1st Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent YEAR B

Recently I visited schools in the parish to administer the ashes on Ash Wednesday. To get them in the spirit of the season of Lent, and the occasion of the annual receiving of ashes I asked the students what they considered the hardest things to give up. Three of the hardest things to give up – in their world-view – all turned out to begin with the letter C –they were computer usage, crisps (chips), and coming in at #1 – chocolate, of course!

When you think about it, there are three things, at no matter what age, that all begin with the letter ‘C’ as well that are difficult for all of us, as adults, to let go.

The first ‘C’, at the level of self, is Comfort. We can call them ‘creature comforts, our comfort zone, or comfort foods, comfort eating etc. Fasting and abstinence cause us to ponder on our ‘relationship with food’. Of course we need to eat to live, but how often do we dwell on living to eat?! We often eat for comfort and habit, rather than eating what is sufficient and moderate for our bodily needs. We have plenty of storage to show for how eat we eat!
It takes apparently three weeks to acquire a new habit – we must do something consistently daily for three weeks before we do it automatically or unconsciously. It is good to moderate our food intake and regularity in order to have a greater sense of our gratitude for what we have at our disposal. To moderate and control our appetite for food gratuitously is the key to controlling our other bodily animal appetites that want to master and control us. We also learn a sense of appreciation of what we take for granted that so many often worlds’ poor lack. What we choose to do without is not a choice for them. A prayer I have composed along the lines of the Serenity Prayer is:

God, grant me a sense of appreciation of what I have
An awareness of what others lack
And a spirit of almsgiving to make up the difference

The second ‘C’ is at the level of our relationships with others, is Convenience, especially if others require our valuable free time. Our neighbours can be a chore, and we likewise can be a chore for them – at times! How often we prefer to suit ourselves, avoid inconvenience and the time it takes to listen to a grievance, a problem, a complaint. A telephone call, a letter, a visit all make demands of our time and mess up our carefully laid plans for our day. Do we close the door on someone for example, or cross the street to avoid a beggar, check our caller ID and hesitate before answering, and therefore not answer the call of Christ in our neighbour in time of need: ‘whatsoever you do (or fail to do), you do (or neglect to do) to me’ (Mt 25). The C required of us in this instance is therefore Charity, and the Community [and therefore too the Church].

The third ‘C’ is in our relationship with God is the C of Control.

It means in other words, ‘your will be done, not mine’. If we learn to say them often we will learn to mean them and accept the reality that we are not and never have been in complete control of our destiny anyway – but God does require us the ‘c’s our consent and conscious consistent co-operation, also called ‘constancy’. As we drop the ‘c’s of our comfort and convenience in the season of Lent, the Passion of Christ comes into clearer focus. The C of the Cross looms more closely on the horizon later in Lent, and we are called on Lenten Fridays, and in Holy week, to ponder on the Passion and death of Christ. Christ willingly gave Himself up to death for sinners. ‘My food is to do the will of My Father’. All our lives and our frequent falls are a litany of our failures to effectively carry put God’s will before our own. There is great peace of mind in surrendering completely, no holds barred, no ‘ifs and buts’, no clauses, no ‘terms and conditions’ of cessation of contract.

Do you want to now Hell’s theme song? ‘I did it my way!’
We must all learn to surrender to God completely eventually. Kimberly Hahn, the wife of the famous convert Scott Hahn, was slowly edging towards full communion with the Catholic Church. She found numerous intellectual obstacles to becoming Catholic, even though she could see the sense of many of the Church’s teachings. She decided one year to undertake a Lenten resolution and asked God what she would give up. She felt the Lord reply to her in her mind: ’Kimberly, why don’t you just give up?!’
Maybe that is the message we most need to adopt today. Give yourself up.

Have a blessed Lent!

First Friday of Lent

Fridays of Lent - An Introduction

The Seven Last Words of Jesus

We have all used the expression ‘famous last words’ and indeed may be familiar as with the famous last words or epitaphs on a headstone of a famous historical figure.
If you have been by the bedside of someone you care about as they lie dying in the last weeks and days of a terminal illness, you may recall and treasure their last words, your last conversation with them. They are charged with meaning and emotion. There is a strange privileged bond when you are specifically addressed by them with others present. They ask for you, and you draw nearer so that they can see you and hear you. Later, after their passing, you pause to remember those intimate moments you had alone with them or with others.

