Christmas day 2011

When a child is born

When a child is born, the good news spreads quickly. If a man is relating the news it is a curious fact that he is only interested if the newborn is a boy or a girl; women want to know what weight the baby was, the baby’s name(s), the intensity and duration of the labour, the time of birth, and how the mother is afterwards. Men and women therefore have completely different perspectives on childbirth, probably because men will never experience it.

The good news of Christmas is, of course, the birth of Christ.

But details are few. We do not know his weight, the duration of Mary’s labour (if any), or anything about her recuperation. We do know that he was born in a manger in Bethlehem in the middle of the night, and we know His name.
These two facts alone are hugely significant.

Firstly, a long-standing tradition has it that Jesus was born in the middle of winter in the middle of the night. Now, we ourselves have little control over labour and child-birth, apart from induced births. But God has. And isn’t it interesting that He chose that His Son would be born at the darkest hour of the year, in order to be our light?

And so it is that in all the darkness we experience, external or internal, God wishes to be our light of hope and joy, our light at the end of the tunnel?

Secondly, Jesus is called ‘Emmanuel’, a Hebrew name meaning ‘God-is-with-us’. We choose the names of children after much thought – after a relative, friend, or a saint’s name. The choice of our name is something not taken lightly, because after all we carry it for life.

When we combine these two bits of information that we do possess we realise that God is with us in our darkest hour.

Is there anything else we need to know?

Happy Christmas 2011.

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year B

There is a very clear link running through all the readings this Sunday and that is God’s promise to David that his lineage will produce an heir that will rule forever in the dim and distant future. This prophecy was 600 years in the fulfilment. All of Israel waited for a Messiah and yearned for the promised liberator and king to rule all nations from Israel. God was faithful to His promise to David beyond all imagining, that ‘I will be father to him and he a son to me’, and so in the fullness of time ‘God sent his Son born of a woman’ (Galatians). This is the great mystery hidden for the ages that St Paul speaks about in the epistle today.

This prophecy begins to be fulfilled in the ‘yes’ of Mary, who is aware of the prophecy, and that it is to be her son that will be the fulfilment of all the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a nation crying out for liberty. Mary is the mother of Israel’s liberation. The familiar beautiful scene which we now call the Annunciation is worth pondering. The angel goes into Mary’s house – there is a sense of heaven meeting earth – of a heavenly being ‘reduced’ as it were to the simple motion of physically walking into Mary’s home and extending a formal greeting like any visitor would. Gabriel’s news and invitation would change Mary’s life forever, and it was the pivotal point in our salvation. This scene is recalled millions of times each day in every Hail Mary, in the first Joyful Mystery, in every Angelus and in every recitation of the Creed, when ‘he was made man’ (incarnatus est).

Now we must place our minds and our lives in the mind, if we can, of the teenage girl Mary, who was being asked something so monumental it has changed the world. God was asking her to be the Mother of His Son – and it is mind-blowing for our tiny minds to imagine what God was actually proposing to Mary in this unique, unrepeatable event which we call the Incarnation.

Mary’s ‘Yes’, it must be recalled, was one of extraordinary blind faith, trust and profound love. She could not refuse, it was not in her make-up to refuse God anything. And yet in that silent moment when she gave her free consent, she conceived Jesus in her womb, and she became a mother. And ringing in her ears as she contemplated this change in her own state in life and the beginning of the embryonic life of her son, must have been Gabriel’s words: ‘nothing is impossible to God.’

Yet after the 600 year promise to Israel it would be another 9 months before Mary would set eyes on Him, and another 30 years before His voice would be heard by all the nation. God’s plan slowly unfolds.

As we ponder this scene so familiar to us, we must ask ourselves why this scene is presented to us as the last Sunday Gospel before the annual commemoration of the birth of Christ?

The words of the angel are meant for us too: ‘do not be afraid!’ ‘Listen’, ‘the Lord is with you’, and ‘nothing is impossible to God’.

• What was an ‘annunciation’ moment for you?
• What is God asking of you?
• God keeps His word, do I trust Him?
• God keeps His promises, do I?
• What am I afraid of?
• To what does God want me to listen? And to listen to the promptings of my angel, and my conscience?
• What is so ‘impossible’ for me that is possible to God?
• Does God want me to exercise patience because of His seeming slowness to act?
• Do I believe God wants to intervene in my life, and do I let Him enter in?
• What is God asking me to do as we prepare for his coming? What change(s) are required of me? What challenges, what new responsibilities lie ahead of me? Where is God leading me? To whom does God want me to reach out, as Mary did to her cousin Elizabeth?

It is a wonderful feeling to be the bearer of good news, even of something monumental and life-changing, something with a definite ‘before’ and ‘after’ moment, or day, that we can all mark in our lives. Today’;s Gosepl was Mary’s ‘before/after’ moment.

This long-expected news of Israel’s liberation was good news indeed, the best news ever, and Mary was the first to hear it. Israel was - to use familiar terms today, in a spiritual recession, in need of a spiritual bail-out, in need of having its debt of sin paid in full.
Jesus, the longer-for Messiah, Saviour and King, is ours too, for the whole world, and for each person. We will not truly ‘get’ Christmas until at last we come to realise that Jesus did not ‘merely’ save the world, He saved you, and He saved me.

‘Come Lord Jesus’.

Frank Duff - Biography

The following is a review of the latest book on the life of the founder of the Legion of Mary - Frank Duff, published recently. This article also features in the Legion of Mary Christmas newsletter sent to Cobh parishioners now living abroad.

Cobh, December 2011

Dear friends,

We wish you the blessings of the season of Advent as we anticipate the season of Christmas 2011.

In the coming year 2012 we eagerly await the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, which will be forever etched into the history and consciousness of Cobh, and which will no doubt receive widespread international publicity in April.
As we look back on 2011, however, significant milestones were also commemorated. This past year marked the 90th anniversary of the founding of the voluntary lay organisation, the Legion of Mary, by the Dublin man, Frank Duff on September 7th, 1921. A new book on his life and mission has recently been published by Continuum Books, entitled ‘Frank Duff, A life Story’ by Finola Kennedy (see picture). While it is true to say that ‘a prophet is never recognised in his own country’, at his death in 1980, Frank Duff was described by then Cardinal Tomás O Fiaich as the ‘Irishman of the century’.

The new book is a thoroughly enlightening and well-researched book, helped by the fact that Duff’s 30,000 letters have now been painstakingly digitally formatted and catalogued - a work of three years - making research all that easier. Unlike previous biographies, this one puts flesh and blood on the man and his work, without the pious gloss to be found in other previous biographies. You can read how Frank was an outstanding public servant and his grievances at being overlooked for promotion to which he was entitled, to his concern for the financial well-being of his family, his familiarity with Michael Collins and WT Cosgrave, as well as many of the leading lights in the emerging Free State.

Frank Duff was a man ahead of his times. His concern for the poor shines through. His early membership of the St Vincent de Paul Society led to his concern for the spiritual welfare of those being proselytised by soup kitchens. He was prophetic, when at the very first meeting on that night in September 1921, he said to the ladies present that their gathering would be the template for a worldwide organisation. At present in 2011, the Legion boasts 4 million active members and 10 million auxiliary members worldwide in 170 countries. No other Irish organisation of any kind can make the claims of the Legion for its universal acceptance within decades of its foundation.

A pivotal event in the spread of the Legion after a quiet decade in the 1920s was the International Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932. The 80th anniversary of this event is of course being marked by another Congress- the 50th of the kind - in Dublin in June 2012. It was in that year of 1932 that the word of the Legion spread from Dublin through contacts made at the Congress to many mission lands and within a short few years the Legion grew with dazzling speed at the behest of Irish missionaries, through Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many Chinese Legionaries were imprisoned or executed in the 1940s and 1950s for their persistence in Legion membership, and their refusal to renounce their Catholic faith.

The work of the Legion could be summed up as the performing of the spiritual works of mercy under the banner of Mary, ‘so that’, in the words of the Legion Standing Instruction, ‘the person of Our Lord is once again seen and served by Mary, His Mother.’ The Legion is a highly stylised organisation, whose hierarchical structure is modelled on the Roman Legion. It stresses efficiency and unity of purpose as the hallmarks of its organisation. The attendance at a weekly meeting, lasting no longer than 1½ hours and the striving towards performance of heroic apostolic work for 2 hours each week, are the two defining characteristics of the life of the member, who is known as a ‘legionary’. But behind the ‘body’ of work and meeting, is the soul-work, that is the sanctification of every member, to imitate the humble servant that Mary also was, to place one’s talents at Her service, and at the service of Her Son, to bring the wayward back to the right path, and to strengthen the faith of those in the fold.

The Legion has been variously criticised in certain quarters for its high level of organisation, with the jibe of ‘inflexibility’, or that its spirituality in its Legion Handbook is eccentric and ‘excessively Marian’, or that its members lack a certain sophistication in theological matters. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. Legion members work in a master-and-apprentice system, and learn by doing. Frank Duff’s philosophy was one of Christianity with its ‘sleeves-rolled-up’. Furthermore, the astonishing success in so short a time meant that the Legion of Mary was an idea ‘whose time had come’. It was firmly established before the Church, in its official documents caught up, 40 years after Frank Duff, on the idea that the Church exists to be missionary by its very nature, and that by virtue of baptism every Catholic is called to be apostolic. Frank always believed that no matter what one’s background, anyone could become a member of the Legion, and from the beginning Legion membership miraculously circumvented any clash of social background, race, colour or caste.

