21st Sunday of the Year C

Many who are first will be last, and the last shall be fist

Strive to enter by the narrow door

If you have ever queued up waiting to get through immigration at an American airport to gain entry to the United States, you have plenty of time to gaze at the faces and the demeanour of the various immigration officials.  Inevitably some look friendlier and smile more than others and also seem faster to stamp the passports of the people ahead. You hope you get a nice official!

On one occasion I flew into New York at Newark airport. I was not in my clerics but the official asked me my profession. When I told him I was a priest, he asked me ‘have you heard of San Giovanni Rotondo?’  When I mentioned that I knew of it and had in fact been to the birthplace of Padre Pio he produced a prayer card of Padre Pio from his short pocket and promptly stamped my passport and green immigration card. Lucky for me I was awake! And Padre Pio had a chuckle!

The Gospel today is all about entry to heaven and who will get there and how many. One priest answered that question with the reply: ‘I’m into sales, not management!’

'Jesus here turns a hypothetical question about the number of those who will be saved into an existential one which turns the responsibility back on the hearer or reader to do what is necessary to be one of those who are saved' (Luke T. Johnson).

So the key question we have to ask ourselves is not so much: ‘will there many who are saved’ as to ‘will I be among those who are to be saved?

All are invited. But people choose to be excluded by their actions in the here and now.

There is a story of a man going for a job interview, and when instructed to arrive in good time for his interview he arrived an hour early. There were 4 others ahead of him in the waiting room. The candidates for the job were told that there was a strict embargo on the questions so no candidate could leave through the door he went in. As each candidate left the waiting room, the ice broke and those left behind started chatting to each other about their background and their hopes. Finally only the man in question and one other were left and they had a very open conversation. Finally he was left to himself for awhile wondering what was going in the interview room.

When he was finally called he recognised the interview board – they were all the others in the waiting room! Of course while a sneaky procedure they got a clear picture of who they were dealing with. The story goes that he was offered the job on the spot!

The verdict will be no shock or surprise to us at our particular Judgment.

 What is required so that we will get through this final test?

– Our particular judgment IS EVERY DAY as we determine our eternal fate NOW AND EVERY DAY, by

·       our prayer or lack of it,

·        by our keeping God’s commandments or our failure to keep them,

·        our living charitably and generously of our time and resources to those in need

·        our seeking God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession or our failure to

·        our witness as a Catholic or our failure to witness by word and example

·       fidelity to our spouse and family or not

·       honesty or not

·       our purity or impurity,

·       our sobriety or our drunkenness,

·       our resistance to the promptings of conscience or following a clearly informed conscience faithful to the Church’s teaching on faith and morality,

·    Our following of the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves
  • our fidelity to the duties according to our state in life

Life and entry to eternal life therefore is not so much a race but a marathon – this requires a different mentality – of perseverance -of wanting to complete a marathon or a half-marathon. Unlike other sports, runners pride themselves in completion rather than their placing.

Strive to enter by the arrow door –the Greek word for 'strive' is ‘agonizesthi’ – from which we get the words ‘agony’ and ‘zest’ –therefore it is by  suffering and perseverance that we enter the way that leads to the eternal life of heaven awaiting us.
See you there, please God!

20th Sunday of the Year C

First reading

Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10

The leading men of Jerusalem spoke to the king. ‘Let this man be put to death: he is unquestionably disheartening the remaining soldiers in the city, and all the people too, by talking like this. The fellow does not have the welfare of this people at heart so much as its ruin.’ ‘He is in your hands as you know,’ King Zedekiah answered ‘for the king is powerless against you.’ So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the well of Prince Malchiah in the Court of the Guard, letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the well, only mud, and into the mud Jeremiah sank.

Ebed-melech came out from the palace and spoke to the king. ‘My lord king,’ he said ‘these men have done a wicked thing by treating the prophet Jeremiah like this: they have thrown him into the well where he will die.’ At this the king gave Ebed-melech the Cushite the following order: ‘Take three men with you from here and pull the prophet Jeremiah out of the well before he dies.’




Second reading

Hebrews 12:1-4

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne. Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.





Luke 12:49-53

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!

‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’






‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!

These are the words of someone who is in love with us.

That Someone, Jesus Christ our personal Lord and saviour,  is on fire in His Heart – in love with each and everyone.

