Sunday, February 19, 2017

TAKING IT ON THE CHIN FOR CHRIST: a homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A, (Matthew 5:38–48)

The audio can be heard here.
I have a friend who, once, when he was in his late teens was attacked while on his way to a prayer meeting (very pious I know).  He met a guy he barely knew and when he said hello the other guy responded by trying to beat him up.  The other guy was older, bigger and a lot tougher and meaner than my friend and he got a few digs in before my friend retaliated (good job the other guy was drunk or he might have done my friend in).  My friend had an umbrella with him so he hit him with it.  It was one of those long umbrellas with a pointed metal end and he hit him with the pointy end, right in his ‘most vulnerable spot’.  If you come from where we come from you do not fight clean.  That got the other guy’s attention and he stopped hitting him.  Still my friend felt so guilty then that he helped the man home.   Self-defense is a natural response so it is hard for us to hear our Lord appear to reject it.   So this is one of those Gospel passages that bite hard and deep.  I always find it so.  
Last week we had ‘if your eye causes you to sin tear it out’ and this week we have an ‘eye for an eye’ but what do these sayings mean?  Well, ‘if your eye causes you to sin tear it out’ is a metaphor and it means be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than do evil, that is, commit a sin.  Likewise with ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ we have a metaphor.  Oh how that has been misinterpreted and misused over the centuries!  If you do not know what it really means it can also seem cruel and vengeful.  When one reads it in its original context it appears quite different.  In 1901 archaeologists discovered the Code of Hammurabi, written down 1,750 years before Christ, that’s nearly 4,000 years ago.  In that code the punishment for theft was the loss of a hand much as it is in the Muslim Sharia law.  You can imagine what happens to anyone who does more serious damage!  ‘An eye for an eye’ in that context represents a rejection of the kind of law that the code of Hammurabi and Sharia law stand for.  ‘An eye for an eye’ is not a law of vengeance but a law of moderation and justice; it means that the punishment should fit the crime.  It means that one ought not to seek more than what one has lost.
I heard a story many years ago about a fire in Chicago in the very building where one of the firemen lived.  The man’s little daughter was trapped on a window ledge and he had to urge her to jump and reassure her that he would catch her.  In the end he had to order her, yell at her to jump or she would die.   She jumped and he caught her.  Christ is inviting us to make a leap of faith too.  We are so attached to the things of this world that we fear that we will loose not just what we have but even who we are.  He is not only reassuring us He is demanding of us that we leap in faith to Him and that whatever we lose is far outweighed by what we will gain.  Only in the leap of faith that takes the Gospel seriously and applies it consistently can we really come to know how much He loves and cares for us.
Every era has its difficulties and trials.  At the time of our Lord Israel was under Roman control.  The Roman legionaries could force locals to carry their packs for them and it would have been quite challenging for them to hear that if any of them were forced to do so they should go the extra mile.  Why go this extra mile? For love of the other, concern for their soul and their salvation.  If we truly love another we will lay down our lives in service of them.  We will not be concerned how others serve and look after us but how we look after and serve them.
As with last Sunday’s Gospel passage, the Lord wants us to go beyond the demands of the objective moral order, of justice and right and wrong, to the realm of genuine love, love understood as self-gift and self-sacrifice.  He wants us to make a leap of faith in Him and to trust in His Providence.  The Lord wants us to go beyond worldly moderation and the concern for justice and restitution into the realm of heroism and nonviolence.  He wants us not only to forego vengeance and retaliation but at times to forego even self-defense.  We are to stand our ground and take the licks that come our way and give freely from what we have, especially to those who are in need.
  Why?  Because we are living our life with one foot already in the Kingdom of God.  There is a scene in World War II drama Band of Brothers.  A young paratrooper is sitting in his foxhole terrified.  A lieutenant comes to him and explains that the reason he is afraid is that he still has hope, he still believes he can survive.  It is only when he accepts that he is already dead that paradoxically he can function and perhaps live.  We too must see ourselves as already dead!  But we are the dead who have hope in Christ.  We can bring nothing with us when we die and even our existence will be forgotten within a generation or two.  How many of us can name our great or great-great grandparents?  Once we understand that all we have here is temporary and that our real, lasting home is in Heaven then we can face up to our mission: to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God by our words and deeds.  We are to have our treasure with Him not with this world.  We are to model ourselves on Him as He is the perfect image of His Father.  If we are truly His disciples then we realize that the only real enemies we have and should fear are our sins. 