Legion work is courageous and challenging. Frank and his early fellow-legionaries overcame obstacles ‘where angels feared to tread’ and successfully closed down a well-established red-light district in Dublin known as the ‘Monto’, with many girls trapped in prostitution, finding a new life, and in most instances, new careers and marriage, and ultimately with their dignity and self-respect restored to them. With sheer tenacity and firmness of vision and faith the early Legion challenged and continue to see the solution to many social problems at their previously overlooked spiritual roots. From the outset some Dublin diocesan clergy were appalled at the apostolic work of lay people and felt undermined in their understanding of what constituted acceptable respective roles of clergy and lay faithful.

Frank Duff was also head of his time in ecumenical matters organising gatherings with prominent Protestants and Jews, which were graciously received by those faiths. He was castigated by the formidable Dublin Archbishop John Charles McQuaid for this at the time, who also gave Frank a hard time in delaying to give the Imprimatur to the second edition of the handbook, hampering the work of the Legion worldwide where new translations and printings were urgently needed.

Duff was not afraid to tackle the most distressing social problems, with the setting up of hostels for homeless men and women. He was prescient in condemning the practises in Magdalene laundries and other work-houses, and opposed the separation of unwed mothers from their children.

If you want a cracking read for Christmas, then I heartily recommend
‘Frank Duff, A life Story’ by Finola Kennedy, Available online for €10 from
Happy Christmas 2011, Fr John McCarthy CC Cobh Parish
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1st Sunday of Advent Year B

Stay awake!

We know what it is like to be drowsy especially if we are awake and still up beyond our usual time for bed. As we get older we are no longer as interested in staying up late or out all night as often as we used to because - drink aside - we know all too well the consequences of sleep deprivation, that we’ll be sorry in the morning’, that there will be drowsiness, and an inability to concentrate on our work. The price to be paid for lack of sleep is high when we experience the occasional night of interrupted sleep when called out to an emergency, or more commonly for parents with sick or restless children who cannot settle easily at night, when a day’s work lies ahead.

Keeping vigil.

We know what it is like to keep vigil at the sickbed or the deathbed of a loved one. We want to be there for their passing. We might talk and pray, or say nothing, but we cope in different ways, but we are there keeping watch. We all likewise dread the coming of that phone call to inform us to come quickly as our loved one has not much time left in the world in a hospital or nursing home. This is one kind of keeping vigil.

Another kind of vigilance is that of being ready and at work or on guard. Security of mind comes from the fact that we may have security cameras, alarms, or guards on the watch for the quiet time of the night when burglars and thieves are at work. It is better to have vigilant safeguards in place rather than have to go through the awful feeling of violation at having been burgled at a time when we ask ourselves with regret with the ‘if onlys’ afterwards that we could have done more, that the burglary was preventable. These are safeguards, like life or health insurance.
There is another kind of ‘watch’: more akin to the Gospel today and that is the vigilance that is required of us to be attentive to one’s duty and one’s commission, and not slacking even when the employer/supervisor/inspector is not looking or not in sight.

And so the name ‘watch’ is given to a time of the night when we are to be on the alert for the coming of an anticipated event – in time of war there was the possibility of invasion or attack, the manned watchtowers around the country and around the island of Cobh built during the prospect of foreign invasion of Ireland by Spain or France to be the back-door to invasion of England.

But what does being awake and alert mean for us here and now?

Just as the last few Sundays of Ordinary time also reminded us of vigilance – that of the men with the talents of the bridesmaids with oil for their lamps, because the Master is coming at an hour we do not expect, our whole life – not just some part of it – is meant to be one of prayerful vigilance to keep the commandments, to ward off temptation to commit repeated sins when it strikes, to keep sin at bay, but also in a positive sense we should have vigilance to watch out for all the many occasions during our day when in thought, word or action we can be generous, patient and charitable and not to give into to gossip, pride and unfair judgments through anger and tiredness.

To be watchful therefore is to have a heightened sense that there are opportunities not to be missed where I can be an active Catholic Christian in my attentiveness to the performance of my religious duties but also to be ever active in my resolve to watch of other comings of the Lord in the guise of those in need as last week’s Gospel reminded us. To be hopeful, encouraging, and to be responsive and discerning to the demands of the Gospel, to the keeping of the commandments and to ward off impending evil by humble acknowledgment of our weakness and proneness to sin. Difficult, demanding tasks and even the routine of life and seeming repetitive boredom are challenges to be met head on, that we might not seek novelty and distraction in harmful gratifying compulsions and addictions at the expense of straying from the path God has marked out for us.

All this is what is meant this first Advent Sunday by the alert to watch in our lives and to stay awake as ‘we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.’

Reflections on the Gospel according to Mark

This is a summary of a talk given on Monday November 21st to Lectors of the parish of Cobh

This weekend, November 26th/27th sees the beginning of a new Church Year as we begin Advent. The Gospel for most Sundays of the Year B, as it is known, is taken from the Gospel according to Mark.

The phrase ‘the Gospel according to Mark’ is important because it reminds us that there is after all, only one Gospel, or Good News, but 4 versions of it, admittedly parallel and overlapping.

To use a modern example: We often see, for example, a ‘breaking news’ story as we flick channels on BBC, RTE,CNN, Fox News, ABC etc. the same images flash before us, say, for example, the riots in Egypt or the uprising in Libya that oversaw Col. Gaddafi. There is one news story rolling along the ticker tape at the bottom of out TV screens, but different tellings, and different details come to light.

Mark’s version of the life, ministry death and resurrection is the shortest version. I recommend highly reading the entire Gospel book in a single sitting. It makes a powerful impact, and takes 45 minutes to read through. Mark writes in a very dramatic, direct and simple style, with much of the dialogue and narrative in the present tense. His account is in contrast to Matthew who pads, as it were, to show the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, or Luke who had a Gentile audience in mind, or John’s highly theologised version with few miracles, but long rich discourses of Jesus. It is worth mentioning that John’s Gospel is recalled in several Sundays of the coming liturgical year, especially John, with the Bread of Life discourse in the summer Sundays.

It is a long-standing tradition that Mark’s account was the first to be written and that he used Peter as his principal journalistic source. Mark is not an Apostle, and his name does not feature in the Gospel account that bears his name. He is mentioned, though, in the Acts of the Apostles.

What is interesting is the way Mark excludes the Infancy narrative and we enter at once into the drama of the highlights of Jesus’ life and death. Fully one-third of the Gospel is taken up with the Passion narrative.

The phrase, ‘immediately’, occurs 40 times in the Gospel of Mark. This gives us a sense of urgency and hurry as we read. The work of Jesus is one of dramatic urgency with immediate effect. This gives the reader a sense of wishing to enter into an automatic response of wanting to accept Jesus’ message and identity straight away. Jesus is moved by the Spirit immediately after His baptism into the wilderness. The parable of the sower of the word contains several instances of the word ‘immediately’ for example.

The Gospel is clearly divided into two main sections, with the chapters 1-8 focussing on establishing Jesus’ identity in his hearers and followers, and chapters 9 to 16 leading inexorably to Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection. The miracles Jesus performs lead people to ask ‘Who is this man’ (that he can forgive sins in chapter 2, that he can calm the storm in chapter 4); and ‘where did this man get all this?’ He is identified uniquely in Mark with the title ‘the son of Mary’. The conflicts with the Pharisees from the outset do not bode well of course for Jesus’ fate, as it were.

The climax comes on chapter 8 with the revealing of what scholars call ‘the Messianic secret’. At a place called Caesarea Philippi Jesus asks his disciples: ‘who do men say that I am?’ This straw poll is then followed by the more challenging question, which is asked of us too, ‘who do you say that I am?’ With Peter’s confession of faith that ‘You are the Christ’ Jesus urges them to tell no-one of this. Then Jesus predicts for the first time to his disciples His impending Passion, or if you will, Jesus then tells us Himself who He is, the awaited Messiah. There are two later predictions. Immediately in the next chapter of Mark (chapter 9), at the Transfiguration, the Father confirms Jesus (for our benefit) as ‘His beloved Son’, and we are urged to ‘listen to Him’.

We might ask ourselves why in so many occasions Jesus encourages silence in His followers as to His true identity. Even the demons exorcised from poor wretches recognise Him as the ‘Son of God’. There are several reasons: it was not the appointed time, Jesus does not want to perceived as having a political, military Messianic plan, or as a magician who performs ‘on tap’. He wishes to confirm as well as elicit greater faith. Many of the wonders He performs take place to confirm faith, rather than to force it out of nothing. The paralytic is cured in chapter 2, because Jesus rewards the faith of the man’s friends.

The title Mark uses for Jesus from the outset is ‘Son of God’, and Jesus refers to Himself as the ‘Son of Man’. We are drawn in, then, gradually to the puzzle or mystery ourselves so that we too might come to a similar conclusion of faith in who Jesus actually is, despite our timidity in the second part of the Gospel in the face of the predictions and inevitability of the suffering the Messiah is set to undergo for our sakes.

Enjoy the Year of Mark, beginning this Sunday, and read Mark for yourself.

Christ the King Year A

Does anybody care?

I suppose that this is a question we all ask ourselves in the hopefully rare, though occasional, moments of tiredness, disappointment, disillusionment, despair that come to us now and then. There are moments of tiredness and stress in all of our lives, when we are at a low ebb, especially after a lot of activity, when we stop and ask ourselves, when left to ourselves, what is it all for? What does it matter? Does anybody care? Does anything I say or do make a difference?

It happens in all walks of life, to the mother of young children pacing the floors with a sick child in her arms at 4 am, to someone who is newly retired and the workplace carries on without them, to someone sick in bed left to their thoughts for a long time without a visitor. At vulnerable times like these, it may just be the mind and body telling us to take much overdue rest or restore some order and balance in our lives if we have been working too hard, or we have been taking ourselves too seriously.

