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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 


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?





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.”

The Presentation of the Lord

Luke 2:22-32

Homily Notes

Today I’d like to draw your attention to a detail that I find fascinating and indeed instructive for us on this February day in 2014.

When God became man He inserted himself in a particular religion; Judaism.

Thus we see Mary and Joseph bringing the child Jesus to the Temple to fulfil the requirements of Judaism. They were a religious family.

Indeed, Luke tells us that at the age of twelve years Jesus went missing and when Mary and Joseph found him, they found him in the Temple – where else? – “sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions” Luke 2:41-46

IMG_0695Judaism and the Temple played a significant role in Jesus’ life. The Gospels reveal him moving between on the one hand, the Synagogues and the Temple and on the other hand, the sinners, the outsiders, calling all to himself as the fulfilment of Judaism – and nothing less than the light whom God has prepared for all the nations to see!

Although Jesus challenges the Jewish leaders, at times using very strong words, and although the Gospels reveal corruption within Judaism (take such corruption out and there’d be nothing of the Bible left!) Jesus never abandons Judaism but rather calls the Jewish people to fulfil their religion.

He affirms Judaism saying he has come not to abolish Judaism but to fulfil, to bring to completion, and with those who follow him he brings to birth out of Judaism the Christian religion which is historically Catholic.

Now I’d like you to see what I see – there’s an order to God inserting Himself in human affairs, it’s clearly bounded, and it’s far from perfect. In fact it’s imperfect, but God inserts Himself into it, and although there are clear boundaries, there’s a line through history, a particular people moving through history to this day – the People of God which is the Church, the baptized – there’s an open invitation to all people to enter in, to be a part of it, and to find Jesus Christ there, who doesn’t wait for perfection, doesn’t run away from corruption, but places himself in the middle of it and calls us to our proper fulfilment.

Remember, He is the light and a light is at its best in the darkness!

“Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God” Pope Benedict XVI

Accusations of hoIMG_0662mophobia, religious fundamentalism and even suicide statistics fail to engage with Catholic reason concerning homosexuality

Ì too had the privilege of hearing Mary McAleese being interviewed by Pat Kenny recently. I was enthralled as she spoke of her modest lifestyle while studying in Rome. In the course of the interview about her book ‘Quo Vadis’ which is about Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law, she addressed the issue of homosexuality using suicide statistics and argued for a change in Catholic Church teaching. When she’d finished I was deeply troubled.

As I recovered I was struck by her use of suicide statistics – essentially the use of personal tragedy to argue for a change in Church teaching. I also noted her focus on the creature rather than the Creator. The discussion was about gay men and the Catholic Church – God was hardly mentioned! Surely, when it comes to judging the Catholic Church’s position on a particular issue the deciding factor must always be God’s will? After all, God’s will is the only guarantee of humankind’s well-being.

Of course, this view is diametrically opposed to the view that men and women know what’s best for the human race. That’s democracy. But Christians follow Christ. He alone is the Saviour of the world, not majority opinion! So the Catholic point of departure is always God’s will, in this case God’s will concerning homosexuality.

Now strange as it might seem when Catholicism seeks to propose laws to the State the appeal in the first instance is not to revelation but to nature and reason. Nature and reason then are Catholicism’s defence against the invalid charge of homophobia. Of course, like all reasonable people I accept that there are homophobic people in our midst but I do not accept the use of the homophobia blanket to smother every opposing argument. I find such blanket-smothering of opposing views to be really fearful!

The real fears within Catholicism have nothing to do with homophobia. Firstly, as a Catholic I fear sin, particularly the enculturation of sin. Catholicism doesn’t fear the human person – nothing could be more ridiculous – Catholicism fears sin. Besides, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin, not in sin! Secondly, I share with Catholicism the terrifying fear that we might “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders” Matt. 23:4. Do you seriously think that men like John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, and the majority of faithful Catholics have not struggled with such fear in our consideration of homosexuality? We certainly have and therefore Catholicism looks to the harmony of nature, reason and revelation. Where else can Catholics go?

