Sunday, January 21, 2018

TAKE TIME TO BE STILL AND SILENT SO YOU CAN HEAR: "REPENT AND BELEIVE" A homily for the Third Sunday, year B (Mark 1:14–20)

As usual the homily can be heard here.
            Jesus is under threat that is why He moves to Galilee.  His teaching threatened the influence and power of others.  It was a challenge to all those who distorted God's word or rejected it outright.  He does not give up preaching the Gospel though.  He continues to do it through His words and deeds.  Yet our Lord's mission was not just for His own time.  He is building a Kingdom, a Church, which will spread throughout the world and continues to spread because He continues to touch people's lives and bring them to believe in Him.  It is not just near us it is here with us for we are His Body and when we gather He is truly present.  Above all He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle and we get to receive Him into our very selves at Holy Communion.  By His power we become and we are the Kingdom of God  if we listen to Him and do His will.



            To build His Church He calls His new disciples.  Last week we heard that some of them had initially met him at Barabara on the far side of Jordan not far from the Dead Sea.  Since then they had returned to their ordinary lives and work over ninety miles north in Galilee.  There was no social welfare back then.  One worked or one starved.
            It is in the ordinary tasks of their day that He comes to them and calls them to work in a new way for something more important than fish.  They stop what they are doing and follow.  From the start their calling meant sacrifices not only for them but for their families and friends.  The things worth doing in life always come at a price.  They always mean sacrifice.  Every calling, every vocation, is a calling to serve and therefore also a calling to sacrifice.  This call doesn't come in a voice or a vision from heaven.  It is heard in the heart, in one's conscience, urging us to take a certain path despite the cost to ourselves and others.  
            So few today are answering that call.  God has not stopped calling but people have stopped listening.  As Cardinal Sarah has pointed out all too many today are deafened by the noise, the distractions, and the false gospels of the modern world.  They have no time for the stillness and silence where God can be heard.  This is true even of Christians who go to Mass every Sunday.  I wonder how many really pray, that is, make time for God in silence and stillness so that His voice can be discerned in their hearts?
            In addition there is a spirit of selfishness and disobedience in the world and in the Church.  Western culture has come to value individual rights and benefit over that of the community, to value freedom from constraint over the duty of care.   It is one reason why voluntary groups often find themselves short of staff.  This individualism runs counter to the message of our Lord that we put God and our neighbour before ourselves.  This selfishness leads to not listening to the Lord and to not putting the Gospel into action.  We need to remind ourselves that God won’t ask us to answer for our neighbour’s inaction and sin but for our own.



            Who has the courage today to listen to the Lord and seek to serve Him?  Who will encourage their children to take that risk?  I made the sacrifice and so did my family.  Why should my parents do without grandchildren?  My parents both died with their son, a priest, praying at their side and they are remembered in all my Masses and prayers.  Christ Himself has promised those who sacrifice for Him that He will more than replace all that they have lost.
            Lent is not too far away now.  During that holy season we will be called to listen more attentively to the Lord speaking in His word.  Especially we will hear again His call to "Repent and believe in the Gospel."  The original Greek word that we translate 'repent' literally means to do a u-turn, to realise that one has gone down a wrong road somewhere and to get back to travelling in the right direction.  The right direction is the path of the Gospel.  The right direction is serving God and our neighbour.   The right direction is making the sacrifices that He asks of us.
            Lent is not too far away.  The Lord will not come to us in visions or voices but in the ordinary events of our day.  He will speak to our hearts if we give time in stillness and silence to listen to His word, the Scriptures.   If we make space for God He will give us the strength to make space for others.  It is in the sacrifices that space demands of us that we will come to know that we are truly loved and that we are never alone.


THE LORD IS PASSING BY. A Homily for the Second Sunday of Year B (John 1:35–42)


As usual the homily can be heard here.


