Tag Archives: religion

Human suffering is an argument against an imaginary God!

Homily Notes.

Today I’d like to suggest that human suffering is an argument against an imaginary God. It’s certainly not an argument against the God of the incarnation.

I’ll use the Holy Family to illustrate my point.

Firstly, a preliminary point. God doesn’t force us to believe.

Yet, in the Incarnation, in God becoming a human child God is really pushing us to believe.

If God did anything more he’d tip the scales into forcing belief.

Think for a moment about what would convince you to believe? What would clinch the God argument for you?

If that happened would you still be free? I doubt it. God would be doing the work, eroding your freedom.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest obstacles to belief is suffering, particularly human suffering.

Yet the Incarnation (the Holy Family) itself is riddled through with human suffering. Doesn’t that speak loudly?

We must surely accept that such a significant detail is instructive. God is saying something to us.

From the moment Mary conceived, the Incarnation is a series of highs and lows, joys and sorrows, consolation and desolation.

From the high of hearing and seeing an Angel announce her pregnancy to the low of Joseph deciding to leave her, from the high of God’s intervention through a dream convincing Joseph to stay, to the low of finding no room at the Inn, only a stable after an exhausting journey on the back of a donkey!

This is God! At what point did Mary wonder?

From the joy of the birth on Christmas night – the wonder of it – the arrival of the shepherds, nothing less than a star pointing out the child Jesus (a cosmic event) to the rapid descent into terror as Mary and Joseph flee with their infant into Egypt to avoid Herod’s soldiers who were slaughtering every new born male child. Put yourself in Mary’s shoes, Joseph’s shoes.

‘You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart’

Ultimately the woman who is rightly considered the most blessed of all women rose with her Son to the heights of acclamation as He performed miracle after miracle, but also plunged with him to the ridicule, the condemnation and the suffering of his passion and death.

Talk about a roller coaster!

This is a real woman and a real family.

What are they teaching us?

Faith in the God of the incarnation (as opposed to an imaginary God) is not destroyed by human suffering but overcomes it, transcends it, finally and definitively in the resurrection. Faith is not avoidance but the power to embrace and overcome.

How do we obtain faith like that? That kind of faith is a gift of God, infused supernaturally through grace.

It is what passes between God and an individual soul in hidden hours of prayer while the rest of us are busy, worrying and fretting about so many things. Mostly about trying to make a life!

It’s ridiculous to suggest that God became man but he’s not looking for Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Kenny and you!

Homily Notes, Christmas 2013

Some people get confused about the role of the Church.

Politicians and Governments often do, viewing the Church as if it was a foreign state attempting to interfere in another state’s affairs.

Perhaps the fact that there is a state – the Vatican – fuels such thinking.

But the Church is not interested in the State.

We’re interested in the rule or reign of God in human affairs, in the inculturation of the Gospel (the Gospel becomes our culture), in Jesus Christ becoming Lord. The journey of the Church year, from Christmas (December) to Our Lord Jesus Christ Universal King (November) is an interior journey that the Church wants all to make.

The reign of God in human affairs is human peace, human joy, it is the only guarantee of human well-being.

If God doesn’t rule human affairs, there can be no lasting happiness and without conversion human affairs will tumble. That means human suffering. Therefore Christmas can never be viewed as a purely religious event.

Besides, it’s ridiculous to suggest that God became man and yet it doesn’t have universal significance; to suggest that God became man but he’s not looking for Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Kenny and you!

The primary function of the Church is to convince every State, every head of State and every citizen of every State to take Christmas (and Easter) seriously, to treat Christmas –

  • not as a sentimental irrelevance to the real work of daily life
  • not primarily as a time for family and family reunions;
  • not primarily as a commercial event;
  • not as a purely religious event;
  • and certainly not as a time to be reinvented replacing Christ with Season (Happy Holiday Season!) or worse still to replace Christ with X!

– but rather, as a decisive intervention of God in order to direct and order human affairs and bring them to fulfilment. Follow me, he says. Look … I want your attention!

And in particular that we do not narrow our vision so that life becomes nothing more than time between the two points of birth and death.

So open wide the doors …He became man so that we may become divine!

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!

Second Sunday of Advent (A) Prepare a way for the Lord, let Him in!

Second Sunday of Advent Year A.

Here in the words of Isaiah we find the meaning of Advent: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

Prepare a way into your heart, a straight path into your heart, into you, so that Christmas becomes what it should be, an encounter with Jesus Christ.

It’s worth noting that John is preaching in the wilderness – we might be too!

As the Pharisees and the Sadducees approach he calls them a brood of vipers!

Vipers bite, they’re also poisonous! 

