Monday, 22 August 2011

Growing into Christ

21 Sunday, Year A, 2011         (11.00 am)   

Today we have the gospel passage of Peter’s profession of faith in who he believed Jesus was.  This section of the gospel is normally seen only as applying to Peter and his successors and of their importance in safeguarding the role and power of the Holy See and its care of the Church universal. 

Peter certainly meant what he said in his reply to Jesus’ question as to who the disciples thought he was.  And yet subsequent events showed that Peter did not really/fully understand what he was actually saying in this magnificent profession of faith.  Jesus himself told Peter that it was his Father in heaven who revealed the truth of what he had boldly stated.

Peter’s words were truly prophetic.  Jesus responded by praising Peter and guaranteeing his position and future role guiding and caring for the Church.  Jesus took this step in spite of Peter’s weakness and forthcoming betrayal of him.  Responsibility and weakness go hand in hand.  Peter spoke truthfully when he said who Jesus was.  However it is obvious that he had not yet fully understood its implications.  That is no different from the rest of us.  We all have to make our basic life commitments.  We know what we want to do but not necessarily what it will all lead to.  That is why once we definitively commit ourselves we need to remain open to all that unfolds for us in the future.  It is not possible to foresee what lies over the horizon.

We normally don’t realise want we are taking on.  We can probably see the positive gains but not realise the difficulty of acquiring them in practice.  Perhaps that is no bad thing or we might be too afraid to do what is the right thing.  Life and the various vocations within it, whether they are to marriage, to the priesthood, the religious life, or careers in nursing, teaching, or whatever, they are all enriching and challenging.   And they all demand ongoing change in us if we live them properly.  God never stops giving us new challenges and gifts.  If we respond to them we will grow more into what we are called to be.  The challenges may not be world shaking.  These may simply be small changes to the way we live with one another, to the way we pray, to responding more readily to the needs of those around us.  These are things that make our world go round and keep us faithful disciples to the Lord.

To be happy in our lives is to be confident in God’s presence and help, whatever the weaknesses we are aware of within our hearts.  In our following of Christ we needn’t necessarily feel more self-confident as life goes on.  But those who follow Christ look to him more than at themselves, knowing their ever-increasing need of God.  It is not unusual to find in the lives of the saints that they think ‘There go I –sinner - without the grace of God’.

Our vocation is to grow in confidence that Christ is with us, not that we are less in need of God.  Our faith therefore is a journey of growth.  That growth is an increase of God in our lives, which frustratingly is not very evident to us as we go about our lives.  I suppose it is others who are the only true witnesses to our nearness to God.  But, whether we know it or not doesn’t really matter in the end.

Peter grew into becoming the upholder and brother of his companions in the faith.  His story of budding faith and movement from faltering to full belief in Christ is a reflection of our own.  