            John the Baptist must've been some sight.  His hair had never been cut.  Given his diet of locusts and wild honey he was stick thin and he wore camel skins.  John must have looked something like an undernourished caveman, someone primitive and barbaric.  Yet people listened to him because he listened to God.
            According to tradition John ministered in Bethabara, over the Jordan river from Judea, in Southern Israel.  Andrew and most of the Apostles came from Galilee, which is in the North of Israel.  That's about 90 miles or 145 km away or the distance between here and New Ross, Co. Wexford and the journey was done on foot.  Our Lord, Andrew and the other disciple are far from home.  To have travelled so far they have been searching for something.
            Andrew and his friend, who is probably John the author of this Gospel himself, are so serious in their searching that they have become followers, disciples of John the Baptist.  The Baptist does no fit in any category the Jews recognise.  Though he is a priest of the Temple he does not go there and he is not a member of any faction or school.  He lives in the wilderness on the most basic of food.  He baptises not in stagnant stone vats of water but in the living water of the river Jordan.  He calls for repentance and conversion.  He is not like any of the other groups in Israel and people flock to him.
            Yet this extraordinary man points beyond himself to Christ.  Just before this passage John tells us that the Baptist had seen Jesus before when Jesus had come to him to receive baptism.  By this act of humility our Lord sanctified the waters of the world and made our baptism possible.  The Baptist himself gave testimony that he had seen the Holy Spirit descend on our Lord from Heaven and remain upon Jesus.  Seeing Jesus again the next day he points to him and says “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  We are so used to such words that we can easily miss their meaning.  Most of the sacrifices in the Temple were of lambs, male lambs without blemish.  So many lambs were sacrificed that one wonders if the smoke of incense could cover the stench of blood and burning flesh.  Most of these sacrifices were sin offerings as well as those offered in thanksgiving or to redeem a firstborn. 
            So when John the Baptist says that Jesus is the Lamb of God he is saying that Jesus is the one to make and be the sacrifice that will make all other sacrifices superfluous.  He is the One who takes away the sins of the world not just yesterday nor in the future but now and always.  He it is who absolves us of our sins, taking them away and restoring us to holiness through the ministry of the priest in the Sacrament of Confession.  
            The disciples hear and they understand.  John the Baptist is pointing them in a new direction.  He humbly seeks to grow less not more and he points his friends to the next step on their journey.  They go after the Lord and he turns to them with the simple question “What are you looking for?”  There's an important question.  How often do we seek after so much that is not important, that we cannot take with us, that promises a happiness that cannot be delivered?  How often do we neglect the one thing necessary?



            Their answer is curious: "Teacher, where do you live?"  It means more than it seems to.   Our Lord is far from hometown of Nazareth.  They are not asking for his address but for welcome and hospitality from Him, for communion with Him.  His response is "come and see."  Some scholars claim that in John's gospel the verbs for seeing and contemplating are connected, that in John there is no simple act of seeing.  John the Baptist has seen our Lord, has contemplated Him, recognised Him and sent these disciples to Him for Christ can deliver what the Baptist can only hope and pray for. 
            So these disciples go with our Lord but what they heard and saw they did not record.  Yet their actions are a kind of testimony.  Andrew travels the 90 miles to Galilee to find his brother Simon and tell him he has found the Messiah, that is, Christ.  Simon is impressed enough to travel to meet Jesus and finds himself renamed as Cephas or Peter, that is, 'rock'.   By meeting our Lord he has met his true self.
            John the Evangelist recorded this encounter because he saw that this was not just for him and Andrew but for all of us.  We are all asked by the Lord “What are you looking for?”  To those of us who choose to answer, to engage with Him in prayer, He offers us the invitation "come and see."
Our Lord is present to us on the Altar and in Holy Communion at every Mass.  He remains with us in the Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.  He is always available to us in our hearts. He awaits our seeking Him and our attentive listening.  He wants to reveal to us our secret name and our true self. We, each and every one of us, are invited to the heights of holiness, to the heights of encounter with the Lord.  We are invited to enter the wilderness of self-denial and find the burning bush of God's Presence within us, His dwelling place in our souls, and there discover His loving care. 

            If we sincerely seek Him in prayer we will find Him and He will turn every wilderness in our lives into paradise.  He has given us the invitation.  It is up to us to follow and to find.

Monday, December 25, 2017

OUR TRUE VALUE IS CHRIST: a homily for CHRISTMAS DAY, Year A, (John 1)