The readings this Sunday clearly point to Christ’s Passion and resurrection, prefigured by the person of the prophet Jeremiah who underwent his own share of rejection among his own people in his own time, who warned them to repent, and in today’s episode is liberated from the well, symbolic of the Lord’s resurrection for the tomb in the earth.

‘Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne’ (St Paul)

Jesus disregarded the public shame of the cross because it served a higher purpose that is, our liberation from sin and the promise of eternal life to all who accept Him.

We share in his passion in our baptism and benefit from it. But through baptism – the term that Christ used for His Passion – a word in Greek that literally means ‘immersion’ we too are called to partake in Christ’s prophetic role to the people of our own time as witnesses of His saving action in our own lives, and our own felt experience of Jesus’ liberating power through repeated confession and forgiveness of our sins, as well as the love we have felt in  moving experiences of prayer.

As John Paul put it, ‘no one who has had a real encounter with Jesus Christ will keep it to themselves.’ It should be evident in our words and our works of service and charity to our neighbour.

There are, however, painful consequences to our prophetic witnessing role in society, as there were for Jeremiah and fulfilled in Christ’s rejection on the Cross – and that is often felt within the family circle. This is the ‘division’ that Our Lord refers to, a painful one that cuts through the most intimate bonds of family life, that delineates and divides and has often led in the past to persecution and even betrayal in divided loyalties.  But more recently, how often people, especially mothers, have tearfully approached me, concerned and disconsolate about members of their family, and sometimes even their entire family who have abandoned the practice of their faith. How often I have officiated at the burial of a mother and I feel I have buried the last vestige of faith in that family with her.

I often commend them not only to intercession of our Blessed Lady and St Pio, but particularly to the Divine Merciful heart of the Saviour and indeed to Jesus’ own revelatory promise to St Faustina that even if only one member of a family be devoted to His mercy then that entire family will be saved. ‘Let us not lose sight of Jesus’.  Faith in Him and His promises requires patience and perseverance.

Let us be mindful, too, of that promise when we say at the end of the rosary (and at the end of the Hail Holy Queen) to Our Lady Mother of Mercy:

‘Pray for us O Holy Mother of God, that we (and our loved ones) may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.’

19th Sunday of the Year C

‘See that you are  dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be ready for the Master’s return, vigilant’

None of us like to be caught out, caught napping, or caught unawares, unprepared, not ready for a visitor with our house or kitchen in a state and perhaps nothing for a visitor to eat. Equally none of us wish to be caught out when there is an unanticipated inspection of our work, when we are being scrutinised, and especially if we are unprepared.

None of us want to be stopped by the GardaĆ­ at a checkpoint. Often and we well know it by know where the Garda speed vans are – we know where to slow down, and we might even be warned by oncoming traffic by flashing lights in a 50km speed zone.  But how much greater the relief and satisfaction when and we breathe a sigh of relief when a squad car is at the side of the road and we have kept to the speed limit.

We think of being on the watch also because there may have been a burglar on the prowl. We think of someone who hasn’t made enough plans or taken enough steps to guard their property or their valuables, of when we hear of someone broken into. I will never forget the story of neighbours of mine at home who came home from their annual holiday only to find that their house had been broken into and a large kitchen knife found in a bedroom upstairs!

If we are that cautious and careful about our bodies and our material welfare, the parables today challenge us to think: what of our souls and our spiritual welfare, of our future, of our calling, of our ultimate destiny? It is not that God wants to catch us out and pick His moment to when we are at our weakest, to snatch us as it were from this life.

Today’s Gospel is therefore a call to a  greater attentiveness and vigilance as to what it means to be Christian, in thought, in speech, in action and also in moments of trial and temptation.

We think of the example of the greatest Christian woman of all, the Mother of Jesus, who was first and foremost a great listener and observer, and we are given examples of her attentiveness, that is of her practical living out of what she had heard. She went with haste to visit and attend to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth and stayed until the birth of John the Baptist; she was the first to notice that there was no wine at Cana – without her watchful, loving and observant eye and concern, a wedding would have been remembered for all the wrong reasons.

The sense of readiness is also well explained in the following story

The story of the two soldiers

A general turned up one day in the trenches in World War One and asked a junior officer to pick two of his best solders, only one of which would be chosen for a secret mission.

Two soldiers were sent for – one was immaculately attired, rifle gleaming, shoes polished to a reflective shine, down to the polished buttons and pressed suit the soldier’s uniform was exemplary.

