PALM Sunday

Palm (Passion) Sunday

We have come to a crucial point in the season of Lent where hopefully our efforts at prayer, penance and almsgiving as well as the opportunity to purify ourselves through a humble confession have readied us to enter into the Passion, Death and resurrection of Christ. The ‘long’ Gospel of the Passion today does not include the resurrection, however so we stop short at Jesus being laid in the tomb. The reading today therefore serves as an overture to all we commemorate up to Good Friday.
In a sense the palms we bless and wave today symbolize us. The word PALM too can be an acronym for the four ways we commemorate Lent:

Prayer and Almsgiving, in a spirit of Love and Mortification.

There is a beautiful and fitting meditation from the Office of Readings this Sunday from St Andrew of Crete:

‘Let us run to accompany him as he hastens towards his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish…
‘So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him…
‘Let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’

The Solemnity of the Annunciation - March 25th

The solemnity of the Annunciation is a solemnity of the Lord. It is a joyful mystery. It is an astounding mystery that the Lord of the heavens, of the galaxies that we are learning more and more about through the Hubble telescope; that the Lord who created the almost incomprehensible vastness of space with galaxies, planets and stars without number, comets, black holes and the like, millions of light years away, should confine Himself as it were, into the tiny virginal womb of Mary of Nazareth at the precise moment of her ‘Yes’.
Rightly is this moment so celebrated in art (second only to the Crucifixion in popular art) in stained glass windows; in statues; in wonderful paintings attempting to capture this extraordinary moment in time when God became man; in music with the wonderful renditions of the Ave Maria. Rightly therefore does the Church encourage us to pray with devotion and fervour the Hail Mary, the Rosary and the Angelus.
We know now that in biological terms, the human embryo is the size of a dot. Jesus took on our humanity beginning His earthly life in His mother’s body without losing a trace of His divinity; yet He was miniscule at the moment of Mary’s consent to become His mother.
The more we advance in the science of astronomy on the one hand and of embryology on the other, the more astonished, humbled and gratified we ought to be as we commemorate this event.
Mary’s yes was unique and yet we feel in our hearts that she was a woman who always said Yes to God’s will. Whereas we often ask ‘; why’, she only asked ‘how’. ‘How can this come about? ‘Each day gives us a new opportunity to ask the same question, to renew our ‘Yes’ to wherever our vocation lies – to some, marriage, to others, priesthood or religious life, to all the baptised, holiness.
We celebrate this day the beginning of our salvation in Christ, and as we enter Holy Week let us continue our astonished journey to Calvary alongside Mary, the perfect disciple, who, as St Augustine put it, ‘conceived Him in her mind [in faith] before she conceived Him in her body’. Her ‘Yes’ took her to many dark places – in poverty, exile, flight, fear and impending sorrow, and finally, bereavement. It also brought her to praise God at the Visitation, to wonder at the birth of her Son and His finding in the temple and at Cana; it brought her to awe in God’s presence as the Holy Spirit came upon her again at Pentecost, and it brought her to the Assumption in heaven –where she lives happily ever after. Mary’s journey is ours too. Like her we are ‘now’ called to ‘ponder these things’ in our hearts, ‘to imitate what they contain and to obtain what they promise’. What better way than the recitation of the daily rosary, with the constant refrain of Mary’s ‘Yes’ at each Hail Mary as we are brought daily in our journey closer to its fulfilment in Christ ‘at the hour of our death’.
Pray for us O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promise of Christ.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent Year C

