Category Archives: Catholic

Christmas: God is with us, and God has a face, a personable identity

Tonight God crosses the desert we heard about during Advent, he crosses the valleys, the hills, the mountains, the cliffs. Tonight God is with us – and he wants to stay with us, with you.

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“In the mystery of the Incarnation there is also an aspect that is connected to human freedom. God has pitched his tent among us and we must hasten to receive the grace that he offers us” Pope Francis, January 05, 2014

He is with us in the real world, as Pope Francis says; “in this real world.” He doesn’t come to an idyllic world as if this (pointing to the crib) is just sentiment but nothing to do with the real world.

How real do you want it?

There’s the awkwardness of Mary’s pregnancy albeit by Gods direct intervention but who’ll believe that? I’m pregnant Joseph and you’re not the father! Thank you God, you really dropped me in it three!

There’s Joseph’s inevitable confusion, his uncertainty, his pride – think of a man’s pride in this situation, Joseph’s decision to leave Mary. Thank you God, you really dropped me in it there! See how close God’s will is to the edge, always tottering on the brink! God’s will always looks like it can’t possibly succeed.

There’s the long and difficult journey to Bethlehem for a heavily pregnant mother, a distance of 100 or more kilometres, on arrival there’s no suitable accommodation. Thank you God, you really dropped me in it there! Here we find the story of this child’s future life in summary; “foxes have holes but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”… to this day. How have you changed that?

There’s the joy and the supernatural wonder of this night – the lowliness of the shepherds recognizing the Christ-child; haughtiness would never have been able to recognise the Christ-child – followed by the terror of the flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of every new born male child. What’s it like for a father or a mother lying awake under a night sky knowing that at any moment a soldier full of murderous intent might find them? Thank you God, you really dropped me in it there! Tonight “there will be people from Nigeria to Iraq who take their life into their hands by going to midnight Mass.” (Fraser Nelson)

Not to an idyllic world but to this world, cruel, violent, craving power, divided but also good. God is with us in this world and because of this night (day) God has a face, a personable identity.

My second point tonight:

Many – far too many Catholics, possibly a majority – do not have a strong sense that God is with us even though he’s done this (pointing to the crib). Why?

This is an excellent book, written by Fr. Chris Hayden. It's one of the books I'm recommending for the average lay wo/man in 2015. It's available from Veritas here http://www.veritasbooksonline.com/i-believe-line-by-line-through-the-creed.html or from Amazon here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Believe-Line-Through-Creed/dp/1847305687/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420366606&sr=8-1&keywords=Christopher+Hayden

This is an excellent book, written by Fr. Chris Hayden. It’s one of the books I’m recommending for the average lay wo/man in 2015. It’s available from Veritas here http://www.veritasbooksonline.com/i-believe-line-by-line-through-the-creed.html or from Amazon here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Believe-Line-Through-Creed/dp/1847305687/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420366606&sr=8-1&keywords=Christopher+Hayden

A poor family are taking the boat to the US. They can afford to bring nothing more than bread and cheese for the journey and a little savings. About 3 days into the journey one of the children complains: Daddy, I can’t eat any more cheese, if I eat any more cheese I think I’m going to die. So the father gives the child a small coin from the family savings telling the child to go and buy an ice cream. About an hour later the child returns, excited, and tells the father: Daddy, I’ve had three ice creams and a dinner. Here’s your coin back, the food is included in the price of the tickets! (Peter Kreeft)

Many of us have tried to live on the spiritual equivalent of a diet of “cheese sandwiches” (Fr. Chris Hayden) not realizing that there’s so much more on offer.

This is the single biggest problem in the Church.

It’s the real reason – the reason behind all the other reasons – why people leave the Church. Think about it; how long will any of us last on a diet of cheese sandwiches? How long before you’re fed up? How long before you’ll walk away?

There’s a lunacy to all this that’s seldom named, but we’ll name it tonight; God has come bounding across the desert, the valleys, the mountains, the great divide between God and man – God is with us – and we’re bored, fed up, we think that this child will somehow place limits on us, somehow diminish our freedom, or we think that it’s not about us – you – that he’s not looking for you? Ah, come on!

To all of you making your annual visit I ask you to stare hard at this child and ask yourself why he came? And if you want it, if you’ve got the desire, I think Fr. Byrne and I can lead you to much more than cheese sandwiches. As Dell-boy would say; we guarantee you a full steak meal!

Tonight, and during the Christmas season I invite you to look again, visit the crib, take a good hard look and ask; why? Then ask yourself; what’s it got to do with me? I doubt he intended you to exclude yourself. Certainly not. As Pope Francis says, he intended us to use our freedom to “hasten to receive the grace that he offers us.”

