The Perfume of Preachers

Fishers-of-MenSt. Dominic encouraged his brothers and sisters to “contemplate and to share the fruits of that contemplation.” This was how he imagined an Order of Preachers should preach the Gospel. We Dominicans are to look at God in the depths of our hearts in silence and prayer before going out to share what we see with others. It is no wonder then as Dominican students that when we come across passages of Scripture like today’s Gospel passage, we are so sensitive to this beautiful tension between the contemplative and apostolic demands of our vocation. It is a very real tension for us to get the balance right and yet at the same time it is truly beautiful; there is no doubt about it.

Amid the busyness of their active labour, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew as they are casting their net into the lake. In just the same way, he calls James and John as they are mending their net at a more restful pace. In this we can see Jesus reconciling contemplative and apostolic fervour, putting them both at the service of the fishing of men. In the language of today’s Gospel, Dominic’s vision might be translated into something like “to fish and to share the fruits of one’s fishing.”

To contemplate God is to fish in that great sea of love. To explore and discover; to fill our nets with treasures from the deep and to feed on them. In this vast abyss that is God, there is no possibility of over-fishing. There is more than enough for everybody. St. John of the Cross speaks of the depths of Christ as a “rich mine with many recesses containing treasures; no matter how men try to fathom them, the end is never reached.”

To share the fruits of one’s fishing is exactly that – to feed others as we ourselves have been fed. This was how the disciples became fishers of men. St. John Chrysostom believed that the disciples were to “catch others by those same words by which they themselves had been caught.” The disciples were first convinced in their hearts and then told to go and fish for others. All Christians share in this dual mandate. We are fish captivated by Christ and yet we are fishers of men for Christ; we are both contemplatives and missionaries. Pope Francis said shepherds ought to smell like their sheep. If this is so, we might as well reek of fish too in this new line of Gospel fragrances.

 

Gospel Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 4:12-23)

 

Christ the Life of the Saints

world youth dayThe French novelist Leon Bloy claimed that the only tragedy in life was “not to have been a saint.” Writing to the Corinthians today, St. Paul draws out the same theme when he addresses “the holy people of Jesus Christ who are called to take their place among all the saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2). He is writing to the Church at Corinth and yet in a very real way, he can be said to be writing to the Church in Ireland. He is writing to the Church in Donegal, Cork and everywhere else for that matter and most especially to whichever Church or Chapel you are sitting in, in whichever local parish this morning listening to these words. We are called to be saints. God wants it for us more than we know.

If sainthood is the goal we ought to aspire to, St. John the Baptist tells us how to go about it. “It was to reveal Him (Jesus) to Israel that I came” he says (John 1:31). John’s whole existence is so bound up with making Jesus known to others that it defines him. He cannot be understood apart from Christ. He leapt in his mother’s womb at the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:41), proclaiming the presence of God to his mother Elizabeth and he was still bearing witness many years later baptising in the river Jordan. John’s is a paradoxical kind of role whereby to grow greater in the Lord’s sight, he must decrease so that the Lord might increase. I heard a priest say something to this effect once when he said that by being ordained a priest “he was being ordained to disappear.”

Being Christian simply means to be Christ-like. There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). All Christians are one in making Christ manifest to the world; this is what unites us. It is no longer Stephanie nor Jennifer, David nor Thomas but Christ in all and through all. As witnesses like John the Baptist, we testify to another; we are to disappear like that priest. Our lives must speak of Christ. Only through Him, with Him and in Him are we truly to be found because we have died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

Thankfully the richness and diversity of the Church in every land provides great opportunity and variety, such that we can be Christ to whoever we meet. Whether in the classroom, the office or the field from Minnesota to Mozambique, we are all called to be saints. Let us be saints brothers and sisters so that we too, like the faithful and wise stewards, will hear those beautiful words “come and join in your Master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21).

 

Gospel Reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (John 1:29-34)

 

God’s way or my way?

your-way-my-wayThe great truth of our Faith is that God longs to be with us that He desires us to be in communion with Him. The way He brings us to Himself and to communion is by Him coming to us. He is the one who first searches for us but we must be ready to respond with our yes of faith and love.

