Tag Archives: religion

Philomena, the film: What might God make of it?

If you haven’t seen the film, Philomena, I’m sure you’ve heard about it! It’s the true story of a young girl who became pregnant outside marriage in 1950s Ireland.

IMG_0860Before going any further I must admit that I haven’t seen the film but I have just finished reading the book. I was surprised by the book – not the pregnant outside marriage in 1950s Ireland story-line – but the level of promiscuity portrayed in the sections of the book dealing with Michael’s (Anthony’s) adult environment in the United States. I found it quite shocking and it’s dominating my initial thoughts about the book. Nonetheless the book has copper-fastened my belief that every child should have a right – an unassailable human right – to know his or her father and mother.

The book also got me thinking about what God might make of it all? So I’m going to do just that – look at the matter from God’s perspective. God’s perspective is effectively the will of God. The will of God is always in our best interests. It’s the true Paramount Principle because it’s the only guarantee of human well-being. Can we establish the will of God for the women portrayed by the character of Philomena? Yes, we can – but it’s not likely to be welcome – we may not like what we find!

So I’ll ask the obvious question: Is it the will of God that a young single girl should find she’s pregnant?

Essentially, it’s a question about the context of sex. Catholicism argues that sex belongs toIMG_1007 love – most will agree with that much – but Catholicism goes further, defining the love required as married love, but a very particular married love that can be dissolved only in death, i.e., sacramental married love. Catholicism believes the physical act of sex has its own innate meaning; sex is the seal of a reciprocal gift of self which is irrevocable and therefore sex belongs to sacramental marriage.

I appreciate I’m threading on dangerous cultural ground here but we can say with confidence therefore, no, it’s not quite God’s will that a single girl should find herself pregnant. But it’s equally not God’s will that she should be abandoned as in the case of Philomena. At the moment Philomena fell pregnant she became – borrowing the Gospel image – like a vulnerable sheep needing the Shepherds special care.

Still, whether we like it or not, from a faith perspective we must also factor in Christ’s condemnation of fornication as a sin (Mark 7:21-23). The Catholic Church cannot deny the existence of an objective moral order, to do so is to deny the existence of God. If there’s no objective moral order then there’s no need for redemption, and if there’s no need for redemption there’s no need for Christ. We save ourselves!

The tragedy is that many of the women portrayed by Philomena feel ashamed of their big secret. Yet from the Cross Christ says to every sinner – I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin. That’s redemption – it refuses to collapse the moral order, refuses to deny the reality of sin, yet, it sets sinners free.

Next question: Is it the will of God that the young girl should seek an abortion? It is never God’s will that human life – from conception to natural death – should be directly terminated. In fact during the Rite of Baptism I have started to thank mothers, single or otherwise, for choosing life.

Next question: Is it the will of God that the young girl should be incarcerated in the name of ‘care’ and be forced to give up her baby for adoption, for a donation to her carers? I think I have made the answer obvious by now, no, absolutely not.

Next question: Is it the will of God that the same young girl should be abandoned by theIMG_1017 father of her baby (let us not forget the father’s sin; fornication and possibly adultery), her parents and family, and society generally? The answer is; certainly not. Abandonment is not Gods will. Whom exactly was Christ abandoning when he died on the Cross?

So from the perspective of the will of God what do we find when we begin to examine the lives of the women portrayed by Philomena? We find that the people involved directly and indirectly in a young girls crisis pregnancy all sinned and the young girl’s sin is in fact the least of the sins involved. No doubt about it; Jesus wept every step of Philomena’s journey – for everyone involved!

Finally, let’s remember there is no reason why a single mother (or a single father for that matter) can’t become the greatest Saint that ever lived.

Love like Jesus – and get yourself in trouble!

Homily Notes

Seventh Sunday, Year A. Matt. 5:38-48

At first sight today’s Gospel seems very demanding.

Demanding might seem an understatement. Perhaps the immediate response of many will be; it’s impossible. It’s audacious in its demands; “offer the wicked man no resistance, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well …”

Yet when Jesus begins to argue that if we do good only to those who do good to us and save our greetings for our friends (brothers) only, I think we can begin to see that he’s got a point.

IMG_0852There is nothing exceptional in doing good to those who do good to you or in loving those who love you.

When the words of Jesus drag us to look at ourselves in this way we can begin to see the obvious limitations of our goodness and by comparison the magnanimous goodness of God who “causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good …”

Thus, here again we glimpse the missionary demand of Jesus, to move out of ourselves individually and collectively and to go out and always be charitable – even towards our enemies!