Mercy exists because there’s ultimate Justice – Christ the King

“When the son of man comes in his glory escorted by all his angels…” Matthew 25:31-46

What’ll the world do? Send up fighter jets to intercept him!

Here Jesus portrays himself as “coming in his glory” and “all the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, executed on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by prominent saints.

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, executed on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by prominent saints.

goats” – these are words spoken before his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. So he’s painting a picture of a future cosmic event, his second coming when “everything is to be put under his feet” 1 Cor 20-26,28 (Second Reading).

But as Jesus paints this picture we simultaneously glimpse some fascinating details about the kingdom of God – windows and doors are opening before us.

One detail that’s obvious; there is ultimate justice.

All will stand before him – believer and unbeliever – and we will be separated, sheep from goats. The criterion for judgement is how we treat the least of our brothers and sisters. Ouch, that’s going to bite us! Everything will be judged from the poor man’s perspective.

There’s no need to worry about somebody getting away with murder – I’m using murder here figuratively, as in the banks got away with murder! We only ‘get away’ for a very short time, even if we never get caught for the dishonesty that netted us €40.00 or €40,000.00 there’s no place to hide. The king of the universe waits. Life is very short as anyone over fifty starts to realize quickly!

While we might ‘get away’ personally for a time the wider community (society generally) never gets away. This is the root of all crime and sin – self becomes the only arbitrator. There’s no common good, just me and mine, and increasingly as we’ve seen in Ireland it can extend to family and even out to our employment with devastating consequences for the nation, but disproportionately for the poor.

The thief, the fraudster, the murderer, the bully has no future except to put right the wrong he’s done; “when you go to court with your opponent, try to settle with him on the way, or he may drag you before the judge and the judge hand you over to the bailiff and the bailiff have you thrown into prison” Lk 12:58-59.

This holds true for all, there are no exceptions.

And legality means nothing to the universal King. State legislation is irrelevant. There’s no such thing as it’s ‘just business’ (so often used in the business world to justify itself). There’s only what’s right and wrong, there’s no conservative or liberal, there’s only true or false.

So, there is no need for us to judge. We can confidently leave it to the universal King-judge.

Of course, as I used to say to the prisoners in Portlaoise, you’re the blessed ones, at least now while you’re locked up and deprived of your liberty you’ve got the opportunity to start putting right the wrong you’ve done, to settle with your opponent while still on the way to the court.

This is all that God desires of the criminal-sinner.

In the end we decide what we receive, “because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back” Lk 6:38. if we persist in sin (which is putting self first, temporarily of course!) we get a judge, if we back away we get a shepherd Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17 (First Reading), and a shepherd will save his sheep, he might even die trying!

Oh… he did die!

Twenty-eight Sunday: Grace comes before inclusion; a spiritual law as sure as any physical law.

Here in Matthew 22:1-14 God is a king who gives a feast for his son’s wedding. Think about Jesus’ use of a feast to describe the kingdom of God.

His son’s wedding is every effort made by God to rule the human heart but particularly the incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ. When God rules the human heart the heart experiences it as a feast.

The king sends his servants to call those invited to the wedding feast (the feast being the rule of God over the human heart). The servants are the men and women we read about in the Old Testament, through to Jesus himself, the apostles, the New Testament, up to every person – you and I, priest, parent, teacher – anybody who invites others to God right up to this October day 2014.

Who is invited? The Jews were first but in refusing the invitation some who were first became last (it could happen to you!) but those who did accept entered the wedding feast. Then pagans skipped the queue and entered the feast, the last becoming first. In our day the invitation has been obscured, people no longer experience Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, indeed Catholicism generally, as an invitation to a feast. But that’s what it is, an invitation to a wedding feast, the marriage of God and man in an individual soul and in a people, the Church; sealed in the Eucharist. Our religion should be experienced as a feast (or at least in terms of a feast) – that so many do not experience religion as a feast is nothing new. It’s the reason Jesus told parables like this!

Every Catholic who no longer practices is to some degree unwittingly refusing an invitation to the feast. But there are nuances around the invitation; some accept the invitation but in reality it’s only an outward show. They practice religion outwardly but there’s nothing inside, no joy, no feast!

It’s most interesting to note the excuses given by those invited; they’re not interested. So simple isn’t it? One has a farm, another has a business; these are important things but still keep people from the feast. Others attempt to get rid of those issuing the invitations; the Church has no place in modern society, squeeze it out! It’s so 2014 isn’t it? Yet it’s a teaching that’s 2,000 years old. It’s still valid because it’s unveiling spiritual truths.

