17th Sunday of Year C

If we stop to pause at the Our Father, many of us trip up even at the thought and image of God as  a loving 'Father' . That God the Father loves us, and that the Father loves even me!

Somehow somewhere along the way in the Church we somehow got into our heads the idea of a vengeful angry God wanting to trip up us up, who counts our sins (and not our tears). This may well be due to incidents in the Old Testament such as that of Sodom and Gomorrah and the ‘fire and brimstone’ that fell from heaven to obliterate these cities of notoriety.

While the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one that captures the imagination of a God who is ready to punish the wicked there is yet a seeming reluctance on the part of God – as reflected in the First Reading today - to do so. The sins of Sodom were grave indeed and if we were to read more about the residents (in Genesis 19) they are portrayed as depraved beyond belief, guilty of sexual desire without any boundaries and any sense of moral consequence. They were stubborn in their ways and recklessly abandoned any natural morality. As a consequence – young and old were spiritually and morally dead. It is hard for us to imagine a kind of existence without any moral frame of reference although as a society we are certainly headed in that direction. Sodom was a society in self-destruct mode.

The story of Abraham’s intercession on their behalf shows us that God is ready to relent if there is some justice and uprightness in a sinful society, that God withholds his just punishment if there are those whose lives have gained God’s favour on behalf of their sinful brethren interceding for them and making reparation for them. But there is a breaking point, an irretrievable point at which God says ‘enough!’ – as if to say ‘no more sin, or punishment will surely come upon you.’ This is rather frightening and does not sit well with us, but it makes complete sense that if enough people break the natural moral law, there are consequences on a grander societal scale.

In the twentieth century private revelations (subsequently approved by the Church) show that things have not changed since Sodom and Gomorrah – God’s threat of punishment is conditional on our response. At Fatima, we were reminded that war is a punishment for sin and that we are invited to repent, or great evils will come upon us. This is the mystery of sin, and our part in it and our part in repentance and reparation for it through lives of spiritual and moral purity. Our Lady told us through us that peace will come when a sufficient number of people do as she asked. To the children she admonished us: ‘do not offend God any more, He is already too much offended.’  At Rwanda in 1980 (approved) visions to at least three people took place – where up to 10 young people were visited by Our Lady and urged to proclaim national reconciliation and prayer, and if not a river of blood would flow through their land. The people did not listen and a terrible genocide of up to 1 million dead took place in 3 months in 1994. Again a tremendous mystery. God appeals to us and we do not listen. God is patient and wants us to avail of every opportunity to purify the intentions of our hearts. ‘there are some demons that are visible and some that reside in men’s hearts’, one Rwandan had said.

In the Gospel, Jesus gave us the perfect intercessory prayer in the Our Father. The fact that God is OUR Father reminds us that we pray to Him for one another.

There is a whole section in the Catechism on the prayer (CCC nn2759-2864)

It is ultimately a prayer given out of love and for love of God and one another:

‘If we pray the Our Father sincerely we leave all individualism behind, because the love we receive frees us from it…if we are to say it truthfully, our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome…(CCC n2792)

…praying with and for all who do not yet know Him’ (CCC n2793)

 Let us pray for one another out of pure hearts, free from sin, for those in sin, that we may all come to experience the love of God  - ‘our Father who art in heaven.’



16th Sunday of Year C

Martha and Mary

 It is interesting to note how brothers and sisters in a family can be similar in appearance and be readily identifiable from their parents; yet how they differ! People might express surprise when they find out you are a brother or sister to someone they know well, and suddenly make the connection with you. They might say ‘you are not a bit alike’!

 It is interesting to note how personalities and tastes and temperaments differ under the same roof. How some people can be described as ‘explorers’ (adventurous, wanting to socialize at parties, see the world) and those who are ‘settlers’ (I’d rather stay at home, order a take-out, watch a movie on TV). [They usually marry each other!]

 Comparisons are odious. We hate the phrase as we grow up: ‘why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?’ At school, if you had an older brother or sister, teachers may, intentionally or not, compare you (usually unfairly) with an older sibling, and expect you to measure up to their abilities or achievements. You are not seen for who you are as a unique individual with your own quirks. You may feel constricted, in a strait-jacket by this measure.

All our lives we will be compared one way or the other. We have to accept that and work on our own uniqueness! One of my favourite books is ‘The temperament God gave you’ and you learn to accept certain things about yourself and other’s points of view or alternative ways of seeing things and acting. People will have to accept us too!