IMG_0850To live in this way is counter cultural. It sets us apart, makes us like a city built on a hilltop. You will never hear a Government minister or a TD* ask this of you. No media person will ask it of you. But Jesus asks it. Who do you follow?

While we might think that modern Ireland is challenging Catholicism, it’s actually not challenging Catholicism at all; rather, it’s challenging a poorly incarnated (lived) Catholicism. No democracy will ever present you with a challenge greater than loving your enemy or being as perfect as your Father in Heaven!

In the end we’re being called to love like Jesus Christ who gave his life, not just for good men, but for bad men too.

These words of Jesus open doors that’ll – if we pass through – get us in a lot of trouble!

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*TD – a member of the Irish Parliament (Dail Eireann)

Catholics are called to pure goodness.

Homily Notes

Sixth Sunday Year A. Shorter Gospel – Matt 5:20-22,27-28,33-34,37

If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Scribes and Pharisees you’ll never enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Ouch!

Let’s hope the Scribes and Pharisees were very corrupt!

Jesus calls us to a higher – perhaps deeper – standard. It’s not just, thou shalt not kill; it’s thou shalt not be angry.

It’s not just, thou shalt not commit adultery; it’s thou shalt not lust.

Neither anger nor lust can be considered harmless; both can lead to serious spiritual bondage, to diminished freedom and to acts that are gravely sinful and sometimes criminal.

Thus Jesus calls us to purify our hearts – to remove all that leads to sinful and sometimes criminal behaviour.

A pure heart is nothing more than a heart – a person – who loves God.

Jesus’ final point about swearing and oaths calls us to the same goodness.

It’s not just, don’t break your oath; it’s be a person of such integrity that your ‘no’ means ‘no’ and your ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and swearing or oath-taking is no longer necessary.

This is a breath-taking window-view opening out to show us the sheer goodness, the purity of heart to which we’re called and on which Catholicism is founded.

Indeed elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus tells us to be “as harmless as doves …”

Engaging with last weeks Gospel:

If last week Jesus called us to witness like “a city built on a hill-top” this week he reminds us that such witness flows from a heart that’s like a store full of goodness (a store full of goodness is how Jesus described a good heart)

If last week Jesus called us to be salt of the earth, this week we get a glimpse of how salt becomes tasteless – when we draw out from our hearts, not goodness but anger, lust, jealousy …

Weak discipleship means a weak Church.

Homily Notes

Matt. 5:13-16

To his disciples – to the fledgling Church – Jesus says; “you are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless … it is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” Strong words!

The disciples are to be salt of the earth.

So where would you find the disciples of Jesus Christ in our day?

Here, surely?

If the world looks at us and doesn’t see Christ’s disciples – well, something’s wrong.

If the people who don’t come to Mass don’t see something attractive in us – like happiness in IMG_0954our relationship with God – then something’s wrong.

When we received Baptism, Confirmation and Communion Jesus didn’t mean that it should be private like a lamp covered by a tub!

No. Our commitment to Christ is to be as obvious and attention-grabbing as a city built on a hill-top!

But if our commitment to Christ is not like a city built on a hill-top, if it’s not obvious, if it’s like a lamp covered by a tub, if we’re like salt that has become tasteless, if we’re ineffective disciples – the local Church too – becomes “good for nothing and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” Weak discipleship means a weak Church.

We are to be obvious attention-grabbers for Christ, my light, your light must shine in the sight of men – but notice the next line – so that seeing our good works people may give thanks to God.

Ah, now! Who would want that? Who wants to give God everything? Actually, very few! We’re terrified that there’ll be nothing left for us! What’s left for me? What do I get?

The raging cultural war in which Catholicism is being squeezed is actually about this question – is life about me, self, my ego, or is it about God?

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The answer is another day’s work – we’ll come back to it. For now I’ll leave you with an insight from Mother Teresa – “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”

For love, a man or woman will give everything, even be prepared to die, and all our human loves – whatever the kind – are mere shadows, reflections and even distortions of the Love we really crave, the love for which we’re made. That love has a name; Jesus Christ.

So, open wide the doors.

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!

Gospel (shorter version) Matthew 4:12-17 The people that lived in darkness and who dwell in the shadow of death has seen a great light.

If I’m not mistaken Zebulun and Naphtali were the extremities of Israel at the time of Jesus.

So the light reaches to the extremities. It reaches out, which is what it’s doing right here, right now.

