Sixth Sunday of Easter 2018

Dear Friends in Christ,

There is a lovely Jewish proverb which captures, as only proverbs can, something so true about love: ‘Love thy neighbour, even when he plays the trombone.’ loveImagine that neighbour playing his old trombone late into the evening – it would truly be hard to have very warm feelings for him, let alone love him, wouldn’t it? Love, rather like forgiveness, is a great idea until we really have to dig deep and love.

GK Chesterton said: ‘We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour.’ The problem is – and it really is a problem – that, for the Christian, love isn’t an option or a fanciful idea we can take or leave: it’s a command. Jesus says so very clearly: ‘This is my command: Love each other’. And if this weren’t hard enough, the pinnacle of love, its very height and essence, isn’t half-heartedly tolerating people, putting up with them or bearing with them, it’s laying down your life for them. This is the kind of ‘greater’ love we are called to. Jesus said: ‘Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’

This is so challenging, so utterly beyond us, do difficult and frankly impossible that if we truly understood the call to love, we would throw up our hands in despair, sigh deeply and say, ‘This is impossible.’ Nevertheless, if we were open to the Holy Spirit we would hear him say to us: ‘What is impossible for you, for man, is possible with God.’ 

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For perhaps the key to understanding love, the self-sacrificing agape love of the gospel, which is prepared to love your enemy, who just happens to also be your neighbour, is that we can’t love like this without God’s grace and power. Perhaps we only truly begin to love when we reach the end of ourselves and recognise our complete inability to love in a self-sacrificing, giving-our-lives-for- others kind of way.

‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ, vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory himself, is truly hidden.’ (C.S. Lewis)

Fifth Sunday of Easter 2018

Dear Friends in Christ, 

The vine is frequently used in the Old Testament as a symbol of Israel. Israel is the vine, but Jesus is the true vine. Developing this analogy of the vine we learn that we are branches and branches need pruning. We cannot produce fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, unless we are pruned. Furthermore, we cannot produce fruit unless we remain in the vine.

Now in nature a branch doesn’t have much choice but to remain attached to the vine and because of this can produce the fruit of the vine – the grape – which gives us the blessing and fruit of wine. In the spiritual life, however, we can easily separate ourselves from the vine, and in order to remain with the vine (Christ) we enter the doorway of faith and take up the battle of prayer. vineThe idea or notion remaining in Christ is about practising the presence of God. We tend to think that professional religious people – months, religious sisters, the clergy – find it easier to ‘remain’ in Christ than we do. Their vocation obliges them to say the Daily Office and to cultivate an active prayer life. However, lay people are called to do the same. We may not say the Divine Office (although many do), but we can certainly practice the presence of God during our day.

Now we all this isn’t easy – we are easily distracted and often side-tracked. We can start off our day with the best intentions, but before we know it, the day is dragging us downwards, not upwards, and God’s presence seems very far away indeed. What are we to do when this happens? The answer will shock you: laugh, smile and rejoice. God knows we are easily distracted, God knows that we need help and strength to live in his presence.

vinesGod isn’t shocked by our weakness but rather assures us that when we are weak, then we are strong. We remain in God’s presence through taking simple steps, little gestures, and easy movements. Pray during the day today, ‘Lord have mercy on me a sinner.’ Or, ‘Lord, send forth you Spirit and renew the face of the dearth.’ These simple prayers over time, if we persevere, will allow us to live and abide in God’s presence during the day

Fourth Sunday of Easter 2018

Dear Friends in Christ, 

Today is ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life. c.pngJesus tells us in the Gospels that we must pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest. The old adage states: ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’! For us as Catholic Christians, our asking is our prayer, and if we don’t pray, then how do we expect the Lord to respond with provision of priests and religious.

Recent studies have determined that nearly all vocations to the Priesthood are rooted in the home, through the family. The example set by parents, in simple ways, by praying together, saying grace before meals, encouraging our young people to be involved with the Church, talking about the faith in mature and simple ways, not being ashamed of being a practising Catholic, having the courage to stand up for our beliefs, reading the Scriptures, reading spiritual books, having a real experience of the life of faith; the list is endless!

In truth, the reality of this present day is that there are fewer priests, especially in our own country and our own diocese. The recent Stewards of the Gospel initiative is addressing these issues. The possibility of priests assuming the responsibility of two and three parishes is on the horizon. So we truly do have to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send labourers into his harvest. We cannot rest on our laurels; if there is no priest, there is no Mass!

Fourth Sunday of Easter 2018

Dear Friends in Christ, 

Pope Francis caused quite a stir when, at the beginning of his Pontificate, with a memorable turn of phrase he encouraged the clergy to be ‘shepherds living with the smell of the sheep’. Later on in Evangelii Gaudium he said the same call extends to every believer because we are all called to be missionary disciples: ‘Evangelisers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice’. Now we all know that sheep don’t smell too good – come to think of it, neither does the shepherd. Herding, feeding and watering livestock of any mind is hard, manual, sweaty labour, out in all kinds of weather braving the elements. Shepherds have to be appropriately dressed and equipped – they are roughly dressed for rough work.

So who is the shepherd and who are the sheep? The Chief Shepherd is Jesus – he described himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ – and we are the sheep. To be likened to sheep isn’t a very flattering comparison. shepIn Animal Farm by George Orwell the sheep are easily led, in contrast to the pigs (very intelligent animals by all accounts) who are leaders. Sheep aren’t known for being especially intelligent – they wander, they stray, they graze all day, oh and they smell – but they are endearing, especially the baby lambs, and they provide us with wool and meat.

