Tag Archives: Easter

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…”

Good Friday; our words are approximations of eternity.

Before we begin… a few pointers to help you get the most from our celebration of Good Friday.

Firstly, it’s not just the person of Jesus that’s rejected, it is God’s truth! He is Truth in human flesh. It’s also Truth – absolute Truth – that’s rejected.

Secondly, I’d like you to notice in the opening lines of the Gospel that when they go to arrest Jesus they don’t know who they’re looking for. He’s not a big name in society!

Thirdly, I’d like you to notice that the State and the religious leaders do their best to get rid of Jesus, but in their best efforts to get rid of him they’re actually fulfilling God’s will! The wisdom of man is foolishness to God!

Image of Christ crucified 7But most of all I’d like you to notice that Jesus suffering is redemptive. If you redeem something you give something away to get something back. God gave his Son to get us back… “to ransom a slave you gave away your son!” (Easter Proclamation: Exsultet).

This is the Mercy of God. Mercy is the heart of God and it’s the heart of the Gospel. Mercy means that there is ultimate Justice! For only if Justice has been transgressed can anyone be merciful. To put it in legal terms; only if a ‘law’ has been broken can anyone be merciful. So if God is merciful then there is an absolute law, God’s law, by which we are all judged.

If we think of what it means to be merciful ourselves we know that to be merciful costs. It’s difficult. Perhaps some of us are so hurt that we cannot be merciful, and if we are to be merciful it will be like crucifixion. There you have it… there you have it in your own experience; the seeds of the eternal. Therefore if God is to be merciful, God must suffer. Only if we live in a meaningless universe can it be otherwise – only in a world where words are empty and meaningless, meaning only whatever we want them to mean at any given time. But unknown to ourselves our words are approximations of eternity.

Here’s a way to get inside God’s Mercy. He died without sin for you. He died without sin on your behalf. Therefore you will die without sin if you allow Jesus Christ to ‘wash’ you. If he died without sin for you, that means you’ve done it! Put it this way: If you owe a debt and can’t pay, what happens? Now supposing someone else pays the debt on your behalf, what happens? You’re free! Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? How does he take them away? By taking them on himself.

Here’s an exercise for those who struggle with guilt and at the same time a lesson for those who think that there’s no sin at all – two extremes to be avoided, everything is a sin (broadly equates with the past) and nothing is a sin (broadly equates with the present): Focus on the figure of Christ crucified on the Cross… Now imagine him calling your name… “Paddy, Paul – whatever your name – I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin.”

When that comes as grace, you’ll cry!

 

 

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?

Second Sunday of Easter: Christ without the Church is a contradiction.

What’s brought them to this room? They’re gathered in the room for the same reason that Mary of Magdala was up early on Easter Sunday morning – while it was still dark – visiting the tomb of Jesus. They love him; if they didn’t love him they wouldn’t be there – simple as that. They’d be at home or occupied in some other way. They’d be somewhere else.

And what brings Christ to this particular room? Why not a room in some other house? Because the people who love him are gathered in this particular room. “Why should the privileges of the true Christian be disclosed to humankind at large?” (John Henry Newman). It’s not going to happen. He reveals himself to those who love him.

There’s something else about the people gathered in this room. Each person there is leaving another life behind – perhaps family and friends too – and they’re gaining new friends, bound together by a common interest and love; the person of Jesus Christ. This love steals their hearts and unites them with others (once strangers) in a bond that’s effectively the formation of a new family; the Church.

The idea that we can somehow follow Christ on our own is nonsense. Once Christ steals more than one heart he binds those hearts together in a union of love – which is why we find the disciples gathered together. They belong to one another as much as they belong to Christ. One flows into the other. Christ without the Church is a contradiction and the Church without Christ is an even bigger contradiction!

Torch-lit Good Friday 2014 Way of the Cross procession presided over by Pope Francis at the Colosseum.

