County Offaly | Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois

Ferbane Parish

Boora | Ferbane | High Street

Fr.Peter's Posts

The following are thoughts published by Parish Priest Fr.Peter Burke in the weekly parish bulletin.
MISSION SUNDAY

Today we join over one billion of our brothers and sisters in the Catholic world who are observing Mission Sunday. It is a day when our attention is drawn to the Baptismal Font, the place where our faith journey began. On that day we were called to be sharers in the mission of the Church. Mission is at the heart of our Church because our Founder, Christ was the first missionary. If you take all references to mission out of the Bible, you have nothing left except the covers! Consequently, the true greatness of our Church lies not in how many it seats, but in how many it sends-out! The Church must send or the Church will end! We are sent then, to make His voice and His face seen. All we need to be successful missionaries is embedded in the gifts, talents, dreams and visions we possess. We just need to use them

29th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘We want you to do us a favour’
The Twelve Apostles were not a company of saints. They were ordinary men with feet of clay. They struggled with pride, arrogance, selfishness and lack of understanding. In this episode we see their petty ambition coming to the fore. They wanted preferential treatment from Jesus when He came into His kingdom. Not only are they acting selfishly but they have failed utterly to grasp what he has been preaching, that the call to greatness is the call to service. There cannot be glory without the Cross. It is heartening to remind ourselves that it was with people such as these that Jesus set out to change the world and He did. God brings glory to Himself by doing great things with small tools. He uses us not in spite of our weaknesses but because of our weaknesses. His favourite instruments are ‘nobodies’. We should take heart!

28th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘He went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth’
The rich young man who meets Jesus appears to have it all. He is essentially decent, upright, enterprising and moral, but he does have one great flaw. He is in the grip of wealth. Back in the first century the Roman philosopher Seneca suggested that ‘wealth is the slave of a wise man, the master of a fool’. The young man represents the many in our world who are incapable of letting-go, taking the extra step. They may avoid doing wrong, but Christianity is more about doing than avoiding. It calls us to ‘cast out into the deep’. Respectability is not enough. When Jesus asked the young man to abandon his attachment to material possessions He was trying to get him to understand that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. No one has ever grown poor by giving. St. Francis was surely reflecting on this passage of Scripture when he said: ‘remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received-only what you have given’

27th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘What God has united man must not divide’
‘Marriage has been inscribed in creation’s design by God’
 (Pope Francis). It was conceived and born in the Creator’s mind. It is His gift. It is central to His plan for the human family. That is why we go to a sacred place to solemnise the beginning of the marriage journey. Through word and symbol we affirm the permanent, exclusive nature of Christian marriage, which is the ultimate school of love. In His teaching, Jesus presents the handbook for a perfect marriage and those who live their marriage by His handbook will reap the blessings that obedience brings. ‘Happy ever after’ is not a fairytale but a choice! Jesus builds a rampart around the husband-wife relationship. Society would be wise to continue the protection that He proposes because healthy marriages are the bedrock of any solid society. On this bedrock the future of humanity depends. ‘The life of the Church is enriched through every marriage and is impoverished whenever marriage is disfigured in any way’. (Pope Francis)

26th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Children set their watches by their parents’ clocks. This is true across the entire canvass of life. It is especially true with regard to the faith. The ‘little ones’ notice. There is no such thing as neutrality where faith is concerned. We pass-on either a positive or a negative attitude. We must heed the call of Jesus to be stepping stones, and never stumbling blocks to the children on their faith journey. We all ‘caught’ the faith in those early precious days. To be neutral is to place an obstacle on the road, and Jesus warns that judgement will be harsh for those who fail the young. It follows that those who would pass-on the faith must know the territory, and, here the old Latin adage comes to mind: ‘nemo dat quod non habet’ (no one can give what he/ she does not possess). In other words parents must first be in the habit of talking to God about their children before they can talk to their children about God! Every child is God’s vote of confidence in the parents.

‘To pass on to your children the gift of faith you received from your parents is your first duty and your greatest privilege as parents. The home is the first school of religion as it must be the first school of prayer’. (Pope St. John Paul, Limerick 1979) 

25th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘They had been arguing which of them was the greatest’
Today we are surprised to find the friends of Jesus arguing as to which of them is the greatest. Ambition can be healthy or unhealthy. Jesus did encourage His disciples on another occasion to be ‘ambitious for the higher gifts’. This kind of ambition manifests itself in joyful, humble service, the placing of ones’ gifts and talents at the disposal of those who are most powerless. It may even mean being content to take second place in order to promote the greater good. There is unfortunately, an ambition that is unhealthy. It manifests itself in a blind, ruthless, uncaring pursuit of power, status and influence, which leads, ultimately, to emptiness and sterility. We have a choice then. Do we have an ambition to rule or an ambition to serve? Most political and economic problems, most bitter divisions and disputes would be solved if people chose the path of service over the path of power. What our world needs urgently is what Jesus proposed - the heart of the servant. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy highlighted this fundamental choice when he challenged his fellow Americans in his memorable Inauguration Address in January 1961: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your country’. That is healthy ambition!

