Saturday, 25 April 2015
Pope Francis famously said that the priests (shepherds) should smell like their sheep. I doubt he meant that in a literal sense, because not everyone smells the same. I would have to spend a fortune in getting aftershaves and perfumes to get the smell right! What he meant was that Priests should work closely with the people so as not to get out of touch with the congregations that come to worship together. The voice of the shepherd is to be recognised by the sheep.
When I was at school I was asked what job I wanted to do. The notion of being a teacher, a doctor, was thought about, just getting a job was a real issue as any kind of working wage would be good. School as wonderful as it can be, is a means to an end. Learning is good, but a preparation for life is part of that education. These days when asking a child what they want to do in life, many actually say I want to be on X factor or be a celebrity. It seems that the lure of wealth and fame are stronger than ever for young people. It heartens me when someone wants to be happy whatever career they are looking for.
Earlier when we were baptised, God asks us what do you want to do with life? How gifted is that life to you, how special how important the days of living are. That voice of God at baptism continues throughout a life of faith.
Pope John Paul II recently declared a saint said that “Each person must discover his or her own vocation and respond to it with generosity”
The voice of Jesus echoes throughout the life of a Christian. He calls us to be good, to be kind, to contribute in a positive way to our families, and our communities. Some he calls to priesthood and religious life, but all he calls to deepen a friendship with him, one that lasts and one that influences who we are, and the way we live.
Each of us has a role to play in the church in bringing about the Kingdom of God. Some are called to be priests, but are we able to listen? So many voices clash with Jesus’ as he calls to people. I am part of a generation that has lapsed dramatically from the practise of their faith. So many who have been baptised shrug their shoulders at the prospect of coming to church each week. It is a cause of great sadness for families when loved ones turn their back on living out their faith, and who no longer come to church. It is bewildering, as having been shown a good example people still lapse. It is a cross to bear, and the only way to bear that cross is to pray and pray harder for the lapsed.
As Catholics we are to deepen our faith, to learn about it, to pray, to come to Mass, put into practice the values of the gospel. We are to create the conditions in our lives, so that the voice of Jesus can be heard and acted upon. When Jesus calls us it may be to the vocation of marriage, to be a single person, a priest, a deacon, a religious. What he calls us all to do is to follow him and we can only do that by listening for him. We give ourselves a better chance of hearing his voice by embracing our faith, by making it somewhat of a priority amidst the many other tasks of life. Faith can underpin life, not be at the edges of it, faith can be so joyful, meaningful, rather than something we have to do once a week or month and get it out the way.
Jesus the shepherd, the gateway, bids us enter the gate and find life, that is an invitation to each of us, this day and every day.
Monday, 20 April 2015
Easter does not last just the one day, a feast day that is consigned quickly to memory, and leaves us to disappear under a mountain of uneaten chocolate. It is still Eastertide and will be for some more weeks to come. It becomes a time for joyful reflection and contemplation. Christ has risen, what does this mean for us and our every days? I see the cross and it looms large in life. The news headlines bring us a daily dose of the cross, senseless killings, tragic murders, hatred sweeping across nations, the cross is never far away. For Christians this is no surprise for Jesus reminds us in John 15:16-19
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another. If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”
When I see cross, I shudder, I can give in to despair at the capacity mankind has, to do harm to one another. Yet as I see the cross I am always to see that Christ overcame death and is risen from death, it has no power over him anymore. The Risen Christ is truly present to me, not just in country walks, admiring the beauty of creation, not just present in good food or the conversation with family or the interaction with friends. Jesus is not just present when people choose to live in harmony with one another, adopting the common good and celebrating life and its fullness. Jesus is not just present when all goes well, his presence is constant. When injustice and hatred seem to overwhelm, when the darkness of doubt and confusion clouds sight, when sin sweeps in destroying life with deception and lies, Jesus is present. It seems easy to say where is God? When the cross looms large, and yet God is present, and that for me is the essence of Easter. My faith is in the Cross and resurrection, where there is suffering God is not absent from it, his healing touch is poised ready, the Risen Lord standing in our midst saying “Peace be with you, It is I do not be afraid!” St Augustine said in his Confessions about God “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” God is continually seeking us, we can have the tendency to shut him out when suffering comes, or when the world seems full of the mistreatment of the innocent. Yet the Risen Lord is in our midst, reminding us about the truth of our lives. An Easter faith does not stand head bowed in grief at the suffering in the world. An Easter faith trusts in the risen Lord and lives accordingly.