But there are people around us who do ask this question of themselves regularly, ‘does anybody really care?’

This is where God comes in and where we come in. Some people who question the existence of God actually question His presence because they are not convinced that we believe it. They are not convinced by our witness when we fail to see God in others.

The image we are given in the First Reading from Ezekiel today is of a God who cares. The reading (as well as the Psalm) is worth pondering over – God is a shepherd in the midst of us - not some far way off, first and foremost. He cares for all. The images used suggest not only the different kinds of people (sheep) there are, but the various times in my life and yours, when in the terrifying mist and darkness of life, we have become lost altogether, have strayed from the path of God, have been wounded (by others or by ourselves) or have been sick – and God has come to our rescue – to nourish us and to guide us to safety and give us rest.

It is I venture to say only when we have had some experience of rescue by God (directly in prayer or His working through the goodness, patience and kindness of others), that we come to the Gospel teaching that we are called to do likewise to others. We can witness to God’s goodness to ourselves by passing it on. Even if people question whether God exists or cares, at least by our words, our actions, our presence, we can say ‘at least I do’. Very often I don’t think many people are really questioning God’s existence so much as they are crying for help. We are the ones who are called to be the proofs of God’s existence through our concrete acts of care and concern.

Sometimes in the lives of the saints God appeared in disguise as one of 'the least' –as a leper to St Francis, as a poor man in need of a cloak to St Martin, as a starving boy at a kitchen door in the life of St Faustina. Later he would reveal Himself in His glory to them thanking them for the kindness they and ventured to show Him.

As we come then to the end of another year we are called today then to pause and reflect on the extent of our generosity to those less well-off than ourselves in the past year. What resolution(s) can I make to improve?

Finally one last brief story in the life of St Vincent de Paul, when a rich aristocratic lady asked him one day, ‘what can I do for the poor?’ he answered her on word, maybe one word we need to hear too.

'What can I do?' His reply, one word: ‘more’.

33rd Sunday of the Year A

It seems amazing that we have been taken in by vicariously acting out the dramas of The Dragon’s Den, X Factor, Masterchef and America’s Got Talent. We can watch and be entertained because we are not the ones on show facing trial and possible humiliation. Nothing is required of us to sit back and watch and see others cringe, be scrutinised on their performance and work, and be judged. It is pure exploitation.

The parables of these weeks at the end of the Church year and the Gospel and Year of Matthew’s Gospel point us to fact that there is a sense of accountability for all of us when all that is unbalanced, unfair, inequitable and unjust in this passing world will be rectified. They are reminders to the whole Church believing community that there is, after all, a final reckoning of our individual stewardship; that after death comes particular judgment, heaven or hell, also known as The Four Last Things.
A talent originally was a unit of mass, but became a measurement of currency.

According to one estimate, a talent was the wages earned for 20 years labour. So whether it was 20 years, 40 years, 100 years worth of life, there is accountability.
We might wish sometimes that God would have made us differently, or given us more than our seeming limited resources. We often seem more conscious of what others have and what we lack than thanking God instead for what we have been uniquely given. We sometimes doubt our own abilities and question what exactly it is we have to offer in life to others.

For some people in life, who are successful in business, have ambition, drive and initiative, or are academically, musically or athletically gifted, everything to them – at least to our way of seeing it -seems effortless. These correspond to the man with the 5 talents. But the famous tenor Pavarotti once said that after a day without singing practice for 5 hours, he would notice deterioration, and after two days everybody else would. We forget the ongoing effort required even by those at the top. As someone I know often says, brilliance is really 5 % inspiration, and 95% perspiration.

We have obligations, despite temptations to doubt ourselves, to at least make the effort to develop our 1, 2 or 5 talents.

The man with the 1 talent, rather than focussing his energies on the 1 thing given to him, squandered his chance, and buried it. We might identify more readily with this man with the one talent because we can be too self-conscious. Misplaced fear, hesitancy, reluctance, fleeing to safety rather than face ridicule or criticism from others lest we make a mess of things, lack of confidence, self-pity, navel-gazing, and self-absorption are all qualities we can relate to, but there is a sense of urgency and accountability that seems rather unforgiving in today’s Gospel. There is no excuse in God’s eyes. God expects a return for his investment in us. The man is his own self-fulfilling prophecy and receives worse than nothing as his desserts. As King Lear famously said: ‘nothing shall come of nothing’.*

The delay in the Master’s/king’s return today as with the parable of the wise and foolish virgins last week, is meant to correspond to the time and unique opportunity that is given to us to put to good use the talent or talents we have been given. It spurs us to action to make use of what we have been entrusted with. We will each of us be asked to render account for our talents, each of us according to our ability. We must practice an attitude of gratitude. Our talents are there for us either to use, or are there for us to misuse and finally, lose. We must acknowledge, therefore, what we have been given, despite the seeming unfairness and inequity of talent distribution in a family setting, in school, work, or the world as a whole. Rather than wallow in self-pity and anger because at times we have been unfairly compared to a more gifted sibling, we must learn strive to be the best version of ourselves that God has called us to be.

The shame with the man with the one talent is his decision to play it safe: buried talent, of wasted opportunities and untapped potential, of easily giving in to inner negativity, fear of failure, or to outward sarcasm, put-downs, knocking, cynicism, will only lead to later regret at what might have been.

If there is one talent we all possess and must use – it is that of praise and encouragement. It does not come easily to us, because we don’t want to come across as artificial and insincere. We are not a nation of positive thinkers. We can all think of someone though, who, in our formative years, provided inspiring words of praise and encouragement which made all the difference to us, between perseverance and giving up in despair in some area of life. We all can think of a teacher we liked, who appealed to us because of their positive attitude and the time they had for us. We may never have verbally thanked them but we are grateful years later. It is a truism in life that we may remember what people said to us, we might remember what people did for us, but we always remember how people make us feel, good and bad.
Let us not fear, therefore, to encourage, praise and be positive, not artificially but sincerely. It is all too easy to want to knock others off their perch, rather than give credit where it is due. Let be the first talent to cultivate, and watch others bloom.

May we learn to recognise and appreciate our dignity and uniqueness, as well as the opportunity that is being presented to us to make up for lost time, to put all our energies into putting our 1,2 or 5 talents to use, so that one day we can join, with all the other talented people around us, in our Master’s happiness.

*Old King Lear has decided to retire and divide his kingdom among his three daughters. They are required to come forward and flatter him. His two eldest daughters, Regan and Goneril, flatter and deceive the old king, and receive their rewards. The youngest, Cordelia, who loves him most, cannot find the words to articulate this love. He asks her to speak up and praise him more than her sisters have just done. When asked 'what do you have to say?' Cordelia responds "Nothing." He repeats this answer as a question. She responds the same. Lear is outraged and tells her that "nothing will come of nothing," and banishes her without money, title, or any part of his kingdom.

Sunday 32A

It’s funny when we come across the source of an often cited quotation. We say to ourselves, ‘oh, so that’s where it comes from!’ The saying ‘you do not know the day or the hour’ is one such saying, and comes from the parable of the wise and foolish virgins today.

A number of years ago there was a terrible tragedy that killed a number of high profile Manchester United players – it is called the Munich Air Disaster, which took place in 6 Feb 1958, and is forever etched in the consciousness and lore of that great football club. A few of the players were not confident fliers, particularly Liam Whelan, who was heard to say "This may be death, but I'm ready" shortly before take-off. It is sobering that he did die that night.

Recently I have presided at, or heard about quite a significant number of, funerals of young people in their 40s. It seems that they are too young to die by our reckoning. All their plans and dreams come to a sudden end, through illness or a tragic accident, and we and their loved ones are left asking: ’Why? Why now? Why not later? Or ‘we weren’t ready!’’ ‘They had so much to offer and to accomplish. Why now, Lord? It seems so unfair.’

This happens to us time and again and one sad funeral after another wears us down. We go on our way tranquilly and then ‘wallop’, we are stunned in the face of untimely death. This month of November we are all too aware of all loved ones gone before us.

Which brings us back to the parable. This parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins, is, in fact, among the last of Jesus and when we look at the context of the Gospel Jesus is preaching towards the end of His own life. Soon He will face what He Himself describes as ‘the hour’. It was for this hour I came into this world’. Up to this point, the gospel writers relate: ‘his hour had not come yet’, all the way back to Cana when He said to His Mother, ‘My hour has not yet come.’

Now His hour has come and He will say to His Father, ‘Father, what will I say, save me from this hour?’ When we take a look at the chapter this parable comes from we see too that there are other similar parables about watchfulness and a divine return at an un-appointed time.

We are all frightened by the shortness of life and our own mortality. We see that much of the glamour, fame, and celebrity around us and in the media is really so much empty show, here today and gone tomorrow. In fact we are reminded anew of the most fundamental important things to us - faith, family, friends, and our health. When we are shaken by death we often see them with a fresh sense of gratitude that we can get up in the morning despite all our whinges at the demands and inconveniences that are made of us. Our worries are short-lived but also placed in a new context of gratitude for what we do have here and now.

The maidens, virgins or young girls in the parable are chosen with a particular duty and joyful task to accompany the bridegroom as He comes to claim His Bride and take up residence with her, which is marked by a midnight feast, in the curious Israelite custom of the time.