24th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘Who do you say I am’?
Caesarea Phillippi is situated twenty-five miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. At the time of Jesus it was a significant centre of pagan worship and it was here that He chose to pose a searching question to His disciples and by extension, to His followers of every generation: ‘Who do you say I am’? In other words, do you really know me, and does it show in your life? Many know about Jesus, but few actually know him. It is one of the great tragedies of our time that many have walked away from their faith without ever having encountered the Person at the centre of it all. And all the while, He stands, waiting to be found. English painter William Holman Hunt captured this truth beautifully in his evocative work ‘The Light of the World’ where Jesus is depicted with lantern in hand knocking on a closed door. The message is clear. He can only enter our house if we allow Him in. It begins in little ways. Dutch artist Vincent Van Gough, a contemporary of Hunt, once said that ‘the best way to know God is to love many things’. It is certainly true that, if we begin to see Him in little things, we will come to see Him in all things. He will make His home with us, and we will live in such a way that those who know us, but don’t know Him, will come to know Him because they know us

23rd SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’
Today Jesus encounters and heals a deaf man who also has an impediment in his speech. The Lord’s gesture reminds us that the gifts of hearing and speech are among God’s greatest gifts, and are closely connected. Many talk, but few actually listen. Research has found that we only listen at twenty five per cent of our capacity. If we do listen, it is most often with the intent to reply, not to understand. One of the most sincere forms of respect is to listen to what another has to say. The esteemed German theologian, Paul Tilich went so far as to say that ‘the first duty of love is to listen’. It is interesting to note that the words ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are composed of the same letters! We would do well, then, to heed the wisdom of the Turkish proverb: ‘listen a thousand times and speak once’. In that way, we will be more likely to use the precious gift of speech to lift-up, not to tear down; to heal, not to wound; to help not to hurt. At a recent audience in Rome, Pope Francis concluded his remarks on the theme of listening with a beautiful prayer: ‘May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we should speak and when we should stay silent’.

22nd SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

"This people honours me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me"

It’s the heart that matters!  Jesus returned to this theme often in His preaching. It was a revolutionary message at that time. Central to the religion of the day was the strict observance of rules, regulations and rituals, and the avoidance of foods that were 'unclean'. The Law had become an end in itself. Jesus respected the Law but He despised legalism. He warned against identifying religion with performing external acts. He presented a very different vision, a liberating path, a religion centred on the heart. He directed His listeners to look inwards, reminding them that the heart is the fountain from which all things spring, good or evil. True religion is indeed heart work and the art of authentic Christian living consists in the rhyming of wholesome hearts with worthwhile deeds. If we get the heart right, beautiful deeds will flow. We will reach out to our brothers, sisters and all living things with kindness, tolerance, compassion and respect. May He, who alone can see the 'inside' make our hearts all that they were meant to be.

'I believe that the only true religion is having a good heart'. (Dalai Lama)

FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION

‘‘What about you, do you want to go away too?”
The Christian journey hinges on two words: invitation and response. God invites and we have a choice. From the beginning many have chosen to walk away from Jesus and tread other paths. It’s not a uniquely modern phenomenon. The problem today is that many people walk away without making a reflective choice. Having received the faith second-hand, they never go deeper. There is no mature decision involved. Faith sees with the ears and the unexamined faith will wither. There is a crisis of knowledge in the Church family. It could be said that we are drowning in information but starved for knowledge. A recent survey in the United States produced the startling finding that atheists and agnostics have a significantly superior religious knowledge to Catholics. ‘Knowledge is the peg on which we hang the hat of faith, ‘the wing wherewith we fly to heaven’. We cannot have faith in something about which we know nothing! Isn’t it time for the baptized faithful to take a second look and not just walk away?

FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION

‘Of all women you are the most blessed’
Mary is explicitly mentioned in only five of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. We don’t know the dates of her birth or her death and yet her light shines like a beacon down the ages. She is ‘everywoman’. She is the woman for all times and seasons. She is the most famous woman in history who has inspired more art and music than any other woman. In our own time, she has appeared on the cover of Time magazine more often than any other woman. Without Mary, there is no Gospel. She is the one who is present where she is needed the most. She is there for her Son in all the pivotal moments of his journey from the hill country of Judea to the Hill of Calvary. She is constantly leading others to Him. ‘Her greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself’ (Pope Benedict).When Jesus challenged His followers to live, give and forgive like Him, she showed by her humble service that it was possible. Jesus cannot be understood without His mother. ‘The reason why Christ is unknown today is because His mother is unknown’ (Newman). From the sixth century the belief grew, that because Mary’s life and work were so closely united to that of her Son, she was not separated from Him in death. Orthodox Christians hold that she died first and was then taken directly to be with her Son while some in the Catholic tradition believe that she was not allowed to experience death, at all. The Assumption was finally defined as a dogma of faith by Pope Pius XII on November 1st 1950 when, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he pronounced that: ‘The Virgin Mary having completed the course of her earthly life was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory’. As the shadows lengthen and the shades of autumn appear, we salute Mary ‘the highest honour of our race’ and allow her to come close. ‘Mary is a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim people of God’ (Lumen Gentium). We see in her what we can all become with God’s grace. She is ‘an echo of the heart of God’ (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity). She is ‘our tainted natures’ solitary boast’ (William Wordsworth). She has opened the world’s door to God. She has opened earth to heaven. ‘One ship has rounded the headland. We are the little ships following her home’ (Joseph Cassidy)

