22nd Sunday of the Year


Today's readings are all about the importance of humility. Here is a prayer on humility I find challenging.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may, increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

This is a tricky prayer, isn’t it? It was composed by Cardinal Merry del Val who was secretary to Pope St Pius X in the early twentieth century. We read in 'Pope Bendeict XV, The Unknown Pope' by John F Pollard (Geoffrey Chapman, London, 2000) that the poor cardinal was given an opportunity to pray this again to himself after the conclave failed to elect him and elected the cardinal sitting next to him in the conclave (Cardinal Della Chiesa) as Pope Benedict XV instead of him to succeed Pope Pius X.

The hardest food to eat is humble pie!

This opposing virtue to pride is a tricky thing to grasp and possess. Humility comes from the Latin word ‘humus’ meaning earth. So we should be humble indeed as the ground we walk on, but we balk at the idea of people walking all over us! Humus (sorry, biology lesson alert) is an essential part of any fertile soil if anything is to grow. It consists of dead organic matter, and a dark soil is rich in it. Farmers and gardeners love to see it. So if we stretch the metaphor a bit, it provides fertile ground for the seed. And how often is the Kingdom of God compared to a seed?

Humility does not sit well with our modern culture that celebrates high achievement, success, getting ahead, winning, and the highest points for college. It applauds the elite. We don’t want to lose out. We want to be ‘up there in lights’ too. There seems to be, in the words of the Queen song, ‘no time for losers’.

Our humility however is a necessary requirement if the Kingdom of God is to grow within. The problem is that humility has all sorts of negative connotations that it is a word we shy away from and prefer modesty instead.Humility can be misunderstood as self-abnegation, self-abasement almost to the point of loss of identity. It seems to conjure up images of submission, slavery, loss of personality and even loss of one’s dignity. By this standard it frowns on self-confidence.

Humility is the recognition of the unvarnished truth about oneself. It is really about an accurate self-portrayal. I shy away from the phrase 'a healthy self-image' because really we are created in the likeness of God. We are not to ‘image’ ourselves!

It is at once the recognition of our strengths and our limitations. It is knowing our need for God’s grace and the duty to apply God-given talents.

There are plenty of people to place us in a box and put us down to discourage us, in order to make themselves appear the stronger and the better. God knows that we are good at doing it to others in case they should rise above their station. It is a peculiarly Irish inclination to scoff and to mock others in case they should succeed or get ahead! Our problem therefore is more often lack of self-confidence rather than an overflow of it.

Humility is not doing nothing. It does not excuse me from playing my part in building up God’s kingdom. But apart from knowing my role, I must more especially know my place! We must avoid excuses for doing nothing because others seem more skilled and qualified. We must avoid unfair comparisons with others that lead us to the conclusion that we are of less worth than others.

Humility is the key to God’s favour. There are plenty of Bible quotes to back this up:

Isaiah 5:21 -Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.
Proverbs11:2 - When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom

Micah6:8 -He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

God says that ‘I am drawn to the humble and contrite man who trembles at my word’, (Isaiah 66:2)

‘The Lord has looked upon his lowly handmaid…the Lord exalts the lowly’ (Mary’s Magnificat: Luke 1:52)

Humility is imitation of Christ himself: ‘Christ was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross’ (St Paul: Philippians 2:8).

I prefer the term ‘surrender’ – to conform my will to God’s. I must acknowledge the talents - be they 1 , 2 or 5, that He has given me, and not worry about who has less or more. I think that the Lord is hitting at the peculiar variation of pride which is vanity. We may desire more notice, attention, notoriety, fame, and being the centre of attention. We displace God from his throne and crown ourselves in the process. It may cut at the heart of my egoism that others gain more influence; I feel aggrieved perhaps that I may be losing out if I am competing for another’s attention or affection and fail to gain either, and lose out to another competitor. I must submit and accept humiliation in these situations, because God looks for a humble heart. People may be oblivious to our hurt pride but it is a painful and necessary lesson. We need to grow up.

If I have humility then I recognize that I am not the centre of the universe, and that life is not about me. I am prepared to acknowledge the achievements and good in others and I know that I am not and cannot be first in everything, the best at everything I do and am not the centre of attention. Most importantly I recognize and allow for what God wants to do in me and through me. All the glory belongs to Him.