But there is a tendency in all of us to to dissuade God from really entering our lives, to prevent him from showing us His will. We still have ingrained in us the ‘no’ of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Part of this ‘no’ is that we always try to tell God what He should do and how He is to be and so we reject what He wills. We are very good at projecting our image of God onto God and not allowing Him to be really who He says He is. This is true too of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel as he initially tries to prevent Jesus from doing what he came to do. John seems to be reluctant to Jesus’s command owing to his own expectations and image of who Jesus should be and what he should do. However John gives into Jesus’s desires when he realises it is really God’s will that he should baptize Jesus. And so while John at first resisted he is quick to be obedient, an obedience from which God’s plan can come to fruition. This reveals for us the fundamental attitude of any disciple of Christ; to have a heart full of love and desire for righteousness, for God’s will to be done unrestrictedly. John like Mary, the perfect disciple, shows us that we must always be faithful to our ‘yes’ to God.

This Gospel also shows us that part of this ‘yes’ is also for us to become who we are meant to be. God not only challenges our image of Himself but He also challenges who we ought to be or how we should act. John shows us that being open to discovering God’s will means a readiness to change our own view of ourselves. John points us to the truth that God is the one who has to form us in to the people we are meant to be and so we must place trust in His will.

Similarly for our sister St. Catherine of Sienna she like John once had her own ideas and perception of who she was to be in relation to God. She had her own image of how she should serve God namely as a hermit in contemplation. But God explained to her that He had a different plan for her.  He wanted her to serve him not only in a life of sacrifice and prayer but also in the apostolic life . Catherine though at first reluctant to God, embraced God’s will and became the ‘mystic in action’. Being open to God transformed her own view of being a contemplative. He showed her that contemplation was not only confined to a cell but that she should form the cell of the heart where she could be in contemplation and prayer ‘smack dab’ in the world with all its noise, demands and anxieties. Hence God showed her how to fuse the apostolic life with the contemplative life. By Catherine obeying God not only was she transformed into the person she was meant to be, God exceeded her every expectation. He provided every grace that she needed to achieve His will and so He achieved through her what she herself could never have foreseen.

So Catherine like John are witnesses to us that the on-going challenge of saying ‘yes’ to God will redefine not only our image of God but it will also help us discover our true selves. It is in doing God’s will that we come to know Him and as we come to know Him we come to know what it means for us to be us. Let us pray as Jesus showed John the way of truth, may he also show us the truth of who God is and who we are.

(The Gospel is from Matthew 3:13-17)
god way my way

Pre-Technological Revelation

Epiphany

St. John assures us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Ours is an embodied faith. In Christ Jesus, the Scriptures have found their fullest revelation. The ancient prophecies have taken on a new dimension of reality, no longer confined to the speculative or spiritual spheres, crucially important and all as those are. The whole drama of Christ’s birth in the stable is one that highlights His body; that is why we speak of His incarnation.

Today’s celebration of the Epiphany reflects this new embodied dispensation. God’s desire to be known by all peoples and nations is beautifully recounted with the arrival of the Magi from the East, who represent the universal scope of God’s dominion. Rather than remaining within the cosy confines of their places of study, feeding on revelations from books or oral traditions, the Magi were moved to encounter the concrete reality of the Word made flesh. Deceitful though he was, Herod indirectly attested to this new reality when he encouraged the Magi to “go” and find out all about the child (Matthew 2:8). This demand to physically go and embrace more fully, more profoundly, the incarnate Word has a lot to tell us about the way we engage with each other as embodied persons today.

More and more, bodily encounters are yielding to online encounters. Of course these are not bad in themselves but still, technological progress seems to have resulted in bodily regress to some extent. Now it is so easy to construct identities independent of the reality of our bodies, and can often even be contrary to them. Self-revelation online need not have any connection whatsoever to the embodied person constructing it. In some sense it has the potential to dis-embody people. Rather than being this body we are reduced to being anybody or even worse, nobody.

