Tag Archives: advent

Human imperceptibility – the sign of God’s greatness

John expects… anticipates…

For John what is about to unfold – God in Jesus – is decisive.

John’s Jesus clearly carries a threat.

“Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?”

“Even now the axe is laid to the tree so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire.”🔥

“His winnowing fan is in his hand, he will clear his threshing floor…”

So how did this threat unfold in real life back then?

How did this “retribution” as John calls it unfold?

How was the tree cut down and thrown on the fire? Bearing in mind that we’re not really talking about a tree but about real people whom the tree represents – a people to be cut down and thrown on the fire.

How was the wheat separated from the chaff in the lived experience of the people back then? In their history?

I’d say they hardly noticed it happening or that it had happened… and that’s my point!

So, while the language and the images are strong, at times scathing, the threat unfolded in the lives of the people very gently, almost imperceptibly.

In fact it was so gentle that many probably didn’t even realize that it had happened!

This human imperceptibility is one of the signs of God’s greatness.

What happened was that they missed the significance of Jesus… they didn’t connect with him… they didn’t grasp his identity. He went over their heads so to speak.

They just went on doing what they had always been doing.

And in so many places… spaces… hearts and minds… the same pattern will reemerge this coming Christmas.

But God will have been and gone!

Indeed, the kingdom of God is always close at hand.

Finally… empty pews and empty churches – a sign of the death of religion or a people being cut down and thrown on the fire?

Do you really think that God is no longer active?

There’s only one response to that 😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣

Fourth Sunday of Advent (B) Stepping into God’s time.

Advent is the beginning of the Church year because it’s the beginning of God’s time.

Pope Francis says that when we step into God’s time we stop looking at our watches.IMG_1078

As long as we’re in our own time we’re always looking at our watches!

In these final days of advent use Mary and Joseph to step into Gods time. Put yourself in their shoes, first Mary’s then Joseph’s.

Pope Francis says that in these last days of Advent like Mary we should say to the baby Jesus in the womb; “Come!  I want to see your face” – and really mean it.

I love this book - absolutely beautiful. It would make a beautiful present for a committed Catholic. I've drawn on it extensively for this piece. I bought it on the USCCB website (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) but it's also available from amazon.com here http://www.amazon.com/Pope-Francis-Guide-English-Spanish/dp/1601374984/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420368580&sr=8-1&keywords=Pope+Francis+In+Gods+Time

I love this book – absolutely beautiful. It would make a beautiful present for a committed Catholic. I’ve drawn on it extensively for this piece. I bought it on the USCCB website (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) but it’s also available from amazon.com here http://www.amazon.com/Pope-Francis-Guide-English-Spanish/dp/1601374984/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420368580&sr=8-1&keywords=Pope+Francis+In+Gods+Time

He asks: “Are we watching, waiting, or are we closed? Are we secure in an inn or are we pilgrims?” Life will always bring us back to being a pilgrim. Life is a bridge, never build your house on it!

Joseph, what a lovely man. He clearly loves Mary and has entered the preparatory stages of marriage. But before they come to live together “she was found to be with child…” Disaster! Joseph knows he’s not the father; what’ll he do? What would you do? He does what we’d all do – most likely – he decides to separate, to “divorce her informally.” But there’s kindness in Joseph. He wants to “spare her publicity” – the danger for Mary of course is that if her situation becomes public knowledge she risks being stoned to death. So here’s a man torn between the rigid application of the law and compassion. Joseph’s heart becomes a bridge between the rigid application of the law and compassion – a heart of mercy. Joseph is not just a lovely man, he is like God as manifested in the adult Christ-child.

Pope Francis says that when Joseph was confronted with Mary’s unplanned pregnancy – unplanned at least in human terms – he “is the faithful and just man who chose to believe the Lord rather than listen to the voices of doubt and human pride” – and fear.

Mary and Joseph teach us that life is not about us. The single greatest lesson to be learned in life is that life is not about us. And together with the baby Jesus they teach us that life is not about our children either. They teach us that life is about what God is doing. So don’t spend your life in your own time. Get into God’s time.

Third Sunday of Advent (B) This little Baby is for everybody!

He’s standing among them, unknown to them. They’re up to their eyes in religion and he’s among them… unknown! Brilliant, isn’t it? It could happen to you! Maybe it’s happening all the time!

The third Sunday of Advent is different.

It’s got a different coloured candle on the Advent Wreath, the rose coloured candle.

