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Looking anew at the Nativity scene (Dwelling on the Word of God, Sunday 8th January 2016)

Posted on January 7, 2017 at 3:37 PM Comments comments (0)


After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judea during the reign of King Heron, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. “Where is the infant king of the Jews?” they asked. “We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.”

Today's Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12):

'After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,for out of you will come a leaderwho will shepherd my people Israel.’Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.'



In contrast to the wise men in today’s Gospel, we live in a world of instant access to news.  Through television and the internet, we have access to the most up-to-date news of all genres 24 hours a day.  Indeed we are bombarded by news from across the world and it is difficult to disconnect from this stream even with concerted efforts.  The wise men were likely men of contemplation. Before setting out on a long and arduous journey, carrying with them precious belongings, they would have spent much time noticing and pondering the meaning of the star rising in the west.  They likely discussed this at length between them, having their own doubts and misgivings about their quest.  How puzzled would they have been to find their journey’s end, not in a palace, but in a stable – had they got this right? And there, in the silence of the night, their efforts and faith were rewarded as they saw the wondrous sight.  They saw that which prophets had long foretold and nations sighed for.  The Lord at his birth.


What would we be willing to do or sacrifice to see this sight?  To us, Jesus’ birth may seem like “old news”.  Repeated re-enactments and a multitude of nativity images can numb us to the awe we should rightly feel when contemplating this scene.  We face different challenges from the magi in our time. Theirs was a time of quiet and contemplation, of expectation and hope.  They saw this wondrous sight for the first time, having no idea what they would see.  Our is a time of noise, instant gratification and cynicism. We have ‘seen it all before’.  Plus Christmas is really over now isn’t it? It’s time to move on to a new year! But like the wise men we are asked in the readings today to search in the silence for signs of our Saviour’s coming and to remain open minded about where and when we might encounter Jesus.  Taking the promptings of our innermost soul and no little share of faith, Jesus will guide us through uncertainty and darkness, to behold His face in all its glory.  It is worth spending time contemplating what the wise men saw and asking God to give us the grace to see this scene anew, so that we can honour and praise him with all our hearts as they did.

Jesus' Call to Keep the Ten Commandments

Posted on July 8, 2016 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)
The Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stone


Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37):

‘There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’’

 

Eternal life in Heaven is where we all want to be.  And even for those who do not believe, the idea of living in comfortable and joyful surroundings forever is a fantastic thought! 


But how do we get there?  Well, Jesus gives us two very straightforward commands.  He tells us that we must love God with everything we’ve got and we must also love our neighbour.  Looks simple on paper doesn’t it?  And in a way it is.  It is, however, important to avoid oversimplifying these commandments in order to suit our own busy lifestyles and agendas.  For example, we can’t simply state that we love God and we love all other people and never follow this up with words and actions to support our claim.  If we are going to follow Jesus’ commands we need to act upon them, and act with conviction; a conviction that tells the world: 'this guy really does love God and he really does love other people!'


Jesus’ commandments are a perfect summing up of the Ten Commandments (or Decalogue) given to Moses by God.  They are not a watering down of the Ten Commandments and they are certainly not an attempt to abolish and replace the Ten Commandments.  What Jesus does is present to us the Ten Commandments in a new way in order to aid our understanding of them.  He invites us to rediscover the beauty and truth of God’s perfect law.  It is worth remembering that the first three Commandments concern love of God and the other seven concern love of neighbour, hence Christ’s summing up of them by referring to love of God and love of neighbour.  This is also why God presented the Commandments to Moses using two tablets of stone rather than one; so as to distinguish between the call to love God and the call to love our neighbour.


In order to obtain eternal life our words and actions must be in keeping with the Ten Commandments.  We must respect God’s clear instructions and, in a spirit of humility and love, encourage others to do the same.


The Ten Commandments:

  1. I am the LORD your God:
    you shall not have
    strange Gods before me.
  2. You shall not take
    the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
  4. Honour your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness
    against your neighbour.
  9. You shall not covet
    your neighbour's wife.
  10. You shall not covet
    your neighbour's goods. 