Yet God chose to reveal Himself in the flesh, physically and tangibly in time, in history in a particular cultural context. What are we to make of this? It seems to me that there is a connection between the human body Christ assumed and the message He wanted to convey to us. In other words, our bodies reveal something of us also and to neglect this is to give a skewed or limited description of who we are. Blessed John Paul II spoke of the body “as revealing the person”. By taking on our human flesh, God is saying that He can justly be said to be true man. This message is vital if we are to understand Christ’s redemptive suffering on the cross.

Indeed, God could have stayed at a distance as we so often do in our online interactions and gone along with the stereotypes of the Messiah that was expected. He could have given the impression that He was the warrior Messiah or the social and political revolutionary some hoped for. Yet He chose to reveal Himself as a helpless infant born in poverty, saying something about the nature of who He is and what he wanted to achieve. He did not construct or present an idealised self. The Magi saw the new born Saviour for who He was, in ways that other limited means of communication cannot account for. Their response too, by giving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, is a physical manifestation of their worship. It says more than clicking the “like” button on social networking sites can say.

God’s revelation in Christ’s incarnation might well have been read from a book but, as is the case today, some deny this. By showing it in its lived physical reality, the Magi’s theoretical expectations were proclaimed in practice, confirming them in who they had encountered and giving us an authentic example of how to humble ourselves before our God.

Gospel Reflection for the Feast of the Epiphany Year A – (Matthew 2: 1-12)

Mary Mother Of God

happy-mothers-dayAnd they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had

been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

If someone was to walk up to you today and say ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ would you think that they had been partying a bit too hard the night before and lost track of days, months even? For you know well that mother’s day is not until later in the year, the 30th of March in fact. And yet they would be right to share this greeting, celebrating as they are the great Church feast of Mary the Mother of God.

On Mother’s Day we celebrate our earthly mothers because they brought us into this world, loved and cared for us when we were utterly dependent on them, and helped raise us with good values and example which helped us to make our own way in the world. Our earthly mothers are indeed a great gift and blessing to us but so too is our Heavenly Mother Mary. As the adopted children of God we are also all her children and she loves each of us with the purest and most tender motherly love. She is constantly watching over us and calling us to come closer to her Son, Jesus.

At this time of year many people choose to make new year resolutions. May one of these resolutions be to grow closer to Mary during this coming year through our devotion and prayers to her – particularly by praying the rosary – so that we may learn from her example and receive the many graces that she has been given by God for us. By drawing close to Mary, she will bring us closer to Jesus.

Mary was a woman who valued the word of God, who treasured it and made time to meditate on and ponder it so that she could discern what God was saying to her at every stage in her life. Today let us resolve to learn from our Heavenly Mother how to make time for God in our busy lives. If we are to hear God speaking to us, we too need to make quiet time each day to listen to God speaking to our hearts and to ponder his Word in the Bible.

Let us pray that during this year all mothers may truly cherish the gift of unborn life that they carry within them and like Mary, they may say ‘yes’ to life and ‘yes’ to motherhood. Today is also the ‘world day of peace’ and we pray that Mary the Queen of Peace, who gave birth to the Prince of Peace, may through her powerful intercession bring peace to the many war torn countries in the world and to the hearts of all men and women.

Mary Mother of God, pray for us.

Gospel Reading: (Lk 2:16-21)

Come, Follow Me

come-follow-meThis year has been marked by awful violence in Syria. Again and again, our newspapers have been filled with images of children displaced by a conflict beyond their understanding. This rupture of familial relationships is one of the marks of tyranny, and it is a pain which the Holy Family knew well. Herod was the tyrant in their time, and thanks to his king-sized insecurities the little ones in the region of Bethlehem were under threat. As Moses had led Israel out of tyranny in Egypt, now Joseph had to lead his little family to safety in that very place.

