March 19th: Solemnity of St Joseph

We have all heard the expression ‘if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans. ‘ [See also the movie’ Evan Almighty’!]

How many days are we just about coping? How many times, I wonder, do we go to bed at night truly satisfied that we accomplished everything we had set out to do that morning?

Often a day does not turn out as planned. There are upsets, unexpected twists, disappointments and adjustments which may be unforeseeable. It is good to have contingency plans, and to qualify our expectations according to what God might want for us. Sickness or a sudden visit to the hospital, an unexpected death of someone, a traffic jam or even bad weather shatters our schedules and our comfort. We know in our hearts that we cannot see ahead, that we cannot plan for every contingency or for everything that might put our plans astray and yet we live as if we are in total control. It is not that we begrudge others what is urgent but what is interesting is that we never cease to be surprised that things just won’t always go our way.

I wonder therefore about St Joseph and his plans. To me he is the saint for people who are struggling to cope with whatever life throws unexpectedly at them. What HAD Joseph planned for himself? If we imagine for a moment that he had thought that he would marry Mary, settle down with a trade and steady income; that if God blessed him that he would have children who he would raise up in the Jewish faith and who would follow him in the family profession; that he might be fortunate to live to see grandchildren; and that he would never have to travel very far except to Jerusalem; then we know with the benefit of hindsight that he would have been completely off the mark. Everything important in life - marriage, childbirth and home - took an unexpected turn. He had to cope with unique situations, never to be repeated and never to be experienced by any one else - ever.

He had to learn to cope with unforeseeable changes to his plans but he was prompted and guided in extreme situations of danger and crisis.

Therefore, maybe it is not so much what I set out to do that is of most interest to the Lord, but how I cope when things do not go according to my plans. It is not only in the faithfulness to the many little things that occupy me that interests Him but how I prioritize them and how promptly I can leave aside what I consider important so that I am ready and willing to turn to a more pressing immediate need of another. This does not mean that God is ‘playing games’ with us, but rather that He may be challenging us to see how much we realistically think we can accomplish by our own efforts alone. 

Maybe God is not just calling me to fidelity in small things but sanctity is in how I handle crises that may be or not be of my own making. He may want me to see today how when things go wrong how I might be inclined to apportion blame and accept none; how I might give into rage and impatience; how I might blurt out something I may instantly regret (but may not be willing to acknowledge that I may be wrong or that I jumped to conclusions). Maybe humility and honesty is the way after all that God is calling me to live this day, and to greater trust and surrender to His will no matter how things turn out.

There are no recorded words of St Joseph – maybe he was a man of few words in reality, but we definitely are not! Maybe it is his silence rather than any words of wisdom that speaks volumes. His silence is his eloquence. May we follow his example in patience, understanding, and endurance. May he lead us to share in the constant company of Jesus and Mary which he had the privilege to enjoy in his earthly life because he silently, promptly and perseveringly obeyed what the Lord required of him at every given moment.

4th Sunday of Lent Year C

The story of the Prodigal Son

Of all the parables this one needs no introduction. It is the most popular of parables and as well known as the Good Samaritan.

What can we say that we have not already been said?

It is of course the greatest parable of forgiveness. Seen alongside the parable of the fig tree in last Sunday's Gospel, it is about giving someone another chance, even when in all human wisdom they are undeserving.

The question is - who can we relate to immediately in the story? The patient forgiving father, the reckless waster of a son, or the diligent yet resentful brother who did no wrong?

Can we relate the parable to any incident in our own upbringing about a family member?

Is there an incident of forgiveness in my life where I was forgiving or forgiven, or still resentful and refusing to forgive another?

How willing and ready am I to reconcile or be reconciled? Is there something I have yet to to do to repair a broken relationship?

Have I experienced the joy of being forgiven? Am I prepared to 'pay it forward?'

Am I in conflict with anyone? Have I sought to clear up a misunderstanding, or at least made a reasonable effort at home, in the workplace, in my family, in my marriage, among my siblings, my neighbours?

Can we relate it to our Western society or Irish society with the present economic downturn. We had it good for a while, yet mistakes were made and now like the Prodigal Son we all 'feel the pinch'. We might even feel like the resentful brother paying the price it seems for the mistakes of others. We can allude to the waste spending of the so called good times and the ghost estates, boarded up businesses and full planes to Australia and Canada with unemployed graduates. Are we 'coming to our senses'?

Are we returning to the Father having strayed from His paths?

Finally I think this parable is about three understandings of freedom. The boy at the beginning of the story thought he was free to do as he pleased. At the end he had made a decision internally and was free in his decision to return to the Father free from his passions. With the father's ready forgiveness he was externally free as well.

Jesus said 'you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.'  May we experience the joy and freedom forgiveness brings in our relationship with God and with one another. Then, in the immortal words of Martin Luther King, we can say: 'Free at last, thank God  I am free at last!'

