Christmas 2013 – my thoughts for the Parish

Homily for the First Class Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

God wants to meet us where we are

The Adoration of the Shepherds. Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo
The Adoration of the Shepherds. Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo

Ideas affect actions. The idea that we have of another person affects how we relate to that person. If someone gives you a million pounds, most of us are likely to think he is a great guy, and treat him accordingly. If we find a friend has been stealing from my bank account, I will think he is a liar and a back-stabber, the relations between us will turn cold. Our ideas of someone affects how we interact with them.

What is our idea of God? What do we think God is like?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God is the origin and end of all things, and

“man was created to live in communion with God, in whom he finds happiness.” (CCC45)

Communion with God, living in a relationship with God, this is what we were created for. Our relationship with God will depend on how we think of Him. If we were not to believe in Him, we could have no relationship with Him. If we think God is an angry, intolerant tyrant, we will have a fearful and unstable relationship with Him. If we think God is a distant and impersonal force, our relationship with Him will become cold and distant.

But tonight, we welcome the Christ-child to our earth, the small child who came to help correct our mistaken ideas about what God is like. Look at the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, smiling helplessly at His mother Mary. That image is the image of the true God, a God who comes to meet us right where we are.

God is not the Force

God is not the Force that Yoda uses.

I have only seen one of the Star Wards films, but even I have heard of the Force, an invisible cosmic force holding the universe together, governing human history, much like the law of gravity governs moving bodies: an automatic, unchanging, impersonal force. Although Yoda may tell us of it, new an idea it is not. It is at the core of the ancient Chinese religion, Taoism, which goes back to at least five centuries before Christ. The same idea is behind the Hindu concept of Karma.

It has seeped into modern Christian consciousness, because there appears to be a certain comfort in the idea that God is a Force. But it is a deceptive comfort. It seems to off us total control – we become more and more powerful the more we tap into the Force. All we have to do (as Yoda might say) is to learn to manipulate Force, helping us to achieve a god-like status ourselves. This is why Luke Skywalker doesn’t pray to the Force: he just uses the Force.

If God is the impersonal Force holding the universe together, then He cannot be also the Person who created the universe. But in that case, there would be nothing outside the universe, so the universe itself would be god, which means that we are just little pieces of god, no different than a speck of cosmic dust, or an amoeba. We would have to say goodbye to our human dignity, free will, and the possibility of being loved, loving, and making a real, meaningful difference in the world.

Our Lord Jesus Christ became a little baby in the city of David, Bethlehem, two thousand years ago to save us from that lie – to climb into our arms and stir up our love, to teach us that God is not a Force, but a Father.

Bolstering our idea of God

The world we live in is fallen, flooded with sin, ignorance, and evil. We are surrounded by distorted ideas of God. Unless we put a good filter in place, these distorted ideas will seep into our minds and interfere with our relationship with God – the one relationship that makes or breaks our happiness.

The filter comes from taking the initiative to fill our minds with robust, vibrant, right ideas about God. If we do that, we will avoid being infected by the distorted ideas, and in helping to correct these ideas, we will find the good in them and fix the bad. We will become lights in this dark and confused world, just like the candles at Mass, or the stars in the sky. We will help those around us see their way better along the path to true fulfilment in life.

Filling our minds with the right idea of God is not difficult, we just have to do two things. First, spend ten minutes each day in personal prayer – there are many good prayer books that can help us. Second, we need to spend ten more minutes each day doing some spiritual reading – that is reading books about Christ, the Saints, the Church, and the Christian way of seeing the world. There is no shortage of these books either – it is even possible to download Podcasts of books and talks, so you can do your spiritual reading in the car or even in the gym.

Today, let us thank our Lord Jesus Christ for being a God who meets us where we are. Let us also show our gratitude by promising to let him take us a few steps closer to where he is, every day, through prayer and spiritual reading.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

“pray always without becoming weary” – we all have moments in our daily life to find time for prayer

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

God likes confident prayer

Today, our Blessed Lord tells us that we are weak pray-ers. But he gives us the remedy for our weakness. This parable comes after a conversation with some Pharisees in which they asked Him when the Kingdom of God would finally come. Our Lord probably detected impatience behind that question, as though the Pharisees were criticizing God for being careless or lazy.

We can relate to that kind of impatience. We can give up on God far too easily. We approach God with less confidence than this determined widow had in approaching a crooked judge. Behind the words of our prayer lurks a subtle tendency to doubt God. We think that just because He appears not to answer our prayers in the way that we would have Him do, he is failing to answer at all.

That simply shows a lack of faith, a truncated vision of God.