We treasure the last words of Jesus, addressed to the Father and to those around Him on the Cross, It is said that people die as they live – and Jesus’ last words reflect the continual intimacy He had with His Father as well as His continuous selflessness towards others.
Jesus therefore died as He lives, ever giving of Himself.
[The Latin word for cross is crux, which we use to mean a sort of contradiction or paradox or problem. For us Christians we are constantly in tension – that of satisfying the fulfilment of our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship towards those around us. Heaven is our goal and prayer is the key to the Father’s heart, yet we ‘prove we are Christians by our love’. This tension manifests itself in the extremes of the risk we run in the vertical dimension of our spirituality – in the joint dangers of isolationism and escapism in prayer-life on the one hand, and the other in the horizontal dimension - of compulsive activism for its own sake leading to burnout and doubt, as well as becoming no more than ‘cymbals crashing’.
Jesus on the Cross is the supreme model of the balance of the vertical and horizontal – offering Himself to the Father on our behalf in a communion of love with God and us for God’s sake. We can learn much from reflecting on the Cross of Christ. The Cross becomes the template as it were on which we make perfect the tensions in our lives in our attempts at discerning as well as achieving the proper balance between prioritising our love for God and its demands, and our efforts in striving to love our neighbour as ourselves.] The 7 ‘last words’ of Jesus, in particular, as they are traditionally known, are both heavenly-directed to the Father and yet ever mindful of us for whom He died.
It is worth pondering these words and taking our time over them. I suggest that because Lent is a season that consists of 7 Fridays, culminating of course in Good Friday itself, we would do well to focus our attention on each of the 7 last statements, one Friday at a time. We could allude to just one of the statements in the course of our day. Friday is a particular call to remembrance of the Lord’s Passion and we are invited by the Church to meditate on the Passion in various traditional practices. Among other favoured expressions of devotion and asceticism, Christians have much food for thought in the implications of these 7 statements in particular.

Friday One of Lent

‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’

‘Father...’Two of Jesus’ last statements are addressed to the Father. This should not surprise us, not only because Jesus whole life and mission, even His ‘food’ was ‘to do the will of the Father’, His first obvious recourse in prayer in the past, and now in the midst of so much pain and anguish was to say ‘Father’.

There is a story told in the life of a famous heroic Frenchwoman, who was twice awarded the highest military award, the ‘Legion d’Honneur’ for services rendered to wounded and dying French soldiers in both World Wars. In the course of her career, she once came to the assistance of an enemy German soldier who was shot having been pursued all the way to the inside of a church for sanctuary. She held him in her arms, and those who had fired the bullet that ultimately killed him, stood strangely respectfully at a distance as she cradled him. The dying man whispered something in her ear, and then he fell limp and died. Afterwards she was asked what he had said. She replied, ‘it doesn’t matter what side a man fights, his last words are always for his mother.’

It became ‘second-nature’ therefore, to Jesus to address every ‘need’, thought and word to the Father, always with Him in mind. God IS love. We have no satisfactory, earthly, human comparison for the closeness of the shared nature of the two Divine Persons, but as we re-affirm, the spirit of love between them is The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. He draws us in to the very life of God and to ponder this love relationship. We grasp at comparisons that fall short, but the bond of love between Father and Son, Pope John Paul II taught, is mirrored least imperfectly (!) in the communion of love between spouses, and the fruitful union that leads to the conception and birth of a child mirrors inexactly, to be sure, the Trinitarian life and love of God.

Jesus said to Philip –‘to see Me is to have seen the Father’. Jesus addresses His Father as Abba, a term akin to ‘Daddy’. It would be a useful exercise for us sometime to skim through the Gospel accounts to look at all the references to Jesus addressing His Abba, and teaching us about His Father. Above all as we now know, most importantly of all, He is OUR Father too.

This knee-jerk, automatic thrill that comes with the mention of the name of the Lover on the lips of the Beloved is akin to the utterances of Abba on the lips of Jesus. This relationship transcends our understanding, but becoming Man for ‘us and our salvation’, Jesus teaches the love of the Father for all of us, His adopted sons and daughters.
On the Cross, Jesus’ utterance of Father follows closely on much of His teaching about His relationship with the Father in the Priestly Prayer, so-called, of Jesus as recounted in John’s Gospel. Jesus’ heart-stopping words re-read slowly and ponderously, are, if you will, an eavesdropping into the prayer life of Jesus, and in fact could be a second answer, a more prolonged one at that, to the disciples’ earlier request ‘Lord, teach us to pray’. It is, I repeat, the Spirit in our prayer, who teaches and enlightens us on this intimate union of Father and Son.