It’s even got its own name, ‘Gaudete’ or ‘Rejoice Sunday’ – ‘Rejoice’ the liturgy cries; the Lord is near, Christmas is near. Jesus is coming. He crosses the miles… the great divide between God and man. Really he’s the one who fills in the valley, he’s the one who tears down the hills and the mountains that separate man and God. He comes looking for… you. It’s much easier when he’s looking for everybody else. But he’s looking for you. This is personal.

On this day in 2013 Pope Francis had this to say:

“We can always begin again.”

“Someone might say, ‘No, Father, I did so many reprehensible things’ – I am a great sinner. I cannot begin from scratch!”IMG_1082

But Pope Francis is adamant. “God is waiting for you, he is close to you, he loves you, he is merciful, he forgives you, he gives you the strength to begin again from scratch! Everybody!”

“We are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness, to strike up a new song. This is true joy, it remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy because it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.”

This Christmas, make sure you don’t miss him. Make sure he’s not so close to you… unknown!

Tell you what, I’ll meet you at the crib!

Second Sunday of Advent (B): Our God comes.

Today’s readings are bursting with excited anticipation. I’m sure many of us could do with a bit of that!

While the joyful messenger (First Reading Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11) undoubtedly prefigures John the Baptist (Mark 1;1-8) he (or she!) also represents the call of every Christian. We’re to be like joyful messengers going up on a high mountain (where you can see for miles – kilometres) and we’re to shout with a loud voice. In other words; tell everyone, tell the whole world. Tell them what? Our God comes. This is the joy of Catholicism – God in Jesus has travelled the miles, and continues to travel the miles, that great divide between you and God, me and God. So get ready; prepare a way for the Lord!

The ‘space’ that exists between you and God is like a wilderness – put a way for the Lord in that wilderness.

That space between you and God is like a desert – put a highway for the Lord right there in the desert!

That space is like a valley, fill in the valley!

That space between you and God is like a hill, perhaps even a mountain, tear it down and lay it low!

That space is like a cliff, make it into a plain!

Do it and you’ll see the glory of the Lord, as today’s Entrance Antiphon says “…the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of your heart” (Cf. Is 30: 19, 30).

Then you’ll have something to shout about! Indeed, “Shout with a loud voice joyful messenger…”

Advent: Tuning your heart to the arrival of the Christ-child

An interesting choice of Gospel, Mark 13:33-37. We can interpret it’s use here on the First Sunday of Advent to suggest that we use the four weeks of Advent like servants waiting for their Master to return, the waiting being the four weeks of Advent and the return of the Master being the arrival of the Christ-child on Christmas night.

So depending on how we use the next four weeks we’ll be awake or possibly even asleep when the Master of the house returns, the return being the arrival of the Christ-child in the crib on Christmas night.

adventAs the child is placed in the crib on Christmas night, simultaneously, the same child should be arriving in our hearts – that’s what being awake means. The physical gesture of placing the figure of the infant King in the crib on Christmas night ought to be matched simultaneously by the same King arriving within our hearts. The mismatch here between what’s happening on the outside and what’s happening on the inside is the source of all boredom with religion.

So I want to suggest some ways in which we might stay awake.

There’s Mass here MondayFriday at 7.30am and 10.00am. How about attending Mass for the four weeks of Advent? You’ll notice that I’m not proposing anything new. Nothing new in that; same old, same old. We don’t need anything new, we just need to see what’s there in a new way (which is why Pope Francis is so successful). We just need to come to it differently.

Generally Mass will not stand alone. Prayer is to Mass what weekday training nights are to the Wexford hurling team, or Kilkenny, or Tipperary. As a rule where there is no prayer there will be no Mass. Where there is, it’s usually little more than a habit waiting to be broken. So for each day of Advent try to associate a time of prayer and reflection with Mass – before or after but definitely at some point during the day (we’ll provide some material to help you). If you can’t do both, do one.

This will mean effort and discipline but there is no other way, push the boundaries out, it’s the only way to grow spiritually. If we do it well, we’ll make definite progress and our hearts will be more tuned to the arrival of the Christ-child on Christmas night.

Fourth Sunday of Advent A: Faith is not totally blind.

Homily Notes Fourth Sunday of Advent A

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born … Matt 1:18-24

Here’s a human story. At times it’s a chaotic story. But it’s also God’s story.

Joseph, wanting to spare Mary publicity decided to leave her.

But I doubt it was just about sparing her publicity.

Joseph wasn’t about to tolerate what he believed to be Mary’s unfaithfulness. After all, she was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father!

It seems clear that Mary’s position – single and pregnant – was something of a scandal within society at the time – otherwise why would Joseph want ‘to spare her publicity’?

