Sunday, October 15, 2017

MANY ARE CALLED BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN: A homily for the Twenty-Eight Sunday in Year A (Matthew 22:1–14)

 The audio is here.
“Many are called but few are chosen.”  Are we to take this statement literally?  What does our Lord mean?  Are there those who are doomed to be excluded from Heaven?  Why can’t everyone but the worst people go there?  Surely most people get to go to Heaven because most people are not murderers or rapists or thieves?  Surely Hell is nearly empty?  How many will be saved in the end?  Elsewhere in the Gospels our Lord refuses to answer the question of how many will be saved.   He will not answer the question.  Why?
To understand our Lord we must understand a few things.  First the passage I have just read must be understood in the context of our Lord’s confrontation with His fellow Jews who will not believe in Him.  For generations, centuries, they had been promised a Divine intervention, a Saviour who would grant them the power to truly keep the Law.  Our Lord is the fulfillment of these promises.  He is God made flesh for us, the Word of the Father, the True and Perfect Lawgiver, and they owe Him obedience and worship.  They have been called to the Wedding that is the Kingdom promised to them but have made excuses, preferring the things of this world to those of the next.  Therefore, our Lord points out that the Gospel will be directed to those who are outcasts, the sinners, the Gentiles, us.  Yet there is a condition on entering the Kingdom even for us; it is not a blanket welcome.  The wedding garment that is asked of us may be the Sacrament of Baptism, or faith in Christ as God made man or a life of virtue.  Indeed the wedding garment made of all three.
The “few” might mean that there are very few who will get to Heaven or that few among the Jews will or that few will freely co-operate with God’s grace and seek the heights of holiness.  The “many” obviously means all mankind for, as St Paul says, “God wants everyone to be saved.”  Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we read that “many will come from East and West” to take the places in the Kingdom that should have gone to the Jews.  The passage, therefore, is not entirely clear.  Why does our Lord leave it so vague?
The reason our Lord refuses to answer the question of how many will be saved and does not clarify what he means by “many are called but few are chosen,” is that He wishes us to avoid two extremes, two dangers.  These two dangers to be avoided are those of despair and complacency.  If we think that few are saved, as many fundamentalist Protestants do, then we risk driving others and even ourselves into despair.  On the other hand, if we think that few will be lost and most of us are going to heaven, there is the risk of complacency.  The complacent make no effort to produce the fruit that our Lord asks of us while those who despair no longer try to avoid evil.  Neither seek to repent and to change and make no effort to convert others to Christ.   The complacent do so because they do not believe in God’s justice while those who despair do not believe in God’s mercy.
The Catholic understanding of our Lord’s teaching is that we do not know who is saved, apart from the canonized saints of the Church, but neither do we know who is lost.  “Count no one lost before the day of Judgment” say the Fathers of the Church.  They would add though that neither should we presume on our own salvation.  St Paul tells us that we should do as he does and strive like an athlete in the Olympic games not to win a medal but to win eternal life.  St Peter says that we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  By this he means that we must avoid despair by making every effort to do our Lord’s will and co-operate with His grace but also know that without final perseverance we cannot be saved.  We should fear and loathe evil, any sin of any kind, especially our own sins, while trusting that God is merciful to any and all who turn to Him.  Now is the time that we have for salvation.  Now is the time we have been given to win the race and enter Heaven.
What of those we love who no longer practice their Faith?  What of those immersed in second unions, bogged down in addiction, or heedless of God’s commands?  What of brothers and sisters, children and friends who have turned their back on God or so it seems?  What about them?  St Therese of Lisieux once took it into her heart to pray for a condemned murderer.  She prayed earnestly for him and just before he was about to be executed he reached out, seized the crucifix the priest was holding and kissed it.  This she took to be a sign of sincere repentance and that the man was saved.   Only God knows how long he may have had to spend suffering in purgatory but at least he was on the way to Heaven.

If we want to see our loved ones saved then we must take our own salvation seriously.  As a Russian saint said “become a saint and you will save a thousand souls.”  God wants everyone to be saved for the very small price of faith, a gift He has given to all though many neglect to unwrap it.  When we seek to become holy we become reservoirs of grace and when we pray sincerely and earnestly for others we become channels of Divine grace to them.  We may not see the fruits of our prayers in this life but God always rewards faithfulness and obedience.  He wants us to put our whole faith and trust in Him, to let Him be the center of our lives.  When He is at the center then everything falls into its proper place and our lives and the lives of others are transformed.  This is our time to become saints.  We are running the race now.  Let us not get distracted, fall away and lose.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

