Saturday, February 25, 2012

1st Sunday of Lent 2012

Jesus he noticed a tax collector, Levi by name, sitting by the customs house, and said to him, 'Follow me'. And leaving everything he got up and followed him.
In his honour Levi held a great reception in his house, and with them at table was a large gathering of tax collectors and others. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples and said, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' Jesus said to them in reply, 'It is not those who are well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance.'
     Luke 5: 27-32

Lent. Again. 

On the first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded how, at the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  There He spent forty days in prayer and fasting, while He endured the repeated temptation of Satan.During the forty days of Lent, we are called on to deny ourselves some of the pleasures of life, and spend time in prayer with Jesus in our ‘wilderness’; repenting our sins and being reconciled with God and with our neighbour.; in preparation for the celebration of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. We recall that as Jesus proclaimed the Good News of Salvation, He warned us that: “that the Kingdom of God is close at hand.  Repent, and believe the Good News.

But what dies all that really mean? Archbishop Sheen said once "there are no plains in the spiritual life; you are either getting better or you are getting worse. If you are the same as you were last year, then you arr worse." Lent follows Lent and do we really grapple with what it means to be a follower of Jesus?  Most of the time, if we hare honest the answer is now; we plod on; the seasons come and the seasons go and we stay the same. Lent, however, gives us an opt out of this 'never ending circle'. We have a chance to look at ourselves and say 'look, I need to do more'. Lent is a fantastic challenge and. with God's grace, it can bring us great heavenly rewards.

So what have we to do: nothing except what the the Church says: pray, fast and give alms. As long as you have been going to Church you have heard sermons on these things, and all sounds very nice and tidy - say a few extra prayers or go to Mass a bit more. Give up sweets or drink or maybe meat on Friday. Give to the poor with the money we save. Heard it all before! We sanitize these great gifts to such an extent that we hardly notice we are doing them.

We should feel Lent! What is one of the most exaggerated understatements recorded; when the evangelist says (not in this Gospel) that after forty days in the desert with no food.....Jesus was hungry. I'd say he was crippled over and bent with hunger. There is a drama in Lent, that if tapped into can do wonders for the soul. But we have to push our the boundaries much more. In former times people were compelled by the penalty of sin to fast and abstain. The Church has granted us great freedom to choose our penance. In this freedom most do not take up the challenge. If we do, however, and respond with generosity how much more will the Lord support us.

Jesus left the desert and proclaimed the Kingdom; may the Lord grant us the grace to battle temptation and so emerge from this Lent radiant in the glory of the Cross. 

Catch Up!

It has been a while since I have put my notes together for this blog. Here is a summary of the last few weeks ideas:

Jan 22nd - 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

We have all heard this Gospel many times over the years but did we really hear what Jesus was asking of us?
“Come, follow Me” Mk 1-17
Were these words just for the first disciples? Have I already taken them on board in my life and am I committed to using the countless gifts He has given me? We are not all called to go out into the world to fulfill our destiny; we can follow Him from where we are.
The response of the first disciples was immediate; their focus was on Jesus, not on their ability to deliver. Although some of us are like Jonah, diverted from His call, He eventually wins us over.
Today we are invited to launch out into a new way of life; coming alongside Jesus; trusting Him to help us to change and cooperate with His plan for us.
“Repent, believe in the Gospel”, Mark 1-15

Jan 29th - 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Service and healing.
In today’s Gospel Jesus begins to teach. He speaks with authority and there is a presence of God’s power in His words. His divine authority is shown when He cast out the noisy unclean Spirit from the possessed man. Demon possession was an accepted fact in the New Testament. Whether I believe in personal demons or not, I am conscious of being pulled away from God, eg by being dishonest or envious.
The Psalm is an invitation to pray. We are invited to kneel and bend low to the God who made us. We are told to listen to His voice.... as Jesus told the possessed man to be quiet. “Be still in the presence of the Lord. The Holy One is here...”
Jesus from the beginning of His ministry revealed how the gift of power is to be expressed in healing, service, compassion and mercy.