This mission demands self-sacrifice.  Self-sacrifice can mean difficult discussions with loved ones and time spent learning about the faith.  Sacrifice can mean time given to listening to others, or given in care for others.  Sacrifice can mean losing friends, relatives or even employment.  Our faith can never be private.  It must always have a public dimension.  By our own power this is beyond us but by His power nothing is impossible.  We can be perfect, we can be holy as the Father is perfect and holy through our union with Christ.  Through Him, with Him and in Him we have all the resources we need to fulfill the Lord’s command, to turn the other cheek and  to walk the extra mile.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

THE VOCATION TO LOVE BINDS US: a homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (Matthew 5:17–37)

The audio for this homily is here.
Whoever tells you that the Gospel , the teaching of Christ, is all about being nice to others has never the actually read the New Testament.  Our Lord pulls no punches.  He sets a high standard and expects us to live up to it but He knows we are weak and that’s why He gave given us Himself to strengthen us through the Sacraments.  The standard remains and there’s a very good reason for it.
We know by reason that there is what philosophers call an ‘objective moral order’, a real, knowable, moral law which binds all sentient beings.  In other words, wherever one travels one can expect that people know it is wrong to take what belongs to another, to tell lies or to kill an innocent person.  These are the evidences for such a law and while revelation affirms its existence we do not need revelation to tell us it exists. 
But the knowledge of this moral order is not enough.  There is more.  Christ sent us Moses and the prophets of Israel to prepare the way for the definitive revelation that would come with His Incarnation.  Christ reveals to us that the fundamental human vocation is to love.  Unfortunately that last word is a problem.
I may have said this to you before: English is not a good language for expressing feelings or emotions, nor, more importantly, for talking about deeper concepts such as love.  English more or less applies this one term ‘love’ to a very wide variety of contexts and experiences.  I can say that I love beer, that I love my country, I love my relatives, I love my friends and that I also love God.  One word stretched so far is not very useful.  So we must be very careful about the use of that word ‘love.’ In the Gospel passage today the Lord is spelling out the real meaning of ‘love’.  Real love means giving oneself in service to another; it means treating everyone with respect however much we want to do otherwise and, above all, respecting God’s plan for us.  It also means admitting our sins and seeking to undo the harm we have done.
We must bite the bullet here.  The Lord, the true Lawgiver, now reveals to us that we must go beyond the morality of the Old Testament, beyond the demands of the objective moral order, to a deeper level.   We are called to love, to give ourselves in service of one another as a response to His love for us.  It is not natural for human beings to be in conflict.  Violence, aggression, selfishness are all monstrous distortions of what it is to be human.  Because of the Fall from grace every human being, bar Christ and His Mother, are subject to the drive to put themselves at the centre of everything and have everyone and everything orbit around themselves and subject solely to their will.  Now most of us unconscious of this, most of the time, otherwise we would be megalomaniacs.  Yet if you think about it what else is at the centre of all the moral evils in the world but human selfishness?
Christ has come to us as the remedy par excellence.  He offers us not just His helping hand but His very self as the source of our healing and the power to change, to allow, to acknowledge that God alone is at the centre of everything and only when we orbit around Him, only when we are centered on His will and plan can their be real peace and justice.  Only when we love as He loves are we truly loving.  On the Cross Christ revealed that love is total self-gift.  On the Cross He made visible His total self-gift to the Father and He offered that all-holy gift to the Father on our behalf.  As Christians, those who believe and are baptized into Christ, our vocation is to reveal to the world the true nature of love.  We are called to live love at its deepest meaning, to be people who give themselves in service of others.
That is, of course, a lot harder to say than to do.  It demands heroism and self-sacrifice.  Well, as soldiers of Christ, ask yourself, ‘what do soldiers do?’  What do they do if not sacrifice themselves for others?  To be a Christian is to be someone who suffers in order to love because God has shown His love for us in Christ.  The primary suffering we endure, common to us all, is that our fallen nature resists our efforts to love.  We say and do the very things that we condemn in others or that we would not say or do in the cold light of day.  This is the cross that we are called to carry.
It is because of this high vocation, this mission that comes from the Lord to each and every one of us that all the tough demands in today’s Gospel are addressed to us.  It means we must account not only for our actions but even for our thoughts.  We must not think or imagine anyone in a way that turns them into a thing or a means to an end.  We cannot actually do anything seriously wrong without in some way thinking or imagining it.  Accounting for our thoughts is the first step on loving as we ought. 
The Lord is calling us to heroism.  He wants us to trust that no matter how hard things may get He is always within us if we try to remain faithful and respond to His will.  He wants to discover that when we give ourselves in loving service of others we make more room for His Presence within us.  The more He dwells within us the greater will be our joy.  If you want that joy reach out in service of your neighbour, take Christ seriously and you will not lack for joy, for peace nor for eternal life. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