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

CNS photo - Baltimore Cathedral

Assumption, 2011                               Chapter Sermon                                                             
  • The Assumption of our Lady into heaven is not just another feast of Mary which completes her CV.  Nor is it an anniversary which we remember each year and then go on with our own lives.
  • Mary’s Assumption reaffirms our belief in the resurrection of Jesus, which is the bedrock of our faith.  As St Paul says in writing to the Corinthians, ‘If he has not risen then our faith is dead.’
  • The Assumption of Mary expresses our belief that we are all on the road to heaven.  Heaven is the destination we are heading for.  Each morning when we awaken we are moving further along that route.
  • Our Lady’s Assumption is the hook on which we hang our belief that she has ascended to be beside her Son in heaven and that our destiny lies in hers. 
  • Jesus is truly risen.  That belief underpins our faith; Mary’s Assumption is the confirmation of that truth.  She is the first disciple of her Son.  And she is also the first to experience the full reality of what happened to her Son after his death.  He rose to new life.  She shares that reality in a much fuller way than we can appreciate.  We believe that we are saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus - but not yet!  We still have to battle with our demons and conquer them.  But the power of the risen Jesus is with us to guide and help us and the example of Mary and the saints are also there to encourage and assist us as we travel.
  • On this feast of Mary we celebrate that mystery of faith.   We know that we are truly one with the risen Lord and must go on in faith believing that this is so. 
  • When Jesus was speaking to the crowd about the bread of life, they didn’t or wouldn’t understand what he was saying and so went away from him.  It was a great act of faith they were being asked to make.  (What would have been our own response if we had been there?)  Jesus then asked his faithful band of disciples if they would go away as well.  Perhaps the disciples were not sure what Jesus was actually saying.  But they knew him and trusted him.  Peter’s reply, ‘Lord to whom shall we go?’ must be ours, too, as we stand before this other great mystery of life after death.  Mary now fully experiences that for herself.  It awaits all of us at the end.
  • The road to that glorious place has been mapped out for us.  Sometimes in preparation for an important journey we like to drive over the ground ourselves to make sure we are on the right road.  We can then see what lies ahead and be more sure we are going in the right direction. 
  • Unfortunately our own inner life journey doesn’t have that kind of precise and clear view of the road ahead.  What we do know is that we will get there if we learn from those who have gone before us.  They have shown us how they did it.  We also know that the way we live/the way we drive, the courtesy we show to the others we meet on the way as we go along, and the care we take as we travel, all affect how we get to our destination.
  • Like most road maps in today’s world we can’t be sure if the exact route others took is still viable for us as we make the journey ourselves.  Even a satnav warns you to be wary as there may be diversions or road works ahead. So, even though we know where we want to go, we sometimes need to stop and check where we are.  We may have to turn round to get back on to the proper road, either because we took a wrong turning or the route has been altered slightly.
  • Holiness and getting to heaven is not like a carbon copy which we adhere to blindly.  We have to apply the gospel to our life, to our vocation and personal circumstances, so that we finally arrive at the desired goal. 
  • The funny thing is that we may all travel in different ways but those who arrive at the ‘pearly gates’ share an uncanny likeness.  They are all transfigured with the same glory that Peter, James and John saw shining on Jesus on the mountain.  That was a foreshadowing of the glory given to the risen Jesus and now to Mary in her assumption into heaven.  Please God it will be a foretaste of what lies ahead for all of us as we daily seek with Mary’s help to stay on that golden road to God.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Living Pentecost

Homily  - Pentecost, 2011

  • Some people are so gifted that there seems to be no end to the variety and number of their activities. They act so confidently and naturally and succeed in the many things they do.  It’s not surprising therefore that we see the same in Christ.  In him we see a many-sided personality.  In the scriptures we find there many wondering who he is, both among his followers and those who want to destroy him.
  • All sorts of people were attracted to him because of his teaching and also for his otherworldliness.   He seemed more than the historical person we know him to have been.  
  • There was something different and hidden about him.  But it wasn’t really a long-kept secret, for Jesus did tell his disciples who he was but they did not understand what he had meant.  That’s not surprising as we often don’t understand each other.  We are not as open to others as we think.  
  • The love and the care Jesus showed expressed in the pages of the scriptures were his but were more than his.  During the course of the past week in the daily gospel readings at Mass Jesus was seen talking about his intimate relationship with The ‘Father’.

  • He had a wonderfully close and understanding bond with the Father.  Married love or ‘best friend’ relationships could not be closer than this unity Jesus tells us he has with his Father in heaven.  It was so intimate that he spoke as if at times he was the Father or that the Father was like him.
  • It wasn’t surprising then that in succeeding ages the bishops and theologians in the early Church eventually came to the conclusion that there is indeed something greater in Jesus.  He was not just a superhuman man.  They believed that there is in fact an immensely complex reality present in Christ, in God.  Somehow Jesus and his Father are one and have always been.  They are separate identities - Persons, and yet one because of their great love.  And it is this love that Jesus came to share with us.  Not as something we can take or possess, but share.  The nature of sharing is that you give something of yourself.  When Jesus and the Father give us of themselves it is the Holy Spirit, their Spirit, which comes to us.  That is what we see in the colourful words used in the Acts of the Apostles describing the first Pentecost.  The apostles were transformed.  They were taken out of themselves.  In a way they were like Father and Son going out in love to express their experience.  That is the way of all great experiences.  We want to share it.  We want others to see what we have been given.  
  • This gift of God’s life contains so much of God that it became another expression of God, the Holy Spirit - another Person.  This Paraclete, this other helper; was one with the Father and the Son.  That is why the risen Jesus would be with us always through the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.  
  • This realisation is so compelling that the Church has firmly stated that there are three Persons in the one reality that is God.  This is not a numbers game.  People have used ingenious explanations to try and reconcile the seeming contradiction of God being three but also one.  The gospel tells us not so much that God is out there and needs to be found by us as that God is in our lives and in our hearts.  There it is God who seeks us.  God is the breath we live by.