In today’s Gospel, we are reminded that we ought to have unlimited faith and confidence in God. No prayer that we utter goes unheard. God is never out of his office: He is never on holiday. He longs for us to bombard Him with our prayers. He is searching eagerly for hearts that trust Him enough to ask unceasingly for all that they need. He always answers our prayers, even when the answer is “No.”

Because God is our Father, all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful, there ought to be no limit in our confidence in Him. So, as is said in today’s Gospel, we ought to

pray always without becoming weary

Being constant in our prayer, just like the widow with her petitions to the judge, just like Moses interceding for victory in the battle against the Amalekites: constant in thanksgiving, constant in repentance, constant in praise, and constant in bringing to God every need that comes our away. Constancy built on confidence – that’s the path to becoming better prayers.

Secular roots produce weak prayer

The judge and the persistent widow (http://freebibleimages.org/)

The culture that we find ourselves living in does not help us to be good prayer-ers. Our culture is secular. The triumphs of technology have created an unlimited confidence in science and human ingenuity. Because of this, the same culture tries to depict religion as a sign of weakness, because it involves depending upon God for things that we are not supposed to need anymore: things like forgiveness, grace, miracles, sacraments, prayer, and spiritual gifts. According to this view, Jesus Christ is a nice, pious man with some good ideas, but basically a weakling.

If any of us consciously agreed with that sentiment, would we be here?

However, because the world in which we live endorses that distorted view of God, it can seep into our minds without us realising it, which will then in turn affect our prayer life.

The parable about the widow and the judge corrects this vision. The judge, although an unworthy man, has real authority. He can issue a decision that will have actual repercussions both for the widow and her adversary.

This is an image of Christ, who also has real authority:

all authority in heaven and earth (St Matthew 28.18)

Jesus Christ is the ruler of the universe, he can influence things. He has chosen to put His influence at our disposal.

Just as the judge would not have acted unless the widow had pleaded with him, so God has decided to make His graces depend (at least in part) upon our prayers.

Ask and it will be given to you.

Search and you will find…

Secular culture ignores Christ because He refuses to be a dictator. We as Christians delight Him by treating him as the generous and responsive King that He truly is.

Filling up life’s in-between times

It is much easier than we think to follow Christ’s directions on this point, to

“pray always without becoming weary.”

First, it is necessary for each one of us to spend some time alone with God every day, reflecting on a passage from the Bible, praying a decade of the Rosary, or praying for our loved ones. That is what gives order and direction to our lives. If Christ really is someone important to us, which He is, that is why we are here today – we will make a point of spending time with Him.

God has designed prayer to be flexible enough to fit into everything else we do as well.

God is always thinking of us, guiding us like a mother with her toddler, or a coach with his players on the practice field.

We really can always pray. Well, maybe not while we are actually in a meeting – but yes, while walking to and from the meeting. Maybe not while we are actually writing the report – but yes, while we are driving to and from work. Maybe not while we are actually playing in the game on the field – but yes, while we are running back to the sidelines.

Our days are filled with a thousand little moments when we are alone with ourselves.

Our Blessed Lord wants to be part of those moments. He wants us to share those moments with us. He wants to share His life with us – as he proves every day by coming to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Today, this week, let us fill up those in-between times with prayer: thanking God, asking Him for what we need, and promising Him that we will follow Him no matter where He asks us to go.

Homily: Doing your best for God.

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Christ wants our best efforts

It sounds strange to hear our Blessed Lord praising the steward in the parable in today’s Gospel for being so sly. But that is only because we don’t know our Lord as well as we ought.

Jesus’s point is simple. He says,

For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

The steward knew that his time of employment was coming to an end. Before his last day arrives, he uses his connections and position to prepare for the future. He was smart. The Greek word translated into the English “prudent” can also be translated as “astute”. Jesus is saying that it is a good quality to have. We are supposed to be creative and ingenious in life.

But, he reprimands his followers for not applying that same astuteness to the more important project of preparing for eternal life.

We are all like that steward. We all know that our lives will come to an end, sooner or later. We know that as a fact. Yet, are we effectively using our resources and opportunities to prepare for what will come next?

That is the question that is asked of us by today’s Gospel. Are we building God’s Kingdom now, so we can be able to enjoy it forever later?

Many great men and women of the world, – chief executives, athletes, film stars, political leaders – are exemplary in their tenacity, determination, and astuteness. They set a goal and let nothing stop them from achieving it. They turn everything into an opportunity to advance their cause. No sacrifice is too great.

Imagine how different the Church (and the world) would be if every Christian pursued holiness that energetically.

St Ida’s life-giving coffin

Sometimes we are irresponsible stewards of God’s creation because we forget what is really at stake. We become seduced by the day-to-day problems and pleasures of this life and forget that it is passing. It is only a warm-up for eternal life.

