Holiness is a call to all

This Sunday at the Mass in St Peter’s Square, the Pope Francis will be adding Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of San Salvador, to the list of saints. Pope Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini) will also be added. These two names are alongside two diocesan priests and two religious sisters: a German and a Spanish missionary in Bolivia.
Another person was added to the list, late in the day. He is an Italian man of 19 years, Nunzio Sulprizio, who was beatified in 1963. Nunzio is a little known apprentice blacksmith. Both his parents died while he was a child, and so his uncle took charge of him. Unfortunately, his uncle mistreated him in many ways, including forced labor in a blacksmith shop where on Nunzio’s shoulders enormous weights had to be carried over vast expanses. Nunzio eventually contracted gangrene and was sent to a hospital in Naples. He suffered immensely but found sustenance in the Eucharist. He eventually recovered, and then dedicated himself to be of service to other patients before cancer took his life just before his 20th birthday.  Daniele Palmer who reflects on his life in this weeks “Tablet”, points out he did nothing exceptional in the church, he did not found a community. His short life was full of pain and suffering. “He was a simple man, a young Catholic who became ill doing his job; whose hardships were met by prayers; whose faith was not an escape but an anchor that held him firm.”  This is fitting as the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” is in full swing. It is giving us a clear message that holiness is not restricted to priests, sisters, bishops and popes.  Holiness is a call we all receive. I think that it is harder to grow in holiness as a priest, nun or bishop because there is more in your life to make you complacent. There is always the temptation to think, “I’m alright Jack.” Holiness is living the ordinary life extraordinarily well. We are only able to do this if we rely on God’s grace, his power. St Paul says that he makes his weakness his special boast so the power of Christ may stay over him.  “For when I am weak then I am strong.” We thank God for the witness to holiness of great men like Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI but also the great witness of the ordinary folk, like Nunzio Sulprizio.

Unbinding Ourselves

I was visiting Oxford last week and went to the chapel of  New College. In the antechapel under the West window depicting a nativity scene based on a design by Sir Joshua Reynolds stand a large sculpture of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein that he carved in 1951. It stands about 12 feet high. It is said that Khrushchev, after a visit here, claimed that the memory of this haunting work kept him awake at night. Lazarus is still wrapped in the bands and his head is twisted halfway round so that his chin touches his shoulder. The wrists are bound tightly to the thighs. But the arms and elbows project away from the body. 

As I walk round this amazing piece of work I found myself uttering those words of Jesus, “Unbind him let him go” from the Gospel of John (11: 44).  Jesus had called his dead friend out of the tomb. He had set him free. We speak about the bond of marriage as in the first reading this weekend. God unites Man and Woman and in the gospel Jesus talks about God uniting two into one Body and this is life giving. But there is also much in our lives that bind us, constrict us, keep us in the dark tomb in a dead like state. We might be living our lives more dead than alive. There could be habits of sin that constrict us and make us prisoners. We need to hear the voice of Jesus calling us back to life.  He is the only one who can set us free. He calls us out into the sunlight and to live the new life of Easter given to us at our baptism. We are unable to free ourselves however much we try. It requires the healing grace and gentle voice of Jesus.  This will most certainly take place when we encounter Jesus is the sacrament of Reconciliation.
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Belonging to Christ or the Rubbish Dump

Do I belong to Christ or do I belong to the rubbish dump of life?

This is a question that Sylvester O’Flynn O.F.M. Cap.posed in his reflection on this Sunday’s gospel. Mark’s gospel gives us some challenging imagery of cutting off hands, feet, tearing out eyes should they cause us to sin.   Jesus is not advocating self mutilation in a literal sense. Sin does not reside in our hand or eye which might be its instrument. Sin is in the will. It is better to ask what these organs represent. Our hands are for welcoming and greeting, for serving and giving, healing and caressing, reconciling and uniting, praising the Lord  in work and prayer. Such hands belong to Christ. But hands can be cold and withdrawn: closed and off-putting, thieving and deluding: violent and hurtful: destructive and sinful. Such hands are already cut off from Christ. Feet are for going and mission: for standing firm in storm and trial: for bringing the good news. Such feet belong to Christ. But feet are also used for running away from responsibility: shifting with every passing wind or fad: marching with menace, terror or destruction. Such feet do not belong to Christ.

