentalized and catechized but not fully evangelised. Hence the lukewarmness and compromise in a lot of Catholic life. Need for a release of the Spirit within them. Analogy of having money in the bank which is neither accessed or used. Living instead a very constricted life on a small allowance. Need to claim by faith the graces that are already ours. That is the main aim of Life in the Spirit Seminars and the Alpha Course. The high point is reached when the people attending ask to be prayed with for a personal Pentecost. That was my experience when I was 29. I have prayed for many people for this great grace e.g. woman is sacristy a few months ago.
I want to conclude with some words of Pope Benedict XVI, "Today I would like to extend this invitation to everyone: Let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; let us be aware again of our baptism and of our confirmation, sources of grace that are always present. "Let us ask the Virgin Mary to obtain a renewed Pentecost for the Church again today, a Pentecost that will spread in everyone the joy of living and witnessing to the Gospel."
Homily Divine Mercy Sunday
In the Gospel we have just heard e were told that, Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, 'Peace be with you', and showed them his hands and his side.” Let us begin by looking at the phrase, “he showed them his hands and side.”
Firstly, we know that when Jesus appeared to people after his resurrection they often failed to recognize him because he had a glorified body. By showing the apostles his wounds, it was if Jesus were saying “it is really me, my friends.”
Secondly, in Is 53:5 we read the prophetic words, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” John tells us in chapter 19 verse 34 that when Jesus had died, “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” The message revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska throws light on the meaning and implications of that verse.
On February 22nd 1931 she saw a vision of Jesus with rays of red and white light streaming from his heart. She was told to have a painting made which would represent the image with the words, “Jesus I trust in you” written at the bottom. The Lord explained, “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water, which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when my agonized heart was opened by a lance on the cross. These rays shield from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him or her.” On another occasion the Lord said to St. Faustina, “I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of Mine towards souls and sinners. Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of mercy are burning Me – clamouring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls.”
Pope John Paul who is being beatified today was a great supporter of the divine mercy message given to Sr. Faustina. It was he who had her writings approved by the Vatican, and who introduced her cause for beatification and eventually canonized her on the second Sunday after Easter in the year 2000. On that occasion he said in his homily, “Sr Faustina's canonization has a particular eloquence: by this act I intend today to pass her message on to the new millennium . . . It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called "Divine Mercy Sunday." By a strange quirk of providence, Pope John Paul II died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday 2005.
Now a word about our new icon. This time last year I felt strongly that we in St. Peter’s Parish should promote the Divine Mercy devotion. I knew that many lay people in the parish were already devoted to it. On one of my many trips to Trent in Northern Italy, I saw a truly beautiful icon of the divine mercy which was later presented to the queen of Belgium. I thought to myself. I wonder would the artist be willing to paint a similar icon for us. When I contacted Flavio della Torre, with Fr Scallon’s approval, I was delighted when he said yes. Happily he is here today, with Maria Lena his wife and their close friend Giovanna Refatti who is acting as interpreter. They have brought the icon from Italy together with an official certificate of authenticity from the local archbishop Luigi Bressan.
I have a strong conviction that the blessing and installation of the divine mercy icon will call down many blessings on our parish. When people come to pray before the blessed sacrament they will see the icon and know that through the Eucharist the Lord pours out a river of merciful love. As I will say at the consecration of this mass, “this is the new covenant in my blood which shall be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.” St. Faustina tells us that one occasion when the image of the divine mercy was exhibited on the feast of Corpus Christi the priest exposed the blessed sacrament. She said that she saw the rays from the image piercing the sacred host and spread out all over the world. Then she said that she heard these words, “These rays of mercy will pass through you, just as they have passed through the host, and they will go out throughout all the world.” On another occasion Jesus said to Faustina, “know my daughter, that when I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, my hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul.”
