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It’s easy to understand Pope Francis emphasis on mercy.


Monday, Fifth Week of Lent.

John 8:11 The adulterous woman.

woman-caught-in-adulteryPonder the effect Jesus words and actions had on this woman “caught in the very act of committing adultery…”

She’ll love him, madly. She’ll be crazy about him and dare anybody say a bad word about him in her presence, she’ll defend him, fight for him, tell others about him, speak so positively about him that it’ll be infectious. She’ll give everything for him!

This is what makes a disciple, this concrete experience of the love but particularly the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Now, let’s consider the opposite: What would Jesus have effected in this woman if he’d joined in condemning her?

See the difference?

It’s easy to understand Pope Francis emphasis on mercy, isn’t it?

Salvation history; stumbling from one crisis to another!

Crisis ImageIn the First Reading (2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23) we find the great themes of salvation history – themes that are always unfolding as humankind stumbles with ever more sophistication from one crisis to the next!

We’re told that the whole of society was busy adding “infidelity after infidelity” and that God sent messengers repeatedly “since he wished to spare his people” but the people wouldn’t listen, their responses varied from ridicule, to despising, to laughing at both the messenger and the message. Same old, same old, isn’t it? There’s a sense in which nothing changes at all. We know best, we’ll do it our way, and where does it end? We stumble with ever more sophistication from one crisis to another!

The Gospel makes it clear that Jesus of Nazareth is the Saviour of the world, and that his purpose is not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:14-21). How will he save the world? He’ll draw the world to himself one heart at a time. This of course means that Christianity and Catholicism can’t be private.

But what happens if the world refuses to come to Jesus Christ? Is there a flip side? Absolutely. Initially nothing happens that’s immediately perceptible. In other words the claim that the sky doesn’t fall down holds true. There’s no sudden crash! Instead, cut off from God the human heart is slowly desensitized over a period of a century, more or less, one small step at a time, each step facilitating the next, which in turn facilitates individuals, sometimes groups of people, and sometimes even a particular nation to wreak havoc. Ultimately, the world can find itself facing horrors such as those that unfolded during World War II.

In the bible this is what’s known as God’s punishment. God’s punishment comes in the form of social, political and economic policies, policies that arise from hearts divorced from God. It’s what we’re doing. What I do matters, it might influence you to do the same, and you might influence somebody else – eventually everybody is doing it! Then the world is changed and the path is cleared for the next change. The world is changed one heart at a time. This means that God is the God of history but that each one of us is contributing to and determining the future of all. History doesn’t happen by chance or just bad luck, history is determined by the relationship of the human heart to God.

While this slow descent is occurring God will send messengers but the messengers are almost always ridiculed, despised and laughed at – or simply ignored. Only when life is so bad that there’s nowhere perceived as ‘better’ to go do people begin to listen to these messengers. The point I want you to note is that this process is happening now. There’s never a point in history when it’s not happening.

Pope Francis greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In a surprise move Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 08th 2015 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

Pope Francis greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In a surprise move Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 08th 2015 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

So, what do these messengers look like? How do we recognize them? The answer is; with great difficulty!

In Fatima almost one hundred years ago these messengers came as 3 children. But what do we know about Fatima? How much attention have we given it? A little later there’s St. Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy – what do we know about that? We’re now in the time of Mercy – we’ve been there for quite some time. It’ll be followed by Justice. Divine Mercy always precedes Divine Justice. Later there’s Padre Pio? We might know a little about Pio. Later again, there’s Pope John Paul II, then Benedict XVI, but how much attention have we given apart from what the media has told us? Now we have Pope Francis – who has just declared 2016 to be a Holy Year of Divine Mercy.

It’s not difficult to see that the great themes of salvation history also apply to us, right here, right now, that they’re unfolding even as I speak and that we’re all caught up in it.

We’ll summarize everything I’m saying when we come to pray the Our Father. We don’t pray; thy kingdom come, thy will be done in heaven only. No! We pray; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s kingdom, God’s rule over the human heart is for the future of the earth. Heaven is well able to look after itself!

Every ‘problem’ calls us to spiritual growth – the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

‘Spirit’ Confirmation Programme 1.

Learning about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Learning about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Briefly, we’ll look at just two of the seven gifts of the Spirit – it’ll give us an idea of how important they are.

Perhaps during the week the parents – teachers too – might adapt or simplify my words and engage the children with the ideas I’m presenting.

Firstly, Wisdom; what’s that? Firstly, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it doesn’t belong naturally to human nature. It’s a gift given by the Holy Spirit and when we receive it, we know (instinctive-like) that it’s in the spiritual life and not in health and wealth that we find lasting security. Those who don’t have the gift will naturally look for their security in everything from health to wealth.

Secondly, Understanding; what’s that? When we receive the gift of understanding we penetrate the truths of our faith. As we receive it we move from faith into certainty. Those who do not have the gift are always unsure, wobbly, blown this way and that, they lack conviction about God.

The gifts make a big, big difference. They’re synonymous with the spiritual journey into God (synonymous = equivalent in meaning, expressing the same idea). The gifts of the Spirit are the road into God.

Now, tell me, how many of you guys just want to get this part (Mass) over with?

Well, to be honest I was like that when I was your age. And I stayed like that through most of my teenage years.

