Author Archives: Paddy Banville

About Paddy Banville

Priest, Wexford, Ireland.

Ciara’s cancer has returned… accompanying Ciara spiritually as she walks the way of the Cross

This evening I approach the Altar carrying Ciara.

Ciara’s cancer has recurred.

As I raise the bread and wine I’m staring at the figure of Christ hanging on the Cross that stands on the Altar.

And suddenly it’s not just the body and blood of Jesus in my hands but also the body and blood of Ciara.

There’s a oneness… I’m offering two bodies and bloods and they’ve become one… his body and blood so bruised and battered even before he’s raised on the Cross and her body and blood already marked and scarred – bruised and battered – by surgery and years of cancer treatment.

I can’t hold these bodies and bloods tenderly enough in my hands. I’m in awe… almost overcome by a mixture of reverence, respect, wonder and fear as I stare at a deep spiritual truth. I can’t move from the sight.

I have to work hard to stay present to the people in front of me.

I think of the generations who’ve embarked on this very path, the way of the Cross, especially the generations who gathered in this Shannon Chapel… one great procession through history making their way to the Cross… and resurrection.

For a moment I asked that He take my body instead of hers… and then I think how difficult that would be for all to whom I mean so much…

And instantly I think of all to whom she means so much and how difficult it is for them…

Religion: Spirituality’s door to the very person of God

The best way to understand God is using the qualities of personhood.

We get God’s creation or God as a distant possibility but as for the person and the personhood of God, that goes over our head!

But in our deepest and truest personhood we are most like God.

We begin every Mass by apologizing to the Almighty for any offense we’ve caused.

Offense and apology – and ultimately forgiveness – belong properly to personhood and they don’t need an explanation because they’re such an important part of our lived experience.

But why are we like this?

Because we’re made in the image and likeness of God.

God then is the original person or personhood, the template of all personhood, and in our human experience of offense and apology we’re simply reflecting eternity and our eternal origins.

Justice and the human desire for justice are other such qualities… as are love and mercy. Indeed, all the important personhood stuff is reflecting eternity.

You’ll often hear people express the view that they’re more spiritual than religious and at the heart of this dichotomy – which I consider to be a false dichotomy – lies the personhood of God.

At any moment we can have a deeply spiritual experience… more often than not it’ll happen while we’re in the midst of creation.

These are undoubtedly moments of spiritual awareness, even of oneness, but they’re not an experience of the very person of God.

River Slaney viewed from Edermine Bridge

I’ve had many such moments… standing on the bridge at Edermine – always looking downstream by the way! – and while walking the N11 from Oylgate towards Enniscorthy and experiencing the breathtaking view of the distant mountains.

Granted, in so far as the water and the mountains are God’s creation they are experiences of God but they’re experiences of God in much the same way as a piece of art is an experience of the artist… meeting the artist in person is quiet a different matter altogether.

God is like that too. It’s one thing to experience God’s creation and to be drawn into an awareness of the Creator-God, it’s quite another to actually encounter the person of God!

One belongs to spirituality, the other belongs to spirituality given direction by the Christmas and Easter events and religion.

We rarely pass into this realm, into an encounter with the very personhood of God, yet this is the very purpose of Christian religion. This – the very person of God – is what distinguishes the Christian religion from spirituality.

Religion, true religion, moves the practitioner through spirituality to an encounter with the very person and personhood of God.

So, make no mistake, lots of us have experience of God through oneness with his creation but there are few people who know what it is to encounter God in his very person.

This encounter requires both spirituality and the committed practice of religion.

Reflections, River Slaney from Edermine Bridge

Traces of Heaven and Hell in the most meaningful and painful experiences of life

What’s Heaven like?

I believe we already know. Well, we’ve inklings of what it’s like in our flesh, in our deepest and most meaningful human experiences.

As far as I’m concerned all the important stuff foreshadows eternity.

So what’s the best thing that ever happened to you?

Most people will say; love… when it’s true of course!

Or they’ll say; my children.

Before the birth of our children we were living – the only life we knew – but it was a life of a much lower quality.

Sometimes at weddings I ask the couple to think of their individual lives before they met.

You can almost see the emptiness registering!

Before meeting they had a life but it was life of a much lower quality.

Before your children you had a life too… but of a different quality altogether. Few want to go back.