There is much symbolism of course. The parable highlights virginity which in turn points to a certain disposition – a cleanliness or detachment from sin and worldly things. All ten have this external quality as it were. They differ however in one crucial respect, which reminds us that the exterior life must be accompanied by an interior watchfulness and preparation. The oil in the lamp is the fuel needed to provide the light in the darkness, to guide the way, which the foolish virgins lack. What is this oil? Wisdom and virtue, the First Reading tells us. This means discernment of what the most important things in life are, as well as a consciousness of why we are here, in this time and space in 2011, and what are our duties to God and neighbour. The oil in fact points to the light we are called to be to others, and pointing to Christ the Light - as well of course being attuned to the source of all Light, Christ, the Light of the world, ourselves. We cannot give what we do not possess ourselves. Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount. ‘You are the light of the world; no one places a lamp under a bed or a bushel, but where it will be seen. You must let your light (your deeds) be seen, so that others may give praise to your Father in heaven.’

When we see the ‘lock-out’ of the foolish ones, by contrast, it is not for us to speculate, though, how many are excluded as in the other parables of Jesus where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and what is meant when ‘many will try to enter’ and will fail. As the other parables we have seen tell us, we need a proper wedding garment, we need to do the Father’s will, we must enter by the narrow gate, and we must be humble.

The Lord is coming for each of us, each in turn; it is only a matter of when. We do not know the day or the hour.

MAy Our Lady pray for us 'now and at the hour of our death.'

Are we ready, with our lamps lit? As we say in the Mass - ‘we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our saviour, Jesus Christ.’

Sunday 31 A

We have all heard the expression, ‘practice what you preach.’

Many years ago a Greek philosopher named Aristotle identified three elements that must be present in every public speaker for him or her to be persuasive. These are, firstly, ‘logos’ ,or the spoken word, which must have coherence; secondly, ‘pathos’, or feeling, connecting with the audience’s sympathies; and lastly, ‘ethos’ whereby the speaker must be a credible witness to his own words, literally in his ethical behaviour.

It is very clear that the Lord has strong words of condemnation for the guilty practices of rabbis who lack this ‘ethos’ for their grave failings in administration, and in bad example. Whilst the ‘logos’ or the teaching of the rabbis is valid and authoritative, the example of their way of life is simply awful and can render their teaching lacking in relevance or urgency or unpersuasive to their hearers when they fail to live up to what they preach.

Pride, pomposity, arrogance have no place among God’s appointed and God’s anointed. The condemnation in the First Reading states:

‘But you, you have strayed from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your teaching’

The word that sums up this stumbling is ‘scandal’ coming from a Greek word ‘skandalon’ meaning a stumbling block. It is the Church’s teaching that ‘active scandal’ is defined as deliberately wishing to lead others – by deed or omission - astray. It is to set up something in someone’s path to deliberately cause them to fall over. It is sinister and involves deep personal malice and deceit in the perpetrator. [See the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs CCC ##2284-2287].

It is a sin against the fifth commandment ‘thou shall not kill’ surprisingly enough, but because it has the effect of killing the soul or spirit within a person, and indeed a whole community, that it is so insidiously harmful.

People do often sin through ignorance, force, fear, passion or acquired habit, but to deliberately wish to sin and/or to wish to lead others who are innocent through false teaching or behaviour to sin is indeed the worst kind of all and is engaging in a true ‘scandal’.

All moral and spiritual authority comes from God. Once the Creator is lost sight of, the creature is soon forgotten. Once a priest, rabbi or other religious leader loses sight of their responsibilities to practice integrity of life, with deep humility, they are in danger of setting themselves up as the arbiter of authority and lose the run of themselves in conduct, conversation and manner of dress. Having lost faith in God and becoming self-centred and vain they cause others to lose faith though lack of leadership and guidance. Priests are made contemptible and vile (First Reading) in the eyes of others through the sins of other wayward priests whose priorities are their own prestige and comfort.

This gives us pause when we consider the real scandals of recent years in the Church, the underlying clericalism that led to a magnification of evil, the effects on victims, and the outrage and disappointment of many disaffected Catholics to those ‘who have showed partiality in administration’ (First Reading).

St Paul is the opposite of everything we have described. He is a tireless worker for his people, slaving for them so that they can get to know the difference Christ can make to their lives, using the image of maternal care, with the effect on the communities to whom he is sent that ‘God's message [is] not some human thinking; and ... a living power among you who believe it.’ He humbles himself, and he is not haughty or proud (like the prayer of the Psalmist).

To sum up, in other words, the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, and the unfaithful priests in the time of the prophet Malachi ‘have strayed from the way’ and are now deliberately IN THE WAY. St Paul, in contrast, is helping the early Church known as the Way, to help people on their way to salvation, to ‘life in Christ’.

May we like St Paul, do likewise.

Mission Sunday homily

Mission Sunday

The story of any paralytic is a sad one. We can think of people who have been paralysed through age, infirmity or through a car accident. Listening to a radio show during the week it was sad to hear of a stroke victim in the Rehab Centre in Dun Laoghaire - where one of the Masterchef Ireland finalists works - who was featured making dinner for the patients there. He expressed his loneliness and his hope to be better for Christmas – which, if we need any reminding, is 8 weeks away. We tend to forget that people are suffering and they need our prayers as well as our overdue visits.

In the case of the paralysed man in the Gospel account today, curiously Jesus does not cure the obvious physical ailment first. He forgives the man’s sins. This takes priority. Why? Because the presence of sin hampers us, stifles us, and weighs us down like so much excess baggage hindering us in our attempts to grow closer towards God and to be the best type of persons God wants us to be. In other words sin is a much more insidious form of paralysis hidden from sight.

I am going to use an acronym now. The word FIGS could be used to describe the four states of mind we find ourselves in, paralysed, hindering our spiritual lives, and preventing us from receiving the healing help God offers us in the Sacrament of Confession or reconciliation.

F is for Fear. This is much more common and prevalent than we might think. Fear prevents someone like you and me to truly open ourselves to proper necessary scrutiny or evaluation. What might be obvious areas of change – or repentance - in the lives of others, are not so easy for us to own up to in ourselves. Fear of what others might think of us – especially the priest to who w confess our sins. but it may even be an unhealthy fear of God stemming from false images of God as a distant exacting accountant, rather than one of God as unconditionally loving us despite all our fears and failings. What am I afraid of? Am I paralysed with fear?

I is for Indifference. This is an offshoot of pride that causes us to question ‘what does it matter anyway?’ There is no identified urgency in you or me to name and shame our sinful attitudes and ways of behaving. This indifference betrays a DIY approach to our own salvation rather than opening ourselves to the continuous necessary outpouring of God’s grace in our lives. There may be even a sense of denial of the presence of sin at all. As a result, the letter ‘I’ therefore could also stand for Inertia.

G is for Guilt. This is where we recognise our guilt for sins committed against God, others and ourselves. We are paralysed by fear to act to repent, by the awfulness of what we have done. Scruples and hand-wringing, neurosis and sleeplessness are expressions of guilt that weighs heavily on people for a long time. Their lives come to a standstill and things are done in ‘going through the motions’ way. On occasion as a priest I have been witness in the sacrament to people shedding tears of relief and joy as they finally confess a guilty secret that has haunted them for many years. They truly undergo a resurrection experience.

S is for shame. It is embarrassing to confess something private and deeply personal and confidential. To admit failure is humbling, that I could be wrong – in something I thought, thinking badly of another and quick to condemn their motives or actions, to bring to the surface and out into the open. Shame was the reaction of Adam and Eve - they no longer wanted to expose themselves; they could not look at God face to face. Shame is particularly hard to bear when we have to repeatedly confess sins of ingrained habit. We want to run away. God can’t possibly forgive me this embarrassing personal failure and I can’t bring it out into the open. It is too much for me to expect to be forgiven.

While guilt and shame are healthy signs of a sensitive and active conscience, we learn as children through failings not to repeat them and we are prevented from being worse than we are. But dealt with badly, we become sick in mind and body even to the point of paralysis.

So where am I? Am I too afraid to admit sin, or too indifferent to care about it, or too guilty to face it, too ashamed to confess it? If any of these apply I am truly paralysed in sin and in need of help .To repeat, the paralysis due to sin is more damaging to one’s integrity than physical paralysis, as tragic and awful as it is.
Curiously then, the Gospel reading at first sight has nothing obvious to do with Mission Sunday. But Jesus is sent to bring the Good News to all. “To prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “get up and pick your bed and go off home”.

Jesus confirms the words of God in the First Reading, that God is consistently merciful, ‘If the (poor man) cries to me I will listen for I am full of pity’.
The Mission of evangelisation therefore is a call to us to follow in Jesus’ mission of mercy. But we cannot give what we do not have, so we need to hear the Good News too and experience the awe of the crowd in the Gospel – to hear and experience the Good News of repentance, and the joy it brings to us, and others, whom he wants to free from our paralysis.

Mission Sunday

TO LOVE God with all your heart mind and soul and your neighbour as yourself is as simple and as hard as it gets. All else is window dressing. This is a mission statement of morality and spirituality. It is the task of a lifetime.

Note the priority – God, then neighbour, then self, and the importance of the word ALL in relation to God and at the word AS between neighbour and self. God alone is worthy of all our love, and other loves or lesser loves are on the context of this complete gift of self – heart, soul, mind and strength.

St Augustine said ‘love God and then do what you will’.

It is more than a statement of intent; it is a way of life of striving to more fully appreciate what this love entails in practical living out and decision making, even to the tiniest details. St Therese said that in the heart of the Church she would be love, and she also taught us to do the ordinary things with great love.