The atrocities of Isis continue to dismay and distress. The sight of poor migrant workers from Ethiopia being marched out and killed for not renouncing Christianity, brings the world to a level of barbarism that does not belong in it. There are those in our own country who refuse to condemn such acts, who remain silent as people who represent their faith commit such evil. This does not bode well for the future. If these evil men and women who kill innocent people do so unopposed, then there can be little hope of them ceasing their actions.
As I go through the manifesto’s of the political parties of our nation it is increasingly difficult to cast a vote for any of them. Christianity is not seen as a platform for society, rather a millstone around the neck. Equality rather than fairness, correctness rather than justice, self-gain rather than the worth of the weak and vulnerable runs through each promise and reason given. Most depressing! I hope that a glimmer of light can emerge soon, so as to cast a vote in conscience and good intention.
On a lighter note.
Villa have made it through to Wembley for the FA Cup final! After a very trying season which still is not certain of ending without tears, it was great to watch a performance of pride and skill light up the Wembley turf. Well done for getting to the final, and fingers crossed for staying up!
Saturday, 18 April 2015
The humanity of Jesus is always present throughout his ministry.
In the gospels we witness his sadness, when he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. He was able to maintain and develop good friendships with his disciples, he showed anger when he was faced with injustice, turning over the tables in the temple. He showed compassion time and again especially when the woman was about to be stoned to death for adultery, asking the one who has not ever sinned to throw the first stone. He showed his generosity at the wedding at Cana, turning the water into wine.
Time and again he reassures his disciples, telling them not to be afraid. He experienced fear and temptations in the wilderness, and in the garden at Gethsemane. He died on the cross, a selfless act of love. Jesus’ humanity was on show and that humanity was full of warmth, joy, compassion and is a humanity that encourages all who would strive to follow him.
Jesus humanity was transforming for others. He touches lives in a way that changes, challenges, heals.
His humanity was resurrected, as we see in the gospel today and with this is the revelation for the disciples of his divinity too. All the human qualities of Jesus that inspired them to follow him, were not lost to death, but in his rising from death, Jesus became the hope for eternal life.
He stands amongst the disciples in the gospel today and says “Peace be with you!” A remarkable scene, he calms fears and reassures doubt. He eats with them and he gives a mission to the disciples and all in the most gentle of ways.
Jesus is truly gentle of heart and encourages us to be the same.
We live as people who are aware of the risen Christ in our midst. That gentle presence of Jesus encourages us, to be his disciples, to not be afraid, but to be bold in our proclamation of his kingdom. He says to us “Peace be with you!” and reminds us that he is with us always.
Friday, 17 April 2015
The “Me First” Culture
I read with interest about a meeting of church reformers in Ireland this week hosted by “Silenced” priest Tony Flannery, who claims he is happy not to be a practicing priest anymore, because the Church is so very bad.
I am all for reform, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman said “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Reform, to be closer to the will and person of Jesus Christ, is the goal of every Christian. On a daily basis at the end of each day during night prayer, there is an opportunity to make an examination of conscience. Christ is at the heart of genuine reform.
The problem with reform groups who express dissatisfaction with every aspect of the church, is that they are “so up themselves” to borrow a phrase from popular culture, that they have lost objectivity and as a result of this, lost all credibility too. Christ has been replaced by “Me” and “Me” or the church in my own image, is the goal.
It is hard to miss the irony of a silenced priest announcing he was to be engaged in a speaking tour! The “Me First” attitude is prevalent in dissenting Church reformers, how quaint to label themselves reformers when in reality they are dissenters. They are busy making capital from the Church they appear to outsiders to despise. I note this group was meeting in a closed forum, only invited likeminded guests were welcome to this party. Two phrases from the Irish Times article sum it up for me when “Silenced” priest Tony Flannery said:
One of the consequences of the discussions was that ”we were unable to celebrate Eucharist together, as we had planned, and instead had a prayer service”
And that our silenced Tony said he was
You could not write this stuff or make it up, but wait, it is the 20th anniversary of Fr Ted…you can make it up! Fr Ted was funny, in a subjective sort of way, but these reforming dissenters are not funny, tragic perhaps. I was discussing the ACP a body of priests who were formed in Ireland to air their grievances the other day, “what does it stand for?” one said. Another said, “it is the association of comedy priests; with the strap line; laugh out loud opinion, and dodgy theological discussions.
