1st Sunday of Advent

‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’

A candle represents hope, guidance, a beacon.

Things are never so dark and cold as the next four weeks. The days are still getting shorter – the darkness deepens. Now we need the light. All over the Catholic Church – in every Catholic church you will walk into this weekend, all over the planet – you will see the same sight – one lit candle, an incompleteness, a waiting, an expectancy.

We are called to be lights to each other, especially the poor, the less well off, the lonely, the depressed, the discouraged, those with few supports, those struggling to make ends meet. As the darkness of economic gloom and political uncertainty surround us, we are unsure of where to turn. It is constant to hear of economic woes. Now we need hope more than ever.

Advent can be compared to pregnancy – for a long time, when you hear that someone is expecting, there are no immediate or discernible outward signs, yet slowly but surely, life is forming and growing in the inner recesses of the womb, and later, visible signs of growth and movement become apparent to all.

So it is today – it is just the beginning. Now we can begin the four week preparation for the coming of the Christ in 4 weeks time. As always the secular milestones have already been passed – the turning on of Christmas lights, the playing of Christmas tunes, the Toy Show on the TV. But when you walk into a Catholic Church anywhere in the world in the next 4weeks – there is no audio-visual reminder of Christmas in the music or the decorations or the colours. Here there are no ads. Things seem bare, yet there is expectation.

Using the letters of ADVENT, we can now sum up today's readings:

AD = Arise from Darkness, Act Decently – involves a change of heart and a change of behaviour. To arise from darkness – St Paul tells us that there are certain sins that are happen under cover of darkness – crimes of passion, drunkenness, promiscuous behaviour, license (no limits or restraint), wrangling, jealousy.In the pure light of day – we would not be seen doing certain things in public view. . Instead we are called to Decency.

VE = We hear the Voices of Encouragement especially from the prophet Isaiah – come let us go to Jerusalem - We likewise must be a Voice of Encouragement to others to come before the Lord. We will also hear the voice of John the Baptist when we light the second and third candles, and the Voice of Mary as we light the fourth.

NT = Now is the Time. this is a phrase we also hear from St Paul today. The alarm clock is ringing and there is no snooze button (that great invention!). This is no to dally and turn over in the bedclothes, the sun is up, the day has arrived. Now is the Time to put the old ways behind, especially immoral actions of drunkenness, dishonesty and debauchery St Paul refers to.

Let us truly celebrate the season of Advent by turning to the Readings and pondering their message of hope. Let us patiently wait – let us not jump the gun – let us ponder, pray, reflect and anticipate. Let us stand ready, repentant and converted.

Christ the King

Christ the King

There is an air of finality in today’s Gospel – we are commemorating the last Sunday of the year in the Solemnity of Christ the King; we are at the end of another Church year before embarking on our advent journey next Sunday in the run-up to Christmas. The 5 weeks to Christmas include this last week of Ordinary Time and the 4 weeks of Advent.
The kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated or established is not a kingdom of geographical or historical boundaries. It is not closed or confined to a specialised distinct, qualified group of people – it is open to everyone. Jesus is Universal King.

But what is this kingdom? It is among other things a kingdom of mercy.

One of the great events in life is reconciliation and forgiveness. It is one thing to know the joy of forgiveness and the clearing up of misunderstandings, but there is a certain poignancy and power in being reconciled with someone as they are about to die – TO BE AT PEACE. It is a tremendously sensitive time for all concerned if there is division, conflict or long-standing unresolved grievances or misunderstandings.

Forgiveness – not only seeking it but graciously granting forgiveness - is an important characteristic and quality of anyone wishing to be included in Jesus’ kingdom. It is a gift to be able to forgive and we need God’s help, but it is also an absolutely necessary requirement for entry into Paradise. Even the fact that it is at the eleventh hour, you could say is not too late. I have personally known many situations where a long-term silence between brothers and sisters has been broken, and parties reconciled at a late hour, which has brought indisputable peace and healing and allowed someone to let go and die peacefully as well as healing of memories for those left behind. The sad part is that it might take a terminal illness for people to see the shortness of life and the pettiness sometimes that has allowed hatred or resentment to fester beyond control or reason.

