Homily – December – 2022


 Readings  Is 11:1-10  Rom 15:4-9  Gospel Matthew 3:1-12

There is a teaching today in our Advent Readings regarding Biblical leadership. Two fundamental aspects seem to resonate in the Readings.

These aspects are with regard to the link between justice and peace. They are never separate. They are two fundament aspects although distinct from each other they are not separate from each other.

Because of our Baptism, all of us are called to participate in Christian leadership, which in today’s Readings is showcased in the person of St John the Baptist.

Firstly, however, we have the great Isaiah prophesies that when the Messiah comes, there will be both a judgement and a reconciliation with creation.

Isaiah prophesises that when the Lord comes “His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless, his sentences bring death to the wicked.” At the same time, this strong judgement is touched with the softness and tenderness of integrity.

…“but he judges the wretched with integrity and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.”

From this comes the new creation whereby “The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them.”

This is a good introduction to the Gospel of today were we have the appearance of St John the Baptist. Again, there is this double dimension to his prophetic leadership.

Firstly there is the judgement that is coming, he says “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight…Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?”

At the same time, there is the tenderness of John the Baptist and his humility when he says, “the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals, he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

There is both the call to repentance, to prepare for the coming of the Lord using very harsh terminology of the immediacy and imperative of conversion, and the peace and deep humility that comes from the last of the Prophets.

Although a strong biblical theme, this nuancing of these two dimensions of leadership is found in everyday life. I found a good example of this from a very profound Catholic married couple who suffered great loss yet almost unreflectively have given a great nuance to their position.

To explain this, we recall that on the 1st of February 2020 it as reported in the National and International news that a drunken driver ploughed into a group of children walking along the roadside and killed four of the children outright in the Western suburbs of Sydney. Three of these children came from the family of Danny and Leila Abdallah. Their children Antony, Angelina and Sienna were killed along with their cousin Veronique Sakr.

More recently, almost two years after this tragic event, the family were in Rome and gave testimony to this experience at the World Meeting of Families (June 2022). With regard to her attitude to the drunken and drug filled young man who killed her children she said, “I don’t hate him, I can choose to forgive and I forgive him…we cannot choose what will happen to us in life but we can choose how we respond. Respond with a smile. I offered it up to Jesus on the Cross, I trust in God’s will…if we forgive in little things, then we can forgive in big things.”

Her husband Danny had the following to say, among other things, “Forgiveness is more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. When you forgive the other person, you begin to heal. I choose to forgive myself for telling my children to go for a walk and buy ice-cream…today people only want the glorious Jesus and not the suffering Jesus.”

I was somewhat awestruck when I first read these comments because in an unreflected manner they completely mirror the biblical teaching on leadership that I have articulated from today’s Readings.

We must recall that justice without mercy easily lapses into retribution. However, mercy without justice also lacks a certain integrity and reveals a real naivety about how to deal with such tragic events. Justice and mercy combined really does restore broken bridges, especially in this time before Christmas and Advent. It turns on the Christmas lights. There is a real Christmas joy, hope, forgiveness and love.

These qualities are certainly apparent in the Abdallah parents. They wanted justice for the misdeeds of the perpetrator of this terrible crime. They wanted him to learn from his mistakes and for society to receive a message to show that such behaviour is abhorrent and never acceptable. In the same breath, however, they talked about forgiveness and there was a real tenderness in their attitude towards the perpetrator. This is real Good News for us all.

In this time before Christmas, we too have to come to terms with our own difficulties in our families and neighbourhoods and in society in general. Let us keep these great biblical compass points of both justice and forgiveness (tenderness and peace) as we move into the awkward times ahead of negotiating our relationships and family and beyond.

So let us use for our “Gospill” the great words of John the Baptist in today’s Readings “Prepare a way for the Lord.” How can I do this now?

11 DECEMBER 2022

 Readings  Is 35:1-6, 10  Jas 5:7-10  Gospel Matthew 11:2-11

 The word Advent means “Coming.”

We are now in the third Sunday of Advent and half way on our journey towards the Christmas mysteries. For this reason, the Readings give us great hope and call us to rejoice as we anticipate the great feast to come. Therefore, this Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. In part, it is symbolised by the lighting of a rose coloured Advent wreath candle and wherever possible the priest will wear rose coloured vestments rather than purple.

