Saturday, November 28, 2009

1st Sunday of Advent Year C - Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36 - Hope

[This homily is written in light of the recent 'Dublin Report' which exposed terrible corruption and cover-up of child abuse in the diocese of Dublin]

Well after all that we’ve heard in the last few days it is hard to know what to say, and in truth it is not easy to stand here before you during a time of such terrible shame and pain. However, I want to share a few thoughts with you which I believe are important.

As I was listening to the news on Thursday night I noticed at one stage the news caster Sharon Ní Bheoláin said to Joe Little, ‘so is there any hope at all for the Church...?’ I can’t remember exactly what he said in reply, but he began by saying, ‘well there is very little, but...’ When I heard this question and respone it struck me that the question they had just asked, and the response given were both very human. From a human point of view there is little or no hope. It seems to be the end of the Church as we know it. However, it also reminded me that the Church is not a human organisation, it is from God. If it were a human organisation it would have disappeared centuries ago. Our life-time is not the first one where the Church has been battered by scandals, and no doubt it won’t be the last either. To me the very fact that the Church is still here at all is the strongest indication that it is from God. What else could survive centuries of scandals, bad practice, etc? Another thing for sure is that I would not be a part of this Church, or continue to be a priest, if I believed that it was merely of human origin. At times like this I am tempted to quit, but then I am reminded that it is God I am trying to serve and it is the message of Jesus Christ that I am trying to pass on, and so why should I be afraid?

The more I continue to try and work as a priest, the more I am absolutely convinced of the power of God at work because there are far too many odds against us being able to survive, and yet we do. In spite of all the terrible things that have happened people continue to believe; men and women continue to dedicate their lives to God and people put up with all kinds of difficulties. Another thing that continues to amaze me is what in religious terms we call ‘grace’. In other words the power of God at work in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times. When all hope seems gone, doors open, things happen, people respond. That is the power of God and I have seen it enough to be convinced beyond doubt that God is working in and through this too.

The truth is that it is the mercy of God that allows all these scandals to come out, because God could not allow us to continue with all this poison under the surface. How could there be any fruit in the Church with all this sickness? So God is getting rid of the sickness and it is painful, but it is absolutely essential that it happens.

Recently I was in a place called Subiaco, which is a small town north of Rome, where St. Benedict lived for three years in a cave. When I visited the monastery there I saw a lovely quotation on the wall which read: ‘Why do you sit in the darkness seeking the light? But persevere, because the stars can only be seen when it is dark.’ As we begin Advent, which is a time of waiting and a time of hope, let us remember that perhaps it is necessary to go through this darkness to be able to find the light again properly. Let us remember too that it is God whom we believe in and God in whom we put our trust. And even though we will hear of scandals and other terrible things, God continues to work in and through his Church and that is what we must stay focused on .

The message of Jesus Christ is one of hope. ‘I am the Light of the world.’ That is the light that we focus on, not the messages of darkness, but the light that comes from God.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, (Gospel: John 18:33-37) The Priesthood

Perhaps one of the biggest and most disturbing changes that have taken place here in Ireland over the last few years, is the amount of violence that has crept into our society. Twenty years ago we all would have been shocked if someone was murdered. Now someone is murdered almost every day. This is very disturbing and it raises many questions: what has caused so much evil? Why has God allowed it? Have the powers of evil won over the power of God?

We are also used to watching on TV the battle between good and evil. It is a theme in so many films and shows. But it is always presented as a battle where either side may win. However, it would be a mistake to think of the powers of darkness and the power of God being equal, as though either side could win. There is absolutely no question of evil being able to win out over God, or even that it is an equal battle. All things are subject to God. That was one of the striking things about Jesus’ ministry. Every time he encountered people who were possessed, the spirits were terrified of Jesus, because they knew they were totally subject to him. I think it is important for us to remember that the One we believe in is Lord of all things, so there is nothing we need be afraid of when we give ourselves to him.

For whatever reason, God allows that good and evil exist side by side in the world, and Jesus spoke of this through various parables. Probably the most striking parable about this is the one where the weed is planted among the wheat by the enemy and the two grow up at the same time. When the servants ask the master if they should try and root out the weeds, he says ‘no, leave them for now, but they will be sorted out at the end’ (See Matthew 13:24-30). The Lord is telling us that this is how it is for now; we have to be prepared to live with a certain amount of evil in our midst. We do whatever we can to get rid of it, but there is a certain amount that we can do nothing about. This we have to leave in God’s hands.