Eyes are windows of the soul: they let in God’s heavenly light and fill us with wonder, goodness and praise: windows that shine out with the love of God which is in the heart, through attentiveness caring and sharing. But these same eyes may be smudged and darkened. Those who do evil hate the light and avoid it less their actions should be exposed. Eyes can be darkly fascinated by lust and violence. Dark shifty eyes express hatred, prejudice and coldness.

Thus our hands, feet and eyes are made for God’s service. They are consecrated in baptism to be members of Christ’s body on earth today. But if we live contrary to Christ’s way, then we do not belong to him. We deserve the rubbish dump.  That is the meaning of what is translated as hell.

The word in the Greek text of Mark is Gehenna.  This was a steep ravine on the Western and Southern sides of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times  the valley was the setting for idolatrous worship (Jeremiah 7:31) and child sacrifice to the pagan God Moloch. It now served as a rubbish dump. A rubbish dump is never without a fire and the maggots and bacteria are ever busily decomposing all matter there. When Jesus spoke of Gehenna as a place of everlasting punishment, he was using imagery familiar to his listeners. As the commentator Fr Sylvester O’Flynn says”Preachers and artists down the centuries have exaggerated the image of fire beyond all proposition and context. Here it means the rubbish dump of wasted life and talent. Belonging to Christ or to the rubbish dump? Where does my life, every part of it, stand?

What is True Greatness?

Attitudes have changed since the time of Christ to children.  In first century Palestine society a child would symbolise not so much innocence, as a lack of social status and legal rights. In other words, a child was seen as a non person, totally dependant on others for nurture and protection. You were not expected to gain anything socially or materially from showing kindness to a child. So when Jesus took the child and embraced him he was correcting and instructing his disciples who were arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus, by putting the child in the middle of these men, was saying that this child, who is a social nonentity, is worthy of respect and care. Jesus is clearly saying that even the most apparently insignificant people are important because they too carry the name of Jesus and belong to him.

Jesus is challenging us today by showing us what true greatness is. He is calling us to humble service of others. We need to find Him and the Father in the most insignificant people. What the world sees as the important and significant people we need to listen to and take note of are not necessarily worthy of our attention and time.

This is not for me an easy lesson to hear. Jesus has a message that says;”triumph comes through suffering and humility”  Jesus talks about his coming passion and death but the disciples are not listening.  It is not what they want to hear.  This was the powerful message given to us by the life and work of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  She said: “The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.” She also said: “Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.”  Forget about being famous for fifteen minutes. Forgot about try to win the admiration and adulation of others. This is what Mother Teresa suggests should be our way of life. “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.”

Knowing more about the Catholic Church

As the memories of our holidays begin to fade, (if we ever went on holiday) term has started at school, College and University for children and young people. September is, for us at St Thomas of Canterbury parish, an opportunity to remind you of the opportunity for those who have never been baptised, those who have been baptised in another denomination and those baptised Catholic but have never been prepared for the Sacraments of Eucharist (First Communion) and Confirmation, to explore the possibility of becoming fully initiated as a Catholic Christian. This journey is in stages. There is no obligation to continue if you feel it is not for you. You can leave at any time.

The first part of the journey is known as the Inquiry Period where you have the opportunity to ask questions, to hear the Gospel, perhaps for the first time. It is also seen as a time for welcome and hospitality. As it says in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults: “Faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all.” So during this period the unbaptised hear the gospel for the first time, which challenges them and consoles them. During this period candidates (those who have already been baptised) will become aware of God’s activity and God’s love in their lives. The first period tries to provide initial spiritual discussion, introduction to the parish family and the formation of a basic foundational decision to follow Christ.

For those unbaptised who have attended this first stage they then enter what we know as the Catechumenate. The Rite describes this as when “the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teachings have taken root in them” Those who are already baptised (candidates) join the those who have yet to be baptised and express their intention for communion.

Our journey continues, as catechumens and candidates, through Lent to Easter. If those who are part of the journey of faith group feel ready, the catechumens will be baptised at the Easter Vigil and the candidates will be received into full communion in the Catholic Church and those who were baptised Catholic will be confirmed and receive Communion for the first time.

This is not the end of their journey and the group continue to meet till Pentecost for a period of post baptismal catechesis. This is an ideal time when catechumens and candidates reflect on the sacrament that they have experienced.

If you would like to know more about being a Catholic please fill out a preliminary form available at the back of the Church. A group of us meet together onTuesday evenings beginning Tuesday 25th September at 7:30pm.

