Sunday, January 30, 2022

4th Sunday Year C, (Gospel: Luke 4:21-30) Love conquers all

 

 




I heard a story about a priest who was going to stay for a weekend with his niece and her partner.  It was a little awkward because they were both into occult practice and he was a priest.  They also knew he knew they were into this.  But for the couple of days that he was with them he never once mentioned a word about it, or made any remarks or comments.  Instead he was just very loving towards them and showed great respect for them.  They were so moved by this that it actually brought about their conversion.

 

Frank Duff, the man who founded the Legion of Mary, had this saying: ‘Win an argument, lose a soul.’ Arguments don’t win people over; love does.

 

Today’s readings present us with two things.  First of all, the prophet, or the person who speaks the word of God, the message of God, is going to meet opposition.  While that applies especially to the one who has to preach it, it also applies to all of us who try to live it.  As you know it is ‘acceptable’ to be just about anything except Catholic at the moment.  We are in the minority now and the Lord is putting it to us to try and be faithful in the midst of so much opposition.  In the first reading God says to the prophet:

Brace yourself for action… Do not be dismayed in their presence… I will make you into a pillar of iron and a wall of bronze to confront all this land (Jer 1:17-18)

 

The Lord continues to say the same to us.  ‘Don’t be afraid because people are opposed to you, or to your way of life, or what you believe in. Instead, stand your ground.’ 

They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you—it is the Lord who speaks (Jer 1:19).

 




It is a big temptation for us to take what might seem like an easier option, or just to take the bits of our faith that suit us. After all, that can seem much more ‘reasonable’. This is 2022 after all. However, that is not what the Lord tells us to do. The Lord tells us to try and be faithful to his word, because that is the path that leads to life. That is the path that will bring us to fulfilment more than anything else. Following the way of his teachings is not easy, but it is completely worthwhile.

 

From the beginning of his preaching Jesus met continued opposition. In today’s Gospel we read how in a matter of minutes the people went from admiring the beautiful words that came out of his mouth, to trying to kill him. Another time when the apostles came and told him that everyone was looking for him because they wanted to hear him, he said, ‘Let us go elsewhere to the neighbouring towns.’ He knew what he had to do and whether he was popular or not, he just kept going about what the Father in heaven had sent him to do.

 

The Lord is telling us something through all this. He is calling us to be faithful. Yes we are in the minority and yes there is plenty of opposition, but it doesn’t matter. God has given us something extraordinary in his teaching and although we are free to take it or leave it we will never find anything else that could compare to his teaching. 

 

The second thing that we are presented with in today’s readings is the call to love. Nothing is as important as this. Love is patient, kind, gentle, tolerant. This is how we are called to live. We will say more to the people around us by the way we live than by any arguments we could make. In the beginning the Christians were a small group and people were very suspicious of them. But it was the witness of their lives that convinced others as to what they were about. People were amazed at how they loved each other and how they tried to live. The same holds for us.

 




Parents who have adult children who no longer practice their faith often ask me what is the best thing to do. I think the best thing is to love them, respect them and try not to judge them. They know what you believe, even if they don’t agree with it. Your fidelity to what you believe speaks to them more than you realize. If we continue to quietly practice our faith and love and be patient with the people around us, we will tell people about what we believe without saying a word. And if people mock you, sometimes family members, don’t be afraid to tell them that you respect what they do or don’t believe, and they should respect your faith too, whether they agree with it or not.

In one of his famous speeches, Martin Luther King said something very similar:

To our bitterest opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, we shall continue to love you… Throw us in jail, we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half-dead and we shall still love you. One day we will win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process. (Martin Luther King, Strength to Love)

 

The ‘secret’ to be able to live this way, is for us to root ourselves in God, because it is only through our relationship to God that we receive the ability to love those around us; to be tolerant with those who are different to us, or who directly oppose us. That is why we keep coming back to pray together, to listen to God’s word to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. In Jesus is our strength. If we try to live the way of Christianity by our own strength we will quickly fail. The Lord doesn’t expect us to live it by our own strength and neither should we. That is what Pentecost was all about. Jesus gave the Apostles the gift of his Spirit, so that they would have the strength to live their faith and to preach his word in the face of opposition. Our strength comes from staying close to him.