You can hear the audio here.
            I remember when my niece was born.  She was a month premature and weighed on six and a half pounds yet what I remember most was the heat that came off her.  She was so small and vulnerable.  Without her Mam and the nurses she was helpless.  Christ too was helpless when He was born among us.  He was helpless at His birth and He was helpless at His death on the Cross.  Christ was born in the shadow of the Cross.  He, the All-Holy, All-powerful God made Himself helpless for us who are without help without Him.
                        It is so easy to bury Christmas and the wonder of this feast under excessive eating and drinking, under presents, wanted and unwanted, to build ourselves up to expect some perfect event that can never happen in our fleeting and fallen world.  It is because we are fallen that we so easily take our value from the wrong source.  It is because we are fallen that it is so easy for us to fall into the trap of imposing our own will on others, to try to put ourselves at the centre of everything rather than recognise that the only centre that can ever be is God.  From that temptation to put ourselves at the centre flow all our troubles and sins, from squabbles over what's for dinner right up to who controls what valuable resources.  All our moral ills in this world flow from that one source: we take our measure from the wrong template. 
            What I am about to say may upset or even offend some people but that is not my intention.  Please bear with me for there is a point to what I am about to say.  While we are made in God's image and likeness, you and I do not matter.  We, each of us, individually and collectively, are of no importance.  One day most of us will be completely forgotten, gone without a trace at least from the perspective of this world.  Even the few who are remembered for some time will be but footnotes, background noise to someone else's life.  To those whose hope is for this world we are not important; we are nothing and of no value in and of ourselves.
            The mystery and wonder of Christmas is that our true value comes not from ourselves, not from what we have nor from our achievements, from what we have made of ourselves or from what we leave behind.  Our true value comes from what God has given us.  In choosing to become one of us God has glorified us.  More than this He if offering each one of us access to the very heart of God forever. 
            He could've created us and left us in a state of natural bliss but that was not enough for Him.  After our first parents fell He could've simply declared us forgiven but that was not enough for Him.  Nothing was good enough but that He should enter our existence and become fully human.  Nothing was good enough but that He should offer to the Father on our behalf the perfect, eternal obedience and love of the Son on the Cross of Calvary.  Nothing was good enough but that He should make us one Body, one Spirit with Him, His Temple, and that He should feed us with Himself, heal our wounds Himself and unite us with the Most Holy Trinity in Himself.  Nothing was good enough but that He should give us Himself, completely and without reserve.  It is He who declares us and makes us valuable.  It is from Him that we derive our dignity and worth.  It is a value that we cannot lose because it is founded in Him not in us.  
            The true foundation of all our celebrations is not the birth of a baby they are born all the time but the birth of a baby who is also God.  If He was not God then His birth is no more worth celebrating that anyone else's and if He is wasn't human then He cannot have been born. 
            The Christmas tree points to the Cross.  The Cross is the Tree of paradise which bears fruit for our healing and sanctification.  That's why we cover it with baubles and glitter to symbolise the graces and blessings that come to us through Christ and His Cross.  Our feast, our Christmas dinner, is meant to be an extension of the Mass in which we already share in the eternal Feast of Heaven.  Therefore is you get the chance to give someone a place at your table you should take it for then Christ will welcome you at His in Heaven.
            Everything about this season points beyond itself to Calvary, through and beyond Calvary to Heaven.  Even the presents are not just echoes of the presents given by the Magi still less are they mere signs of affection and appreciation.  We can do that anytime of the year.  The presents are meant to symbolise the gift we are given in Christ. 
            The conception and birth of a child is an act of hope and trust in God.  Every life is sacred for each one is made in His image and likeness.  More, each one of us is made for eternal life with God.  The birth of Christ means we are no longer nothing.  We are no longer valueless.  Our value comes not from us but from God who has made us equal to Himself in giving us a place in His Son.  We are, each and every one of us, equal to God because God has made us so.  This is the true magic of Christmas.  God has emptied Himself.  He holds nothing back.  In His birth we are reborn.  We are no longer mere humans, here to strut our stuff for a few years and then fade away.  In Christ we are a new Creation, cracked pots called to become Immortal Diamonds, filled with the treasure that is Christ.
            He has given us the present of eternal life let us not leave it unopened.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

CRY OUT LIKE A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS a homily for the Second Sunday of Advent Year B (Mark 1:1–8)


