Homilies

21st Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

All religions seem to demand/require/suggest a certain approach to God.

All religions try and figure out what God is like and from their conclusions tell us what God wants from us – how God wants us to treat Him. This approach colours our liturgical practices and official prayer life.

This is why different religions honour God and pray to God in many differing ways.

For example St. Patrick’s Missionary Society decided at the beginning to follow the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola (St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, invented/instituted this approach).

This approach to God suited some but not many.

The problem I find with all of the above is its presumption that, irrespective of who I am, it requires me to approach and treat God in a certain way. I can see the value of this approach as a starter, but having started (after a number of years) I should allow the Spirit of God to lead me in my relationship with My God.

God is a Person. Religion is a relationship with this Person. Like all personal relationships it must grow, develop, change, mature.

Adhering closely to a certain form or practise of religion in our relationship with God can for some be good and very helpful depending on the character, makeup and needs of that person. For many it can impede ones personal relationship with ones God. One can lock oneself into a stylised and rigid form of worship which treats God as an object of worship. This can be far removed from a personal, warm, grateful, appreciative relationship with ones God.

For example take a learned Biography of Nelson Mandela written by someone who has read all that is written about him and interviewed people who knew him but has never actually met or spoke with him, and contrast with the personal understanding and memories of someone who knew him well, spoke regularly with him, was imprisoned with him for years.

In the former you know about the person (second hand knowledge) in the latter you actually know the person and have a personal relationship with him.

That is why some of our church leaders are obsessed with form, correct doctrine, unchanging formulas and closely regulated liturgy. For them God is an object to be worshipped with the correct words and actions but they have not met God personally. They know much about God but do not know God as a person. That is the big difference between Pope Francis and those who oppose him.

This highlights what I have mentioned to you over the years; the ongoing tension within our Church (and within all religions) between Law and Prophesy. Between going by the book and risking change. Between staying in the boat and stepping out onto the water.

God loves all his children unconditionally whether they stay safely in the boat or trust in God and venture out onto the waves. But if I want to really know my God I must hold his hand and to reach him I must walk on the water.

So the question for me personally is: “But what about you. Who do you say I am.”

 

 

20th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

The Four Gospels seem to differ slightly in their understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth was.

You will remember the questions Jesus asked his Apostles; ‘Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”

The answer to this question was hotly debated in the early church. It was only finally settled in 325 ad. at the Council of Nicaea where the Nicene Creed was produced, (which you all have on your mass cards.)

A side issue to this central question was how much did Jesus of Nazareth know and understand about himself and when did he know and understand it.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) seem to give us good grounds for thinking that Jesus grew in understanding of who he was and what his mission was as he grew physically and mentally – just like you and I.

On the other hand the Gospel of John seems to indicate that from the very beginning of his life Jesus of Nazareth fully understood who he was and what his mission was and exactly how it would unfold.

Today’s Gospel reading is a case in point.

If you hold that Jesus knew and understood everything from the very beginning, that he was sent to bring salvation to all mankind irrespective of ethnicity, then why refuse to help the Canaanite woman because she was not a Jew?

On the other hand if you hold that Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding through out his life, as we read in Luke “And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favour before God and man,” then we can see that this was what was happening in today’s reading. We see Jesus beginning to understand that God’s promises were not just for the Chosen People-the Jews-but for all peoples, Jews and Gentiles.

Now, the interplay between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in todays Gospel reading makes sense. It shows his growing understanding that faith is not the province of the Jews only but is found in, and belongs to, all peoples.

This question of the admission or exclusion of the Gentile races was a major problem for the first century of the Church’s existence. Peter and Paul had a big confrontation on the question which was the subject of the first general council of the Church.

It is interesting that it is the pleading of a suffering mother fearful for the welfare of her child and her obvious faith in God, that brings Jesus to his senses and a fuller understanding of his mission.

Last Tuesday was the feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady (Mary) into heaven.

Devotion to Mary is found from the earliest days of the church. I can only guess at the distress and grief of a mother witnessing the torture and slow execution of her child. I can only guess at the distress and grief of a mother receiving the dead body of her child in her arms and having to bury it far from home. No wonder we should, and do, cry out to Mary in our distress and grief.

 

19th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

Depending on your understanding of the Bible, today’s reading can be taken as a factual account of what actually happened or as a symbolic narrative or parable to give the Christians of that time courage in their trials and to strengthen their faith.

At the time of writing this narrative the Church (the boat) was being persecuted and Christians executed and scattered (buffeted by the waves and wind).

Despite their plight Jesus was with them (Jesus went out to them, walking on the water).

They were terrified and cried out in fear but Jesus said to them: ‘take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

The ambiguity of their faith is graphically demonstrated by the actions of Peter; brash overconfidence immediately followed by fear and doubt.

The message is clear: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt’.