Come and join us on this “Journey in Faith.” A journey of deeper conversion when we come to experience God’s overwhelming love for us.

Living the Gospel

I am writing this while with a HCPT Pilgrimage Summer group in Lourdes. I have missed all the news coverage of Pope’s visit to Ireland but from what I have seen on the internet, the secular press have concentrated on the issue of child abuse both in Ireland and the recent disturbing revelations in the USA. This is understandable as the reason for the Popes presence in Ireland was not news worthy enough. Pictures of placards held by protesters makes good copy.  No one is denying the seriousness of these dreadful crimes against children and young people. We will continue have to face this serious issue in our church. We need to keep our focus on the victims of abuse. Yet I see this issue is used as a stick to beat us. 
As I walked  in the Blessed sacrament procession on Sunday along with thousands of other pilgrims I felt very much part of a church that was focusing on healing and caring for the sick and vulnerable. The message of our Lady given to Bernadette was penance. She was asking us to have a change of heart. Mary was asking us to turn back to the love and healing of the Father. The call she gave was to care for the most fragile and the vulnerable. It wasn’t the powerful or important people that Mary asked to share her message but rather a fourteen year old girl who could neither read or write and who lived in one room with her three other siblings and her mother and father.
The thousands that turned out to hear and greet Pope Francis at the shrine in  Knock and in Phoenix Park clearly demonstrated the desire to focus on married and family love. Yes, Ireland is not the same Catholic country that Saint John Paul II visited 40 years ago. Just because the country is less Catholic today that doesn’t nullify the validity of the message of Jesus, the power of the Gospel and the mission of the Church. It means that we can’t be complacent about how we share the joy of the Gospel. There is much in our way of life today that mitigates against receiving Jesus as the way the truth and life.   Conviction will come from seeing this gospel lived in the lives of ordinary people. The Gospel cannot not be mere words of talk it needs to be alive and active in the lives of us all. This is what Jesus is saying to us when he quotes from the prophet Isaiah: 
This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.
I pray that the Spirit within us will transform us for that be people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

How to response to abuse in the Church

Pope Francis has responded to new reports of clerical sexual abuse and the ecclesial cover-up of abuse by writing an impassioned letter addressed to the whole People of God. In this letter he calls on the Church to be close to victims in solidarity, and to join in acts of prayer and fasting in penance for such “atrocities”. 
He writes : “To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence. To do so, prayer and penance will help. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.”
He says that the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within. Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.  The Pope is asking all of us as church to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame , the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.  He suggests that peace penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils.
Can I suggest that on Friday 14th September, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross we make this a special day of fasting and prayer. Let us fast on this friday so that we will hunger and thirst for justice and it will force to walk in the truth, “supporting all the judicial measure that may be necessary”.
Towards the end of his letter the pope says;  “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul. By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation. Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross. She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side. In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life. When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319).

 

Priest and People

I announced at all Masses last weekend that a new priest had been appointed as assistant  in our parish. I learnt last Wednesday that the particular priest  was not now going to come.”Plans had changed, “ I was told. Since then the Chancellor of the Diocese has managed to find a find a religious order priest who is able to help out till at least Christmas which is great news. I will be able to give you more details when I have met with the priest. 
This got me thinking about the role of the priest in the parish and his relation to the people.  Sharing the ministry of the bishop, the priest is a sacramental image of Christ the Good Shepherd.  The law of the Church gives the parish priest an ultimate responsibility for all aspects of parish life (including finance and administration, as well as Liturgy, catechesis pastoral care) for which he is answerable to the Bishop and the Diocesan Trustees.  But the priest does not lead and serve in isolation, but rather in collaboration and partnership with the whole parish community. It is essential that in this parish as in every parish there is full lay participation. This is because of the dignity and responsibility that flows from Baptism and Confirmation. There is great participation in our parish in areas of administration, liturgy, catechesis and prayer. I would like to encourage all in the parish to be involved as much as you are able. My dear friend Bishop Michael Evans who died 7 years ago, wrote “Encouraging lay people to take on such tasks .. is enabling men and women to live more fully their call to active and responsible participation in the life of the Church at every level and in the Church’s mission to the world.”  He went on to say “It is essential that the full dignity and equality of women be recognised. The development of lay leadership and other ministries should provide opportunities for great use of so many unused skills and resources, especially the often untapped intellectual and leadership skills of women in the Church.” I appreciate that many in our parish have limited time that must be given to the family. It is in our ordinary lives nourished each Sunday at Mass by the Word of God and the Bread of Life that we live and share our Catholic Life.