To love and to be loved, as I have often said before, are the two great joyful discoveries awaiting each person. We are fortunate indeed if we discover these truths early. Many psychological and emotional disturbances occur in those who have not yet discovered the fact that they are unconditionally loved, and that this love can never be taken away no matter what happens to us; and that they are lovable, warts and all. Many childhood experiences and the trials of life prevent us from reaching this state of tranquillity and acceptance readily.

We are never going to be happy if we decide to live in splendid isolation, although we might want to choose to be; nor are we destined to eke out ‘lives of quiet desperation’. Love does not have to be affective, or erotic, but the emotional thrill of love must be experienced at least once in one’s lifetiome to believe in love, and to begin to appreciate the higher loves – of God, of sacrifice, or striving to live out love, and to be IN LOVE WITH CHRIST, not just ‘to love Him’ as a banal statement of intent. The great definition of love is to be found in St Paul in 1 Cor 13: Love is patient and kind and so on.

If this love is not experienced, love is sought in vain self-centredness, also called narcissism after the mythological figure of Narcisssus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and drowned in the attempt to attain embrace with self. The pain of self-destructive behaviours associated with addictions and impulse control issues to do with reckless eating, drinking, gambling, drug-taking, even shopping, are hugely damaging to self and are acts of self-hate. True self-love or self-regard is found in self-surrender to God AND others. We must completely surrender – and pray and say out loud often – to God that we choose to accept Jesus Christ as our PERSONAL Lord and Saviour – completely, whatever the consequences, whatever the change required of us. Our lives change drastically and we see others in a new light – that others are struggling too, and that they will not find happiness without a personal encounter with Christ Jesus our Lord.

The concern then for others – called service - distracts us from self-pity and over-analysis, and we begin to see how we are gifts FOR others and we need to CONSUME ourselves for others.

It is a love we want to share. There is a whole world out there of people waiting to be listened to, whose problems we may not be able to solve, but who wish to unburden themselves. They are eager to hear Good News in a world of fear, pain and heartache.
Let us pray for those who dedicate their whole lives, who spend themselves for others for the sake of the Gospel so that the love of Christ may be preached, heard and experienced ion all His richness. In giving may we too receive, and may we once more appreciate in our own lives ‘the difference Christ makes.’ Amen

29th Sunday of the Year A

This is the time of the year when the Revenue Commissioners are reminding us to file our tax returns. Yes, priests pay taxes, and are considered self-employed. We all have a moral obligation to pay our taxes, as much as we grumble.

In today’s Gospel as Jesus confrontation with the Jews become more dramatic and more frequent, Jesus reminds us to ‘render unto Caesar, what is Caesar’s’ after all.
Some among the Jews who on the one hand greatly resented Roman occupation being supported by taxes, and the Herodians on the other, supporters of the detested royal family and the occupying Roman force, united in an attempt to trap Jesus into civil disobedience. In a seemingly no-win situation, if answered incorrectly and to their satisfaction, Jesus’ response would give ammunition, as it were, to one party of His enemies which would later be possible to use his answer as evidence against Him in trial. They already had their minds made up to incarcerate him and have him put to death.

Jesus takes a Roman coin and holds it up them:
‘Render unto God what is God’s’. What does this mean? It means while we have duties as citizens, we have duties as Christians too to give God true worship. Justice means that all give to one another mutually what is their due. In an ideal just society there would be no clash of obligations.

But ‘rendering unto Caesar’ in civic society means that we must discern and ascertain which are the just, binding laws and demands of the state, from laws that are unjust and non-binding in conscience. Because something is legally possible, does not render it morally permissible.

The disciples in the early Church recognised legitimate civil authority: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities...he who resists the authorities resist what God has appointed (Romans 13:1-2)

But at the same time they were not afraid to speak out against public authority when it opposed God’s holy will: We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)
There have been times throughout history when Catholics and other Christians have been forced to make difficult choices. For early Christians it was a stark choice to either submit to the worship false gods or face a painful savage death, for Irish Catholics it was either fidelity to the Holy Mass, or a heavy fine or prison, and in some cases too, even death. The Church in nearly every country has many martyrs for the faith. We have 17 recognised Blessed Irish Martyrs, of at least 120.
What about us? Where there is a conflict between divine law and State law, there is a difficult and sometimes painful necessary choice to be made, it is a seeming question of loyalty. There are times, as Christians, when we must stand for something, and oppose social injustice - to summarise Chesterton, or fall for anything. For evil to prosper, all it takes is for good people to do nothing.

• We recognise for example the enduring indissolubility of marriage in the eyes of God, even if divorce and re-marriage is permitted in the eyes of the State;
• We recognise and must defend the traditional Christian understanding that marriage, by definition involves a man and a woman;
• and that the dignity and right to life of every human being from conception, to the embryonic stage, and right through all stages of pregnancy, And then on to natural death must be upheld.

While legal definitions alone do not determine the moral rightness and wrongness of human acts, we as citizens have the duty to promote the common good, to support and enshrine just laws and decry unjust ones.

We are called therefore to be loyal citizens of the State, but also to be Christians loyal to the prior and higher demands of the laws of God.

One of the most famous moral dilemmas was the one that faced St Thomas More, so marvellously portrayed in the movie ‘a man for all seasons’. Thomas’ choice was to take the oath recognising Henry VIII as supreme head of the Church of England, and recognise his marriage to Anne Boleyn; or to stick to his Catholic principles recognising the Pope’s authority to refuse the annulment, as well as defending the sanctity of marriage, testifying to the validity of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragón. Let it be said of us too that we always gave priority to render unto God what is God’s, and that we always preferred to do what is right ahead of what is popular.

St Thomas More was declared by Blessed Pope John Paul II as the patron saint of politicians. He was a prisoner of and martyr for all who uphold the dignity of conscience. He is really patron to us all who sometimes have ethical dilemmas, and are uncertain of what decision to take. Let us pray to him and try to take to heart
his words.

Thomas’ famous last words can be our catch-cry as well: ‘I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first’.


All we have is this day

I wonder what is the longest book you have ever read? For me the top three longest are: ‘War and Peace’ (1440 pages), ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (1000 pages), and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (800+).

What if we were to translate the number of days of our lives into pages? It makes a startling total. At present I am over the 16,000 mark!

How many pages/days in your life so far?

We do not know where or when our story of our life will come to an end. The simple fact is that we have no control over that. Only God knows that. But we can only live our lives one day at a time, or one page at a time. We can’t slow it down or speed it up. Some days go more quickly than others. Some are tediously slow.

The past

If we to take a backwards look at our lives, or if you like, the number of pages in your story so far, there are a number of people, places and events that come to mind.
I remember the day when... (How would we finish this sentence?)

A birthday, an anniversary, a wedding, my last day of school, a graduation, the day I stared my first job, got my first pay packet, the day I left home, my first time leaving the country, my first flight, my first date, meeting a future spouse, meeting your future best friend for the first time. All of us have happy memories that we cherish – we may even remember the exact date, and didn’t want the day to end. I remember the day clearly when I felt called to become a priest, February 8th, 1988, and the happiest, most wonderful day of my life, my ordination day, June 12th, 1993.

On the other hand, there were bleaker days for all of us: a day you were sick, or went to the dentist, or had to go to hospital, had to go to a funeral, where you had to part company, where a friendship or marriage ended, experienced bereavement, a day you were told bad news, where you were on 9/11..

The past is filled with joys and sorrows.

... The future

'I look forward to the day when...'

Christmas, a birthday, a reunion, a holiday abroad, last day of school, retirement, a party, the birth of a child, the New Year, a wedding, and so on.

But we can spend (or waste) a lot of time brooding over the past, perhaps even hankering for it, and it will never happen again; things will never be as they were.

We can equally worry (or hope) for the future but wishing won’t make it so.

All we have is this day. And every day of the future, and each day will be of equal length!

So all we have this day. What number day is it for you? What are you going to do with it? How are you going to live it, you with your unique strengths, talents, abilities, gifts, as well as flaws and warts and weaknesses? Does anyone have the perfect life, free form hardship, pain etc. NO, we all get our share. No-one has the secret to complete happiness on earth. But we have a decision to make. There are ultimately two kinds of people in the world: those for whom life happens to them, or those who happen to life.

Your life story is unique to you and only you can live it. Yes, you are the main character in your story. Who are the other main characters that also feature in your story, in the past and right now?

You may not always seem in control, and you don’t know what is around the corner. The main decision is to the right thing, and then take the next best step forward. God respects our free will, but wants us to make the right choices.

God is the author of our life, and he has a plan for the story of our life. In the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, we are a pen in His hands, and He has beautiful handwriting (if we let Him).

We are in the middle of our story right now, and this day is like a ribbon or bookmark in the story,as in the picture, while every few hours is a paragraph, and every conversation is a piece of dialogue. Every thought, word and action matters and is part of the storyline. What chapter am I on? How will I live this day? And what can I do today to ensure a happy ending, i.e., Heaven.

Jesus wishes to say to each of us as He said on the cross: ‘This day you will be with me in paradise’.

And then life really starts, the life God wants for us, eternal happiness, to live happily after.

It is good to have a motto

Make today count.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Today is a gift; that is why they call it ‘the present’!

It is also a good idea to have a prayer, or even the line of a Scripture, to keep us focussed in this strange reality of ‘now-ness’. Below are some suggestions:

‘Give us this day our daily bread’

‘O that today you would listen into His voice’ (Psalm 94)

As long as this ‘today’ lasts, keep encouraging one another (Hebrews)

‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ (Mt 6:34)

Prayer: Lord, there is nothing that will happen to me today that you and I can’t handle together.