            We take water for granted.  Israel is a lot drier than Ireland.  In fact the real dispute in between Israelis and the Palestinians is not so much over land but over access to and control of water.  All over Israel, wherever they dig, archaeologists find different types of ancient water stores.  There are cisterns for drinking water and baths for washing and there is a third kind.  That kind is not for drinking from for the water was often stagnant.  For the same reason one did not swim in them though there are steps down into them.  The capacity of some of the smaller kind was over 14,000 litres of water.  These tanks or baths were used for the ritual cleansing demanded by the Jewish religion of the time.  They were always cut from the rock and were covered so that they were dark and cold.  They are so common that it is obvious that the Jews of the time of our Lord took religious purity very seriously.  So why then do they flock to be baptized by John in the Jordan?
            John is something of a paradox.  The Jewish Temple priesthood was hereditary and John is from a priestly family.   He is a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses, first of the Jewish priests.   (If you have Cohens or Levis in your family tree you too are such a descendant).   Yet he is not living a priestly life. He does not take his turn in the Temple but lives in the wilderness, the hot, rocky emptiness beyond the Jordan.  He lives on wild honey and insects, food allowed by the Jewish Law, but not easy to get nor very filling.  He must've been very thin and wiry, sun-browned and wild-looking.  He wears a rough camel hair garment, his hair of his head and his face is uncut.  What an extraordinary sight he must've made.  In addition, Israel, the Jews, have not seen or heard of a prophet in about five hundred years.  All that time God has been silent.  Then John appears from the wilderness dressed as a prophet like Elijah, living an austere life and proclaiming the need for repentance, for straitening the route for God's grace into our lives and administering baptism to that end.




            John's baptism was symbolic, a sign of desire for real purity.  By baptizing in a river rather than a pool or tank he is pointing to the living power that is come with Christ, a power that is not stagnant like human power.
            John is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament and a saint of the New Testament.   His clothing is that of a prophet and his message is that we repent, that is, we literally change our mind, our way of thinking and return to the Lord's way.   By refusing to be a priest of the Temple John is pointing forward to the new priesthood established by Christ and the new sacrifice He will make that is the Mass.  John speaks of himself as a slave so low that it is not proper for him even to touch the least part of Christ's sandal.  John, like all the saints, points beyond himself to Jesus Who is the fulfillment of all God's promises and more.



            As Tertullian, an early Christian wrote: John calls us to purge our minds of whatever impurity error has imparted, whatever contamination ignorance has brought, which repentance would sweep and scour away, and cast out.  So prepare the home of your heart by making it clean for the Holy Spirit.
            As St Gregory Nazianzus wrote: "Moses baptized, but in water, in the cloud and in the sea; but this he did figuratively. John also baptized, not indeed in the rite of the Jews, not solely in water, but also for the remission of sins; yet not in an entirely spiritual manner, for he had not added: “in the Spirit.” Jesus baptized, but in the Spirit; and this is perfection. There is also a fourth baptism, which is wrought by martyrdom and blood, in which Christ himself was also baptized, which is far more venerable than the others, in as much as it is not soiled by repeated contagion. There is yet a fifth, but more laborious, (a baptism) by tears; with which David each night bedewed his bed, washing his couch with tears".
            How many times have we looked forward to Christmas and something has gone wrong.  How often have disagreements marred our celebrations?  How often have we eaten or drunk too much?  How often has it just been a bit of a disappointment?  For some of us Christmas is a reminder of bad and painful times.  For many it is a reminder of loved ones who have died.  To get the real meaning of Christmas it is necessary not to stock up on food and drink but to stock up on grace.  It is necessary to approach the Birth of Christ by the royal road of Advent.  That is why the priest wears purple, the ancient colour of royalty. 
            To live Advent we need to join John in the wilderness.  I don't mean eating insects by the way though I would not object to honey.  John is a model for us.  The wilderness represents the stripped down space of prayer and quiet.  We need to remove the non-necessities.  We have to make space for God.  In John we see and hear the call to reduce our dependence on the things of this world to the minimum so that we have more time for God and our neighbour.  John's path is one of penance and repentance. 
            We are to acknowledge our sins and seek out Christ in Confession, repenting of them and asking His mercy.  We are to make sacrifices, however small, and unite them with Christ's infinite sacrifice in the Mass.  By these simple means we can open our hearts to really greet Christ at Christmas, to run out to meet Him with the good works we have done, to greet Him with joyful faith not shallow sentimentality and to find that in seeking Him we have found the power to love those around us and discovered the real meaning of Christmas.