Reform is about prayer, it is about Christ at the centre. I am all for reform.
The article about the "reformers" can be found here Irish Times
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
An Easter Springtime
An Easter springtime
of youthful hope,
life becomes invigorated,
touched by the risen hands of love;
immersed in this joyful interaction,
intoxicated by fulfilled belief,
that transcends, while it mends broken living,
putting the pieces back together,
so that once again the whole person
sinks gratefully upon bended knees,
devotion washes over each believing frame,
like a merciful, unending ocean of grace;
the empty tomb, the garden, the flowers
elements that herald this new life,
and a fresh season for all of mankind;
a true presence, the reality of resurrected flesh
of an Easter springtime!
Fr. Patrick Brennan © 2015 all rights reserved
Priesthood: A Good Example
We need a good example to be a priest
To be inspired to be led to its feast
When did the call stir deep within?
When was love allowed to come in?
An ancient memory flickered bright
From the embers of one servants delight
A smile that radiated from their heart
Filling the soul with joy from the start
A sense of purpose, a mission embraced
Weakness acknowledged, problems faced
From each priests face, a vocation forms
Encouragement flows, a good idea warms
An icon of Christ is the template for a priest
The sacrifice, the banquet of heaven’s feast!
Fr. Patrick Brennan © 2015 all rights reserved
Sunday, 12 April 2015
Thomas: My Lord and my God!
The gospel for Mass this second Sunday of Easter has the disciple, Thomas the twin, taking a prominent role. He is not with the disciples when Jesus appears after his resurrection, and because of this he demands proof of the fact that Christ was alive. Given the fact that Jesus had died on a cross not so many hours ago and Thomas had been told about the death, it is not surprising that Thomas demands proof.
What strikes me about the gospel passage is the fact that Thomas was not with the disciples and also he was not present at the death of Jesus on the cross. I wonder as I pray the words of this gospel, where had Thomas gone? All the other disciples were cowering in fear, holding onto each other for support, the overriding emotion was fear. Fearful because the authorities had killed Jesus, now surely they would be coming for them.
Had Thomas gone out for a walk by himself? That would be dangerous, he may have been seen and as a known disciple of Jesus, he may have been put into custody. Did he just want to be by himself? Earlier in the gospel Thomas had declared to Jesus. "Lord we don't know where you are going and how can we know the way?” After Jesus had spoken about going to prepare a place for them. I suspect Thomas wanted time on his own to grieve. He wanted time to come to terms with his loss.
I always understand faith as the Cross and the resurrection, you can’t isolate one event from the other. Thomas had fled and not seen the cross of Christ, now he had fled the room and had not witnessed the Risen Christ either. He had missed the two central events of meaning for who Jesus was.
On returning to the Upper Room the overriding emotion for the other disciples was joy and peace, fear had diminished and the disciples were ready for action. Perhaps as Thomas walks back in, he was ready to accept the death of Jesus and was ready to move on. Being told that Jesus was alive may have made him feel a little bit annoyed! I can almost hear him saying “You mean I missed the appearance of the Risen Lord? What a fool I have been!” I would have been miffed too, annoyed with myself and slightly annoyed too at the joyful faces of the disciples! He had perhaps just come to the peaceful decision to get on with his life and now everything was turned upside down again! Thomas’ response to seeing the Risen Christ is impressive. He says “My Lord and my God!” and in saying these words he is not heard of again in the gospels. His role has been told. He comes in with a cloud of gloomy doubt surrounding him, but he ends with an expression of great faith “My Lord and My God!” I must say I do like Thomas! In Thomas the essence of our Christian faith in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, comes together in that prayer he utters. “My Lord and My God!”
Thomas had wanted to be alone in grief. I can understand this, but I also see that the support of loved ones can help to soften the blow of grief. People can choose to pray in the garden by themselves, but they can choose to come together in worship each week and find support and fellowship in that gathering for the Eucharist.
We are never truly alone as Christians, the temptation is to go off by ourselves and worship God in our own way, yet the experience of the Last Supper, and the Cross and Resurrection is that together we are proclaiming our faith. My Lord and my God is a cry from the heart, a cry that breaks forth in joy in the presence of the Risen Christ! This presence is real in the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread, in the consecration, in the host, and coming together for Mass is a strengthening, a nourishing. Indeed the Mass is a necessary part of the longing of our hearts to be satisfied. The Eucharist, the real presence of Christ enables us to make that profession of faith that was on Thomas’ lips “My Lord and my God!”