The Holy Family

The Holy Family

Today’s readings offers much tried and tested wisdom about the trials and experiences associated with living with other family members. The readings are quite ancient by modern standards but contain timeless wisdom. We realise that the commandment to ‘honour your father and mother’ is actually quite all-encompassing about mutual relations between parents and children and that the commandment works both ways – parents are to rear their children in such a way that will not lead to brooding resentment.. The reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus describes reverence and respect for parents especially as they get older. It is appropriate today as we hear all too often of parents being dumped in nursing homes, or of neglect and carelessness and ‘the burden’ that older people are to society and to family finances.

Relations among parents and children can become tense, tetchy and fragile. When children grow up they can only grow distant, especially as they crave independence and space and time for themselves.

As parents grow needier and infirm in old age it can involve financial dependence and pressure on a family. It can result in conflict between grown-up children as to who among siblings will carry most responsibility as well as who carries the financial burden of care, time and accommodation.

These are concerns that face all families sooner or later. The horror stories of neglect are rare enough in my experience. Each family is different. I wonder about the popularity of ‘soap operas’ on TV. Each family has enough drama and happenings from year to year.

The model of the family is of course the Holy Family. While Jesus, Mary and Joseph are put before us as the ideal, they were also quite real, flesh-and-blood people. They were not without earthly concerns – great and small: misunderstandings, the possibility of separation, problems with accommodation, travel expenses, flight from persecution, were in fear of their lives, emigration, refugee status, exile - all in Jesus’ infancy alone. Later they were to know loss, separation, bereavement. But all was not gloom. The joy of betrothal, pregnancy, the wonder of childbirth, child-rearing, being reunited after separation, and even celebrating a wedding.

And yet for all that they were an intensely private family. They went about their trade and domestic duties and fulfilled their religious obligations as observant Jews. And we know little about thirty of Jesus’ thirty-three years that were spent in Egypt and Nazareth. We are left in the dark.

But they were God-centred, and as we reflected on the Fourth Sunday of Advent last week, in times of doubt, God intervened and showed them the way and they readily obeyed.

It is in how we cope when things go wrong in family situations that can often strengthen family ties in a time of crisis. It is especially faith-filled families in my experience who find the strength and the resilience to cope. Where there is prayer, there is God-given strength to endure whatever comes.

May Jesus, Mary and Joseph help us to find the inspiration and strength to face what lies ahead and may they help us to live in charity, generosity and peace with one another.

Christmas day

Thinking about CHRISTMAS

[When I lamented about ‘Christmas’ and its commercialisation
I was struck by another helpful abbreviation.]

C is for the Crib and the real Cause for Celebration;
H is for Happiness - ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven’.
R is for the Redeemer and His Revelation
(Recalling us to renew our Reconciliation).
I stands for the divine Infant’s Invitation - to
See for ourselves our sinful Situation.
T is The Lord born in Time of Tribulation.
M - Mary and the Magi lost in Meditation;
A for the Angels, calling us to Adoration;
S the surprised Shepherds greeting in salutation
Our Saviour, the one who offers us the best hope of Salvation.

Fr John McCarthy, CC , Cobh

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A

The Gospel each Sunday of the coming year is taken from St Matthew. St Matthew’s chief aim was to present Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament. Therefore in many of the Gospel extracts this year we will encounter references like the one we read today: ‘this was to fulfil the words of the prophet..’

It is helpful to know this when we read the Gospel for the coming year each Sunday that Matthew’s slant as it were is to present Jewish to would-be Jewish converts. There are dozens of references to prophecy.

It is therefore typical of Matthew to present us with the words of the prophet Isaiah that we read also in the First Reading this Sunday. The Church has carefully chosen these readings to align them with the Gospel according to Matthew.

The virgin is with child and will give birth to a child named Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’ (Isaiah 7:14).

St Matthew's infancy narrative is also described as telling things from Joseph's point of view (as opposed to Mary's perspective in Luke) and as an obedient Jew cognizant of Jewish Law and custom.

Let's have a closer look at St Joseph and how applicable his dilemmas are to us:

We have all heard the expression ‘if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans.

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 amazing 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 by God - who he obeyed without question - 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 learn to qualify our plans and projects and lives to God's will more often. 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.

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A

Opinion polls are a common feature of daily life and will be more so in the run up to the General Election.

Who is the greatest man who ever lived? There was a famous boxer in the 1960s and 1970s who was a household name whose catch-call cry was ‘I am the greatest’. It was showmanship, entertainment, a challenge, a trick.

Jesus, in fact, tells us who it was - John the Baptist. We light two candles in his honour.