St Ida of Herzfeld learnt this lesson well. St Ida was Charlemagne’s granddaughter, and she grew up in his Imperial Court in Germany in the ninth century. The lessons of the Christian faith took deep root in her soul during those early years, unlike many of her relatives and fellow courtiers.

Eventually St Ida was given a handsome dowry and she married a popular and Christian Duke with whom she had one child before she was left a widow. St Ida never remarried. Instead, she dedicated her time and the proceeds from her estate to serve the poor and the Church.

This was somewhat remarkable, especially when you compare it to the way other members of the Imperial Court led their lives. They were surrounded by temptations to power, wealth, and pleasure, and most of them gave in, sooner or later. How was St Ida able to resist?

Well, like the crafty steward in the parable, she used the wits the good God gave her. Every day she would fill up a stone coffin with food. Then she herself would distribute the food to the poor. In this way, at the same time as serving her neighbour, she was reminding herself of her destiny – death. She knew that the glamour of life in the palace could easily blind her to the truly important things of life. So, like a wise steward, she did that which she had to do to make sure she kept her eyes wide open.

If her tactics strikes us today as strange instead of astute, it may mean that the glamour of life in our modern world is starting to dim our vision.

Making a prayer-improvement plan

One area where each one of us can always use some renewed energy and astuteness is in our prayer life. We simply cannot grow as Christians unless our prayer life is constantly growing. Yet, most of us will recognise a lot of room for improvement in this area.

Each of us faces unique challenges and opportunities in this area, we have to work our own formulae for growth. Please do not think that the clergy are immune from faults in our prayer life. We most certainly are not. However, when we put in renewed effort, two qualities which are common to every healthy prayer life should be borne in mind.

Regular

First of all, prayer needs to be regular. We need to pray daily, to have a daily quiet time when we can speak to God and the Saints, to pray for our loved ones, reflect on the scriptures, or read some good, solid spiritual book. That means carving out time. We don’t need to have a lot of time – ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night is a good start – but it does have to be consistent and that means self-discipline.

I have heard of one priest who goest to the cemetery to pray his Rosary each day. If he doesn’t go there, he knows that he will have a barrage of phone calls and requests that will stop him saying it.

Sincere

Secondly, prayer needs to be sincere. We actually have to speak to God in our hearts. Going through the motions, and just rattling off prayers, is not enough. We need to find that way of praying that will allow God’s grace to touch the core of who we are.

Today, Our Blessed Lord is reminding us that He wants us all to be wise stewards, giving Him and His Kingdom our best efforts, so that He can give us the greatest reward. As we come to Him at the Altar today and each day this week, let us tell Him that we want the same thing.

Readings

  • Amos 8:4-7
  • Psalms 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
  • First Timothy 2:1-8
  • Luke 16:1-13 or 16:10-13
  • Read them online »

Notices for the week

From Wednesday of this week, Mgr Michael will be visiting His Grace the Archbishop in Bedford until next Sunday. There will, therefore, be no Mass in Belfast on these days.

Feast Days this week:

  • Monday 23 September, St Eunan, Patron of Raphoe, Bishop and Confessor
  • Tuesday 24 September, OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM, PATRON OF THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC CHURCH
  • Wednesday 25 September, Octave of OLW
  • Thursday 26 September, Octave of OLW
  • Friday 27 September, SS Cosmas and Damian & Octave of OLW
  • Saturday 28 September, Octave of OLW

Our Lady of Walsingham

On Monday evening, there will be First Vespers of the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, who is the Patron of the National Catholic Church. Within our Calendar, we celebrate this first class feast complete with an octave. Therefore, with the exception of the days noted above, each day both the Office and Mass will be of the Feast.

Next Sunday

Next Sunday is the celebration of the Feast Day of St Michael the Archangel for as the Martyrology explains:

On Mount Gargano, the commemoration of the blessed Archangel Michael. This festival is kept in memory of the day, when under his invocation, was consecrated a church, unpretending in its exterior, but endowed with virtue celestial.

Mass will be celebrated as normal, please contact the Parish Priest for details.

Humility on earth leads to glory in heaven

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), 1 September, 2013

The Law of Humility

humility

As Catholics we recognise our Lord Jesus Christ as Universal King, the Church celebrates this feast near the end of the Liturgical Year—at the end of October using the 1962 Missal or the Sunday before Advent using the 2002 Missal—either way, we know that kings rule kingdoms with laws. The Kingdom of Christ is no different.

One of the most important laws in Christ’s Kingdom is that of humility which says that,

everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.