19th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘Anyone who eats this bread will live forever’
In today’s extract from the ‘Bread Section’ of St. John’s Gospel Jesus makes an extraordinary promise. If we eat His flesh and drink His blood we will live with Him forever. There has never been a greater promise made in the whole of history. By sharing in the Eucharist we share in the life of God. As we consume the Eucharist, the Eucharist is meant to consume us. Our vision becomes Christ’s vision. Our hopes and dreams are shaped by His hopes and dreams. Our hearts become His heart reaching out to all of humanity. ‘The effect of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is that we become what we receive’ (Pope St. Leo the Great). We are dealing with mystery when we contemplate the priceless gift of the Eucharist. A young boy once asked an electrician: ‘What exactly is electricity’? The electrician answered: ‘I really do not know, son, but I can make it give you light’. Likewise, the Church can never fully explain the stupendous mystery of the Eucharist, but she can make it give us the life of Jesus. The Irish people have, through the ages, embraced the mystery and treasured the gift. When the last Chief Secretary of Ireland, Augustine Birrell, was asked by London to report on the level of faith and practice in Ireland he gave a one sentence reply: ‘It’s the Mass that matters’. May it always be so.

18th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘Work for food that endures to eternal life’
Jack Dempsey was one of the most famous and popular boxers in history. On July 4th 1919 he reached the pinnacle of his career when he defeated Jess Willard to become heavyweight champion of the world. The next morning when he awoke in his hotel room he had a strange sense of emptiness inside. When asked to explain this surprising feeling, he replied: ‘success didn’t taste the way I thought it would. I had won the world championship, so what’? Down through the ages people have discovered as Dempsey did, that worldly success, fame, adulation do not satisfy the deepest hungers of the human heart. Seeking satisfaction in the things of the world is like chasing the wind. Something more is needed, and in chapter six of St. John’s Gospel Jesus points the way. He is the Bread of Life and our hearts will always be restless until they rest in Him. Every longing that we try to satisfy apart from Him will fall short. Come to think of it the main difference between the greatest saint and the greatest sinner is where they go to satisfy the hungers of their hearts. The seventeenth century French philosopher Blaise Pascal expressed it better than most when he wrote: ‘There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each person which cannot be satisfied by any created thing, but only by God the Creator made known by Jesus Christ’.

17th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘Jesus gave out as much as was wanted’
Chapter six of St. John’s Gospel is known as the ‘Bread Section’. It begins today with the ‘sign’ of the ‘feeding of the multitude’. This is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels because it prefigures the great event of the Last Supper when the disciples were fed with the ‘Bread of Life’. The episode speaks of the boundless generosity of God and the fact that He alone can satisfy the hungers of the human heart. The little boy offered the little that he had-five barley loaves and two fish- and Jesus did the rest. Nothing is insignificant in His hands. Nothing is lost of what is given to Him. It was this Gospel story that Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed at a Mass with young people in Scotland in 1982. In his homily that day, the Holy Father spoke these encouraging words: ‘The little boy gave all he had and Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people. It is exactly the same with your lives. Place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept and bless you, and He will make use of your lives in a way that exceeds your greatest expectation’. Today Jesus asks for the loaves and fishes of our time and talents. If we withhold our time and talents we just might miss a miracle!

16th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

'You must come away to some lonely place’
Jesus invites His friends to come aside to a lonely place to rest a while. He understood the importance of having rhythm and balance in life. He was teaching them that no fruitful work is possible without the practice of solitude. If they are to journey out to others they must first make the journey inwards to regain their perspective and recharge their spirit. Solitude is the ordeal that gives us the right to speak. Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the United Nations extolled the necessity of solitude in these memorable words: ‘Speak only out of silence; act only out of stillness’. It is out of silence and solitude that worship springs. The cultivation of a healthy silence is of the essence if the celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day is to have meaning. The ‘little encounters’ during the week prepare the ground for the ‘great encounter’ on the ‘Day of the Sun’. These ‘little encounters’ or ‘minute vacations’ can happen over a cup of coffee in the early morning or in a quiet corner of the house when the family has gone to bed. The important thing is to find that sanctuary place each day where God can speak to the heart. God is the friend of silence.
‘You can hear the footsteps of God when silence reigns in the mind'.

15th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘He began to send them out’
From the outset the Church was missionary. The disciples were sent-out by Jesus to others. Christianity is not a private religion. The prayers of the Mass and the dismissal at the end of the celebration are reminders to us of the outward thrust that must be at the heart of who we are. We strengthen our own faith by sharing it with others. We share it best through our witness. Notice how Jesus concentrates on the lifestyle of the disciples rather than on the message. Witness always speaks louder than words. From the beginning the word of God has encountered apathy and downright opposition. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes to God are pleasure, wealth, power and honour. These substitutes for God have become increasingly evident in our land and when God is lost people are ‘capable of anything’. The great Irishman, Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary spoke prophetic words back in the 1920’s when he warned that inertia with regard to our faith leads, within two generations, to non-practice and within a further two generations to non- belief. The era of non-belief is with us. Our mission is close to home.

14th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘A prophet is despised only in his own country’
Jesus is rejected in his own town. A carpenter is a carpenter surely! We know all about his family! How could one of our own possibly have such wisdom? It’s a familiar story. We tend to look to far away hills for inspiration while the treasure is under our feet. God is present in the everyday. His face shines through ordinary people. His voice is heard in unlikely places. ‘There is a divine message in everything’. We would do well to take a second look at those closest to us. There is more to them than meets the eye. How did Jesus react to being rejected by His own people? He didn’t castigate His listeners. He didn’t rant or rail. He didn’t force His message on anyone. He simply withdrew quietly and took His message to another region. The preacher depends on the disposition of the congregation. There can be no preaching to hearts that are closed. If people decide that they won’t understand, they won’t understand. We can either help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ. We can open the door wide to Him or we can shut it in His face. It is interesting to note the sequel to this unpleasant episode. After His rejection Jesus never returned to Nazareth again!