Reminds me of a friend of mine who married young; she says that for months afterwards people used to say hello to her tummy!

The immediate aftermath of Mary’s discovery that she’s pregnant could be taken straight out of 1950s/60s and 70s Ireland.

“There is no present or future – only the past, happening over and over again – now.” (Eugene O’Neill)

I’d like you to observe one particular detail in God becoming man – the ‘messy’ mix of Divine and human.

Christmas was God’s idea, God’s doing, but it required the co-operation of Mary and Joseph and the taking of huge steps of faith by both.

Nonetheless, they weren’t blind steps, they were steps based on significant encounters with God.

Yes, Joseph took a huge step of faith based on a dream but within the dream no doubt God was persuasive. Still, Joseph had to act in faith.

Yes, Mary was left with the humanly impossible task of ‘explaining’ her pregnancy to Joseph and to face the cultural cruelty of people, but earlier she had seen and heard an Angel announce her pregnancy.

Mary and Joseph teach us that faith is not totally blind, or at least it shouldn’t be, for any of us. Faith is based on real encounter with God, and in the difficult moments on the memory of earlier encounters with God.

Third Sunday of Advent (A): God is Father of victim and ‘perp’!

John was the one chosen by God to prepare the way for the Christ-child.

Actually, he is the last of many.

For hundreds of years holy men and women had been saying a Messiah would come in much the same way that we look to Christ today and indeed to his second coming.

Faith is expectant!

Of course, even back then some people rubbished such claims, rubbished faith, in the same way that faith is rubbished today.

Nonetheless, the expectation of a Messiah, of a decisive intervention of God was fulfilled in the events of the first Christmas.

But Jesus surprised many, he didn’t match their expectations, and indeed many chose to keep their expectations and reject Jesus (the same is happening every day of the week!)

John is not so sure, he is in prison (don’t we love to imprison God!) and he has heard about this Jesus who was causing a stir, no doubt he was aware of the prophecies (First Reading), and could probably recognize something of Jesus’ actions in the words of the prophecies, so he sends messengers to ask Jesus the obvious question.

John (as did so many) expected a severe judgement (last Sunday’s Gospel) but what they got was a saviour. Hence he’s unsure if Jesus could be the One.

Jesus revealed God as a Father. OK, as a parent! One of the most misunderstood phrases inIMG_1017 the Gospels is ‘little ones’. When Jesus uses ‘little ones’ at times he means victims, at other times he means missioners, still at other times he means sinners – ‘perps’! God is the Father of all, we’re all God’s children (some of us may be lost to the Evil One but we belong properly to God – the loss is one of theft). God is the Father of both the victim and the ‘perp’!

This is the difference between the State and the Church. The State wants only good citizens. The Church takes both because she knows a Father who, like any good parent, doesn’t want to lose a single child but desires to restore both to ‘life’.

If we can’t tolerate that, then I doubt we’ll be able to tolerate Jesus Christ, never mind tolerate the Catholic Church!

Second Sunday of Advent (A) Prepare a way for the Lord, let Him in!

Second Sunday of Advent Year A.

Here in the words of Isaiah we find the meaning of Advent: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

Prepare a way into your heart, a straight path into your heart, into you, so that Christmas becomes what it should be, an encounter with Jesus Christ.

It’s worth noting that John is preaching in the wilderness – we might be too!

As the Pharisees and the Sadducees approach he calls them a brood of vipers!

Vipers bite, they’re also poisonous! 

The Pharisees and the Sadducees represent every spiritually corrupt Catholic – like vipers they poison the work of God!

John asks about who warned them to flee from the retribution that is coming?

Now we need to understand retribution here because in this context the retribution of God is very different to what we understand it to be.

As the life of Jesus unfolded the retribution of God turned out to be the fact that many couldn’t receive Jesus because they were spiritually corrupt – and corruption is nothing more than placing self at the centre.

God in Jesus Christ, when he walked the earth, just passed them by, not that Jesus wanted to pass them by, but they were incapable of receiving Jesus, incapable of offering Jesus a heart that he could enter, fill … because it was already full.

So the retribution of God turns out to be a life incapable of receiving Jesus Christ.

Now there’s a very real danger that the same is happening here, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, sometimes for a whole lifetime!

That Jesus just passes us by, that there’s no way in, no room at the Inn; that on Christmas night/day Jesus won’t be born within you – me – us!

And there’s only one reason why that can happen – because we’re full of other stuff! Because we’re somewhere else!

So use Advent, prepare Him a way, empty your heart – let Him in!