Tag Archives: liturgy

He told us it was going to be like this – the parable of the weeds and wheat. Matt 13: 24-30

Jesus compares good people to wheat and bad people to weeds.

The kingdom is like a field of weeds and wheat. The kingdom of God no less. We’re hardly able to cope with the sinfulness of the Church!

Where is this kingdom? It’s already here, it’s in the Church, the Church that contains, and always will contain saint and sinner.

I have a choice; do I give power to the sinner or to the saint? The weeds or the wheat? “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church…” we pray in every Mass.

You’d think that Jesus didn’t teach the parable of the weeds and wheat.

At times you’d be forgiven for thinking that he didn’t teach at all, never said a word.

You’d think he wasn’t betrayed by somebody who shared his table.

You’d think he didn’t die between two thieves.

You’d think he didn’t describe the kingdom for us.

And yet, after all Jesus teaching, we still expect the Church to be different?

You’d think that the incarnation never happened at all!

That’s my point – many people seem to attempt to believe without Jesus Christ and his teaching!

Is it any wonder that so many fall away?

You’d never know that He told us it was going to be like this.

Of course weeds are dangerous if they get out of control.

But the best way to deal with weeds is a reminder that in the end there’s judgment. Dare I say it: Hell! The weeds are thrown on the fire and burnt.

How can there be Mercy without Justice? Justice is the very precondition of Mercy. Mercy is undoubtedly God’s greatest attribute but that presupposes Justice.

Do we really think that God bestows Mercy forcibly? Did Jesus?

God will never – never – superimpose Godself or his Mercy on our freedom.

We must use our freedom to receive Mercy, that’s its purpose.

Divine Justice just is, it’s the default position, but Mercy is our choice, always.

Jesus’ reasons for unbelief – the parable of the sower. Matt 13:1-9

We hear all sorts of reasons for unbelief.

But every time I read the parable of the sower I’m struck by its reach. Is there a reason advanced for unbelief that’s not included in the parable?

Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed that falls on the edge of a path.

The seed of the word is sown in the heart but there’s no understanding. Where there is no understanding, abandonment follows.

The heart is simply not receptive – receptivity is the precondition of understanding – the heart is not open, and entry through anything that’s closed solidly is difficult. The word simply bounces off non-receptive hard objects and falls away.

Next, Jesus compares people who hear his teaching to the seed that falls on patches of rock. It lacks both rich soil and deep roots.

When confronted with human suffering and human failure including outrageous scandal – scorching sun – the faith of some people withers because it’s not deeply rooted in the rich soil that is Jesus Christ.

Scorching and withering – apt descriptions of human suffering and failure.

That objections to God using this very argument can attract millions of views on YouTube suggests that many have not taken Jesus and his teaching seriously. The God that many refuse to believe in is not the God found in the teaching of Jesus Christ. They dismiss a God unrelated to Jesus Christ!

Next, Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed falling in thorns; falling in the midst of the worries of this world and the lure of riches the seed is choked to death! A strong image, mind. Choked, and common parlance adds “the living daylights out of!”

It’s dramatic, but for most people the choking happens unconsciously. It’s simply that other stuff – the cares of this world (interests that are good and wholesome in themselves) and the pursuit of wealth – take our hearts. For many the interests become false gods.

Is there a source of unbelief that’s not covered in this parable?

It seems that many people attempt to believe without Jesus Christ and his teaching which means they end up struggling to believe at all.

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Jesus Christ, the joy of Catholicism

 

"When we pray properly sorrows disappear like snow before the sun"

St. John Vianney: When we pray properly sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.

It’s sometime before his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.

Thus when he says he’s going away he’s talking about a future event.

It’s most interesting though to observe the meaning he gives to his going away. His going away is not his death, but his death, resurrection and ascension, and in going away he’s not abandoning us.

Thus in the teaching of Jesus Christ death is not the final end event, but part of something much greater. We need to begin to think in this way. For the believer life opens upwardly to the splendour of God. For the unbeliever life (ultimately) must narrow downwardly to the grave!

He is going away (death, resurrection and ascension) “to prepare a place for you…” This is personal.

Have you ever noticed that you can’t really walk in another person’s shoes, that no matter how close you might be to another person, that person is always separate, uniquely other? There’s a sense in which in the end there’s only God and you in the universe!

Jesus promises that after he’s gone (death, resurrection and ascension) he’ll come back to take you with him. It’s so personal.

We tend to think of this returning as death but that misses so much of the picture – most of all it misses the joy at the heart of our religion.

The returning to take us with him is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) through whom God enters into our lives, not in the future, but now. We’re taken up into the Divine life. We’re given a “place” in the Divine life. This is what Jesus means when he speaks of “rooms in my Father’s house” – it’s a share in God’s life. Try to imagine what happens when the Divine life begins to enter our lives; a transformation begins. Thus we find the Saints saying things like; “When we pray properlysorrows disappear like snow before the sun.” St. John Vianney. The all powerful God mingles his life with ours – pure joy! 

This is what makes the Catholic. Without Him religion falls flat. In fact, I’ll go much further and say; this is the joy of life, never mind Catholicism!

We don’t inherit the kingdom because we’re good people. We inherit the kingdom because God has given us a place (or room) in his Divine life and God by his very nature can’t be held captive by death.

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.

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!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Life without death would drive us mad!

IMG_1197As we approach Easter, appropriately enough, the question of death and resurrection surfaces.

So what does Jesus teaching around these issues look like?

Well, from today’s Gospel we’ve got: “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live.” I’d like you to note something – even though he dies he will live. I’m placing emphasis on; even though he dies. What’s the alternative?