You might be surprised to know that in our Catholic Tradition we have often spoken about the three comings of Jesus.

In the Second Reading today from James, we hear reference to the second coming of Jesus. Recall that James is writing after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus calling on the Christian people to “be patient until the Lord’s coming…do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon.” The early Church felt that the Lord’s second coming would happen at any moment. 2000 years later, we are still waiting for the second coming of Jesus.

The first coming of Jesus is explicitly mentioned in the Gospel today.

Here the coming of Jesus happens in the tabernacle of the womb of Mary. This is our Christian boast. The first Chapter of St John beautifully expresses it as “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.”

In today’s Gospel, we see the changing of the baton between St John the Baptist, the last of the great prophets of the Old Testament, and the coming of Jesus Christ in His public ministry.

We were introduced to St John the Baptist last week. We noted that Biblical leadership very much involves both justice and mercy, and forgiveness.

Now we find St John the Baptist towards the end of his life. He is often portrayed as somewhat of a wild man, coming from the desert and wearing camel hair clothes and eating locusts and honey.

In this Gospel today we find him in prison awaiting his death. For a man who has spent most of his life in the open spaces he now finds himself in a tiny enclosed cell. Hearing from his own disciples that Jesus’ public ministry has begun, he sends word out to Jesus from the prison cell by his emissaries. They ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?”

This seems a strange question to us but it is an important Biblical question. I suppose in our own language St John the Baptist is asking Jesus, “Are you the original or are you just a photocopy?”

This is a rather blunt question but St John the Baptist wants some reassurance that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one.

St John the Baptist is a straightforward leader. He joins the prophetic line of leadership from the Old Testament. Here it is not a question of whether he is “left” or “right” in his views, or whether he is conservative or liberal. These are journalistic and political categories imposed upon people today. When we impose them on Biblical figures, it does them a great injustice. St John the Baptist, being one of the great prophets, would perhaps have his leadership style described as a Radical Traditional. He has seen the pattern of God’s redemption and now he wants some reassurance from Jesus.

Jesus answers the question in a somewhat poetic way.

Jesus eludes to the First Reading today from Isaiah 35. The awaited Messiah would be known by His deeds.   “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer.”

Therefore, Jesus answers the question by referring to the deeds that he is performing in proclamation of Word and healing. He sends a message back to St John the Baptist and says, “The blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear.” This is how Jesus answered the question, “Yes.” He is the fulfilment of all that has been hoped for over the generations as they have awaited the Messiah. Nevertheless, there is a third coming of Jesus as well. What is it?

This was particularly strong in the Middle Ages, particularly from our Mystic and Monastic Saints. St Bernard of Clairvaux’s teachings are prominent in this area.

He talks about Jesus coming in the present moment in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and in our outreach to the poor and oppressed.

In a sense, we could say that this third coming is in the tabernacle of the evangelised heart of each person.

It is interesting to note, that over the years I have asked many people who have become Catholics what has interested them in the Catholic faith. Quite a few of them have said it has been the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. To say in the scientific world that, at the Eucharist we make Jesus present truly in Body and Blood and in the Word proclaimed is so mysterious and different from what can be heard for the scientific world of ours. It is a teaching that once investigated, is immensely attractive to people.

We also see that Jesus comes in the present moment in the unusual disguise of the poor and the oppressed. This too is the Lord’s body! Our outreach to people on the peripheries at this Christmas time is no added extra. They are Christ knocking at the door of each person. What will our response be over the next few weeks?

So, as we move on with the great liturgy of the Eucharist let us think about these three comings of Jesus. In his first coming in the tabernacle of the womb of Mary, in the second coming in the tabernacle of the Church glorified in the fullness of the Holy Spirit at the end of time, and in the tabernacle or each person in the present moment in Word and Sacrament and healing service.

So perhaps the “Gospill” for today could be, “Jesus be in the womb of Mary, Jesus be in the Church, Jesus be in my converted heart.”