To sum up, the Lord wants us to realise that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

Fatima Sermons


The three Rs
On our pilgrimage we have reflected on the importance of our baptism by renewing our baptismal promises; we have reflected on our Lady’s Assumption, which is our destiny too, ultimately; we have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and today we reflect on ‘vocation’.

I recently had the rare privilege of baptizing one of my nieces. Strange as it may sound, not only is she my niece, but in baptizing her she became my sister!
St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that baptism in Christ removes all ethnic, racial and social distinction – we are all one in Christ and equal in dignity. We become one family as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father and we become BASIC = Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

This sense of our unique value, dignity and worth is something we need to reflect on and a pilgrimage allows us time out to do so. We should allow no-one trample on our dignity. There are times when we are made feel worthless, undervalued and irrelevant. We may feel these things readily anyway, but others are quite willing to put us down there. We may struggle for a long time with confidence and self-esteem, but only in Christ can we begin to feel or experience either.

We need to remind ourselves that we are irreplaceable, unique individuals, are people of worth who are unconditionally loved by God. We have to tap into that well of love which is the Holy Spirit; and we tap into this great reservoir by prayer.

It is only when we have made this decisive step that something strange and unexpected happens, slowly but surely – we recognise that indeed we are all alike in this respect. If God has created me to know love Him and serve Him in this life then He has created others – indeed everyone to share in this common calling. Indeed I must therefore recognize this value dignity and worth of everyone around me (even if they are unaware of this fact for themselves).

We are in baptism all members of one body, mutually dependent on each other. No part of this Body is insignificant. To paraphrase Pope Benedict: ‘each of us is willed by God, each of us is loved by Him, each one of us is necessary.’

If you injure one part of your body through a cut, a bruise, a break, we often say ‘I injured myself’. Your ‘self’ has nothing to do with it, you could argue, but it is true! When a part of the body is injured, the rest of the body compensates and comes to the rescue of the body to help out. Indeed invisibly the immune system and circulatory system sends nutrients, chemical pain killers etc to the injury, and drains away the waste and dirt. So it is that the members of the Body of Christ bring healing and reparation (repair) in Christ.

This forms the basis of why Our Lady came to Fatima. She asked the children, and asked the world through them, to convert Russia, and world peace. She could have gone to Russia, but instead was sent by God when to another part of the Body of Christ – Portugal – to ask the children and us to convert Russia through our prayer, penance and personal reform. In this way, the Body of Christ is helped and repaired and healed.

One final point – we all share in a common mission, and in the Spirit have different gifts and callings. The disciples are sent from place to place to spread the Good News of the Kingdom; others through the generous support and hospitality support that one mission.

Maybe three ‘R’ words can help to sum up what I have been saying:
My we Rejoice in our dignity;
May we Recognise the dignity of others;
May we Respond to God’s will and call to build up His Body, the Church.



Christ with us on the way

The theme of our pilgrimage is Christ be beside me. This is not merely a wish, prayer or a desire; it is also a reality.

I remember teaching Leaving Cert boys about the heart, a topic they liked because they could carry out a dissection! Each year they would express their disappointment and their surprise that the heart was not a Valentine shape! But one boy remarked that ‘it is like there’s a piece missing!’

That comment has remained with me all these years. He was right; there is a piece missing. The human heart was made to love and to be loved. We are not filled or fulfilled until we have learned the meaning of love and that we are loved in return.
It is a great blessing to find a friend, a faithful person who we can confide in, trust, depend upon, who accepts us, who listens, is compassionate, someone who you can laugh or cry with.

We can rely on a friend, and they can rely on us. It is mutual. Friends spend time together, share fears, worries and anxieties, in an atmosphere of trust and loving concern.

It will be different for all of us: for those who are called to marriage, this friendship is exclusively spousal, for priests and religious it is friendship with Christ; for single people it is friendships. But often we make friends outside of immediate family.

Yet whatever friendship we have, is only a shadow (like the hymn) of the friendship Christ wants to share with us. That friendly relationship is called prayer, or a prayer-life.

We can go further. Sometimes we need to listen and reflect on what a friend may be advising us. There may be friendly, helpful, careful correction. We need also their second opinion on certain matters. This is where we can apply these rules of friendship to the Gospel. Christ our companion and friend who walks with us wants us to listen to His words and teachings on the Gospel.

The leper rejoiced and became a disciple at the feet of Jesus, like Mary and the disciples at his feet. The ten lepers were healed but only one became a true follower. Because he was grateful, he drew closer.