A few years ago I was praying in the presence of the blessed sacrament. Suddenly, I saw Jesus standing there in front of the monstrance. He was young, in his early twenties, with no beard or moustache. His arms were slightly extended from his sides and red light was streaming from his left hand and white light streaming from his right hand. Then he raised both hands and I found myself sitting in the converging beams of light. In that moment of grace I knew myself to be enveloped in his merciful love. That awareness gave me a sense of the peace which Jesus spoke about on three occasions in today’s gospel, and also the indescribable joy referred to by St Peter in the second reading. I felt that the Lord was giving me to understand that having experienced the Divine Mercy myself, I had to extend it to others, especially the poor and needy. As Jesus said in Lk 6:36, “Be merciful as even as your Father is merciful.” John Paul was an example to us all when in 1986, he forgave Mehmet Agca for having tried to murder him in 1981. As Jesus said in today’s gospel, “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”
I want to end with some moving words John Paul II. He wrote them with the intention of sharing them on Divine Mercy Sunday 2005. In the event an archbishop read them on behalf of the saintly pontiff who had died some hours before. In a way they are blessed Hohn Paul’s last will and testament. “As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness, and fear, the Risen Lord offers His love that pardons, reconciles, and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy! Lord, [You] who reveal the Father's love by Your death and Resurrection, we believe in You and confidently repeat to You today: Jesus, I trust in You, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world. Amen.”
Homily Easter Sunday 2011: The Resurrection
I would like to begin today’s homily with a brief story about two friends. As boys they went to school together and later they attended the same university. However, when they graduated they went their separate ways. One of them went into the legal profession and later became a judge. The other went into business. He wasn’t too successful and eventually was caught by the police committing fraud. When he was brought to court he pleaded guilty because the evidence against him was overwhelming. It so happened that the judge trying the case was his old friend. As a judge representing the law and justice he had to find his friend guilty and impose a penalty in accord with the law. He gave him a prison sentence, but said that if he paid a fine of 30,000 euro it would not have to be served. Having said this, the judge got up from his seat, went to the clerk of the court and signed a personal check for 30,000, embraced his friend and said “you are free to go.”
God is like that, he is both the just judge and our merciful friend. Like the man who committed a criminal offence, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God as a result of the sinful things we have done and failed to do. They deserve God’s just condemnation and punishment. However, God so loved the world that he sent us his own beloved Son. He took the curse of our sins and the penalty due to sin upon himself. Whereas in the story of the two friends the judge had only to sign a check for 30,00 euro, Jesus had to suffer and die upon the cross for our sake. As St. Paul said in Rm 5:6-8, “Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Lets us go back to the story of the two friends for a moment. Say the check signed by the judge had bounced because there was no money in his bank account, his friend would have had to be punished by serving time in jail. If Jesus had merely died, our sins would not have been forgiven. But what we proclaim today is that his sacrificial death on our behalf was not the end. God vindicated him by raising him to glorious new life, the victor over sin and death.
How do we know that Jesus rose from the dead? There are two important items of evidence. Firstly, in today’s gospel we are told about the empty tomb. When he saw it, and Christ’s grave cloths lying there, he knew and believed that Jesus had risen as he had foretold. Secondly, in the first reading St Peter tells us that he and others saw the risen Lord and dined with him. As St Paul said in 1 Cor 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” That is why St Paul said a little later in the same chapter, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:14;17). But the fact that Jesus is risen means as St Peter said in the first reading that all who believe in the Risen Lord “will have their sins forgiven through his name” (Acts 10:43).
All of us need to admit our sinfulness while trusting in the mercy of God. That enables us to have the inner assurance that we are not under the condemnation, that in terms of strict justice we deserve. Rather we receive the free gift of an unconditional mercy and love we have neither earned, merited or deserved.
On one occasion I had a particularly strong experience of God’s liberating mercy when I attended an 8 day retreat. On the opening day I was acutely aware of my many sins and omissions. I had to admit to myself that, that in spite of going to confession on many occasions, I had suffered from unresolved feelings of shame and guilt for a long time. But then I looked at the Lord looking at me during his passion. I knew that he knew all about my many failings, but nevertheless I realised in my heart of hearts that he forgave me and loved me as I was. I was overwhelmed by feelings of inner peace and joy. The joy was so great indeed, that I wept copious tears, on and off, for the eight days. I had a profound sense that the risen Lord was present to me by means of his mercy and love. I also felt, and continue to feel, that my inner sense of joy was a foretaste of the joy I will experience, when, having died, I am raised into the presence of the Lord in heaven. No wonder St Paul says in the second reading, “Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven where Christ is, sitting God’s right hand” (Col 3:1).
