Tag Archives: christmas

Can we make any sense of our uninvited suffering?

Try to receive your suffering as a privilege, or as the Medugorje visionary Vicka who suffers so much herself has said, as a gift from God.

Try. It’s easer said than done! But it doesn’t have to be something big, it might be nothing more than having to endure several failed attempts to insert a cannula. Or an everyday difficulty.

Don’t waste your suffering as Pope St. John Paul once said.

We struggle to understand this because we do not have a deep connection with the person of Jesus, his life and teaching, and with the true meaning of Christmas and Easter.

We pay more attention now to mindfulness and various other spiritual practices – good in themselves… as far as they go – but we do not have a deep connection with Jesus born of Mary, the son of the living God.

Jesus born of Mary is Heaven torn open, exposed… the mystery revealed, waiting for us to jump in, he is God who came down, lived among us, attempting – and still attempting – to reach us, leaving us a rather detailed understanding of eternity, how it works, what it’s like, what to expect…

We have been formed by divine teaching… but you’d hardly know it. He has revealed so much of the mystery.

He taught us there’s a definitive standard – love – by which we will be judged.

He taught us that within this love there is ultimate justice and judgement.

He taught us that what we do to others we do to him… ouch 😣. Imagine the joy and the sorrow of that! Everything that happens on earth arrives into the heart of God.

He taught us that mercy costs, that forgiving an offense and embracing an offender is painful 😓. On a universal scale he illustrated this on the Cross.

Every time God forgives, the struggle and the suffering of the Cross continues… until the end of time.

Every sin creates a piece of hell on earth.

Every time there’s love – true love – the resurrection continues to happen on earth.

How much sin – offensive hurt – can a person endure before he turns? How much could you endure? Now apply the question to God.

For example, abortion alone – executed as a human right and which the majority have now decided is our choice – is horrendous suffering in the heart of God, beyond all human imagining.

Still, God remains gracious. It is grace beyond all human comprehension – a love so merciful that it astonishes even the angels – that prevents God turning, that prevents the partial and even the complete destruction of the earth 🌍.

At times it is Our Lady who is holding the line which is why she’s repeatedly asking for prayer and sacrifice – help me here! Sacrifice has a similar value to suffering in Heaven – provided each is freely offered.

The earth survives through the pure graciousness of God – but do not underestimate the cost.

When suffering comes our way we are given the opportunity to work intimately with God in the work of salvation, in sharing the burden of saving humankind.

When that suffering is borne or carried out of love for the Saviour – I want to help you Lord because I love you – we’re already well advanced in the communion of saints.

Sadly, for many it’s the deep connection with Jesus that’s missing when suffering comes our way and we’re left “like sheep without a shepherd…”

Second Sunday of Christmas, (B), God lives on the edge.

Before we leave Christmas behind I want to look again at the context in which God became flesh because we can pull some interesting details from it.

Let us always remember that in the Church, in the spiritual life, we must always be deceived into focusing on the shadows, on the darkness rather than the light.

Let us always remember that in the Church, in the spiritual life, we must always be deceived into focusing on the shadows, on the darkness rather than the light.

The first detail I’d like you to see is that when God became flesh he was really pushing the boundaries of our freedom. The incarnation sits on the very edge of human freedom. If God did anything more we’d have no choice but to believe… and instantly our freedom is gone.

So the whole belief thing and the Church – remember that Christ and the Church are inseparable – is a personal choice. Yes, absolutely, but in acknowledging that it’s a personal choice, we must also acknowledge that God has done everything possible to swing our choice in his direction while leaving us just enough freedom to be able to reject him. This is a very thin line – maxed out very deliberately by God.