Feb 5 (reflecting on the  First reading) - 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Lord is close to the broken hearten
Job gives a good description of a hopeless, broken-hearted person and at times we may feel rather like him. However, as Christians, we have something Job hadn’t got - a sure hope, and that hope is Jesus. In today’s Gospel we see His power to heal at work.
Sometimes it is no harm to find ourselves in a Job-like situation - it reminds us of our need for Someone greater than ourselves. We can know about Jesus, but it is much better to know Him personally. This way we can learn by experience that He can be trusted absolutely. It means that when we pray to Him in sickness or distress we know for sure that our prayer is always heard. Sometimes we may be blind to the answer because it is not what we think we need, but what we really need, that He answers.
Practically, there is something we can do with our suffering. Remembering what Jesus suffered for us and that we are part of His Body, we can use our suffering as a prayer and leave it in His hands. It may help someone in great need or maybe someone who has asked us to pray for them. As a result, that person may experience in a special way that “the Lord is close and can heal all our ills”.

Feb 12 - 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

"If you want to, you can cure me."
The leper came to Jesus, fell to his knees and pleaded for a cure. His words were almost suggestive of a challenge to the compassion of Jesus but confident of His power. Today's readings continue to present Jesus as a new prophet, a man of compassion, full of mercy, forgiveness, hope and renewal. The man suffering with leprosy did indeed risk his life, in order to be cured. What great faith, courage, determination and humility were shown by him? In a sense he is the model of someone seeking reconciliation. The highpoint of our readings is the compassion of Jesus. The challenge he poses to each one of us is to be imitators of His love and forgiving spirit in our relationship with each other. May our encounter with Christ today bring healing and peace to our lives.
Whatever you do…do it for the Glory of God? (1Cor 10:31)

Feb 19th - 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 Who can forgive sin? 
Jesus forgives the paralytic his sins - and the trouble starts!  The scribes, with a “front seat” view of all that had happened, questioned what Jesus had done.  Who does He think He is? - only God can forgive sins.  Many people agree with this but do we, too, believe in a God who doesn’t want anyone else to forgive?
For Jesus, forgiveness is the shared duty of  all who would follow  Him.  He wants us to imitate God’s  forgiving of sin and not to let ourselves off the hook about forgiving those who sin against us.  When we pray to our Father don’t we ask for forgiveness as we forgive?
Forgiveness is the deepest healing anyone can experience.  We know how we can remain “paralysed” in spirit when we live without forgiveness.  And we know that our unwillingness to forgive others can keep them imprisoned and chained.  So the problem is not God’s forgiveness but ours.  God is an outstanding “forgiver” and Jesus wants to involve us in the same work of forgiving those who sin against us.  This is what Jesus shows us in His person and in His ministry.
Do we put limits on what God expects us to do?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

 John 1:35-42

As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, 'Look, there is the lamb of God.' Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, 'What do you want?' They answered, 'Rabbi,' - which means Teacher - 'where do you live?' 'Come and see' he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, 'We have found the Messiah' - which means the Christ - and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas' - meaning Rock.

Who's image and likeness? 

Sometimes you can get into wonderful debate about religion. You don't have to be in the Church or the school for a hotly contested argument on the points of faith. I have found myself discussing the same in the most unusual of circumstances; the barbers is a great place for it; or even the gym! Where ever it takes place, there seems to be genuine interest on behalf of the parties involved to talk about faith - even if they profess to have little or none themselves. People like to talk to people of faith about faith. Maybe they are looking for some answers (maybe a fight?), who knows.

I had a little incident a few months ago in the parish. A couple were getting married and in the course of the preparation the question of the practice of the faith came up; put very bluntly, I asked 'do you go to Mass?' A deep discussion ensued. One of the parties told be out straight that they did not go to Mass, because they like to meet God in their own way, not in a way that is dictated to them. What way was that, I asked? Lighting a candle now and then and doing no wrong, was the reply. I asked was that enough, I was told I was bordering on being interfering. I replied, I'm a priest - that's my job!

It is not uncommon for people to describe themselves as religious or spiritual. A relationship with God for most adults is no more that a passive acknowledgement that 'there is something there'. For whatever reason many have not even a basic understanding of the what it means to be a Catholic, let alone what and why the Church teaches what it does. In days gone by when a 'cultural piety' existed it was not as necessary to ask the hard questions about what we believe. The faithful attended Mass and said the prayers and that was enough to make them very holy and good people. With fewer people attending Mass, that great mainstay is gone. The support of the community has dissipated and in its place a myriad of competing voices. God is up for grabs. If there is a God at all, some are happy to look for Him alone - on their terms.