So like the vineyard owner in last week’s Gospel the king then turns to others – his own are refusing! He instructs his servants to go out “to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding” and the wedding hall is full, but when the king notices one man who was not wearing a wedding garment he kicks him out! Not very inclusive, is it?

Here we’re encountering more spiritual truths, basic laws of the spiritual world that simply do not change; no more than physical laws change. If I reduce my food intake and walk 10 kilometres daily, what’ll happen? It’s a basic physical law. The spiritual world has similar laws. One of them is that entry into the kingdom of God produces a ‘new’ man, sin is recognized, often for the first time, and there arises from within a hunger and a thirst to change, a hunger and a thirst that must be satisfied. Grace comes before inclusion! This is a law as sure as any physical law.

It’s impossible to enter the kingdom of God (or more truthfully, the kingdom of God to overtake us) without this process happening to some degree. This process is the wedding garment. The marriage produces a union. Men and women become like God, holy, as God is holy.

Eighteenth Sunday Year A: Pursuing Jesus on foot without a packed lunch!

The first thing I should say about the multiplication of the loaves and fish is that it’s not about sharing – as though the real miracle was people shared. That’s a lazy interpretation. It’s a miracle of multiplication, plain and simple.Buy 2 get 5000

It’s one of the great signs given by Jesus and intended to cause all those present to ask; who is this man that he can feed thousands out of almost nothing and still have plenty left over?

Like all Jesus’ miracles the feeding has a much deeper meaning. If he can satisfy the physical hunger of thousands out of five loaves and two fish then he can satisfy humankind, full stop!

It points to a much deeper satisfaction and the Church with the benefit of hindsight (apart from its obvious connection with Moses) understands it as prefiguring how Christ satisfies his followers by sharing himself with them in the Eucharist.

Sadly many people – many Catholics among them, particularly cradle Catholics – do not understand the deeper meaning that Jesus can satisfy the human heart. Actually it’s an over-abundance of satisfaction symbolised by the baskets of scraps left over after “they all ate as much as they wanted…”

Thus they look at the Church, particularly the Mass, the summit of the Christian life and like the disciples looking at the loaves and fish they look at the bread and wine and think there’s not enough there, we must go elsewhere – corresponding to the disciples “send the people away and they can go to the villages…” Is this not the root of the vocation crisis?

But Jesus says “there is no need for them to go…”

There are just a few more points to note.

The people were fed because they pursued Jesus relentlessly, even out to a lonely place; “he withdrew by boat to a lonely place… but the people… leaving the towns went after him on foot.” But they didn’t just go after him, they stayed with him, time was lost, “the time has slipped by so send the people away” before they fall down with hunger! They were so taken in their pursuit of Jesus that they never thought of taking a packed lunch!

Does your participation in the Eucharist look anything like the participation of the thousands in this Gospel passage?

When you and I start following Jesus like that he’ll start feeding us too!

The cover of Mike Aquilina’s book ‘The Mass of the early Christians’ pictures a mosaic found in the remains of a Byzantine church in Tabgha, Israel. It’s a fifth century mosaic of the loaves and fishes which was a favourite symbol of the Eucharist in the Patristic era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The spiritual life is littered with big holes that carry the name ‘looks like’ and multitudes fall down them. It looks like the Church is dying but it only looks like it. Actually the near death experience of the Church will allow other events to happen in the world. We live in a very ordered universe. It’s a war for God’s sake!

 

Third Sunday of Easter: Christ bestows life on those who love him.

Everything needed to encounter Jesus Christ can be found in today’s Gospel.

Pope Francis, Sunday Homily, May 04 2014

Pope Francis, Sunday Homily, May 04 2014

Three things are needed; the desire for God, the Word of God and the bread of the Eucharist. Pursue the three things relentlessly and I guarantee you, if you’re not a Catholic already, you’ll become a Catholic – you’re inner world will start to resemble the Catechism!

Suddenly Jesus comes up and walks with two of his disciples. 

Significantly, they’re discussing him, his life and the events surrounding his death and reported resurrection. They’re downcast and haven’t yet come to faith describing Jesus as “a great prophet” rather than Lord. 

They’re interested in Jesus. He’s important to them. They’re looking to him and thus he comes to meet them. It’s a two way thing. This is the first requirement – interest, desire, or as Jesus put it, knocking, searching and looking because the privileges of the true Christian will never be disclosed to humankind at large.

