Third Sunday of the Year A

Has anybody ever said something to change your life, to alter the path which you were on, to wake you up, and make you come to your senses? Has there been a significant person, place, event, conversation or even an invitation that you can recall that changed your life around? Is there a date that you can say to yourself, ‘yes, such-and -such a thing happened to me on that date, ‘what he or she said changed my life’, ‘that thing I saw opened my eyes.’

During the week I read in the life of the foundress of the Presentation Sisters, the Corkwoman, Nano Nagle. She spent 10 years in Paris to finish her schooling. As a teenager she had the opportunity to attend all night-balls and parties. Coming back from one in the early hours of the morning in her carriage, she spotted a number of people waiting outside unopened doors of a church, waiting for morning Mass. This was the first time she began to contrast her comfortable life with that of the less fortunate, as well as the fact that they were more devoted to God than she was. It was some time later living in Dublin that she asked her sister Ann to make a dress from some silk that she ordered from Paris. Ann confessed that she had already cut up the silk and used it for clothes for the poor. This came as a surprise to Nano but she wasn’t upset by it. But it was Ann’s death shortly afterwards and Nano’s reflection on the charity of Ann that changed her and she dedicated her life to the relief and education of the poor, especially children. It was what we might describe as a ‘wake-up call’.

Every saint has a moment in their life, or a series of small seeming insignificant steps that change their lives. In the 20th century there are two people the whole world heard of:

For people like soon to be ‘Blessed Pope John Paul’, who was so multi-talented as a young man, but whose love for the stage made him aspire to be an actor by profession, it was the deaths in turn of his mother, father and older brother that led him into deep prayer and reflection about his true vocation and purpose.
For Blessed Mother Teresa it was a fateful train journey in India as a Loreto Sister when the Lord revealed to her directly that He wanted her to dedicate her life to the poor of India and found the Missionaries of Charity.

Down through the centuries it was the same: something changes a life forever:
For St Patrick, it was a dream; For Francis of Assisi it was a chance encounter with a leper; For others it is a sermon (St Antony of Egypt), a book (St Ignatius), an inspiring talk, good example(martyrs), even an inspiring TV programme, good advice from a friend. For some of us it is a challenge to our conscience that turns us around – the example of someone else who in their charity, kindness, or patience or forgiveness in a given situation challenges us to better than we are, to be ‘all that we can be’. Finally, it can be the untimely diagnosis of illness or the death of someone we know that wakes us up to the shortness of our lives and the resolve to seek out what God wants of us.

We may even have forgotten the exact moment our lives changed, all we know is that we are here in church today because it matters, it is important, and I know that God wants it and He has a plan for me.

Today (coincidentally in the English translation of Scripture), Jesus invites people with 10 words. There are only two statements of Jesus; what he does is more significant, it seems (that leaves a deeper impression) than what he does.

Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand (10 words)
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (10 words)

Matthew is keen to point out the fulfilment of Scripture: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ . Jesus is the light. Sometimes we use the phrases like: ‘it dawned on me’ or ‘I saw the light’.

To change direction, to stop going in this direction, to do a U-turn because I am going down a blind alley, one word sums it all up – repent. Why? Because God is near, and to follow His will rather than my own all the time, is important right now.

What or who in my life has changed me?

What in my own life needs change and improvement?

What am I leaving out? What should I be doing that I am not already doing, that God may want of me?

These are questions worth reflecting on. The four fishermen left everything at once not knowing where their paths would take them, but the fact that Christ was doing the asking was all that mattered. What does Christ want of us and me now, today?

Let us take the time to ask Him.

Second Sunday of Year A

Second Sunday of Year A

Friends of mine recently, who have difficulties, like many couples today, in conceiving a child, told me how excited they were on hearing the heartbeat of their baby at 8 weeks in the womb. What a miracle, and what a gift it is to be alive, to have come into this world. What a cross for those who cannot conceive; what a joy and privilege for those who have conceived. Yet for all of us what a wonder it is for us to have been conceived, to be alive.

Throughout the scriptures, God is seen as the author of life, and particularly of unborn life. This is the first lesson of today’s readings: that from the womb He knows us and has a plan for us. He knew us before we were born. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading today from the Old Testament was called by God and known from the womb. We should reflect on the greatness of our existence and what a gift it is to be alive. Throughout the Scriptures God is seen to be the Author of Life – for Jeremiah (‘before I formed you in the womb, I knew you’), for John the Baptist; and for Jesus (we recall the words of Gabriel to Mary: ‘you are to conceive and bear a son and you must name him Jesus’).

The second lesson of today’s readings is that Jesus is the Lamb of God. John, God’s chosen prophet even before he was conceived in his mother, Elizabeth, is crucial in preparing people for the reception of the coming of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who meets us, now today, and heals and nourishes us in the sacraments.

Every time we come to Mass we hear those words of John the Baptist: ‘this is the Lamb of God’. We respond with a prayer of welcome and healing. We acknowledge our sinfulness and weakness at the beginning of every Mass.