BECOMING SALT AND LIGHT FOR OTHERS: A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (Matthew 5:13–16)

You can listen to this homily here.
What very simple images, salt and light.  What does salt do?  It preserves by opposing corruption and it improves the flavour, makes it clearer, and besides our bodies need it.  Likewise what good is a lamp that does not illuminate?  It is no longer a lamp.  Salt that no longer functions as salt is useless and a broken lamp is thrown out. 
Our Lord then seems to take a different tack.  Elsewhere He tells us not to parade our good works and yet here He tells us that all the world should see them.  Is He not contradicting Himself?  Elsewhere He is addressing us as individuals but here is talking to us as the community of the Church.  As individuals we should not look to glorify ourselves or to seek salvation through our own efforts but as a community when we work together to do good we are proclaiming Him and the works that glorify Him ought to be out there where everyone can see.  For instance the Cork Penny Dinners is the work of many generous individuals and they deserve our gratitude but few could name or identify them.  The attention the Penny Dinners gets helps them do their work and gives others a chance to contribute but it does not bring fame and glory to those involved.  Their thanks will come from the Lord Himself!
When you were baptized you were immersed into Christ and when you were confirmed He gave you His Spirit to strengthen you for service.  Among the Eastern Christians Baptism is called Photismos , literally ‘Enlightenment’.  We have been enlightened and empowered by Christ to be His presence to others.  We are here in this world to be, to make a difference, not just any difference but a difference that draws others to know and love the Lord.  We are to be salt that fights corruption, preserving what is good and opposing what is evil.  We are here to be a light so that others can see their way to true health and wholeness.  We are here so that others can know right from wrong in a world clouded with confusion and deception.  We are to be light that illuminates others, that helps them see the truth, the true order of things.  Our faith can never be private or merely personal, it is a public thing by its very nature and demands that we enlighten those around us above all, but not only, by the good we do to others.  This light is not our light, it does not come from us or our nature but from the grace of the Lord working in us.
Receiving Holy Communion in the state of grace is the way to be empowered to truly love and be the bearers of His light to others.
St John of the Cross said that at the end we will be examined in love and it is this love that we are called to show to others.  When we love others because Christ loves us we are growing in that light, that love that is the very air and fragrance of Heaven. 
How do we know Christ loves us?  By prayer and reflection.  When I say prayer I do not mean saying prayers.  So many of us stop our spiritual development at a certain point never moving on beyond it.  Consider the farm labourer whom St John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, tells us about.  He noticed the man would spend hours in church praying so St John asked him how do you pray?  “Oh” said the man,” I just looks at Him and He just looks at me.”  This man had not stopped growing in prayer and achieved real depth in his relationship with the Lord, He had discovered that the Lord loved him and he loved the Lord in return.  The way we pray does not really matter, prayer varies from person.  Prayer should even vary not only with our age, our health and our gender but with the time of day!  The rosary is a powerful prayer when prayed as it ought to be but it is not suitable for every occasion.  There are many ways to pray.
Through Baptism and Confirmation we are united with Christ, one flesh, one Person with Him and when we pray not as a mere creature to our creator we pray in union with Him as Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of prayer is not to ask for things, still less to get God to change but that we might change.  Real prayer brings conversion and growth; it helps us to become salt and light in a world that is bland and stuck in the shadows of death.
We know that there is a landscape, literally nature as it has been shaped and sculpted by human beings, but there is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, an ‘inscape’ an interior world that we are also called to explore and shape.  So many of us leave it neglected and let it go to wilderness.  Then we wonder why we do things!  That interior world is infinite because it is filled with God.  Each and every one of us, because of our Baptism, is filled with God and prayer is an exploration of that Presence of God within us. 
How ought we to pray?  When the apostles saw Jesus praying they asked Him to teach them.  His answer was the ‘Our Father’.  It is the perfect example of a prayer: short and to the point.  Yet praying is more than prayers.  Praying means consciously being in the Presence of God, it is lifting our heart and mind up to God or rather placing them in His Presence.  Real prayer is time spent with God.  As St Teresa of Avila said “Prayer is time spent with Someone who loves me.”   She taught her sisters to use the ‘Our Father’.  She learned that from the Spanish Franciscans.  One of their greatest saints was once asked about how he prayed the Our Father.  He said he was still on the first two words.
Start small but aim big; start with fifteen minutes set aside for the Lord.  Keep your prayers short but try to lengthen the time, repeating the prayer, if possible in rhythm to your breathing.  What is most important are the moments of silence and stillness before the Lord.  Over time these will grow in number and length and out of them will flow joy and peace. 
Do not be upset if there are distractions.  Everyone gets distracted even at Mass.  Its what you do with those distractions.  Once we notice that we have wandered away from the Lord’s Presence then we return to that Presence even if we have to keep doing it again and again.  This is actually good for us.  If we notice our distraction and do not return to the Lord then we are deceiving ourselves.  We are like someone who claims they love another but then refuse to pay them any attention.  Love that ignores is not love.