Let’s imagine ourselves going for a walk down the promenade (a path on the banks of the River Slaney in Enniscorthy), or shopping, or our life from this moment to the next occasion we’ll gather here; how often is Jesus Christ likely to be the focus of our attention? This is the reason we don’t feel connected to God. Our hearts and minds are somewhere else. Do you know why this happens?

We accept much too uncritically the secular narrative that we need a particular lifestyle if we are to be happy – watch the soaps any evening and you’ll find that there’s a narrative running through them about what brings us happiness. It’s everywhere, it’s rarely challenged and it’s big business! We’re slow to understand that Jesus Christ bestows life on those who love him; a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and flowing over. Grace by its nature is excessive and overflows – it’s missionary!IMG_1202

Now look where he takes them when he begins to walk beside them. He leads them to reflect on the Word of God, the scriptures. This is the second requirement. Read the Gospels reflectively, repeatedly. There our minds will meet the mind of God, our hearts will meet the heart of God and our hearts too will begin to burn within us.

“… he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them.” They have the desire, they want him! If they’d let him go on, revelation wouldn’t have happened, they wouldn’t have been at the table with him when he took bread and they wouldn’t have recognized him. Imagine how close they’d have been but they still wouldn’t have made it. I’d say we’ve often been that close too!

This is the third and final requirement; the breaking of the bread. Their faith development reaches its climax in recognizing Jesus in the breaking of bread and suddenly he’s gone. Odd that, why disappear just then? Because he’s left them all that they need to find him. He’s left them directions – the Word and the breaking of bread, Holy Mass.

In every Mass two of the three requirements are always present; the Word and the breaking of the bread. But is the third always present; a real desire for Jesus Christ?

Third Sunday of Lent: A lesson in evangelization, a lesson in love.

The Samaritan woman represents the existential dissatisfaction of one who does not find what he seeks. She’s had “five husbands” and now she lives with another man.” Pope Benedict XVI

John 4: 51-42. The Woman at the Well.

Once again Jesus uses something very ordinary – water – to teach us about God and God’s desired relationship with us.

First thing to note: Jesus has gone out, he’s in hostile territory: “What? You a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” We need to move out from the security of our Church buildings too!IMG_0947

Now the woman could be any woman here (or man). She’s busy with her life doing something that’s life-essential – drawing water from the well.

But watch what happens as she meets Jesus – in the end she’ll put down the water jar and go and tell her friends about the man she’s met. She becomes a missionary. If it happened here in Enniscorthy some might say she’s turned into some kind of religious nut!

First she doesn’t get it: “You have no bucket, sir, and the well is deep; how could you get this living water?” She’s thinking in terms of water (her earthly life) but he’s talking about himself as “living water” (human fulfillment, which she’s so close to – she can actually reach out and touch God physically yet she might never meet him and know only the joys of this world). Notice too that she calls him “sir” rather than Lord – her journey will be from “sir” to Lord.

IMG_0935She gets there gradually, in stages, slowly discovering the full identity of Jesus on a one to one basis. It’s personal, one to one, the heart of God meets the heart of a woman and revelation occurs gradually.

Lesson – We must meet him personally. We must converse with him, if we do, he’ll change our lives.

Suddenly, as soon as the woman asks for “that water” Jesus asks her to call her husband – watch where this is going – and she replies “I have no husband” to which Jesus responds; “although you’ve had five (husbands) the one you have now is not your husband.” Classic!

Remarkably, she doesn’t protest, clearly she’s got some awareness of a religious understanding of marriage which Jesus affirms as God’s understanding of marriage (as opposed to the cultural understanding). She also acknowledges the expectation of Messiah.

Of course, nowadays we’d probably tell Jesus off and shout discrimination!

But she humbles herself, submits to a higher power and order, accepts the reality of sin, and he brings her forward. She meets the tender embrace of Jesus’ heart – mercy – always available to us in Confession. What if she’d gone the other way?

There’s one final detail I’d like you to notice. She brings the town to see Jesus –  the town asks him to stay – and when they too have encountered him they say something that we all need to be able to say:

“Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.”

Weak discipleship means a weak Church.

Homily Notes

Matt. 5:13-16

To his disciples – to the fledgling Church – Jesus says; “you are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless … it is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” Strong words!

The disciples are to be salt of the earth.

So where would you find the disciples of Jesus Christ in our day?

Here, surely?

If the world looks at us and doesn’t see Christ’s disciples – well, something’s wrong.

If the people who don’t come to Mass don’t see something attractive in us – like happiness in IMG_0954our relationship with God – then something’s wrong.

When we received Baptism, Confirmation and Communion Jesus didn’t mean that it should be private like a lamp covered by a tub!