  • The Holy Spirit gave new life to the apostles in the upper room.  They became energised and courageous enough to proclaim the good news of Christ and his message.  This same Spirit has come to do the same for us making us one in the body of Christ the Church.  This vocation may be in the public arena or quietly in the way we live our ordinary daily lives.
  • The Spirit’s coming upon us on this feast of Pentecost fills us with God’s life; through the Holy Spirit the presence of the risen Christ remains with us all the days of our lives.
  • Some priests were holidaying in the north of Italy in the month of August.  They arrived in Milan for their final weekend. On the Sunday they went to the Cathedral to concelebrate Mass.  The colour of the vestments was red.  They asked the sacristan whose feast they were celebrating and he replied: ‘Today is Pentecost.’  (This was a very hot day at the end of August.) to all who would listen.   The sacristan went on to explain that in the Ambrosian Rite used in Milan they wore red vestments for Pentecost, and for the rest of the year.  The Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, he said, is still with us.  Pentecost is not simply the celebration of the anniversary of an historical event.  It is a permanent reality in the Church.

Monday, 30 May 2011


Nunraw - 'Nun's Walk'
Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter, 2011
This time of year in the liturgy we are living through the resurrection experience of Jesus. We are being shown how that burst of new energy and life was put into his followers.

We are being made more aware, at the same time, of Jesus’ imminent leave-taking. All departing can be difficult. Members of families leave the maternal home to set up a place of their own; loved ones go abroad, perhaps never to be seen again; and, there is the final parting of death.
Whenever we do experience a parting, a change takes place in those who are left behind. Parents must allow their children stand on their own two feet and look to the future. The young ones need to explore the world for themselves, hopefully with the experience and earlier training their parents gave them to guide them. Young married couples must be left to live their new life together and to learn from their own mistakes. In the case of death in a family, there is the responsibility of creating a new centre of focus for the family’s future.

Today in the gospel reading, Christ tells his disciples he must leave them. They had gone through the trauma of his death on the cross but he had come back to them. Now he tells them that he is now really going away for good. They had lost him but had found him again. Now they were going to lose him once and for all. Life is full of uncertainties and sometimes of false hopes. The disciples seem to have had more than their fair share of those. But human hope springs eternal. That is what the disciples have learnt through the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to his Father. We too have to learn that lesson.

We know now that death is a gateway to a fuller life. That all departing is another beginning for those who leave but also for those who are left behind.

The risen Lord had to go back to the Father. He had come from the Father. His return however was different because he took with him his risen human nature. And that difference allowed him to prepare a place so that we could be with him and with the Father.

After Jesus’ ascension his disciples were empowered to take his message of hope, love and service to their hearts. They would now grow in their understanding of their mission. Now they began to really understand what Jesus had taught them. Through their new-found conviction Jesus would speak through their words and live through their lives. They learned themselves as they preached to others. They would preach the message of reconciliation with God and with one another after sin had cut them off from each other. They proclaimed the good news of peace and joy that comes from hearing and putting into practice what Jesus had taught them before his death. The disciples realised that they had to die to self and put their lives at risk if they were to be faithful to the truth that he taught them. That truth is a golden stone that needs to be handed on and lived by if the world is to be saved and to become one in mind and heart.

Being with friends is a heart-warming experience. In taking leave of them we normally plan to meet again. That lessens any sorrow there may be in the parting. Christ’s going to the Father gives that same, but deeper, dimension to our lives. There is a feeling of losing something in the leave-taking but we have the assurance that what we will receive later will be immeasurably greater than what we seem to have lost now.