Sunday, December 3, 2017

STAYING AWAKE! A homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B, (Mark 13:33–37)

As usual you can hear the audio here.
            Three times our Lord says to us WATCH!  We are to open our spiritual eyes and see!  we are to stay awake like security guards at night or soldiers on watch.  He will return and it will be sudden and without warning.  Will we be awake and ready?  How does one stay spiritually awake and alert?  He will return.  How are we to prepare for this?  How are we to stay awake in our faith?
            We can, indeed, we must pray.  The Church defines prayer as lifting up the heart and mind to God.  For years I thought that mean and pathetic.  Now I see that the Church is saying that prayer is a broad and profound experience.  Whatever enables us to lift up our heart and mind to God is prayer.  No two people pray the same but everyone should pray.  Without prayer we fall asleep spiritually.  We also need to listen though, to listen to God's word in the scriptures, the Bible.  The Bible contains His message for us, His mind that we are to put on and if we are not giving attention to His word then we are not listening and our soul starves.  We need to put that word found in scripture into practice in our lives by how we treat others and how we care for those in need.  We need to live the life of the Church not just by attending Mass on Sunday but by examining our conscience everyday and going to Confession regularly. 
            While our Lady is not a tourist visiting visionaries on demand she is a mother and she cares for her children whom she has received from her Son on the Cross.  In 1879 she came to us here in Ireland.  She did not say a word but the whole vision at Knock pointed us to the centrality of the Sacrifice of the Mass and our duty of prayer, worship and belief in the teaching of Christ and His Church.  It is that Faith that we received from St Patrick that has made Ireland the relatively civilized place it still is.  It has been a gift to us from God.
            In 1917 our Lady came to us at Fatima.  This time she did speak.  She called for conversion and amendment of life, that we take the Gospel and the teaching of her Son seriously and put it into practice.  She called for a life of penance and reparation, that is, making acts of faith and love to show our sorrow at our own sins and those of others, sins against God, against her, and against one another.  She called for prayer and devotion to her Son and to herself.
            In calling for penance and reparation she asked that we offer up everything in our life and every sacrifice, every suffering however small, to be offered to God in a spirit of submission to His will.  To do this we consciously unite our sufferings and sacrifices with our Lord's Sacrifice on Calvary.  On their own our sacrifices and sufferings are of no value but united to His they take on the infinite value of His Sacrifice.  We can do this by His power made available to us in baptism fro in baptism we were immersed into Christ and became one flesh, one Spirit with Him.  In His mercy and love God the Father accepts these sacrifices united to His Son's in reparation for all the sins of the world and above all those against His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and those against His Son's Most Pure Mother, for to fail to honour the Mother is to fail to honour the Son.
            Our Lady also asked that we pray especially that we pray the Rosary.  She did not mean that we rattle through it as quickly as possible.  She clearly asked that we spend time with her in the rosary while meditating on the Mysteries and that we do this daily in a spirit of reparation to her and her Son.  When we pray the rosary properly we left our Lady take us by the hand and walk us through the mysteries of her Son's life. 
            She also asked that we give five first Saturdays, that means the first Saturday of five consecutive months in reparation to her and her Son.  We do this by going to confession and confessing all our sins, in number and kind, with sincere purpose of amendment, and then going to Holy Communion, again, with the intention of making reparation to her.  She also asked that we wear the blessed Brown Scapular as a sign of our consecration to her and that we live that consecration to the best of our ability.  Finally she asked that we spread the word.  We are to tell others about her requests and encourage them to respond to the Mother of God.

            None of this is difficult.  None of it is too time consuming.  It may mean we have less time for other things but when you stand before the Lord He will not ask you the sports results or what was on the telly!  He will ask you about whether and how you listened to Him and to His Mother.  If we have listened and obeyed we will have nothing to fear and nothing to lose.  If we have not we will only have ourselves to blame.  While we are then let us stay awake in the spirit.   Let us live our lives as faithful Catholics and stand ready for His return.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

CHRIST IS TO BE LORD OF ALL AND WE ARE TO WORSHIP HIM EVEN THROUGH OUR SERVICE OF ONE ANOTHER a homily for the Feat of Christ the King, (Matthew 25, 31–46)

 I had no public Mass today (I've been sick for a few weeks) but I did draft this:

Christ comes as the greatest of Kings, surrounded by the armies of His angels.  He is no longer hiding His Divine Nature.  His plan is accomplished and we must all answer to Him who is our Creator and Lord, our King and God.  Since we live in a republic we have lost a sense of what an absolute monarch is.  Kings are remote romantic figures.  On that day Christ will not be a remote romantic figure.  With these very eyes we will see Him and will not dare doubt our sight.  With these very ears we will hear Him and will not doubt what we hear.  While we are still in this world then let us prepare that on that day we will be ready and find ourselves among the sheep not the goats.
            Our Lord then will divide all those who claim to be His followers, indeed all those who should be His followers, that is, all human beings into two camps.  The one are those who by their actions have shown sincere love and care for those in any kind of need.  The other camp is of those who have not.  Matthew is not saying that these will be the only criteria of judgment on that day, he is emphasizing that faith is not an abstraction, a mere ascent to truth but it must also be lived out in our daily lives.
            The measure of love is our care for those in need, for the hungry, thirsty, naked, lonely, sick and confined.  He puts no conditions on that love.  He does not mean only those who are physically hungry and thirsty alone.  Anyone who thirsts and hungers for what they need to live a human life can be the beneficiary of our care.  Nor is nakedness restricted to clothing.  Anyone who is deprived of protection, of a home or of the law, of any kind, falls under this category; likewise with the sick and imprisoned.  If anyone lacks freedom we are to be their consolation.  Note that he does not say the innocent prisoner.  From ancient up to the Nineteenth century prisoners depended on relatives and friends for all their necessities.   We are to be the friends and relatives even of the guilty by extending to them the charity of Christ.    
            This is not easy.  The sick are not always pleasant.  They can be troublesome and unpleasant.  It can be very difficult to care for them.  Prisoners are rarely innocent.  They may be guilty of serious crimes.  Our Lord does not distinguish.  They too are worthy of our care and concern.
            The reason He gives for this standard of care?  That what we do to others we do to Him!  How can this be?  It is so first of all because we are made by Him in His image and likeness.  That is, He is the prototype, the master copy after Whom we are all modeled.  The respect and honour, care and devotion we show to others, especially those who are vulnerable or in need, passes through them to Him.  There is more to this.  When anyone is baptised into Christ then he or she is one flesh with Him and with all who are baptised into Christ.  It is because we have been baptised and confirmed in Christ that we can receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion, for we are already His Boy and Blood by Baptism and Confirmation.  When we care for any Christian, therefore, we are especially caring for Christ, for in caring for a part of the Body we care for all of it.
This then is why we celebrate Christ as King.  It is not some sentimental, romantic title given to honour Christ but an acknowledgement that in Christ the One God, Creator and Lord of All has taken on a human nature.  As God He has the right to rule over everything, everywhere.  As man He exercises that rule through our human nature and through human society, above all through His Church. 
            As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we are obliged to extend and make that reign of Christ visible in everything we do above all in the love and care we show for others.  That love and care therefore takes on an immense significance.  It is a proclamation of the Gospel, a sign from God of His Presence and action in the world, an act of worship and obedience, of reverence for Him and a sign and a response to His loving mercy.  We do not do it by our own power but by His.  It is His grace that enables us to truly love and care for others.  When we refuse to care for anyone in need we are not only turning our back on the needy; we are turning our back on Christ.  When we choose to ignore those we can help we are choosing to be one of the goats and to take our own path not that of Christ.  

            That great and terrible day will come.  We will see it and hear His voice.  We will all stand and face judgment based on how we have followed Christ.  He will ask how we have loved and cared for those in need.  What we do now determines how we will spend eternity!  Do not fool yourself into thinking there is some other way into Heaven.  There is only one way the way of Christ, the hard and narrow path of sincerely caring for others while living in accord with His teaching.  To those who follow in His footsteps He has promised eternal blessedness and joy.  To those who go their own way He has promised eternal suffering.  If you want the joy do not turn your back on those in need.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

WHAT IS THE GREATEST COMMAND OF THE LAW? a homily for the Thirtieth Sunday, Year A (Matthew 22:34–40)