You can pray anywhere and anytime but the better the quality of the place and time the more benefit you will get from it.  Remember to keep it simple.  Be like that French peasant: sit with the Lord, let Him look at you with love and love Him in return.  Then you will be salt and light indeed.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

RESPONDING TO GOD: THE BEATITUDES, A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A, (A4 Matthew 5:1–12a)

You can listen to this homliy here.
Our Lord went up a mountain.  Unless you know the stories of the Old Testament that may not seem all that significant but it God frequently chose mountainsides to talk to His people.  Moses went up Mount Sinai and came down with the Ten Commandments.   Our Lord goes up this mountain to reveal that He is the true Lawgiver who is God made man.  This new Law that He gives does not replace the old one but surpasses and completes it and it is to His disciples, those who would follow Him, that He reveals it.
On this mountain then our Lord sits down just as the Rabbis and teachers sat to teach.  He teaches them, and us, the beatitudes.  He is promising Divine blessing on those who follow this teaching and put it into practice.  These are not exemplars of individual forms of virtue but different steps on the one path to eternal life: the path of pursuing the Father’s will.
First He tells us that  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.   The poor in spirit are those who know their need of God and seek Him.  As He promises elsewhere they will find Him and His Kingdom.  We seek Him by prayer, uniting our heart and mind in focusing on God’s presence within us and around us.  In addition we seek Him by trying to live a virtuous life, a life without evil that seeks to do good.  Next we are told that “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”.   He does not mean just any mourning but those who mourn over their sins and the sins of others for the Mercy and Love of God made present in Christ and His Church will comfort and heal them.  The monks of the desert, the fathers of the religious life, cherished the beatitudes and therefore they cherished gift of tears.  Genuine weeping over one’s sins, they understood, brought greater and greater openness to God’s loving mercy and healing. 
Then we are told that “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land”.  The cynical like to say ‘yes after the rich and powerful are finished with it”.  But our Lord is not talking about this world or the land we stand on.  Rather He is talking about the new Earth and the new Heaven that will be revealed at the end of time.  The meek are those who follow God’s example and refrain from violence, force and aggression.  They are those who, like Christ, will not crush the bruised reed, but stand their ground, endure evil without doing evil, and put their trust in God’s faithfulness. 
We are then told that   “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”  True righteousness is being right with God.  If it is part of the path to mourn over one’s sins, another part is longing to be really, truly holy, that is right with God and one’s neighbour.  Real holiness should not be confused with piety (respect and reverence for the holy), which is good but differs from person to person.  Real holiness is unaware of itself and totally given over to the love of God and one’s neighbour.  That is why the saints flee those who admire them and seek out those in need of help.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” means what it says that when we extend to others the mercy we have received from God we make room in ourselves for even greater outpourings of His mercy.  We cannot get to Heaven by prayer alone.   It is not enough to make and act of faith in Jesus.  We must reach out to those around us, especially those who are in need.  Then there is this great promise that “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God”.   The Beatific vision, the sight of God as God in Heaven, is promised to those who have, through the previous steps, purified their hearts, so that the inner eye of their faith, and their own purified eyes can behold the infinite brilliance of God.   This too was cherished by the desert monks for they found that if one is faithful and allows God’s grace to purify one’s heart, one can see God even in this life.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” He tells us “for they will be called children of God.”  Those who are at peace with God want others to be at peace with Him, that is, reconciled to His will and His plan for us.  If we truly believe we cannot keep it to ourselves.  We cannot have a private faith, a faith that we practice only at home, like knitting.  Our faith must shape every aspect of our lives and we should care for the salvation of every person we meet.
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” means that we should not expect this path, this new Law to be easy.  Rather we should expect that it will be a struggle, that from within ourselves and from outside ourselves there will come opposition.  We are not creatures who like change.  We find our habits, good and bad, comforting.  Change is hard and demands persistence and patience.  Not everyone will like us to change.  If we change we will no longer be predictable or perhaps manageable.   Perseverance takes time.
The last beatitude, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” is really a summation of the others.  This way is difficult, our Lord is telling us, but His grace is greater still.  What we cannot do by our own power He can do through us if we cooperate with Him.  However small our contribution His grace can work miracles.  The reward that lies ahead of us completely outstrips the effort.  No pleasure, no compensation, no reward in this world can compare with the glory and joy that awaits those who hear His teaching and put it in to practice, persevering and not giving up however often they may fall.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