Jesus himself said that if he did not go the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will not come to us. We might think of it as Jesus’ physical appearance which has to give way so that we can receive the Spirit which in some mysterious way is the risen Lord’s inner presence in us. The life of the risen Jesus dwells in our deepest being. When we are given that then we will truly live with him and speak for him. That is how we will be able to give his message to the world.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Annunciation of the Lord 25 March, 2011

Annunciation - Solemnity 2011

Community Chapter - Sermon by Fr. Mark

In the early sixties, on a visit to Nunraw, Dom Jean Leclercq remarked that monks make bad librarians. That was because, he said, their minds were attuned to seeing the connections that any subject had with many others. So, for example, a number of books by Newman may be classified variously under the title Scripture, Theology, Patrology, Pastoral, Spirituality, and so on, depending on how you care to think about it. It is good to be able see all the possible connections but that can give headaches to a professional librarian.

When we come to celebrate the major feasts and solemnities of the liturgy, it is helpful to try and see the connections and to avoid the ‘Classification’ instinct. Today’s Solemnity of the ‘Annunciation of the Lord’ is a case in point. Many of us have been used to think of today’s celebration as a feast of our Lady. It is of course! But it is also about our Lord.

The whole purpose of the Annunciation is to tell of the imminent coming of the Lord in the flesh. So the feast is of our Lady but it is much more about the Christ, about the One who was to come and save his people. Mary appears in the foreground of the play; Jesus, her son, waits in the wings. Jean Leclercq’s monk would want to go further and to include those of us who are watching the play and who want to see what it means for us.

The angel Gabriel and our Lady have the main speaking parts. We move closer to them to learn what they have to tell us about our Lord and Saviour. What each says to the other tells us much about the graciousness of God who is now fulfilling what has been only hinted at from the beginning of time. Mary’s response as the story of God’s message unfolds and her acceptance of her part in the process is also our learning process. We learn from her how to be open to God as he reveals himself to us.

Each of our vocations is a kind of parallel image of Mary’s at the moment the annunciation was made by the angel Gabriel. What she did then, because it was a heartfelt response and an acceptance of God into her life, has become a kind of template of what our lives should be. No one of course can have an identical life to any other person, but we can see how she left herself open to God’s word. We can learn how she quietly and undramatically followed that Word. She lived on earth before her son was born in the fullness of time. But it was she who followed after him as the first disciple. We who come later in time, after both mother and divine Son, can enter into that mystery, learn from it and renew our appreciation of what we have been given.

It is obvious from the story of the Annunciation that Mary had in her earlier years been well coached in the life of the Spirit. She would hardly have been so prompt in accepting this revelation and its consequences if she had not been. That inner sensitivity could only have helped her deal with the awkward position in which she found herself when she became pregnant of the Holy Spirit. Just imagine what interior anguish she must have felt about Joseph’s reactions to her condition. How was she going to tell him about her vision of the angel? Would he believe her? Would he happily go along with a situation he did not himself fully understand? Would he now feel unwanted as a father and a husband? All, or some, of these feelings must have passed through his mind. Both he and Mary were human like us. But they did not rush into major decisions when caught up in these uncertainties. Such precipitous actions can alter lives sometimes with long-lasting effects. So, these two important figures in Jesus’ life show us that, even in extraordinary events as these, we can learn to live quietly through what we cannot easily understand at first. In God’s hands, our problems will be resolved and our lives strengthened, given time.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