13th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘They were overcome with astonishment’
The English word miracle derives from an Indo-European word ‘smeiros’ meaning ‘to smile’. The Gospels record thirty-seven miracles performed by Jesus. Each miracle story reminds us that His presence always makes a difference. When He is invited into a situation, no matter how desperate, things change for the better. In today’s Gospel extract, we hear of the raising from the dead of the daughter of Jairus and the healing of the woman who suffered from a long-term haemorrhage. In each case the encounter is personal. In each case a request for healing is made. Jairus, a synagogue official, a man of substance in the community makes the request publicly on behalf of his daughter. The unnamed woman, a person of humble standing, makes her own request privately. Both Jairus and the woman have expectant faith in the Lord and their faith is rewarded. Jesus does not disappoint those who seek His assistance. Neither does He discriminate between the famous and the not so famous. With touch, He healed their bodies. With words, He healed their spirits. With love, He healed their hearts. It is interesting to note that the healing of the woman occurred as Jesus made His way to the home of Jairus. The Master was not annoyed at being sidetracked, because He understood that sometimes what happens on the journey can be as important as what happens when we reach our destination! Many people smiled that day!

12th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘The wind and the sea obey Him’.
The Gospel of Mark was written around the year 70 AD for the Church in Rome, which had experienced the persecution of Nero, during which great leaders like Peter and Paul were lost. Fear and uncertainty were in the air. There was a feeling abroad that the Lord had abandoned His people. Reassurance was needed. The parable of the calming of the storm would have provided that reassurance to the faithful in those turbulent times. As it was in the beginning, so it is today. Our Church has had to navigate exceedingly stormy waters in recent decades. Even Pope Benedict admitted, on the occasion of his resignation, that there were moments during his papacy ‘when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping’. Whether as Church or as individuals we must never forget who is on board our ship. Sometimes He calms the storm; at other times, He calms the sailor. He never abandons His people.

11th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘The kindom of God is like a mustard seed’

On December 1st 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parkes, a forty-two year old African American working woman refused to vacate her seat on a city bus when ordered to do so by the driver so that a white man could be accommodated. Rosa was arrested. Meetings were called. Martin Luther King emerged. The Civil Rights movement took root. Public transport was boycotted. The Supreme Court of the United States declared Alabama’s segregation laws to be unconstitutional and so ‘a forest fire began with a spark’. No word or deed is insignificant in the hands of God. Mustard seeds grow into trees. Small seeds are growing quietly in our Church. Let us take notice and take heart. We must never be daunted by small beginnings. Great acts take time. We could well adopt the words of encouragement offered by St. Francis Xavier to his followers: ‘Be big in little things’.
FEAST OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

 ‘Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Living Heart of each of our parishes’ (Pope St Paul V1).
This feast is charged with happy memories of throngs of the faithful moving in devotional processions through streets festooned with papal flags, tricolours and all manner of bunting. At every door stood little altars, laden with statues, holy pictures and candles. The men and women walked proudly and reverently in their ‘Sunday best’, as they prayed the fifteen decades of the rosary and raised their voices with gusto to sing the ancient hymns, while the children from the First Holy Communion class scattered flower petals on the roadway, and all to salute the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. On this day we remember with gratitude all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith who preserved this treasure for us through days of persecution and days of prosperity. It could be said that we got cheap what they bought dear. They have left us a monument more lasting than bronze. As we accept anew the responsibility of holding the gift in trust for the next generation we recall the words spoken by Pope Benedict to parents some years ago: ‘Please go with your children to Church. This is not time lost. The day becomes more beautiful, the whole week becomes more beautiful when you go to Sunday Mass together’. ‘The moment we separate our lives from the Eucharist, something breaks’ (St. Teresa of Calcutta).

FEAST OF THE BLESSED TRINITY

‘Glóir don Athair agus don Mhac agus don Spiorad Naomh’
 Here we are at the heart of the mystery of our God. The human tongue can never speak the final word about God; the human mind can never fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. ‘The man who tries to understand it fully will lose his mind, but the one who would deny the Trinity will lose her soul’. Many people have used images through the ages to help us to ponder the mystery. St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of three distinct notes being played together to form one harmonious chord. Theologian Frank Sheed used the image of water, which can manifest itself as rain, ice or steam. St. Patrick pointed to the shamrock with its’ three shoots emerging from a single stem. We will never fully understand the arithmetic of heaven, but suffice it to say the following: the Father is the Creator and source of all being; the Son is the face of the Creator; the Spirit is the breath of the Creator. The Father works for us; the Son works among us; the Spirit works within us. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we cut through the doctrine and make real our relationship with the Three Persons. Through that profound gesture, we place ourselves in their gaze. We touch the forehead as we ask the Father to make our thoughts noble; we touch the breast as we ask the Son to make our hearts pure; we touch both shoulders as we ask the Holy Spirit to make the work of our hands fruitful and worthwhile. Is leor é sin.