NOT HAUNTED BUT ALIVE: a homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A

I only found out about this because it was on the front page of a daily newspaper.  On a recent Late Late Show a guest referred to the Blessed Sacrament as  ‘haunted bread’ and the ‘ghost of a two thousand year old carpenter’.  There was a moment of hope when another guest did describe the Blessed Sacrament as “the Body of Christ” but then she went on to state that it scared her as it sounded like cannibalism.  It was also claimed that the Church does not want us to use critical thinking.  Considering that some of the world’s greatest thinkers were Catholic theologians and philosophers and that the Church founded many of the greatest universities of the Western world e.g. Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna, Salamanca, etc., one can only call such claims pernicious disinformation.  I spent eight years in Catholic colleges getting educated to be a priest and never was I discouraged from thinking critically.  Quite the opposite I was encouraged and thought how to think and to think critically. 
The whole conversation on the Late Late was jocular and irreverent and the priest in Kerry who complained was right to do so.  Such ignorance and disrespect are the by-products of poor teaching both at Mass and in our schools.   I don’t really understand why secular people are worried about the Church’s role in education, since for the last half century her failure in that area has lead to the decline in the Faith in Ireland.  Yet people must also take responsibility for their own ignorance.  Never before in the history of the world have we had such easy access to information even about our Faith.  If people do not know what the Church teaches on some matter it is because they have not bothered to go and find out.
Part of our problem is the practice of having children receive Holy Communion before Confirmation which has lead us to misunderstandings and a failure to appreciate what being Catholic means.  Another problem is that children today are told that Holy Communion is ‘Holy Bread’.  Children’s minds can make great leaps of the imagination and put their trust in the assurances of adults but they are often quite literal in their thinking.  To tell a child that the Blessed Sacrament is ‘Holy Bread’ is risking a fatal misunderstanding.  Apart from the failure of Catholic educators and schools there is the failure of parents to appropriate, understand and hand on their faith to their children – for too long have Irish Catholics assumed that they could live on a minimum diet as regards their faith.  The great English Cardinal Heenan in the 60’s pointed out that Irish Catholics were largely ignorant of their Faith and for too long have Catholic parents assumed that the schools would their do their job for them and do it better.
What do we believe though?  We believe that Christ instituted the Church and the Sacraments for our sanctification, our salvation.  In the Eucharist, the Mass, Christ, through the ministry of the priest, makes the bread and wine into His Body and His Blood so that He is truly present here with nothing lacking.  God is all self-gift and this is just as true in His Eucharistic Presence.  At the words of consecration, when the priest says “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” Christ, truly God and truly Man, is really and completely Present on the Altar.  Nothing visibly changes but it is only the outward appearances of bread and wine that remain.  In Holy Communion we receive Christ whole and entire, body and soul, humanity and Divinity,  - He gives us His whole self not as a ghost, not as an echo, not a ‘blessed’ or ‘holy bread’ but the Bread of Breads, God Himself, whole and entire.  This is not something that one can grasp other than by faith.  Only with the eyes of our faith can we see this reality.  The reality of His Presence does not depend on our faith but our faith depends on Him.