The Pharisees and the Sadducees represent every spiritually corrupt Catholic – like vipers they poison the work of God!

John asks about who warned them to flee from the retribution that is coming?

Now we need to understand retribution here because in this context the retribution of God is very different to what we understand it to be.

As the life of Jesus unfolded the retribution of God turned out to be the fact that many couldn’t receive Jesus because they were spiritually corrupt – and corruption is nothing more than placing self at the centre.

God in Jesus Christ, when he walked the earth, just passed them by, not that Jesus wanted to pass them by, but they were incapable of receiving Jesus, incapable of offering Jesus a heart that he could enter, fill … because it was already full.

So the retribution of God turns out to be a life incapable of receiving Jesus Christ.

Now there’s a very real danger that the same is happening here, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, sometimes for a whole lifetime!

That Jesus just passes us by, that there’s no way in, no room at the Inn; that on Christmas night/day Jesus won’t be born within you – me – us!

And there’s only one reason why that can happen – because we’re full of other stuff! Because we’re somewhere else!

So use Advent, prepare Him a way, empty your heart – let Him in!

All Saints: Could God be ‘poor’ in spirit?

Matthew 5: 1-12 Happy the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven …

In many ways poverty of spirit goes to the heart of the Gospel – it’s the key to understanding so many Gospel readings. Remember last Sundays Gospel? The two guys go up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector … Luke 18:9-14; it’s all about poverty of spirit.

If we are to be received by God we must approach Him in poverty of spirit.

Only an empty vessel can be filled.

Did you ever think about how we might describe God?

Could we describe God as poor in spirit? It sounds crazy I know, but God is not proud. God does not need to be proud! You and I might be proud, but not God. God has no need to boast! So how do we describe a nature that’s never proud, never boastful? Humble? Poor in spirit?

The beatitudes are God’s prescription for sanctity and as such reveal the true nature of God.

God is poor in ‘spirit’ in so far as He never imposes. He must be invited.

God is gentle.

God mourns – faced with His creation’s use of free will, He often mourns. Some, of course, console Him.

God hungers and thirsts for what is right. At every moment of every day God hungers and thirsts that you and I will do the right thing.

God is merciful.

God is pure in heart.

God is peaceful, non-violent.

God is often ignored, ridiculed, persecuted!

Now, if that’s what God is like, how do we compare … how do you compare?

Harvest Thanksgiving and faith masquerading as science!

This weekend we give thanks to God for the harvest … for little things that really are big things if we didn’t take so much for granted

But we do, we take so much for granted …

Yet life is full of wonder if we could see it … in little things like the food on the table … or a turnip, or where bread comes from … or my finger! No, I’m not going mad!

OK, forget my finger, try this – for my twenty first my Mum gave me one of my baby shoes all boxed up. It fits in the palm of my hand … amazing!

Still not good enough? Try the human brain! Try replicating the human brain!

Life is full of awe …

Turning to the big things; it’s a wonder, it’s amazing that there should be life on this planet at all, that anything should grow.

The universe is finely tuned to sustain life – so finely tuned that if any one of several factors was a fraction this way or that way, we couldn’t survive!

There are people who argue that’s down to chance.

It’s some chance because it is a precision so accurate that it is often compared to travelling hundreds of miles into space, throwing a dart at the earth and hitting a bulls-eye that is a trillionth of a trillionth of an inch in diameter!

You depend on that – if it was a fraction out you and I couldn’t survive.

And yet we can get so lost.

What’s happened to us (to so many) that we’ve lost the ability to appreciate life?

Of course, there are those who say that God has nothing to do with all this and use science to justify their argument.

Now, the best scientific minds will admit that we know but a fraction of all there is to know, that what we do know is but a tiny percentage of what can be known.

So, from a tiny percentage there are people willing to conclude – apparently scientifically – that there is no God!

Sorry, that’s not science, that’s faith in our own arrogance, our unsubstantiated belief that there is no God!

In other words, they give to a tiny part the authority of the whole!

So tonight let’s try to be grateful – life is bigger, much bigger, than you and me.

For small things and big things, for the wonder of it all, let’s be grateful.

For Lorna and Sean on their wedding day; two become one.

God’s understanding of marriage is two become one.

But Jesus goes deeper, two become one body (Matthew 19:4-6)

It’s as if something new is created, a new living reality, a bond like the blood relationship that exists between brother and sister.

Brother and sister, no matter how they try, cannot deny that they are brother and sister.

They might hate each other, they might never communicate, they might refuse to acknowledge the other but they are still biologically brother and sister.