Jesus is ‘the Lamb of God who takes away our sins’ in Baptism, and does so again in Confession, in Confirmation He baptises us in the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Eucharist He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper’ – ultimately to the heavenly banquet - to eternal life.
We respond: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed’.

Jesus is here to help us along our journey, to heal us, to strengthen us and to meet us in the sacraments we receive. Let us turn to Him for healing: whether it be mental, physical, emotional, relational, spiritual. While each time taken to receive Jesus should be a time to examine our consciences as to whether we have striven to be worthy to receive Him through the avoidance of sin, let each encounter with the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion be real and not out of mere habit or ritual, but also a time taken for a prayer for healing, in heartfelt prayer. Ask for healing today, wherever that be necessary for you in your life.

God’s plan for each of us therefore, planned from eternity, is to be happy in love with him forever in heaven where we will behold the Lamb of God face to face, as we only see him now with the eyes of faith in the Eucharist. That is the meaning of our being called into existence by God who knew us even before we were conceived or born. This is the reason for our Sunday Eucharist, the foretaste and promise and pledge of our eternal life, and the fulfillment of all our yearnings for love, peace and happiness.

The Baptism of the Lord

The Birthday of Christ begins the season of Christmas and now this Sunday the Baptism of Christ brings an end to the season.

For each of us our physical birth to our mother and father begins a close relationship of dependency, of nurturing and love as well as membership of a family and taking our rightful place in the family home.

Baptism is a spiritual rebirth, we belong to Mother Church and are nurtured by the sacraments, and we are at home in the Church with our spiritual kinship to our brothers and sisters. St Augustine said "he will not have God for his Father who would not have the Church for his mother."

Our obligations and responsibilities towards the other members of our own human family are mirrored by the relationship and responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But baptism involves so much more.

Through the waters of Baptism we are washed clean of Original Sin and made a new creation. It is through the threefold washing of water our closer relationship to God begins and it is only the beginning of a journey to Him. We can remind ourselves often of our great dignity and calling through Baptism, by utilising each of the letters of BAPTISM to help us to realise the implications of the Sacrament.

B is for Beloved. God the Father describes Jesus at His Baptism as His ‘beloved’ Son. We too are beloved of the Father through our Baptism and this is an unfathomable mystery that God takes the initiative to love us who are so undeserving. Sometimes we wonder what a woman might ‘see’ in a man she loves, and vice-versa. They may seem to us to be ill-matched, but through the lens of love they see themselves as ‘made for each other.’ It remains a mystery. There are no real satisfactory human comparisons to God’s love for us. God’s Love has no reasons ‘why’ but it is worth reflecting on His generous Love for you and me.

A is for Adopted as sons and daughters of God the Father. This is a spiritual adoption. Adoption has legal implications, giving the adopted person the same legal rights of inheritance as biological children. Through baptism we are adopted by God as His children, and become brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and of one another and are given the ‘right’ to the inheritance of heaven, something which is again God’s loving initiative. Every man is therefore my brother in Christ, and every woman I can call my sister. If only I would begin to treat them accordingly and as they deserve!

P is for People of God – on a pilgrimage through the wilderness of life. We are no longer individuals, isolated, rudderless, without meaning or identity. We truly ‘belong to each other’ and are called, in the words of Pope John Paul II, to build ‘a civilisation of love’. We have a collective identity. We are a people.

T is for Temples of the Holy Spirit, called and commanded to keep the temple of our bodies undefiled, by sin. True self-love respects the body of oneself, as well as therefore treating the bodies of others with dignity. We do great harm to ourselves by sin, and if we involve another in a sin, do great harm to them also. This should give us pause for thought, to meditate often on our true worth and value, as well as by implication, the worth of others for their bodily and spiritual integrity.

I is for Intercessors for one another – we ought to take seriously the invitation to pray for one another. We ought to believe that our prayers can and will be heard even if they are answered in ways and at times that we do not expect. I wonder if I have always taken this call to intercession seriously enough and if I have had the requisite faith to believe in it.

S is for Sanctified and called to be a saint, and able to receive the other Sacraments. Without Baptism, the other sacraments have no meaning and no value if we have not been baptised. The Church has always taken great care to record the event of a baptism. The sacrament changes us interiorly and invisibly to make us holy and acceptable in God’s sight. We are to take seriously the baptismal call to holiness. Persevering prayer is the key to holiness.

M is for Members of the Body of Christ, members of the Church and on a Mission. We have a collective purpose, calling and vocation by word, and by example to lead others closer to God. We cannot keep to ourselves the ‘secret’ of Christ, what He means to us, and what He does for us. We should desire this happiness for others. As Pope John Paul II said ‘those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim Him’. Membership of the Church should make us consider seriously becoming members of an apostolic or missionary organisation, concerned with spiritual and charitable works for our neighbour. We prove we are Christians by our love, especially for those whose need is greater than our own.

So let us remember who and what we are as baptised Catholics:


The Solemnity of the Epiphany - January 6th

The Epiphany

While reading once again the familiar account of the journey of the three Magi, it struck me that their last stage of their journey was their shortest, but was too long for Herod and the Jews because they lacked faith.