‘Father, forgive them’

The second aspect of this ‘tip of the tongue’ love is the intrinsic link that exists between addressing the Father and the conferring of forgiveness: ‘Father, forgive them’. Just as in the Our Father prayer – forgiveness is crucial. An absolute requirement to the obtaining of God’s forgiveness for ourselves is our granting it to others around us. It is the work of a lifetime to establish free and full forgiveness towards all. The effort must be made. While we can readily call to mind our own grievances over harsh, hurtful words and actions and omissions from others, we must pause to consider the effects of our words, action and similar neglects in the lives of others. Therein lies the first lesson and task of Lent – seeking forgiveness in reconciliation, sacramentally and relationally.

'..they know not what they do’

To forgive is to ‘overlook’ and never to call to mind the sins of others against us. It is to excuse and to pardon, for ‘they’, whoever ‘they’ may be in my life and yours, ‘know not what they do’. The same ‘they’ may not realise, whatever the level of understanding, deliberateness, or clarity of intent originally, what they have done to harm us, with perhaps years of lasting after-effects of hurt and pain. This excusing and pardoning is among other things, in effect, ‘what love is’ (1 Cor 13). Jesus’ loving plea on the Cross makes the seeming impossible for us, possible. It brings us back to the very first sermon of Jesus: ‘blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy’.

7th Sunday of Year B

The cure of the paralytic

We have just celebrated World Day of the Sick, on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th. If you have ever been to Lourdes, it is at once a humbling and privileged experience. To see in one place more sick and infirm is to disbelieving human eyes of the new atheists, or the cynics, a rather pathetic, hopeless sight, a bad joke, and a grand deception. To the eyes of the believer and in the minds of the many sick that do go there, Lourdes is a place of hope and meaning amidst so much obvious human suffering. We see there too the plaintive looks and hear the cries of the poor.

Today the miraculous raising of the paralytic has many implications for the Christian life.

1. This miracle stands out among all the many miracles of Jesus because of the act of bravery and solidarity of the paralytic’s friends. The key words in the Gospel account are: ‘SEEING THEIR FAITH.’ Their loyalty, their faith, their inventiveness you could venture to say, even recklessness, heedless to the crowds, points to perhaps as well a sense of desperation to go to any lengths to bring their friend into close contact with Jesus. Other miracles are for the most part on the part of the individual himself or herself, or a close relative, or employer. The friends in this instance can symbolise the saints in heaven interceding for us from on high; they symbolise the four Gospels which bring us into close contact with Christ and shed light and bring Him in to clearer relief for us. The collective resourcefulness of the friends also points to the Body of Christ, the Church and the power of our prayers too, if we have faith to believe that intercessory prayer can and does work and bring about astonishing results! What often does surprise us, unfortunately, is that our prayers are unexpectedly heard from time to time, often quietly and unobtrusively. Do we express gratitude on these occasions?

2. While we are not told the hidden identity of Christ directly, Christ makes it very clear that He has the Divine authority to forgive sins. The scribes are right! but it is what Christ desires first that also piques our interest – the forgiveness of the man’s sins take priority over his obvious physical ailment. Only God has the power to forgive sins. The proof – is that Jesus performs a less great work – in raising the paralytic. Their words fall back on them – they must accept that Jesus is a man of His word! The raising of the man symbolises too the raising of each us from the state of sin to the state of righteousness that Christ has carried out for us in His death and resurrection - ‘when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself’. We die to sin and are raised up in baptism, and are continually renewed in the sacrament of reconciliation. Each mini-resurrection ultimately points to our being raised up on the last day, to eternal life with God.