Lá le Pádraig

The Confession of St. Patrick : extracts


1. I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many …had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

2. And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

12. I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.

[My mission was] to spread God’s name everywhere with confidence and without fear, in order to leave behind, after my death, foundations for my brethren and sons whom I baptised in the Lord in so many thousands.

15. And I was not worthy, nor was I such that the Lord should grant his humble servant this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favour in these people, a thing which in the time of my youth I neither hoped for nor imagined.

16. But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.

17. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.
19. And after three days we reached land, and for twenty-eight days journeyed through uninhabited country, and the food ran out and hunger overtook them; and one day the steersman began saying: ‘Why is it, Christian? You say your God is great and all-powerful; then why can you not pray for us? For we may perish of hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see another human being.’ In fact, I said to them, confidently: ‘Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds.’ And with God’s help this came to pass; and behold, a herd of swine appeared on the road before our eyes, and they slew many of them, and remained there for two nights, and the men were full of their meat and well restored, for many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half dead by the wayside. And after this they gave the utmost thanks to God, and I was esteemed in their eyes, and from that day they had food abundantly.

23. And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents [kinsfolk], and they welcomed
me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go anywhere else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.

38. I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon a after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: ‘To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, “Our fathers have inherited naught but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.”’ And again: ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth.’

41. So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ.

44. So I hope that I did as I ought, but I do not trust myself as long as I am in this mortal body, for he is strong who strives daily to turn me away from the faith and true holiness to which I aspire until the end of my life for Christ my Lord, but the hostile flesh is always dragging one down to death, that is, to unlawful attractions. And I know in part why I did not lead a perfect life like other believers, but I confess to my Lord and do not blush in his sight, because I am not lying; from the time when I came to know him in my youth, the love of God and fear of him increased in me, and right up until now, by God’s favour, I have kept the faith.

58. Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing.

61. Behold over and over again I would briefly set out the words of my confession. I testify in truthfulness and gladness of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the Gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty.

62. But I entreat those who believe in and fear God, whoever deigns to examine or receive this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that nobody shall ever ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing that I achieved or may have expounded that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it would have been the gift of God.

And this is my confession before I die.

Third Sunday of Lent Year C

The parable of the barren fig tree - the problem of evil

We can wring our hands and look at the world’s tragic headlines or we can look at the latest fall from grace of a bank official, politician or sports celebrity. The world is full of awful headlines – one famous newspaper editor famously out it – ‘I am not interested in good news.’ There are two reactions – discouragement or indifference.

Jesus refers if you like to two main headlines lost to history otherwise – the crushing to death at the tower of Siloam, and the death of the rebelling Galileans. These were obviously shocking – one was Pilate’s doing, the other was nobody’s fault. There are natural and man-made disasters, perhaps though there might be an inquiry and new safety regulations and legislation if the tower collapse were to happen today.

These inquiries lose their immediate sensational appeal and become news on page 5 or on the bottom of some page much later. Meanwhile newspaper editors and journalists have moved on to the next tragedy and the next sensation, under pressure to meet a deadline and have to get their headline. If you ever look at the RTE series ‘Reeling in the years’ it is surprising  - as the French saying goes  - ‘that the more things change the more they stay the same’ – disasters and terrorist attacks, civil wars, celebrity scandals.

How do we react?

·      The danger for all of us is to fall into indifference and shrug our shoulders, as if to say ‘it’s nothing to do with me’.

·      Another – (Jewish) superstitious response would be to think, ‘well they must have done something to deserve it, and they were cruising, playing with fire, that’s what you get for playing with matches’ they got what they deserved, God punished them.’

·      Another equally wrong alternative in the midst of so many scandals is to say ‘I’m not too bad after all’, I’m not a bad person, and I don’t do anyone any harm’.


The result is the same – whether you choose indifference or blame, we are not affected, and we do not act.

The challenge Jesus poses to us today is, well, what do you do?

Jesus teaches that these awful evils are not on merit! We are often puzzled by how good living people suffer so much; we have no answer to that.

The problem of evil is not one that can be solved, nor can we figure out how God permits awful tragedies to the young and innocent, and we wonder why he doesn’t intervene more.

In the season of Lent we are warned, there is accountability. Instead of smugness or indifference, we are reminded to look to ourselves: it is before God that each of us must render account for our deeds. Lent  - with the image of the unfruitful fig tree- taking form the soil but producing no fruit - is another opportunity to ask ourselves – doi I take more than I give. Now is the time to produce fruits of compassion, charity and forgiveness.

I remember a boy I used to teach in school in Fermoy – ‘Jack’ I will call him. He could not concentrate in class – and on Friday afternoon for double science I found it difficult to keep him sitting still. In the end after repeated warnings I would have to send him out of the class for disruptive behaviour. It became a bit of a buzz word or catchphrase in the class because inevitably Jack would say ‘ah, Father, one more chance, I’ll be good, and I mean it this time.’ He would even attempt to re-enter the class from the corridor – ‘ah Father can you let me back in? I’ll be good this time, I promise.’ Poor Jack was eventually expelled from school a year later.
But I wonder how much I am like Jack before God?