My homily for the 7th Sunday of the Year

7thSunday of the Year ( C ) 2019

            When I looked at the readings today I wondered what to say in this homily. The gospel seemed too idealistic, Jesus words too much for us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. And Jesus goes on in the same vein, “to the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too”. And for a while I thought I need to water this down a bit, make it palatable to those who come to the 12.15 mass. I felt I had to almost rewrite the gospel in such a way that people wouldn’t switch off, as they would when you ask the impossible: “Love your enemies…bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. But deep down I knew I couldn’t do this; how could I water down the Gospel message, as if I understood people better than Christ. 

            My dilemma was resolved when I read the other readings that we have just heard; how, for example, David forgave Saul, even though he tried to kill David. Saul was jealous of David, and this jealously turned to murderous hatred. Yet when David had the opportunity to kill his persecutor he didn’t, he wouldn’t. Those who were with David couldn’t understand why not. But it was the psalmist who helped me most understand the message of the Gospel. Our refrain was: ‘The Lord is compassion and love’. 

            The psalmist tells us: ‘it is he (God) who forgives all your guilt… He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults. As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins’. Now this is something to reflect on for a moment: our sins. All of us have sinned, no one in this church has never sinned. And sometimes are sins are big sins, really big sins. Sometimes the sins are so big that the sinner cannot forgive him or her self. In their hearts they know they deserve to be punished and some people will do that, they will literally punish themselves in one way or another. They refuse to believe that God can forgive them.  

            It is one of the greatest graces of priesthood when someone in this situation comes to confession and asks God for forgiveness.  To get to this point they must have received the grace to allow God to forgive them. They have learned that great truth that the God we believe in is a God of mercy and compassion, as the psalmist told us; ‘the Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy’.  No matter who you are, no matter what you have done the Lord is there to forgive. And He asks His followers to do the same: “as I have forgiven you so you must forgive others.” It is only in this light that we can begin to understand those commands of the Lord: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly’. 

            An English poet, Alexander Pope, said something that sums up what I want to say: “To err is human to forgive divine”. We have all erred in life at some time or other, and some have erred many times. And most people I know regret it; they wished they hadn’t done wrong. We can offend, we can say the wrong thing, we can do the wrong thing. Our actions can have consequences on others, we can even destroy relationships. As I say, most people I know regret the mistakes they made. Many would like to start again. But surely, if Alexander Pope is right when he said “to err is human” he was also right when he said “to forgive is divine”. This is the message of the Gospel: learn to forgive other the harm they do to you.  

            Today’s gospel finishes with the words of Christ “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate… grant pardon, and you will be pardoned”.  So, yes, the Gospel message is idealistic. To love an enemy may seem impossible, but not for God. To forgive someone who has given us great offense may seem impossible, but not for God. Ask God to help you to forgive. To err is human, to forgive is divine. We can so easily err; now we who claim to be followers of Christ must learn to forgive. It is probably the hardest thing a human being is called upon to do; but we can do it, or rather, God can do it in us. It will help you do this if you reflect sometimes on the times you have offended God and been forgiven. 

My homily for 6th Sunday

6th Sunday of the Year ( C ) 2019

            If you wanted to reduce Jesus teaching to a few words, look to the Beatitudes. Everything Christ wanted to say to us is contained in these few lines.  When you begin to read them they seem innocent and easy enough. The first one is ‘Happy are you poor; yours is the Kingdom of God’. Not too threatening, not too challenging. The next is similar: ‘Happy are you who are hungry now; you shall be satisfied.’  But then they become more challenging, to say the least: ‘Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of man.” Not so easy. But there are people today, Christians, who live according to the Beatitudes, and they are special people, they are Saints. 

One such person is our Carmelite Bishop in Nicaragua. As you may or may not know hundreds of people have been killed in that catholic country because the government feels threatened by those who seek justice and peace. Our Bishop Silvio is one of those people. As a result of his stand, his refusal to be silenced by the threats to his life,  he has been officially declared an enemy of the State. He knows that he could be murdered any time by someone who believes he or she is doing the right thing. 

            Five days ago was the anniversary of the murder of Sr Dorothy Stang, a Notre Dame nun from Ohio, who gave her life for the poor. She died in a remote part of Brazil trying to protect the rainforests from unscrupulous businessmen who had no concern for the environment. The rainforests, as you know, are the lungs of the earth. Sr Dorothy refused to be silenced even when she was put on a death list; she knew her life was in danger. When the two killers approached her they asked if she was armed. She didn’t run away, but immediately opened her bible and began to read the beatitudes, including the words, “Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man”.  She was a brave woman who like our Bishop Silvio in Nicaragua, put her trust in the Lord.