REPENT AND OBEY a homily for the 26th Sunday in Year A

You can listen to the audio here.
Think for a moment how much advertising we are subject to.  Chances are it is only the more obvious stuff that we notice.  We are the objects not just of attempts to get us to buy more, but of attempts to get us to think in certain ways.  Modern psychology and technology have furnished the tools to do so.   While some of these messages are harmless there is much that is at variance with the Gospel.   These are the false or pseudo-gospels that sound like Christianity but are not.  One big idea being pushed is that we should ‘follow’ our heart or our feelings.  We are being taught and urged to deal with important issues by our feelings and not by reason.  Yet reason is a God-given faculty of the soul.  It enables us to do solve problems in all aspects of our lives, to do science and to understand the mysteries not only of the Universe but, to a certain and limited extent, even those of God.
In last week’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel we were reminded that we labour for the Lord in the Lord’s vineyard, that is this world and not for ourselves.  We labour by doing our duty to our spouse, family, employers, neighbours and our pastors, while avoiding and opposing evil and doing good.  The work we do is the cultivation of the virtues and the doing of good works.   Part of this labour is the rejection even of evil thoughts for “Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart” and if evil thoughts are not rejected they become the root of evil words and deeds.   In this Sunday’s passage the son who was disobedient was first disobedient in his thoughts before he disobeyed in action.  The other son, though likewise disobedient in his words, responded to grace and obeyed, thus earning his father’s blessing.
That’s what the Lord wants of us: repentance and obedience.  Our Lord is not saying sinners are going to Heaven without repentance.  There can be no salvation without repentance and confession of our sins and subsequent obedience to God’s will.  What our Lord is saying is that there are those who are listening to the Gospel call to conversion, repenting of their sins and turning to a life of holiness and that this is a sign to us of God’s power and action in the world.  It is happening.  Within the last few months I have heard the confessions of those who were years away from the Faith, living evil lives, who have now returned to Christ and His Church.  As the Fathers of the desert would say “Count no one lost before the Day of Judgment.”  They would also add that we should never presume on our own salvation.
Our God and Saviour demands a real conversion from us, a conversion manifested by obedience not just to the Natural Law, the law of right and wrong that is known to our reason, but even to the higher law of self-sacrificing love.  Only by repentance and conversion to obedience to the Lord can we attain Eternal Life.  We cannot stay the same and claim to be Christians.  If we do not seek to change and grow in holiness then we are sliding back into evil and growing old in wickedness.  We do not get to decide right and wrong for ourselves.  Right and wrong have been decided by God from the beginning of creation.
The Lord is telling us that it does not matter that we have not obeyed at once, what matters is that we recognize our error, repent and obey by putting His teaching into practice.  His teaching is not something at odds with reality or our best interests.  His teaching meshes seamlessly with the world as it really is and when we follow it we flourish.  When we disobey then there is chaos and disorder.  For we are not only labourers in His vinyard we are also the vines that He tends.  We are grafted onto Christ from Whom we draw life and nourishment.  He prunes us with His teaching so that we grow into all that we can be and bear the fruit that leads to Eternal Life.
His teaching does not change just as right and wrong do not change.  You would think that is obvious yet today even in our universities people are being taught that there is no objective moral order, that right and wrong are ‘cultural constructs’ and that by changing our language we can change our reality.  If you take that seriously and apply it to life one ends in chaos and totalitarianism. 
For instance we can see that even if our Lord had not been Divine it was still wrong to condemn an innocent man.  It was just as wrong then as it is now.  By acknowledging that it was wrong we also see that the moral order exists, always has existed and always binds us.  It guides us as to how we ought to behave.  This order comes from God and is part of His plan for us, for our flourishing. 
So whenever the Church teaches that killing the innocent is wrong (such as in abortion and euthanasia), or contraception is wrong, homosexual acts, or stealing or deliberate lying, she is pointing out to us what we can know by reasoned reflection on what it is to be human.  She is giving us not human opinions but God’s plan.  Some might object that they are all very different so how can they all be mortal sins?  They are so but for different reasons.  Is child abuse less evil than murder?  In reality when it comes to evil there is no grading system.  Evil can never be freely done for any reason.

If we want to enjoy Eternal Life then we need to tune out the false gospels peddled by the world around us, to be familiar with our Faith and its demands and to check our consciences regularly.  By this means we learn to be always watchful of how we treat our God and our neighbour and slowly, by His grace, we can grow in obedience, faithfulness and fruitfulness in good deeds.

CALLED TO LABOUR FOR THE LORD a homily for the 25th Sunday in Year A.