Of course love is two-way. It is not about receiving love but loving generously, prepared to give time and make sacrifices.

It is up to each one of us to develop and cultivate this relationship with Christ. It is a personal decision we have to make on our own. One day we shall meet Christ face to face, alone. We need to be comfortable with that fact.

We need to close the distances that may have arisen from time to time in our relationship with Christ. Like the many encounters in the Gospels Christ waits for an opportunity, an opening.

Pope John Paul II used one phrase quite often, from Vatican II, that ‘Christ fully reveals man to himself’. We think of the woman at the well or the rich young man, who Christ called and challenged and who knew their inner hearts. Our encounter with Christ may not be as challenging or as dramatic, but it needs to happen. Christ knows us but he can also help us to see us as we really are. Christ invites His followers – us - to ‘come’. That word COME can be an acronym for the words ‘Christ offers me everything’ or 'Christ offers me eternity’.

Christ is there for us. He is on the road. We think of the Footprints passage that reminds us of the one set of footprints for the difficult times Christ carried us. He has always been there for us even if we have not been aware of it or if we have ignored Him. He is with us right now, and there is no longer any reason to be afraid, because He is constant – He will be there in whatever lies ahead.

‘Christ yesterday, today and forever.’


Christ nourishes us

How often do we meet a friend for coffee, lunch or dinner? The food or the places are considerations but only because we want to treat our friend or find a place where we can comfortably talk. Sometimes we deliberately choose a place where we can have a more private conversation. In recent years cafes have enjoyed great popularity as places to meet.

This year the Church celebrates the Year of St Luke – the Gospel according to Luke is read most Sundays of this year. One of the things we notice in Luke is Jesus’ willingness to share a meal with everyone! There are at least 12 occasions where Jesus is sharing a meal – Simon’s mother –in-law’s house; at the house of sinners and tax collectors’; twice at the homes of Pharisees; with Martha and Mary; the multiplication of loaves and fish; with the women disciples who provided hospitality and support; at the home of Zacchaeus; at the Passover; at Emmaus; and even eating grilled fish after the Resurrection. Clearly sharing a meal provides opportunities to practice hospitality, and generosity as well as developing friendships and getting to know one another a bit better. Jesus also used these occasions for divine teaching.

It is worth noting that the word ‘companion’ comes from the words ‘ cum panis’ – the Latin for ‘breaking bread with’. We eat with a companion. [We also drink together and ‘drink to something’ as befits the occasion.]

Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread which of course includes the Bread of Life.
There are perhaps six ways of looking at the Mass
(1) Communion – intimacy – not only are we spending time with him over a banquet - He is the source of nourishment. This sacred banquet of the mass or the Eucharist is where we are nourished at the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. There are two courses, as it were! We are not only fed, but we are nourished and sustained. We are eating the right things! We are fed by Christ’s Body and Blood, by the Host himself! We are intimate with Him, there is a oneness in Holy Communion, which only makes sense when we are reconciled with Him.
(2) Remembrance gift- just as we have keepsakes and mementoes in our homes, this parting gift of Christ is Himself in the Eucharist.
(3) Commemoration -We are not only commemorating, restoring or sealing our friendship we are commemorating and re-presenting the great rescue of our Redemption. He said ‘do this in remembrance of me.’
(4) Proclamation – this is our emancipation proclamation – we are proclaiming the death of the Lord’ every time we celebrate Mass. We also want it to be known that He is risen. It is ‘the mystery of our faith.’
(5) Pledge – it is a promise of what will be and what that our friendship will last forever. As we think of the three shepherd children united once more in heaven, we think of the unity Christ promises us all in everlasting life. The Mass is the promise of immortality. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood HAS eternal life ad I will raise them up on the last day.
(6) Mission - As we are strengthened and renewed so we are called to go forth and continue the mission of evangelization and example, of charity. To ‘love one another’.

21st Sunday of the Year

The narrow door

In a monastery in Alcobaca, Portugal there is a door that separates the dining-hall or refectory from the rest of the building. Monks in the Middle Ages had to enter through a single narrow passage. If any monk was too plump, he had to fast until he fit through. It is a memorable sight and tourists in this now disused monastery are invited to give it a try!

Jesus uses the imagery of a narrow door today. He answers the question ‘how many will be saved?’ with ‘how’ we are saved.

‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door.’ Admission to heaven like admission to anything has a cost. We are familiar with the need for appropriate dress or qualifications to enter many things. Certain qualities are necessary for membership of any club; admission or access can be denied; knowing the owner of the establishment is not sufficient; it has to be earned on merit.
Heaven requires certain terms of admission.

It is about making the necessary sacrifices. Presumption does not get us there; statements at the door such as ‘we know the owner’; he’s from my town’,’ he knows my people’ are simply not good enough. The Jews (Pharisees) felt that they could qualify by association. Jesus however makes it quite clear that salvation is open to all without distinction or preferential treatment but that all must find entry by the narrow door for heaven – and all must pass the same test.. Why the narrow door? It is the service entrance – humility and service – and suffering – as entry requirements.

In this Gospel Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem to face His Passion death and resurrection. So the timing of this teaching is important for us to realise that the entry requirements entail imitation. But the road has a happy ending.

I think there are three things that are required of us: prayer, daily duty and sacrifice.

The first thing is perseverance in assiduous prayer, especially the daily rosary – for starters.

Secondly, I think we can sanctify our day by each day being faithful in little things – punctuality, discipline, diligence, honesty, reliability, integrity in speech.

Thirdly, accepting with submission the sacrifices that are unforeseeable that God sends us through others. Like the children of Fatima, God uses these for our and others’ salvation. I use the word “CATCH” to stand for what I sometimes experience, and indeed what all believers in Christ experience especially when they stand up for the truth:

C is for Criticism
A is for Anger
T is for Trials and Temptations
C is for Contradictions (things not going my way)
H is for Humiliation

What is required therefore for my sanctification is quite simple, but quite testing: how I handle any criticism, not complaining, bickering, or arguing, or flying off the handle, not having everything my own way, putting up with others, patient listening, being tolerant of others, and having the honesty and humility that others likewise have to put up with my faults.

The first reading speaks of people coming to Jerusalem with oblations in clean vessels. Only the pure of heart will see God in the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us try our best one day at a time the way of loving service, humility and surrender to God’s will for our station in life, all the while constantly praying to the Mother of God to pray for us ‘that we made worthy of the promises of Christ’.

The Assumption of Our Lady

The Assumption

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Assumption of Our Lady

A number of years ago I was visiting friends in Northern Ireland and they took me to an amazing place called the Odyssey which is a massive complex of cinemas, restaurants, a bowling alley, an ice rink and other attractions found under one roof. I remember however that what caught my eye was a large neon sign that aroused my curiosity. It was a large W5. It was a science museum and I quickly found out that W5 stands for 5 of the words, beginning with ‘W’ that can start a question –Who? What, When, Where? Why? ( There are other W words such as which, whenever, whatever, whoever, wherever!) I think it is a good way to approach this dogma and this event.


That is an easy one! This applies only to Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, the historical person of the ordinary maiden of Nazareth in Israel.


The definition, in the words of Pope Pius XII, goes as follows.
‘By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.’What we are celebrating therefore is a singular event – the Assumption body and soul of a human creature, a privilege of grace, into the presence of Almighty God. It is a staggering event and privilege that a lowly creature should enjoy the singular favour of sharing in the Vision of the Creator of all, the beginning and the end of all. This privilege will not be shared by the members of the Church, the People of God and the Body of Christ until the general resurrection of the dead. Where she has gone, we hope to follow. It is our common destiny. Today’s feast is therefore about the ‘happy ever after’ of Mary whose story began ‘once upon a time’ in Nazareth in the Gospel at today’s Mass.


This is a good quiz question. The answer is Ephesus (modern day Efes) in Turkey. What is interesting is that this was then a stronghold of worship of the female goddess Artemis (or Diana) in that part of the world, and many artefacts of that pagan worship still remain. It was here in the heart of paganism that Mary settled with St John the Apostle. As Christianity gradually grew and paganism declined, worship of the mythical goddess Diana was replaced by veneration of Mary. And it was at Ephesus in 431 AD that Mary was declared Theotokos, Mother of God’. Pope John Paul visited Turkey in 1979 and Pope Benedict has recently visited Ephesus.