Food for the Journey

The Angel gives Elijah food to reach the Mountain of God               1 Kings 19:4-8
 
The first reading from the Book of Kings at Mass this weekend is a favourite reading of mine. Elijah had come off worse in his confrontation with Jezebel and so fled in the wilderness. He sat down under furze bush (broom tree) and wished he was dead. He can’t go on. It is all too much for him. Then he fell asleep. But an angel wakes him up and tells him to eat and drink the scone and the jar of water that have appeared by his side.  The angel tells him he cannot fall asleep again and he would not survive the journey without this food and drink. This nourishment sustained Elijah as he walked for forty days and night until he reached Horeb the Mountain of God.
 
We don’t hear in this reading that when he reached this mountain Elijah as an amazing encounter with God, not in the mighty wind, or in the thunder but in a gentle breeze. I love this reading because of the transformation that comes to the prophet when he is given food and drink.  He is revived and refreshed.  I am sure that in some way we can all identify with the experience of Elijah who has come the end of his tether.  He can’t take it any more and he just wants to lay down and die. He wants to give up. God’s gift of food refreshes him and changes him.
 
A friend of mine said that when things were difficult or chaotic in her life she didn’t come to church because she told herself she had no time, she was too busy and had too much to do. When circumstances changed and things were then she would return. But it is precisely when we are hungry, alone and down that we need the sustenanceof the presence of Jesus. God provides the energy and direction to the Israelites during their years of wandering in the desert. “Likewise, through the Eucharist Jesus provides vitality and meaning to us weak and frightened members of his flock. Care for his loved ones is one of God’s principal characteristics.”
 
Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk in his refection on todays passage writes; “We have all sat with Elijah under the broom tree thinking or saying, “This is enough O Lord!” But the same Lord who took care of Elijah and brought him to a deeper level of knowledge of God takes care of us and leads us into a closer contact with his goodness, a deeper knowledge of his love.”
 
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
 

Archbishop Oscar Romero to be made a saint

Last Wednesday it was announced that Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to Blessed Oscar Romero, the murdered Archbishop of San Salvador. This will mean that he will now be canonised as a Saint of the universal Church. This is good news for us as a Parish because in the martyrs chapel we have a second-class relic associated with him. In  1995 our parish donated a relic of St Thomas of Canterbury to the Diocese of San Salvador and in turn they gave us an alb and stole belonging to Archbishop Romero, which is now within a glass case in the wall of the martyrs chapel. Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until he was assassinated in 1980. He was initially regarded as a conservative choice, but he became increasingly outspoken about human rights violations in El Salvador – particularly after the murder of his close friend Father Rutilio Grande. From his Cathedral pulpit he became the voice of the voiceless poor. There, in a society of cover-up and lies, he spoke the truth of what was happening in the countryside; he denounced the killings, the torture and the disappearances of community leaders; he demanded justice and recompense for the atrocities committed by the army and police and he set up legal aid projects and pastoral programmes to support the victims of the violence. With the emergence of armed guerrilla groups on the far left, civil war loomed. Archbishop Romero, rejecting the violence perpetrated by the left as well as the right, strained every nerve to promote peaceful solutions to his nation’s crisis. He was vilified in the press, attacked and denounced to Rome by Catholics of the wealthy classes, harassed by the security forces and publicly opposed by several episcopal colleagues.
The death threats multiplied. Archbishop Romero realised he was going to be killed. And he came to accept it. At 6.26pm on March 24th 1980, with a single marksman’s bullet, he was killed while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence.   He died a Eucharistic martyr, a martyr to the option for the poor, a martyr to the Magisterium of the Church – and now he will be recognised as Saint Oscar Romero.
We are privileged to have in our Church the relics of two martyred archbishops who gave their lives upholding the truth.

“The only violence that the gospel admits is violence to oneself.
When Christ lets himself be killed, that is violence – letting oneself be killed.
Violence to oneself is more effective than violence to others. It is very easy to kill,
especially when one has weapons, but how hard it is to let oneself be killed for love of the people”.
Oscar Romero AUGUST 12, 1979