Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday, The Easter Vigil, Matthew 28:1-10, 19 April 2014

Saint Patrick Lighting the Paschal Fire
And so, my friends, our journey is almost ended, or rather, is just beginning! Thinking about what seems like a long forty days of preparation, it seems now as we look back, that it was too short.

Even these three days, the Sacred Triduum, the Holy Three Days, have passed so quickly. Our slight impatience at the long liturgy of this night overshadows the speedy passing of time. Don’t we all say it, all the time: ‘How quickly time flies?’

So, I invite you once again to savour these moments. They will be gone quickly enough. Do not wish them away. ‘Ponder’, as the psalmist says, ‘and be still.’


Once again, as over the past few days, the use of symbols tonight is particularly rich. I want to begin by pondering a little on what these symbols might mean for us, particularly the symbols of light – the paschal fire and our candles lighting.

The fire symbolizes God. It is large, awesome and overpowering. In the darkness of our lives, it is an almost frightening sight, this fire of God. Just think of a bush-fire; who of us would run towards that which would mean certain death? Remember that it was by a great Paschal fire on the hill of Tara that St Patrick communicated God’s saving presence in this land. The fire is both death and life. It is both warmth and comfort, injury and sorrow. It commands our presence and draws us in.

The lighted lamps, the candles we carry: biblically, they symbolize the Word of God in our hands and written on our hearts. The paschal candle is at once Christ, at once God, for us. It is from him that we draw light and life. “Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path” the psalmist says.

We look for the Lord to return, and tonight he does indeed return. In the Exsultet, our Easter Proclamation, we sang out our joy at the coming of the Light of Christ: He is Risen!

This night we stay awake, keeping vigil, like the wise virgins with lamps lit and oil enough for the journey. Indeed tonight is the night when we replenish our stores of oil . The demanding, yet rich, Liturgy of the Word reminds us of our deepest origins: in God’s creation, in the Covenants that God made with our ancestors Noah, Abraham, Moses. And, finally we recall God’s promise to be near to all the nations, which becomes a reality in Jesus.


The Gospel passage that we have just heard from Matthew is full of action. Even the first line “After the sabbath”. After the day of rest comes the day of action! “And towards dawn on the first day of the week” gathered as we literally are, at that time, just before dawn.

A wondrous happening: “A violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow.” These are a form of word painting – the author is instructing our imagination, drawing us in. And, what happened to the big, burly guards? “so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men.” This is a life and death story. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, listen to this story. See those who are dead. Observe those who are full of life!

The angelic words: “There is no need for you to be afraid.” Be not afraid. I go before you always. And more angelic words: “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would.” The fullness of life is announced: He is Risen! And then finally an instruction from God’s messenger, God’s angelos: “Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” Those gospel words, those following words: Come and See; Go and Tell. These are two poles of our existence as Christians.

Our Gospel this evening can be mastered in four action phrases:

1.    “Do not be Afraid”
The profound attitude of the disciple in the Church and in the World.

2.    “He has Risen”
The inspiration behind our every thought, word and deed – the resurrection; new life!

3.    “Come and See”
The first action that we do as a disciple – it is the most profound invitation that peppers the gospel story and also the Christian life. It is the invitation to come and see Christ himself. It is to experience him who is the Joy of the Gospel.

4.    “Go and Tell”
This final action of the disciple, the fundamental work of every Christian, is the mission handed to us by Christ. But it also burns deeply in our hearts; we cannot but share the Good News! Pope Francis says of this:
"The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: ‘Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.’ (note 4) When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelisation, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is most certainly what mission means’. (note 5) Consquently, an evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelising, even when it is in tears that we must sow . . . And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelisers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives flow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ’. (note 6)"
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 10


And so, my friends, having been reminded of our deepest origins in God, who sent his Son Jesus to gather us as one, we now move to renew our baptismal promises, conscious as we are now of the mission that was entrusted to us, and is now renewed in us – that of sharing in Christ’s Mission of Joy to the world!