At every Mass, the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present and it is offered to the Father on our behalf.  On Calvary Christ made His eternal adoration of, worship of, perfect obedience to  and love for the Father visible through His suffering and death on the Cross.  He offered that eternal worship to the Father on our behalf.  Whatever is sincerely united to that Sacrifice, however small, takes on the infinite value of the Sacrifice of Christ.  So it is important that we bring our sacrifices, our cares and trials, indeed our whole being, to Mass with us and unite them with the bread and the wine, offering them to the Father with the Priest, the icon and minister of Christ.
We do not eat part of Christ in Holy Communion.  Think what receive means: to receive is to be the beneficiary of a gift but it can also mean to make welcome.  We, each of us, receive all of Him or rather He receives us, He makes us welcome in Himself.  Christ does not benefit from us since He is all-sufficient but He makes us welcome in Himself.  He has made us into Himself in Baptism and Confirmation and in Holy Communion He confirms that welcome with a taste of Heaven, a taste accessible not to the senses but to faith.  We can do this because in Baptism and Confirmation He has made us one with Himself.  As one of the early Church Fathers said “we receive what we will be”.   In Holy Communion we receive what we already are and what we are yet to be because we are already in union with Christ, but in Heaven we will have a complete and perfect union. So the idea of cannibalism is a gross misunderstanding – one cannot eat one’s true self.
Christ has not abandoned us.  His Resurrection and Ascension did not place Him at a distance from us but, because of His power working through the Sacraments, we now have a real, supernatural link uniting our nature with His in heaven.  It is said that we all have one foot in the grave but in truth all the Baptised have one foot in Heaven.  Out task is lift the other and plant it beside the first.  It is through our Communion with Christ that we receive the power, the grace to do this.  If you want to love more, to love better, draw close to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, receive Him in a proper manner, worship Him and attend to Him and He will give you all the graces you need and more.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

GOOD NEWS VERSUS FAKE NEWS: a homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A (John 1:29–34)

As per usual I have recorded the homily and you can hear it here.
            Unless you never look at the news or have been living in an enclosed monastery until today you will probably be sick to the back teeth of American politics at this stage.  Most disturbing is all the talk of ‘fake news’ as if we had any real way of checking how true the news is.  There are seven billion people living on the Earth today and with that many people lots of interesting things happen but the RTE main evening news only lasts half an hour including the weather forecast and the adverts.  All our news is filtered and all of it is filtered by a tiny group of people.  It is they who get to decide what we hear and see.  There has always been fake news since the devil tempted Adam and Eve and lied to them in the garden.  He has added to his lies over the millennia.  How are we to know the truth then?  Might I suggest that he is a credible witness who is prepared to die for the truth.