One of the most extraordinary ways that Jesus continues to be present to us in the world is through the priesthood. For whatever reason, Jesus chose to use ordinary men to make him present in a particular way, and this is something that has baffled us ever since. As you know it is something that people continue to argue about, that it should be different, that there should be women priests, that we should be married, etc. I don’t have an answer to all these questions, and thankfully it is not up to me anyway. But I do firmly believe in the priesthood and that God continues to work through his priests in an extraordinary, though often misunderstood way. Through the priesthood the Lord gives us the Eucharist, which is the most extraordinary gift of all; the gift of himself. He also gives us the forgiveness of sins, the preaching of his word and many other gifts too.

Perhaps what is most bizarre of all, is that God uses ordinary people who are sinners, to be priests. Most of us priests are not geniuses, or saints, but ordinary people and weak people. You have heard me say this before, but one recurring theme in the Bible is that God deliberately chooses weak people to work through, to make it all the more obvious that it is the power of God at work. The priesthood is the same. When you think back through history, how many of the thousands of priests that we have had became saints, or stood out for their extraordinary work? Very few! But that does not mean that they failed, or that God made a mistake in choosing them. The power of God goes on working through us priests, in spite of our sinfulness and weakness. It is another indication that God does not need 'great' people, but people who are open to him and who love him. That is enough.

Soon we will hear of more scandals when the Dublin Report comes out. It is difficult to hear, and it causes great pain and a sense of betrayal, but this is the reality that we have at the moment. However, it does not mean that God does not continue to work through his priests, or that God has lost the battle over evil. The Lord Jesus will continue to be with us no matter what. All things are subject to him. All we have to remember is that the Lord knows what He is doing, even though so often it seems to make no sense to us. Remember that one out of twelve of the apostles betrayed Jesus. That is a very high percentage, but it didn’t stop Jesus from choosing all twelve of them and from using them. God knows what He is doing and that is what we must remember. What is important is that the Lord Jesus is the one we focus on. Scandals will come and go, saints will come and go: but the Lord God remains forever, and will be with us no matter what.

All beings, in heaven on earth and under the earth,
Shall bend the knee at the name of Jesus,
And every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

33rd Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 13:24-32) Christ will come again.

At this time of the year before Advent begins, the readings always focus on the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. We do this because it was one of the things that Jesus taught. Jesus taught that he would come again, and that when he does come it will be for a time of judgement. All people will be judged. We say in the creed, ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead’.

It can be tempting for us to discard what we don’t understand, especially if it sounds a little silly. The idea of Jesus appearing in glory and coming to judge the world may seem hard to swallow. However, it would be a great mistake on our part if we began to just take the parts of Jesus’ teaching that ‘make sense’ and leave the other ones. I think it would be more humble of us to say we accept all his teachings, but we don’t understand many of them. ‘I don’t understand but I believe.' That’s what faith is.

If the Lord is to come to judge the living and the dead, it implies two things. First, that there must be a heaven and a hell. Otherwise there would be no point in judging us if it were going to make no difference. Heaven is the total happiness that being in the presence of God will bring. This is something that we can not understand because we have no experience of it yet, but this will be the most complete happiness we could ever know. And this is what God has planned for us; it’s what He wants for us.

Then there is the total loss of God for those who reject him, and this is hell, the loss of everything that can bring happiness. Jesus has taught us that this is real, otherwise it would make no sense that we have free will, the power to accept or reject God.

The second thing that the Lord’s coming implies is that we must make an account of our lives to God. We will be held accountable for our actions. I often think that when we hear about so many of these tribunals which show the wholesale corruption that goes on, it can be very frustrating, because the people who get away with the most never seem to have to pay, either because they are powerful enough, or because of the legal system, they get off the hook. It’s wrong and it happens every day. But if a young fellow steals something from Dunnes Stores, you can be sure he’ll be brought to court and he’ll pay for it. However, even the rich and powerful must remember that their power and wealth won’t be with them when they die. They too will have to make an account of themselves to God. And nothing is hidden from God. I find this consoling, not because I wish evil on anyone, but because at least I know that in the end there will be justice.