We can only presume about the whereabouts of Thomas. It seems odd that he’s not with them. Why isn’t he with the others? What could be more important? I suspect he’s among the first people to leave the Church, disappointed and disillusioned, his faith shattered by the events of Good Friday. To borrow the words of Pope Francis; Thomas sees the monstrosity of man when we allow ourselves to be guided by evil, rather than seeing the mercy of God. Sound familiar? How many have left the Catholic Church for this very reason? And his insistence that unless he can see the holes that the nails made is the demand of a man near the edge of faith.

How is he saved from the edge? Eight days later the infant Church is gathered again and this time Thomas has returned to the fold because of the witness of the others. Now he encounters the risen Christ himself and the encounter restores his faith in Christ but it also seals his return to the Church – one flows into the other.

This is profoundly instructive – the future of the Church hangs on this and this alone; encountering Jesus Christ.

Easter Sunday: Without this day death has the last word.

“Why should the privileges of the true Christian be disclosed to mankind at large?” John Henry Newman.

It’s “the first day of the week (Sunday) and still dark” and Mary of Magdala is up early to visit Jesus tomb. Why? Because she loved him. If she didn’t love him she wouldn’t be there.

Finding the tomb empty she runs to find Peter and the other disciple. 

Just a few months earlier Mary of Magdala had a very different set of friends.

“They have taken the Lord” she says, using a title that she doesn’t fully understand. How can he be Lord if he ends in death? Death is Lord then! The only man worth calling ‘Lord’ is the man who overcame death – not some guy who can kick a football or host a TV show!

Jesus has brought them together – but for this man Jesus, Mary of Magdala wouldn’t be running to find Peter and the others. Their love of Jesus has bound them together, given her and given them a new set of friends, a new family – the Church.

Peter, if married, has allowed a new person into his life, a person now as important to him as his wife. Every marriage should have him! Every life!
IMG_1151
They run, they’re full of emotion, it’s a matter of love and BANG they’re allowed to see because they love him.

They see, not everyone sees, only those close to him. The majority are doing their own thing, elsewhere. So it is to this day. “Why should the privileges of the true Christian be disclosed to mankind at large?” John Henry Newman.

Nonetheless –

Without this day we have no future. Just the denial of an inevitable and approaching doom!
Without this day cancer will often have the last word!
Without this day injustice will often have the last word!
Without this day violence will often have the last word!
Without this day evil has the last word!                                                                                           Without this day death, always and without exception has the last word!

Small numbers on Holy Thursday: A return to our beginnings?

Here in St. Senan’s Parish (Enniscorthy) numbers attending the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday were small.

Generally, blame for this decline is attributed to a discredited Church. But that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Here’s why: The events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil (and Easter Sunday) are not primarily about the Church but about Jesus Christ and more particularly about Christ’s desire to enter into relationship with humankind. Dare I say it; to save humankind! In summary; it’s about people’s relationship with Christ and the work of salvation.

Therefore, if people’s absence on Holy Thursday night was truly about a discredited Church as opposed to their relationship with Christ then you would expect that large numbers of people found other ways to mark the Last Supper on Holy Thursday night.

But can you imagine large numbers of people in Enniscorthy (or wherever) doing that on Holy Thursday night? Isn’t it much more likely that for the vast majority of people Holy Thursday night was no different to any other night? 

The truth of the matter is that significant moments in Christ’s life (in which he attempts to influence human affairs) have no relevance for growing numbers of Irish people.

Behind the blaming of the Church the real questions are about Christ and his meaning for peoples lives. 

In the failure of many to celebrate Holy Thursday all that’s happening is that Christ is being stripped again, humiliated and rejected. Isn’t it true to say that really it’s not about the Church at all but about taking everything from Christ?

The growing unbelieving world is taking his birthday away from him, making it into something else; likewise his Last Supper, his passion, death and resurrection and if many are not actively taking from him, many are doing it through indifference.

Is this a reason to be discouraged? No. Not at all.

Mother Theresa said; “if you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers.” This is God’s work.

IMG_1263We’re merely returning to our beginnings when the vast majority rejected Christ.