Appealing to nature and reason the Catholic Church then argues as follows: male and female God made them, and so it is; we discover men and women, male and female as the essential dynamic of creation. We discover that the various parts of the male and female body are fit for sexual purpose, actually fit together and serve a very important purpose, the transmission of human life and the survival of the human race, while sexual intercourse itself implicitly speaks the language not of ‘trial’ love, but of Sacramental love; I give myself completely to you in love. What’s the alternative taken to its logical conclusion? In other words, the physical act of sexual intercourse innately means or is connatural with the mutual irrevocable gift of the whole person that is Sacramental marriage. As such Catholicism concludes that sex belongs to Sacramental marriage, love unto death, love that shares Gods creative work, love that bursts forth in the transmission of new life in all its forms. It may be idealistic (and difficult!) by humankind’s current standards but surely it’s the true meaning and purpose of sex as it exists in the mind of God. Surely as believers, notwithstanding our failures, we can agree on this much.

We also notice that there are exceptions occurring naturally, for example infertility, and among some men and women something very different, an attraction to their own sex. While the origin of homosexual attraction is unclear it is nonetheless real and cannot be denied, no more than we can deny heterosexual attraction.

However, the acting out of the attraction is considered to be contrary to Gods will because to put it bluntly, if not crudely, the parts just don’t fit together! The male body is not designed to facilitate sexual intercourse with another male, just as the female body is not designed to facilitate sexual intercourse with another female. The homosexual act lacks complementarity (meaning the fitting together of all aspects of the human person as male and female) and the potential to transmit human life. Thus Catholicism concludes that in so far as homosexual attraction leads to sexual activity that excludes complementarity and two becoming one in new human life it is objectively disordered. The key Catholic question here is; what is sex for?

We’re left then with a very important question; where does homosexuality come from if its expression is not part of Gods will? Some will respond instantly and perhaps with some outrage; how dare you attack my very person, of course homosexuality is part of God’s design; it’s the way I’m made!

Firstly, the Catholic Church seeks to attack nobody. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. Catholicism seeks only to uphold God’s rule in human affairs.

Secondly, in the context of a Christian worldview ‘the way we’re made’ is quite nuanced. In fact, it’s ‘the way we’re made’ that creates our need for salvation.

Thirdly, even if the origin of homosexuality is genetic and biological the same argument can be made for heterosexuality but with the additional evidence of the complementarity of the human body as male and female together with the potential to transmit human life. When compared to homosexuality, heterosexuality ticks extra boxes. These are substantial additional boxes and they cannot be ignored even in the face of suicide statistics. Consequently Catholicism gives the nod to the expression of heterosexuality as Gods design.

The perceived weakness in Catholic argument is its dependence on the physical which is countered by the principle that the evidence of male and female physicality and their complementarity whereby two literally become one in a new human life is not accidental but the primacy of Gods order. The bottom line here is; is there a God-designed order in terms of human sexuality? The Catholic Church says absolutely; it’s obvious! If there is an order then we can trust it. Life would be so much easier if the Catholic Church changed its teaching, but would a change be in keeping with God’s will? That’s the critical question.

There’s one further aspect I’d like to explore, namely Christ’s love for the marginalised which is increasingly used to argue against various positions held by the Catholic Church, including the Church’s position on homosexuality. The context in which Christ’s love for the marginalized unfolds is invariably the work of conversion. Too often commentators fail to mention the inner dynamics of Christ’s love; it is always targeted with a distinct purpose – go away and don’t sin anymore. So we simply cannot argue that Christ was compassionate therefore we should accept homosexual expression as part of God’s plan. No, Christ’s compassion had one purpose; not the blanket acceptance of humanity but the conversion of humanity.

Thus for the Catholic Church the issue is not about fear or prejudice, or homophobia, or any of the usual reasons advanced by liberal Catholics and non-Catholics alike, but about intellectual honesty endeavouring to ensure that humankind remains within the parameters of Gods will, since remaining within the realm of God’s will or recourse to Divine Mercy are the only guarantees of human well-being.

This is a massive call. Catholicism doesn’t make such a call lightly, rather, it’s a call made before God in fear and trembling with eyes fixed firmly on the harmony of nature, reason and revelation. The bulldozing accusation of homophobia simply refuses to address the Catholic argument. Instead, adapting Paddy Manning’s words on Twitter, proponents of the homophobia bulldozer “get to create a ‘crime’, charge people with it, and be judge and jury!”