To be described as the greatest man alive, ‘born of women’ is some compliment when it came from Jesus. But to be in the lowest place in heaven is alright too and even better! It is in fact far greater than the loftiest position on earth.

The evidence for the coming of Jesus was predicted 600 years before in the First Reading this Sunday in Isaiah – ‘the lame walk, the blind see, lepers are cleansed.’ This is the sign that John the Baptist believed in and what he wanted his followers, more than himself, to hear and to understand. It was for their sake he was posing the question. John would soon go to his death in the knowledge that his work was done. This ‘greatest man who ever lived’ was destined for imprisonment, rejection, and beheading for proclaiming the truth of God’s law.

Jesus response to John the Baptist is the summation of His Mission and ministry. Jesus in effect tells us that there are 7 signs of the Kingdom that are also terms and conditions that apply to us if we are to enter even the lowest place in heaven! What are these ‘7 habits of highly effective’ Christians?

'The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised to life, the poor have the Good News proclaimed to them, and blessed is the man who does not lose faith in me.'
What has that statement got to do with you and me? There can be in all of us a spiritual paralysis, a spiritual blindness, a spiritual leprosy, a spiritual death, a need to hear the Good News, a need to persevere in faith.

1. Healing from moral and Spiritual paralysis is not just about laziness but negligence and delay tactics to avoid or to put on the long finger doing what we know to be right. We must ‘do the right thing’ rather than suiting our own convenience; to take initiative, to ‘do good, avoid evil’ in all the choices we make, from the little to the great. But we lack the right motivation. I heard recently that the average gym makes 30% of its annual income on people who back out of their exercise plans. Intentions are good, but change is difficult – there are no short-cuts to lasting change and improvement.

2. Healing from moral and spiritual blindness because we may have a wilful blindness to avoid the truth (because we lack humility) about ourselves – denial about moral failings, often obvious to others, but it suits us not to see them. It is a failing to make a true moral inventory of ourselves. It is failure to admit to God, ourselves or to others the truth about ourselves. We are afraid to come out of the dark and into the light of truth. . The 12 step programme of AA is worth getting our hands on and replacing the word ‘alcohol’ with ‘sin’

3. Healing from moral and spiritual death - the state of mortal sin We need to confess any grave sins as a matter of urgency. is the state of our souls in sin? –un-confessed sin, if we have been longer than a year away from confession for example, if we are hardened and oblivious to the need to seek God’s forgiveness –unlike a toothache or back-ache which finally prompts us to action because the pain is too much to bear, our consciences remind us less and less. What state are we in?

4. Healing from moral and Spiritual leprosy – is the state of our souls in sin? –confession is not a once-off because our tendency to sin is always present. We are in need of ongoing therapy, care, examinations, check-ups. How many illnesses go unnoticed or are not checked in time due to lack of vigilance?

5. Healing from spiritual deafness. We are guilty of deafness to the voices prompting us to see our true state and the need to improve. We may be also guilty of deafness to the cries of those around us. We may have listened less than we have been prepared to speak. We may have ignored those crying out for someone to give them our time to listen. Have we taken the time to listen to what God may be wanting to say to us – in prayer.

6. Hearing the Good News.
Most of all we need to hear the Good News and to take on a role in proclaiming the Good News by our encouragement, our advice, the witness of our lives, and taking on a concrete role in catechesis and evangelisation.

7. ‘Blessed is the man who does not lose faith in me.’
Worldly fame, notoriety, reputation, status, position, authority, ambition and power – all distract us and indeed fall well short of what God wants of us and what He is prepared to give us if we do not lose faith. These are testing times and people are losing faith in politicians, in banks and all in those who hold positions of trust and authority. But we must not lose faith in Jesus. The key word here is perseverance. More and more we realise that faith in God is something that we must take as a personal decision and take deeply personally as well.

A life marked by faith is not a sprint or a race but a marathon, a long distance where hurdles and obstacles lie in our path, where discouragement and disappointment can test our inner resolve, and which often ends for many people in a steep climb of suffering. But with our eyes on the goal, undeterred by mockery or criticism or worried about what bystanders say about us, Jesus will bring us to eternal life. We can learn from athletes who develop daily habits and keep a diary of what they have accomplished. They know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but day-by-day. Our daily habits must include prayer and the sacraments and self-examination of conscience and daily resolve to improve our prayer and our actions. That way we do not lose faith.

The Season of Advent therefore provides with opportunities to see, to hear, to be raised up, to walk, to be healed, and to renew our faith, hope and our resolve in following Jesus, who, in the words of Isaiah 'is coming to save us'.

Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady is most misunderstood. It refers to Our Lady’s own conception in her mother’s womb- the womb of St Anne. It is celebrated today and 9 months from today – September 8th – it is Our Lady’s birthday. It has nothing to do with Jesus' conception – March 25th and Christmas follows 9 months later on Dec 25th of course. I was amazed when people came into me after Mass a couple of years ago and they were happy to have the misunderstanding cleared up for them. Perhaps the Gospel passage of the Annunciation confuses people. But in tht Gospel we hear the words fo the angel, which apply to the teaching: 'nothing is impossible to God.

It was wonderful to be in the Holy Land where these words of the angel were uttered -to visit Nazareth and pray at the spot where Mary said her 'yes' to God.

The Immaculate Conception is not in the Bible of course, but is a long-standing tradition in the Church, but only infallibly declared in 1854. The doctrine became accepted universally through the apparitions that occurred in Paris in Rue de Bac in 1830 to Sr Catherine Laboure and literally billions of Miraculous Medals have been struck since then. We are, in our Lady’s words, to wear the medal with confidence, to receive the necessary graces from heaven that will enable us to get there.

I mentioned that the doctrine was declared an infallible teaching in 1854. Four years later Our Lady herself appeared to St Bernadette, and said ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’. Bernadette was poor at Catechism and claimed her head hurt when she tried to learn the answers off-by-heart. She was slower than other girls younger than her. But Bernadette faithfully repeated these words of Our Lady to her parish priest, which convinced him of the truth of what Bernadette was claiming to see at Lourdes. Heaven confirmed the Church’s proclamation through a humble, barely literate 14 year old French peasant girl.

We are reminded that Jeus said: 'Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God'. Mary is the purest virgin. We likewise are called to purity - of intention, of mind, of body and soul. Let us prepare for Christ's coming by purely receiving him. Let us avail of the season to go to confession, and restoring purity of soul where needed to receive Him worthily, as Mary did.

Let us resolve to wear the Miraculous Medal wth confidence, praying often throughout the day, 'O Mary, conceived with out sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!'

2nd Sunday of Advent Year A

Picture shows snow in Israel's Golan Heights and thawed water flowing towards Galilee.

Second Sunday of Advent Year A

This week we all have a deeper appreciation of the power of nature to bring everything to a standstill. We only have to look out our windows at the snow and ice. Our televisions show us the hazards and problems associated with the cold weather. We have come to realise that we are not that well equipped in Ireland to deal with a hard freeze, and we have to be so careful on our roads and event the pavement.

It makes us wonder, how do people cope in colder climates? Did Jesus ever see snow? It is hard to know for certain if Jesus may have ever touched snow, or played in it with his childhood friends but certainly He saw it in the distance from the Sea of Galilee in wintertime.

On a recent visit to the Holy Land, I learned that the country of Israel is dependent on snow each year to replenish much needed fresh-water. It thaws and melts and flows from the mountains in the north of the country straight into the Sea of Galilee and on to the River Jordan. Besides the strategic location of the mountains known as the Golan Heights, there is something sacred about this fresh flowing water for the Jews as it is considered to have come straight from God, and was not contaminated by human hands. It was this understanding of the water of the Jordan River that John used to encourage repentance and the immersion into the water with the confession of sins. This was done to ensure that the Jewish people were in a state of readiness to receive their long-awaited Messiah. They were to wash themselves clean, externally and internally.

John urges sincere repentance, and now that the opportunity is ours. We must be sincere. It must not be outward show and empty ritual as it was for the insincere Pharisees and Sadducees. It must be accompanied too by appropriate fruit – charity, forgiveness, generous self-giving, purity of mind, attitude and disposition towards our neighbor, almsgiving, self-forgetfulness with our time and talents. John was readying the people for Jesus. For us, this state of readiness is a state of grace, when we washed clean anew in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Today 2000 years later John’s voice of repentance is proclaimed in every Catholic Church throughout the world, urging repentance as we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, and reminding us too of His Second Coming, where He will come to judge the living and the dead. John uses graphic imagery. Ultimately we will be one thing or another – a fruit-bearing tree or wheat bearing the proper fruit at the appropriate time, or a fruitless tree or chaff that is useless. And ultimately too we will be in one place or the other, finding a place in the barn of heaven or cast out into the fire that will never go out, in the fires of hell.
As three weeks remain and the Christmas shopping list is seen to, what better present to give Jesus as we prepare at Christmas – which after all is His birthday – than to give ourselves over to the Lord’s mercy and present Him on Christmas Day with a clean human heart.

‘We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ’.