PENTECOST SUNDAY

‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
In the year 1873 Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, a Jew living in Russian Poland endeavoured to create a new international language, ‘Esperanto’, a word meaning ‘one who hopes’, to help break down barriers and increase understanding between ethnic groups. While his vision didn’t take root as he hoped, it is estimated that about two million people worldwide do speak the language today. On this Pentecost Day, as we celebrate the ‘Birthday of our Church’ we recall how the Holy Spirit brought and continues to offer a universal language to the human family, an internal language that reveals itself in what we call the fruits of the Spirit. Whenever we promote love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness or self-control, we speak the language of the Spirit, further the mission of the Church and contribute to the renewal of the face of the earth. ‘Let us too ask for the grace of being able to hear what the Spirit says to our Church, to our community, to our parish, to our family and for the grace to learn the language of the Holy Spirit’. (Pope Francis).

Bethlehem is God with us • Calvary is God for us • Pentecost is God in us.

FEAST OF THE ASCENSION

‘He was taken up into heaven’

As Jesus ascended into heaven, He blessed His friends and they let Him go. Life is like that. As we move from one stage of the journey to the next we must bless what has been and let it go in order to embrace fruitfully what has yet to be. We must not allow ourselves to become prisoners of the past with all its’ hurts and wounds. The past can blind and bind us. Holding on is believing that there is only a past; letting go is knowing there is a future. It was towards that future that Jesus directed His friends as He took their leave. While giving them a glimpse of the world beyond, He directed them to continue His work in this world. This message is presented powerfully in a striking picture of the Ascension in the College Chapel of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Here, as Jesus ascends, we notice that Mary is not looking towards Him, but rather outwards towards us. In other words, we are to find Him now in the lives of the people around us and help them to encounter Him. That is our mission and the reward for our efforts will be, literally, out of this world. The Feast of the Ascension, then, teaches us much about going forward, going out, going home and letting go.

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

‘Love one another as I have loved you’
Love is a much-used word in our world today. It has become an umbrella term to encompass enjoyment, fascination and infatuation. It is employed at times to suggest a way of living that is without responsibility, without boundaries, without principles. Jesus guides us in a different direction. The One who was known as the ‘man for others’ lived a life that was marked by humble service, selflessness and sacrifice. From country roads to city streets, from lake shore to mountain top He revealed a love that was new. It was a love that manifested itself in hands that healed, feet that walked the extra mile, eyes that looked with compassion, ears that listened with empathy, and words that lifted up and encouraged. It was a love that promoted the greatest good of all whom He encountered, and nobody was beyond the reach of that love. It was a love that led Him to the Cross. We are called to mirror that love today. It’s a tall order and it will lead us to difficult places too. It will cause grey hairs and heartbreak, stressful days and sleepless nights, but, in the end, joy. The love that Jesus proposes is as simple and as difficult as that

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

‘I am the vine you are the branches’
The image of the vine and the branches is one of the fundamental images of the New Testament. Jesus uses this image as He addresses His disciples in the Upper Room on the night before He died. It reminds us of a truth which we have all re-discovered in a striking way during the past year: everything is interconnected. My interest is linked to everyone else’s. We are all leaves on different branches of the same vine. For the family of believers the vine is Christ. At the centre of Christianity, there is a person. Stay close to Him and all things are possible. Lose Him and die. The image teaches us also that the vine needs the branches. The mission of Christ is our mission now. We are to be His hands, feet, ears, eyes and tongue. This is a profound and privileged task which should cause us to ask ourselves a simple question every day. Does the example of our lives turn the thoughts of others to God?

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Vocations Sunday
Eucharist and priesthood were born in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Holy Thursday night. The two gifts are inextricably linked. Without priests we are deprived of the nourishment of the Eucharist. This fact should give us pause for thought on Vocations Sunday. Vocation to priesthood is a gift from God, but grows and is nurtured within family and community. Without support, encouragement and even invitation, the call will wither and die. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, according to the African proverb. We might well say that it takes a community to make a priest. The eternally challenging words of Pope St. Paul VI come to mind here: ‘Every generation gets the vocations it deserves’. This day, of course, has a wider reach. It is a day for all the baptised. The mission of the Church is the mission of all. When someone utters the words, ‘I am on a mission’, you know that he/she is embarked on a task that is important and urgent. The mission of all in the Church family is nothing less than making the Lord’s word heard and His face visible. There is no more privileged, more important or more urgent work than that. Since lay people form the majority of the Church family, their role in this work is critical. They accomplish this work most effectively through the general witness of their daily lives. Holiness in the family and in the workplace takes on a very ordinary appearance. Laity, not clergy, are the most important people in the Church. They hold the key to the future. The ministry of priests and religious will be centred on supporting the mission of the laity. 

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

‘He showed them His hands and feet’
 In World War II a doctor leaned over an horrific wound on the side of a young soldier. As the soldier came to, the doctor whispered gently to him: ‘I’m sorry son, you will live, but I have to tell you that you have lost your arm’. The soldier smiled and said, ‘I didn’t lose it, I gave it’. Some wounds can be scars of shame, but others are badges of honour, evidence of love and sacrifice and care. ‘Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us’ (David Richo). In today’s Gospel extract, the disciples recognised Jesus in His wounds. When He showed them His hands and feet, they remembered the love that was given and they believed. It called forth a similar love in them. It led them to the shedding of their blood too. On Holy Saturday night we inserted five grains of incense into the Paschal Candle to represent the five wounds He carried in His body on the Cross. They remind us of how much we are loved. May we always be aware of His wounds and the wounds of those closest to us who have made us who we are. By His wounds we are healed. By their wounds we were made. We connect at the point of our wounds.

