Many voices; many choices

Jesus-the-Good-Shepherd“The sheep hear His voice. He calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3)

How many voices can be heard each day, making all sorts of claims on us? Parents of new born infants quickly learn what their child’s cry demands of them. University students know study can be a tough task master. The voice of an employer commands respect in the workplace.  Walking through the cosmopolitan streets of Dublin city centre recently, I was struck by the vast array of voices on display. It seemed like there were people from every country in the world there with their own distinctive contribution to make to this international symphony. Even the election posters that haunted the scene spoke so loudly. Many aspiring politicians have catchy slogans promising to give us a voice in whichever council chamber they are elected to, whether Dublin City Council or the European Parliament.

It can be difficult to discern what is best for us amid all these competing voices, vying desperately for our attention. It can be hard to listen to that inner voice calling out from the depths, in the stillness and silence of the heart. This voice is humbler than the ambitious voices those talent shows on television produce, yet it is more powerful. It is more loving than the adoration of star-struck fans captivated by the hype and glamour of the latest pop idol. This inner voice trumps all others, if only we had ears to hear.

“Come, follow me” is its simple cry. It does not promise nights of uninterrupted sleep to those parents or stress free revision to students at exam time. It does not promise more authority in the workplace for employees or the utopian ideals some politicians would like us to buy into. In fact, it is valuable precisely because it does not make such unrealistic promises. This voice speaks the truth; it is the measure of reality. It is because this eternal voice speaks of the deepest truths of our humanity, with all its legitimate worries and challenges, that we can appreciate them more fully for what they are.

That eternal perspective, the one the Lord imparts to those who are attentive to it, is the seed of all vocation. Whether we are called to married life, single life or religious life, it is that hope in something more than what this life has to offer which makes this life worth living. God’s voice, among all the voices we hear during the course of our daily routine, is most worthy of our attention. Why? For without it, the other voices become voiceless. Only in relation to God can they have any meaning.

“O that today you would listen to His voice,” the Psalmist says, “harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8). God still calls people; there is no doubt about that. So if today you feel Him working in the depths of your soul, do not harden your heart. Adore Him. Be like sheep who want to be numbered among those who hang on the Master’s words, enthralled every time you hear His voice. He alone is the fresh and green pasture where our hearts find repose.

 

Gospel reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Vocation Sunday) – Year A (John 10:1-10)

 

Open heart, open eyes.

Alleluia! He is Risen!! Rejoice, Jesus is with us, He is Alive! In a nutshell this is the Easter message and the greatest truth of our faith. God became man, suffered and died and out of love rose from the dead in accordance with the sacred scriptures. Yet, how many times do we read or hear this truth and we never stop to let it really sink into our hearts and minds? How often do we allow the risen Jesus, to pass us by? The reality is that our hearts can be closed and so our eyes are blinded. Nevertheless, the Gospel this Sunday gives us some hope, our eyes can still be opened.

 

In the Gospel, we are told two disciples set out on their way to Emmaus talking “together about all that happened” regarding Jesus’ passion and death (Lk 24:14). Imagine their conversation, their heavy and desperate hearts trying to make sense of life without Jesus. They must have been trying to pick up the bits and pieces of their broken expectations and dreams. However, Jesus does not leave them in their ignorance and lack of understanding, he comes to them. However “something” prevents “them from recognising him” (Lk 24: 16). We are not told explicitly what this something is, instead, the scriptures invites us to reflect on our own ‘somethings’ that prevent us from recognising Jesus on our pilgrimage of life.

 

 Even though the disciples did not recognise him at first it does not mean they are doomed to stay like that. The good news is their obscurity of mind and heart can be ‘healed’ because of their potential for openness and generosity of heart. We can easily overlook the fact that the disciples could have chosen to stay enclosed in their talk of gloom and despair between themselves without allowing Jesus into their lives. They could have kept their hearts locked up. They need not have replied to Jesus’ questions. However the very openness and love for sharing that made them disciples in the first place was still there even in their despair and confusion. Their openness to talk about their faith, even their lack of it, was an entrance for Jesus to dialogue with them bringing the disciples to an understanding of the scriptures and eventually to a recognition of himself as their Lord in the breaking of bread. The lesson here is that if we persist in our closed hearts we will remain blind but if we are willing to be open to the questions of our faith and our lives we too can be like the two disciples and come to see Jesus in our lives.

 

 

Hence, this Gospel speaks to us of the journey of faith which can only be made with an openness of heart. It teaches us that if we are willing to be open to discuss with the Lord our disillusionment and doubts, we can provide Jesus with an opening through which he can come to heal and transform us. As the disciples eyes were opened to reality, we too can journey from the seeming absence of the Lord to an intimate encounter with Him.