Before sending us out but having already commissioned us, Jesus gathers us around his table; for the intimate love-meal, the memorial and making present of his passion, death, and resurrection, which is our joy!

Good Friday, Celebration of the Lord's Passion, 18 April 2014, John 18:1 - 19:42

High Cross at Clonmacnois
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”. (John 1:12)

John’s Gospel is divided up into four sections. The Passion account, which we have just heard, forms the middle of the fourth section, while the washing of the disciple’s feet forms the beginning of that same final section. This is the ultimate section of the gospel and it ends by telling the story of Jesus's being raised from the dead.

These two episodes, of the washing and the passion, are seminal to the life of faith. Combined with the account of Jesus’ resurrection, they form a neat trio, a three-point plan of evangelisation. They are a Holy Trio, not just of memories or history but, of real, live, there & then, here & now, Christian witness and action in the world.

So, we are on a sacred pilgrimage, with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Story; symbolic word and action that eventually point to a higher or deeper reality: the resurrection, and with it, new life!

But before we get there, we must remain here. We are at stage two in a three stage journey. There are five-point plans, five-year plans, strategies and innovations. But, this is one of the originals. This is the quintessential three point plan. The plan is intended to capture our imagination, our minds and hearts. We are to become living witnesses of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in the Church and in the world.

Would you wash your feet if you were about to go on a long, hard, walk? If you were a guitarist, you would never put moisturising cream on the tips of your fingers… What you want is hard skin, not soft skin that will feel the pain of the strings cutting into your flesh!

Jesus’ washing of the disciple’s feet is a preparation ritual. It was the first stage of a very particular journey. In a way, Jesus wants us to feel today the pain and suffering of the cross. That is why he washed our feet yesterday. In the washing away of our cynicism, and our worldliness, we are like the guitarist’s hands made soft. Jesus prepared us for this moment of the cross, even if we were not ready to receive it.

You see, Christianity is not a feel good religion. Rather, Christianity is a real religion, that is, it faces the reality of life square on. Our primary symbol, the one we use today, is the cross. We wear it in jewellery, we carry it on beads, we hang it in our Churches and even from the mirror in our cars. We fashion it out of wood, stone, reeds, palms, tin-foil.

Some years ago, while I was in ministry as a curate, a vice-principal of a school told me this story about her pupils. She wanted my help in trying to understand it. Two boys had died in a car crash on a Friday night. Both of them had been students in the school. The following Monday morning, the school brought in psychologists, counsellors and every other professional that is needed in such crisis moments. The school, although not a Catholic school, also had the local priest (my predecessor) as a part-time chaplain. Without any prompting, the students gathered in the library. They found tinfoil somewhere, and fashioned it into a cross. They laid it on the floor and placed nightlights around it. And they stayed there for a few hours. Mostly in silence. Sometimes sobbing. Holding each other. Grieving. Around the cross. A Cross moment.

We need our Cross moment too. We must bring our pain and our suffering, our personal crucifixions, to the Lord. And we should remain awhile. And, when the time is right, we move beyond this moment.

Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, 17 April 2014, John 13:1-15

Pope Francis - Foot washing, Holy Thursday 2013
Having begun the Easter Triduum, as we have, it may be good to take a moment to reflect on what we are doing. The Triduum (lit. 'three days') is really one liturgy. This is emphasized by the fact that this evening’s celebration concludes in silent prayer before the Altar of Repose, rather than with the final blessing and dismissal of Mass. We are not dismissed at the end of this celebration, rather, we 'put the liturgy down', so to speak.

Tomorrow’s celebration takes up where today's leaves off. Very unusually, tomorrow’s celebration does not begin with the customary blessing and greeting, and not even with an opening hymn, but rather takes up the liturgy with a Collect (Opening/Gathering Prayer). There is a blessing at the end of the celebration but, again, no dismissal. On the third day, the Easter Vigil begins with our gathering at, and the blessing of, fire.

And finally, the dismissal we have been waiting for comes! And this is not about the conclusion of a liturgy, but rather is a real comissioning. The one liturgy in three celebrations over these three days culminates in our being sent out.