Jesus brings great hope, even in death

Posted on June 3, 2016 at 9:29 AM Comments comments (0)

Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 7:1-17):

‘Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.’


The miracle performed by Jesus in this Gospel passage is one of great hope.  The woman, a widow, had lost her only son.  Can you imagine the grief and sorrow that this woman must have been experiencing?  Can you imagine how alone she must have felt watching her only family being carried away for burial?  She must have felt that nothing could take away the extreme pain that was now drilling through her heart.  Yet moments later she would witness the resurrection of her son from the dead.  Just when all had seemed to be lost, along came Jesus. 


We must never lose hope when death comes knocking at our door.  Whilst it is perfectly natural for us to grieve and to feel sorrow when a loved one dies, we must always have confidence in the one who makes all things new.  Jesus’ death on the Cross was not a pointless exercise.  It was necessary so that our sins could be wiped away and we could have eternal life. 


When your loved one dies, remember that Jesus is there.  He has come down from the Cross and is standing ready at the gates of Paradise, waiting to put his hand on your loved one, waiting to bring them back to life.

Do you love Jesus?

Posted on April 29, 2016 at 10:11 AM Comments comments (0)

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.’


This very short excerpt from Sunday’s Gospel is so simple, yet it is jam packed with significance. 


Read over Jesus’ quote ten times. 


Do you love Jesus?



Will you wash the feet of those closest to you tonight?

Posted on March 24, 2016 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)
In today’s Gospel we hear about the washing of the apostles’ feet by Jesus.  Peter was very resistant to this as it seemed completely absurd to have Jesus do such a thing.  This was, after all, God made man, the Saviour of the world!  It should surely be the other way round would have been Peter’s thinking.


Yet Jesus makes it clear that this is something he must do.  Firstly, he makes it clear that “unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”  This is a clear link to our Baptism and its fundamental importance in our salvation.  It is also a link to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we are once again clothed in the white robe of our Baptism and brought to new life.  Our inheritance, it seems, is dependent on living in accordance with Christ’s teaching, and this is achieved through our acceptance of and living in the Sacraments of his Church.


Christ’s washing of the apostles’ feet is also a sign that he is here to serve rather than be served.  It is also considered by many to be an important sign of the priesthood and its role in taking the love of God to all people.  And this is what I would like to focus on for a moment.  Despite being in the knowledge of the intolerable pain and suffering he was about to endure, Christ took time out to perform this simple but critical act of love.  And that is what we need to take from this special moment between Jesus and his apostles.  It was an act of selfless love; a visible sign of how man should treat man.  Jesus wanted to show this love to his apostles so that they would then do the same to others.


This Holy Week, are you prepared to wash the feet of those closest to you?  While we may participate in the washing of the feet during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper we must also remember that our homes and families are small churches too.  So after tonight’s Mass when you get home, consider washing the feet of your family and perhaps take turns doing so.  And while this is something that can be initiated by any member of the family, perhaps those of you who are fathers can take the lead.  Men are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and tend to their own flock in the same way that Jesus did.  And what better way to do this than to replicate Christ’s actions and wash the feet of those closest to you?  While simple, this act of love carries with it an incredible power, the power of Christ who makes all things new.  And for those of you with children in your household, it will create a real sense of intrigue among them and they will no doubt want to learn more.  It’s a great opportunity to explain to them, in simple terms and by action, just how much Jesus loves them and how much you love them too.




Finding hope in Peter's weakness

Posted on March 22, 2016 at 1:09 PM Comments comments (0)

From today’s Gospel:

‘Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’’



This small passage from today’s Gospel follows on nicely from our reflection on yesterday’s Gospel when we compared the simple love Mary had for Jesus in needing to be close to him with Martha’s need to be on the go.  In being so preoccupied Martha missed out on precious quality time with Jesus, a mistake Mary was not prepared to make.


