Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Today’s Gospel sets us up for the next two Sundays - of Ascension and Pentecost – Jesus’ departure for heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

There are two ways of exercising authority and instilling obedience in others:

(i) Because I say so

As an attitude of authority it might at times be necessary for a wayward defiant child or pupil – although not the most convincing argument, and it is one that can cause resentment, but at times is a necessary corrective for those who insist on punishment and will not listen to reason.
It is childish, one is obedient merely because one is fearful of the consequences, it is an autocratic, dictatorial attitude on the part of authority, a ‘do-it-or-else’ approach that is legalistic, cold, hard, rigid, and requiring servility. Often this kind of relationship is evident in the Old Testament because the people of Israel are stubborn and fickle.

(ii) Because I call you friends, out of love for me: If you love me , keep my commandments

This commands obedient, loving service, mutual love, one that is respectful of the other, one that is motivated out of love for the other, and mature. This is the attitude of Jesus: Jesus is persuasive you could say because He loved us first
LOVE first – even though it is true to say that we can hurt the ones we love, and there is greater risk of hurt and betrayal by opening ourselves to another in love, yet there is the hope that we are less likely to deliberately cause pain to or be pained by the one we love. We can be thoughtless and insensitive, but practiced forgiveness is always at the ready. This is our experience of the love of Jesus made possible by the Spirit.

What would you and I do out of a true love for one another? Love is hard to explain –it is more than a feeling, love does not use the other.

Because of the love of Jesus, following His commandments are easier and make more sense.

The 10 commandments can be put more positively then as follows: Love of God, His name, His day – and by extension out of love, gratitude, love for other’s rightful authority, other’s spouse, property, respect for life, purity, truth, and true love of self.

Love has its own logic – you respect the other. The favourite saying of Jesus in the writings of John the beloved disciple – ‘love one another’. For Simon Peter it was a summons to love ‘Simon, do you love me? Feed my sheep.’ St Augustine said: ‘Love God and do what you will’. This is loving service, a love proved in deeds, evidence as well as attitude.

Because the Spirit is within us, we are given an inner force, a new heart and a new vision, like a heart transplant – a stronger beating heart that pumps life like nothing before, we are given new strength to love, to forgive and to serve.
Followers of Christ therefore are enabled through a life of grace – life in the Holy Spirit – to love and to overcome self-love and selfishness and a sense of ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality or outlook on life.

Jesus departs, the Holy Spirit comes, and love and service must be evident in His disciples in order to convince others of the existence of God.

Practically speaking, for each of us this relationship of love with God and with one another must be:

Renewed through Confession
Nourished by the Eucharist
Expanded through prayer and
Exercised through works of service

Jesus said ‘love one another’ and He meant it!

Fifth Sunday of Easter

I am going away

The Gospel today is one you very likely have heard before at a funeral. We have, like Thomas, many question, doubts and fears. But if we listen to how Jesus responded to him, we can take heart.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. Departures at an airport – especially at Shannon for example – can be heart-wrenching, as emigration has reared its ugly head among us once more. There is real fear, anxiety, uncertainty when such a definite decision is made to live abroad and down roots permanently.

When a person dies, we are always ever conscious of the empty room at home where they lived, slept, or the empty chair at table where once they sat. There remains an empty space in our hearts. But we can take heart today that while they are invisible to our sight, they are in His loving care.

In today’s Gospel it is Jesus who must now go – it is part of God’s plan that He must leave His disciples. Jesus is about to depart but with the promise that there are “many rooms” in his Father’s mansion. These words console us too as a time of grieving.

Jesus goes in order to prepare a place for us.

If a year’s preparation went in to the Queen’s visit in an effort to cover all eventualities, how much more trouble will Jesus go to on our account for a permanent place in heaven?

Jesus says these words at the Last Supper –He wishes to re-assure His followers that all will be well and everything will work out for the good in the end. He also promises that He is coming in person to take them – and us –in the words of last Sunday’s Gospel ‘one by one’ he leads us.