There’s so much we can take from this Gospel story. It shows us just how much the Son of God identified with our humanity in all its frailty. It challenges us to see refugees and the homeless in light of the Holy Family in flight. It teaches us also that the gift of Christ in our lives is precious, and sometimes demands our vigilant protection; as an 8th-century Irish poem says, addressing Mary: ‘You spent your exile in Egypt, holy maiden, protecting gracious Christ: it was fitting to protect him’.

What strikes me, though, about this passage, is the obscure little signpost to Old Testament prophecy, which merits further meditation:

This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son”.

The evangelist is here applying a prophecy of Hosea to Christ, the Son of God, but it’s worth looking at the prophecy in its original setting:

 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.

The more I called them,

the more they went from me; […]

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

I took them up in my arms;

but they did know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of compassion,

with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one

who raises an infant to his cheeks.

and I bent down to them and fed them

(Hosea 11:1-4)

The prophecy is first of all about God’s treatment of Israel, and is one of the most beautiful statements of His gentleness and compassion, even in the face of rejection. Generation after generation, God bent down to pick Israel up, and this repeated action reaches its climax in the Christmas mystery. In the Incarnation, the Word of God becomes one of us, and shows us how to respond to the love of the Father, whom Jesus called ‘Abba’.

What the reference to Hosea shows us is how the story of Christ ‘maps onto’ the story of Israel. In his person, Jesus sums up all of the history of Israel. As they were led out of Egypt into the Promised Land, so the Holy Family is led back to Nazareth. The mystery we celebrate at Christmas, then, did not appear out of the blue, but was the climax of the world’s longest love story.

As always, though, we should ask where we fit into the story. Jesus’ story mirrors that of Israel, and we are asked to mirror His. Where He goes we follow, so when we read of Christ being ‘led out of Egypt’, being led ‘with the bands of love’, we hear not a mere narrative, but an invitation. Our pride urges us to be independent ‘grown-ups’, but the feast of the Holy Family encourages us to become like little children, and to accept our Father’s invitation, calling us out of Egypt and into his everlasting arms.

Feast of the Holy Family (Year A)

Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

All is changed, changed utterly

christmas-day-2013Pondering the gift God has given us in Christ’s incarnation, Pope Saint Leo the Great joyfully exclaimed “O Christian, be aware of your nobility”. That God should take on our lowly human nature says something of the exalted status with which He regards it. This is a gift for all people, believers and non-believers alike. Yes, the birth of Jesus means different things to different people and to some it means nothing at all but there is a unifying theme in it that says to all people, ‘it is a good and beautiful thing to be alive’. It says, ‘I am a person and I have a dignity and value simply by virtue of the fact of being’.  This is a truly inclusive celebration for all people. It is a celebration of humanity in all its full, tangible reality.

However humanity on its own, apart from God, does not give a full account of itself. In its fullest Christian sense, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, changing the whole course of human history. For unbelievers, the Word is but a word. Yet it was still powerful enough in its own right to have changed the whole course of Western civilisation nonetheless. Something happened all those years ago in Bethlehem that simply cannot be ignored.

That happening is a person. St. Luke tells us that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manager. Some of the early Church Fathers saw in this not only the first Christmas but the first Easter as well; the swaddling clothes prefiguring Christ’s lifeless body tightly bound with bandages and the manger as an altar of sorts, bearing the sacrificial lamb.

The first reading at Mass today hints at the reason why this particular child’s birth is so significant. The prophet Isaiah says that “the Lord bares His holy arm, in the sight of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10). What does baring His holy arm mean? We often speak of poker players ‘showing their hand’. Here Isaiah says God is showing His hand. What is more, St. Luke says God is showing not only His hand but His eyes, legs and even his mind in the infant Jesus.

God’s plan of redemption from all eternity has come to fruition now, at this time in human history. God has shown his hand by sending his Son for the salvation of the world. He has revealed Himself so completely in the child Jesus that St. John of the Cross believes God has no more to say. God has spoken His only Word, revealing everything to us – He has shown his hand; the hand that trumps all other hands in human history and gives them true perspective. God holds all things in being. The whole Christ event, from His conception at the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, right the way through to His passion, death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven, stand at the centre of human history for believers. Only in this event, in this person, can there be any sense or meaning to human history or even in creation itself.