Third Sunday of Lent 2011
Although Jesus preached a lot to crowds he also engaged in one-to-one evangelization. That was the way when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He noticed that she was attractive and had a certain charm about her. But her body language, conveyed to him that in spite of her apparent confidence she was mistrustful, vulnerable and longing to be loved, to feel special, to belong. Jesus understood the reasons for the woman’s feelings. He sensed that over years she had been disappointed in love. She has looked in vain for lasting affection in the arms of a number of men. Instead of offering her true romance they had made her empty promises and flattered her, used her, and eventually abandoned her. Not surprisingly she felt abused and rejected. As a result of her many affairs she had been ostracized by her fellow townspeople, especially the women. That was the main reason she had gone to the well at mid day. She knew that no one else would be there. She was prepared to endure the searing heat rather than put up with hurtful taunts and criticism.
Clearly, Jesus did not judge or condemn the Samaritan woman in any way. By means of his gestures and words he showed her great respect. For instance, he broke a number of taboos in order to convey his acceptance. Firstly, Jewish men were not supposed to speak to women in public, esp. Samaritan women, but Jesus spoke to the woman at the well. The gospel says that when the apostles returned they were surprised that Jesus was talking to a female. But they did not say anything. Secondly, as a Jew, Jesus was not supposed to ask a Samaritan for a drink because if he touched anything she had touched he would be ritually unclean. But he broke that taboo by asking her for a drink. The woman would have got the message. This man is showing that he respects and accepts me in a non flirtatious way.
As Jesus talked to the woman he reflected back his understanding of how she felt. He intuited the fact that she was looking for the kind of vitality and well-being that comes from knowing that you are truly loved. That is why he talked to her about living water that would truly satisfy. Unbeknown to her he was the wellspring of that water. Even as she sensed his understanding, and respect, the water of life was already springing up secretly within her. It is interesting that at this stage of their conversation Jesus felt free to talk to her about her painful past. He began by asking about her husband. The woman replied quite truthfully that she had no husband. Then Jesus said, that she was correct, because in the past she had five different partners. Suddenly, the woman realised, that from the first moment of their meeting, this extraordinary man had known all about her and her dysfunctional relationships. But nevertheless she felt completely accepted by Jesus. This was a moment of great healing and relief for her. Already she was consciously experiencing a spring of living water welling up within her as the merciful love of God was released within her heart by the Holy Spirit.
Because he had been able to read the secrets of her heart the Samaritan woman realised that Jesus was a prophet. Not surprisingly she began to discuss religious issues with him such as Jewish and Samaritan forms of worship. Then she said: “I know that Messiah – that is Christ – is coming: and when he comes he will tell us everything.” To which Jesus replied, “I who am speaking to you, I am he.” It is an extraordinary revelation. In great humility the Samaritan woman had opened her heart and eventually her suppressed desires to Jesus. He reciprocated by revealing his true identity to her. It was an act of extraordinary love and friendship that filled the woman with joy. No wonder she forgot all about her water jar. She put it down and hurried back to town to tell her neighbors all about Jesus. Many of them were intrigued by what she shared with them, and so they went out to see Jesus for themselves. They were so impressed that they invited him to stay in their town for a couple of days. We are told that as a result of their interaction with him, they came to believe that he was the Saviour of the world.
St Patrick’s Day Homily 2011
Paul VI said in par. 56 of Evangelisation in the Modern World, “There are a great numbers of people who have been baptized and, while they have not formally renounced their membership of the church, are as it were, on the fringe of it and do not live according to her teaching.” St Patrick was a lapsed Catholic in his younger years. In spite of the fact that his father and grandfather were deacons he was not gospel greedy as a teenager in Roman Britain. In his Confessions he talks about the time, “before I had personally come to know the true God.” He also talks about the years before he got “to know God or had the wit to tell the difference between right and wrong.” Referring to the time when he was fifteen he tells us that “I was not then a believer in the living God, nor had I been from my childhood, and was still lolling around in the deadness of non-belief. Like others he says “we neither kept God’s laws, nor paid heed to our priests, who were always on to us about our salvation.”
