Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Vigil, Year C (Gospel: Luke 24:1-12) ‘Where is your faith in the risen Christ?’

A few years ago a priest friend of mine was working in Rome.  At one stage he had a few minutes talking to Cardinal Ratzinger (Later Pope Benedict XVI).  Ratzinger asked him how things were in the Church in Ireland.  My friend John said, ‘Things are terrible.  The bishops are useless. All the young people have stopped going to mass.  It’s all over!’  Ratzinger said to him, ‘Father, that is not the talk of a Christian.  Where is your faith in the risen Christ?’  This completely took him aback and he knew that the cardinal was quite right.  When he recalled this story to me I could hear the power of that question in me as well: ‘Where is your faith in the risen Christ?’  If what we celebrate today is really true, that Jesus rose from the dead and conquered the power of sin and death, then what could we possibly fear?  Even if our Church seems to be in a mess—which it certainly does!—the power of Christ is greater than all of this and it is Christ who is among us and it is Christ who is guiding the Church, even if that is not always clear to us.  What is key is that we remain focused on Jesus who is Lord, and not on the mess, or on the human side of the Church.  Jesus the Son of God is the head of the Church.  The only reason the Church still exists is because this is so.

For the Easter Vigil we have several readings which recall the history of salvation.  We begin with one of the accounts of creation.  The two key points in this account are that it was God who created and what God created was good.  God’s creation is fundamentally good.  The fact that the human being was created last, is a biblical way of saying that this was the high-point of God’s creation.  We are God’s masterpiece, the greatest thing He created.  But then somewhere back along the way we rebelled and lost the harmony that was there.  Throughout history even though we continually strayed away from God, the Lord continually brought us back to himself.  He continued to show us that the path which leads us to fulfilment and happiness is the path that is leading towards him. 

When God rescues the people of Israel and leads them out of Egpyt and leads them across the Red Sea, they cannot go to the left or to the right.  They can only go straight on towards God, or back to the ones who enslaved them.  In the reading from Isaiah (55:1-11) we hear the words,
Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy.  Pay attention, come to me; listen and your soul will live.  With you I will make and everlasting covenant.’

In the reading from Baruch (3:9-15, 32-4:4) we hear the words:
Listen, Israel to commands that bring life: hear and learn what knowledge means.’  ‘Israel, blessed are we: what pleases God has been revealed to us.’ 

What pleases God is that we continue to walk in his way because that is the only way that will lead us to fulfilment.  It is so simple and yet we can so easily miss it.

In the New Testament reading from Romans (6:3-11) which we read after the Gloria, we are reminded that we now have a new life with God, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Since we are joined to Jesus through our baptism we now enjoy the new life He has won for us. What is his is also ours, if we accept it. How could something so enormous be given to us? Simply because that is the generosity of God. In blessing the Easter water and renewing our own vows of baptism we remind ourselves that we totally belong to God. What God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus is extraordinary, but what is even more extraordinary is that He has done all of this for us, so that we may have life in it's fullness. It is ours if we accept it.

So now going back to what Cardinal Ratzinger said to my friend: ‘Father, where is your faith in the risen Christ?’  I think God is saying the same thing to us today as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  Jesus is Lord and He is among us.  He is the one we focus on.  It is only in him we will find the fullness of life and if we remain focused on him then there is nothing for us to be afraid of.

 A happy and blessed Easter to everyone.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day (in Ireland, Gospel: Luke 5:1-11). Most countries 5th Sunday of Lent (Gospel: John 8:1-11)

I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people… (St. Patrick, Confessions, 1)

Today we celebrate our patron saint.  For many people it is simply ‘Irish’ day.  A day to be proud of being Irish, but from our point of view, it’s a day to celebrate what God has given to us.  It marks the day when Christianity was first brought to Ireland.  And in sixteen centuries the faith in this country has developed to a huge degree, even with penal times and serious persecutions.  So many men and women have been inspired to give their lives to God in the priesthood and religious life and in turn bring it to other countries.  And so many men and women have lived out their faith in ordinary lives, bearing witness to God by the way they live.  St. Patrick was the instrument God used to give us this great gift.

Why did Patrick come to us anyway?  Weren’t we doing OK on our own?’  Did we really need Christianity?  Hasn’t it brought many divisions?  The reason why Patrick came to us was very simple:  The Lord of heaven wanted to make himself known to us, and to know what He had done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God wanted us to share the joy of knowing him and to know what our life is about and why we were created. 

During his time here as a slave, through suffering and hardship, the Lord was helping Patrick to grow in the spirit.  According to his own writings, when he came here first he did not know the living God.  But somehow God made himself known to Patrick.  He says that he used to get up during the night to pray and no matter what the weather was like, he used to spend time praying each day.  God was inspiring him to do this, to come to know him better, so that later he would be strong enough in his faith to see him through his difficult mission to the Irish people.