The quality of life after the experience of true love or after the birth of your children – the deep and deeper meaning – is a reflection of gaining or stepping-up to the life of Heaven.

The life of Heaven is a step-up in quality again. In fact, it’s the ultimate quality of life.

After death nobody ever wants to come back except the souls in trouble. They want to come back to undo so much but can’t… that’s their suffering.

Imagine if you had to go back to your life before true love or to your life before your children.

Can you imagine it?

Do you ever really get back? Are you not always bereft?

Evening falls over the River Slaney… can you see the path of your life condensed into a single day?

That’s reflecting the soul’s loss of Heaven.

The loss of true love or of a child and it’s impact on the quality of life is actually a reflection of what it’s like for the soul to lose Heaven.

In the most meaningful and painful spaces of our lives we’re always reflecting eternity… glimpsing eternity.

The Widow’s Mite: Twenty Second Sunday

Remember last weeks Gospel?

Mk 12:28-34 Love God with all you’ve got – all you’ve got, and your neighbour as yourself.

Well this weekend – Mk 12:38-44 – we’re given an example of living the great twin commandment and an example of the failure to live it.

The scribes “swallow the property of widows, while making a show of their lengthy prayers.”

Jesus is clear; this kind of evil disguised as religion, evil hidden beneath a religious veneer will attract a severe sentence.

The Catholic Church has been under this kind of heavenly judgement for some time.

Let’s just check-in to the power of these words: “The more severe will be the sentence they receive.”

The power of words – severe… feel it… and sentence.

Moving on to the widow – she’s an example of living the twin commandment. 

She puts two coins into the treasury; everything she has to live on.

She truly loves all that the treasury represents, she loves God with all – all her soul, mind, strength.

“It’s not how much we give but how much love is put in the giving” as Mother Theresa observed.

There’s something else we should notice about the widow: She hasn’t been put off by the blatant evil of the religious leaders all around her, unlike the claims of so many today.

The top spot in the kingdom belongs to this widow and her kind.

Hell belongs to the scribes and their kind.

Most of us are somewhere in between!

Trust life knowing that it’s Heaven breaking into our small lives.

Twenty Ninth Sunday.

Mark 10:35-45 “You do not know what you are asking… Can you drink the cup that I must drink…”

I can almost hear Jesus: Omg 😱 look at these two. They haven’t a clue what they’re asking.

Jesus could be alluding to the cost to himself of opening Heaven to us.

Remember if you ask God to hug sinful humanity it’s similar to you or I hugging the person who has offended or hurt us. For God it’s a similar emotional, psychological and spiritual experience.

But Jesus could also be alluding to how much it’ll cost James and John themselves.

Remember too that you and I share in the cup that Jesus “must drink” through the Eucharist and we share in the baptism that he is “baptized with” through our baptism.

Sometimes though it’s all just words! But the really chosen souls don’t just share in this cup and baptism sacramentally, at a distance so to speak; they share it in their flesh. It becomes their flesh.

Suffering is never a punishment. Never.

Sometimes suffering is intended to get us off the wrong road.

Sometimes suffering is intended to bring those on the right road even closer to Jesus.

But both have the one aim; to bring us to Heaven.

One point is very clear; entry into eternal life is costly!

There is always some level of suffering.

The suffering that’s part of life, aging, serious illness, bereavement – there’s no need to go looking for it because it’s just part of living – shatters our illusions and breaks down the ego. It puts jealousy, envy, indignation, the need to make our authority felt, all that stuff, the stuff that’s not fit for Heaven in perspective. Remember, envy and all that stuff, so much that’s part of our lives, can’t enter Heaven because it’ll turn Heaven into hell. Suffering breaks all that stuff down. It makes all that stuff irrelevant, unimportant, trivial.

As the years take their toll you’ll often hear it said: It’s easy talk to him or her now!

Life has built-in levelers that conspire to make us fit for Heaven.

We need to be able to trust life, especially all that comes uninvited, knowing that it’s Heaven breaking into our small lives and preparing us for big life, for Heaven, nothing more, nothing less.

Unteachable – no reason to believe Heaven views us differently!

Twenty Seventh Sunday.

It’s a tough one!

Bear in mind that it comes on the back of: “And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” (last Sunday’s Gospel, Twenty Sixth Sunday).