So, what is liturgy? It is both the public act of worship of God and the primary means of communicating to people what God has done, is doing, and will do, for us. We may often approach the liturgy from the first dimension of worship, but forget the second dimension, that is God communicates with us in the liturgy as well.

How does God communicate to us in the liturgy? Primarily through word and symbol, sacrament and sign. All of these actions and words are done by people on behalf of God. The liturgy is then both an action of God right now, and also an action of his holy people. For that reason, participation is not just a nice idea, but rather a real necessity. God is not primarily communicating with us in any other way; through private revelation, in our minds or through some other way. In the liturgy, God communicates with us.

This evening’s celebration, the first of the three, serves to remind us of our immediate roots in the people of Israel. What they did with a lamb, Christ did with his own body and, at his instruction, we continue to do, as a memorial, until he comes. Christ is our passover. He is the lamb that sets us free from the angel of death. As we will sing in two days time: “These then are the feasts of Passover, in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb, whose blood anoints the doorposts of believers.” (Exsultet) The reference to Christ as lamb, and compared strongly to the lamb of sacrifice that we heard this evening from Exodus, is unmistakable. Christ is our passover.

How then are we to be prepared for this passover? What instructions do we have? What does this evening’s celebration point us towards?

Over the three days, we use many symbols. Water, the Cross, Fire, Light. Today we will use water in a unique way, unlike any other use of water in the liturgy. We will re-enact Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet. This does two things. Firstly, it reminds each of us of the washing of baptism. The word ‘baptism’ means to wash, or cleanse. The Jewish people were minded to wash on return from the market place, before eating a meal, and for many other reasons. Secondly, Jesus’s washing of the disciple’s feet serves as a threshold moment. By this symbolic action, Jesus invites his disciples to come in out of the market place, the place where the gospel must be proclaimed, to come in in to his own house. A deeper entering into following Christ. This is not a head moment. It is even not a heart moment. It is a foot moment. As far away from your head as you can go.

So, if your head cannot make sense of it, and your heart is not in it, sometimes you just have to walk through it.

This is very much what a retreat moment is all about. It is a retreating from the necessary proclaiming of the gospel in the marketplaces of Christ’s mission. This liturgy we celebrate this evening invites us to step aside and to be prepared for a deeper discipleship, a deeper following of Christ in our own lives, a renewed understanding of the reason and meaning of the missions entrusted to us.

The washing of our feet is a washing away of the cynicism that clings to us, the disillusionment that haunts us. It is a preparation for Christ’s mission in the Church and to the world, by first participating in Christ’s mission in my own life.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2 Sunday Advent, 8 December 2013, Matthew 3:1-12

Nelson Mandela, 1918 - 2013
Four years ago, in 2009, a film was released starring Morgan Freeman in the part of Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon acting the part of Francois Pienaar, Captain of the Springboks, South Africa’s Rugby team. The film was entitled ‘Invictus’, a latin word meaning ‘unconquered’.

The film tells the story of Mandela’s 1990 release from prison, and his 1994 election as President. Specifically, the film focuses on the real tensions that remained between whites and blacks in a post-Apartheid South Africa. In the midst of this difficult situation, South Africa was about to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Mandela was very aware that sport, and especially Rugby, could either unite South Africa as one nation, or divide it up along colour lines. So, he invites the Captain of the Springboks, played by Matt Damon, to come and visit with him at the President’s offices in Johannesburg. And so, the story goes on – Mandela convinced Captain Francois Pienaar to engage in a nationwide tour of solidarity in the run up to the World Cup. Mandela honoured the white history of the Springboks, which symbolised white supremacy in South Africa, but he called on the newly established, almost entirely black, national sports council to row in and support the Springboks as the national team. Mandela knows that the team have the capacity to unite white and black South Africa.

Obviously the story that I have just shared with you is inspired by the death of Nelson Mandela a few days ago. Remembering him inspires us to never give up hope. His address to the Houses of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) in 1990 drew on our Irish heritage of having overcome colonial oppression. He implied there that the Irish nation were an inspiration to him in his campaign for a more just and equal South Africa.