Is this a reason for us to be afraid? Not unless we are deliberately trying to fool God. If we try to live as the Lord teaches us, then we have nothing to fear. If we just get on with the day to day tasks that we are presented with and try to be honest before God, then we have nothing to worry about. The fact is that we are all sinners, none of us ever get it exactly right, but God isn’t put off by this. The Lord sees the heart. God knows when we are doing our best and trying to live as best we can. He knows all the pressures that we’re under. He knows how difficult it is to try and survive in the world. The Lord looks at each of our hearts and judges us by what is in our heart.

It is important to remember too that God is infinitely merciful, and mercy is something which is not deserved. God’s justice and mercy go together. Think of all the times that we see people in the paper convicted of some terrible crime, and we say, ‘I hope he gets life,' or 'I hope they kill him…’ It’s just as well for our sake that God is more merciful with us than we are with each other, or none of us would stand a chance. This is another reason why we can never judge someone else, because we don’t know what’s in their heart. We can judge their actions as being right or wrong, but we cannot judge their heart. We never know what has influenced another person’s actions, or what pressures they are under. That’s why Jesus teaches us, ‘do not judge and you will not be judged’. Only God can judge, and only God will judge perfectly justly.

Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, and it is something that we can rejoice in when it happens, because we belong to him, we are his children.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

32nd Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 12:38-44) Don’t be afraid to give. God will not be outdone in generosity

Before I became a priest I studied marketing for two years. One thing we were taught was that in the past companies would try to find a ‘need’ that people had and then make a product to meet that need. As marketing began to develop they realised they could create a need in people’s minds and then offer the product for it. In other words they would convince people that they needed a particular product that they had never even heard of before. And then they would offer the product. It’s clever and it is very effective. No doubt half the things in my house are items that I have been convinced I need. But of course the irony is that most of the world lives without much of what I have and they do just fine.
There was an ad on the radio at one stage for fast food, which finished with the words: ‘too good to share’. ‘[Our food is] too good to share.’ Of course it’s just an advertisement to promote a company, but the underlying thinking is very much that of our world which says we should only look after ourselves, ‘because you’re worth it’! We can neglect others so long as we have enough. We can justify invading other countries in order to make ourselves financially more secure. We see it happening all the time. The Lord Jesus teaches us the exact opposite.
Mother Teresa was being asked about her work one time, and she said that their mother taught them that they should never eat anything which they weren’t prepared to share with someone else. She was brought up to be aware of the needs of others. Of course we should look after ourselves and our families, but we also have a responsibility to look after others, especially those who are less fortunate, or more vulnerable.
Confucius, who lived over two thousand years ago, taught that we should look after the poor with the same urgency we would give to someone if their house was on fire. That’s impressive.
In the readings today the Lord is not just talking about the need to give, but perhaps more importantly the need to trust in God, which enables us to be free to give. Jesus pointed out the poor woman who put the last of her money into the treasury, because she wasn’t afraid. She obviously had faith in God which gave her the freedom to do this. She believed God would look after her and that’s why Jesus pointed her out. It wasn’t a criticism of the others so much as giving her credit for her generosity because of her faith.  Her faith gave her the freedom to be able to do this.
In the first reading the prophet Elijah asks for food from a woman who has almost nothing left and is about to die. But he convinces her to trust in the word of God and because she does she is rewarded. God is never out-done in generosity. She believes and trusts in God and God then takes care of her through the prophet Elijah.
The Lord is inviting us to do the same, that is, above all to trust him that He is looking after us and will look after us. ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and then all these other things will be give you as well. Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask.’
God is very practical and knows exactly what we need and also what we are able for. God doesn’t ask us to do something we are not able for, but He is all the time getting us to push the boat out a little bit more. That’s what faith is all about. Trusting in God enables us to take steps that we might not take otherwise. We’re not just talking about material things here either. The Lord wants us to believe that He is looking after us, our families, those we love, those who are sick, those who have died. There is no aspect of our life which God is not interested in. No one is asking us to sell everything and live out on the street, that wouldn’t make any sense. But the Lord does say, ‘do not be afraid to give.’ God will never be outdone in generosity.