For a generation now the boat (the Church) has been buffeted by the winds and the waves. Scandals have multiplied. Church leadership has been found wanting or totally lacking. Many have abandoned the Church. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen dramatically. Up to recently, efforts at rejuvenation have been confined to regression to the certainties of the past.

Today a new spirit is slowly filtering into the life of our church. A spirit of freedom, co-operation, mutual respect and appreciation of each others talents.

In the Old Testament we read, time and time again, how the Israelites (the chosen people) wandered from belief in the One True God and his teaching and how this was closely followed by defeat and disaster. These defeats and disasters were interpreted as punishments from God for their faithlessness.

We know that Our God does not punish us his children. It is we who, when we abandon faith in our God and wallow in selfishness, greed, exploitation, national and tribal interests, to the detriment of unity, generosity, mutual respect and sharing of the gifts Our God has given us, allow injustice and oppression to creep in and become the norm. It is this situation, which we ourselves bring about, that causes wars, economic disasters, financial collapse, deprivation and hunger.

Our Church’s troubles, recent and present, are the direct results of the very same causes which we (our Church) have brought upon ourselves. For too long our church has concentrated on control of the member, political influence and preserving the good name of the institution at all costs to the detriment of the total wellbeing of the members.

The buffeting of the winds and the waves which our church has and is experiencing are the direct result of our own waywardness.

But Jesus of Nazareth is calling out to us ‘take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

We must let Jesus climb back into our boat (into our church, into our parish, into our hearts). Only then will the wind die down and the calm of total trust in our God abide in our hearts, our parish and our church.

So now is a time of great opportunity for our church and our parish and for each one of us. We have learned, the hard way (the only way), that seeking influence, control, power and blind obedience are not God’s way. We have learned that power corrupts and our church is no exception. I must now cultivate an open and gentle heart, a receptive and welcoming parish and a church which is of service to all God’s children.

 

Transfiguration (18th Sunday of the Year) (A) 2017

I have read the gospel of the eighteenth Sunday rather than that of the Transfiguration because it seems to me to be so relevant to our situation today.

I think that we dodge the bullet when we say that the feeding of the five thousand is a prefiguration of the Eucharist where we are all fed spiritually with the Bread of Life.

To my mind Jesus sees the many people in front of him. He sees that they are physically hungry and thirsty. His disciples attitude mirrors my reaction and maybe yours; ‘Send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ It side steppes the questions as to whether food is available for buying and do they have the money to buy it.

Jesus simply tells them; ‘You give them something to eat.’

For me the message of today’s Gospel reading is that the example of Jesus and his disciples sharing the little they had with those nearest to them was the catalyst which prompted others to share what they had brought along with them with those who had forgotten to bring anything or had nothing to bring.

We are told, ‘They all ate and were satisfied.’

Surely our own experience is that when we get together and share there is not only enough to go around but some left over.

 

In the Gospel reading for the Feast of the Transfiguration a voice from the bright cloud (God the Father) tells us; ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’

 

The glaring need today; The obvious need which we are all dodging and sidestepping – what this generation will be condemned for by future generations – is our attitude towards and treatment of migrants and refugees be they political or economic. The shame of the years of slavery will be compared with what we are allowing to happen today.

Be totally sure that if Jesus of Nazareth were here today he would be found on the shore of the Mediterranean or Aegean sea rescuing migrants from the water or urging Governments to accept and care for refugees.

We are inclined to brand those brave and selfless enough to go to the help of refugees and migrants as partly responsible for encouraging the migrants. Even some of our political leaders suggest that they be left to drown to discourage others.

How unchristian can we be?

I console myself that I am doing my little bit while secretly aware that I could and should do much, much more.

We console ourselves as a Parish that we are doing our little bit while secretly aware that we could and should do much, much more.

I must listen to Jesus of Nazareth telling me, ‘You give them something to eat.’

And the voice of the Father telling me, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’

Do I want to lie on my death bed bitterly regretting how little I did to help my brothers and sisters in dire need?

 

17th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

Again today Jesus of Nazareth is trying to get across to me what the Kingdom of Heaven is. What it is like.

Imagine the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven as a very happily married couple who are comfortably well off with one child. They appreciate how blessed and lucky they are and want to share this blessedness and good fortune with others, both people and things. They adopt a child and another and another. They get a dog and a cat and maybe a canary.

They look after and share their good fortune with all these things. They love all these things and treat them as their own, as their family. They make provision in their will for all their family.

The kingdom of God always existed. Everything that ever existed, that exists now and that will exist in the future is part of the Kingdom of God. In other words the whole of creation belongs in the Kingdom of God.

This fact was not known and was not knowable to creation until evolution produced human beings who were sentient and self aware. Then God became a human being called Jesus of Nazareth who made us aware of the Kingdom of God. Who make us aware that we and the whole of creation were part of God’s family and were loved and cherished by God as such.