Martha and Mary are presented to us as different contrasting personalities. Martha is the active, about -the-house type, expresses her opinions readily, complains, sees all that there has to be done and stresses about it. Mary is silent, recollected, seemingly passive, a listener. Martha complains that Mary should be helping. Jesus rather, praises Mary for getting her priorities right, for ‘choosing the better part’. Martha, it seems, had lost sight of the bigger picture. She focused more on the WHAT of life than the WHY. Martha had lists of things to be done and would mentally cross them off, Mary had one thing on her mind: ‘today the Lord and Master is coming to visit; I will listen and learn and keep Him company’. Whereas Martha was concerned about short-term soon-to-forgotten priorities and jobs to fill her day, Mary achieved more because she has her eternal end in sight and acted on that perspective.

I have always had one difficulty with this story though. It seems unfair! Martha was trying to do her best after all! I remember growing up that if guests came to visit, that we would all be expected to help out in the kitchen to get things ready or set the table or clean around the house. We would be quickly reminded to help out and to do our share of the work if we were seen to be slacking.

Maybe the problem though is that Martha did not know when to stop. The unique opportunity of having Jesus as her guest was lost sight of. She kept on working and would lose the meaning of the present moment. How often we lose sight of what we are doing at a given moment because we are too focused on ‘what’s next’? We need more recollection and repose, like Mary, who chose the better part’.

We need more interior life.


Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

The Good Samaritan

In recent weeks and days we have seen the importance of decision making, the pain and the torture and the sleepless nights some people in our Government and backbenches have experienced in coming to a final decision, a decision that will affect countless thousands of women and their unborn children in the years to come.

I do not wish to dwell on the outcome of this week. That is for another day. But some of what follows could be applied now to how we address the topic of the unborn from now on.

What the readings for the Gospel tells us is the importance of coming to the right decision and the part that flawed reasoning takes that we can infer from the Levite and the priest on their way to worship.

As we might reflect on the decisions of various public representatives, it is strangely appropriate that the parable presented to us today is in fact about coming to a right way of thinking and acting out of that conviction.

The stained glass window on the left hand side of the cathedral or the north side, three windows down, shows clearly in summary the Good Samaritan and behind him one turning to the left and the other to the right, the priest and the Levite going their separate ways.

The two baddies in the story were those who purportedly worshipped God and were on their way to do so and as we know so well, ignored the pressing urgent need before them that should have taken priority. Their reasoning was based on human regulations of what was clean and unclean. They categorised the person before them and turned away.

Their false sense of what was right, their narrow focus on uncleanness and thereby were losing sight of the God they worshipped. They made a deliberate decision by their body language and movement – no words of theirs are recorded. Theirs was silent inaction and avoidance of what and who was put before them. The poor person who was violated has his dignity violated again by two acts of deliberate avoidance. The Levite and priest are so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly use. They have also sinned against themselves as well as giving dishonour to the esteem others have accorded to their chosen profession /way of life. It must have been quite shocking to Jesus’ hearers that He would have used the analogy without of course naming and shaming any named individual or group before him.

In the course of our day, certain unexpected situations will crop up – each challenging us to react and decide, a phone call and the caller ID makes us decide whether we are going to bother, the neighbour or fellow parishioner who hasn’t spotted the fact that we have seen them first and we dive into a shop or cross the road rather than face a tedious and time consuming conversation, someone we want to avoid, in a coffee shop or restaurant, we don’t want to be caught. Where we sit in a train or a bus or an airplane, glad to avoid discomfort and avoiding someone we find boring or a pain to listen to! Even, dare I say it, where we sit in church in order not to be seen by others!? We can all think of a person who might take up our valuable time and who never usually show any real interest in us, who are better at talking than listening.

We are glad we avoided them and saved ourselves a tedious situation

And how much they might actually need someone to talk to and we have left the opportunity pass us by?

We might purposely avoid that street corner or bridge in the city where a beggar with a cup might be perched.

It can be hard when people we know deliberately ignore us.  And we are all guilty of avoiding others. But rather than dwelling on my hurt, have I done the same thing, where the first person to nab me as it were keeps me from meeting the people I would prefer to meet?

I suppose we have to allow everyone a bad day now and again and make allowances but we can really hurt people by ignoring them – adding insult to injury to the poor man was beaten up in the story was passed by and who could, we imagine, perhaps hear the footsteps of potential help fade away in the distance.