Then when Patrick finally became free and returned to his own people he had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to them to teach them about God.  Here is how Patrick describes the dream in which he was called:
I saw in a vision of the night a man coming as it were from Ireland, whose name was Victoricus, with countless letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter, which ran: ‘The voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter aloud I thought I heard at that very moment the voice of those who lived beside the wood of Voclut: ‘We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk once more among us’. And I was greatly troubled in heart and could read no further. (Confessions, 23)

[God] came powerfully to my aid when I was being walked upon… for many were trying to stop this mission of mine; they were even talking among themselves behind my back, and asking: ‘Why is that fellow thrusting himself into danger among a hostile people who do not know God?’ (Confessions, 46)

Patrick says that his call to go to Ireland brought him great pain, because understandably he didn’t want to go back to where he had been imprisoned.  Can you imagine how difficult it would be to return to the very people who had enslaved you?  But he believed that God was asking him to do this, and this gave him the strength that he needed.  His faith meant enough to him that he wanted us to have it too.  But it wasn’t easy and he says that he met with great opposition:
Daily I expect to be slaughtered, or defrauded, or reduced to slavery or to any condition that time and surprise may bring.  But I fear none of these things because of the promise of Heaven, for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who rules everywhere. (Confessions, 55)

No one would have known Patrick when he came first and he had to start from scratch.    But he came here and he preached to the people and taught our ancestors about God, about Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, about Mary and the saints.  And his efforts paid off because he was prepared to give up everything so that we might be able to share in the same faith. The people must also have been ready to hear these words, or otherwise they wouldn’t have borne such fruit.  So it is thanks to him that we are here today praying to the same God, receiving the same Jesus in Holy Communion.  

Then in 1879 during a time of great suffering in Ireland, 30 people in Knock saw a vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God on the altar accompanied by Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the evangelist.  It was a silent apparition that lasted approximately one hour but the people understood that it was a message of encouragement not to give up and reassuring them that they were on the right track.  The vision showed them the Lamb of God on the altar, representing Jesus coming to us in the mass.  The people had suffered greatly to be faithful to the mass which was forbidden during penal times.

In recent years our faith has been greatly tested through scandals of various kinds.  Many people have fallen away and it is hard to blame them, but we persevere in our faith and if we want our children to have this faith too, then we will have to pass it on.  We do that primarily by the way we live, rather than by anything we say.  We may not feel that we are having much effect on the world around us, but if we do our best to live it, then we are planting seeds all the time and perhaps that is all that we are called to do.  There has been faith in this country for sixteen centuries, and please God we will have it for many more centuries as well.  So as we celebrate our patron saint, let us give thanks to God for the faith that He has given to our people and let us also pray for the grace to pass it on to those who come after us.  Happy St. Patrick’s day.
I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people… (Confessions, 1)
Check out this interesting website on St. Patrick:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

4th Sunday Lent Yr C (Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) The Prodigal Son

How do we talk about God?  It is extremely difficult for us, if not impossible, because God is completely beyond our understanding.  St. Thomas Aquinas was a great genius and wrote one of the greatest works of theology called the Summa Theologica.  Towards the end of his life he had a vision of God or heaven, and after that he stopped writing and he said ‘It’s all straw! We haven’t a clue!’  This is one of the reasons why Jesus spoke in parables, to try and give us some idea of what God is like.  Today’s parable of the Prodigal Son is a particularly beautiful one.

This story could also be called ‘The parable of the forgiving Father.’  We usually tend to focus on the rebellious son.  In asking for his share of the inheritance the younger son was basically wishing his father dead to his face.  He was saying, ‘I cannot wait for you to die, so give me my inheritance now.’ It was really the greatest insult he could give.  Having turned his back on his family and made a fool of himself, he eventually comes back in hard times to ask forgiveness.  Now the son is looking at all he has done wrong, all the sin, all the insults to his family and shame of it.  But the father looks right beyond the sin and just sees and loves his son.  He does not condemn him, he does not ask for an apology, he doesn’t do anything that you would expect him to do.  He just celebrates, and loves his child.  Maybe it should be called ‘The parable of the foolish Father’.

This teaches me something about God in a very practical way.  When I think of myself before God, I tend to do as the younger son did.  I usually think only of the sins I have committed and my failings rather than my strengths.  But from the parable I realise that God’s approach to me is very different.  God is not interested in my sin, or my weakness, or what I could have done better.  He is interested in me as a person, and He rejoices and delights in us, just as you would in a young child.  You don’t focus on what a small child has done wrong, you just see the child that you love.  God celebrates even more every time we come back to him, especially if we have drifted away from him. 

Then there is also the older brother.  In many ways I think most of us are probably more like the older brother than the younger.  We probably haven’t done anything too outrageous; we may even have been quite faithful to our duties all through our life.  But we may well despise those who have apparently walked away from God, and especially those who obviously do what is wrong.  It is easy for us to resent the fact that God loves them.  This is exactly what the Pharisees (who were the religious people of the time) were doing.  They said, ‘Why is this prophet hanging around with those people.  They are disgusting, they do everything wrong and they know it.’

However, through the parable Jesus is showing us that that is not how God sees things.  God does not act as we do.  It may be understandable from our point of view, but we are in no position to judge the heart of another person.  We can judge their actions as right or wrong, but we cannot judge their heart.  Only God knows what causes another person to act as they do.  This was what the older brother did.  He resented the Father’s forgiveness.  But the Father also loved him, forgave him and reached out to him. 

God is not interested in what we have done wrong.  His desire is just that we are reconciled to him so that we can enjoy all that He has done for us and all that He has created for us.  His design for us is that we find happiness.  This is the mercy of God that we trust in.  That is also why in the second reading the Apostles are at pains to point out that we have already been reconciled to God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  There is nothing we can do that God hasn’t already forgiven, so long as we turn to God and ask for that forgiveness.  That is why we talk about forgiveness and repentance so much, especially during Lent, because this is what God asks us to do. 

What we are appealing to you before God is: be reconciled to God.