As we stumble into the Second Sunday of Advent, the death of such an inspirational person gives us pause to remember. To remember his 27 years in prison, unjustly placed there on trumped up charges. Gospel values, which were an important cornerstone of Mandela’s life, also give us pause to remember that we too must work hard to bring about the values of God’s Kingdom. Values like justice and equality for every person, values like the dignity of every human being, values like the dignity of human work, besides much more.

As we prepare for the great festival of Christmas, for the moment of God become one of us, for the feast of the incarnation, the enfleshing of God, we need the story of the gospel to give flesh to the values we have been speaking about. The stories we tell define who we are. And the gospel, for us Christians, is the most definitive story of all. Listening to the story of the gospel forms us into the full human beings that Jesus wants us to be.

‘Repent’ is the key verb in the gospel for this Sunday: “Repent,” John the Baptizer says, “for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” As the Lord approaches, so also does his kingdom, i.e. God’s way of living – this is God’s ‘House’, or family, in the world; [the oikonomia (economy, literally house-rules)] the Church of Jesus Christ that every human being is invited to be a part of.

Repentance is never a looking backwards to some previous ‘perfect’ time. Repentance is about being forward-looking, it is about shaping our heart to God’s heart more and more. It sometimes entails a frank acknowledgement, confession and contrition for wrong-doing on our part. We may also need to make satisfaction for what we have done wrong by doing some penitential act, and of course receiving the Sacrament of Confession. But that negative aspect of repentance is only one side of the coin. We may turn away from our sinful preoccupations, but if we do, we are also turning in hope to the God who compassionately loves each and every one of us.

This turning again to God we can do in many ways: by praying and meditating on Scripture, which we can easily do by use of the Rosary in our daily prayer. We can begin to allow the gospel values of preparation, of hope and of joy to shape our family life, and also our workplace activities. We can choose to be upbeat about the future, all the while remaining grounded in our own history and our own story. We can choose hopefulness, much like Nelson Mandela chose to be hopeful, every day of those 27 years behind bars.


by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

1st Sunday Advent, 30 November 2013, Matthew 24:37-44

In the summer of 2007 I had just been ordained as a deacon. It was the summer before my ordination as a priest. During that summer I spent a month in a parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in California. Spending a month in America was about killing two birds with one stone; I wanted to get a holiday and I also wanted to get some parish experience.

One night, about two weeks into my stay, I was brushing my teeth before going to bed. Suddenly the bathroom window began to shake and rattle. I didn't know what was going on, and at first I thought that someone was trying to break into the house.

Then, I saw the mirror over the sink. It was swaying in and out from the wall. It was then that I realised that I was experiencing my first earthquake! It measure 4.1 on the richter scale and it woke up many people in the neighbourhood.

In California earthquakes are commonplace. But, even though I knew that, I just presumed it would never happen while I was there. I presumed wrong. If it had been a more serious quake I wouldn't have been at all prepared, and God only knows what might have happened.

The Gospel call on this first Sunday of Advent, is to become prepared, to stay awake because we do not know when the time will come. The day and the hour of the gospel, this is God's time. It is a time that we are not ready for, a time that we need to become ready for. And for us believing Christians, we are reminded today that this really should not be a surprise for us. God’s time and God’s actions may not be predictable; but that God is with us, communicating himself to us is surely no surprise to us. We have been learning about this since our earliest days.

Advent is not about staying awake to wonder when the end of time will be. Advent is about recovering that which has become hidden in us over time. It is about waking up from our spiritual darkness and assuming a position of waiting, of waiting, fully prepared for the coming of the Lord. It is like ‘reheating’ our spiritual selves. We are to come awake again out of the slumber of our everyday existence. What we know in our minds, we must allow to come alive again in our hearts. God is with us. God chose to send his Son among us, as one of us. It is in and through our encounter with God in the readings, in Eucharist celebrated and Communion shared; in prayer, and in the Sacraments, that we are prepared for our ultimate encounter with the Lord, face to face.