 

In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13)

 

 


Friday, January 21, 2022

3rd Sunday, Year C (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me

 



A few years ago a Dominican priest friend of mine told me the following story. He was based in Dublin, and because of renovations to their church, they were using a make-shift chapel at the time, which was a bit cramped. The chapel was jammed as they were celebrating the Easter Vigil and he said that the reader was reading the account of creation in Genesis in a rather posh accent. While he was reading this piece of Scripture a homeless man came up to the top of the chapel and sat down right underneath where the man was reading and listened to the reading. When he got to the part of the reading that says, ‘God saw all that He had made and indeed it was very good,’ the homeless man said out loud, ‘You’re havin’ me on!’ (You’ve got to be kiddin’). The reader continued to the next part and again when he got where it says ‘...and indeed it was very good’, again the homeless man said out loud ‘You’re having me on!’  While it might have seemed very ignorant of the man to interrupt the reading like this, what he was saying was that this might be what the scriptures say, but it certainly wasn’t his experience of the world.

How do we make sense of a reading like today’s Gospel which says that Jesus, the anointed one of God, came to bring ‘good news’ to the poor, to free prisoners, etc?  For many people, such as that homeless man and indeed many others too, their experience of the world is that it is a difficult place where often things don’t work out. Think of the families who are living in the middle of war at this time, or even those who are really struggling to survive in our own country, veterans on the streets. What could possibly be ‘good news’ for them?

The ‘good news’ that the Son of God came to tell us is that there is a purpose to our lives. We are here for a reason. Our lives are not meaningless and the meaning of our lives does not depend on how ‘successful,’ or otherwise, things seem to be for us in this world. How well we do on the outside is not really that important. What is primary is what happens inside us, in the heart. God has created us to love and to serve and to blossom as people. Hopefully we will also do well on the outside and be able to provide for our loved ones and enjoy this life too, but whether or not everything works out well for us is really secondary. The only thing that really matters is that we realise what the purpose of our life is about—to love God and the people around us. This is something that everyone can do, no matter what their circumstances.





I used to visit a man in prison over two years, while I was studying to be a priest. He was in for a very serious crime and he was doing a life sentence. As far as I know he is still in prison. Having got to know him, I also realised that he was basically a very good man himself. The crime he committed, which was a murder, was one of these bizarre things that happened, where 30 seconds either way and he would never have met the person he killed. He was provoked, there was a fight and he ended up killing the other person. Now his life is apparently ruined and he will spend most of it in prison. Does this mean that his life is meaningless, or a total failure? Not necessarily so; it depends on what goes on inside him more than anything else, because that is what God sees and that is what God will judge him by. That is what God will judge all of us by: how we have loved. Whether we end up living on the street or being the president of some huge company, is really not that important. Of course we should try to make the most of the opportunities that we are given and strive to succeed and hopefully we will do well, but if we can see that the purpose of our lives is much deeper than just what we achieve on the outside, in the world’s eyes, then we will have an inner strength that will help us keep going, no matter what happens.

This ‘good news’ that Jesus mentions in the Gospel, is that we are loved, we are deliberately created by God, we are valued, that there is a purpose to our lives and because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, heaven also awaits us when our time on earth is complete. We are not just here by chance. God deliberately created us. God wants us here at this particular time in history, in the particular family that we are part of. If I cannot see this bigger picture then my life may appear to be meaningless, especially if things haven’t worked out the way I think they should have. But that is to limit my purpose to my own very limited way of seeing the world. If I try to see it with the eyes of faith, then I will see something quite different. To understand that is to give sight to the blind and freedom to those who are imprisoned. It’s not just prisons like ‘Mountjoy’ in Dublin where my friend was either, but the kind of prison of the mind that tells me that my life is a waste of time. No one’s life is a waste of time if we realise that God wants us here. Our job here is primarily to love and serve God and the people around us. The key for us is to see the bigger picture.