In other words, greatness in His Kingdom comes not from outdoing other people, outperforming them, and outdistancing them. No. Greatness in Christ’s eyes comes from serving people, from elevating them, helping them to advance, and keeping oneself in the background.

In our Blessed Lord’s very first sermon, He had taught the same law but using different words,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”—St Matthew 5.13

In today’s First Reading, we have this self-same law once more stated directly,

“conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved… Humble yourself… and you will find favour with God.”

This goes directly against everything our fallen world teaches us. It is extremely hard for us to swallow, which is why our Blessed Lord explained it using this unambiguous parable. Even the parable wasn’t enough. The law on humility is so fundamental that He taught it to us by living it out in a most extreme way: through his Passion and Death.

Jesus, the Lord of Heaven, came to earth and purposefully took the lowest place possible—that of a condemned criminal. He freely took on the most humiliating form of death—by Crucifixion. He allowed Himself to be stripped of every honour. He allowed his reputation on earth to be dragged through the mud by the lies and corruption of his enemies. Yet, because He humbled Himself so thoroughly, He has been glorified so magnificently. Such is the law of His Kingdom.

The folly of a man and the wisdom of a boy

The Law of Humility does not mean that we ought to sit around and do nothing, it simply means that we should remember that we are not God, that God is God, and we are dependent on Him. This is often harder to remember than you would think.

On Thursday past, I went, with my husband and a friend visiting us from England, to the new exhibition centre on the Titanic. It has been said that, after the great ship was built, a reporter asked the man who had built it how safe she would be. ”Not even God can sink it,” he answered. Well God didn’t have to sink it; an iceberg was quite sufficient.

When our Blessed Lord taught us that to enter His Kingdom we have to become like little children, this was one of the characteristics he had in mind.

Children tend to remember more easily that they are not God. They know they are dependant on their parents for food, shelter, and everything else. It’s natural for them to accept being dependent on God as well.

But it is not a sad, pessimistic dependence. True humility is joyful, as it opens the door to a real relationship with God, something arrogant self-sufficiency does not allow.

A couple of years ago at a Catholic summer Bible camp, one of the seven-year-olds won the silver medal in the mini-soccer competition. He was so happy that he wore it round his neck all the time. On the last day of the camp this boy left one of the leaders a note. The note mentioned that he had left the medal in the chapel. The leader went to the chapel, but he couldn’t find it.

After the campers had gone home, the leaders were doing the final check over the site to find any left behind items, the same leader went into the chapel and found that boy’s medal somewhere he had never even thought to look on his first trip: it was on the crucifix. The boy had stacked up three chairs so that he could reach high enough and put it around Christ’s neck.

Who do you think was the happier person, the little boy or the man who built Titanic?

How to grow in humility

The Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one form of prayer which is highly recommended.
St Pius V, Bishop of Rome 1566-72, said of the Holy Rosary “with the spread of this devotion … [the faithful] have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of the Catholic faith has been broken forth again.”
As Catholics and followers of Christ we know that following the Law of Humility leads to interior peace, joy, wisdom, and a greater share in God’s glory. This is what Christ wants for us. The more we grow in humility, the more we will experience these things. So how can we grow in humility?

There are two things that every single one of us can do in order to grow in humility. Two things that we can do today, tomorrow, every day this week, and for the rest of our lives.

The first is to pray. Every time that we pray we acknowledge God’s greatness and our dependence on Him. Every time we pray, we are exercising the virtue of humility, whether it is a short prayer or a long prayer, a good prayer or a distracted prayer. If we want to get humble, we need to pray more. Let us reactivate our commitment to a decent life of prayer. Prayer is the perfect workout for strengthening humility. Those of us who are clerics are bound by our vows to pray the daily office. Those who are members of the Priestly Fraternity of the Dowry of Mary are additionally encouraged to say the Rosary daily as well. Many people have recommended the Rosary to everyone, as St Pius V said,

“with the spread of this devotion the meditations of the faithful have begun to be more inflamed, their prayers more fervent, and they have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of the Catholic faith has been broken forth again.”

Secondly, we can stop talking so much about ourselves. Our fallen nature often pushes us to be the centre of our conversations. But our Christian nature is reaching out to take an interest in our neighbours. This week, let us give our Christian nature a hand. Choose one relationship, and this week, make a concentrated effort to be more interested in knowing what the other person is going through, rather than telling them what you are going through.

Today, as at every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of The Mass, our Blessed Lord humbles Himself by coming to us in the Holy Eucharist. He reminds us at each celebration, that humility is the secret to a fulfilling and fruitful life.