3 The form of paralysis in the Gospel is something we have not suffered but the healing power of Jesus to cure paralysis points to the paralysing effect of sin. Last week we saw how leprosy/sin excludes one from the community/Church and the flow of grace. The secondary effects of leprosy render one powerless and marginalised, just as sin does. Now paralysis is what sin does, cutting us off form the flow of grace. It puts us into cold storage as it were, wishing and waiting to be thawed, reactivated, useful members of Christ’s body again. We can do no real good that has merit in the eyes of God if we have cut ourselves off from Him. The cure of the paralytic also equally normalises him as he is re-integrated into the community. We must also understand the Semitic (false) perception that the leper and paralytic were somehow deserving of their plight - as punishment for some hidden sin of the past.
We do not suffer physical paralysis, but we can think of other forms that Christ wishes to rid us of. These take the form of verbal paralysis – times we should have spoken out or up on behalf of another person, a victim of an injustice, for example, and failed to do so.
There may perhaps be a failure to act on our part – to carry out our basic duties, or to delay AND PROCRASTINATE in doing them. Or a failure to keep God’s commandments, or failure to perform corporal works of mercy in the community or to play a full, active apostolic role in the Church, carrying out the spiritual works of mercy.
We may be weighed down by guilt, fear or shame before God because of our sins. Or we may be paralysed by fear of what others might think or say about us if we are seen to be active parishioners or exhibit displays of devotion through ‘human respect’.
4. Christ wishes us to be rid of these obstacles more than we do. But we must first recognise them in ourselves and to recognise our need to overcome these blemishes we must sometimes turn to supportive friends, a confessor, a spiritual confidante, guide or director, and be able to accept constructive criticism. Then we will - with their help and back-up - have the courage and confidence to be healed fully by Christ of all the blockages that prevent us from walking and moving freely in a life of the Spirit, reconciled, full, active members of the Church.

5. Finally, we are called to become healers and bring others to Christ in our turn, having the personal background of experiential knowledge of His healing love and a peace the world cannot give. We can be convincing only in the measure that we have conviction.

6th Sunday of year B

The healing of the leper

Leprosy is an obviously noxious contagious disease, with a characteristic rotting smell. Lepers in Jesus' time -as prescribed by the Law of Moses in the First Reading - had to shout out 'unclean, unclean', and did any of their begging at the outskirts of a town or village. It may be of interest to know that the Dublin suburb of Leopardstown got its name from ‘leperstown’ or Baile na Lobhar, meaning "Town of the Lepers").

We consider leprosy an ancient disease now, but forget how terrifying it was – for the healthy who might get it, and for the sufferers, and the life they were condemned to – a terminal illness that could get progressively worse over 9 years.

The healing of the leper in the Gospel has many implications for us in our own day.

(1) Can we identify with certain aspects for a leper’s lifestyle –condemned to a life of permanent exclusion from what is considered ‘normal’ life, isolation, loneliness, mockery, made feel that no-one cares anymore, made to feel unimportant. No-one leads a life fully free from pain. We may be able to identify with the secondary effect of the life experience of someone condemned to a leper’s fate.

Even at school, boys and girls can be very cruel to each other from a young age, with hurtful words, intimidation, and periods of subjecting others to bullying. Sensitive children can be easily picked on, and their weaknesses the target of taunting. Some people, indeed, exploit the weakness of others at a young age. Sensitive people have a heightened sense of grievance also to criticism of any kind form teachers, parents or older brothers and sisters.

Who among us has not at one time or other suffered at the hands or words of others? We may have had our hopes shattered, our dignity violated, our confidence suffered, and those we wanted to impress could never be satisfied. We were caught in a cycle of negativity.

I suspect that the frequency of depression in our day can be traced to anger and loss in childhood, and an attempt to come to terms with life’s losses and a hankering after ‘what might have been’.

On the other hand, despite criticism and negativity we may also have been fortunate to experience care and respect from unusual places, that have boosted our image of ourselves, be it praise from a teacher, or a significant adult who saw our potential, someone who was a shining light amidst all the ‘put-downs’ from others, someone who ‘had time for us’, who instilled confidence, encouraged us amid failure, wanted us to reach out to be our best. Is there a relative or teacher you are eternally grateful for who treated you as an equal?

This is an inkling of what Jesus meant to the leper.

It may have been a simple word or turn of phrase, a gesture, a smile, that made all the difference. That person may not to this day even be aware of their impact on your life to help you turn around and keep going.

These people mirror Jesus’ attitude of mercy and compassion. They picked us up off the ground, held out their hand and gave us the inspiration and strength to carry on.

(2) The leprosy points to sin and its effects, exclusion from God’s grace, the sacraments of the church, especially confession, and the negative effects of sin on one’s own personality and our hurt to the dignity by our demeaning remarks and actions on those we are tempted to look down on. We must realise that Christ wants to intervene in our lives too; He sees in us something far worse than leprosy -Jesus wants us, despite our misery and shame, to approach Him for healing, especially in confession. We must have the honesty to recognise our un-cleanness, and beg for Jesus’ mercy: The leper said: "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean." Can we recognise the need in us for God's mercy?

(3) There is another angle - to be at the giving end. It is easy for us to knock, to criticise, to tear down someone’s confidence, to point to others’ glaring failures. The world will never be short of ‘knockers’.