A Jewish nurse who worked for 20 years in a hospice for the dying in New Jersey was asked if there was any common feature in all the natural deaths of persons she witnessed, and she remarked that ‘someone always comes for them; there is a hint of recognition in their eyes and their face responds to someone’s presence, before their expression changes and they fall asleep forever.’ Time and again talking to grieving families, there are occasions when a dying loved one mentions the name of a long dead brother, sister or parent or spouse. They may even mention that they see them or mention them by name when their own death is imminent.

We often need to be reassured of these truths about what ultimately faces us all. It is good to remember that every Mass we pray these words:

“We are waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Leaving Cert Graduation Mass

Graduation Mass 2011

I want you to remember this number – 6570

I wonder how many books you have read – or what is the longest book you have read? – Lord of the Rings, War and Peace (1440 pages), Harry Potter – hundreds or nearly 1000 pages. Yet the storybook of your life - if it was to be translated into numbers of pages is in many thousands.

I wonder if you have ever counted the number of days you have lived. If you are 18 you have lived 6570 days excluding leap years. If you are my age you have lived 16000.
If you have reached the age of 50 you have lived 18250.

So the story of your life – in pages – currently – if you have reached your 18th birthday runs to 6570 days. Of these days - if you go over those pages, you have spent maybe 850 and 1000 school days (Mondays to Fridays) here in Colaiste Muire school.

It puts your life at a different perspective.

If my life or yours is like a book, then every waking hour is a sentence I am writing in my autobiography. You may not keep a diary or a journal, but you can think over significant dates or pages in your life – for all of us there are significant days.

Do you remember that funny line in the movie ‘Miss Congeniality’ – one of the contestants was asked to describe her perfect date – I would have to say April 15th because it is not too hot or too cold, and you don’t have to wear a jacket’!
Some days are exciting, and like a book you read it can be a page turner. Some days – like pages in a long novel, can be more tedious, and hard to get up in the morning, but we stick at it because each page, each day has a purpose in the overall storyline. It requires patience, but you know you can’t skip a chapter or you will not make sense of the book. You can’t read the last page of your story because you don’t know when it is. You can cheat and read the last line or paragraph of a book, but your own life is still unfolding – there are many pages to be filled, there are many chapters left.

Today’s date – May 18th – for many people out there – is just another day of work. No doubt somewhere today there are confirmations, some children are preparing for First Holy Communion, and some people are planning a wedding. Somebody somewhere is going for a job interview, someone is doing college exams, somebody is seeing their doctor, today is someone’s birthday, or wedding anniversary. Someone today will fall in love. There are significant dates in all of our lives. For you young men and women, it is your last official day - graduation day. A day you will remember – a day that it is right to mark and celebrate – an emotional day for parents, a milestone in the life of the school, and for each one of you and your families.

And this is the point – there is a plot, there is a plan, and believe it or not, while we are the actors in our own drama, there is an author or director – God.
One day a teacher went into a classroom, and wrote down a seemingly strange maths equation P=p.

The teacher then said that is the key to happiness – when your plans ‘p’ = ‘P’ – God’s Plan for you, then you will have peace. How do I know God’s plan for me? Another ‘p’ for prayer.

Just as each page of a book has the book title or chapter title at the head of the page– so each page of my life has a Master Plan. Just as each page has a sequential number, so each day is important, significant, irreplaceable – each day is a gift, that is why they call it ‘the present’.

If you and a friend are reading the same book, you might ask, ‘what page are you on?’ If they are ahead of you, they might say, ‘oh there’s an exciting bit coming up’, and you might say ‘don’t spoil it for me!’

You have read many books – textbooks, science, literature, languages and the like, but the most important book is the Book of your own life. You are writing it - you are somewhere near page 6570. It is the end of a chapter or even a major ‘Part’ today.