John the Forerunner, 25 x 20 cm, Maria Bonef, 2007

Is John the Baptist a credible witness?   Is his news worth listening to?  Would you listen to John if he were preaching today?  A man who wears camel skins and eats insects?  Why should we listen to him?  I say we listen to John because he put his money where his mouth was, he paid for his ministry with his life.  The extraordinary thing is that while the Church calls John a martyr he did not die for witnessing to Jesus, at least not explicitly, but for witnessing to the sacredness of marriage and the evil of fornication and adultery.  In this he affirmed what our Lord was teaching just as he affirmed who Jesus is.
John, as a good disciple and a good Jew, testifies to Jesus but although he was his cousin he did not know Him as God before Jesus came to him to be baptised.  It was at Christ’s baptism that Jesus’ true identity was revealed to John.  John, because of his fidelity, was given a vision of the Holy Trinity and therefore an insight into who Jesus is.  The baptism offered by John was not sacramental but merely symbolic of our need and desire for repentance and conversion of life.  Christ had no need of baptism but by submitting to John’s baptism, in an act of humility, He identifies Himself with all of us who do need to repent and to be saved.  The word ‘baptise’ means to immerse and so our Lord, by the act of submitting to baptism, immerses Himself in the waters of the world and thus sanctifies all water and lays the foundation for the Sacrament of Baptism by which we are immersed into Christ and into His death and resurrection.
Our Lord’s act of humility draws down the loving care of the Father who reveals to John that He sends the Holy Spirit upon our Lord as His Son or rather makes the eternal movement of the Spirit from the Father to the Son visible to John, and so affirm our Lord’s identity and mission.  It is into this eternal movement of love that we are baptized for what Christ is by nature we are given by His gift and we become Son to the Father.
To be Catholic, therefore, is to be the beneficiaries of this extraordinary gift and privilege.  We are given so much and so little is asked of us in return.  God the Father has given us His Son, has made us equal to the Son through baptism.  He created us for Him and even though we have fallen into sin He has not abandoned us but sent His Son to us, as one of us, fully human, to make in Himself a bridge that we might be united with Him forever.
We talk of the ‘love’ of God for us and what a pathetic expression that is for it cannot begin to do justice to what God has willed for us.  God has held nothing back from us in giving us His Son.  He has offered us what is most precious to Himself, He is really and truly made present in every Mass, is in every tabernacle in every Catholic church, and we can receive Him every day if we wish and are in a state of grace.  All this for free.  We can see God here under the veil of bread and wine, hidden to our sense but visible to our faith. 

Crucifixion by Ekaterina and Anton Daineko

God has held nothing back so why are we so cold, so lacking in charity?  I suggest it is because we hear and then we forget.  We do not protect the candle of our faith from the winds of disbelief.  We let the fake news of the world drown out the good news of what God has done for us.  How many hours have we given to radio and TV  listening to or watching rubbish and how many minutes to the Lord in prayer and reading?   How often are we late for Mass or arrive rushed and distracted with no time to slow down and focus on what we are about to do?  How often do we rush away from Mass, having received Christ in Holy Communion, with hardly a prayer of thanks?  St John Vianney, patron of priests, said that the most important moments of the day are those fifteen minutes after Holy Communion when we are as close to Christ as we will ever get in this world.  He said that if you want to become a saint give that time to Christ in thanksgiving and adoration!  Cherish and meditate on what God has done for you and you will be drawn ever closer to His Heart and you will know His loving care for you.
As Catholics we are called to be martyrs.  The word martyr means a ‘witness’.  Unlike in Islam one cannot be a witness, a martyr, by killing anyone.  The only way to be a Catholic martyr is to witness with one’s life to the truth of Christ, to stand up for the truth even if it costs one’s life.  All the saints are martyrs, but though not all of them had to die for Christ, all of them lived for and witnessed to Him.  They did so because they listened and believed, they paid attention to Him and discovered His Presence and His love. 

If we give time to Christ we will find the power to really love and forgive others, to walk the extra mile, to turn the other cheek perhaps even the courage and strength to die for Him.  In getting closer to Christ and what He has done for us we will discover the joy of the Lord and what it means to be truly alive.  We will taste Heaven in this live and gain it in the next.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

WHAT WE CELEBRATE: a homily for Christmas Day (John 1)

As usual you can hear the homily here
I remember one Christmas day as we were having breakfast my mother heard a child crying and when she went outside there was a young traveler boy just outside our front door.  He had hurt his ankle and could not walk.  It was bitterly cold and he had only a thin jacket and shorts on while on his feet were a pair of wellys.   My mother brought him in and sat him down at our table.  She took the boot off the injured foot and checked it for any injury.  Once she had made sure he was ok, that it was only a sprain and she had strapped it up, she gave him breakfast.  I wasn’t too happy having a traveler sit at our breakfast table but the memory has stayed with me and its lesson: charity comes first and one never turns away a human being in need.   It was also a lesson in the real meaning of what it is to be a Christian.