John did not keep the disciples to himself. They saw Jesus and he told them to follow. The Lord was not content to answer their question "where do you live?" by giving them the address, he said "Come and see?" They came and spent time with Jesus, the rest of the day. Whatever they heard, or whatever they saw must have been very impressive, because Andrew the very next day was on the mission.
I find it interesting that he called Peter to come and see Jesus. He did not want to tell him about him, he wanted to introduce him, so that Peter could see for himself the Messiah.

From the very beginning of the Church apostles have been bringing people to Jesus. Andrew, John and Peter all went on to do great and wonderful things in Jesus' name. They worked great miracles, went on long and dangerous journeys. Andrew and Peter were to give their own lives for the faith. In all of this they pointed to Jesus. He was their reference and their message. No matter what they kept bringing people to Christ.

It is very easy to say, I will meet God in my own way- I will do it myself. If we do that we will inevitably be wrong. The image of God I will have will more likely be made the image and likeness of myself. God will vindicate all I do and say, hopefully he will smite my enemies for me - the thoughts of which gives some kind of wicked comfort. God is to be discovered not invented. We do not need to start from scratch, figuring out who God is and what we wants from us. It is already done. Jesus has revealed the face of the Father. In his Church - One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic - the Good News is preserved intact. Of course the history of our family the Church has it's darkness. Many have failed badly to reveal Christ as they should; despite all this the Church remains to point the way to the Father.

The Apostles saw Jesus, they met Him, they knew Him and loved Him. They have given us a complete and trustworthy faith to hold on to, so that in a world that changes the presence of God is real and alive. As we celebrate the Eucharist may we remember that we do not and should not feel as if we do it alone. By being part of the Church we will not stray and if we do the Shepherd, who's voice is known to the flock will bring us to green pasture.

(The large bell at St Peter's is called St. Andrew.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 8th - The Baptism of the Lord

In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, 'Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I ,have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.'

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.' (Mark 1: 7-11)

Root and Branch

Last week there was some pretty bad weather. Nothing, thankfully like the snow that afflicted us during Christmas 2010, but the weather was bad. The most significant aspect of this meteorological unpleasantness was the wind.  For about three days, heavy Atlantic wind and rain lashed the countryside. As the storm passed  a considerable amount of damage was done. What took most of the brunt of the gusts were trees. In parts of the country many roads were blocked of partially blocked by falling trees – thank God, no one was hurt.

I noticed something about trees during the storm. There are no leaves this time of the year.  It is very impressive the sound the wind makes when it blows through the naked branches of trees. Most of the trees could bend and resist the tempest, not falling to the ground. If the storm had come in June or July, when there was a think blanket of vegetation, the trees may not have fared so well. Nature, in its own way,  knows what it is doing when autumn becomes ‘the fall.’ The sails, as it were, were down.  Most of the trees that did tumble were old and rotten, or wrapped in ivy and weeds making them easy prey for the fury of winter.

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and in so doing we have a chance to reflect on our own baptism. Christmas has been celebrated, the Magi have presented their gifts, today God is revealed in a most spectacular way in Jesus. We all have a share in this glory, by the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism.  The trees I referred to, can possibly be used as a little reminder of what we are about when it comes to baptism.

In the waters of Baptism we sink deep into the very life of God. We are submerged into God’s eternal life. The Spirit is poured into our hearts and looking at Jesus we can also hear the voice of the Father. The roots are deep and strong. We are in God and God is in us. We are also rooted in the Church. We are baptized into the faith of the Church, so that even if we do not always understand what we are about, we have the support of the community, which is the Body of Christ. These are the roots that keep us firmly on the path of salvation, the roots that give us strength when the wind blows.

The second thing is the leaves. When a tree has leaves and there is violent wind there is every chance that just the right amount of force applied will bring it to the ground. When our lives are laden with sin, worries and anxieties, it is far more likely that we will fall. If my life is choked with regret and guilt,  how can I rejoice in the presence of God? Baptism washes sin away. It takes away the sins that obscures us from the light of God. We are free to choose what is right and what is wrong, we are no longer slaves to sin – we have an innate freedom as a child of the Most High. Of course, we have the capability to sin (and we do sin) but we also have the gift of freedom.

So what am I saying? A dead tree in winter is the perfect model of the Christian life?! Not exactly. Our call is to live to the very fullest, to bloom and grow, to reflect the beauty of our Creator. The fullness of that life will be revealed in the presence of the Trinity in Heaven. There we fear no wind or storm. As we journey though this world on our pilgrim journey, the weather is not always fair. Wind often buffets us left and right. There are so many decisions and choices we have to take. Rooted in the Church we have a safe dwelling where we can encounter God in the Word and the Sacraments. Trees in a wood will survive a storm better that it would out in a field by itself.