Our lives and the whole of creation were no longer encompassed by the words birth, life and death. Rather I should think of my existence as firstly; conception/creation. Secondly; physical, mental and spiritual growth and understanding. Thirdly; Glorification into the consciously visible, tactile and experiential reality of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven (which are one and the same thing) is mentioned 93 times in the New Testament.

I often think of death as the gateway into the Kingdom of God. This is not so. I already live in the Kingdom of God. What I call death is gaining the ability to see, hear, touch and experience, first hand, the Kingdom of God. My present body (a product of the evolutionary process) must be discarded and replaced with a glorified body. (To quote Jesus of Nazareth: ‘Truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’) Only then can I see, hear, touch and experience the reality in which I already live – the Kingdom of God.

Speaking in metaphor Jesus described the latter as follows; ‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? …. I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.’

What we call death is the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth to take me to his Father’s house.

And St. Paul tells us; ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’

The above may give me some degree of comfort, of acceptance, when my thoughts turn to death, as they inevitably do. As time passes, it may somewhat lessen my sense of loss and grief at the death of a loved one. We are all in, and part of, the Kingdom of God – those of us who already see and hear and those of us who are awaiting the opening of our eyes and ears.

 

16th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

Probably the most devastating trait of any religion is the urge to control, the urge to dominate, the urge to power.

This urge is almost ubiquitous in one way or another in human politics, in human societies, even in the human family.

 

Christianity is the antithesis of this.

‘For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

‘At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, Amen I say to you …… whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’

‘The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’

‘Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’

‘Jesus said, the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.’

Most, if not all religions, including ourselves, have conveniently forgotten this. We shower each other with titles and fancy costumes to denote our importance and our greatness. We seem incapable of freeing ourselves from our addiction to greatness and recognition.

Do we Christians ever think of this as a fault, as a sin? Surely this involves the first two of what used to be called the seven deadly sins – pride and covetousness!

When Jesus said ‘Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?’ surely this was one of the things he had in mind. Religions so often condemn sexual misdemeanours and totally ignore their own lust for power, control and influence.

Many of our clergy are antagonistic to the reforms which Pope Francis is trying to bring about. They fully realise that what he is trying to do will challenge their power, their dignity, their control – their greatness. He calls it clericalism and severely condemns it. Parish priests are certainly not immune to  the above.

All of us in St. Patrick’s parish must be aware of, and avoid, any desire to praise ourselves or our achievements. We must avoid trumpeting our praises to others. Self praise is always suspect. What Jesus said as regards almsgiving is also applicable here – ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing …… And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.’

 

15th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

My earliest memories of my dad are mind pictures of him immersed in his vegetable garden. These would be the second world war years. All his life he fed his family from his garden and any surplus went to neighbours and friends.

All his life he would come home from work and go directly to his garden. He wasn’t into flowers. Everything he grew was for the table.

Weeding was a continuous, unrelenting, task which was always part of my life. It was a never ending war. I learnt to munch cabbage, carrots, turnips and peas as I wed.

He died in February. The afternoon before he died suddenly of a heart attack he was out in his garden planning the programme for the spring planting.

I have no doubt that Joseph and Mary had a vegetable garden also and that the young Jesus was constantly pressed into the task of weeding etc.

So he knew what he was talking about when he told todays parable.

Planting and nurturing the seeds of faith; of belief in God; of gratitude to God our Creator, has always been and always will be a challenge, a puzzle, a conundrum.

My experience over the years is that one can give any given group of persons, who declare interest in joining the church, exactly the same teaching, exactly the same preparation, exactly the same process; Some will drop out during the process, some will drift away after reception into the church and some will continue as convinced and dedicated members.

This seems to be normal.

Jesus said to them. ‘It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. ……But there are some of you who do not believe. … For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father. As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.’

So the parable of planting the seed of God’s Word on all types of soil is the best way to describe the work of the catechist. What happens then is up to the Father and He is it keeping it close to his chest.

Why this is so? Your guess is as good as mine.

Our’s not to reason why, Our’s but to do and die.

 

14th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

We are always being urged to pray. The following are my ideas on prayer.

If I were to follow the regime of prayer which I was required to follow in the seminary and which was expected of me for the rest of my life as a priest I would spend four hours each day in prayer.

If I were living a monastic life where prayer was the only focus of my day then that is ok.

As a parish priest working with and among people it is totally unrealistic.

Naturally, I and most other secular priests, had to abandon many, if not all, of these spiritual exercises.

We were taught that there were spiritual things or activities and profane things or activities. (Here, profane means secular, not religious, not related to God.)

Anything which was not prayer in the strict understanding of the word (for example being on your knees in church or reciting the rosary or the psalms etc.) was profane.