Divorce and remarriage are an accepted part of life. To suggest otherwise is to be considered outdated and backward.

Yet here in the proclamation of this Sunday’s Gospel reading we are once again confronted by the teaching of Jesus which says that divorce and remarriage are not, and never were, a part of God’s plan.

Jesus turns to the teaching of Moses and in doing so he must have known that Moses allowed divorce and remarriage.

In keeping Moses in the conversation Jesus is firstly putting the Ten Commandments centre stage; and secondly, he’s taking the opportunity to correct the teaching of Moses which allowed for divorce and remarriage.

Interestingly, he doesn’t blame Moses. Rather, he blames Moses generation, the masses, from Moses right up to his day, about 1600 years of people divorcing and remarrying: “It was because you were so unteachable” that Moses allowed you to divorce and remarry. There’s no reason to believe that Heaven views us any differently!

Just about everybody seems to have expected Jesus to go with Moses teaching allowing divorce and remarriage – as most people do today – as evidenced by the disciples bringing the matter up again in the privacy of the house.

That Jesus turns to the Ten Commandments should not be a surprise.

He guarded the commandments carefully saying that Heaven and earth would disappear before the Ten Commandments. That’s a huge statement. But there’s more: “Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven.” Matt 5:17

In placing divorce and remarriage in the context of breaching the sixth commandment (he actually uses the word “guilty” of adultery), in binding divorce and remarriage to adultery so tightly, and given his understanding of the place of the Ten Commandments in the working out of our salvation, Jesus is raising a red flag 🚩 here about divorce, remarriage and our eternal welfare.

It’s a tough one indeed.

What I haven’t dealt with here is Heaven’s understanding of the purposes of marriage and our everyday understanding – they’re very different and it will go some way to explain our difficulty with Jesus teaching.

But that too is another days work…

Jesus shock – cutting off hands and tearing out eyes!

Twenty Sixth Sunday

Who was this outsider that he’d figured out the significance, if not the identity, of Jesus?

“But he’s not one of us” the disciples complain.

He wasn’t part of the twelve. He didn’t have the benefit of sharing intimately in Jesus inner circle. Yet here he is, ministering in the power of Jesus.

Here we glimpse the wonder of the Father’s revelation which is always capable of catching us offside so to speak. The Father is full of surprises!

Jesus corrects his inner circle; he may not be one of us in the sense that he’s not physically present in this group, but he knows me… and that’s all he needs.

Essentially this passage is teaching us that Jesus is everything, that knowing and recognizing him is everything – not the group we belong to – and that giving a cup of water to someone just because she belongs to Christ is hugely significant because the giving of the water is really about the recognition of Jesus.

The recognition of Jesus is everything.

But then Jesus turns his attention to sin, to the power that is his absolute opposite.

That he swings so suddenly – almost violently – to bring up his opposite suggests he wants us to hear what he has to say.

It’s Jesus shock!

It’s shock tactics so he can get our attention – “thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck… cut off your hand… tear out your eye…”

It’s a shocking message, hyperbole obviously, but nonetheless a very simple message that Jesus really wants us to hear.

Do not sin.

Sin – without repentance – is the highway to hell!

Sitting on the low stool – suffering in our lives.

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We’ll begin and end this piece with Padre Pio.

Speaking about human suffering Pio said: “Jesus does not ask us to carry the heavy cross, but a piece of his cross, the piece that consists of human suffering.”

Suffering has shaken the faith of many.

Still does.

When good people suffer we question, we’re puzzled.

Yet Jesus always taught his followers to expect it, not to run from it, but to pick it up, carry it and follow after him.

It’s very clear that Jesus believed suffering to be an essential element on the path to salvation.

He even goes as far as calling Peter’s objections the work of Satan!

Jesus teaches that if you try to avoid suffering – the stuff that just comes your way, uninvited – which he calls wanting to “save your life” you will actually lose your life; losing your life here (in this context) means losing salvation.

Catch a hold of that! The refusal to carry the suffering you can do nothing about means the loss of salvation, the loss of the next life!

It’s a teaching that couldn’t be more opposed to the whole euthanasia and assisted suicide movement.

It’s a teaching that couldn’t be more opposed to the often voiced preference for a bullet rather than a care home.

