Sunday, February 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

LIFT UP YOUR HEART AND MIND TO GOD: a homily for the Fifth Sunday, year B (Mark 1.29–39)

You can hear the audio here.

            Our Lord went out into the wilderness and there He prayed.  Why?  Why does God need to pray?  Our Lord prays because He is also man and as man, as a human being, He is never more human than when He spends time, in prayer, with God.  He also goes to pray because as God the Son He wants to spend time with His Father.
            It is said that a couple that doesn't spend quality time together will drift apart and undermine their relationship.  There needs to be communication between spouses, the members of a family or of a community or people lose connection, they drift and stop loving one another.  No human being is truly alive, truly human if they are alone.   The poet said it well: "No man is an island, entire unto himself."
            Yet like our Lord, without time away from those persons and things that drain us, without time given restore our strength and inner peace, we run dry and can give no more.  Our Lord needed to be in the wilderness in prayer so that He could recharge His batteries, so to speak.  He needed the solitude, the silence of the night, so that He could hear what Scripture calls "the still, small voice" of God.
            Our Lord also goes out into the wilderness to give example to His disciples and to us.  He is showing us that prayer is more important even that rest and sleep.  He is showing us that our relationship with our Father in heaven really is vital to us and without that contact in prayer we cannot fulfil our earthly mission; we cannot be truly alive.
            So impressed are His disciples by our Lord's prayer and His commitment to it that they will ask Him to teach them to pray.  So He taught them the Our Father not as the only prayer they should say but as a model for prayer.  When we pray it is ultimately to the Father that we pray even if the prayer we say is to our Lord or the Holy Spirit, to our Lady or one of the saints.  Our prayer should be simple and direct, acknowledging that all good things come from God.  It should be an act of trust and submission to His Holy Will.  It should seek only what is needed for today and entrust everything else into His hands.  It should be said in repentance for sin and forgiveness for others.  It should ask that we not be tested or tempted and trust that He will save us.
            Yet the Church's definition of prayer says that prayer is the "lifting of the heart and mind to God."  For years I thought that a mean and minimalist definition.  Now I realise that it is the essence of prayer.  Whatever enables us to sincerely lift our heart and mind to God is prayer.  If walking in the garden, or in a park or in the countryside helps you to lift heart and mind to God then it is prayer.  If painting yourself blue and standing on your head helps you lift your heart and mind to God then it is prayer though I recommend that you do not do it in public and perhaps you should talk to a professional... 
            Note that the Church's definition says nothing about the words we should use.  The words in our prayers that we learn teach us how to think about God correctly and they give us models for our prayer but it is the heart and mind fixed on God that is the prayer not the words.   If there was one thing the Franciscan tradition would add to the Church's definition is that prayer is lifting the heart and mind to God in faith and love.  

St John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, tells of a farm labourer in his parish who would call into the church to pray before his day's work .  Sometimes he would be so deep in prayer his tools would still be at the church door that evening.  St John asked him one day "How do you pray?"  The man shrugged and said, "He just looks at me and I just looks at Him."  That simple labouring man, who probably could not read or write, was near the heights of prayer.  He understood that prayer is lifting heart and mind to God in faith and love.  He is not that exceptional among those who love God.
            If you read the lives of the saints, or better still their writings, again and again you will hear the same story: they sought the Lord in prayer and they found Him.  He had been with them all along but He waits until we have proven our faith and love before He reveals Himself.  Why does God need proof?  He doesn't.  We need to prove it to ourselves.  We need to make the sacrifice of going out into the wilderness, that is, of getting rid of all the unnecessary things, the noises, the distractions that keep us from lifting our hearts and minds to God.  The great Cardinal Sarah in his book, the Power of Silence, talks about how today we are subject to a dictatorship of noise so much so that we cannot really hear not only God's voice but our own.
            In prayer we discover God and in discovering God we discover our true self.  In making space for God we are actually making space for one who loves us and made us for Himself that we might know Him and be with Him forever.  In neglecting to pray we are not neglecting a mere optional extra.  In neglecting to pray we are neglecting to be truly human, to be truly Christian, to truly follow Christ.  In neglecting to pray we are starving our soul of what we most need: contact with God.
            I urge you make time to pray.  Make time to lift up your heart and mind to God even if you feel a fool.   Lift up your heart and mind to God by whatever means you can.  If you are like the sinner in the temple who could only ask for mercy you will find that He is full of mercy.   If you are weighed down with worries He will ease that weight.  No one has ever sincerely sought the Lord in prayer and come away unheard, unchanged, unblessed.  Persevere in prayer and keep praying until your last breath and you will finish your prayer in heaven.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

EMBRACING WHO WE ARE AND WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US: a homily for the Fourth Sunday in ordinary time , Year B (Mark 1.21–28)

As usual you can hear the audion here.