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

A quieter day, but Easter glory still fills the air. Behind closed doors, the disciples are dazed and dispirited. Then Jesus appears, but Thomas is not there. An annual reminder here of the power and importance of praying with the community. Eight days later Thomas is present with the community. He encounters the Lord, his questions are answered and his life is changed forever. The doubting disciple is moved to utter, in five short words, the most profound profession of faith in the entire Gospel: ‘My Lord and my God’. He will now become one of the foundation stones of the fledgling Church. The message is clear. We absent ourselves from the community gathering at a cost. At this time, our gathering is from a distance from necessity, but even from a distance we are nourished and strengthened. Thomas recognises Jesus in His hands. The story of our lives is etched in our hands. The fruits of caring, giving and loving are there for the world to see. Jesus’ love for us led Him to the Cross and when Thomas saw the hands, he remembered, he understood and he believed.

EASTER SUNDAY

"He is risen, Alleluia."
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, life is absurd, the grave is without hope and our faith is meaningless. The resurrection then, was the most significant event in human history. It elevates Christianity above all other world religions. It’s no wonder that it is mentioned more than one hundred times in the New Testament. We live in the shadow of Easter and we rejoice on this day, the greatest of all Sundays in the Christian calendar. The tomb is empty. Life has a destination. Hope dawns anew. Our God reigns. His victory is our victory. Good has triumphed over evil; light over darkness; peace over chaos. The fact that He rose at the darkest hour, just before the dawn is a striking reminder that, when all seems lost, resurrection is near. When we reach ‘rock bottom’ we discover that Christ is the rock at the bottom. The experience of the women who went to the tomb on that Easter morning speaks to us too. They were worried about the stone. Who would move it? Their worries were unfounded. In life, we fret endlessly, never more so than over the past twelve months, but God knows His plan and all shall be well. Because of the resurrection, there is a future for every human being. May we radiate the hope and joy of the Easter message in all we think, say and do.

Beannachtaí na Cásca daoibh.
PALM SUNDAY

‘Blessings on him who comes on the name of the Lord’

Today we turn our faces to Jerusalem once again and are transported back to the event that marked the beginning of the week we call ‘holy’. It’s a curious scene as the King of Peace comes to His city riding on a donkey. Contrary to popular opinion, the donkey was regarded as a noble animal in Palestine. When a king went to war, he rode on a horse. When he came offering peace, he rode on a donkey. Holy Week is a week of contrasts, a week of exaltation and humiliation, acclamation and condemnation, darkness and light, betrayal and loyalty, despair and hope, sadness and joy, fickleness and faithfulness, human suffering and divine triumph. During the days ahead, through word, music and especially through symbol, we remember and enter into the greatest story ever told. Our lives are determined more by what is done to us than by what we do and in His passion and death, Jesus shows us how to respond to what is done to us. In His final hours on earth He absorbs and transforms hatred and returns it as love. Holy Week is an academy of love.

HOLY THURSDAY: Eucharist and Priesthood were born on this night in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The two gifts are inextricably linked. No priests; no Eucharist. In washing the feet of His friends, Jesus showed us that celebration of the Eucharist should lead to humble service.

GOOD FRIDAY: The wood of the Cross is the throne of grace, a sign of His love, an invitation to love, a revelation about love. On this day, we tell the story of the last hours of Jesus; we pay our respects to His body; we are nourished with food for the journey. While the world changes, the Cross stands firm. It’s no wonder we call this Friday ‘Good’.

HOLY SATURDAY: The Scriptures don’t explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Scriptures. On this most holy night, we light the Paschal candle; we proclaim the Easter story; we bless the Easter water; we receive the Bread of Life. We allow the symbols to speak. He is risen Alleluia! 

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

‘Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single grain’.

By using the image of the wheat grain falling to the ground and dying Jesus teaches that life comes through death, greatness through service. The image captures in a striking way the story of His own mission and ministry. By dying, He destroyed our death. From the time of Jesus, the history of the Church has been adorned with examples of valiant souls who, through their blood, provided the seed of renewal and rebirth. ‘The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church’. Not only the Church but the world in general owes everything to people who give selflessly. We can recall the heroic sacrifices of our parents, who never counted the cost. The simple grain of wheat contains the wisdom of the ages. It is not what we take up but what we give up that makes us rich. Self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness are the master keys to true happiness. It is indeed in giving that we receive. It is in sharing that we retain. It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. If we choose to become wrapped up in ourselves, we become very small parcels. The great Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso expressed it better than most when he wrote that ‘the meaning of life is to find your gift, but the purpose of life is to give it away’.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
‘God so loved the world that he sent His only Son to save it’ 
Nicodemus appears on three occasions in the Gospel of John. He was a man of substance, a renowned teacher of the Law, an influential leader within his community and yet he was searching for more. Having heard about Jesus he was curious. Drawn by the simplicity of His message and the power and authority of His preaching, he approaches the Master under cover of darkness. There in the quiet space he elicits from the Lord the wonderfully consoling teaching that summarises the entire Gospel and will change his life forever: ‘God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save it’. In that tender moment of enlightenment a heart is touched, a thirst is quenched and a curious searcher becomes a devoted follower. The expert in the Law meets Love in person, is surprised by Love and is now impelled to spread that love because love changes the way we hear and speak and respond. The extent of the change in the life of Nicodemus becomes evident when we next meet him defending Jesus at His trial before the Sanhedrin and finally, and most movingly, walking up the Hill of Calvary on Good Friday, carrying precious spices in order to give the Saviour a decent burial. It is he, together with Joseph of Arimathea who take Jesus from the Cross and return Him to His mother. Because of his encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus gave up what he was to become what he was meant to be. Isn’t that the challenge and opportunity of the Lenten journey? 