It’s a teaching that puts most people offside!

Jesus goes on; if you embrace your suffering, seek to carry it for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (in the worldly sense “losing your life”) you’ll save it, you’ll merit salvation – heaven.

There is no resurrection for Jesus without the passion.

There will be no share in that same resurrection for you and for me unless we also share in that same passion, in whatever format it comes to each one of us.

In 1947 forty five people, most of them war orphans between the ages of four and thirteen lost their lives at sea, shipwrecked less than 100 metres from shore off the coast of Italy.

When Padre Pio was asked about the tragedy he replied:

“It would do you well to listen. There is a mother embroidering. Her son, sitting on a low stool, watches her work, but he sees everything backwards. He sees the knots of the embroidery, the confused threads. So he says: ‘Mother, what are you doing? Why is your work so unclear?’ Then his mother lowers the frame and shows the other side of her work, the fine part. Each colour is in place and the variety of threads is composed neatly and harmoniously.” Padre Pio concluded, “Down here we see only the reverse of the embroidery. We are sitting on the low stool.”

The demands of justice never disappear

The demands of justice remain into eternity because they originate in eternity.

Justice brings peace, harmony, calm, stability, balance…

But when justice is contravened there is hurt, discontent, distress, conflict, discord, peace is disturbed and sometimes peace disappears altogether.

It affects individuals and then reaches out into the wider community, sometimes a whole community or society can be disturbed, distressed, unbalanced…

This is how ghettos are created, civil unrest, riots, wars…

Injustice is a horrific reality that many people are forced to live with.

Injustice doesn’t fall on stones, it falls on real people, just think of the victims of crime.

Too often we hear their cries for justice.

When I do not honour justice there’s always somebody paying the price of my decision and my subsequent actions, namely the victim of my actions. From there the distress, the discord, the conflict moves outward and drags in family, friends, neighbours…

Why are we like that? Why is reality like that?

Because we’re made in the image and likeness of God. Because we’re reflecting eternity.

In eternity and in Heaven justice must be placated, satisfied, it never disappears. Where can it disappear to? Somebody is always carrying the demands of justice, always.

So, may I appeal to you, never willingly engage yourself in injustice no matter how insignificant it seems to you because sooner or later you’re going to have to pay the price, and if it’s collective injustice, we’re going to have to pay the price. The demands of justice never disappear, unless of course, some Good Samaritan like Padre Pio, or even Jesus himself pays the demands of justice for you, for us!

But why should they do that for you or for any given generation or generations? Why?

On clean and unclean or if you put theft, or avarice, or envy in Heaven you’ll create hell!

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Things kick off over ritual washing before eating, and there’s mention of the tradition of washing after returning from the shops because they’d been “contaminated” by the people they’d mixed with.

There are some interesting lessons to be learned from Jesus response.

He doesn’t dispute their distinction between clean and unclean. In fact he accepts it.

Clean and unclean stand for Heaven and hell, being fit for Heaven or fit for hell, creating Heaven or creating hell.

But Jesus has a very different understanding about what makes a person clean or unclean, fit for Heaven or fit for hell.

It’s what’s in your heart that decides whether you’re fit for Heaven or hell and he lists the way-markers on the road to hell which are actually qualities that abound, and apart from the obvious like murder, he includes fornication, adultery, theft, avarice, malice, deceit, envy, indecency, slander, pride, folly.

What happens if you put theft in Heaven? What happens if you put envy in Heaven? Avarice? Malice? Deceit? That’s not Heaven, that’s hell.

You can’t put theft in Heaven because it’ll create hell, no more than you can put envy or avarice, or malice, or any of the qualities listed by Jesus.

Can you see why these qualities are way-markers on the road to hell?

And can you see that it’s what’s in our hearts that determines how God receives us?

We want God to do it all for us but it’s not like that. It’s what’s inside us that determines our future.

He advises:

Do not pay lip service to God. When you pray 🙏, pray from your heart. When you worship, worship from your heart. Otherwise it’s worthless.

Which begs the question: Mass and your heart; what’s the story there? If the worship of God is boring it’s because your heart is not in it!

He further advises:

The commandments and the law of God are more important than human tradition; more important than any human law.

Overall, he’s saying; if you truly loved God, if your heart was really in it, you’d know all this!