St Faustina

The following is a reflection given at our monthly Holy Hour in honour of Divine Mercy which takes place on the second Monday of each month in St Colman's Cathedral, Cobh

Last Wednesday, October 5th, was the feast day of St Faustina. It marks her death in this world and her birth to eternal life.

Last Sunday’s Gospel (see below) is very much in keeping with the message of Divine Mercy.

Just as there were those who were TOO BUSY for the wedding, we know that there are countless, poorly catechised but also indifferent Catholics who are not interested in the Mass. They are too busy for Mass but are quite happy with soccer, rowing rugby and other sports matches on a Sunday as well as shopping or a lie-in.
Do they know what they are missing?

The king who sent out his messengers in the parable eagerly awaited news of the return as well as the responses to all those who were invited. The parable immediately refers to the transfer of the mystery of salvation from the Jews to the Gentiles.

The revised translation in the Mass tells us more clearly: ‘Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!’ The invitation to the wedding banquet in the parable in Sunday’s Gospel symbolises for us the invitation to the Lamb’s Supper in heaven, prefigured by our sharing in Christ’s Body and Blood.

Christ our King eagerly awaits souls to unite themselves to Him in the Eucharistic banquet. Jesus is our Eucharistic king. Like the king awaiting his guests in the parable, He expresses His disappointment to Sr Faustina:

I desire to unite myself with human souls; my great delight is to unite myself with souls. My daughter, know that when I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, my hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay attention to me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh how sad I am that souls do not recognise Love! They treat me as a dead object. (1385)

Let us respond generously to Our Lord’s invitation to the Eucharistic feast.

We have no better model than the life and witness and mission of St Faustina.

What was her full title? Sr Maria Faustina of the most Blessed Sacrament

The chaplet reminds us that 'we offer the Precious Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ' – which is a Eucharistic prayer – addressed to the Father like all of the Eucharistic prayers in the Mass.

We know that without food – if we ever have to fast for any reason – we find life difficult. The Eucharistic food which is the daily bread of the Eucharist is in the words of St Faustina – 'the Bread of the Strong, from where I seek light, comfort and strength.'

During Corpus Christi she saw the two rays pass through the host in at the multitude. Our Lord told Faustina that she too was to be someone chosen by God to allow these rays of mercy to be dispersed through the world. It is, as it were, that the Lord was choosing Faustina as a lens through which the rays of light would be refracted and sent in all directions.

Finally the characteristic fruits of this spiritual life are given in the diary:

I spend every free moment at the feet of the hidden God. He is My Master; I ask Him about everything. Here I obtain strength and light; here I learn everything; here I am given light on how to act towards my neighbour. (704)

Let us likewise be generous in our time for Eucharistic adoration.

Fatima Pilgrimage 2011

The following are sermons given at Fatima during our recent Diocesan Pilgrimage in September.

True and false sympathy

Did you ever complain of an illness only to have someone try to outdo you?

There are a number of things not to say to someone who is suffering:

1. I know someone who died of that
2. Worse happened to me
3. You’ll get over it
4. I was ages with that!
5. I am not sure if I trust your doctor
6. I was given different medication
7. It could be worse

Do we really listen or are we waiting for the other person to finish in order to get our word in, or to have the last word? We may even want to do one better.
True sympathy, on the other hand, means ‘shared feeling’. It means having to button up and swallow our tongue. It is wonderful to find people who do really care, who are not easily distracted when we speak, who provide time and a sympathetic ear, who allow us to say what’s on our minds, who don’t rush in to comment, who wait for us to get it all off our chest. If you know someone like that you are truly blessed. It is when we have ‘emptied ourselves’ that we can then be filled with the wisdom from another. To journey with someone without attempting fast solutions, or indeed any solution. Allowing you to hear yourself speak, so that they can look and listen and even in that space you might even come up with a way of coping, if not a solution.
Compassion means to ‘suffer with’. Our Lady offered Lucia compassion to Lucia when she was told that her friends would die soon and that she would be left on earth some time longer. This compassion is, if you like, a winning formula that we can refer to again and again:

‘Do you suffer? My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God’

The Most Holy Name of Mary, September 12th

In every 5 decades of the rosary we recite the name of Mary our Mother 100 times! In our group of 34 people, this week we will recite Our Lady’s name 3400 times. Multiply that by 7 days and you get 23800 times this week alone. Then look at the crowds at Fatima in their tens of thousands and Our Lady’s name is uttered in intercessory prayer millions of times over each day!
Think of all the times we have called on Mary to be with us ‘now and at the hour of our death’.
Just last week I was called out to a man who had just died. It was 4 am. The family were gathered. The man’s wife called me on the phone and, after I arrived and gave the last rites of the Church, including absolution and the Apostolic Pardon for remission of temporal punishment due to sin, the doctor and family and I recited the decade of the Rosary and the Memorare. The wife turned to me afterwards and said: ‘you do not know how much comfort your recitation of the Memorare is giving me. For the last 10 weeks I have been here at my husband’s bedside, and I commended and entrusted him to Our Lady and recited the Memorare for him every day that he would have a happy death.’ It then dawned on me to remind myself and her that it was the early hours of the morning of September 8th, Our Lady’s Birthday!

I am sure we can replicate stories like this attributing wonders and signs to Our Lady’s intercession and stories attesting to Our Lady’s comforting presence.
Here at Fatima and at the Loca da Cabeco where the angel appeared is significant. It was here that many children would gather and play games, because there was a good echo in the valley. Jacinta in particular would call out ‘Maria!’ – Lucia tells us that Jacinta found that this name echoed best. The children would also sing hymns to Our Lady and the angels, including the hymn, ‘Angels, sing with me’. When the angel appeared to the children, he said, I am the Angel of Peace, pray with me.’ And of course little did young Jacinta realise that for the many times she called out ‘Maria’ that Our Lady would indeed respond and come in person to the use of her name!

Of course intercession of Mary points us to Christ, whose name under heaven by which every man is saved. The Apostle Peter declared in Acts 3, “There is no other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved than the name of Jesus.”

But Mary as always points away from herself, as at Cana to‘do whatever He tells you’.

Triumph of the Cross – September 14th

We might ask why we need to celebrate a day devoted to the Holy Cross of Our Saviour when there is rightly a great emphasis on the centrality of the Cross in Holy week in the liturgical life of the Church. After all, ‘Come let us worship’ are the words of the refrain we sing during the procession on Good Friday.

The date for this commemoration is not a random one as it is the anniversary of the date on which the Christian Empress Helena discovered the remains or relics of the true ‘cross on which hung the Saviour of the world’. It was her son Constantine who had a vision of the cross in the sky, and was told that it was ‘in this sign, you will conquer’. Having the cross emblazoned n the shields of his soldiers, the Romans triumphed. Shortly after Christianity was legalised and persecutions in the Roman Empire came to an end.
Jesus admonishes us that ‘if anyone wants to be a disciple of mine, let him deny himself, take up his cross every day and follow me’.

Jesus makes it quite clear that is an absolute requirement and not a hidden extra. We are called to fidelity and perseverance in our daily duty according to our state in life.

The cross is not an end in itself. There is no glorification on suffering, but rather it can serve as a means to an end when chosen and accepted as such. Suffering is unavoidable and uniquely experienced by each individual. Some suffering is appalling, especially a tragic bereavement.

It is for others in the Body of Christ. In the blood circulatory and immune systems in our body there are what are known as repair cells and helper cells. These help fight infection as it arises and help ward off further harm to the body’s defences especially in blood clotting and fighting viruses and other disease agents. Without them the body would suffer internal or external haemorrhaging.

In a sense we are called to be healers of the wounds caused by sins – ours and those of others. The reality of the horror of sin has been brought to us anew in the recent scandals. The repair required is immense. The damage caused by sin in Christ’s Body, the Church is quite extensive and apparent to us the moment. The long lasting consequences of the sins of a few on the whole church is devastating. The repair work and preventative work involved is consuming a lot of time and effort and is draining of resources. But these are the visible wounds that require repair and are palpable. The damage done to some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, carried out by other brothers and sisters, is truly damaging to them as well as to the image, and mission of the Church as a whole.

Our Lord and Our Lady too suffer by the betrayals and sins of clergy and religious – by the damage done to victims as well as by the wounds the perpetrators have inflicted on themselves. Truly Christ is reliving His Passion by the betrayal of so many.

Through the Cross, freely accepted, we triumph. This cross – the symbol that brought fear and horror in the contemporaries of the Gospel writers – required little elaboration. It was final, it was brutal, it cause people to shudder at the thought of this cruel violent style of execution.

The call of Blessed Jacinta, Blessed Francisco and Lucia was to a life of voluntary penance. Our Lady asked their consent, but assured them of God’s grace.

There are no earthly reasons or satisfactory human explanations for the devastation causes by natural disasters. Neither are there any words to explain the ‘whys’ of the awfulness of a cancer ward, a suicide, a crime scene, or child neglect – all of which I have seen in the course of my ministry.

Here at Fatima we are given a formula for peace as well as a value to suffering. As the Body of Christ was to be wounded grievously by the ‘errors of Russia’ from 1917 onwards, in order to save the world, Our Lady came to another part of the Church, the Body of Christ to apply the remedy, consecration to Her Immaculate Heart, Prayer, especially the daily rosary, penances, reparation.
Just as we have a share in Christ's many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God's great help. (St Paul: 2 Cor 1:5).