18 DECEMBER 2022

 Readings  Is 7:10-14  Rom 1:1-7  Gospel Matthew 1:18-24

Irish people are well known for their great devotion to Mary the Mother of God over the centuries.

Indeed, there is a lovely little expression they say at Christmas time. When the Irish look at the crib and see the baby Jesus, they whisper to one another…”He is related to us on His Mother’s side!”

Perhaps St Luke’s Gospel might agree. St Luke is the great Marian Gospel. He tends to look at events in Jesus’ life from Mary’s perspective.

But, we are in the Year of Matthew. When followers of Matthew might look at Jesus in the Christmas crib, they might be more inclined to say, “He is related to us on His Father’s side!”

We see this emphasis on Joseph in his relationship to Jesus in today’s Gospel.

Before today’s Gospel, Chapters 1/1-17 recounts the genealogy or the ancestry of Joseph. He is linked directly with the house of David, which is itself directly linked to Abraham.

We see this in today’s Readings twice. In the Second Reading today from Romans, Jesus, according to St Paul, “was a descendant of David.” In today’s Gospel the Angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and describes him as, “Joseph son of David.”

It is a Catholic belief that Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph but in every other respect he was Jesus’ father – especially legally. This is why the ancestry of Jesus is stressed so much today.

In recent weeks my reflections on Joseph have matured. I was kindly invited to several Christmas parties organised by different Migrant groups in the Archdiocese. There were invitations accepted from the African, Filipino and Indian communities. It was a Nativity play acted out by young people from the Southern Indian (Malayalam) community that attracted my eye. They portrayed a very pregnant Mary who was clearly highly contemplative in her facial features and very preoccupied with her advanced pregnancy. They also showed Joseph as clearly a strong personality but preoccupied with working out the practical arrangements for Mary at the time of her giving birth to Jesus. We see him going from place to place looking for accommodation.

This aspect of Joseph is often eclipsed. This is possibly because there is no direct speech from Joseph in the Gospels. We know him as obedient to the four dreams the Angel offered him. In today’s Gospel just before his first dream we see Joseph when he is just betrothed (engaged) to Mary. We would not want to underestimate the incredible situation that was presented to Joseph with Mary’s Miraculous Conception by the Holy Spirit. In the culture of his time he could have publically denounced Mary. Offenses of this nature were seen as tantamount to Adultery and punishable by death by stoning.

Joseph sees things differently. He is, in today’s Gospel mentioned as “a man of honour…wanting to spare her publicity…decided to divorce her informally.” Joseph could have well walked away from Mary but he decided to do otherwise. This was reaffirmed in his first dream, sometimes called “The Annunciation of Joseph.” Here the Angel tells him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus.” This only affirms and enlarges Joseph’s decision.

Joseph chose in a highly complex situation the most merciful, trusting and courageous path. I have always been attracted to the final expression in today’s Gospel were it says that Joseph “took his wife to his home.” Here home is not only as we understand it in today’s world. In the Middle Eastern culture of his time it would have meant the family or clan.

Pope Francis helps our understanding in more recent writings on St Joseph. He describes him as, “The man in the shadows.” Joseph clearly doesn’t want to be centre stage but simply wants to be faithful to whatever God wants.

In this week before Christmas what can we learn from St Joseph.

I suggest we can learn five brief things that might help us in these days before Christmas which are always full of unexpected challenges, particularly in family life. I will make one word with each letter meaning something. The first letter is the letter “P.” It is “P” for Prayer. All of us in these days before Christmas must listen to God’s dreams for us. Our attitude in prayer must be, “What do you want of me this Christmas, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” So let us ask the Lord to understand His dream for us in these times. Just like Joseph.

The second letter is the letter “E” for Engage. Joseph did not walk away from an immerging issue and neither should we. We must engage with the challenges that come before us and not walk away and hide. Knowing that God tells us, “Be not afraid.”

The third letter is the letter “A” for Approach. The approach we make to challenges is always important. Like Joseph let us be Saints in the shadows.   Let’s not talk so much but get ready to do something that doesn’t put us centre stage.

The fourth letter is the letter “C” for Choice. Let us choose the most merciful, the most trusting and courageous solution to the complex situations that confront us in our families, neighbourhoods and beyond. We can have all sorts of ways of approaching our engagements. Let us choose the one that offers greater mercy not to ourselves but to others.