You can listen to the audio here.
At one point my father was his own shop steward.  My dad always paid his union dues and so did my mother.  My house was not only very republican in outlook it was also very pro-union while also being very Catholic.  So reading this passage always riles me.  The ‘trade unionist’ within me is not happy that the landowner does not remunerate the ones who worked longer more generously.  It’s a simple principle that the worker deserves his wages.  Indeed, traditionally one of the sins that cried out to heaven for vengeance was to deprive the labourer of his wages.  It still amazes me that after all my studies and prayer I can still expect God to behave like a human being and subject Him to my limitations.  The message of this Gospel passage is that God is in charge and we are labouring in His vineyard for His glory not our reward.  We depend on His generosity and mercy not on our merits.  God is not confined by human cultural expectations.  He can be generous to whom He chooses and as He chooses. 
What does it mean to labour for the Lord?  To labour in a vineyard is to care for the vines that the owner has planted, to follow his plan for their care and not one’s own.  It also means getting rid of weeds, caring for the vines, pruning them and planting new healthy plants.  In the end it means participating in the harvest.
Too many Catholics seem to think that working for the Lord is only what the ‘priests and nuns’ do.  They seem to think that lay Catholics only have to get on with their lives, show up on Sunday, pay up and keep quiet.  Yet that was never the Church’s teaching let alone that of our Lord.  All of us by our baptism are immersed into Christ and share in His mission, His task to make the Father known to the world, to reveal His love and mercy.  We do not have to do this by going to the far side of the Earth nor even by standing on the street corners handing out leaflets.  We can, and ought to, witness to Christ by how we live our daily life.  This is the royal road to Heaven: to carry out the duties of our state of life while avoiding evil and doing good.  This is how we labour for the Lord.
            What does that mean?  Firstly, doing the duties of our state of life means living to the full the vocation we are in, whether single, married, religious or clergy.  It means living our obligations to our family and to the Church, and working in an honest and responsible manner.  This means that we make time for those we love to serve and care for them, caring for our family, our home and our parish.  It means that we come to Mass on Sunday to worship God and, examining our conscience regularly, go to confession.  It means that we do not receive Holy Communion if we suspect or know that we are in a state of mortal sin.  It means that we make loving God and our neighbour the centre of our life.
Secondly, we must avoid evil.  Avoiding evil means more that merely not doing evil.  It means avoiding those places, persons or things that might lead us into sin.  That can include books, TV shows or parts of the internet, certain conversations, etc.  The list is almost endless.  It even means resisting evil thoughts.  Why do we commit the same sins again and again?  It is because we do not change our way of thinking.  The thief who continues to think about stealing will steal again.  If we change how and what we think our behaviour will follow.  We are all of us different so what to one person is harmless can be a grave temptation to another.  That means that we must also have a care not to lead or put anyone else in a situation where they might be lead to sin.  Avoiding evil also means opposing evil.  It can mean standing up and speaking out when something wrong is happening.  We need the courage to be whistleblowers!  Also we cannot claim to be good Catholics we support any person, party or policy that supports or leads to evil.  Could one claim to be a good Catholic while supporting the legalization of child abuse or slavery?  No!  How then can a good Catholic support those who advocate abortion or gay marriage?  We cannot both work for God’s Kingdom and oppose it.   One does not weed a vineyard by feeding the weeds or cutting down the vines.
Thirdly, we must do good above all to those we live and work with but it is not limited to them.  Anyone in need is our neighbour and a potential object of our care.  We do good not only by showing charity and sharing our goods, our time and our love with those in need but above all by doing so for love of Christ and by offering Him to them.  To do good without offering Christ is to give less as Pope Benedict has said.  Doing good covers a wide array of possibilities.  It depends not only on the need of the recipient but also on the degree of our capacity.  Sometimes all we can offer is a shoulder to cry on or even just our presence.  As long as we offer what we can for the sake of Christ He will do the rest.  If everyone, everyday went about looking for an opportunity to help others, to do good, what kind of world would we live in?  How much easier it would be for those who are disabled, disadvantaged or in any kind of need?  Would there be a housing crisis or would there be homeless people if everyone was seeking to do good to others?  I think not.
If you want your life to be a true success, if on the last day you want to receive from the Lord the precious payment of Eternal Life I urge you to examine your life and ask yourself:  Are you doing your duty as a Catholic to the best of your ability?  Are you really caring for those around you for the sake of Christ?  Are you doing your best to avoid evil and oppose it wherever it appears?  Are you seeking to do good to those you meet wherever you meet them?  Are you labouring for Christ or for yourself? 
Our Lord has told us that those who labour for Him as He has asked will be rewarded at the Harvest with joy and glory beyond imagination but those who labour for themselves, who oppose His Kingdom will weep in the dark forever.  While we are still in this world let us labour for Christ who laboured on the Cross for us so that His joy might be complete and our joy with Him.

Friday, September 15, 2017


This crucifix is based on the one that spoke to St Francis and so was at the very birth of the Franciscan movement.  The original is over two metres high.  I made this one for the oratory of Coolmine Community School.  I began it in 2006 and have only finished it now!  It was all my own work and I made it in memory of the deceased staff and students.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

CHRIST PANTOKRATOR icon from the Monastery of Karakallou, Mount Athos, Greece.

Dionysius of Fourna, author of The Painter's Manual (c.1670-after 1744) was obviously no mean painter.  This beautiful icon of our Lord (120 cm x 93 cm) is from the iconostasis of the Monastery of Karakallou, Mount Athos.  They published a book of their icons which you can get here.  We don't just need to hear Christ we also need to see and to contemplate Him.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Sacred Heart of Jesus. Painter unknown, print in our friary in Raheny, Dublin.


So it has been quite some time since I posted anything and I am not sure why.  Perhaps I am now turning over a new leaf.  At the moment one of the books I am reading is the Devotion to the Sacred Heart  by Fr Jean Croiset SJ.

Fr Croiset was spiritual director to St Margaret Mary Alacoque and it was he whom our Lord commissioned, through St Margaret Mary, to write this book, the original book on the devotion.  It's well worth getting and I found it clear, well-balanced and helpful.  You can get it here at Book Depository.


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