Do you ever ask yourself what is this day that we celebrate?  Do you ever wonder what is this day about?  Why do we decorate our houses, give gifts and eat so well?   It’s an old tradition that the wood of the Cross was made from the same tree as was his cradle.  There is a truth in that.  Christ is conceived, born and lives in the shadow of the Cross that He will suffer and die on.  It means that this day is about what God has done to keep us out of Hell.  We are celebrating that God the Father has sent the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity into the world to save us from eternal damnation through His death and resurrection.   Or least that is what one school of theology says anyway and they are right but it’s not the whole story.  Being intelligent and discerning persons you have chosen to worship in a Franciscan church and in Franciscan theology the answer to our questions about this day is much richer. 
You see, God made us for Himself.  The Son did not become man for us because we fell but He created us for Himself so that He could become one of us and unite us to Himself forever.  He did this because of His own goodness and love.  Whether we had fallen or not He would still have become human, still have become the man Jesus for us.  We are made for communion with God and it is through Christ that all creation has its existence.  It is through Him that even the angels are preserved from falling.  It is through Him that every good thing comes to us: every grace, every blessing and every joy.  That our first parents fell into sin merely gave Him another reason to become one of us and, to go further, to show us His love for the Father and for us by dying on the Cross.
God could’ve just forgiven us but that was not enough for Him.  The Son became fully human for us and was born of the Virgin Mary but that was not enough for Him.  He walked and lived amongst us but that was not enough for Him.  He suffered and died on the Cross for us but that was not enough for Him.  God the Father raised Him from the dead but that was not enough for Him.  He unites us to Himself in Baptism and Confirmation but that was not enough for Him.  He remains with us, really and truly Present, body and soul, humanity and divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament that we receive at Holy Communion but that was not enough for Him.  He cleanses us of our sins and sanctifies us through Confession but that was not enough for Him.  He has sanctified Marriage and made it holy, and given us the Priesthood so that we could have Him in the Sacraments but that was not enough for Him.  He even offers us bodily and spiritual healing in this world but that was not enough for Him.  He has invited us to take the narrow way of faith into the Kingdom and into Eternal Life with Him and only that, only that is enough for Him.  Only if we are with Him forever in Heaven will He be satisfied.  Our salvation was the primary objective of His suffering and death and His becoming truly human and being born is the beginning of that work.  Without His intervention, without His grace we cannot attain salvation and are destined for the horrors of eternal damnation, cut off from God and without hope, without blessing of any kind, lost forever.  Through His birth as man we are offered a lifeline, a chance to be truly and eternally happy and at peace.  This is what we celebrate and this is why we decorate our homes, why we give gifts and feast so well.  We celebrate the greatest gift ever given: God has given us Himself.

Since He is so good to us, since He loves us so much how then ought we to respond?  What thanks can one offer the One who saves you from eternal death?   He has given us the answer: to believe in Him, to love Him and to love our neighbour, to avoid evil and to do good.  These are the simple steps that mean we are following Christ.  These are the steps to holiness, to eternal life.
If we are not seeking to be holy then we are not really Catholic.  By holy I do not mean ‘pious’ or ‘devout’; those are good things but not necessarily signs of holiness.  Holiness is being right with God and our neighbour.  To be holy is to seek the will of God in everything and that is not hard to know – just do the duties of your state of life while seeking to avoid evil and do good, to avoid sin and maintain oneself in a state of grace.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The greatest gift we can offer the Lord on His birthday is to seek to do the will of His Father. 

We have been given an infinite gift in Christ.  Like all gifts it must be unwrapped.  If we really know Christ then we cannot keep Him to ourselves but must share Him with others above all in the way we behave.  We will want to share Him with everyone, even the traveler, the immigrant, or the homeless at our door.  So this Christmas day do your best to share the good news that God has become man for us by how you treat those around you: point your anger away from others, try to be patient, kind and generous, forgive others and share with them the mercy God has shown you.


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