The woman caught in adultery
In a Catholic church in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, there is a stained-glass window depicting today’s Sunday Gospel of the woman caught in adultery. Inscribed in large lettering are the words ‘Go and sin no more’. The window was designed with a flap that opens out in the summer to cool the church. Visitors to the church might be shocked to see however that it alters the sentence – the opening of the flap window then renders the sentence (in the summer) ‘Go and sin more’!
We have a strange new culture of condemnation in this TV age. There has always been a tendency in our fallen state to enjoy a perverse sense of superiority and delicious satisfaction in passing judgment on others. None of us are completely immune from being thrillingly shocked and titillated by a juicy story of intrigue, gossip, conflict or infidelity. The coffee dock, the water cooler, the lunch break give us opportunities to share our sense of glee and shock at the foibles of others as well as the junk we have gleaned from the previous day’s or night’s TV shows. Tabloid media give us a daily diet of celebrity gossip in magazines and newspapers to feed our idle curiosity about the shenanigans of politicians, sports personalities and other celebrities. Daytime TV shows portray bickering dysfunctional families, roaring out beeped out expletives in courtroom scenes or carefully managed and edited live audiences all too eager to vent feelings of indignation and entertainment. Whole programmes are given over to paternity suits and DNA results to (dis)prove paternity. Meanwhile the alternately wise-cracking and deadly serious TV host stands or patrols somewhere in the middle of the studio, cue cards and microphone in hand, supposedly neutral and objective, creating a name for him or herself, while the names and lives of those under scrutiny are fodder for the ratings and are all-too quickly forgotten by the ad-break. All the while we sit in judgment on our sofas taking it all in, proclaiming the world has gone mad.
What a contrast to the Gospel – ‘let those who have not sinned throw the first stone’ ‘I do not condemn you’ and ‘Go and sin no more’. It is a passage worth reading often and keeping nearby next time we read of a court case, a marriage failure, an adulterous situation, a financial scandal. It is worth bearing in mind that we will be judged in the manner in which we judge. The scenarios we watch or hear about can lull us into a false sense of security that at least ‘we are not that bad’. Our often false sense of outrage may veil arrogance and self-deceit that we would or could not sin so badly.
The gospel today shows Jesus between the two extremes of moral indignation and moral permissiveness. He belongs to neither camp. The woman caught in adultery is a secret sinner whose sin is found out. It is likely that was set up, watched, preyed upon, her movements known, so that she could not but be caught. How well her sinning was ready for inspection and condemnation! Who and how many were watching? She was not alone in her sin but stood alone condemned.
This incident recorded in the Gospel of Luke once more illustrates Jesus’ mercy to the outcast, marginalized and condemned in a society of moral hypocrisy. It shows His tender mercy to the unfortunate nameless woman, whose sin is so common. And there is no sign of the man who sinned with her. One feels that Jesus once more is using the example of notoriety and reputation as the doorway to mercy in the community. Like Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, the tax collectors and sinners, all were people whose sins were well known. They were also commonly despised. Their reputation had preceded them.
The details of the story of Jesus’ writing in sand and ‘beginning with the eldest’ dropping the stones ring so true. Jesus neither condones the mob’s hastiness nor condemns the sinner. He says little but the words have echoed down the centuries: ‘let he who has not sinned cast the first stone’, and ‘go and sin no more’. We are the ones who must toss the stones, who cannot hide behind the veil of public opinion. We are the ones who must ultimately stand alone before Jesus some day.
It is a gospel that contrasts with Jesus’ condemnation before the angry stirred-up mob on Good Friday morning. There Jesus takes upon himself all the anger and guilt of the world – and forgives all.
May we now too go and sin no more, and experience this Lent the joy of God’s forgiveness.

The Solemnity of St Joseph March 19th

We have all heard the expression ‘if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans. ‘ [See also the movie’ Evan Almighty’!]

How many days are we just about coping? How many times, I wonder, do we go to bed at night truly satisfied that we accomplished everything we had set out to do that morning?

Often a day does not turn out as planned. There are upsets, unexpected twists, disappointments and adjustments which may be unforeseeable. It is good to have contingency plans, and to qualify our expectations according to what God might want for us. Sickness or a sudden visit to the hospital, an unexpected death of someone, a traffic jam or even bad weather shatters our schedules and our comfort. We know in our hearts that we cannot see ahead, that we cannot plan for every contingency or for everything that might put our plans astray and yet we live as if we are in total control. It is not that we begrudge others what is urgent but what is interesting is that we never cease to be surprised that things just won’t always go our way.