 

 

 

Gospel reflection for The Third Sunday of Easter– Year A (Luke 24:13-35)

Forgiving and Forgetting

heart images“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed…. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered  my  God  and  my  soul  and turned  my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Elie Wiesel, Night)

 

How can it be possible to forgive if we cannot forget? Hurtful memories have an amazing ability to endure over time. They can be difficult to let go of. Some like Elie Wiesel, rather than trying to forget past injustices, think it necessary to remember those traumatic experiences and learn from them. How though, if our lives are shaped by the constant reminder of past hurts, can forgiveness take root?

Forgiveness seems to go against the often understandable desire we have for retribution. It can be so hard to turn the other cheek and to pray for our persecutors as the Lord commands. Forgiving one’s enemies is too idealistic for some people. To them, it is impossible in practice, bearing no connection to the cold and brutal reality of evil. This cannot be the way for Christians. When we speak of forgiveness, mercy and love, we must believe they have some real life application; even in the darkness of a concentration camp. It is then most of all perhaps that Christ’s words need to effect reality. If they do not, they are merely words on a page devoid of all meaning.

Christians are commissioned to preach that such forgiveness is possible. It is the story of Christ’s righteous suffering. Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, marks the canonisation of John Paul II who forgave his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca. Saints are those who have spent their lives trying to be like Jesus. The late Pope forgave just as Jesus forgave while hanging on the cross. In this saintly act, John Paul shows how forgiveness demands far more of a person than the desire for retribution. Forgiveness draws upon the deepest reality of a person’s being, calling to mind not only the nature of one’s own existence but that of their persecutor also, setting it squarely in relation to God.

There is some truth to the saying ‘to err is human; to forgive is divine.’ Absolute forgiveness of otherwise unforgivable acts is a Christian concept. It is something the world cannot offer. Hope in forgiveness of this sort is a plea for God to intervene in our misery – not necessarily the misery of injustices suffered but the paralysis wrought by an unforgiving heart. The power to forgive sins given to the disciples in today’s Gospel is an extension of Jesus’ own mission, reconciling people with God and with each other. It is not a denial of past wrongs but an enveloping of them in the abundance of God’s mercy.

That is not to say that forgiving is easy, especially given the fact that past hurts plague us endlessly. Only in God is it possible to forgive, wounded as we are by our past. Indeed it is precisely because we can dare to forgive, though burdened by the weight of troubled memories and injustices suffered, that makes forgiveness the divine thing that it is.

Gospel reflection for The Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) – Year A (John 20:19-31)

Discussions on the Pontificate of Blessed John Paul II

In light of the upcoming canonisation of Blessed John Paul II, we had a series of three discussions on various aspects of his pontificate. Please find them again below below:

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The Good News of Easter

unnamedToday is the day when we Christians rejoice as our Saviour has conquered death and sin. We take comfort in the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection, because in his resurrection we find hope.

Over the last few days we have experienced Jesus’ passion, as he was arrested and sentenced to death. We saw what looked like a certain defeat, and now we see Jesus bringing victory out of his defeat. This gives hope to all humanity as we struggle to overcome sin and imperfection in our lives. It can often seem when we look both at ourselves and our world that sin and evil triumph. Indeed, when we look at the last few days, where we sacramentally experienced the death of Christ, it is easy for us to imagine how the disciples of Jesus must have felt. It must have looked like sin and evil won.

For the disciples of Jesus, Good Friday must have felt like the end of the road. They were scattered, and one of their number – Judas Iscariot- had betrayed them. None of them could have known how things would turn out in the end. None of them could have understood fully that it was not the end of the road but rather the beginning.

This new beginning on the day of the resurrection changed everything. At the news the tomb was empty, hope stirred in their hearts. They ran to the tomb to find it empty. Instantly they believed the Lord was alive. They knew God had triumphed over darkness. They did not fall into cynicism but they embraced hope. We too are called to have this Hope. We too must learn not to become discouraged by sin and weighed down by evil around us, but to have a firm hope in God. We too must embrace the resurrection and have faith that no matter the difficulties we face God can and will triumph in our lives if we cling to Jesus.     

Overcoming sin and evil may look like impossible tasks, but when we see things from the vantage point of the resurrection, we realise that Jesus’ resurrection also looked like something impossible. Yet, the resurrection did happen, and because it happened, we can have faith that God always triumphs over evil. We can have faith that sin and evil are always defeated in the end by those who put their faith in the Jesus Christ.

Rejoice, therefore, in the Good News of Easter. God has conquered sin and death, and opened the gates to paradise.

The Good of Friday Gospel sung

This is the recording of “The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John” being sung.

The recording was made two years ago in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Dublin, Ireland.