St Joseph Solemnity - Mark

Homily at Mass for St Joseph, 19 March 2011

St Joseph is renowned as a man of honour. In the bible that means he had firm beliefs and that he strove to do what was right in God’s eyes. It means also that he wanted to be just and yet to act with fairness and love. He had a great respect for Mary’s character and yet couldn’t understand how she had become pregnant.
The problem for us is to understand Joseph’s predicament and to interpret properly what scripture says about him and all the incidents we find in the early chapters of Mathew and Luke. Even modern biographers, when they have plenty of source material at their disposal, can find it difficult at times to explain clearly every aspect of their subject’s life.
Some think that Joseph was left in the dark about Mary’s condition; others that, Joseph knew either intuitively or from Mary’s own lips how she had conceived a child, even before the angel’s message in a dream. There are many gaps in the infancy narratives. Scripture Scholars and theologians have tried to piece together the various strands of Jesus’ infancy with greater or lesser success. I suppose we all tend to look at the story of this unique family with the critical historical eye of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. But that was not the way chapters one and two of Matthew and Luke were written. They were put together to show us the story of Jesus’ birth and of Mary’s and Joseph’s place in that life. And the two gospels look at the birth of Jesus from different angles. In varying degrees each one points out Jesus’ ancestry and reveal how he was the one through whom God’s love and the story of mankind’s future would unfold. Historical accuracy was not of particular importance to the early Church writers when it came to the things of God, but the theological implications most certainly were.
So we find many gaps in the infancy narratives. But what comes in between the gaps are the bits which are important for our understanding of God’s designs for our future.
Whatever Joseph knew about Mary’s condition, his initial reaction was to protect her from any innuendo and especially from severe retribution from the religious extremists who would have punished her according to the strict letter of the law. We might think Joseph’s plan of action would not have saved his betrothed. But his instinct was of the highest level and the true measure of the man.
Something unique happened when Gabriel announced that Mary would conceive without human intervention and give birth to the ‘Son of God’ who would save the human race for the glorious future that lay in store for them. He was the one who would show us human nature as it was meant to be. The experience of human love at its deepest level finds its meaning in this fusion of the human and divine. In Jesus, in God, human love and divine love meet and intertwine. That, at heart, is what true love and human life is about. In the child conceived in Mary, God reveals himself and puts his stamp on our lives. What to an outsider may appear to be natural love at its best is, in fact, the sign of God’s immersion in our human life.
We know from our study of theology that in the real world in which we live there is no such thing as a purely natural life. From the beginning of time God destined us to live in a higher dimension. And Jesus is the reason why that is so. Through him we are destined to be raised up to a life with God. If Joseph had any inkling of this as he reflected on the mysterious things that were happening to this young woman that he loved, perhaps it’s no wonder he wanted to put her away. He knew somehow that she wouldn’t have betrayed him, but he must have been very afraid of the implications this would have for him.
No one is born a saint. Joseph may have been afraid and feeling very insecure in the hole he found himself in. This is an understandably natural human reaction. But, when the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream during the night, his attitude changed. It was Joseph’s response which made all the difference and made him worthy to be the father of Mary’s son. In spite of his feelings, Joseph accepted God’s call. That is where sainthood begins.
Joseph is a fitting father on earth of this amazing child. His example of obedience and faithfulness to God’s beckoning, even in the strangest of situations, is one that we can and ought to follow.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Ash Wednesday Daffodils

Journey to Easter

Introduction Ash Wednesday and Lent, 2011
‘Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.’ So the Lord, through the prophet Joel, welcomes us to the season of Lent.
It is the repentant heart not the torn garments that the Lord seeks from us. It is the inner spirit not so much the exterior appearance that our Lord wants from us, as we heard in the gospel reading.

Lent can be such a positive time in our liturgical year. It’s not that we really are far from God but that we sometimes let the trials of life and our occasional sins and faults get between God and ourselves. We learn only slowly that we have to give control of our lives to God. We do need to keep moving ahead. But we also need to be alert to the prompting of God on the way. We may imagine that we know the road but there are certain twists and turns that we may not be aware of in our particular path home to God.

It helps to do with less at this season. It makes sense to travel light. If we do anything extra we should choose the things which will assist the others travelling with us. They may be too weak to carry what they need and so be grateful for whatever help we can give them. It can help if we set out with a set purpose and a positive plan, though it may be hard to stick to it.

The more we give of ourselves during Lent, the more likely will we reach the end of the journey with fewer mishaps on the way.
We are that wasteful son whom the Father will receive with open arms for he is all tenderness and compassion. The other Son whose life, death and resurrection we prepare to celebrate at Easter will have the Father waiting for him as well. He is the first born, our elder brother. But unlike the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal, Christ will be as delighted at our return as his Father is for us. That is the very reason he undertook his own journey back from the dead.

Christ’s journey and ours are really only one. But his is a pioneering one needed to show us the way for us back to God. Our journey hopefully is one of self-discovery, in which we find our true selves with all their warts and wrinkles. In finding them we realise that we can still go home and find the Father waiting to welcome us.