From elsewhere we find Jesus attempting to open the hearts and minds of the people to something greater: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.” Luke 12:5

It’s a crisis situation. Lazarus is seriously ill. There’s a level of panic – family and friends need to be informed. Among Lazarus’s close friends is Jesus and so they send for Jesus – the man you love is ill, come quickly. Quickly – because if you don’t hurry he’ll be dead!

Yet Jesus doesn’t respond with any sense of urgency – he obviously doesn’t view death as the absolute human disaster – and doesn’t depart until two days later and by the time he arrives Lazarus is already dead for four days. When he arrives both Martha and Mary ‘mark his card’ so to speak: “If you had been here our brother would not have died.” Isn’t this the accusation that man fires at God all the time?

Martha and Mary have faith in Jesus – the faith comes from their close friendship. But while they have faith, it is faith that still has to grasp the full meaning of Jesus Christ and the human person, i.e., the immortality of the soul.

This is the big one – if Jesus can’t overcome death he’s useless to them – and to us!IMG_1160

Yet this is not Jesus definitive act. He calls Lazarus from the dead, gives him back to Martha and Mary, and we can only imagine the excitement of life in the years thereafter … until next time! Lazarus gets to die twice! Lazarus resurrection is not true resurrection, it’s unfinished business.

Try imagining life without death. “Time becomes madness if it cannot reach fulfillment. To be able to go on forever would be the hell of empty meaninglessness. No moment would have any importance because one could postpone and put everything off until an empty later which will always be there.” Karl Rahner.

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Karl Rahner with Joseph Ratzinger

Lazarus resurrection is a very poor reflection of Jesus resurrection, a dim reflection of Easter. Jesus resurrection is very different. After rising he’s no longer bound by time and space and he doesn’t wander aimlessly about the earth looking for meaningful employment! He ascends. There’s completion, fulfillment.

Death, in a truly Christian understanding, far from being the absolute human disaster, is the gateway to fulfillment, to completion. If you and I could go on without death we’d go absolutely mad! We’d choose death in sheer desperation!

“If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live.”

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The blind man; victim of God’s love and man’s unbelief.

Jesus came into the world to separate those whose blindness is curable from those whose blindness cannot be cured because they presume themselves to be healthy. Pope Benedict XVI 

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John 9, The cure of the man born blind

Sometimes religion can be blind!

On the human level the man can see for the first time.

But the miraculous restoration of the mans sight has another layer of meaning. This healing is not just about restoring a man’s eye sight, it’s about recognizing the true identity of Jesus and as a result becoming a missionary. It’s impossible to discover the true identity of Jesus and keep it to yourself!

As events unfold it’s clear that the blind man’s healing is pushing the people involved to the point where they must make a decision about Jesus, about his identity. But they don’t want to go there even though they’re religious people and willing to argue about it. “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Johnathan Swift. They’re like children kicking, screaming, resisting! The majority just refuse. No, we’re not moving. “Nobody who has been drinking old wine wants new” Luke 5:39. This is a real danger for religion and religious people – that we do not press on.

The blind man quickly begins to see beyond his physical healing and in this sense ‘to see’ means to come to faith in Jesus which is what happens. He pressed on. Through his encounter with JesusIMG_1113 the blind man comes to faith, step by step, it’s a gradual development, from describing Jesus as “the man” to “prophet” to “Lord”, and his journey to faith happens while he’s being questioned – interrogated – to the extent that he has to defend himself, and in fact he ends up defending Jesus! He’s even abandoned by his family. Once questioned his family quickly distance themselves from him. This hostile engagement on the front-line is such an important part of growing in faith. When did we engage in it last?

The blind man becomes something of a victim because Jesus restored his sight. He becomes a victim of God’s love and man’s unbelief. Spiritually, God’s love is a wound that never quite heals until it can reach fulfillment.

See, he becomes a missionary in sharp contrast to the people around him. There is a reversal of order at work here that’s classic Jesus shock! The blind man can see while those with sight can’t see at all! He who is last is now first, and the first are rapidly becoming last. As religious people we need to make sure it doesn’t happen to us!

As events unfold the blind man gets increasingly bold. He just gets fed up with their unbelief and becomes incredulous towards them, almost ridiculing them: “Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes and you do not know where he comes from!” I’ll paraphrase that – he’s looking at them and thinking; what kind of fools have I got here that they can’t work this out?

Why couldn’t they see? What stopped them looking at the facts and reaching the obvious conclusion? Why couldn’t they reach the point where with the ‘blind’ man they too could say; Lord, I believe, and worship him?

John Henry Newman

Of course they could see, but they didn’t want to see, and thus refused to see, because seeing would mean having to change their lives. “Nobody puts new wine into old skins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!” Mark 2:22

Time to change our lives?

 

 

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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.”

St. Patrick’s Day and the will of God

Today’s Liturgy gives thanks to God for the mission of St. Patrick. Patrick brought us Christ.

That’s not quite the same as celebrating our Irish-ness which increasingly we seem unable to do without rivers of booze! So just in case we get carried away let me place our Irish-ness in the context of the life and work of St. Patrick.

I’ll put it this way:

In God’s presence, in the kingdom of God you won’t find a group holding a placard which reads ‘I’m Irish’ or another group declaring ‘I’m English’ – no more than you’ll find groups bearing the name ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ or ‘Muslim’. You’ll just find people who did the will God.

The will of God lifts humanity above our self-imposed limitations – Irish or English, Catholic or Protestant and so on – and becomes the source of a new world order which itself is a foreshadowing of the life of heaven.