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The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

 

 

 Jesus is sentenced to death, he is scourged, he carries his cross, and he is finally crucified. Besides His Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, St John and Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus seems to have few friends left in his darkest hour. And yet, in one very important line we are told of an encounter he has with a man called Simon of Cyrene. We hear that “ On their way out, they came across a man from Cyrene, called Simon, and enlisted him to carry his cross”(Mt 27:32). Simon is understandably reluctant to help Jesus carry His cross to Calvary. He would rather be elsewhere, but unfortunately for him, life has a way of throwing the unexpected at us- Simon must help carry the cross. Simon is not unique- in fact, each of us are in Simon’s shoes. Each of us is in the place of Simon every time a cross enters our life that we must carry it.

 Simon reluctantly agrees to help Jesus carry the cross, and we can imagine what he might be thinking as he helps Jesus pick up the cross. Perhaps he thinks he is helping Jesus? He is helping to carry a cross that belongs to Jesus, not to himself. Yet, the fact is that the cross Jesus carries belongs to us all. It is for our sins that he is being crucified. Jesus has never done anything wrong, yet he is carrying the cross- our cross- to save each one of us. It is ironic then, that Simon thinks he is the one helping Jesus carry His cross. In fact, it is Jesus all along who is helping Simon carry Simon’s cross. Jesus carries all our crosses, and brings them to Calvary.

 Simon for his part, had an encounter that day that changed his life. He encountered the Son of the Living God who was, like himself, real flesh and blood, and struggling under the weight of the cross. Simon encountered God precisely because he accepted the burden of the cross. Had he chosen to not help shoulder the cross, he never would have met Christ that day.

 It is like that for each one of us every time a cross comes into our life; maybe it comes in the form of a tragedy in one’s life, or a struggle against sin, or a broken relationship of some kind. Whatever form the cross takes, each one of us stands in the place of Simon. Wherever the cross is, there is Christ. It is in embracing this cross that we come to a deeper encounter with Christ. He is there beside each of us, helping us to carry our cross. Just as he helped Simon.      

 

Resurrect Your Faith

amboAt the heart  of today’s Gospel, is the call to be unwavering in our faith. Lazarus was dead and was brought back to life, but he never would have been raised back to life had Mary and Martha not had some amount of faith. They could not have known that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, but they knew that he was the Lord, the Son of God, and that he could heal people. When Lazarus is raised to new life, the Gospel tells us that “Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed” (John 11:45).    What is interesting here is the emphasis on “Many” and not “All”. You would think that having seen a dead man raised to life, every single person in that village would have faith in Jesus as the Son of God. Yet, according to the Gospel, while many did come to believe, some must not have, otherwise we would have been told “all came to faith”. Why were there people still unconvinced- and who were these people?

 

These are the people who, while showing a great interest in Jesus as someone spectacular, nevertheless refuse to follow Him. He was not someone they would call “Lord”, and follow with their whole lives. They had no faith in Jesus when he came into the village, and they had no faith in him when He left the village with Lazarus healed. These individuals are the people who, seeing Jesus show up say “He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death”?  These people are so cynical that it does not matter what miracles are wrought, they still remain without faith. Such people existed in Jesus’ own day, and they continue to exist today. They are the people for whom God and the Church can do nothing right. If you tell them of something good that has happened, they complain it is not enough.

 

At some time or another, every Christian who discusses their faith with others will encounter just such people. They are the ones who remain cynical no matter what is said or done. If Jesus were to come and raise their neighbours from the grave, it would not be enough for them. Rather than rejoice at such a miracle- they’d wonder why everyone else has not been raised from their grave and complain about that too!

 

At the heart of this Gospel then, is Jesus entering the village not to raise Lazarus from the dead – that is the easy part. He enters the village to call everyone to Faith in Him. Those in that village whose hearts were open to the Truth, believed that day and their lives were transformed. Those whose hearts were not open but were hardened remained without faith. There are then in this Gospel as in real life, two kinds of people. One group of people looks towards Jesus and everlasting life, while the other group does not. Which of these two groups would you prefer to be in on the Last Day?   

 

The Annunciation – How to Be Ourselves

fra-angelico-the-annunciation

“I want to talk to you…” begins a song that was once very popular (“Grace Kelly”, by Mika). Far less formal and reverent than the archangel Gabriel’s greeting to our Blesséd Mother, “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” it still portrays the idea that words of great import are to come. And while Gabriel goes on to tell Mary that she has been chosen to become the Mother of God, the song continues:

 

I could be brown

I could be blue

I could be violet sky

I could be hurtful

I could be purple

I could be anything you like…

 

Anything you like?! Surely to be one’s self would be far more desirable?

 

And that’s what Our Lady teaches us: how to be ourselves; how to live. And the surest way to be ourselves is to live out our vocation! Vocation: a word that is fast becoming a dirty one in a secular society that thrives on immediate gratification; A word that speaks of something both dreaded and dreadful – constancy. Committing ones whole life to one thing when, at the drop of a hat, one can do something else instead, move somewhere else instead, love someone else instead, become someone else instead? In a world that only claims to thrive on chaos and the ephemeral, why would anyone settle for, let alone strive for happiness in steadfastness?