This is also an interesting point, and while I am open to correction on this I think that the timing of the Declaration of the Assumption as dogma in 1950 was meant to coincide with the anniversary of the date of the event of the Assumption in 50 AD. It was thought that Our Lady lived to be 63 years of age, and Christians would recite 63 ‘Hail Mary’s in honour of each year she lived. So the early rosary had 63 beads. Somehow in the evolution of the prayer as we have it today, the 150 Hail Marys match the Psalms, yet the 3 Hail Mary’s at the beginning of the Rosary remained for some reason.

This brings us back to 50 AD. If Our Lady was a teenage girl when she conceived Jesus she was 14(?) and was ended her earthly life at 63 in 50 AD.


The answer is love. Mary was preserved free from Original Sin, was not guilty of personal sin, lived a virtuous life, and only ‘the pure in heart can see God’, according to the Beatitude on the Sermon on the Mount. It is a logical extension and consequence of Mary’s pure love and indeed of God’s love for her that she enjoys the special privilege. But her role as intercessor reminds us of her humanity and is also a wonderful aspect of the genius of God’s loving plan in appealing to each of us to respond to His call to Himself via the universal appeal of motherhood, that we more confidently and willingly approach Him through her intercession.

St Fulgentius puts it this way:
'The Mother of God is "the Ladder of Heaven". God came down to earth by this Ladder,that men might by Mary climb up to Him in heaven.'

19th Sunday of the Year

This Sunday’s epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews is a wonderful summary of the characters that feature in the Old Testament. This passage taken from Chapter 11 - worth reading in its entirety - as well as the testimony of Peter in Acts 2 and 3 and Stephen's witness in Acts 7 combine to give us a good introduction to the Old Testament (and its fulfillment) to anyone who wants to know more about Scripture.

The key is faith. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’, Jesus said to doubting Thomas (John 20:29).

Faith does not come readily or easily. I am sometimes surprised when people say “Father I don’t know if I believe it all’. I think what they are really saying is: ‘I believe, but at times it’s an effort’. What may have challenged them is the presence of so much relativism and skepticism in today’s culture. There are few things on TV to encourage us, and there are few people we know who believe convincingly, it seems, who will bolster our faith, so that our own personal faith is constantly challenged. Crises and scandals have done their share to shake our resolve. Sadly too the reaction to the scandals has shown up some peoples’ shallow understanding of the nature of the Church that they think we can go back to the drawing board and jettison the Pope and the hierarchy!

We make a mistake if we think that faith comes and stays easily. Faith is a gift, thank God for it! But it is like the bridge built by the engineer. Heavy loaded trucks were driven along it to see if the bridge specifications were right. So it is with God.

We see some people whose faith is tested beyond all reason! We wonder how they do it, how do they cope? I will never forget the man I met in New York. A father of 10 children, 3 of his children committed suicide (so-called ‘copycat’ suicides) by standing in front of fast-moving trains. How he has kept his faith, I will never know. Yet he was a daily Mass-goer, said his prayers out of a thick prayer book bulging with devotional prayer cards, and proudly wore his scapular and smiles through the tears. We can all think of personal tragedies and hardships that have greatly challenged people we know who are strong believers. I admire parents of special-needs children who are people of strong faith and are always willing to lend a hand in the locality, often volunteer without having to
be asked.

The 'faith of our fathers’ who faced ‘dungeon, fire and sword’ was in every single case a personal decision in the most trying circumstances.

Similarly all those saints and martyrs we admire had free-will. They had to make a choice. The people of the Old Testament had their own difficult choices to make too. But we must remember WE HAVE HINDSIGHT. We know now all that they had to face. They did not. And so it is for us. We do not know what lies ahead. That is where courage, grit and determination come in. We can seek the help of the Holy Spirit who has given us the gift of courage at Confirmation. We can call on Him to give is the grace of perseverance and fortitude. He will help us to overcome doubts, difficulties, and above all our fears. So faith is a personal decision for you and me also. And our lives are not over yet. We have not yet reached the summit, but we can take a momentary look at the view and see how far we have come, even if we have stumbled and delayed or strayed along the way. God urges us on even further.

We have helps to faith. Prayer and the sacraments, the example of fellow-believers, the lives of the saints and spiritual reading, short prayers we can say aloud or in silence at any time, the teaching of the Church, a Father-confessor or spiritual director who knows us. All these are helps to salvation. And all these are helps we should resort to in order to be vigilant and keep our lamps lit as alluded to in the Gospel. In the Book of Life may our names be added to the list of those who had faith and persevered to the end (Revelation 20:12).