Our Lady of Sorrows September 15th

Today, one day after commemorating the Triumph of the Cross we commemorate the seven sorrows of Mary. These are as follows
1. The presentation on the Temple
2. The flight into Egypt
3. The three days loss in the Temple
4. The meeting on the way of the Cross
5. The death of Jesus
6. Jesus is taken down from the cross
7. Jesus is laid in the tomb

They are also known as the dolours of Mary. There is a connection between these sorrows and the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Fatima. At an apparition in 1925 at Pontevedra, Spain, Our Lord appeared as a child in front of His Mother Mary who held in her hand her heart surrounded by thorns. The words of Jesus to Lucia then are meant for us too. The following is Sr Lucia’s account:

On December 10, 1925, the Most Holy Virgin Herself appeared, and beside Her, borne by a luminous cloud, the Child Jesus. The Most Holy Virgin put Her hand on her shoulder and showed her, at the same time, a Heart surrounded by thorns which She held in the other hand. At that same moment, the Child said to her:

"Have compassion on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce Her at every moment, without there being anyone to make an act of reparation in order to take them away."

Then the Most Holy Virgin said to her:

"See, My daughter, My Heart surrounded by thorns which ungrateful men pierce at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, try to console Me and say to all those who, for five months, on the first Saturday, confess, receive Holy Communion, recite the Rosary, and keep Me company during fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, in a spirit of reparation, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls."

What are the thorns that penetrate the heart of our mother and cause her pain?
It is sometimes asked why Our Lady asked for Communions of reparation on five first Saturdays, instead of some other number. Our Blessed Lord answered that question when He appeared to Sr. Lucia May 29, 1930. He explained that it was because of five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, namely: blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, against her perpetual virginity, against the divine and spiritual maternity of Mary, blasphemies involving the rejection and dishonouring of her images, and the neglect of implanting in the hearts of children a knowledge and love of this Immaculate Mother.


At Rwanda, an approved series of apparitions that took place in the 1980s, Our Lady asked that people once more take up the recitation of the Rosary of Dolours on Tuesdays and Fridays. By our mediations on the Passion we console our Lord and Our Lady and we begin in a small way to understand God’s love for us in sending us His only Son to take away our sins. It may serve in no small measure to instil in us a desire to make reparation for sin and to avoid all future occasions of sin.

These are the words of Nathalie, one of the visionaries:

"The Holy Virgin insisted on the need for prayer. She said that the world is bad. It is necessary to pray, to pray, to pray a lot for this world that is bad, to pray for sinners, to pray for their conversion. She insisted a lot on the need for conversion: Convert to God! Convert to God! Convert to God! While saying that people don't respect God's commands, that people have a hard heart, she also asked us to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary and to recite it every day. She also taught us the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. She asked us to pray it every Tuesday and Friday. She asked us to obey the Church, to love God in truth, and to love our neighbour in humility and simplicity. She spoke of the need for mortification, a spirit of penitence and sacrifice. She also spoke of the need for suffering, to bear our sufferings every day. She said that no one enters heaven without suffering. She also told us that acts of charity for the poor make us beautiful flowers that God likes. She wanted a chapel to be constructed here in Kibeho, so everyone would remember her visit and pray for the Church and religious. Holy Mary spoke to us in Kinyarwanda [the language of Rwanda] with her very soft voice."

The Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows reminds us that Mary plays a key role in our Redemption and that she suffered along with her Son Jesus to save us. It is prayed using a special rosary comprised of seven "decades" containing seven beads each.Here is how the Chaplet of Seven Sorrows is prayed:

Each group of seven is begun with an Our Father, as in the regular Rosary. Some people start with an Act of Contrition, since the devotion has a penitential aspect. Also like the regular Rosary, the groups of seven Hail Marys are an occasion for meditation on "Mysteries" — in this case, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, as listed above.
See Kibeho:

September 16th, 2011: The memorial of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

Have you ever noticed how many feats in the Church’s calendar are paired saints? Think of Ss Peter and Paul, Simon and Jude, Cosmas and Damien, Perpetua and Felicity and so on. Think of the many martyr saints commemorated in large groups, e.g., Korean Martyrs, Irish Martyrs and so on. Finally, think of those Blessed, or Beati, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin the parents of St Therese, and of course our friends in Fatima, Blessed Jacinta and Francisco Marto.
It is a curious fact that in the life of every saint, there are others. Maybe canonised, maybe not. St Monica and St Augustine, who was baptised by St Ambrose; St Francis and St Clare of Assisi; St Ignatius of Loyola and St Francis Xavier, St Patrick and St Brigid, and so many Irish saints who were contemporaries and influenced each other. Think of the influences in the life of Blessed John Paul II, his spiritual mentors, his devout father, Jan Tyrranowski and others, the courageous Archbishop Sapieha, and Cardinal Wysinski. Think of St Therese’s family, described as ‘a nest of saints’; or St Faustina and her saintly confessor, Blessed Father Sopocko.
None of us lives for himself alone...the life and death of each one of us has its influence on others. (Romans 14:7).

None of us gets to heaven without the intercession or help from others. We too are called to be intercessors as well as an example through our prayer and conduct and outreach. Our mutual support, strength and sanctification will get us there. The Lord sent out His apostles in pairs, a journey shared, like a problem shared, is halved. And so in our lives there out to be a spiritual director, a confessor, a confidant, a companion, a friend. No man is an island.

The International Eucharistic Congress to take place in Dublin in 2012 has its theme: ‘Communion with Christ, Communion with one another.’ The word ‘companion’ is derived from the phrase ‘to eat bread with’. We journey together in faith as a Eucharistic people. The two disciples together on the road to Emmaus recognised the Lord Jesus at the breaking of bread.

May we be strength to each other in the one Body of Christ.

28th Sunday of the Year A

We have all been invited to a number of weddings in our lives. We can all recall with happiness the great day when a brother or sister or close friend announce their engagement and the anticipation and the countdown to the wedding begins.

As a priest however I get to see weddings from a slightly different angle. I get to meet many couples preparing for marriage.

In my experience of all the items that are crucial to any wedding preparation, whether it is the venue, the date, the church, the priest, the flowers, the wedding booklet, the honeymoon, the dress, the rings, meeting the Registar, the dinner menu the one matter where a couple has their first major row, it is....the invitations!
Now, invitations are a source of great excitement for a couple as the invitation cards are sent with anticipation of RSVPs but they can also be a source of disagreement and emotion when budgeting for the wedding limits numbers. There can be disagreement as to how wide or narrow the invitation list will be, and a clash of opinions over who to invite and who to exclude. If parents are paying for a wedding they may have some say in the invitation list. Some guests are invited without a second thought. Some friends as well as the obvious relatives, come to mind readily. Others we may be more hesitant about, as to whether we are that close to them for them to merit an invite.

Wedding invitations in Israel at the time of Jesus were slightly different. A general invitation would first be issued without a firm date set. Servants would be sent at the appropriate time to prompt guests that the dinner was ready, but there was an indeterminate lapse of time between each. It was up to guests to ready themselves and be prepared at a moment’s notice to drop everything at once to hasten to the banquet. As the wedding celebrations could last several days one would need to have one’s business and domestic affairs in order to leave them behind for a while.

This state of readiness in the parable points to what was lacking in the people of Israel, some of whom were too busy pursuing their own interests to make room for the Lord’s call, while worse still, others violently rejected the invitation by ‘shooting the messenger’ as it were.

The parable clearly points to those among the Jews who would not accept the prophets’ call to repentance (as in last week’s parable of custody of the vineyard) and the invitation is now extended to all ‘unacceptable classes’ of people who were ready to accept. Their rejection of him is punished severely, and the burning of the city as ordered by the King may well point to the destruction of Jerusalem who rejected and killed the prophets, as well as to the rejection of the Lord Jesus Himself. The calamity was in 70 AD. As we are in the closing stages of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel according to Matthew, and the impending Passion, the parables of the last few Sundays point to the transfer of stewardship of the mysteries of God’s kingdom from the Jews to all peoples who would accept Christ.

There is a second parable tucked in to the first one.

Another source of comment at weddings is how people dress. We can often remark at how tastes differ, to put it mildly, at weddings. We would never consider casual dress at a wedding; therefore an invitation to heaven is not to be taken lightly either. In fact, it is on merit. The parable describes the only reference to ‘gate-crashing’ at a wedding in the Bible that I am aware of. The lesson is that many are called and few are chosen. Those called and chosen must prove their worthiness by good deeds. We must realise that the parable teaches us that there is a danger of disqualification. The garment symbolises our good deeds – love of God and neighbour, and virtuous living, piety and justice – often a difficult but achievable combination. In a symbolic way at baptism the infant is clothing with a white garment – with the admonition –‘to keep this garment unstained unto everlasting life’. Just as a stain on a dress or a suit would be mortifying and unacceptable at a public occasion at a wedding, so we too are called to be washed clean of sin for entrance to heaven.

The new response before Holy Communion at the Mass reminds us that the Mass is the foretaste and promise of the heavenly banquet – ‘blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb’. Let us be ready for the call by a virtuous life. By being worthy to receive Him, we are asking to be worthy to be received by Him.

27th Sunday of the Year A

I wonder have you ever been surprised by an unexpected letter – a letter that changed your day and led to a change of course in your focus on life. I remember not long after my ordination in my mid-20s receiving a letter from the Bishop informing me that I had to make a will and appoint executors, one of whom had to be a fellow priest. This came as a bit of a surprise in terms of its seeming lack of urgency or relevance to me at that age. I remember later discussing the prospect with my family. My Dad recalled the advice of a lawyer to a client many years before: - ‘even if all you own is a goat, make a will’!

We all have an obligation in justice to make a will, but we should always ensure that it is fair and equitable. We should seek advice discreetly.