I heard a line from the series Downton Abbey, where one of the main characters, Lord Crawley, is talking to his son. His son has moved out on his own and is refusing to let his butler do his job. He feels that he doesn’t need a butler. But eventually his father says to him, ‘Everyone has a part to play and everyone must be allowed to play their part.’ The son realizes his mistake and begins to allow the butler do his job, so that he can fulfil his purpose too.




This is also what the second reading is talking about. All of us have a role to play and no one else can play that role. It may not seem terribly exciting, but it is the role that God has given us and therefore it is important. We will affect the people around us in a way that no one else can, because all of us bring our own unique gifts.

People often ask me how they will know what God wants them to do. If they have a specific role, or mission, how will they know what it is. If God has a specific mission for you, it will become obvious, but for most of us it is to blossom where we are planted. It may not seem to be a very exciting role, but it is the role that God has given us and it is important, because it is the role that God has given us.

If the Lord appeared to you and asked you if you would be willing to fulfil a particular mission for him, you would probably say, ‘of course.’ Then if He explained that the mission was to continue as you are, to love the people around you as best you can, and to continue to pray for them, would you say ‘no’? You may find yourself wondering why He would ask you to do something so mundane, but if this is what the Lord is asking you to do, then that is what He wants you to do and it is important, because no one else will do it in the way you can, because all of us are unique.

All of us have a part to play and all of us must be allowed to play our part.’

 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

2nd Sunday, Year C (Gospel: John 2: 1-11) The Lord delights in you

 



I remember one time in the seminary, during the Sunday mass, which was a public mass, the cantor started singing the Creed, instead of the Gloria. He would sing the first line by himself and then the choir would join in, so when He started singing the creed first, it threw everyone off and He had to start again. No big deal, except that He was embarrassed, but I remember him saying to me later, ‘Of all the good singing I did Here, the only thing people will remember is when I started the Creed instead of the Gloria’ and He was right!

 

Another time at a funeral at Epiphany Cathedral, we were using the social hall, as there was work going on in the cathedral. In the middle of the mass, when the sacristan came out with the incense, it was really burning with a huge amount of smoke. Needless to mention it set off the fire alarm and the fire alarm was not easily turned off. So we couldn’t continue until we got all the doors open, the smoke cleared and finally the alarm off. And then we could Hear the fire trucks approaching. Not what you want to happen at your loved one’s funeral, although the family saw the lighter side of it.

 

We don’t want important events in our life to be remembered for the wrong reason. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if at your wedding, or your daughter or son’s wedding, they ran out of alcohol? You would be so embarrassed and ashamed, publicly humiliated. You would not want your wedding to be remembered for that.

 



Jewish weddings at the time of Jesus went on for about a week, usually after harvest time, when people were freer to relax and lest concerned about things. It was also a village event. As you know, the worst thing happened and they ran out of wine, which would also have been the primary drink.

 

Mary notices and intercedes for them, making it known to Jesus. Jesus objects, because it is not his time. He doesn’t want to start his public ministry just yet, but at Her request He does. What is beautiful about Jesus’ intervention is the generosity with which He worked this miracle. Six jars that hold 20-30 gallons, would be about 1000 bottles of wine. Jesus doesn’t just fix the problem, but He does so with great generosity, more than you could ask for. This was deliberate, both for them and for us, to remind us that God doesn’t just want to give us the minimum, but the maximum. He wants our happiness. It also shows us that God is interested in the ordinary everyday things we do, not just the spiritual things.

 

In the first reading it says, ‘The Lord delights in you.’ Jesus delights in us, not just observes and tolerates us. I think many of us often feel inadequate before God and in one way we are. There is an infinite distance between our sinfulness and God’s holiness. It is understandable how we can see God as observing us and weighing whether we are good enough or not, but the word of God tells us something different. If you look at the many images of how God sees us in the Bible, they are all beautiful.