The Good Thief – as he is known, not only recognised in Jesus the Son of God with the authority to forgive, he clearly saw the injustice performed against Jesus, as well as having the humility and honesty of the just sentence and punishment his own sins deserved. Yet he has confidence and trust at the hour of his death in Jesus’ mercy. The Good Thief is in heaven. You could say, strange as it may sound, that he was the first saint! But he was also the first person, crucially, with Mary at the hour of his death, as we pray in every Hail Mary ‘pray for us now and at the hour of our death.’ She was praying for him, because at Calvary she became his mother too.

Let us avail therefore of Jesus’ mercy while we have the opportunity. We are members of His Kingdom only insofar as we seek and readily give forgiveness. Jesus said at the beginning of his public ministry – ‘Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy.’ If we have ever been present at the death of someone – we have often used the expression afterwards - ‘they died as they lived’; they die in keeping with their values, integrity and beliefs. Jesus is mercy – it is His greatest attribute. Now Jesus proves in deeds that he dies as He lived, and in His last gasping, valuable breaths on earth expresses His one dying wish – His desire to show mercy to those who seek it, and that we should do likewise.

‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Angels, saints and nations sing
Praised Be Jesus Christ our King
Lord of life earth sky and sea
King of Love on Calvary

33rd Sunday of the year C

Sermon on the 33rd Sunday of the year C

One of my favourite programmes on the television is one known as ‘Reeling in the years’. You may be familiar with it. It amazes me how much I have forgotten or headlines and events I barely understood, now become clear. I look back at the fashions, I remember the hairstyles and the clothes and the popular music.

One of the things that struck me is the number of wars, civil wars, acts of terrorism, assassinations and the like. The other is the large number of natural (as well as man-made disasters). The floods and earthquakes and famines and other natural disasters predicted by Jesus in the Gospel seem to come true as prophesied each year. When the programme is made about 2010, it will surely be remembered for Haiti, for the floods in Pakistan, and Haiti is in the news again.

What are we to make of today’s Gospel with its doom and gloom?

The Lord was prophesying many things that have taken place sonce - the destruction of the Temple; interrogations, betrayals, arrests, trials, martyrdom of Christians down the centuries, even betrayals and family division. a reeling of the years for any deacde and any year in the last 2,000 would throw up these events as well as natural and man-made disaters.

So, why the Gospel passage now, today, anyway? The timing of the Gospel is meant to convey a number of ideas to us:

• That as we approach the end of another year in the Church’s calendar, we realise that all good things do, after all, come to an end! Life is short, we can’t live forever, what is here today is gone tomorrow.

• That as the light fades and the darkness deepens in November; all lights seem to go out, but Christ the Light remains.

• From time to time some Christians are caught up in an apocalyptic frenzy of ‘end times’ – that the end is nigh. Sometime you will see people in Cork carrying billboard/ads saying the end is nigh. In the year 2000, a number of people were afraid of Y2K, and that all the computers would come to a standstill, and that social anarchy and food shortages would result.

• Even in time of St Paul, people ‘downed tools’ in the certain belief that the world was going to end soon. Paul’s advice is firm – stop interfering, go on quietly about your business. They were not be spend their days in idle speculation.

There is another aspect to the times we live in – it is all the more challenging to be a committed Mass-going believing Catholic. It requires a personal commitment to remain faithful. There is so much negativity and cynicism. Some of us at times, even within our own family circle, are questioned about our commitment. There may even be family members who you left behind today at home, who despite your best efforts and encouragement will not be coming to Mass today.

What should be our attitude? None other than the words of Christ: ‘your endurance will win you your lives'.