Finally, it is also a case of procrastinating. Maybe the priest and Levite decided to wait and return. Who knows? After all it is only a story but we are delving in to their motives, because we can see times when we delayed to act. The Samaritan did what he could, and did return a second time. His mercy was not a one off, but a way of life.

Would it not be an indictment if we thought that there were people in our lives awaiting a visit, a phone call, or who need an end to our silent treatment, an end to a dispute and an argument and we are the ones holding back from forgiveness and reconciliation with them, even though we think they deserve our coldness?

The simple lessons of today therefore are

1.    Our neighbour is not far away at all


2.    The three ways we fail to live up to what the parable teaches us, i.e., in how we fail in relation to our neighbour (both born and unborn) are 

A.    Silence

B.    Avoidance

C.    Delay


3.    Knowing we can’t do it all but that we can do what is within our grasp

The question asked at the beginning of the Gospel today was:
(the emphasis is on doing)
'what must I do to inherit eternal life?'

The answer in the words of Jesus in the Gospel is : 'Go and do likewise'

Or as in the commercial for the sports gear: 'Just do it'

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year


At this time of year, if we can afford to get away, go on holidays and the anticipation of travel fill us with a renewed excitement. We get down our baggage and start packing our suitcases, but are now ever vigilant and aware of weight restrictions.

The disciples in today’s Gospel were on a trial run on their first journey away as it were before they would be sent after Pentecost with the Holy Spirit and with the anointing to forgive sins to baptise and to preach.

Funnily enough the disciples are called to go forth without any spare ‘anything’! Why is this? This ensures a speedy and unhindered visitation and area cover in the shortest time possible. The Lord will provide through receptive and hospitable hearers on the first mission of the disciples. And the disciples return comparing notes and stories at the wonderful signs that accompany the message and the preliminary mission.

There must be in all of us at all times that message and that confidence and trust that the Lord is ahead of us in all things and our pilgrimage journey in this life. He knows what lies ahead and He will provide for us. Wherever life brings us, He will be there waiting as well as with us every step of the way. We are therefore to practice detachment form things that can hinder effective witness.

But there is another kind of baggage we carry, and the term ‘emotional baggage’ is used for a person with mental or emotional problems. Often a term that is employed of a disturbed person, often dismissively, is that ‘they have issues’.

Who does not have issues today? Just under the surface there is in all of us baggage we carry, the things that weigh us down, the heaviness in our hearts, the stresses and strains of life, the financial burdens of so many people, the uncertainties of life, the failure of our elected representatives to truly represent us in areas of pressing concern, the cynicism in the media, the relentless doom and gloom in the economy, and daily we are drawn to the blaring headlines of crashes and disasters and terrorism and other acts of violence. There is so much lack of hope in people’s hearts, not knowing where to turn to for relief, solace or comfort. What can explain the depression in young people, taking the ultimate dreaded step? There is in society the lack of a hopeful vision of a clear and consistent moral as well as spiritual leadership.

But any desired change in the world at large, or in society begins with the individual decision-making process.  Rather than be trapped in an ever downward spiral, we must turn to Christ and form a relationship with Him in prayerful trust.

We must recognise the baggage and weight we carry in our hearts. The Bible refers to the burden that sin is, which with anger, shame, self-loathing and guilt can be overwhelming. The burden of sin, and forgiveness is described in the psalms as follows: ‘too much for us our offences but you wipe them away’ (Psalm 44)

He took away our offences for us

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” – Isaiah 1:18

 The Lord has lifted us up, by lifting Himself up on the Cross.

‘Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you.’  (Mt 11:28)

We cannot give what we do not have. Pope John Paul – soon to be saint – said that ‘those who have had a genuine encounter with Christ cannot keep it to themselves.’ That is our experience too.

 ‘Blessed be the Lord our God who has helped us and we too are called to help one another in their time of need. Just as we share in God’ consolations, so we share in God’s great help.  (2 Cor 1:4).

To sum up therefore we are called to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John). This love means that we should ‘bear one another’s burdens, not as a duty but gladly’. (1 Th 5:14). The fact that we are unburdened (of sin in Confession) becomes a source of joy – the joy of knowing and experiencing Christ’s ready forgiveness most of all, and therefore we are called to forgive as well as be forgiven. This is the greatest challenge of the call to love one another- to forgive one another in Christ. That is truly ‘bearing one another’s burdens.
In effect the disciples were called to carry no baggage in order to more effectively relieve people of theirs!
Let there be no baggage between us or overhead!