But the stone rejected by the builders became the corner stone. He rose again; and he’ll rise again, just at that point when we think all is lost, at that point when it looks like all is lost, as it did in those desolate hours before the resurrection. The future is Paschal.

It does mean however that the Church must radically change how we do things. In the towns and cities we need to move out from the security of our Church buildings. Pope Francis suggests we need to rent a garage or a shed in the densely populated areas and put a priest or a catechist there, celebrate Mass there.

Pope Francis calls this putting things in a missionary key.

Finally, there’s another name for how Christ accepts, embraces and transforms all this IMG_1222rejection of himself – it’s called mercy.

We need to trust it … we’re certainly not going to defeat it! 

Jesus has a great big heart! Reflections for Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Jesus has got a great big heart!

One of the biggest problems within Catholicism is that we’ve watered down Christ and the Gospel so that more often than not we’re like the man who started to build without first sitting down to work out the cost to see if he had enough to finish the job. When he can’t finish he becomes a laughing stock (Luke 14:28). The result is a city (Church) that always looks half-built, or less than half-built – or like a ruin and the object of ridicule!

The first meaning of Holy Thursday is service – love.

Most of us have grasped that Christianity (therefore Catholicism) is about service – but Jesus has got a great big heart and his understanding of service is considerably more than giving a few hours here and there. It’s nothing like reaching a realization that life has been good so I’ll give something back. As good as that is, it’s not the message of Jesus.

Jesus asks that we lay down our lives! Believe it or not, only then will we know the joy of the Gospel.

In the aftermath of Good Friday the disciples will remember the washing of the feet and begin to see it not just as a general call to service, but also as pointing to the greatest service known to humankind; Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection in which men and women are washed clean of sin (in his body and blood).

What does it mean to be washed clean of sin?

I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin.

I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin.

It means that Jesus didn’t die on the Cross for you and I to bear the burden of our sins. I’d like you to really think about that, meditate on it… St Paul says “that for someone really worthy, a man might be prepared to die – but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:7). A parent might be prepared to die to save the life of a son or daughter, but would you be prepared to die for a notorious criminal?

So instead of condemning the already condemned man, like we often do, Jesus does the opposite, he seeks to take the condemned man’s place in prison, or in the electric chair, or wherever! What do we think he’s doing on the Cross?

Can you see it?

At once he identifies with both the guilty and the innocent, guilty perpetrator and innocent victim. So whom exactly is Christ excluding? Nobody. Awesome!

I want you to see something else. Jesus never says wrong is right or right is wrong, he upholds a moral standard that applies to and judges all men and women, but instead of condemning those who fall short, what does he do? He lays down his life, literally, he offers his body and blood that they might be saved (which itself implies ultimate Justice) which is the exact opposite of what so many Catholics have done in recent years – they’ve run away believing that righteousness is on their side. This is not the path of Christ. Followers of Christ redeem with their lives! They become like Christ – hung among thieves!

Of course, all this implies that there’s ultimate justice; a final putting to right of wrongs. Indeed, mercy is justice transfigured by love. Unless we want to live in a meaningless universe, this is how it has to be!

Mass is long because our love of the Saviour is short!

Mass is long because our love of the Saviour is short!

The second meaning of Holy Thursday is the Eucharist – Holy Mass. The Last Supper is the DNA of Holy Mass. Jesus identifies his body with bread and his blood with wine. Try to capture something of the intensity with which Jesus took the bread and wine and offered it to his disciples. He knew he was ‘going away’ and he was giving them the means by which he’d stay with them. Catholicism is not primarily a moral code, an ethical system, it’s a person; Jesus Christ, who offers himself to us in Holy Mass; his life, body and blood, soul and divinity, his suffering, death, resurrection and glorification – everything.

The third meaning of Holy Thursday is the priesthood, but priesthood as being like Christ, as laying down your life, as the literal offering of your body, the pouring out of your blood, the willingness to exhaust yourself on behalf of God and man, to give everything, not a few hours here and there, to hold nothing back, to have no ‘me’ and no ‘mine’, only to have Him!

Because if you have Him you have everything. And you know what? He’s worth it!