Even if a mother forget Her child, I will never forget you. I have carved you on the palms of my hand’ (Is 49:15-16). Another image is how a bride and groom see each other. The Song of Songs are poems about a couple in love and their passionate love for each other. Lovers only see the good in each other and that is how the Lord sees us.

 

If you think of how Jesus dealt with all the different people He met. He always loved them and showed compassion for them, many of whose lives were a total failure in the eyes of the world, but He does not see that. God sees the goodness in us.

 

God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but to save it’ (Jn 3:17).

 

The wedding at Cana is also a reminder of the importance of Mary’s role of intercession. In St. John’s Gospel, John spells this out. At the crucifixion he writes,

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said, “Woman, behold your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Son, behold your mother”. And from that moment on his disciple took Her into his home (Jn 19:26-27).

 

John the Apostle is considered the model disciple. In other words, He represents what we are called to be. So when Jesus said this, He was entrusting his mother to us and us to his mother. Our Lady has been given to us as our mother. She is the mother of God and the mother of all of us, who continually intercedes for us. What request of Mary would be refused by God? That is why we continually ask Mary to intercede for us before God and she does, because God has given her this role.

 



It is interesting that everywhere Our Lady has appeared on earth, she is always pointing us to Jesus. It is never about Her. She is always telling us to return to Jesus, to the mass, to confession, to prayer and fasting, reminding us that we cannot live without God. We are nothing without God and our life is meaningless without God. Just like at the wedding at Cana, she asked Jesus to Help the couple. It was not about her and it is the same today. We honor her because of the extraordinary role that God gave to Her. We do not worship her, because that would be idolatry, but we give her honor, just as Jesus did and we are called to imitate Jesus.

 

Finally, remember the words that Mary said to the servants, when she knew that Jesus was going to come to the aid of the couple: ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ Mary is saying the same to us today: ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ (Jn 2:5)


Monday, January 10, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord (Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)

 



Peter said to the people,In truth I see that God shows no partiality. Rather in every nation, whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.’ (Acts 10:34-35).

 

Cultural differences are interesting. What is acceptable to us, can be totally unacceptable in other cultures. When I was living in Rome, I learnt that in Italy the people will be very conscious of how much you drink as a priest. In a restaurant they will count every drink you have. In Ireland people don’t think about it and in fact will be quite tolerant, even if the priest has a drink problem. Complete opposites.

 

In the second reading today St. Peter says he realised how anyone can be acceptable to God if they do what is right. That might seem obvious enough to us, but it wasn’t obvious to them at that time. The Jewish people believed that they were specially chosen by God, which they were and that meant anyone else who was not Jewish was not so important to God. But then the Lord began to teach the Apostles that He was there for everyone, of every nationality and creed. It took them a while to come around to this way of thinking. In fact the first few times some Gentiles (non-Jews) received the gift of the Spirit, the Apostles were quite surprised. They hadn’t expected this. They didn’t think that Gentiles would be given the gift of the Spirit. God was helping them to gradually broaden their horizons. Everyone, of every nationality and creed was being called into God’s family. The Lord showed this to St. Peter through a vision (See Acts 10:9-16). Peter saw a vision of a great sheet being let down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals and birds. Then he heard a voice saying:

Now Peter, Kill and eat!” But Peter answered, “Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean.” Again, a second time, the voice spoke to him, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”. This was repeated three times and suddenly the container was drawn up to heaven again (Acts 10:13-16).

 




This vision helped Peter to understand that no-one was ‘unclean’ in God’s sight, if they tried to live the right way. The Lord was helping Peter to see a bigger picture, but as with most of us, this happens gradually. Everyone is called to be part of God’s family and all are welcome, however, that doesn’t mean that anything goes. There is a thinking today that everyone should be welcome in the Church and should be able to continue their life-style, whether it is in accordance with God’s teaching or not. That is not what we believe. The Apostles preached faith in Jesus Christ and repentance for sin. Jesus’ first words in his preaching were, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt 4:17). Christ died for our sins and we are called to be in relationship with him, but we are also called to repent of sinful ways of living, ways which are not in accord with God’s teaching. Our culture is demanding that we accept everyone’s lifestyle, regardless of whether it is sinful or not. That is not what Christ preached. Immoral sexual behaviour is not acceptable to God and the Apostles were very strong in their preaching about this. Listen to what St. Paul wrote:

Of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person (that is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God’ (Eph 5:5).