However, when he was brought to Ireland as a captive he saw it as a penalty for his sins and as a providential opportunity which led him, like the prodigal son, to change his ways. During his years of captivity Patrick tells us that he experienced an inner transformation. His words are well worth quoting at length. He tells us that in the midst of his hardships, “the Lord made me some sense about my unbelieving ways. I thought over my past negligence, and then gave myself heart and soul to him and my God.” Later Patrick tells us that he used to pray a lot, “Gradually my love for God, and reverence for him, got deeper and deeper. My faith was being strengthened all the time, and through the Holy Spirit I experienced such lightness of being, that you could find me at my prayers a hundred times every day, and nearly as often at night. I did this even when I was taking cover in the woods and out on the mountains. Rain, frost or snow – it was all the same, I was up meditating before daybreak. And I never felt a bit the worse for it. There was no idleness in me. I can see the explanation for it all now – the Holy Spirit had taken complete hold of me.” It is clear that Patrick had experienced a religious awakening, an anointing of the Holy Spirit that enabled him to move from unbelief to form a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
In par 24 of Evangelisation in the Modern World Pope Paul VI said, “the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn.” St Patrick was a perfect example of this. He said in his confessions, "It was not really I who began my evangelisation in Ireland but Christ the Lord who told me to come here and stay with the Irish for the rest of my life." Over the years Patrick made thousands of conversions and set up many religious houses. Truly he was the apostle of Ireland.
The example of St Patrick is relevant in contemporary Ireland. Today there are many people who no longer go to church, especially younger Irish people who have drifted away from the faith and who live by the standards of the world rather than those of the Gospel. As Pope John Paul II said in par. 47 of The Church in Europe, “Everywhere a renewed proclamation is needed even for those already baptized. Many Europeans today think they know what Christianity is, yet they do not really know it at all. Often they are lacking in knowledge of the most basic elements and notions of the faith. Many of the baptized live as if Christ did not exist: the gestures and signs of faith are repeated, especially in devotional practices, but they fail to correspond to a real acceptance of the content of the faith and fidelity to the person of Jesus.”
I feel that the current economic downturn may be a blessing in disguise. Many of the unchurched, like Patrick before them, may come to their senses and become spiritual pilgrims who seek God. Are we ready to share the Good News with them in a convincing way? Have we the courage and conviction to talk to them about Christ and what he means to us? We can do this by telling them the story of our own relationship with him by answering 3 questions. What were we like before we really knew him? How did we come to know the Lord in a personal way? and what effects did such a personal relationship have upon us? I end with some words of St Patrick, “I pray to God to give me perseverance and to deign that I be a faithful witness to Him to the end of my life for my God.”
Homily Notes Sunday Feb 27th 2011
The 1st commandment in the Bible reads, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no strange gods before you.” In other words, we must put God before all created things.
All of us are tempted to idolatry to trust in worldly things rather than God. Jesus was no different.
Remember how in the wilderness the devil showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and their riches and said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus replied, Away with you Satan, for it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
Jesus referred to this stark choice in today’s gospel, “No one can serve two masters, either you love one and hate the other, you can’t serve God and money.”
When John Paul II was here in Ireland in 1979, he said in a prophetic way in Limerick, “Ireland must choose . . . your country seems in a sense to be living again the temptations of Christ. Ireland is being asked to prefer the kingdoms of this world and their splendor to the kingdom of God.”
During the years of prosperity it was noticeable that the churches emptied as the shopping centers of Ireland filled. I can recall Cardinal Connell saying that it was if the golden calf had been installed in the shopping centers and that people were worshipping at the shrine of consumerism rather than the altar of God.
Now we are in the grips of a very severe recession. Many people are experiencing a great deal of hardship and distress. There is a reliable litmus test which indicates whether a person is mainly devoted to the things of this world rather than the things of God. It is the feeling of anxiety, a feeling of apprehension and generalized fear. Those who trust mainly in material things feel a lot of anxiety during a time of recession, whereas those who truly trust in the Lord do not feel the same sense of anxiety.