Nevertheless we are like sheep because we all go astray. We all wonder from the path of righteousness, we all follow the herd, and we all need the guidance of the Good Shepherd. We are all lost sheep and can only be found by the Shepherd. We have the smell of the sheep about us.painThe Good Shepherd leads us out of our cold indifference into the warmth of God’s merciful and compassionate love for everyone, but especially the little ones: the poor, the vulnerable, those who grieve and those facing difficult challenges. The Good Shepherd guides us to live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit and to produce the good fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’.

Third Sunday of Easter 2018

Dear Friends in Christ, 

We recently celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, the most important event within the whole history faith.pngof creation. Never before or since, has anyone triumphed over death & sin, and these facts are fundamental to our Catholic Christian faith!

One of the most difficult parts of Priestly Ministry is to try and ensure that all the faithful people of God remain engaged with the Lord Jesus. Preaching and teaching are the key components to ensure that the Gospel message continues to be proclaimed; but if many people are not present to hear the Word of God, if people who have fallen by the wayside through the lapsation of the practice of the faith; how do we engage these people once again? This is the sixty-four thousand dollar question! The saddest thing I have found as a priest of 37 years, is when I see young children not accompanying their parents to Mass anymore, the parents stand alone in the Church! I have had many parents speak to me through the years, telling me all sorts of things like – ‘I can’t get them to go anymore’; ‘I don’t want to force them’; ‘I can’t get them out of the bed’; ‘I don’t want to be fighting with them before mass’; ‘they’re playing sports on Sunday morning now’. Perseverance and continued example are important! Trying to talk about the importance of the practice of faith, not in a heated discussion, but rationally and calmly! Encouraging our children and young people to become more involved, can help them realise that they also have something very valuable to offer to God and the Church; whether it be through altar serving, reading at mass, being part of the welcome ministry at mass, helping with the Sacramental Preparation Programme of First Holy Communion, Joining one of the Uniform groups or training to be a leader in the groups, joining the Choir or Contemporary Music Group. These are just some suggestions.

share.pngWhen people actually really understand what their faith is all about, it really does help the individual to deepen their commitment. Having a wishy-washy attitude to the practice of faith doesn’t help anyone. Knowledge and understanding are the key to ingredients to having a lively faith and a commitment to Christ. 

Talk about the Faith.

May God Bless You All,

frJohn

Third Sunday of Easter 2018

Dear Friends in Christ, 

One of the remarkable things about today’s post-resurrection appearance of Jesus is that he ate broiled fish! Quite why the resurrected body infused with the very life of God, a body which had conquered sin and death, needed the nourishment of the broiled fish is hard to know – one to ponder for sure. r.pngAs fascinating as this would be as a theme for our reflection today, our focus is going to be elsewhere. Our focus is on how, despite appearing to his disciples, despite the hard physical evidence, Jesus nevertheless ‘opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures.’

From this Scripture we see that in order to graps the reality of the resurrection, the event of the bodily resurrection of a human being, suffused and transfused with the immortal life of God, it remained imperative that the disciples devoted their lives to understanding the Scriptures. In other words, the actual witness in real life and real time of the Risen Christ wasn’t enough for this profound transcendent reality to take root in their hearts and minds. It was through the Bible, the sacred Scriptures that the disciples encountered the Risen Christ, and this is still true for us today.

This is why reading the Bible is so foundational and essential in living the Christian life. Never was there a truer saying than ‘Bibles that are falling apart are read by people whose lives are not’. When Paul cried out, ‘I want to know Christ – yes to know the power of his resurrection’, God’s response was ‘If you want to know the power of the resurrection, read the Scriptures, devote yourself to devouring the Word of God.’ For Paul this would have been only the Hebrew Scriptures – he couldn’t have realised that his letters would one day be declared the sacred Word of God by the father of the Church.

bookSo there we have it; if we want the resurrection of Jesus to take root in our lives, if we want to experience God’s transforming us by the renewing of our minds; then we need to read the Bible, asking the Holy Spirit to warm our hearts and bring its truth alive.

Dear Friends in Christ

Dear Friends in Christ, Second Sunday of Easter 2018

Today we hear in our gospel the post resurrection story of Thomas, who was not present when the Lord first appeared to the Apostles. Thomas is the typical stereotype of those who refuse to believe unless they have physical proof; hence the expression ‘doubting Thomas’. But on his encounter with the Risen Lord, his doubt turns to faith, his fear turns to hope. But Jesus quite rightly says to Thomas, ‘You believe because you can see me, happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’thomas.png In the Life of faith, there is much that we will never fully understand completely, but the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and showed himself to his disciples and many hundreds of others, is a testament to the power of God, and evokes faith as a response!

Faith is God’s gift to each one of us, how we respond to that faith is something which is very personal. In an age that is far less conscious of the sacred and the holy, we see many people walking away from the practice of any kind for formal faith. What we learn and glean form our parents in the practice and understanding of our faith is invaluable; you will never be able to quantify everything learnt along the journey of life and faith, this will help our understanding, and more importantly the commitment that we make to the practice of the our faith. WE will hopefully be able to echo the words of our Lord to Thomas: ‘…happy are we who have not seen, and yet believe!’