Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent ( A ) 2020

            “He told me all I have ever done” the Samaritan woman told the other Samaritans. Imagine that: someone being able to see all you’ve ever done. It reminds me of  Saint Padre Pio; that when you went to confession to him he could read your soul.   Well Jesus could certainly read this woman’s soul. She had had by all accounts what we could call a “colourful life”. Clearly, she was not popular with the other women who saw her as a threat to their husbands. 

            So, notice, when she went to the well she went on her own. She is alone; ostracised by the decent woman of that town. She was bad news and to be avoided. And yet Jesus, who knew all this, doesn’t avoid her nor condemn her. “He told me all I have ever done”. We just get an abbreviated version of all she had ever done: that she had had five husbands and was now living in sin with someone else. There was much more to this lady’s colourful life, but we are spared the details. Jesus doesn’t condemn her, on the contrary, he sees her potential, that she could change, become a better person.  In fact, Jesus sees that she can become one of his followers. 

            There was something about the meeting with Jesus, his gentle, non-judgemental manner, that touched this Samaritan woman deeply.  He knew all about her past yet he didn’t condemn her as others had done. Sometimes she hated herself. She didn’t like the person she had become but what could she do; she was resigned to her lot.  And yet, this man, this stranger, gives her such hope. Jesus tells her that he is the long-awaited Messiah; “I who am speaking to you, said Jesus, I am he.” 

            At that moment she is a changed woman.  She had come to the well to collect water. She was thirsty. But now she forgets all about the water and goes back into town. Notice, she doesn’t stroll back as she had strolled out, no, we are told she “hurried back”, she ran. She couldn’t wait to tell the others about this man she had met, who said he was the Messiah.  This reminds me of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who when they discovered their companion was Jesus they couldn’t wait to tell the others. The Samaritan woman must have been convincing because the people came out of the town to see and listen to Jesus themselves.  “Now, they say, we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.” 

            You see this woman, this one-time sinner, has now become a follower of Christ. She has been so deeply touched by him that her heart is burning with love. She reminds me of another great sinner, Mary Magdalene. Like Mary her first thought was to tell others about the man she had met. This is what happens when people are touched by the love of God. So, we should never judge anyone whom others look down on. Today’s public sinner can be tomorrow’s saint. It is love that can do this; love can change even the hardest sinner. But we are all sinners. We are all in need of God’s merciful grace. During Lent pray for the grace of conversion, pray to understand the love God has for us in spite of all our faults and failings and even sinfulness. Then share that love with others. 

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent ( A ) 2020

 There is a link between Knock and the Transfiguration.  It might sound an odd thing to say but both have to do with light. It is a privilege to be here in Knock where many years ago several people saw a vision of Mary, Joseph, John the evangelist and the Lamb of God. Even though it was raining at the time, and hasn’t stopped, they figures were bathed in light. And the seers waited in the rain for two hours until the vision disappeared. 

At the Transfiguration it wasn’t raining but there was a similar bright light. The gospel writer describes how Jesus face ‘shone like the sun and his clothes became as bright as the light’. No wonder the three disciples were mesmerized as were the Knock visionaries: this isn’t something you see every day. It’s Peter, speaking for the others, who says to Jesus “it is wonderful to be here; if you wish I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ I suspect that the Knock visionaries would have stayed a lot longer too had the vision not disappeared. Similarly, you remember how Bernadette of Lourdes went back time and again to the Grotto. It was wonderful to be there. 

Jesus doesn’t take up Peter’s offer. He wanted to build three tents. A tent is what you construct when you intend to stay somewhere. Peter and the other disciples were happy to be there; they were more than happy, they were out of their minds with happiness. This was heaven on earth. No wonder they wanted to stay there. But Jesus takes them down the mountain. He didn’t want them to stay on the mountain top but to return to the market place, in other words to the real world. Another way of describing this is to say: Jesus took them out of their comfort zone. 

There’s an even better example of leaving your comfort zone in the first reading; God tells Abraham to leave his country, family and go to a far-away place he didn’t know. I don’t know if any of you have lived in far-away places but it can be a challenging experience. You don’t know the language and for the first months you speak like a child, it’s humiliating; the food is different, customs are different. All your family and friends are so far away. You can feel terribly lonely at times.  But what does God tell Abraham in order to encourage him to say “yes”; He tells Abraham; “I will bless you and make your name famous… All the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”  So Abraham has a choice, remain in his comfort zone and do good work, or go out of his comfort zone and do extraordinary things for God. 