What will the next chapter be like? Always remember ‘p’ = ‘P’ – God’s Plan for you. The more your plans match His – His will, His commandments, His teachings and sayings, and the more your practise the ‘p’ for prayer, the more satisfying, and the more sense your story will become.

Pope Benedict said in his first Mass as Pope in 2005 these important words:

"And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him."

This is a happy day, an emotional one. May God bless you and protect you in the days ahead and be assured of my prayers for you in the challenging days ahead.

Good Shepherd (Vocations) Sunday

We are continuing the season of Easter – commemorating the 40 days when Jesus walked as the Risen Lord with His disciples - they saw the Lord raised from the dead. He appeared to them, they journeyed with Him and were taught by Him.

Today there is clearly a central theme - that of the Lord as shepherd clearly running through the readings but also in the prayers of the Mass.

The prayers of the Mass:
Opening Prayer:
Jesus is the shepherd the Father has sent
God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Though your people walk in the valley of darkness no evil would they fear:
For they follow in faith the call of the shepherd
Whom you have sent for their hope and strength.
Attune our minds to the sound of His voice,
Lead our steps in the path that he has shown...

Concluding prayer:
Here it is the Father Himself who is the shepherd:
Father, eternal shepherd, watch over the flock redeemed by Christ and lead us to the Promised Land

The Readings:

Not surprisingly, the psalm ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ reinforces in our minds the ‘duty of care’ that God has for us.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10: 1-10) – who cares for us. We matter to Him, one by one He leads us – everyone is known to Him, is important and each of us is uniquely loved by God. Everyone is special.

There are two ways in which Jesus shepherds His flock:

(1) Jesus teaches us that no one can have life except through him. He states FOUR TIMES that He is the gate through which we must enter, and we are guaranteed safety if we listen to His voice above all the other voices that are clamouring for our attention in today’s world full of noise. We listen to His voice in the Liturgy of the Word. ‘We had all gone astray like sheep.’ St Peter reminds us that Christ leads us back to the sheepfold; in the Second Reading, he states us that the Lord has called us to himself (Acts, First Reading).

It is noteworthy that the symbol used on the cover of the Catholic Catechism is that of the shepherd – with his crook of guidance and authority, the pan-pipes symbolising the inner harmony of the Church’s teaching, and the docility of the sheep listening attentively to the Good Shepherd and the shepherds of the Church through the ages.

(2) In the Middle East it was often the case that the shepherd lay himself down at the entrance to the sheepfold to bar the way of intruders and thieves. His own body was a barrier, shield and protection.

Jesus was prepared to go one step further - not just to lay down his body in this way but to ‘lay it down and take it up again’ for the life of his sheep in His crucifixion and death and resurrection. And it is in and through His Body and Blood that we receive salvation and enter the pasture of everlasting life: ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you cannot have life in you’. Thus Jesus is also the shepherd who nourishes not only in His word, but also in His Body and Blood.

Let us pray to Christ the Good Shepherd that the Church will be graced with shepherds after His own heart who will seek out the strays and the lost and bring them safely home to pasture, nourished by the truths of our faith, His teaching and by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

3rd Sunday of Easter

What I love about the road to Emmaus is there are four distinct stages to the journey that mirror the Mass and personal prayer. We can learn alot about these 4 stages.

(1) We talk to Jesus, He listens -
(2) Jesus speaks to us, we listen
(3) We recognise Him in the breaking of bread
(4) Moved, we want to share our joy with others

There is no need to go into great detail about this wonderful story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as it is so familiar to us.
At the outset they were going home, they were disappointed, as many of the disciples were, and they are going to return and get on with life as devout Jews, as if Jesus had made no difference and nothing had happened. Little did they know what would happen next. Little did they know that their 7-mile, 2-hour journey would be recounted all over the world for the next 2000 years!

(1) We talk. He listens. Sometimes in the course of a conversation we can be so busy talking that we forget to ask the other person how they are. We can be so caught up in ourselves and our problems and concerns; we might fail to recognise theirs. We have gone away satisfied that we have been heard or listened to, but have failed miserably to listen, hear or take stock of the other.