            We will probably not have to give our lives like Sr Dorothy, but we are called to follow the Beatitudes; to trust in God, to follow his ways. If we are people of faith then we can. We will be like that tree Jeremiah refers to in the first reading; ‘A blessing on the man or woman who puts their trust in the Lord… They are like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream; when the heat comes it feels no alarm… and never ceases to bear fruit’.  The psalmist drives home this point when he says; “Happy the person who has placed their trust in the Lord”.

            When you trust in God He can do amazing things in you and through you. Sometimes people are amazed at how they have come through a trial. How they have coped with the loss of a spouse. Some people will say to them, “I could never do what you did”. But they could. We all could. When youput your trust int eh Lord He helps you to cope. No matter what the trial God will give you all the help you need to succeed.

            If you trust in God, then it will be His strength working in your and through you. Sr Dorothy wasn’t a superwoman. Bishop Silvio isn’t a superman. They are like us; they are frightened. But they don’t give in to their fear; they put their trust in God and it is He who gives them the courage to carry on. All we have to do is to become more and more people of faith. 

My Homily for 5th Sunday 2019

5th Sunday of the Year ( c ) 2019

Isaiah is so right about human nature in today’s first reading; we so often see the worst in ourselves.  “What a wretched state I am in! says the Prophet,  I am lost for I am a man of unclean lips”. So many people could and do say that today.  They wouldn’t use the words “unclean lips” they would more likely say simply “a sinner”: “I am lost for I am a sinner”. Indeed, isn’t that what Peter says in the Gospel. He falls as Christ’s feet and says, “Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man”. Peter felt the full weight of his sins when he was in the presence of Christ. It was if a light had shone into his heart, showing Peter all that was dark. Peter felt so uncomfortable he asks the Lord to leave: “leave me Lord, I am a sinful man”.

The presence of priests can also make priests feel uncomfortable. How often have I gone into a crowd of people, and someone will say, “watch your language lads, here’s the priest”.  People can feel uncomfortable in the presence of a priest or a nun. Not that they would say “I am lost, for I am a sinner”. The truth is that we are all sinners. We all have “unclean lips”. When someone asked Pope Francis at the beginning of his pontificate how he would describe himself, he replied, “I am a sinner”.  He wasn’t being pious or modest, he was telling the truth. No one is without sin except God and our Blessed Lady. 

God chose Peter and the others not for their holiness, because they weren’t holy. Peter was a man who worked with his hands; he lived to fish; literally, this is how he learned his living. He didn’t, we can presume, go to university, and he probably was too busy to go to the synagogue each day. Peter was like so many people; he was painfully aware of his shortcomings and even his sinfulness. But Christ didn’t turn away from him. He didn’t tell Peter that he had made a mistake, that he would look for someone else, someone more holy. No, he was satisfied and more than satisfied with Peter’s words: “I am a sinful man”.

This self-acclaimed sinner was to become the rock on which Christ built his Church. The Apostle to inspire all the others. Christ wasn’t looking for perfection, for sinlessness, he was looking at the heart, at the potential as to what this person could become. And he does the same for us too. 

            The Lord calls each and everyone of us, from the moment of our baptism, to be his followers. It’s no good saying, “what me? You must be joking. You’re having a laugh”. The Lord isn’t laughing. He’s serious. If he waited to choose those who were without sin, then he would be waiting till now and the end of eternity. Instead, he choses us; pathetic sinners that we are, with all our faults and failings, to be his followers. He entrusts to us the task of telling others about the Good News. For the truth is, if we don’t who will? 

And don’t say, “well, that’s the priests job”. Have you noticed we are getting fewer and fewer. Some priests are now running, not just one, not just two, but three Churches. No, if you don’t see this as your responsibility then the Good News of Jesus Christ will not be heard. We are in this together. If you feel very ordinary, even if you feel terribly unworthy, so much the better. 

So, yes, like Peter, like me, you are sinners: welcome to the human race. Jesus didn’t leave Peter as he asked him too, but instead he called him to be his disciple. We too are called to be Christ’s disciples; he needs you, the Church needs you; the world needs you.