And today we have Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, claiming that he would lay down his life for Jesus.  That, you would think, is a step up from the love shown by Mary.  And it is.  And Peter would, of course, eventually become a martyr for Christ in Rome.  But for now Jesus has an unfortunate surprise for Peter.  He tells him that he is going to deny him.  Imagine your best friend, or even your spouse, telling you that they know you will betray them in some way.  You, like Peter, would be very disappointed to hear such news!  But then don’t we betray people every day, denying their true value as fellow human beings and children of God?  Don’t we gossip, complain and criticise other people behind their back on a regular basis?  These are human weaknesses and no human is exempt from them.  Even St Peter fell into this trap!  So, in that sense, we are in good company.


But, like St Peter, we are called to greater things.  We are called to overcome our human weakness and realise the hurt caused by some of our actions.  How can we forget the look on Peter’s face in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ when he heard the cock crow?  How can we forget the way he then rushed to the feet of Mary and sobbed uncontrollably as he clung to her garment, realising how foolish and weak he had been?

   
We are all capable of moments of weakness in our lives, even to the point of mistreating or even denying those most precious to us.  The next time you fall into this trap look for the comforting arms of your mother Mary, just as Peter did, and seek reconciliation with Jesus in the Sacrament of Confession.  This is how we can overcome our weakness and become saints.  If Peter can do it, so can we.

How to Love Jesus: Be More Mary

Posted on March 21, 2016 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Today’s Gospel: (John 12: 1-11)

‘Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment. Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’
Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.’



It’s hard to imagine what went through Jesus’ mind as he sat at table in the home of his friend Lazarus.  He was just days from that most horrific persecution, when his detractors would finally have their wicked way with him and he would be hung on a cross and left to die.  Yet here he is, sitting with his friend while the busy Martha scurries about waiting on them, and the more relaxed Mary pours an expensive fragrance over his feet.


The question often arises: are you a Martha or are you a Mary?  Would you be too busy rushing around to appreciate the King in your presence, or would you recognise him immediately and desire to be at his side?  Martha’s role in this episode is not without purpose.  Her waiting on the Lord is a noble act and one deserving of praise.  Mary’s actions are quite different.  There is something quite beautiful about the simplicity of Mary making a beeline for Jesus with the jar of expensive ointment.  Her focus is not so much to make everything perfect for Jesus as seems to be the case with Martha.  Rather, Mary’s focus is to simply be by his side and spoil him with gifts. 


Mary simply wanted to be close to Jesus and to show him how much she loved him.  Martha undoubtedly loved Jesus too and she spent considerable effort in order to show this love.  But she didn’t get close enough to him.  Perhaps she kept what she thought was a ‘respectful’ distance, only periodically getting close in order to serve him his meal.  But Jesus doesn’t just want us to flit in and out of his life.  He wants something more concrete.  He wants the closeness shown by Mary.  If we are busy running around we perhaps forget the most important thing when it comes to our faith.  That is, being close to Jesus.  There is no need for a respectful distance.  While Jesus is a King, he is a King with a difference.  Unlike the many Kings and Queens of our world, Jesus does not care for pomp and ceremony in order for his people to get close to him.  He is accessible 24/7 and he wants all people to come to him, from the lowest of the low to the greatest.  We are all his children.


This Holy Week, think about your relationship with Jesus and how you can develop it for the better.  Don’t get too caught up in the chores of the day at the expense of spending some time with Jesus, and be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus isn’t accessible to you.  He is right there by your side, right now!  So stop and talk to him.  Tell him what you think of him; tell him all your joys as well as your troubles and difficulties.  And if you haven’t been to Mass for a while, consider coming back to be in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is truly present…. body, blood, soul and divinity. 


Jesus loves you more than anyone else and he just wants a little love back.  So give him it.  Be more Mary.

Go away, and do not sin any more

Posted on March 11, 2016 at 12:03 PM Comments comments (0)

Sunday’s Gospel (John 8:1-11):

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’’

 
In the Jubilee Year of Mercy this particular passage of scripture stands out more than most.  It is a perfect example of the new world order that Jesus seeks to achieve.  It is a world of mercy, where no sin is incapable of forgiveness.  It is a world where hate, grudges, complaints and criticism reign no more. 