O Christian, today of all days, enjoy being loved by God. Many in our modern society are yet to discover this beautiful gift of God, engaging with Christmas in superficial ways. It is our task as believers to point beyond ourselves highlighting the full import of the dignity of being human in relation to God so that Jesus’ own joy may be in them and their joy may be complete.

Saint Joseph: our role model in difficult times!

The story of the Gospel this Sunday truly amazes me in so many ways. Consider the situation: Joseph is betrothed to Mary, but after the annunciation she goes to the hill country of Judah to spend three months with Elizabeth her cousin. We could imagine that Joseph would collect her, probably excited at the prospect of seeing his beautiful fiancee again. But he is in for a devastating surprise. Naturally we don’t know when he discovered that Mary is pregnant, but it is likely that Joseph noticed a difference maybe just in Mary herself: she was with child.

It seems that Mary did not explain the situation to Joseph, and in that case it must have been a long walk back to Nazareth with an uneasy tension in the air. Maybe it was during the journey that Joseph had time to think about what to do. He probably went over and over it again, not being able to believe what had happened, not able to understand it, and not being able to come to an easy resolve.

Sometimes life can be like that. Everything seems to go the right way, everything seems to be almost perfect, and then suddenly through a slight change in the situation our world seems to collapse. From living in heaven it seems we are suddenly trust down to hell, a dark place with no obvious way out!

How would we ourselves react to this situation, what would we do? I have to admit that I would probably not be as composed as Joseph, and it testifies to his sublime charity! Joseph was concerned about Mary first of all, but also wanted to do the right thing. This meant that he decided to separate from her informally, in order that she would not be persecuted for committing adultery, while he still did the right thing in the eyes of God. Joseph did this even if it meant he could not get married himself again. He makes up his mind: this is what he is going to do, until the Angel appears to him. Saint Joseph puts all his trust in the messenger of God and takes Mary home to be his wife.

As advent draws to an end, and Christmas draws near, let Saint Joseph be a guide for us and be an example. To have the faith he had in his own time of difficulty, so we too might develop a filial trust on God. If things get rough, when it seems that time slows down and when we experience a shrinking of the world around ourselves and feel claustrophobic, faith in God can deliver us. That is exactly the moment in which we should open our hearts to God, to search for and experience the refreshing love He can give us.

Through the eyes of faith the difficulties we experience can be made bearable from the perspective of His promises, our real goal of eternal happiness. God is always waiting for us to help us, He is there to console us. But He can only do this if we allow Him and let Him in! Especially in this time of Advent, we can take time to reflect and to see more clearly what God is doing in our lives. Let us be patient, and lovingly wait for his coming. We need to wait for a few days only to see His presence again, even if at the moment it can seem so far away.

Locusts, Loincloths and the Lonely Lament of the Baptist

Jordan-river

It seems a curious thing that John would go off to the wilderness and begin preaching. Wilderness (or ‘desert’ as it might also be translated) conjures up images of vast spaces, untouched and uninhabited. Why would John go to this kind of inhospitable place and to whom did he intend to ‘cry out’ to as Isaiah had prophesied? Matthew offers something of a timeline when he notes that it was after John had gone to this lonely place that ‘then’ Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him (Matthew 3:5).

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God Our Shepherd

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 15:1-32

In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear three parables told by Our Blessed Lord. One of them is the parable of the prodigal son which is perhaps the most famous of the parables. In this parable the younger of two sons asks his father for his share of the inheritance and then went to a new country where he squandered all that his father had given him. This son then ends up getting a job feeding the pigs for someone which is all the more terrible a fall for Christ’s Jewish hearers for they considered that pigs were unclean animals. The younger son then decides to go back to his father and ask him for a job as one of his paid servants so that at least he would have a better life there. However, when his father sees his son a long way off, he ran to him and embraced him and then welcomed him back as his son. 

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