Even preparing people for the Sacraments and administering them could be regarded as profane and draining on our spiritual resources.

This had, and still has, a profound effect on our relationship with our God.

To keep in contact with God one had to stop doing profane things and get on ones knees to top up ones spiritual batteries with ‘real’ prayer.

This way of thinking and acting was unrealistic for secular priests (that is Diocesan Priests) but far more so for lay people.

I would even say that it had, and still has disastrous consequences for our relationship with our God. We end up thinking that there are parts of our life which involve God and most of our daily life has nothing to do with God.

The truth is that God is involver in every aspect of our lives. The truth is that evertyhing we do and say and think can be as much a prayer and involve our God as when we are celebrating Mass or praying on our knees.

Gen. ‘God saw all he had made and indeed it was very good.’

Rom. ; ‘I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.’

It is my attitude or intention which makes something profane.

Nothing is objectively unclean. It is I who make something unclean.

I am not saying that I should not spend some time in traditional prayer. On the contrary I am saying that I can spend all my day in prayer with a little effort and forethought.

For most of us, life is an adventure of discovery. An adventure of discovery in the company of my marriage partner, my children and my grandchildren. Throughout the day my thoughts keep returning to them in one way or another, irrespective of how busy or preoccupied I am.

What I am trying to say is that if I can include my God in this family bundle; Then, I and my God worry about them. I and my God hope they are ok. I and my God look forward to meeting them in the evenings or after school or during supper together. I and my God getting them bedded down for the night. I and my God up and about to prepare breakfast and get them all off to school or to work. I and my God planning our family holiday together etc. etc. With a little effort and practise this togetherness with my God can easily extend to those I work with and meet casually during my day. In this way my whole day is a prayer. In this way my whole day or most of it is spent in the company of my God.

Formal prayer has its place in my life but only as part of my everyday life and work, which is my real prayer.

If I confine my contact with my God to the times of formal prayer then I will not be spending much time with my God.

 

13th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’

Here we are talking about ‘amoral familism.’ That is the extreme type of family bond which existed in Palestine and still exists, even today, in some cultures. For example ‘honour killing’ of a member of a family to preserve ‘the honour of the family.’ Willingness to do extreme hurt to any outsider who threatened the family in any way.

What Jesus of Nazareth is telling his disciples is that even if your family disapprove of your being a Christian or do not want you to live as a Christian, this must not deter you from following Jesus of Nazareth.

Situations like this are common today when only one member of a family is Christian or when a son or daughter might wish to enter the religious life.

‘Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink, amen, I say to you, they will surely not lose their reward.’

What about the ones who install and maintain a water supply for a whole town?

What about those who build and maintain roads and transport systems?

What about those who build and maintain property?

What about those who educate and guide our children?

Those who look after our mental and physical health?

The ones who keep our money safe and administer it wisely and honestly?

Those who keep the peace so that we can live safely in our homes?

Those who remove our rubbish and waste? Etc Etc.

In all these things it is the motivation and the dedication that matters.

I can give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person just to get rid of them or because I really want to help them, as a person; as a brother or sister.

I can repair a person’s car as fast as possible and as cheaply as possible just so that I get my money, or I can do it conscientiously and carefully so that the owner can travel safely and dependably.

In everything I do the personal element must be involved. What I am doing is for somebody, will help somebody, is important to somebody and that somebody is a very valuable, a very important person because he/she is a child of God and my brother or sister.

If one is looking after a home; washing, cleaning, ironing, cooking etc. getting the motivation right is much easier as it is for people you love and respect.

That is why Jesus did not just say ‘Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink, amen, I say to you, they will surely not lose their reward.’

What He said was; ‘whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, truly I tell you they will not lose their reward.’

Here understand ‘in the name of a disciple’ or ‘because they are a disciple,’ to mean, because they are God’s children and your brothers and sisters.

This is the motivation which can give the most repetitive and boring tasks meaning, at least some of the time.

This is what can sanctify the work I do. This is how I can ‘pray always without becoming weary,’ and fulfil St. Paul’s exhortation to ‘pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.’

My work; Everything I do and say can evolve into a prayer. In this way there will be no distinction, no separation, between work, prayer and leisure.

12th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus of Nazareth tells his Apostles that they are to proclaim his message openly and completely. The instructions he gave them privately as his closest group and the explanations he gave them on many occasions are not just for them but to be proclaimed to the whole world – ‘what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.’

They must not be afraid. Even if you are threatened with torture and even death because you are Christians – fear not. God, whom you serve, is more powerful that any and all who threaten you.

Trust in your God at all times and in all situations, for your total wellbeing is your God’s main concern. After all the sparrows are counted and cared for as are the hairs on your head (few or many as they may be!). I must not try to conceal my belief in God or what I believe to be right and wrong, especially in a world that ridicules morality and belief in God.