Often we cannot settle into personal prayer or even into celebrating at Mass because there seems to be a disconnect between where we are in our personal journey and what is being celebrated before us. If we are suffering, lonely, sad, depressed we are not much fun at a wedding. Similarly, joy and exhilaration and laughter do not fit in with a funeral. The emotions do not fit with or meet the occasion.

It takes time before we settle into the spirit and mood of a given occasion if there is a lot going on in our own lives. We need to acknowledge our mood and thoughts and concerns frankly to God as well as to ourselves, before we can be open to receive.

But Jesus is interested in what we have to say; ‘what are these things you talk about as you go along?’ In other words, ‘what’s on your mind?’ what ails you? What worries have you, what is upsetting you? What concerns you this moment?
He wants us to tell Him even though He knows the answer already. It often happens that in relating something it becomes clearer to us and we even begin to make sense of our situation ourselves. A doctor will always listen first even though he/she may have an inkling of the underlying problem just by looking at us. It always helps to talk.

(2) He talks , we listen. When we have had our say, then we can relax, sit back and listen. When we have told a doctor, a counsellor, a friend, and have gotten something off our chest, then we are ready for an answer.
So it is with personal prayer. I often spend the first few minutes of prayer just talking, verbalising, catching up, as it were, as I would in any conversation. So it is also that in arriving early for Mass, settling into our pew and surroundings and relaxing, we are more ready to celebrate properly.
We can read the Missalette and prepare for the readings and listen out for key words and ideas in the readings and homily and prayer of the faithful. What is it that Jesus wants me to hear? Just as the disciples hearts were filled with joy, as the scriptures were explained to them, so we must try to make sense of them too in the liturgy of the Word. ‘Then Jesus set out to teach them’.

(3) We recognise Him in the breaking of bread: now we see Him under the forms of bread and wine, but we truly recognise Him at last. Our minds and hearts have been opened and we can utter as with Thomas ‘My Lord and My God’, Amen! Jesus nourishes us with Himself – we are united with Him in Communion, and united with one another as one Body in Christ. We are one people. ‘Stay with us’

(4) ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. We journey back to where we began our journey and our hearts are filled with joy, wonder and praise. We are called to live the life of the disciples on that evening of Easter – joyful, open, proclaiming, witnessing, by the words we say, by or expressions, by our lives. Our heads are no longer downcast. We are filled with a peace that the world cannot give. We want to share that joyful transformation with others.

Personal prayer time does that. The Mass, properly celebrated, does that too.

Divine Mercy Sunday 2011

Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas and the showing of wounds

It is not easy to live with uncertainty and ultimately we must place our faith in someone or something to give us reason for living. To have our faith in a cause or a person shattered is a terrible experience. This was the scenario facing St. Thomas.
Perhaps Thomas’ doubt was the fruit of bitter disappointments of the past. He may have had people in his life who let him down and who betrayed his trust. He was not born with this sense of hesitation or suspicion – we can speculate that those things are acquired from bitter learned experiences. He had learned caution and wariness about who he could trust. The word of others was not enough for him- he wanted proof, not testimony. Having staked everything on Jesus, the Lord, he had much to lose if he was wrong to trust Him.

Like Thomas then, there are plenty of people today who rationalise the supernatural and the spiritual and demand empirical evidence and refuse to believe. The danger is that we fall into the trap too – it ultimately leads to frustration, cynicism and despair. I once heard that ‘a cynic is a disappointed idealist.’ Their disappointment rankles with them and they are bitter with life and with others. We too have doubts, but more often they are really difficulties than doubts.