I’d also like you to notice the role of the political leaders – Caesar Augustus, Herod and the various layers of Government and leadership – in the arrival of the Christ-child (Cf Luke). They had absolutely nothing to do with it! In fact, they provided nothing more than the historical backdrop, nothing more than a way to put a date on the events. They were by-passed – as Mary marvelled in her Magnificat; “he has pulled down princes from their thrones…” How? He just by-passed them making them largely irrelevant and went to the lowly stable where only the lowly, and those who make themselves lowly can recognize him. This hasn’t changed.

But later they did try to get in on the act, to thwart it, Herod particularly. So his eventual involvement is one of opposition. This is most interesting because this hasn’t changed either – politics is still largely opposing the influence of the incarnation, non-violently of course, and ironically it does so on the pretext of choice!

Slaughter of the Innocents, Leon Cogniet

Slaughter of the Innocents, Leon Cogniet

The next detail I’d like you to see is the proximity of really dark evil to the unfolding of God’s plans. As the Christ-child arrived into the world Herod’s power was threatened. Initially he played politics with the wise men, trying to trick them into telling him where he could find the child Jesus so that he could eliminate him, but when politics fails he unleashes a terrible evil ordering the death of every new born male child. What I want you to see is the proximity of the darkest evil to the unfolding of God’s plan in the world – this is the price of human freedom – and it hasn’t changed either. Wherever God’s plan is unfolding you will have evil too, and the greater the plan, the greater the evil, but only for a time. Always remember that spiritually we must be deceived into focusing on the shadows, on the darkness rather than the light. It happens all the time – right now in the Church it is happening; has happened.

The final detail I’d like you to see is how the unfolding of God’s plan is always tottering on the brink. God’s plan is dependent on Mary’s ‘yes’, on a solitary woman’s ‘yes’, on a ‘yes’ that asks this woman to let go of all her plans and stare, and step, into an abyss (from a human point of view). It’s dependent on Joseph accepting Mary’s version of events. It’s dependent on Joseph’s dream, on the wise men’s dream. What I want you to see is the thin line, again this thin line. God’s will always looks like it’s about to flop, from beginning to end, from incarnation to resurrection and into the future.

Doesn’t it look like that right now?

But it’ll never fail… never.

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.

IMG_1420

“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.”

‘Enter Christmas through the door of the Eucharist’ (Benedict XVI)

Homily Notes

Second Sunday of Christmas.

John 1:1-5,9-14

If I may begin with a preliminary remark.

John’s Gospel is a little different to the others – the author has begun to theologize about the historical events. In fact, in the first few lines, the writer summarizes the whole Gospel.

So, let’s get to the real business of today’s homily.

if Christmas is a past event how does God enter our world today?

Firstly, it’s not a past event.

Secondly, God enters our world in many ways but the way he enters par excellence is through the Mass.

Mass perpetuates the incarnation by God’s design. Mass is Jesus Christ continuing his incarnation in our time until his second coming.

This is the wonder of Catholicism, the joy of being a Catholic; that Christmas is not a past event but God is as near as the Mass and the Tabernacle.

In fact, God’s presence in the Mass is more powerful than his presence two thousand years ago – because the Mass is God’s gift of himself, inclusive of his life, death and resurrection in Jesus Christ, it’s therefore not just the person of God, but also the whole work of God, packaged and delivered to your door.

Are you at home?

In the gift of the Mass whereby God continues his incarnation among men and women the same dynamic of acceptance and non-acceptance, belief and unbelief is evident.

Through the gift of the Eucharist He perpetuates (continues) his incarnation, continues to enter the world that has its being through him, yet so often the world does not recognize Him.

He comes to his own people (Catholics) and his own people do not recognize Him!

Just think of how many Catholics have abandoned the Mass? And what they think they’ve abandoned is missing the point!

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

You can’t separate Jesus Christ and the Mass – same reality.

Human suffering is an argument against an imaginary God!

Homily Notes.

Today I’d like to suggest that human suffering is an argument against an imaginary God. It’s certainly not an argument against the God of the incarnation.

I’ll use the Holy Family to illustrate my point.