Let us thank Him for that, and when we have Him in our hearts, let us ask Him for this favour, which He is so eager to give us:

“Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts more and more like yours.”

Readings

  • Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
  • Psalms 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
  • Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
  • Luke 14:1, 7-14
  • Read them online

Heart speaks to heart – let us follow Christ and give a warm welcome to His Most Sacred Heart

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), 25 August 2013.

Christ is interested in our hearts.

At the time that our blessed Lord Jesus Christ was walking this earth, many Jews thought that salvation was based on external factors, like race and ritual. In fact, many Jews believed that only Jews could actually live in communion with God. The non-Jewish peoples, so they thought, were destined to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Others believed that you not only needed to be of the Jewish race to win God’s favour, but you also had to follow even the most minute details of the Law of Moses, as well as the many ritual practices that had grown up around that Law.

In the Gospel reading today, our Lord takes the opportunity of this question, about whether or not people will be saved to correct those wrong ideas.

Our Lord explains that in God’s Kingdom there will be people from all four corners of the earth – just as Isaiah had prophesied, and as we heard in the First Reading. Yesterday we also heard in the First Reading for the Feast of St Bartholomew about the four gates in Heaven gathering not just the twelve tribes of Israel but those of the ‘tribes’ of the Apostles. Race had nothing to do with who gets in to Heaven. Our Lord also explains that many who “ate and drank” with the Lord – in other words, many who followed all the many external rituals that governed eating and drinking at the same time – will be excluded from God’s Kingdom. So exterior rules are not the ticket to Heaven either!

So, if race and ritual are not the keys to salvation, what is?

Quite simply, it is the heart.

Salvation does not depend primarily on external appearances, but on friendship with Christ, and that is rooted in our hearts. The people in our Lord’s parable who were excluded from the heavenly banquet complained that the Lord had actually taught in their streets. But He answers them, “I do not know where you are from.” In other words, they are strangers to Him. Maybe they did let Him into their streets, but they never let Him into their hearts.

Heart speaks to heart

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

St Margaret Mary Alacoque was a French nun who lived in the seventeenth-century. She was privileged by God with a series of visions in which Jesus appeared to her and revealed His Most Sacred Heart. He explained to her that His Love for sinners was so great that whenever they ignored it or didn’t accept it, he felt as much pain as if someone were driving a thorn into His physical Heart.

The Sacred Heart devotion that we have all seen and heard about traces its beginnings to these apparitions. During one of them, St Margaret Mary asked our Lord a curious question. She asked Him who among His followers in the world was giving His Heart the greatest joy.

The answer that came back was even more curious than the question. He didn’t mention any of the famous preachers, or bishops, let alone the Bishop of Rome. He didn’t mention any of the great intellectuals, aristorcrats, or missionaries. He didn’t even mention someone who later went on to be canonized by the Church. Rather, our Blessed Lord told her that the person who was giving His Heart the most joy was a little known novice instructor in a small convent in the European countryside – someone who was instructing novices how to become good followers of Christ.

What matters to Christ is not drama, fireworks, and great achievements. No, what matters to Him is the humility and love that is found in our hearts. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said,

“If you try, you will find it impossible to do one great thing. You can only do many small things with great love.”

Following Christ is a matter of the heart: His Heart reaching out to ours and hoping for a warm welcome.

Judging rightly

Understanding that our Blessed Lord first of all looks at our hearts can help us follow one of the most difficult commands that He gave us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Blessed Lord Jesus commanded his disciples:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.

It is not for us to pass judgment on our neighbours, because we cannot see into their hearts. Only God can see the human heart through and through. Only God knows all of the experiences that have gone into the formation of someone’s personality. Only God knows all the hidden motives, the real reasons, and the mixed intentions behind human behaviour. Psychologists and sociologists have been trying to catalogue these things for the last hundred years, and they have drawn only only one firm conclusion: the human heart is an unfathomable mystery.

Each one of us here wants to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. If we did not, would we be here? He wants the same thing – that is why He created us.

Following Christ faithfully means walking in His footsteps.

Even at the very end of His life on earth, Jesus refused to pass judgment on sinners. He warned, instructed, encouraged, and exhorted, but even when His hypocritical, self-centred, arrogant enemies nailed Him to a Cross – even then He prayed,

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Our Blessed Lord, Who can actually see the depths of the human heart, refused to pass judgment. How much more should we, who cannot see those depths, do the same!

Each day this week, as we pray the Our Father, we will  promise to forgive our neighbours just as we want God to forgive us. When we do that today, and throughout the week, let us really mean it.

Readings

  • Isaiah 66:18-21
  • Psalms 117:1, 2
  • Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
  • Luke 13:22-30
  • Read them online »