 The audio is here.
Last week we had the Pharisees and their the enemies the Herodians gathering together to oppose the Lord.  Last week our Lord told us that we are to put God first in our lives.  He told us that while we owe something to our Nation and the State our ultimate loyalty must be to God and to His Law.  As St Thomas More said “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”  “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”
It seems that this week we have the Pharisees gathering together with another of their enemies, the Sadducees.  The Pharisees were wealthy, devout Jews, men who could afford to spend time studying and observing not just the Law of the Old Testament but the vast body of teaching that had been built up around it.  They also accepted all the prophets and books that we know as the Old Testament.  They were scholars who really wanted to be holy but on their own terms. 
In contrast the Sadducees were the party associated with the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, a vast extended clan of hereditary clergymen.  They acknowledge no holy books but the Torah, that is, the first five books of our Old Testament.  To them the one and only prophet was Moses, the man who spoke to God face to face.  If a doctrine was not there in the Torah of Moses it was not to be believed which led to a lot of conflict with the Pharisees.  The Sadducees and the Pharisees were no more friends than chalk and cheese.
That was the context behind this simple question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  It is one of those questions that experts (or those who think they are experts) would like to argue and discuss ad infinitum.  Our Lord responds by citing the Shema Israel, “Hear O Israel”, the Jewish creed that they still recite everyday.  Indeed the Church also often cites it in her worship for we believe as they do.   Traditionally it is the first prayer an observant Jew will say when he wakes and the last he will say before sleep.  It is their fervent wish to make it their last words in this life.  It is the heart of the Jewish Faith.
Our Lord does not quote the whole of the Shema nor its first verse but its third line, its very heart.  The Lord God is to be the centre of our lives, of our whole being.  He then adds to it another commandment from the Law, from one of those first five books of the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.  This does not mean that we are to love our neighbour more than our true self but neither does it mean that we love him less.  It means that we should put as much energy into loving others as we do into loving our own selves!  Our Lord tells us that this latter commandment is akin to, and dependent on, the first.  Love of God and love of our neighbour are intimately linked and are at the heart of our Faith for both Jews and Christians.  Remember too that for our Lord love does not mean affection nor does it mean mere niceness.  For our Lord love means the total gift of one’s self in service of another.  If you want to know what love means for God looks like look at a crucifix.



Our Lord is telling us that we cannot sincerely love our neighbour if we do not sincerely love God and our love for our neighbour is not sincere if we are not prepared to aid that neighbour in his nakedness, his hunger, his thirst, in other words, his suffering.  We would not let ourselves go hungry if there was food, or thirsty if there was something good to drink, nor naked and cold if there were clothes, nor homeless if there was a place to stay.  If we would not do that to ourselves then we ought not to do it to our neighbour either, not if we claim to love God and hope to go to heaven.  That is the price of eternal life: to show one’s faith in Christ by one’s love for one’s neighbour in his need. 
Some of course will point to others and say ‘why doesn’t he do it?’ or ‘why don’t they?’  But our Lord does not ask you to answer for your neighbour.  Your neighbour will answer for himself before the throne of Judgment just as you and I will. It is there that we will answer for our neglect of those in need unless we take the chances we are given here.  If you want to wipe away your sins start by wiping away the tears of those who are hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, homeless, lonely or despised.  If you truly love God reach out to those who are in need and you will find that God is there before you, reaching out to you.
You see that this Law, this Faith of ours, is not some sentimental injunction to ‘be nice’ and not hurt anyone.  Our Lord is not a sentimentalist.  He is absolutely sincere in his command to us that we measure our love for Him by our love for our neighbour and our neighbour is anyone who is in need.  
Our Lord is not saying that He will love us if we love our neighbour but that if we love Him we will love our neighbour, that is, each person we meet but especially whoever is in need.   Why should we love God?  We should love Him because every breath is a gift from Him.  All that is is a gift from Him.  Not content with creating us and blessing us He has emptied Himself in sending the Son into the world to die for us so that we could be with Him forever in Heaven.  To borrow an image from Isaac Newton we are like children playing by the sea and all the vast ocean of the knowledge of God’s love remains unexplored and unappreciated before us.  It realizing this that made St Francis weep out loud “love is not loved.” 

Let us not be Pharisees trying to save ourselves or like the Sadducees living a minimalist Faith.  Our path to Heaven is not impossible, not with God’s grace, but it is hard and narrow.  It means letting go of many things we may cherish so that we might really and truly love God and really and truly love others.  Climbing a mountain is not easy but the view from the top makes it all worthwhile.  The view from Heaven will take our breath away and the way up there is through love for God and for our neighbour.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

WHOSE IMAGE IS THIS? A homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Year A, (Matthew 22:15–21)

The audio is here.