Firstly, a preliminary point. God doesn’t force us to believe.

Yet, in the Incarnation, in God becoming a human child God is really pushing us to believe.

If God did anything more he’d tip the scales into forcing belief.

Think for a moment about what would convince you to believe? What would clinch the God argument for you?

If that happened would you still be free? I doubt it. God would be doing the work, eroding your freedom.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest obstacles to belief is suffering, particularly human suffering.

Yet the Incarnation (the Holy Family) itself is riddled through with human suffering. Doesn’t that speak loudly?

We must surely accept that such a significant detail is instructive. God is saying something to us.

From the moment Mary conceived, the Incarnation is a series of highs and lows, joys and sorrows, consolation and desolation.

From the high of hearing and seeing an Angel announce her pregnancy to the low of Joseph deciding to leave her, from the high of God’s intervention through a dream convincing Joseph to stay, to the low of finding no room at the Inn, only a stable after an exhausting journey on the back of a donkey!

This is God! At what point did Mary wonder?

From the joy of the birth on Christmas night – the wonder of it – the arrival of the shepherds, nothing less than a star pointing out the child Jesus (a cosmic event) to the rapid descent into terror as Mary and Joseph flee with their infant into Egypt to avoid Herod’s soldiers who were slaughtering every new born male child. Put yourself in Mary’s shoes, Joseph’s shoes.

‘You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart’

Ultimately the woman who is rightly considered the most blessed of all women rose with her Son to the heights of acclamation as He performed miracle after miracle, but also plunged with him to the ridicule, the condemnation and the suffering of his passion and death.

Talk about a roller coaster!

This is a real woman and a real family.

What are they teaching us?

Faith in the God of the incarnation (as opposed to an imaginary God) is not destroyed by human suffering but overcomes it, transcends it, finally and definitively in the resurrection. Faith is not avoidance but the power to embrace and overcome.

How do we obtain faith like that? That kind of faith is a gift of God, infused supernaturally through grace.

It is what passes between God and an individual soul in hidden hours of prayer while the rest of us are busy, worrying and fretting about so many things. Mostly about trying to make a life!

It’s ridiculous to suggest that God became man but he’s not looking for Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Kenny and you!

Homily Notes, Christmas 2013

Some people get confused about the role of the Church.

Politicians and Governments often do, viewing the Church as if it was a foreign state attempting to interfere in another state’s affairs.

Perhaps the fact that there is a state – the Vatican – fuels such thinking.

But the Church is not interested in the State.

We’re interested in the rule or reign of God in human affairs, in the inculturation of the Gospel (the Gospel becomes our culture), in Jesus Christ becoming Lord. The journey of the Church year, from Christmas (December) to Our Lord Jesus Christ Universal King (November) is an interior journey that the Church wants all to make.

The reign of God in human affairs is human peace, human joy, it is the only guarantee of human well-being.

If God doesn’t rule human affairs, there can be no lasting happiness and without conversion human affairs will tumble. That means human suffering. Therefore Christmas can never be viewed as a purely religious event.

Besides, it’s ridiculous to suggest that God became man and yet it doesn’t have universal significance; to suggest that God became man but he’s not looking for Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Kenny and you!

The primary function of the Church is to convince every State, every head of State and every citizen of every State to take Christmas (and Easter) seriously, to treat Christmas –

  • not as a sentimental irrelevance to the real work of daily life
  • not primarily as a time for family and family reunions;
  • not primarily as a commercial event;
  • not as a purely religious event;
  • and certainly not as a time to be reinvented replacing Christ with Season (Happy Holiday Season!) or worse still to replace Christ with X!

– but rather, as a decisive intervention of God in order to direct and order human affairs and bring them to fulfilment. Follow me, he says. Look … I want your attention!

And in particular that we do not narrow our vision so that life becomes nothing more than time between the two points of birth and death.

So open wide the doors …He became man so that we may become divine!