Well Jesus seems to me to be saying that marriage creates a unique bond that we may try to break, deny, one way or another, but like the biological relationship between brother and sister we can deny it all we want, but in Gods sight the unique one-ness of marriage remains.

There is much evidence in the life of Jesus to support this view; the woman at the well … although you’ve had five (husbands) the one you have now is not your husband (John 4:17)

His rejection of divorce and the shock of the disciples as they try to comprehend (Matthew 19:7-10)

Now there’s another detail of two becoming one; two (male and female, husband and wife) do become one in a new born baby!

Of course this is what God intended; male and female should meet and gradually two become one.

Do you want to know a little about how Lorna and Sean started to become one?

Enter biographical details …

There comes a point where the process of two becoming one expresses itself sexually. This is the seal of the whole process (the seal of the marriage covenant)

The Catholic Church believes that the physical act speaks its own language, it has its own inner meaning, a meaning that’s obvious; I give myself to you completely in love.

Therefore it belongs to giving yourself to another human person exclusively in love – marriage.

The physical expresses something that’s already there, an inner reality, I am yours …

But if that inner reality is not there (if two are not really one) then we’re being used and we’re using!

Did Jesus really talk about Hell too?

26th Sunday, Year C

Luke 16:19-31 The rich man and Lazarus

Here we come face to face with the concepts of Heaven and Hell in the teaching of Jesus Christ. Imagine that – the Catholic Church didn’t make it up!

Most people refuse to believe that a loving God could allow such a reality as Hell.

But it’s not about God.

It’s about you and me, and the choices we make.

The rich man could have taken Lazarus out of his suffering. He could have lifted him up, treated his sores, gave him food and shelter, but he chose not to. He chose to leave Lazarus in his personal hell.

Now all this gives rise to a basic question about our world.

Is there justice?

The first thing to note is that we all want justice.

We all have a sense of what’s fair … but where does it come from?

Even the most notorious prisoners – who’d been anything but fair to others – had a sense of fairness when it came to their own lives. (I served as a prison chaplain for a number of years)

We all have a sense of fairness but we’re not always fair! But where does it come from?

It’s the presence of God in us.

In other words, our human words and language, our desires, are reflections of eternal realities.

This of course is one of C.S. Lewis’ great arguments for God.

The second thing to note is that we do attempt to create justice but often our attempts are at best approximations.

How can we give justice to the families of missing persons?

How can we give justice to the families of murder victims? Can we give them back to their families? Approximations!

How can we give justice to a young terminally ill mother of 4 children or to her husband and children? We can’t – but we do try!

The simple truth is; life is not fair. We try to make it fair … but it’s not fair.
Of course, life would be much fairer if we just observed the Ten Commandments! But it still wouldn’t be fair.

Unless there’s an after-life, a putting to rights beyond our immediate grasp, a transformation of the human (prefigured in the risen body of Christ still bearing the marks of his suffering), realities that we call heaven, purgatory and hell, then there is no true justice.

But worse still, the world, our lives, everything is ultimately meaningless.

We are going nowhere, absolutely nowhere!

Jesus didn’t embrace sinners unconditionally saying peace, love, everything is OK. He’s saying it’s not OK!

24th Sunday Year C

15th September 2013

Luke 15:1-10 The Lost Sheep / Drachma

Here’s a piece that’s often mistakenly used to justify, tolerate and accept behaviour that is contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

More often than not, you’ll find a very selective focus on the Good Shepherd that effectively denies the reality of sin, denies there’s a real danger to the lost sheep.

Surely it’s the danger to the lost sheep that provokes the loving Shepherd to leave the ninety nine and go in search of the one?

So, effectively, while Jesus tells us much about himself, he’s also telling us that sin is not OK!

Firstly, the Gospels use the terms sin and sinners. Indeed they are terms that Jesus affirms. If you remove sin and sinners from the Gospels, Jesus Christ becomes meaningless.

Secondly, when Jesus tries to explain sin He tells stories / parables that understand sin as loss, potentially fatal. He uses sin and loss as if they’re interchangeable.

Thirdly, the sinners are seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say. It’s not a case of Jesus embracing sinners unconditionally saying peace, love, everything is OK! On the contrary Jesus is saying it’s not OK!

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the Cross.

ILLUSTRATE USING CRUCIFIX

This is what sin does to God.

But since this (Jesus Christ) is also man, this is also what sin does to humanity.

That’s why Jesus is interested in the sinner, but he’s interested like a shepherd facing the potential permanent destruction of one of his sheep.

Therefore, far from justifying, tolerating and accepting sin as OK the scriptures, indeed Jesus himself, actually argue and teach the very opposite.