The fifth and final letter is the letter “E” for Emmanuel. This is the biblical name of Jesus. His name is “Jesus” (meaning God Saves) and Emmanuel (meaning “God is with us.”) This is mentioned twice in Today’s Readings. In the First Reading and also in the Gospel.

When we put these letters together we have the word PEACE. Let us approach this week before Christmas in a peaceful way. Knowing that being like Joseph, we could call ourselves “Joseph – ites.” We can imitate Joseph dealing with the challenges that are in front of us.

Let this be our “Gospill.” Let it be Emmanuel. God is with us. May God be with you in these days as we now approach the Eucharist were Jesus gives us food for our journey of the next week.

25 DECEMBER 2022

 Readings  Isaiah 62:11-12  Titus 3:4-7  Gospel Luke 2:15-20

On this Christmas Day let us reflect on the most incredible of all historic and theological events. It is when Jesus becomes one with us in all things but sin. The Nativity of Jesus is when God comes amongst us and changes our history forever. I note with interest that some Biblical scholars talk about this day as, “The invasion of the Divine.” It is quite an intriguing title. When we think of an invasion we think of hostile forces taking over but it may not be that. This is an invasion of pure love miraculously present and unearned. It is the sheer gift of God who is love. It shows that God is not passive but active in our lives. About this! The Almighty and Creator of the Cosmos and all created things has now become a small and innocent baby. Incredible!!

We need reminding of this because a little baby seems to be so passive but we know of His future history. Even in the stable there are signs of this. Mary, His Mother, wraps Him in swaddling clothes. It is white garments that cover His dead body 33 years later. He is placed in a wooden manger. The Cross of Crucifixion also will be made of wood. This manger is a feeding trough for animals. In the Last Supper it will become a symbol of how Jesus feeds us in the Eucharist and the Sacraments.

We should not be afraid of this glorious “invasion.” It is the time, when all the beautiful Christmas canticles say that, “God has visited His people and redeemed them.”

It is also the absolute turning point between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is true to say as others have, that in the Old Testament God tells us that we are loved and in the New Testament in Jesus, God tells us how much we are loved! We are reminded that the Gospels say, “God loved the world so much that he sent His Son amongst us.”

So now let us move from a pondering on “God is love” in Jesus Christ to living out the Christmas miracle of love in our families and in our world this day and the days ahead.

Some people say this Christmas feast is only for Christians. For most it is simply a “Festive Season.”

I tend to disagree. Christmas is for all people Christian or not, Religious or not Religious. When we start to think of this philosophically we would all agree on the premise that as human beings we should gravitate to all that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful. This is our religious instinct.

I don’t think anybody would argue with this. But if we take it further, in the light of the Gospels, we find that this jumps from just being a philosophical concept of human happiness to become personalised in the child Jesus. God, who is love, has given us all that is good, true and beautiful in offering us His Son Jesus Christ in the humble Manger of Bethlehem.

So let us not take the good out of the Good News. Today’s commemorations of God amongst us at Christmas is not just any sort of news. It is GOOD NEWS! Indeed, the basis of Biblical sin is not allowing God to be good in us…to be love in us! Let us open up to a mystery far bigger, deeper and more beautiful than we have ever thought or imagined.

This is the real challenge of these days and holiday times ahead. To ponder on the true meaning of Christmas. The fact that God has intervened in our human history is absolutely incredible. It is not to be taken for granted. It is not one historical event amongst others. It is the event of human history! This is the Good News and not any sort of news amongst others.

To allow God of love to be love in us means that we ourselves become lovers of humanity and the world. Perhaps a problem with Christianity is that God has few lovers. When God invades our inner being we are transformed in His love and can only love in response, despite frequent lapses. God is merciful and forgiving.

Let us continue with the Mass and be nourished by Jesus born in the manger. Let us place our lives before him just like the periphery people who were the first to receive God’s love – the Shepherds. Let us come and adore Him Christ the Lord!

The “Gospil” for this Christmas is: “In truth, God does not want anything great from us. God just wants to be great in us.”