So, our readings today are all about time, and about coming awake again in time. Maybe today is a good time to remember all that has happened over this past year, to remember the tragedies and failures, the successes and joys. As we light each candle on our Advent wreath, we mark both the year that has been and the time that is to come. Lighting the candle is lighting up our hope again.
To pray, remember and give thanks to God for all that has been, and to look forward with hope to the coming Kingdom of our Saviour, Christ Jesus the Lord.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Solemnity of Christ the King, 24 November 2013, Luke 21:5-19

Christ the King - A Modern American Tapestry
Friday the 22nd of November 2013 was quite a day for memories.

It marked fifty years since the assasination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas. On the same day, 22 November, 1963, CS Lewis died in Oxford, aged 64. Also, on that day in Rome, the bishops of the world voted on the first document of the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It would be promulgated a few weeks later, on 4 December, 1963.

And on the 22nd November 2013, Fr Alec Reid died in hospital here in Dublin. He is rightly known primarily for his role in building a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. As someone said somewhere on Friday, the 22nd of November must be a day when all the greats die.

In the Church’s liturgical calendar, the 22nd November is the memorial of St Cecelia, virgin and martyr, and the patron of musicians, especially musicians involved in the service of the Church.

Why am I mentioning all of these things as we gather to celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King? I mention them because all of them are inspirational characters that encourage us to sing a new song.

Fr Alec Reid sang the song of peace, and more than once paid the price of being a peacemaker. We remember him as one who persevered, seemingly against all odds, in shaping a community of love, of peace, and of mutual respect.

President John F Kennedy adorned the walls of many homes here in Ireland – he, along with Pope John XXIII and the Sacred Heart made up a kind of Catholic, small ‘t’, trinity, of the 1960s. His horrific death was a strike against one who also stood for peace and for the rights of marginalised groups in society.

CS Lewis is remembered for his books, especially his children’s books, the Chronicles of Narnia. They confirmed that we are all called to greatness, that every child is called to occupy the seat of a prince or a princess in the Kingdom of God. His writings told a story of our real place in God’s family – as sons and daughters of God, we must gather our courage, accept Christ’s grace, and strive to be nothing less than the best that we can possibly can be.

So, as we celebrate this solemnity of Christ the King, may we be reminded of our real situation in the Kingdom of God, both here and now, and beyond this life. We are to live according to that dignity which was bestowed on us at baptism; as nothing less than the sons and daughters of God.

Perhaps, with the good thief, we too can say: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Sunday, November 17, 2013

33 Sunday Ordinary Time, C, 17 November 2013, Luke 21:5-19

Philippines -
As we approach the end of the Church’s year – next Sunday is Christ the King, the last Sunday of the year, before the following Sunday which is the first Sunday of Advent – as we approach the end of the Church’s year, the readings are all about the end times. The gospel that we have just heard is about the end of time.

For many people in the Philippines last week, it must have seemed like the end times had come. Or indeed, in Syria, where the ongoing war has left whole populations as refugees, relying on their neighbours, relying on the world, to reach out and help them in their strife.

Thankfully, for most of us, such events are a very rare occurrence. We live in a privileged part of the world because of the peace, stability and prosperity that we enjoy. We may have hit hard economic times over this past few years; we may blame many different groups in society for getting us into our economic mess – but as some people say: that’s a first-world problem. We still live in a part of the world that is blessed with a high standard of living, low disease and mortality rates, freedom to practise our religion, democracy that may not be perfect, but is certainly good.

This Sunday, we are asked to remember people in two parts of the world that need our prayers, and need our financial help. Why should we be generous to them? Because, they are our brothers and sisters. Even if they are not Catholic, or not Christian – they are still our brothers and sisters by our common humanity. And they need us. Our faith teaches us that buildings; Churches & temples, will come and go. But the bonds of care, the bonds of love, reach way beyond buildings.

The bonds of care call us to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God.