I wonder therefore about St Joseph and his plans. To me he is the saint for people who are struggling to cope with whatever life throws unexpectedly at them. What HAD Joseph planned for himself? If we imagine for a moment that he had thought that he would marry Mary, settle down with a trade and steady income; that if God blessed him that he would have children who he would raise up in the Jewish faith and who would follow him in the family profession; that he might be fortunate to live to see grandchildren; and that he would never have to travel very far except to Jerusalem; then we know with the benefit of hindsight that he would have been completely off the mark. Everything important in life - marriage, childbirth and home - took an unexpected turn. He had to cope with unique situations, never to be repeated and never to be experienced by any one else - ever.

He had to learn to cope with unforeseeable changes to his plans but he was prompted and guided in extreme situations of danger and crisis.

Therefore, maybe it is not so much what I set out to do that is of most interest to the Lord, but how I cope when things do not go according to my plans. It is not only in the faithfulness to the many little things that occupy me that interests Him but how I prioritize them and how promptly I can leave aside what I consider important so that I am ready and willing to turn to a more pressing immediate need of another. This does not mean that God is ‘playing games’ with us, but rather that He may be challenging us to see how much we realistically think we can accomplish by our own efforts alone.

Maybe God is not just calling me to fidelity in small things but sanctity is in how I handle crises that may be or not be of my own making. He may want me to see today how when things go wrong how I might be inclined to apportion blame and accept none; how I might give into rage and impatience; how I might blurt out something I may instantly regret (but may not be willing to acknowledge that I may be wrong or that I jumped to conclusions). Maybe humility and honesty is the way after all that God is calling me to live this day, and to greater trust and surrender to His will no matter how things turn out.

There are no recorded words of St Joseph – maybe he was a man of few words in reality, but we definitely are not! Maybe it is his silence rather than any words of wisdom that speaks volumes. His silence is his eloquence. May we follow his example in patience, understanding, and endurance. May he lead us to share in the constant company of Jesus and Mary which he had the privilege to enjoy in his earthly life because he silently, promptly and perseveringly obeyed what the Lord required of him at every given moment.

St Patrick's Day - the words of the man himself

The Confession of St. Patrick : extracts
1. I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many …had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.
2. And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.
12. I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.

[My mission was] to spread God’s name everywhere with confidence and without fear, in order to leave behind, after my death, foundations for my brethren and sons whom I baptised in the Lord in so many thousands.
15. And I was not worthy, nor was I such that the Lord should grant his humble servant this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favour in these people, a thing which in the time of my youth I neither hoped for nor imagined.

16. But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.

17. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.
19. And after three days we reached land, and for twenty-eight days journeyed through uninhabited country, and the food ran out and hunger overtook them; and one day the steersman began saying: ‘Why is it, Christian? You say your God is great and all-powerful; then why can you not pray for us? For we may perish of hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see another human being.’ In fact, I said to them, confidently: ‘Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds.’ And with God’s help this came to pass; and behold, a herd of swine appeared on the road before our eyes, and they slew many of them, and remained there for two nights, and the men were full of their meat and well restored, for many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half dead by the wayside. And after this they gave the utmost thanks to God, and I was esteemed in their eyes, and from that day they had food abundantly.
23. And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents [kinsfolk], and they welcomed
me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go anywhere else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.
38. I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon a after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: ‘To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, “Our fathers have inherited naught but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.”’ And again: ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth.’
41. So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ.
44. So I hope that I did as I ought, but I do not trust myself as long as I am in this mortal body, for he is strong who strives daily to turn me away from the faith and true holiness to which I aspire until the end of my life for Christ my Lord, but the hostile flesh is always dragging one down to death, that is, to unlawful attractions. And I know in part why I did not lead a perfect life like other believers, but I confess to my Lord and do not blush in his sight, because I am not lying; from the time when I came to know him in my youth, the love of God and fear of him increased in me, and right up until now, by God’s favour, I have kept the faith.
58. Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing.
61. Behold over and over again I would briefly set out the words of my confession. I testify in truthfulness and gladness of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the Gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty.
62. But I entreat those who believe in and fear God, whoever deigns to examine or receive this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that nobody shall ever ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing that I achieved or may have expounded that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it would have been the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.