Until one day in 1983, the 19th of July – I will never forget the day – I was at home with my father. There was a fire and tragically later that day my father died.

Now apart from the grief, something else happened. I started to ask serious questions about the meaning of life. That one event, and the questions it surfaced within me, changed the whole course of my life.

I believe we’re offering you answers to questions that most of you haven’t even started to ask. (I’m in favour of Confirmation at a later age!)

So the ‘Spirit’ team has produced a programme to give you a good experience of Confirmation in the hope that when (and if!) you do begin to ask the deeper questions, you might remember this positive experience of Confirmation and return to look in more detail.

Meanwhile, some things I’d like you to know and remember. I would like you to know that it’s in the spiritual life – the spiritual life is our life with God – that you will find true and lasting security.

If I could I’d love to spare you the futile effort of trying to find lasting security in this world, in just about everything from health to wealth.

I would like you to know that there’s no difficulty in life that can’t be overcome by spiritual growth.

I would like you to know that every challenge, every difficulty – even if it looks like there’s no way out – every suffering, every sickness is a call to spiritual growth; that it doesn’t have to end in meaningless despair.

Even if you make a complete mess of your life, I want you to know that the mess is nothing more than God’s way of calling you to spiritual growth, to do things differently, to do things his way.

No matter how many times you fall, no matter how many times you fail, remember, every fall, every failure, is God’s call to spiritual growth.

Finally, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, like Confirmation itself, like all the sacraments, belong to the spiritual life and it’s there – and only there – that we receive them.

So, do you have a spiritual life? Yes? No? No! I’m going to be really cruel to you; then what are you doing here?

Click the video links below for a summary of Pope Francis’ catecheses on the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding. (Credit: Rome Reports)



Fourth Sunday of Advent (B) Stepping into God’s time.

Advent is the beginning of the Church year because it’s the beginning of God’s time.

Pope Francis says that when we step into God’s time we stop looking at our watches.IMG_1078

As long as we’re in our own time we’re always looking at our watches!

In these final days of advent use Mary and Joseph to step into Gods time. Put yourself in their shoes, first Mary’s then Joseph’s.

Pope Francis says that in these last days of Advent like Mary we should say to the baby Jesus in the womb; “Come!  I want to see your face” – and really mean it.

I love this book - absolutely beautiful. It would make a beautiful present for a committed Catholic. I've drawn on it extensively for this piece. I bought it on the USCCB website (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) but it's also available from amazon.com here http://www.amazon.com/Pope-Francis-Guide-English-Spanish/dp/1601374984/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420368580&sr=8-1&keywords=Pope+Francis+In+Gods+Time

I love this book – absolutely beautiful. It would make a beautiful present for a committed Catholic. I’ve drawn on it extensively for this piece. I bought it on the USCCB website (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) but it’s also available from amazon.com here http://www.amazon.com/Pope-Francis-Guide-English-Spanish/dp/1601374984/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420368580&sr=8-1&keywords=Pope+Francis+In+Gods+Time

He asks: “Are we watching, waiting, or are we closed? Are we secure in an inn or are we pilgrims?” Life will always bring us back to being a pilgrim. Life is a bridge, never build your house on it!

Joseph, what a lovely man. He clearly loves Mary and has entered the preparatory stages of marriage. But before they come to live together “she was found to be with child…” Disaster! Joseph knows he’s not the father; what’ll he do? What would you do? He does what we’d all do – most likely – he decides to separate, to “divorce her informally.” But there’s kindness in Joseph. He wants to “spare her publicity” – the danger for Mary of course is that if her situation becomes public knowledge she risks being stoned to death. So here’s a man torn between the rigid application of the law and compassion. Joseph’s heart becomes a bridge between the rigid application of the law and compassion – a heart of mercy. Joseph is not just a lovely man, he is like God as manifested in the adult Christ-child.

Pope Francis says that when Joseph was confronted with Mary’s unplanned pregnancy – unplanned at least in human terms – he “is the faithful and just man who chose to believe the Lord rather than listen to the voices of doubt and human pride” – and fear.

Mary and Joseph teach us that life is not about us. The single greatest lesson to be learned in life is that life is not about us. And together with the baby Jesus they teach us that life is not about our children either. They teach us that life is about what God is doing. So don’t spend your life in your own time. Get into God’s time.

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!”

Homily Notes

The Baptism of the Lord

When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John He was setting the tone for all that would follow.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for sinners.

So by choosing to be baptised by John, by sharing in the baptism of sinners, Jesus deliberately put Himself among sinners as a brother – but He was (is) a brother who was (is) also the Divine Physician, the Saviour; a voice spoke from Heaven, this is my Son, the beloved.

Jesus put Himself among sinners, not to judge, not to condemn (this got him into difficulty), but to love, to attract to a better way of life, a new life, the life of God which every person can reach through repentance and conversion.

In many ways Pope Francis has chosen to walk on to the world stage in this way.

It’s amazing how many people accept the first part – the liberal left are all for Jesus as our brother – but choose to ignore the call to repentance and a new way of life!

True to form, the liberal left are misunderstanding Francis (because they misunderstand Jesus) and we’re witnessing the most amazing unfounded psychological projection of the liberal lefts desires on to Pope Francis.

Meanwhile, many traditionalists are a little confused.

It’s like being back in the days of Jesus!