We are invited in today’s gospel to cast our anxieties on the Lord in the firm belief that God the Father cares about us and that all things, including negative ones, work for good for those who love him. No matter what happens, God the Father will care for us as he does for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
So we need to choose to seek first God’s kingdom. As Ps 37:5 “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”
Here is a prayer of abandonment by the well known hermit Blessed Charles de Foucauld,
“Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.”
Homily Sunday 6A 2011: Managing Anger
We all suffer hurts in life. In my experience they are usually the result of weakness rather than malice. One way or the other, our instinctive reaction is to feel angry. The New Testament makes a distinction between righteous and unrighteous anger. In Eph 4:26 St Paul talks about the possibility of righteous or justifiable anger when he says: "In your anger do not sin." For instance, Jesus felt justifiable anger when the buyers and sellers violated the sanctity of the temple. When we feel anger about injustices inflicted on people in our society, e.g. by the abortion lobby, not only is anger a righteous feeling, it can energize us to do something constructive to overcome the wrongdoing.
Unrighteous anger is one that quenches love. It can take two forms.
There is a healthy Christian way to deal with anger.
1) Firstly, acknowledge your anger and its causes to yourself. This is not easy for those who repress anger. The emotion of anger is stored in their bodies, but it does not express itself in a subjective feeling. Listen to your body e.g. tension, headaches, sweating, etc and try and recover the emotions that are causing them. Pay attention to dreams often the repressed feeling will be revealed in a symbolic way. When you feel the anger ask what loss or hurt led to it?
2) Report the feelings, don’t react, e.g. “I felt angry when you seemed to ignore my contribution at the committee meeting yesterday, I felt as if I was invisible, as if I was unimportant to you.” As the poet William Blake wrote, “I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow” .
3) Decide, with God’s help, to forgive the person who hurt you.
As St. Paul said, we have to learn not to let the sun go down on our anger by resolving conflicts as soon as they arise. Most relationships both in and outside of marriage break down because of either an inability or a refusal to resolve conflicts in a Christian way as soon as they arise.
Feast of the Epiphany
The word epiphany is derived from a Greek one, meaning, “to manifest, or to show.” It is sometimes referred to as little Christmas. On Dec 25th Jesus is manifested to the Jews as represented by the Shepherds. On Jan 6th he is manifested to the non-Jewish world in the person of the wise men.
It seems to me that the wise men are role models for the spiritual journey, the ability not only to travel a great distance geographically, but also intellectually in order to find the living God. It has relevance nowadays in two senses.
In both cases, people can learn from the Magi. They embarked on a pilgrimage which finally led to a genuine encounter with Christ.
Religious experience has four main ingredients. It begins in desire. The deeper and stronger the desire, the greater the possibility of an epiphany. The Magi, were looking for the truth by means of their interest in magic and astrology which were a mixture of science and superstition.
If religious desire is to be satisfied it needs to find expression in attention. The wise men were good examples. Not only did they ponder their astrological charts, it is probable that they were familiar with prophetic passages in Jewish Literature which spoke about the coming messiah. Guided by the best information available to them, they were prepared go beyond their comfort zones to head off on a journey of discovery guided only by the star.
Like the wise men, modern seekers need to listen to people who people who know a lot about the spiritual journey and to ponder the scriptures. Example of Rick Warren’s amazingly successful book The Purpose Driven Life which has sold about 30 million copies..
Desire and attention lead to Revelation. Scripture promises this: “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, 'Yes, I knew of them.' You have neither heard nor understood.” Isa 48:6-8 The wise men found what they were looking for when they found the Christ child. Their minds were illumined by the Spirit and they recognized that he was the revelation of God in human form.
It will be something similar with modern day pilgrims. You can’t discover God by your own unaided intellectual efforts. In the end it is a matter of revelation, a willingness of letting go in order to let God reveal the Divine Presence and Love to our hearts. When that happens it is the heart of religious experience.
The wise men show us that religious experience of God has to lead to an appropriate response. They did three things.
Same with modern day spiritual pilgrims, movement from religion of head to religion of heart, from external obligation to inner conviction, from being ego centered to being God centered.