Fourth Sunday Of Lent Year C

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year C
Today’s Gospel is that of the Prodigal Son. We are familiar with the story but it is worth another look.
I never thought to look up the meaning of prodigal’ until recently – it means wasteful, reckless, extravagant, uncontrolled, dissolute.
Many older people can identify with the father in the story anxiously awaiting the son’s return. There is strangely no mention of the mother in the story – not sure why, because it is mostly mothers who ask my prayers for children and grandchildren in trouble – with the law, with not going to Mass, with health worries, or that they are cohabiting with no intention to marry, and away from the sacraments and anxious and worried about their future. Where did it all go wrong, they ask me, having done their best to raise them in a Christian manner?
Some of us might be the older brother pointing the finger at other members of the family; we are jealous or resentful at favouritism or preferential treatment showed to a brother or sister. We resent their getting away with things more lightly than we would have - we got the wooden spoon or the back of a hairbrush or other ingenious uses of household items that our parents found to punish us with not intended by the manufacturers!! So there is something for everyone in the parable.
Some of us might identify with the black sheep of the family. The young man –being the younger was entitled to one third of the income. He was a young man who found himself with 'a fat wallet in a big city 'and false friends who abandoned him when the money ran out.
Some of us we have lived this story. We can identify ourselves with that foolish, reckless young fellow. But over time our rebellion and youthful pride turned into disillusionment, and we grew up. We saw through our own foolishness, and when we were let down by others we placed our trust in we were left with the only ones who would take us in and we made the journey home. We learned a painful, life-changing lesson that haunts us or woke us up to reality, but also to forgiveness from God and family.
Some of us have to make the journey more than once. Maybe we re-live it in our own lives through the continuous need to break free from the shackles of some addiction or compulsive behaviour that we are trying to wrench ourselves from – we are trapped by our own appetites and compulsive desires. [We may not venture as far away from the Father as before but we are still willing to venture away.] We have wounded others and the repair job is difficult; we are prone to temptations and give in to them easily. It may be hatred, our temper, anger, gossip, pride, lustful tendencies or actions, addiction to pornography (as highlighted in the paper yesterday as the chief growing cause of marital breakdown), over-eating or drinking to excess, laziness, envy and resentment. We are filled with loathing for our sins and for ourselves for falling continuously and readily more than once. Filled with pride and presumption that we are safe and immune from sin we fall again in a seemingly endless cycle. We scarcely hope that freedom is possible.
So whether you have had one major dramatic awakening in your life or are plagued by constant repetition  and the need of repentance of the same sin this parable tells us that you and I may dare to hope in receiving God’s forgiveness yet again. Our God is a God of joy and just as there is rejoicing in the young man’s return so God rejoices in ours.
Four words – forwards
I read of a young girl who in her college years fell away from going to Mass and personal prayer, who got involved in a relationship, became pregnant and had an abortion. Years of terrible unhappiness and self-destructive behaviour followed, until one day she was flicking channels on her TV when she heard a preacher say 4 words that changed her outlook and helped her on her journey home. Maybe these four words are words we need to hear today. Maybe our story is not as dramatic as the prodigal son or the girl I mentioned. But this Lent may we avail of the opportunity like them to confess our sins.
What are these 4 words that you and I both need and which sum up today’s Gospel? :
‘God wants you back’.
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