No. Our commitment to Christ is to be as obvious and attention-grabbing as a city built on a hill-top!

But if our commitment to Christ is not like a city built on a hill-top, if it’s not obvious, if it’s like a lamp covered by a tub, if we’re like salt that has become tasteless, if we’re ineffective disciples – the local Church too – becomes “good for nothing and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” Weak discipleship means a weak Church.

We are to be obvious attention-grabbers for Christ, my light, your light must shine in the sight of men – but notice the next line – so that seeing our good works people may give thanks to God.

Ah, now! Who would want that? Who wants to give God everything? Actually, very few! We’re terrified that there’ll be nothing left for us! What’s left for me? What do I get?

The raging cultural war in which Catholicism is being squeezed is actually about this question – is life about me, self, my ego, or is it about God?

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The answer is another day’s work – we’ll come back to it. For now I’ll leave you with an insight from Mother Teresa – “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”

For love, a man or woman will give everything, even be prepared to die, and all our human loves – whatever the kind – are mere shadows, reflections and even distortions of the Love we really crave, the love for which we’re made. That love has a name; Jesus Christ.

So, open wide the doors.

Gospel (shorter version) Matthew 4:12-17 The people that lived in darkness and who dwell in the shadow of death has seen a great light.

If I’m not mistaken Zebulun and Naphtali were the extremities of Israel at the time of Jesus.

So the light reaches to the extremities. It reaches out, which is what it’s doing right here, right now.

The point of Catholicism is that Jesus Christ is already our light. He’s not meant to be outside us, he’s meant to be in here (inside). This is the critically important journey that every Catholic must make.

But often, even for Catholics, particularly cradle Catholics, the light inside us is someone or worse still something else, someone or something other than Jesus Christ.

We have our idols! Money is the obvious idol, education can become an idol (note the recent comments by the Minister for Education), even our children can become idols! There are endless possibilities.

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Where God is not loved, idols are loved instead. It’s a basic spiritual truth. These idols or ‘lights’ are the real driving force within Irish life today.

Every person has such a light or lights. The light of my life is what gives meaning to my life.

So ask yourself what it is, what’s the light that you’re living for, that keeps you going?

Then ask; will that light ever go out?

Jesus Christ once remarked; what if the light inside you is actually darkness? What darkness that will be!

There’s only one light that never goes out – Jesus Christ.

Thus Jesus begins his preaching with a call to ‘repent’ – why? – because the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand. Get the connection!

In other words, repent, which means turn away from sin, from idols, and turn towards God, so that you may enter the life of God and find what humankind is really looking for in our idols.

If there’s no objective moral order Jesus died in vain! Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily Notes

Gospel: John 1:29-34 Look there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

How does Jesus Christ take away the sin of the world?

By taking the sin of the world to himself.

He’s innocent but he made himself guilty in place of the guilty.

So, let’s draw out the implications of Jesus as lamb of God.

There’s an objective moral order to which we’re all subject – otherwise why would Jesus Christ need to die for sinners?

There is ultimate Justice.

Because there’s ultimate Justice Jesus was tolerant only in so far as tolerance served repentance.

The guilty who genuinely repent and turn to Christ are free – He takes the place of the guilty. That’s redemption. It’s the only reason a priest can absolve sins.

Jesus was merciful rather than tolerant. Learn the difference. Mercy is Justice transfigured by Love. It requires ultimate Love.

Sin is destructive – ponder Christ crucified. It’s the most destructive force known to humankind.

If Jesus doesn’t take away the sins of the world – if we refuse Mercy – where will the sins of the world go? Where will the destruction go?

Jesus Christ is our future.

Homily Notes

The Baptism of the Lord

When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John He was setting the tone for all that would follow.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for sinners.

So by choosing to be baptised by John, by sharing in the baptism of sinners, Jesus deliberately put Himself among sinners as a brother – but He was (is) a brother who was (is) also the Divine Physician, the Saviour; a voice spoke from Heaven, this is my Son, the beloved.

Jesus put Himself among sinners, not to judge, not to condemn (this got him into difficulty), but to love, to attract to a better way of life, a new life, the life of God which every person can reach through repentance and conversion.

In many ways Pope Francis has chosen to walk on to the world stage in this way.

It’s amazing how many people accept the first part – the liberal left are all for Jesus as our brother – but choose to ignore the call to repentance and a new way of life!

True to form, the liberal left are misunderstanding Francis (because they misunderstand Jesus) and we’re witnessing the most amazing unfounded psychological projection of the liberal lefts desires on to Pope Francis.

Meanwhile, many traditionalists are a little confused.

It’s like being back in the days of Jesus!