The point of Catholicism is that Jesus Christ is already our light. He’s not meant to be outside us, he’s meant to be in here (inside). This is the critically important journey that every Catholic must make.

But often, even for Catholics, particularly cradle Catholics, the light inside us is someone or worse still something else, someone or something other than Jesus Christ.

We have our idols! Money is the obvious idol, education can become an idol (note the recent comments by the Minister for Education), even our children can become idols! There are endless possibilities.

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Where God is not loved, idols are loved instead. It’s a basic spiritual truth. These idols or ‘lights’ are the real driving force within Irish life today.

Every person has such a light or lights. The light of my life is what gives meaning to my life.

So ask yourself what it is, what’s the light that you’re living for, that keeps you going?

Then ask; will that light ever go out?

Jesus Christ once remarked; what if the light inside you is actually darkness? What darkness that will be!

There’s only one light that never goes out – Jesus Christ.

Thus Jesus begins his preaching with a call to ‘repent’ – why? – because the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand. Get the connection!

In other words, repent, which means turn away from sin, from idols, and turn towards God, so that you may enter the life of God and find what humankind is really looking for in our idols.

If there’s no objective moral order Jesus died in vain! Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily Notes

Gospel: John 1:29-34 Look there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

How does Jesus Christ take away the sin of the world?

By taking the sin of the world to himself.

He’s innocent but he made himself guilty in place of the guilty.

So, let’s draw out the implications of Jesus as lamb of God.

There’s an objective moral order to which we’re all subject – otherwise why would Jesus Christ need to die for sinners?

There is ultimate Justice.

Because there’s ultimate Justice Jesus was tolerant only in so far as tolerance served repentance.

The guilty who genuinely repent and turn to Christ are free – He takes the place of the guilty. That’s redemption. It’s the only reason a priest can absolve sins.

Jesus was merciful rather than tolerant. Learn the difference. Mercy is Justice transfigured by Love. It requires ultimate Love.

Sin is destructive – ponder Christ crucified. It’s the most destructive force known to humankind.

If Jesus doesn’t take away the sins of the world – if we refuse Mercy – where will the sins of the world go? Where will the destruction go?

Jesus Christ is our future.

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!

 

Be the star that leads to Jesus! The Epiphany.

A star guides the three wise men, the three kings, to the infant-King.

A star no less! This is a cosmic event. This child is significant, to say the least. The psalm captures it well: “All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.”

This child is the Saviour of all – all nations. Get that; all. Mind-blowing!

Pope Francis says there’s no middle ground in this – “it’s either light or dark, haughtiness or humility, the truth or the lie. We either open the door to Jesus who comes to save us, or close it in (our belief in) self-sufficiency and the pride of self-salvation.”

I once considered politics, but it was just too much of a compromise. He’s either the Saviour or he’s not, there is no middle ground!

That’s the meaning of the Epiphany – but God will never force the matter. Neither can we.

Instead, be the star that leads to Him!

Have a happy Feast of the Epiphany.

‘Enter Christmas through the door of the Eucharist’ (Benedict XVI)

Homily Notes

Second Sunday of Christmas.

John 1:1-5,9-14

If I may begin with a preliminary remark.

John’s Gospel is a little different to the others – the author has begun to theologize about the historical events. In fact, in the first few lines, the writer summarizes the whole Gospel.

So, let’s get to the real business of today’s homily.

if Christmas is a past event how does God enter our world today?

Firstly, it’s not a past event.

Secondly, God enters our world in many ways but the way he enters par excellence is through the Mass.

Mass perpetuates the incarnation by God’s design. Mass is Jesus Christ continuing his incarnation in our time until his second coming.

This is the wonder of Catholicism, the joy of being a Catholic; that Christmas is not a past event but God is as near as the Mass and the Tabernacle.

In fact, God’s presence in the Mass is more powerful than his presence two thousand years ago – because the Mass is God’s gift of himself, inclusive of his life, death and resurrection in Jesus Christ, it’s therefore not just the person of God, but also the whole work of God, packaged and delivered to your door.

Are you at home?

In the gift of the Mass whereby God continues his incarnation among men and women the same dynamic of acceptance and non-acceptance, belief and unbelief is evident.

Through the gift of the Eucharist He perpetuates (continues) his incarnation, continues to enter the world that has its being through him, yet so often the world does not recognize Him.

He comes to his own people (Catholics) and his own people do not recognize Him!

Just think of how many Catholics have abandoned the Mass? And what they think they’ve abandoned is missing the point!

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

You can’t separate Jesus Christ and the Mass – same reality.