But we likewise like Jesus, and like Paul after Him in today’s epistle, are called to give, and to pass on that ‘self-belief’ to others, to restore to others their sense of dignity and self-respect.

And finally, at a practical level, all of us have need to practise in our lives the avoidance of negativity, to keep our mouths shut more often, to say nothing when it is so tempting to ‘put down someone' with a clever withering remark. We are called to be Christ-like in attitude and see Christ in others.

If we can lead that can of life, reaching out to others, there is indeed hope for us all.

Our Lady of Lourdes


“I feel sorry for all these people”

Esther Brachmann had an angel’s face…Her clear voice, her lively and deep eyes were full of ravishing youth – were it not for the wheelchair, that casket where already she lies…were it not for the growth, not of her adolescent body, but of her belly, a spectacular, monstrous, inhuman swelling that she could no longer hide from those bold enough to look at her. Beauty and horror: The atrocious contrast does not elicit pity at first. It does, however, elicit queasy disgust.

Just over two years ago, she was in bloom, barely awakened from life’s great dreaminess. Then she started to cough a little, and then a little too much. In no time, tuberculosis took everything from her – her dreams, her life, her very body. A momentary torture, far from passing, changed into an unyieldingly constant agony.

And medicine? Worse yet than the illness – repeated, interminable punctures, revulsive treatments as violent as they were inoperative, useless eviscerations. Everything had been tried. The case was incurable, and the prognosis was imminent death….

“Why not me?”

Once again, Esther thought of all the miraculously healed people about whom she had heard these last few years. A place had been reserved for her…Sometimes there was a year-long wait, besides the expenses that many, outside of hospital institutions, could not afford. When they were told of their upcoming departure for Lourdes only a few weeks after her request had been made, it was already a little miracle for her. She firmly believed in the Holy Virgin’s intercession…

Esther did not see the Virgin. She did not notice the rosebush and the ivy running up the rock face, nor the crutches lining the grotto’s ceiling as so many offerings from those who had been healed…She was not even praying. She was no longer doing anything. She had just entrusted her entire being to the mercy of God.

It was in the pool to which she was soon carried that the unexplained occurred. Esther re-emerged from the water nearly by herself, saying that she no longer felt any pain, that her stomach had flattened and that she was hungry. And there she was, walking….I am healed.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us
St Bernadette, pray for us

St Josephine Bakhita - February 8th

Feast of St Josephine Bakhita HOPE IN GOD

February 8th

Extracts from Pope Benedict’s Encyclical on Hope Spe Salvi
November 30th, 2007

Paragraph 2

St Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Of course he knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were “without God” and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future. In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus (How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing)[1]: so says an epitaph of that period. In this phrase we see in no uncertain terms the point Paul was making. In the same vein he says to the Thessalonians: you must not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Th 4:13). Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.
Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.
So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news”—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.
To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. .......
I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II.
She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her.
She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants.
She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.”
Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.
On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter's lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

Fifth Sunday

Jesus sets us free

We all find life hard: During the week I bumped into an older colleague, a priest in the diocese, asking me how thing were going. I made some remark about keeping my head above water, and he replied: ‘it only gets worse!’ How cheerful!

The first Reading from Job presents us with a rather gloomy, dismal picture of the slavery, drudgery and at times seeming pointlessness of life, and the meaningless of monotonous routine getting up in the morning living for wages as the only reward or relief from pain, the discomfort in present toil and hard graft. Interestingly, even though it is a text from the Bible, God is strangely absent in the writer’s reasoning – and maybe that is the point - it explains the gloominess of his plight.

I am sure we have often though especially recently – that life can’t get any harder than it is. We often feel that our value as a person we feel depends on our usefulness People seem to lack hope. We are all compulsively busy.

The Gospel presents Jesus as very concerned and busy for others. Besides curing illnesses, Jesus is concerned with the prevalent demonic possession - and much of His ministry is devoted to casting out these demons.

The term ‘our demons’ has come to mean our sins, failings, bad memories, character faults, and regrets over the past. Jesus wants to set us free from ignorance, error and sin. He wants to set us free with His truth.

Our lives as Christian followers must first be characterised first by repentance
The demons are exorcised and Jesus goes off to pray in a lonely place while it is still dark. His disciples note His absence. His disciples are looking for Him and find Him in a lonely place and once more Jesus gets up and the ministry continues in another place.

‘Everyone is searching for you’. We all seek peace of mind, stability, contentment, harmony, joy, answers, guidance, meaning, direction, but especially HOPE.