            The Sabbath is the Jewish weekly holy day celebrated on a Saturday in memory of God's rest after creating the Universe. We celebrate our Sabbath on a Sunday in memory of the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead.  The Sabbath was meant to be a day without unnecessary work, a day of rest even for the animals and for the land.  It was meant to be a day for prayer and reflection.  Our Sunday is no different.  We too are supposed to give time to express our gratitude to God for what He has done.  The most important but not the only part of that is coming to the church and assisting at the Sacrifice of the Mass.
            Capernaum was a busy fishing village so the Sabbath in the synagogue would mean a lot of people.  Synagogue does not necessarily mean a building.  The synagogue is wherever the quorum of ten Jewish men could be found to gather.  Where the people were too poor to own a separate building they used what they could get.  Jesus goes there anyway like the good and devout Jew that He was.
            Jesus taught, though he had not studied with any of the recognized masters and their schools. Jesus taught with authority. He did not cite this expert and that nor did He present elaborate arguments in favour of His position.  He taught with authority as the new Lawgiver, the new Moses, the one promised for so long.  He taught as one who has the authority to teach because He is in charge.  He taught as one who has the power to say that things are so and they are so.

            There was a man there under the power of evil spirit, a demon, a fallen angel.  Yes, they do exist and yes, you can fall into their clutches for they wage continual war on us especially through temptations.  Yet they cannot harm us as long as we have faith in the Lord and avail of the Sacraments especially confession.  While we are in a state of grace, that is free of mortal sin (dabbling in the occult is a mortal sin), they can do nothing to us.  They are more terrified of us, members of the Body of Christ than we should be of them.  Remember: as long as one repents of one's sins, confesses them in confession and is absolved they can do us no harm. 
            This evil spirit uses the man's voice to cry out against Jesus.  It claims to know who He is "the Holy One of God."  But like all evil spirits it is a liar.  Right up until our Lord died on the Cross Satan did not know for sure Who Jesus was.  He could not grasp that God had become man.  He would not do it nor could he actually do it so neither could he conceive that God could and would do it.  The demon is playing a game, trying to flatter his way out of trouble.  Our Lord does not tolerate its nonsense.  It is rebuked and driven out with a command.
            Why does our Lord not accept the evil spirit's witness?  Why does our Lord not command all the demons, the fallen angels, to show themselves to us and give witness to Him?    Surely if all the demons, were to manifest themselves and witness to the Lord the whole world would be instantly convinced of the existence God and the supernatural?  Would the world not then be converted overnight?  They might but their acceptance would not be faith and would be built on fear and horror.
            Our Lord does not accept the witness of the evil spirit that torments the young man.  Why?       The Lord Jesus does not want the witness of demons but our witness.  We are to confess Him by our obedience in word and deed, by living holy and God-fearing lives, by avoiding evil and doing good and standing up for truth and in defence of the vulnerable.
            Note Jesus' authority: He has but to order the demon to leave the young man and it is gone.  As I have already said demons, evil spirits, or fallen angels do exist and Christ's power over the evil spirit is an affirmation of His teaching and His authority.  He is God become man and He teaches us with Divine authority. 
            The key question asked in this passage is asked of us too: "Who is this?"  Who is Jesus?  Who is He to you? Is He just a good man, a prophet, a wonder worker or is He more?  Is He God made man who has entered history and with His entry changed everything?
            Jesus is not some historical figure, still less is He a character from fiction made up to inspire us.  He has not abandoned us but remains with us in the Church and in the Sacraments above all the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle and that we receive at Holy Communion.   When you and I were baptized we were baptized not only into His death and resurrection but into His very Body.  Each of, individually and collectively, is a walking tabernacle of God's presence and an ambassador for Christ. 
            This is why we gather to worship and offer Holy Mass.  We are to remember and to offer not only His Sacrifice of Himself on our behalf but the Father's raising Him from the dead.  In His death our old selves die; in His resurrection we too are raised and the gates of Heaven are opened to us.  We are the beneficiaries of His many blessings above all the gift of eternal life.  We are here to offer and receive Him and so have entry into the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. 
            This is why missing Mass through one's own fault is a mortal sin because we do mortal, that is deadly, damage to our souls.  By deliberately, or through our negligence, missing Mass we are saying to God: "I know you made me, saved me, blessed me and invited me to spend eternity in happiness and joy with you in heaven but I just can't be bothered."   It's like a baby refusing its mother's milk it starves.           

            Lent is not far away now.  How will we spend that sacred time?  How often have we let is slip past and grown no closer to God?  Let us resolve over these weeks to spend some time, to make some effort so that by Easter we will have drawn near to Him Who longs for us to know Him as fully as we are known.

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.


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