 

How, then, does one live such a life? The example of the Virgin Mother is a good place to begin. In the midst of all the challenges we face as Christians, we must never forget the heart of the Christian message, conversion through Jesus Christ, is seen perfectly in Our Lady. That is the path to steadfastness, the path to happiness, the path to salvation.

 

“I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.” When Mary spoke these words the whole of human history was forever changed. Surely then, speaking these simple words, proclaiming our own “Yes” would change our personal worlds irrevocably too? The words of Mary were spoken from a heart filled with love for God and came from a pure and humble heart. She was not self-protective, looking out only for her own self-interest, nor was she cynical. She was therefore able to completely give herself over in love, to Love. That is the example of Mary. That is our path to holiness. She spoke these words in Nazareth, and Nazareth means consecration, and to be “holy” means to be set apart, to be consecrated, entirely dedicated to God’s plan for us.

 

We are called to respond to His invitation to us too, to say “Yes” to a relationship with God. In saying Yes to God, not by saying “I could be anything…” but by proclaiming, “Yes, I can be myself in You!” what I am called to be, we discover the path to conversion, to happiness, to authenticity.

 

God, who always initiates and then awaits our response, calls us, sets us apart, not to retreat from the transient world to become ourselves, contradictory though that may seem. Instead He wants our unique gifts and personalities, our own distinctive personal histories and backgrounds shape the way we see the world and what we can offer it. God does not call us to become someone we are not. Instead God lovingly calls us to be the best version of ourselves, living our giftedness in the world in the same way that Jesus did. This dynamic leads to a conversation and way of life that is one that travels a heavenly road. Mary shows us that way. Let us choose now to follow her example and to enjoy that happy path.

Well, well – well?

well-w-bucket‘There were two wells and three water jugs…’ It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke yet this is the scenario St. John presents us with. The woman and her water jug both come to be filled at the well. There they meet Jesus who is both a water jug and a well; He thirsts and He satisfies. There are two different understandings of thirst at play here which Jesus gradually helps the woman to appreciate.

In the Scriptures Jesus speaks of thirst at a deeper level than that of simple bodily needs. For example He says, ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness’ (Matthew 5:6); or again while hanging on the cross, ‘I thirst’ (John 19:28). However, by asking the woman for a drink after the ardours of His missionary activity, He clearly recognises the importance of physical thirst too. On this, St. Augustine writes: ‘Jesus is strong and weak: strong, because in the beginning was the Word; weak, because the Word was made flesh.’ Just as in the parables, Jesus draws on everyday mundane examples familiar to His hearers in order to bring them to a deeper awareness of God’s love.

Who among us therefore, does not know what it means to thirst? We can identify with this because we know it and because we know it, we know the struggle involved to satiate it. There is something profound about the woman’s desire and her request of Jesus to give her some of that living water He offers ‘so that she may never thirst again’ (John 4:15). It is the story of our limited human nature that while striving for ultimate fulfilment, understands the disillusionment with temporal goods. ‘Into the sea go all the rivers and yet the sea is never filled and still to their goal the rivers go’ (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Though necessary for our physical well-being, material things are unable to satisfy our deepest longings and still we continually devour those externals in the hope of filling that internal, God-shaped void He alone can fill.

We consume food and drink, alcohol and drugs, fashions and trends, art and literature, music, sport and culture and so much more. To stay at that level though is a problem for Jesus. Consumers are good for business but to settle for being mere consumers is a poor substitute for any person, whom God has made in His own image and likeness. Jesus is our mirror and our compass, reminding us of our humanity and our relationship with God. Rather than remaining at the level of consuming externals, important as they are, Jesus promises a spring of living water internally, welling up to eternal life. It is an invitation to relationship with God. It shows itself as a disposition or state of existence in which a person is so convinced of God’s love for them that they become lovers in return. The spring of living water gives life perspective, meaning and hope. This is something the market cannot offer.

Of the two wells then, Jesus and the water well, which of them should we draw from to be well? This is the key question; where is life in its fullest sense to be found? We should reasonably draw from both since we have physical and spiritual needs alike but there is certainly an order of importance. We are more than the consumers the economy tells us we are. We are more than the posh apes coughed up by the universe that the human sciences would have us believe we are. Many centuries ago Pope Saint Leo the Great joyfully exclaimed ‘O Christian, be aware of your nobility’ as he pondered the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. By highlighting the inability of the water well to satisfy our deepest desires, Jesus points us to the source of that nobility – God; the source of all life.

The Third Sunday of Lent Year A (John 4:5-42)