The disciples found Jesus in a deserted place – in silence, away from the crowd, noise, where everything happens. Rather in stillness, calm, peace, even darkness.
If people wanted to follow Jesus, it would have to be on His terms, in other words they must make an effort to follow.

And so to find Jesus for ourselves, the second aspect of being a disciple is that – each of us must have a place of SOLITUDE, a favourite place to pray, a favourite TIME to pray. Jesus had to go while everyone was still asleep so as not be disturbed. There He found peace, and was re-energised with purpose.

As soon as His disciples caught up with Him in this place of silence and encounter, and discovered where Jesus was to be found, then His will became clear to them too, His mission became their mission. Their path became clear, and Jesus led them. Jesus has set Himself apart from evil and will overcome the powerful reality of evil. In prayer we discover God’s will for us in our increasingly busy lives. Let us resolve to find a time and a place where we can be by ourselves and with Jesus.

Fourth Sunday

Celibacy and the priesthood

The Sunday Epistle is the famous one from St Paul Letter to the 1 Corinthians chapter 7.
St Paul was addressing certain people’s concerns in the community in Corinth and their difficulties and temptations in living a life and where certain Christians felt that because there were expectations about the imminence of the return of the Lord. Also, Corinth was a notoriously corrupt place, and there was much promiscuity. Perhaps some Christian converts tended towards a certain extreme puritanism in reaction to the paganism of their peers.

The chapter deals with marriage and the priestly/religious life effectively. It is an example of the readings from the New Testament that the Church invokes to defend and explain the Church’s defence of celibacy and especially in the life of the priesthood.

The Church’s teaching on celibacy is that it is not some adjunct to the call to be a priest or a religious but an indispensable part of being a priest in the Latin rite. It was not really widely questioned at all until recent times, until I suspect the wide number of defection of priests and religious in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and false expectations that were created in the minds of some that the Church was about to abolish compulsory celibacy.

Certain people actually question whether chaste celibacy is humanly possible. Well, in a strict sense it isn’t. Only God can guarantee that someone called to vowed celibacy can actually persevere in their commitment. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi admired the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood, stating that it kept the Catholic Church ‘green’. I also understand that he tried and failed to live a celibate life, until, as his wife related, he made a vow himself.

It is not to say either that there are not challenges, temptations and yes, loneliness as well. But they are part of the human condition no matter what one’s state in life. There is no band-aid for loneliness, no quick-fix.

It is not that St Paul is against marriage, but what he is trying to say, for the first time in Christianity apart from Christ, that to remain unmarried is a preferable option because marriage has its own demands for spouses. A married man or woman cannot commit to the Lord’s concerns as readily.

So celibacy/consecrated virginity has served the Church well. If we think of the extent to which the gospel has been preached, if we think of missions, hospitals, schools, clinics, orphanages, hospices, not to mention churches and chapels, and the celebration of sacraments, then we see that only a fraction of the work cold have been carried out by even the most committed of Christian married people.
Celibacy is a call to a higher love for Christ, and this loving relationship of prayer and spirituality makes sense of why someone would want to commit themselves to a life dedicated to Him. I would have to say that most priests I know do not obsess about celibacy. It has been spoken of in a healthy mature way in the seminary, and many good books and writings are available to explain and help guide people called to this way of life. Yes, the mistakes and scandals involving priests and bishops have made and continue to make headlines from time to time, but one can sense that there is another agenda at work to undermine the Church’s authority, to make the hierarchical Church and the Pope seem cold, unfeeling, unreasonable, distant, and detached from the everyday cares and concerns of priests and religious.

The perseverance of some many priests and religious to a life of celibacy, no matter how imperfectly, is a challenge, furthermore, to the sexual revolution and to licence. I suspect that in some instances, it stings the consciences of those in our media who promote as well as well as who live lifestyles not in keeping with the Lord’s commandments in relation to chastity and marital fidelity. To them, celibacy can seem an affront and an accusation.

I am always curious as to why the media never seem to focus on the opposite argument that nuns have a ‘right ‘to get married! Why is this?

I like being a priest. It is a privilege to be a priest. Celibacy has taught me more than I ever would have expected about human friendship and its possibilities. Because of celibacy I have been able to engage more, not less with people, to become more involved in relationships of trust, rather than to live in splendid isolation in an ivory tower. It has helped me to become more human, and a humanitarian, not less so. I have come to respect and understand married life more, rather than less.
My relationship with Christ has deepened because I have learnt how much I depend on Him and not on myself.

Please pray for us priests because we rely on your prayers to keep us faithful to serve Christ and you.