The other soldier was sent for, his rifle too was perfect, but everything else about him was rough and care-worn.

The general said ‘I’ll take the second man, I commend a man ready for inspection, but what I want is a man who gets the job done.’

Being ready therefore is the Master finding us at our employment, of being trustworthy – that is literally being found worthy of the trust placed in us.

Christ wants us to carry out His mission readily and with a generous heart, not with one eye over our shoulder. With our sleeves rolled up:

“Christ has no body now but yours.

No hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

[Teresa of Avila]


18th Sunday of the Year C

From time to time in a moment of frustration or tiredness, we might ask ourselves this question: ‘what is it all for?’ or ‘what is life all about?’

  ‘All is vanity’, the First Reading bleakly tells us. It is a sombre and depressing thought that for all our work and toil, we will one day be replaced in our job, and someone else will live in our home. It is however a reading that is a challenging reminder to us not to get so caught up in work and wealth for its own sake. The First Reading is meant to be instructive rather than to be one that stands alone to leave us in despair. Of course work has value, not only to provide for ourselves, but to provide a service to others, even if there is profit, and to apply our God-given talents, to partake in the creativity that the Creator has given us, to use our ingenuity, such as it is, to lighten the burden of others and to build up the world around us. And we have a right to housing and possessions, but we also have responsibilities.

It is good for us to sit back once in a while to ask ourselves the ‘why’ of what we do, and not remain so focussed on ‘what’ we do. People may often ask us ‘what do you do?’ as a conversation opener, but thankfully never ask us why we do it although from time to time people might comment ‘I could never do that’. We must also be careful that our role in work does not define us as persons, and that we are so caught up in our work that we forget life’s real purpose – to get to heaven.

 The man in the parable got what he wanted, and still wanted more, and then he got what he deserved!

It is one of the few parables about a man on his own and wanting to enjoy life and property and riches without reference to anyone else. There was no relationship, of family, no children, no relations, no concern for sharing with those in need, it was accumulation for its own sake, and therefore greed. He had a talent for accumulating wealth but he was spiritually poor. He tried to have a paradise without God. There was no heavenly wisdom in his actions.
For some people the answer to the question of the meaning of life is: ‘Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die'. ‘It’s all about having and about enjoying yourself, because time is short and you won’t be around forever so make the best of it.’ But living a life without consequences, to believe that you can have who and whatever you want is however to live a life of hedonism which is ultimately shallow and fails to satisfy for very long. We see in some celebrities vain attempts at immortality, careerism, profit, prestige, fame, notoriety, power, of appearances, of glamour (through cosmetic surgery), of being talked about in the tabloids. And yet their autobiographies are full of sadness and attempts at escapism through abuse of food, drink, drugs, scandal and infidelity.

How often, like the rich man, have we heard of heart breaking stories of money invested and gone, or projects completed and a person does in the stress of the effort? I remember there was a publican who spent over £200,000 (punts) in extending his pub, and he died soon afterwards, how the best laid plans in retirement fall through, how people sadly do not see their worldly dreams fulfilled, and die before enjoying retirement.

Such anecdotes make us stop and think about the shortness of our own lives and to question our priorities in life as well as who will follow after us.

The expression ‘you can’t take it with you’ is well captured in the story of the Irish-born self-made millionaire in America who stipulated that he buried in the land of his birth. On the crate carrying him home were stamped the words: ‘of no commercial value’. The other expression there is no trailer after a hearse reminds us of the stark reality of the saying ‘you can’t take it with you’. So there is the question of creativity certainly but also of stewardship, of the relative value of everything and the value to our relatives!
Desires, even disordered ones, all point to a sense of incompleteness, of longing for completion, for fulfilment, for satisfaction, point to our restlessness, of never seeming to have enough, of not being satisfied.

May we learn from the fictional character in the Gospel today to re-evaluate our philosophy of life, what drives us, and what do we ultimately desire.

May the parable invite us to look at our possessions as to whether they possess us, to ask ourselves if we can say in all honesty: ‘I am happy with what I have’ and that I can give to others readily.
May we ask ourselves, like in the first reading: ‘what is it all for?’ and know that there is a positive answer that involves us but that life is not all about us!

The way to heaven is summed up in the Beatitudes: the way of peace, purity, poverty (detachment), persecution, mournfulness, meekness, mercy, and hunger for what is right.