In the drawing up of any will, there will be an inheritance, property, and beneficiaries, but grievances and division can often accompany the execution of a deceased wishes. We can all think of long- standing disputes, even court cases, family division and the ‘silent treatment’ that can occur between siblings over contested wills. There is disappointment, and anger due to a misguided sense of entitlement. It is particularly hurtful however when a verbal agreement or promise is not fulfilled in writing afterwards.

Today’s reading deals in fact with a sense of entitlement that arose among the Jews. As always we must qualify this assertion by remembering that there were devout faithful Jews, but a sense of arrogance and pride could easily manifest itself among the Pharisees.

The Lord deftly summarises the era of the Prophets in the Old Testament and even predicts His own rejection and death that will follow. The wicked tenants in the parable refer to the generations of Jewish leaders who refused to listen to God’s message of reform and repentance spoken through the words of holy men who were appointed with the task of conversion of the nation.

Their rejection is symbolised by the bailiffs sent by the landlord seeking the fruits (or repentance and justice) which are firmly refused repeatedly. The tenants were given a position of trust and responsibility. The tower and the storehouse are meant for the storage of the fruit and wine, the fruits of the labours commissioned by the landowner.

The message and messengers (prophets) sent on behalf of the landowner (God) is a message of love. But often the prophets had to preach in harsh uncompromising language to arouse a spirit of change – untenable to the overly sensitive ears and hardened hearts of the listeners.

This leads us to ponder where in our own lives change is necessary and where through the voices of others we have obstinately and stubbornly refused to amend our ways. For some of us it is bad habits that require the need to alter irrevocably our diet and lifestyle, to give up finally an addiction (or lack of impulse control in more recent parlance).

There are consequences to inaction – each opportunity spurned raises the ante as it were – the Lord’s patient insistent merciful pleading has reached an apex in the sending of His Son – His rejection and killing are the last act in a long drama which we call the Old Testament and the Gospels, yet is only the beginning of new chapter – the life of the Church, for the new tenants, who will be different and who will prove worthy of their trust.

Who are these new tenants? Quite simply, us. We are the recipients of God’s gratuitous love and the recipients of a divine commission to mission – to bear fruit in our own lives the fruits of the labour in the vineyard of the world, chiefly love and souls. Yet the parable has enduring relevance and meaning for us, who cannot take the transfer of stewardship lightly.

We also in our day need to earn the Lord’s favour - to be found worthy of a place in His Kingdom, our lasting heavenly inheritance, we must not, collectively orindividually, waste the opportunities given to us for change in our own lives that require ongoing conversion, penitence and a new way of living in the Holy Spirit, in grace, prayer and virtue. It requires discernment and listening to the voices principally of scripture and the Church’s teaching as well as the prophetic witness of the saints, the Popes, spiritual writers, preachers, wise guides and true friends.

Let us go forth and strive to produce fruit, proofs of our commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, by our witness, lives of prayer, example, Christian uplifting conversations and diligence and perseverance in works of justice and mercy.

1st Saturday of the month of October

The proximity of the First Saturday of the month to the Memorial of St Jerome lead to me to reflect on the fact that Our Lady asks that we ponder on the mysteries of the Rosary for 15 minutes..with the intention of making repartion to Her Immaculate Heart. Our Lady 'pondered these things6 in her heart (St Luke) and she invited Jacinta to do the same in the aprish churc in FAtima. All are called to do likewise.

Pope Benedict's Letter, Verbum Domini, refers to Our Lady and her relationship to the Word of God several times. She serves as an example of discipleship as a fauthful hearer of te Word.

Here are some relevant points

Mary, “Mother of God’s Word” and “Mother of Faith”

The Synod Fathers declared that the basic aim of the Twelfth Assembly was
“to renew the Church’s faith in the word of God”.

To do so, we need to look to the one in whom the interplay between the word of God and faith was brought to perfection, that is, to the Virgin Mary, “who by her ‘yes’ to the word of the covenant and her mission, perfectly fulfills the divine vocation of humanity”.

The human reality created through the word finds its most perfect image in Mary’s obedient faith. From the Annunciation to Pentecost she appears as a woman completely open to the will of God. She is the Immaculate Conception, the one whom God made “full of grace” (cf. Lk 1:28) and unconditionally docile to his word (cf. Lk 1:38).

Her obedient faith shapes her life at every moment before God’s plan. A Virgin ever attentive to God’s word, she lives completely attuned to that word; she treasures in her heart the events of her Son, piecing them together as if in a single mosaic (cf. Lk 2:19,51).

In our day the faithful need to be helped to see more clearly the link between Mary of Nazareth and the faith-filled hearing of God’s word. ..

Indeed, what the understanding of the faith has enabled us to know about Mary stands at the heart of Christian truth. The incarnation of the word cannot be conceived apart from the freedom of this young woman who by her assent decisively cooperated with the entrance of the eternal into time.
Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her.

Mary also symbolises openness to God and others; an active listening which interiorises and assimilates, one in which the word becomes a way of life.
Here I would like to mention Mary’s familiarity with the word of God.
This is clearly evident in the Magnificat.

There we see in some sense how she identifies with the word, enters into it; in this marvellous canticle of faith, the Virgin sings the praises of the Lord in his own words: “The Magnificat – a portrait, so to speak, of her soul – is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate”.

Furthermore, in looking to the Mother of God, we see how God’s activity in the world always engages our freedom, because through faith the divine word transforms us.

Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from Mary how to be shaped by the working of God within us:
“devout and loving attention to the figure of Mary as the model and archetype of the Church’s faith is of capital importance for bringing about in our day a ... shift in the Church’s relation with the word, both in prayerful listening and in generous commitment to mission and proclamation”.

As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realise that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives.

Every Christian believer, Saint Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God: even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all.
Thus, what took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments.

b) The word and silence
In their interventions, a good number of Synod Fathers insisted on the importance of silence in relation to the word of God and its reception in the lives of the faithful.

The word, in fact, can only be spoken and heard in silence, outward and inward. Ours is not an age which fosters recollection; at times one has the impression that people are afraid of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the mass media.
For this reason, it is necessary nowadays that the People of God be educated in the value of silence. Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose.
The great patristic tradition (the early Church theologians) teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening...

I recommend frequent personal reading and study of sacred Scripture, in imitation of Mary, Virgo Audiens and Queen of the Apostles.

Once again I would like to echo the consideration and gratitude that the Synod expressed with regard to those forms of contemplative life whose specific charism is to devote a great part of their day to imitating the Mother of God, who diligently pondered the words and deeds of her Son (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), and Mary of Bethany, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened attentively to his words (cf. Lk 10:38).
The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.

We find the supreme synthesis and fulfilment of this process in the Mother of God.
For every member of the faithful Mary is the model of docile acceptance of God’s word, for she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51); she discovered the profound bond which unites, in God’s great plan, apparently disparate events, actions and things.
The word of God and Marian prayer
Mindful of the inseparable bond between the word of God and Mary of Nazareth, along with the Synod Fathers I urge that Marian prayer be encouraged among the faithful, above all in life of families, since it is an aid to meditating on the holy mysteries found in the Scriptures.

A most helpful aid, for example, is the individual or communal recitation of the Holy Rosary which ponders the mysteries of Christ’s life in union with Mary, and which Pope John Paul II wished to enrich with the mysteries of light.

It is fitting that the announcement of each mystery be accompanied by a brief biblical text pertinent to that mystery, so as to encourage the memorization of brief biblical passages relevant to the mysteries of Christ’s life.

The Synod also recommended that the faithful be encouraged to pray the Angelus. This prayer, simple yet profound, allows us “to commemorate daily the mystery of the Incarnate Word”. It is only right that the People of God, families and communities of consecrated persons, be faithful to this Marian prayer traditionally recited at sunrise, midday and sunset. In the Angelus we ask God to grant that, through Mary’s intercession, we may imitate her in doing his will and in welcoming his word into our lives. This practice can help us to grow in an authentic love for the mystery of the incarnation.

It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers.

All the baptised are responsible for this proclamation

Since the entire People of God is a people which has been “sent”, the Synod reaffirmed that “the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism”. No believer in Christ can feel dispensed from this responsibility which comes from the fact of our sacramentally belonging to the Body of Christ. A consciousness of this must be revived in every family, parish, community, association and ecclesial movement. The Church, as a mystery of communion, is thus entirely missionary, and everyone, according to his or her proper state in life, is called to give an incisive contribution to the proclamation of Christ.

The laity are called to exercise their own prophetic role, which derives directly from their Baptism, and to bear witness to the Gospel in daily life, wherever they find themselves. In this regard the Synod Fathers expressed “the greatest esteem, gratitude and encouragement for the service to evangelisation which so many of the lay faithful, and women in particular, provide with generosity and commitment in their communities throughout the world, following the example of Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the joy of Easter”. The Synod also recognized with gratitude that the ecclesial movements and the new communities are a great force for evangelization in our times and an incentive to the development of new ways of proclaiming the Gospel.
This close relationship between God’s word and joy is evident in the Mother of God.
Let us recall the words of Saint Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45).
Mary is blessed because she has faith, because she believed, and in this faith she received the Word of God into her womb in order to give him to the world.
The joy born of the Word can now expand to all those who, by faith, let themselves be changed by God’s word.

The Gospel of Luke presents this mystery of hearing and joy in two texts. Jesus says: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (8:21). And in reply to a woman from the crowd who blesses the womb that bore him and the breasts that nursed him, Jesus reveals the secret of true joy: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (11:28).

Jesus points out Mary’s true grandeur, making it possible for each of us to attain that blessedness which is born of the word received and put into practice.
I remind all Christians that our personal and communal relationship with God depends on our growing familiarity with the word of God.