The faith we receive in Baptism as wonderful thing. God is our refuge and strength. Rooted in Christ, with our sins forgiven we can weather the storms until at last we can rejoice in the Eternal Springtide of the Father’s house.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

January 1st, Mary, Mother of God.

Happy New Year to one and all. This Sunday I would like to share a very powerful part of the Holy Father's Message for the World Day of Peace, addressed to young people:

Raising one’s eyes to God

Before the difficult challenge of walking the paths of justice and peace, we may be tempted to ask, in the words of the Psalmist: "I lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where shall come my help?" (Ps 121:1).

To all, and to young people in particular, I wish to say emphatically: "It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true … an unconditional return to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?"9 Love takes delight in truth, it is the force that enables us to make a commitment to truth, to justice, to peace, because it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13).

Dear young people, you are a precious gift for society. Do not yield to discouragement in the face of difficulties and do not abandon yourselves to false solutions which often seem the easiest way to overcome problems. Do not be afraid to make a commitment, to face hard work and sacrifice, to choose the paths that demand fidelity and constancy, humility and dedication. Be confident in your youth and its profound desires for happiness, truth, beauty and genuine love! Live fully this time in your life so rich and so full of enthusiasm.

Realize that you yourselves are an example and an inspiration to adults, even more so to the extent that you seek to overcome injustice and corruption and strive to build a better future. Be aware of your potential; never become self-centred but work for a brighter future for all. You are never alone. The Church has confidence in you, follows you, encourages you and wishes to offer you the most precious gift she has: the opportunity to raise your eyes to God, to encounter Jesus Christ, who is himself justice and peace.

All you men and women throughout the world, who take to heart the cause of peace: peace is not a blessing already attained, but rather a goal to which each and all of us must aspire. Let us look with greater hope to the future; let us encourage one another on our journey; let us work together to give our world a more humane and fraternal face; and let us feel a common responsibility towards present and future generations, especially in the task of training them to be people of peace and builders of peace. With these thoughts I offer my reflections and I appeal to everyone: let us pool our spiritual, moral and material resources for the great goal of "educating young people in justice and peace".

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Friday, December 23, 2011

Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

"This is the sign: a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes"

In the village of Tyrrellspass, Co Westmeath (Ireland) there is a statue. It was erected in 1970 by a committee formed to commemorate the struggle for Irish independence in the opening decades of the twentieth century. At the time there was much debate about the shape, style and size of the monument. Some wanted a war memorial of some sort, others a large Celtic cross or another symbol evocative of Ireland. The monument was to be worthy of the memory of all who died and at the same time one that would remind future generations of the difficult history of the nation. The result of the deliberations was quiet unique, quite special. It was decided that a sculpture was to be commissioned of three little children. They were to stand together, facing slightly to the east. A small inscription was placed near by which read "to the men and women of Westmeath and Offaly who fought for Irish freedom" and on an other plaque "so that future generations of Irishmen [and women] could be free". The children symbolised freedom, hope for the future and at the same time reminding all who look at the statute of the sacrifice made by the children of another generation.

Today [this night] we celebrate the birth of a Child. Not just any child but the Son of the Most High God, Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is 'God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, consubstantial with the Father'. We celebrate the birth of a little baby in Bethlehem, who was born not just to free future generations, but all. Christ's birth begins the final chapter of our true liberation, which comes to its completion in the Pascal mystery. Our Savior is a baby, our Savior is a child.

What difference does it make? All the difference in the world. What did He free us from, the world is as bad as it ever was? Why did he waste His time?

Jesus came, was born, suffered, died and rose again because He loved me! Amazing as it sounds, God became man because He Loved me! Just think, it happened for me!! And why? Because without Him I am a slave. Without Jesus I am not free, I am hemmed in by so much. His presence has made the difference, His life and death has given meaning to everything - to love, to life, to death. God has taken them all to Himself and has made them holy. Because God is there everything and everyone has value. Not only did he come in the flesh, He willing died on the Cross, taking to Himself all that binds us. This child was born, if you like, to die.