As Christians, while we are in this world, we have one foot in Eternity and one foot here.  We are both members of our nation and state and members of the Body of Christ and His Kingdom.  Which side takes preference reveals our true priorities and can determine our ultimate destination.  This same conflict appears in today’s passage from the Gospel. 
The Pharisees were not clergy.  They were the wealthy religious Jews who could afford to give all their attention to the various rules that grew up around the Old Testament Law of Moses.   For over the centuries since Moses gave the Law to the Jews they had added on layers of legal decisions and commentary that itself had become part of the Law.  For them happiness and peace came from strictly following the Law in all its detail.  The Herodians were the political followers and supporters of the half-Jewish family of the Herods.  If you want an idea of what the Herod family was like think of a cross between Eastenders and the Sopranos.  Not a nice bunch of people.  They were not religious Jews.  They thought of happiness and peace as making money and gaining power while keeping on the right side of the Romans.  These two groups (two of many factions) were not friendly to one another to say the least.  So our Lord who has come to save us and in the process bring true peace and happiness is opposed by a union of two groups that are otherwise bitter enemies.
This makes their question more interesting.  The Law forbade the use of images, especially idols.  The Romans, being pagans, used images everywhere even on their coins.  The question seems to be about how one is to relate to the occupying power.  If our Lord says not to pay taxes because of the image on the coin then he can be reported to the Romans as a traitor but if he says to pay the tax then he can be accused of acquiescing in idolatry as well as supporting the Roman occupiers. 
Our Lord’s answer is brilliant.  He asks for a coin and when they hand it over they already show that they themselves are using the Roman coinage.  The he asks that simple question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  It is Caesar’s, that is, the Emperor’s image, a pagan.  They are using the Roman coinage and therefore recognize the authority of Rome.  The coin belongs to Rome so one has to give it back in taxes.
The deeper issue, though, is about to whom we owe allegiance.  From the foundation of the State there was a tendency to think of Ireland as a Catholic state and therefore to over-identify Irishness and Catholicism.  That is dying out.  The danger is that we swing in the opposite direction.  Yet the question has troubled believers in different ways over the centuries.  The English martyr Sir Thomas More put it succinctly “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”  That from a man who had held the highest office in England after that of the King.  “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.” 
One could say that by being born and raised here, or for some of us having chosen to make this land our home, we bear the imprint of Irishness.  We are stamped, shaped by our culture of origin and the culture around us.  Yet when we were baptized a much deeper, eternal imprint was made on our very soul, that of Christ.  More, we became one body, one person with Him and we cannot lose that mark, that mark, that connection.  There can therefore arise a conflict between these two imprints.  Are we Irish or are we Catholic?  Do we cherish the imprint of Caesar or imprint of God-made-man?  What we owe to the government and what we owe to God and His Kingdom, the Church? 
Certainly we owe the Irish nation and the Irish State our allegiance (they are not the same thing for the latter is there to serve the former).  As long as both seek to serve the Natural Law, that God-given law of right and wrong that is known to us by reason then we can serve them.  We should never act in a way as to do harm to our neighbour or our people.  But what do we owe God?  What do we owe Him without Whom there would be no state, no nation, no world?  What do we owe Him without Whom there would be no possibility of eternal life?
We owe God worship, that is, at the very least attending the Sacraments with devotion and attention but also ordering our whole life to His service and praise.  We owe Him our faith, which is itself, along with everything else, His gift to us.  We express that faith through prayer, fasting and care for those in need.  We owe God obedience in all things, that is, doing the duties of our state of life for love of Him, avoiding and opposing evil, and doing good especially to those who would do us harm, or are in any kind of need.  By these means we truly love our neighbour and show our love for the God who holds nothing back from us. 

We have the imprint of Christ on our souls through baptism and confirmation, the imprint of Him who is the exact likeness and image of the Father.  The Father in sending the Son to us has held nothing back from us.  He has given us everything, holding nothing back so that we can give our whole selves to Him in return.  It is in this giving of ourselves to God and to others in love that we discover what it really means to be human.
While we are still here in this world we corrode through sin and the image of Christ can grow faint.  We can scrape away the grime and corrosion of this world, we can polish and bring out that imprint by doing as our Lady requested at Fatima: pray the rosary everyday, wear the brown scapular, to make sacrifices for the sake of saving sinners, to practice the First Saturday devotion (sincere confession and communion in a state of grace) as an act of reparation to her and to respond to Christ by seeking to live an ever more obedient, more holy life.

By these means we bring out and become the image of Christ in the world, wherein others can see Him and come to faith in Him.  To remain stained and corroded, dull and disfigured is to be a block for others.  We owe our Lord our total service for He has held nothing back from us.  When He come first in our lives then we lift our foot out of this world and place it in Heaven and after that it is only a matter of time before we are entirely and eternally in His Presence.

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