Tag Archives: Mass Readings

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good shepherds or hired hands?

He says he’s the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands.

What is this sheepfold and who are these thieves and brigands?

IMG_1352The very idea of a sheepfold suggests that we do not follow Jesus as individuals in isolation – there’s always Jesus Christ (the shepherd) and the Church (the sheepfold).

The sheepfold is the Church but it’s the Church merging into the kingdom of God. The Church is the gathering of those who’ve entered into the life of God through Jesus – it’s this passing through Jesus that produces the Church.

Jesus describes people who enter in this way as “safe” going “freely in and out” (of the life of God), “sure of finding pasture” – powerfully descriptive words.

There are other people who’ve entered the Church but without entering the life of God. They’re just going through the motions. These are the thieves and brigands – an accusation that’s directed in the first place at the religious leaders of his day.

Catholics, but particularly bishops and priests who maintain the mere external practice of religion without true conversion of heart are thieves and brigands. They usurp the things of God becoming obstacles rather than stepping stones to God. Pope Francis repeatedly warns about the threat such people pose within the Church.

But this problem is not confined to priests and bishops. Few are immune to the trappings of religion without the appropriate conversion of heart. 

Such ‘Catholics’ find life in the Church boring. They’re highly visible at the one-off events, First Communions, Confirmations, there’s an obvious disconnect which manifests itself in distraction. There’s little sense of the sacred, little sense of the presence of the Totally Other. In their distraction they “steal and kill and destroy” the sacred.

Finally, allow me to present you with the ultimate test of the Christian; are you a goodIMG_1356 shepherd prepared to lay down your life for the flock (the Church, God’s people) or are you a hired hand who runs away when the wolf attacks?

The difference, I think, is the gate we’ve used to enter the sheepfold. Have we really come in through Jesus?

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!
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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!

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!

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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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!

Twenty First Sunday (C): Jesus was tolerant only in so far as it served Mercy!

So what have we got this weekend?

Basically we’ve got two sides – on one side there was the religious people (the Jews) and on the other, atheists, agnostics and sinners all thrown in together. Broad strokes, of course.

Into that dualism arrived Jesus Christ – no less than God Himself!

He spends his short earthly life calling both sides (not just one side) to repentance. Very interesting.

We’d expect that he’d call sinners to repentance, to change. Or would we? Is there sin anymore?

On this point – the reality of sin – Jesus never waivers. He never denies the reality of sin. On the contrary His life is an argument for the reality of sin and for ultimate justice.

Jesus wasn’t so much tolerant as merciful. Tolerance suggests almost anything is acceptable, there are few laws, almost everything can be collapsed into tolerance, almost everything is grey, there’s no black and white, nothing is definite. In broad strokes it’s the world we live in.

But Jesus didn’t bring tolerance. He brought Mercy. He was tolerant only in so far as tolerance served Mercy. That’s a totally different reality. Mercy implies that there are definite laws, an objective order. Besides, mercy is painful. Think of a husband’s, wife’s, partner’s unfaithfulness. Now think (feel) forgiving that unfaithfulness. What do you get? A kind of crucifixion for God’s sake!

But tolerance is not so painful because it doesn’t matter, nothing matters, there are no absolute laws, there is no ultimate justice, whereas Jesus says it does matter, there is ultimate justice. There’s always a price to be paid. It matters that you are saved. Me too!

Now, as Jesus calls sinners to repentance (unbelievers to belief) the religious people start to object – they start to fight with Him, they actually start to resent God – thus the first move to be last, and the last move to be first.

How dare you they say, this is not fair!

A kind of religious / spiritual pride!

Can you see where the religious people are wrong?

They are religious but their religion is about them rather than God! It’s religion without the heart of God. It’s a religion that really doesn’t understand what’s at stake. A man (or woman) can be lost! That’s what gave rise to parables like the lost sheep, the prodigal son.

Twenty Second Sunday (C): Jesus insults the guests, then the host!

Luke 14:1,7-14

Twenty Second Sunday, Year C, September 01 2013

A leading Pharisee – a person of standing in the community, in society generally – hosts a meal, inviting family and friends and among the guests is Jesus.

So here’s the scene; a host, guests and God all rubbing shoulders!

And the guests are more interested in their personal standing, in themselves, than they are in God and Gods Kingdom. There’s nothing new there – even to this day!

Their religion is about themselves rather than God and neighbour. Or perhaps their religion has had little impact on them. Their religion hasn’t converted self – which usually means self has converted, indeed, corrupted religion! Which is what we’ve got today; no, yes?

They’re full of self rather than God and neighbour.

And if something, indeed, somebody is full then you can’t get anything more in. She or he will have to be emptied before God can enter.
Really Jesus is asking; are you so poor inwardly that you must compete outwardly for position at a table, for recognition, for honour, for contentment, for meaning?

It’s the classic Jesus question: Do we find ultimate meaning in the material or the spiritual? It’s an important question – especially in a time when the material has failed and so many have lost meaning.

And given their self centredness it’s not likely they had the humility to hear Jesus call to a much deeper love, a more radical service, to forget self and put God and neighbour first.

Without that humility it’s most likely they felt insulted by Jesus.

In the end it comes down to who is dominating us, deep within?

Is it self or is it God?

Inside; who is in charge?

You’ll be much happier when God rules inside!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Prodigal Son

If you can imagine Christ at a football match.

He’d be shouting for both teams!

He’s like that.

He wants everyone to win the prize.

Christ loves both victim and perpetrator of injustice equally, but different.

Christ’s love seeks to;
– heal every wound.
– burn out every evil.

It’s a double edged sword, cuts both ways.

Christ doesn’t want to lose a single soul, that’s how the true lover of Christ, the Christian, views the world.

We have little difficulty with Christ as long as He’s on the side of the good, but when we realize He’s equally on the other side, all-be-it differently, calling for repentance and conversion, He becomes a little more troublesome.

The good son has all the exterior signs of good religion but he hasn’t got his Father’s loving, forgiving heart.
Incidentally, isn’t the good son’s religion the kind of religion the majority of Church critics want to see? Wouldn’t he suit their agenda perfectly?

In fact, most of the commentary we hear about the Catholic Church in our day comes from the perspective of the good son who wants nothing to do with the bad son and fails absolutely to see the matter from the Fathers perspective!

Christ is on all sides, equally, but differently!