What did He free us from? I would say three things, there maybe more, but broadly speaking three things. Firstly, SIN. Sin is what makes us miserable, because when we sin we cut ourselves off from God and each other - and whether we like it or not, the place is full of it. But we are not slaves to sin, we can choose which way to go. Jesus gives us the freedom to see what is sin and the strength to avoid it.

The second thing is fear. We sin. We make mistakes and we have regrets, some which can be carried for a life time. Fear of our past, fear for the future, fear for our loved ones. Without Christ fear would be irresistible. Jesus' love casts out fear, because we are not alone in the darkness of this world. "Even if I should walk in the the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear, for you are there with your crook and your staff with these you give me comfort." Christ has brought the reign of fear to a close. Just like your mother or father turning on a light on a dark and stormy night Jesus very presence gives us light and comfort. I am not afraid of my self, my mistakes, my weakness, because Jesus is with me.

The third thing He frees us from is death. His Sacrifice has brought life in abundance. I know many in our parishes have experienced bereavement in the last year. Christmas can bring the pain of loss into very sharp focus. Our loved ones are not with us to celebrate as we always did, and we miss them. The little Baby, frees us from death. His life has stolen death of its sting. We often think about this at Easter, but in these days, it is as important. We will see our loved ones again. As the Church on earth celebrates Christmas, the Church in Heaven also rejoices. The Church in Purgatory looks longingly towards the end of that journey knowing much better than we do that the 'promises of the Lord have been fulfilled'. Jesus is life in all its fullness and gives it to us today.

The statue of the children in Tyrrelspass was erected to remind children yet unborn of the price paid for freedom - that future generations of Irish people would be free. The Child of Bethlehem brings a greater freedom than the founders of the state could even imagine. This Christmas, let us stand tall, facing the East where the 'loving kindness of the heart of our God, who visits us like the dawn from on high'. Christmas reminds us of what Christ has done for us. 'Freed from fear and from the hands of our foes let us humbly rejoice....CHRISTUS NATUS EST PRO NOBIS.....Christ is born for us. Alleluia!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.' She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, 'Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.' Mary said to the angel, 'But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?' 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you' the angel answered 'and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God' 'I am the handmaid of the Lord,' said Mary 'let what you have said be done to me.' And the angel left her.

The Angel left her. 

We can get very excited this time of year about 'the meaning of Christmas', and even though liturgically it is not the Season of the Nativity yet, there is no avoiding the fact; it is Christmasy! At this time many Church people bemoan the fact the feast of the Lord's birth has been hijacked by the commercial word. At best the Christ has been reduced to the sideline, at worst Christmas has been reduced to a mid winter festival when we can eat, and be merry with no reflection on the mystery itself. I have a slightly different take on it. For me, it does not matter a bit what the 'world' celebrates. It does not bother me if the place is falling down with Christmas lights, that people go crazy buying gifts, putting themselves under awful pressure and hardship - for me, what we will celebrate in the coming days is the cause of great joy and happiness, it is impossible for the crassness and superficiality of much of what goes on to eclipse the 'true meaning of Christmas.' And it all starts in today's Gospel.

"The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary". What an event! The Annunciation (not to be confused with the Immaculate Conception, which lots of folks do) begins the Good News of Jesus Christ. Before He is even born, before He says a word in the human language The Word speaks to us. 'The Word was made flesh' and even before His birth 'we see His glory.

Mary is asked to be the mother of God and there is the remarkable dialogue with the Angel Gabriel. 'How can this come about?', says Mary. 'God will do it', says the Angel. 'I will do it' says Mary. And the Angel left her. The Angel left her! She had just agreed to be the Mother of God, to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Angel left her! Of all times in history when an angel should have stayed around the place, he is gone. Mary was left alone. But was she? The Power of the Most High had covered her with His shadow, and what happened: The Word was made flesh and lived among us. The Angel was gone; but already Christ was there. The Angel left her,  but even before he had vanished Mary's savior, Mary's Lord, Mary's God, Mary's Son was with her. "Blessed be the fruit of thy womb."

We can get very excited about the way the world celebrates Christmas. To me, its not worth a fight. As Christians we celebrate that God is with us. In a world that can be fearful and full of danger and anxiety, the Word was made flesh and lives among us. Let us pray for Mary's faith; the Angel seems to leave us alone, may we always trust that God is with us. The tree will go, the lights will be put way, the presents will be opened and forgotten; but the Word of God lasts forever. Come Lord Jesus.