Thomas was lucky, because Christ came to him in his doubt in the flesh, in person.
Christ brings His wounds to us like he did to Thomas – He reveals them to us too so that we can have no doubt but that the crucifixion really happened but that so too did His resurrection. By his wounds we have been and will be healed.
I think that the significance of the feast of Divine Mercy today is this: not only does Christ show us His wounds – He invites us to show Him ours and allow Him to place His healing hands upon them. A physician will ask us where it hurts, causing us to howl in pain when he has reached a tender spot. Only then can he discern the nature and extent of our problem. It cannot serve our interests to hide away the pain. We must face the pain that healing will bring.

We are wounded in many shapes and forms, but maybe not physically. For example many carry around within themselves hidden psychological wounds and emotional traumas of the past – the stuff that they have nightmares about, the things they dread. Nightmares say a lot more about them and their fears, as well as their memories, than their dreams do. Common in men is a fear of exposure, of being seen for who they really are – as frauds, afraid that the veneer of carefully built defences will be erased, afraid of rejection and ridicule. Nightmares may also be a dread of the future and what it may bring.

I remember while in seminary passing around a series of tapes of conferences given by Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR – the one that seemed to strike the deepest chord in people was that entitled ‘Self-hate, hesitancy, and the love of God’. It deals with self-loathing, obviously more common in sinners than we realise.

If what I have said above about the need for healing in the area of the emotions or the psyche, what then of our souls? We must bear in mind that the side effects of Original and personal sin play havoc on our minds and emotional states causing fear, guilt, shame, troubled consciences, as well as the afore-mentioned self-loathing.

It is time therefore that we bring our wounds, spiritual, emotional, psychological, relational - whatever they may be - to Christ the Healer. Chief among them are the self-inflicted wounds of our sins. Christ alone can give us the healing (therapy), forgiveness and inner peace we seek especially when we find it hard to admit our failures, or to admit to the pain we may have caused to God, to others and ourselves, and yes, when all is said and done, as self-serving as it sounds - to forgive ourselves. But by his wounds we have been and will be healed.

‘Doubt no longer, but believe’.

Easter Sunday 2011

Happy Easter

There are two questions we can ask about the resurrection of Christ.

How do we know it happened?

Today a simple detail proves that Christ has risen. Think of the people you live with or if you live alone think of the habits of other members of your family as you grew up. We are creatures of habit – how we dress, how we eat, how we keep our rooms, how we present ourselves, what we eat and what we wear, what we say and how we say it – are all habits that are unique to us and known to others. When you live with someone you know how they leave things after them – how they squeeze the tube of toothpaste; how they leave their clothes lying around or not; how they clean up after themselves. A newly married woman complained to me how what annoyed her about her husband was not anything major –it was the little things – like how he would help himself to too much butter on his bread and then scrape the unused butter on the side of the plate. It is little things that can stress us or on the other hand it is the little things that prove that we are considerate, that matter in appreciation as well.

I say this because it a seeming little detail that is crucial in today’s Gospel. The disciples lived and travelled alongside Christ the Lord for three years – and how did Peter know that Christ has risen? The way the cloths in which Christ that been wrapped had been rolled up – Christ did it – it was His trademark way of tidying up after Him that convinced Peter that Christ had been there and had risen indeed.
What does it matter as we celebrate today?
If you were to think of the 5 things we are afraid of - that most people fear, and most Christians should be afraid, they are: fear of pain or sickness, death, sin, Satan, the future.

Sin entered through the world through man Adam, and victory has entered through one man – Christ Jesus. We have all died to sin through Baptism and we rise to new life through Baptism. Today we celebrate and rededicate ourselves -because the day we were baptised we entered into the mystery of Christ’s death and we rose again –we were born again and we were set free. Today is a day of rejoicing!
We are all afraid. But Christ has conquered all. There is no longer any need to be afraid. What we celebrate today is that in Christ we are free indeed.

All over Europe every May, at least in Western countries, V-E Day is celebrated to commemorate the end of World War 2. An end to hostilities, an end to death, and soldiers would be coming home at last.

Today is our victory day celebration. Christ has conquered sin, sickness, death, Satan and He has promised that He will return to take our loved ones and us with Him. We shall be free forever. Alleluia.