Having travelled hundreds of miles across the wilderness of the Middle East, the distance for the Magi from Herod’s palace to the lowly manger in Bethlehem was only 6 miles. Yet it is not recorded if any of the scribes or Pharisees bothered themselves to make the journey for themselves. They had the requisite knowledge, but not wisdom. Herod was too proud and sceptical to go there. But the Magi did go there and fell on their knees; and their faith was rewarded.

There were four stages to their journey –

Firstly, based on their human calculations and assisted by the star but also on their wits and logic, yet somehow still unsure, they made their way to the place where an earthly king could be expected to be found – in Jerusalem.

Secondly, based on the accumulated and collective wisdom and Revelation to the Jews, they made their way - correctly - to Bethlehem.

Thirdly, they fell down and worshipped Christ – the Messiah and the King of Kings, seen with Mary His Mother. They offered what they had.

Fourthly, they were guided by divine intervention in a dream, and made their way home by a different, safer route.

This journey of faith, hope, and expectation of the Magi is our journey too and an example to each Christian.
The Magi remind us that we too make our way through life amidst uncertainty, unsure of what lies ahead in the future. They crossed the wilderness, and eventually through their own perseverance and with the right guidance, they found Christ, the goal of their quest and long searching.

We are often left uncertain and anxious of the road ahead, but like the Magi, our journey is marked out for us. The star was not there for them at all times to guide them continuously, but arose again when they were near their goal. They availed of the wisdom of the Jews. The Old Testament - and the New Testament Revelation - the Word of God - is at our disposal.

We know that Christ will guide us but He respects our free-will and expects us to make an effort by ourselves to persevere and not give up in prayer.

We encounter Christ in the sacraments – and adore Him, falling on our knees in the Eucharist. The more time and sacrifice (required of us) in our efforts to give honour, praise and adoration in the Eucharist, and the more we offer ourselves and our lives to Him and His will, the more freely He acts in us and guides us to where He wants us to go. His will becomes clearer to us in proportion to prayerful, persevering effort in prayer.

The Magi’s journey home was far more secure and certain after their encounter with Christ and His Mother. Jesus, with Mary also, can guarantee us safety and right direction as we continue the earthly pilgrimage to our heavenly home.

May we be truly wise and may Jesus and Mary be with us every step of the way in 2011.

2nd Sunday after Christmas

Happy New Year 2011

The New Year is about new beginnings, starting again. This month all the self-help books and gym memberships are sold and diet plans start in earnest.

This might make you laugh, but I was flicking channels on the TV recently and I came across a repeat programme of Oprah Winfrey. Her guest was the famous chef, Jamie Oliver. The programme, as you can guess, was devoted to healthy eating and diet, appropriate as we begin a new year and perhaps have taken on resolutions hoping that we can stick to them.

Jamie Oliver made a series of programmes in 2010 in the town in West Virginia that had the highest rate of obesity in the USA. He decided that to change that terrible statistic that he would have to change people’s attitudes and eating habits. At first he met stern resistance. But one image that helped bring about change was the discovery that there was a huge increase there (and elsewhere) in the sale of oversize coffins. These coffins are the size of your bedroom wardrobe or bigger. Many funerals cannot have a proper hearse and funerals require a forklift of trailer to help transport the deceased obese person.

Our lives change when our habits change, simple as that. What we lack is the proper motivation. How is it that I can get up at 5 am to catch an early morning flight when I am going on my holidays, and yet most other mornings I can’t get up early? What is so different: motivation, perceived rewards, and statements like ‘I can sleep later’.

A once-off change in my schedule or habits is one thing, but what about long term consistency? We don’t see the benefit or rewards of long-term change or the results of better choices straight away – we get impatient with apparent lack of progress and we back-slide to old ingrained bad habits.

Jamie Oliver said something quite significant when Ms Winfrey asked him why people don’t change, or why it or what is it that forces change. Hi answer went something like this:
We will change when we see that the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing.

We have to look at change for the better this way – endure short term pain and long term gain OR endure short-term gain and long term pain.

Short term pain and long term gain means for example I will exercise today – I will, for example, stop smoking, I will eat less TODAY, It will require sacrifice now, but I will gain in the long run

OR on the other hand

Short-term gain and long term pain means that I will have that second helping of dessert, that whole tin of chocolates I got over Christmas all to myself, and suffer the long term weight gain and problems with it.

We can be blind to our own complacency.

We fail to keep a resolution because we lack the following : a proper motivation, a sensible concrete goal, a proper incentive to keep us from back-sliding, an ability to live with short-term discomfort, and a system of accountability to ourselves or others.
What if I don’t change? What will happen?

The acronym SPICE may help us to see where we may need change:
Spiritually, Physically, Intellectually, Socially, Emotionally

Ultimately change is possible – and the best motivation of all is because God wants it. Another word for change after all is repentance.

Happy New Year and God's blessing on your resolutions!