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
'Stop turning my Father's house into a market'
When Jesus shows anger, we should take notice. What gave rise to His deep anger in this episode in the Temple? Firstly, ordinary people coming as pilgrims for the Feast of Passover were being exploited by the money changers. Secondly, the trading in the Court of the Gentiles was preventing these people from finding a space to worship in what should be a House of Prayer for all people. In all of this, the House of God was being disrespected greatly. In Old Testament times, God always had a designated place in which to meet His people from Abraham at Bethel to Moses at the burning bush to Solomon in his temple. The meeting place between God and His people was always holy ground. It still is. While it is true that God can be encountered in the 'book of creation' and in the faces of people, we should have a heightened sense of awareness, reverence, dignity and respect for His special presence in His house. Is beannaithe Tigh Dé. 'The House of God is not a place where people meet in a trivial spirit of festivity. There should be religious awe at being face to face with God'. (Cardinal Robert Sarah). When Jesus shows anger we need to take notice.
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
‘He was transfigured’
Mountains in Scripture are places of revelation. We think of Nebo, Sinai, Tabor, Calvary. Mountains provide a different perspective. From the height, we see things in a new way. The Tabor event happened 1,800 feet above the plain, when Peter, James and John had withdrawn from the crowd, recalling the wilderness experience of Jesus, which was recounted in last Sunday’s Gospel. The disciples had been accompanying Jesus for a long time. They had walked with Him, talked with Him, listened to Him, but it was only in the quiet space that they saw Him in a different light. Jesus showed His disciples His glory, a glory that had been there all the time. We miss things that have been there all along. Most people spend their time ‘looking at’ life, but not actually ‘seeing into’ it. Children see magic, because they look for it. If only we opened ourselves to the world around us with the eyes of wonder we would notice the fingerprint of God in ordinary things from the spider’s web to the robin’s nest; from the rising of the sun to its’ setting; from the milky way to the ebb and flow of the tide. The glory of heaven is constantly breaking-in. Earth is the place where heaven unfolds. Heaven is very near. All we need is perception. ‘Nature is a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants to us a glimpse of His infinite beauty and goodness’. (St. Francis) (28th February 2021)

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
‘The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness’
The word Lent means springtime. It is the season of lengthening days, new life, new hope, new beginnings. The Latin root of the word is ‘lente’, which suggests the call to slow down, proceed slowly, gently, carefully. In the first three centuries of the Christian era, the followers of Christ prepared for Easter by praying and fasting for three days. In some places, this was extended to the entire week before Easter. By the fourth century Lent had developed to its’ current length of forty days to replicate the time Jesus spent in the wilderness in preparation for His public ministry. The Wilderness is a barren strip, thirty-five miles by fifteen between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. In that bleak place, He couldn’t have been more alone. He is confronted by Satan, but emerges victorious from the struggle. Nobody witnessed the dramatic event, so He must have reported it often to His friends. The episode raises the curtain on the Lenten drama and invites us once more to enter the quiet place where deepening and re-evaluation take place. ‘Solitude is the audience chamber of God’. (21st February 2021)
FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him’
A recent television documentary on the heroic men and women who are working on the front line in our hospitals in the battle against Covid-19 revealed in a striking way that compassion costs. It always does. In today’s Gospel Jesus reaches out in tender compassion to touch a leper. In doing what He did, He was crossing a significant boundary and breaking every law, taboo and convention of His day. The leper was the most miserable outcast in Jewish society. He/she had to live away from the community, wear a bell and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’. To touch a leper made oneself unclean. The judgement of Jesus does not follow society’s standards, however. He understood how it felt to be rejected, to feel unwanted, to find no room at the inn and so, an untouchable one is touched, an outsider is brought in, an excluded one is made to feel welcome, a suffering human being is healed in body and spirit. No life, however broken or rejected is beyond God’s reach. Today, as in every generation, there are ‘untouchables’ in our world, people on the edge, the least, the lost, the last. The leper represents those whom society considers to be flawed. Our challenge is to do as Jesus did; to notice and be courageous enough to step out to bring inclusion where there is exclusion so that no brother or sister has to carry the cross alone. Jesus’ ministry of compassion cost Him. It will cost us too.(14th February 2021)
FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Dag Hammarskjold, the second and youngest ever Secretary General of the United Nations once suggested that people should ‘speak only out of silence, act only out of stillness’. The recently deceased and legendary golf commentator, Peter Alliss, expressed the same sentiment when commenting on his own inimitable style: ‘I only speak when I feel I can improve on the silence’. These thought-provoking words are perfectly in tune with the life and ministry of Jesus. Prayer and reflection in the quiet space preceded all the significant moments of His journey. He prayed before embarking on His public ministry, as part of His daily routine, at His Baptism, before choosing the twelve apostles, before and after performing miracles, at the Transfiguration, during His agony on the cross. His entire mission was animated by prayer and reflection. In today’s Gospel extract, we find Him in that quiet space. He has just completed a hectic day of preaching and ministering to the sick and now as He faces a new day He retires to the solitude to get in tune with the Father. We find in Him that precious balance between action and reflection. That balance should be our goal too. The greatest malady in our world today is a loss of soul. We are not so much experiencing a clash between belief and non-belief, but rather between thinking and non-thinking! We should learn from the Master. The body is the child of the soul and when body and soul are in harmony happiness is the natural result. (7th February 2021)
FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘There was a man possessed by an unclean spirit’