What Jesus wrote in the sand is a mystery.  But his message is abundantly clear.  We must be careful not to judge and condemn the goodness or otherwise of people when we ourselves are in a sinful state.  If we are aware of someone acting contrary to the Gospel we are called to be like Jesus and do two things.  First, we are called to show kindness, mercy and compassion and to put our arm around the person to show them that they are loved.  Second, we are called to encourage them to seek the forgiveness of God, to live in accordance with the Gospel, and to refrain from committing sin again. 


This is precisely how things are played out when we go to Confession.  Jesus welcomes us, puts his loving arms around us and forgives our sins.  He then asks us to go and sin no more.  And while we must take Jesus’ call to refrain from further sin very seriously, he understands our weaknesses and the difficulties and struggles we experience in our world.  That is why he welcomes us again and again in Confession.  He never tires of pouring out his forgiveness.  He just needs us to be willing to make the effort to go to him. 



The Parable of the Merciful Father

Posted on March 4, 2016 at 12:22 PM Comments comments (0)
The Gospel you will hear at Mass this Sunday is perhaps one of the most well-known passages of sacred scripture.  It is often referred to as the parable of the prodigal son (though I personally prefer to refer to it as the parable of the merciful father).


It is an astounding parable and it brings home the reality of God’s mercy.  No matter the sin, your Father is waiting for you to return to Him and seek his forgiveness.  Whatever you may have done or failed to do in terms of keeping God’s commandments and living a good, holy life, never forget that forgiveness is just around the corner.


There is no doubting the availability of God’s mercy.  But perhaps the biggest problem is within us, and our failure to acknowledge God as our Father and our failure to accept that He really does forgive us.  In order to reconcile ourselves to God we need to seek Him in the sacrament of reconciliation and it is in that sacrament that God really does pour out His forgiveness.  We need to accept this and then approach him, just as the son did in the parable.  The father couldn’t forgive the son unless the son first sought the father’s forgiveness.


That must be our challenge this Lent and thereafter.  We must be willing, like the son, to search out the Father and ask Him to forgive our failures, our sin.  God will never deny us His forgiveness.  But we must be prepared to ask for it.

The Catholic Church: Holding the Keys to Heaven for 2000 Years

Posted on February 22, 2016 at 12:49 PM Comments comments (0)

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:13-19):
 
‘When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’’
 

In 1870, Vatican I declared that this Gospel passage was clear biblical support for the primacy of Peter and successive popes.  The Council’s interpretation touches on the following five points of doctrine:

  1. The Magisterium built upon Peter is instituted by Jesus Christ;
  2. Peter is given a unique role as chief teacher and ruler over the Church;
  3. Peter is the visible head of the Church;
  4. Peter’s authority is passed on through successors; and
  5. through Peter, Christ himself assures the infallible preservation of the gospel in the Church.


While it may sometimes be tough to be Catholic, especially in today’s secular relativist world which seeks to discredit the Church at every turn, we still have every reason to be joyful.  Why?  Because this is a Church that was established by the saviour of the world, Jesus Christ!  Indeed, it is the only church established by Jesus Christ. 


But Jesus didn’t leave it at that.  In addition to establishing a church he knew that the Church needed help from above to protect it from evil and to ensure its ongoing safety and wellbeing in protecting the gospel with which it is entrusted.  So he promised the Church that he will always be with it, ensuring that the gates of death, deception and destruction will never overcome it.  He then proceeds to give his close disciple Simon Peter the authority to make binding decisions with respect to the Church and gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven.


Jesus, in just a few short sentences, establishes the Catholic Church, promises to sustain it, and even gives a mere mortal being the authority to be its chief teacher and chief administrator on earth.  So we can say with confidence that through the authority of Peter (often referred to as the ‘Chair of Peter’) and his successors, heaven governs the Church on earth. 


So be confident and joyful in your Church, and trust her authority always, for she is being guided by Christ who ensures her safe passage through time to that moment when he will come again on the clouds to be fully united with her.  And it is at that moment that our Lord will gather in his chosen people to take them to Paradise to be with him forever. 


The keys to Heaven are in the hands of the Church where they have been for the last 2000 years, from the moment Jesus entrusted them to Peter.  No matter how tough or testing it may sometimes feel to be part of the Catholic Church there is no denying that she is the surest way to Heaven and to Jesus.