There are occasions when you may be challenged to stand up for the truth of what we believe in. A conversation, a remark, a kind gesture, a word of encouragement, a simple explanation, in charity and gentleness, can be the difference to somebody’s faith and salvation. We do have an obligation to study our faith, to ask questions of somebody in the know, to read the Catechism, but also to pray for the right words at the right time to convince someone. But most of all our witness by our behavior and by our consistency between what we say and what we do. We must never under-estimate the power of gentle, good example to those who are searching for the answers and the truth.

It is in times of darkness – like the doom and gloom of the present – that the light is needed. We are called to be that light in the darkness to others – and the source of that light is Christ Himself.

All Souls Day

All Souls Day
Commemoration of all the faithful departed

No doubt many of us associate the Holy Souls with the expression we may have heard in a time of pain – ‘offer it up for the Holy Souls’! My mother often said to us often, if we were without money: ‘Pray to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, because that’s where all the bank managers go!’

The doctrine of Purgatory may seem at first glance a rather distant teaching in our minds. It seems a bit remote in our understanding and maybe we question its relevance.

Maybe we can look at it from the following two stories:

First, there is the story of the man who kept going to confession month after month, and kept repeating in confession the exact same sins. After a number of months of repeating himself, he got annoyed with himself and made an audio cassette for the priest and said ‘here Father, are the sins. I will save you the bother of hearing me again and of me repeating them and wasting your time now. Listen to them later and give me absolution and forgiveness now!’

The other story concerns the man who wondered what monks in a monastery do all day. On asking the abbot, his reply was ‘we fall down and we get up again, we fall down and we get up again.’

Most of us can relate to these two stories as they apply to our own moral and spiritual lives. Despite our best efforts we continually fail, and repeat sins, mistakes, compulsions, as if they were addictions. They differ in all of us. – and may perhaps be our temper, gossip, lack of charity in thought, dishonesty, impurity, laziness, and so on. I suspect that most sins committed by regular penitents are sins of weakness rather than malice. It is a consequence of our fallen human nature, of Original Sin. But we must not be discouraged and keep trying our best. These failings keep us humble. Many of the saints had afflictions too.

I imagine that just as there is a patron saint for all of us, there is a patron soul or souls. Purgatory is a place of purification, a place where people are purified of their imperfect love, expressed in imperfect choices or preferences for temporary pleasures that failed to supply happiness sought.

Think of the sins that appear or have appeared more than once in the recent past. There is a soul or souls in Purgatory who had the same difficulty. They persevered in the struggle but, while obviously repentant, did not yet merit heaven at the time of their death. So it may be for us.

But praying to the Holy Souls and for them is not simply devotion, but a spiritual work of mercy. They are helpless but require our assistance and in turn can intercede on our behalf. And moreover, they can identify with our struggles. They can look after our needs here on earth. Let is make ot a resolution to pray for them often this month, and always on Saturdays.

May they rest in peace. Amen.

Solemnity of All Saints

Solemnity of All Saints – 4P,3M,1H

Today’s Solemnity of All Saints kicks off the month of November with a high note. While we are commemorating all the faithful departed tomorrow (All Souls) we are reminded today that heaven is our goal. We remember, in the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, ‘those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith’. We think of those men and women who were an example to us of faith and virtuous living.

The Gospel today is of the Sermon on the Mount. To recall it, I use the mnemonic 4P,3M, 1H, to remind myself of what you and I are called to be - in God's sight.

The 4 P s are Poverty of spirit, Purity, Peace, Patience (amidst persecution)
The 3 Ms are Meekness, Mournfulness (detachment from the world), and Mercy
1H for Hunger (and thirst) for what is right.

These are not simply states of mind, but the dispositions we should be cultivating in our prayer, as well as attitudes in our daily living, in our conversations, in the performance of our daily duties, of concrete actions and things to strive for, of our nightly examination of conscience.

We are called to be saints, i.e., the best version of ourselves pleasing to God. We are challenged to imitate them in their virtues but with God's help and their example, our lives will change when our habits change. The 8 Beatitudes together make a Programme of Holiness and wholeness.