In the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel we are given an insight into a day in the life of Jesus as He moves from prayer to active ministry. We find Him teaching in the synagogue, visiting the home of Peter, healing those who were sick and finally, praying in the wilderness. On entering the synagogue He is confronted by a man possessed by an unclean spirit. It is His first encounter with the Kingdom of Darkness and marks the beginning of a ferocious battle that will continue from Capernaum to Calvary. Good and evil are very hard to explain or understand. What we do know is that each of us is a mixture of both. ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every person’ (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn). The struggle is essentially an internal one. Consequently, we should make it our constant care to nourish our hearts with all that is good, beautiful, noble and worthwhile so that the light may triumph over the darkness. The greatest threat to our efforts occurs when the lines become blurred, when the unacceptable is seen as acceptable, the indefensible as defensible, the inappropriate as appropriate. This blurring of lines is sadly, a hallmark of our increasingly secular world. To see evil and call it good, mocks God. To see the good and choose the good, gives Him glory. (31st January 2021)

THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Casting and mending
Jesus’ new team takes shape. Four men, Peter, Andrew, James and John are selected. Ordinary people doing their everyday chores are now called to do extraordinary things. Fishermen casting and mending nets are summoned to become fishers of men and women. From a life bringing fish to shore they are now asked to bring people to God. I wonder why Jesus chose fishermen to be His first disciples? Could it have been something to do with the qualities of patience and persistence that are essential to the work of the fisherman? The good fisherman never gives up. The persistent fisherman tends to catch more and bigger fish. The patient fisherman will always find an imaginative way. As with the fishermen so it is with disciples of every age. Today as ever the disciple must find ways of casting out to those who have never heard the Good News and, increasingly, to those who have slipped from the net. The disciple must mend too. The more progress we make in our world the more brokenness lies all around. The casting and mending of the nets represent the Church’s unchanging twofold task of maintenance and mission, a task that demands today as never before the qualities of the fisherman - patience and persistence. (24th January 2021)
SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
‘What are you looking for’?
‘What are you looking for’? These are the first recorded words of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel as He addresses His new disciples. It is the most fundamental question in life. One could say that the rest of the Gospel contains a series of responses to that question. For those seeking nourishment for the soul Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life’. For the many longing for hope in the darkness that surrounds us, Jesus says ‘I am the light of the world’. For those searching for a meaningful authentic way to live Jesus says ‘I am the Way’. For all who crave truth in a world of ‘fake news’ Jesus says ‘I am the Truth’. For the young and old of every nation who need reassurance in the face of death Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. Having posed the question, Jesus invites the disciples to ‘come and see’. By spending time with Him, they not only came to see who He was, but they came to see who they could be. Having begun as seekers they moved to being followers and ended as disciples. If we want to go beneath the surface of our lives and find the answers to our deepest questions, we must spend time in His presence. He alone is the answer. If He is not the answer, there is no answer, but we must ‘come and see’. (17th January 2021)
FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
Jesus was baptised in the Jordan by John
On Christmas night we greeted a baby. In the Epiphany we learned of His mission to all nations. At His Baptism His ministry begins. He plunges into the waters of the Jordan to signify His total commitment to His task. Water is where life begins. It is the difference between life and death. In Genesis God parts the waters. In the Flood saga the waters bring death. In the Exodus event the chosen people pass from slavery to freedom by crossing the Red Sea. In Baptism we passed from slavery to freedom, from death to life. It conferred on us a dignity beyond measure. It marked the beginning of a walk with the Lord that will last forever. On this significant feast, let us remember and re-echo the profound words spoken by Pope St. John Paul II near the end of his long pontificate: ‘The day of my Baptism was the most important day of my life’. (10th January 2021)

FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
"They followed the star"
Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior must have been very single minded. We are told that they only saw the star at the beginning of their journey and near the end. It follows that most of their searching was done in darkness. They must have had to ask for directions and trust the guidance of others. In the end, their reward was great. Like the Wise Men we have hitched our wagon to the star of Bethlehem. It is not always visible, but it is always there. We too must be humble enough to seek the support, advice and direction of fellow travellers as we move towards the light (6th January 2021)

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
‘The Word was made flesh, he lived among us’
It’s no wonder that we strike our breasts when, during the recitation of the Angelus we utter the statement ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’. Because He pitched His tent in our midst and became one of us the human family has been dignified, graced beyond measure and raised to a new level. It means that He understands us ‘from the inside’. It is altogether appropriate that we should celebrate, rejoice and be glad. It is as though the Church were appealing to us before we leave the Christmas season to remember the central message of these days. It is interesting to recall that in the years before the Second Vatican Council this extract from the beginning of St. John’s Gospel was proclaimed before the Final Blessing at the end of every Mass. Known as the Last Gospel it reminded the faithful before their dismissal of the Good News at the centre of their faith. May we hear it anew today. (3rd January 2021)