 

The acts of the flesh are obvious, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery, hatred and discord, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you as I did before, no one who practices such things will enter the kingdom of God’ (Gal 5:19-21).

 

That means that sexual sins are serious and we must repent of them ourselves and encourage others to do the same: homosexual sin, heterosexual sin, sexual sin outside of marriage (fornication), pornography and every other kind of impurity. All of these are offensive to God. ‘Oh, but we might offend people if we say anything.’ Is it better to warn people of the possibility of losing eternal life with God because of sin, or to be quiet in case we offend them? because that is what it comes down to. Jesus’ own words: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt &:21). You often hear people say, “I love God and I’m a good person.” That’s nice, but am I doing the will of the Father in heaven? because that’s what matters.

 

It is interesting that one of the things that attracted people to Christianity at the beginning, was their way of life, which didn’t allow every kind of immoral behaviour and sexual deviance, because the Christians understood that we have a higher calling from God, that shows us that our bodies are not meant for any kind of behaviour, but a life of purity, which recognizes the dignity that God has given us. The Roman Empire was morally bankrupt, very similar to our society today and as a result it destroyed itself. People were drawn to Christianity because they didn’t want to accept this way of life. Instinctively people knew this wasn’t right, because the Spirit teaches us what is right.

 

Fatima, Portugal


In 1917 Our Lady told the three children in Fatima that the current war, which was WWI, would soon end, but that if there wasn’t repentance a worse war would follow. It seems there wasn’t repentance and the Second World War followed. In WWI it is estimated that about 20 million people died. In WWII it is estimated that about 50 million people died, because there wasn’t repentance for sin. That is how serious sin is. People are inclined to say that God would never punish us, but that’s not what is in the Scriptures. Many times the world, or different places, became so sinful in their behaviour, that God wiped them out. It is God’s world, not ours. We are God’s creation, not our own and we are accountable for what we do.

 

Everyone struggles with sin. That is normal and God assures us of his forgiveness and mercy if we repent, so we should never be afraid of our own weaknesses and struggles. But to persist in a lifestyle that is contrary to God’s teaching and then expect God’s love and mercy is na├»ve and it is not what the word of God says. Everyone is welcome in the Church, but not everything goes. Our culture is demanding that we accept everyone and their lifestyle, even if it is immoral. That is not what the word of God teaches and we have to resist it and we will be despised for it and called bigots and small-minded, but it won’t be the first time.

 

After Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan a vision was seen of the Spirit coming down on him in the form of a dove. The Father in heaven was empowering him with the gift of the Spirit, to enable him to live the mission that the Father had given him, to teach the people about God and to offer himself for the sins of the world. The Spirit gave him the strength and wisdom He needed for this difficult mission. 

 

When we are baptised we receive God’s grace and the gift of the Spirit to enable us to live the Christian life. The path to God is not a way of life that we can easily live by our own strength. It is difficult, but that is why God gives us the gift of his Spirit to help us.

 




When we are baptised, we state what it is we believe and we commit ourselves to this way of faith. If you were baptised as a child, someone else will have spoken on your behalf, but they do this on condition that they will pass on the faith as we grow up, otherwise it would be hypocrisy. If someone comes for baptism as an adult, they must go through a time of learning about our faith, which we call the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). We have three people in this parish doing it this year and they will be fully accepted into the Church at Easter. Only when they understand it properly will they be baptised. At Baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and help us live the life that God calls us to. This is later strengthened through the gift of the Spirit at Confirmation, which is what Pentecost was. The Lord is aware that what He calls us to is not easy, but He also gives us all the help we need to live this way of life.

 

In truth I see that God shows no partiality. Rather in every nation, whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.’ (Acts 10:34-35).