In life God sometimes asks us to step outside our comfort zones. Like the 3 disciples on the mountain, like Abraham, it isn’t easy to say “yes” to God. If it was easy then more people would do it. Abraham could have said to God: “I’m not very well. I’ve got a doctor’s certificate to prove it.” Or, “why are you asking me? Why not ask someone else; I’m too old to be doing such a thing. Besides, God, you ask anyone and they’ll tell you I’m doing a good job here, so why take me away from it”. Abraham could have said these things but he didn’t. He put his faith in God and stepped out of his comfort zone and as a result achieved greatness.  

There is a temptation in life to remain where we feel most comfortable. Peter, James and John wanted to remain on the mountain: “Jesus, we are happy here. We’ll stay if you don’t mind. Thanks very much. Give our regards to the folks back home”. But Jesus challenges them to come down the mountain and back into the market place, into the real world. As a result they became saints; they became the pillars of the Church. 

Jesus calls each and every one of us to greatness, to holiness: it’s not the preserve of St Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, or Therese of Lisieux. But in order to achieve this we shall have to leave our comfort zones. It won’t be like Abraham, to go to a foreign land. It usually isn’t anything so dramatic. No, God isn’t like that. But He does challenge us to grow. Wasn’t it Saint John Henry Newman who said “to change is to grow and to become perfect is to have changed often”.  We were called to Carmel to change; to become what God wants us to be, which is far greater then we can imagine.  We were called to do great things for the Church and the world. 

Homily 1st Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent ( a ) 2020

Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. I don’t suppose any of us have done that. I find it hard to fast for 1 day, never mind 40?  Many people didn’t even fast on Ash Wednesday when we are supposed to!  I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to fast. But Jesus didn’t just fast, he was also tempted. Now that’s something we are all more familiar with. But what about the temptations of Jesus: turning stones into bread, or throwing yourself down from a tall building or kneeling down to worship satan?  Are these your kind of temptation? I don’t suppose so. 

The truth is we didn’t have to go into the desert, and fast there for 40 days, and then endure these three temptations. Jesus did it all on our behalf. He did it in order to overcome our sins. The first reading tells us that we were responsible for bringing sin into the world. Our first parents, Adam & Eve, messed things up badly for the rest of us. There was no hope of getting back into the garden of Eden. That is until Christ came along. He made it all possible. This is what St Paul tells us in today’s second reading. 

Paul knew that Christ had paid the debt for the sin of Adam & Eve. Listen to what St Paul says; ‘If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall [ie., Adam’s], it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous.’ Notice those words, ‘the free gift that he does not deserve’. 

Christ offers us forgiveness as a free gift. In other words, he doesn’t charge us. He doesn’t say “you owe me”. He offers us forgiveness and the freedom that that brings. Not just to good people but to all: good and bad. It is a free gift that, as St Paul says, we ‘don’t deserve’.  But the trouble is some people don’t believe this. 

The free gift of Christ is one of the hardest things for us to understand. It runs against the grain. There is a popular expression in Lancashire or is it Yorkshire: “you get ought for nought”. In other words you have to pay for everything. But it’s not just Yorkshire people this refers to but many of us. This way of thinking doesn’t believe in free gifts.   And so, applying that to our faith, some people cannot accept God’s gift of forgiveness as a free gift. No, “you get ought for nought”. In their way of thinking you have to earn your own salvation. 

Christ offers us all a free gift. Don’t reject it because you feel you don’t deserve it. The truth is we don’t; no one does. If we can learn about the free gift that God is offering us, it will make a huge difference to our lives. God in Christ has done the hard work: the fasting the 40 days and nights, the temptations, the passion, suffering and death; we just reap the benefits. 

The person who believes in God’s gift of grace is blessed indeed. St Therese of Lisieux, ‘the little flower’, understood this: that it isn’t about our efforts, our determination, or self-discipline. No, all is grace; all is gift.  When God in Christ offers us this gift, don’t turn Him away; don’t say, “you get ought for nought.”  Say rather, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. Thank you for your gift of forgiveness”.