Homily – March – 2023

5TH MARCH 2023

 Readings Gen 12:1-4  2 Tim 1:8-10  Gospel Matthew 4:1-11

On this Second Sunday of Lent the Readings today seem to suggest that we should come to terms with both the particular and the universal dimensions of conversion.

There is an expression that is sometimes said with tongue in cheek: “There is the good news and the bad news.” The good news is that God loves you. In a particular way, God loves you as if you were the only person in the world, as St Augustine famously said. The bad news is that God loves everyone else also! There is a universal dimension to the unique love God has for all of us.

There is a hint of this in today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration.

From the fourth Chapter of St Matthew, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor and in their sight is transfigured. They have a particular revelation of God’s love for them in the most extraordinary way.

Jesus leads them up a high mountain alone, “His face shone like the sun” as he was transfigured and “his clothes became as white as the light.” Then the great prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, appeared with Jesus. In other Gospels we learn about the conversation. It is about Jesus’ forthcoming Suffering, Death and Resurrection. The Transfiguration is a beacon of hope for us on the Lenten journey towards the Easter Mysteries of our faith. God appears in the cloud and says, “This is my beloved Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.”

Responding to this specific manifestation of God’s love, Peter speaks for the others and says “How wonderful” this moment is. He suggests making permanent this moment by building tents and remaining in this great theophany or manifestation of God’s love.

Then, two thirds down, the tone in the Gospel changes quite dramatically. As the Apostles have their heads bowed, all the heavenly “glitz” is removed. When they look up they see “only Jesus.” Jesus then tells them, in a tone that is resolute but seemingly lacking in the previous heavenly consolations, they are to go down the mountain. Going down the mountain means they are going down now to spread this incredible love of God not just to themselves but to everybody. They are not to remain there in three tents. The message of salvation and the love of God’s merciful forgiveness has a universal dimension.

In this Season of Lent, we are also offered both particular and universal dimensions of God’s offer of conversion.

In a particular way, our personal conversion is offered in the Tradition of the Church to be expressed through Prayer, Fasting and Alms giving. Conversion is not a once and for all experience. The encounter with Jesus is a kind of perpetual conversion, a perpetual annunciation of God’s healing love for us and call for a deep response by confessing our sins and asking God’s merciful forgiveness.

Yet this particular love also has a social dimension. It is not just about me but it is about all of us. Prayer, Fasting, Alms giving, are also to convert our heart, mind and hands to be attentive to those most needing of God’s love – especially the marginalised.

Pope Francis helps us to envisage this using the word “Synodality” – this is to be done by Walking Together, not in parallel lines but allowing the Lord to lead us in practical evangelisation.

The link word from all that has been said is the word “Conversion.” Conversion is a gift that I dispose myself to.

We see this in the First Reading with Abraham. He is given direction from God who tells him, “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you.” Without asking any questions or clarifications, the Scripture simply says, “So Abraham went as the Lord told him.” There is complete trust in the providence of God, this is why Abraham is seen as the father of faith. When the gift of conversion came to him he responded to this gift whole heartedly and immediately.

In the Second Reading we know this can only happen, according to St Paul, if we are “relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy.”

God’s gift and our response is all wrapped up in the word, “Holy.” This universal call to holiness is at the centre of the Vatican II Council and its documents and ultimately St Paul’s advice for us to rely on the power of God is a permanent call to all of us.

So there is the “Gospill” for today, let us all advance in the challenges of the week ahead by “relying on the power of God.”

12TH MARCH 2023

 Readings  Ex 17:3-7  Rom 5:1-2. 5-8  Gospel John 4:5-15, 19-26, 39-42

Over the next three weeks the focus in the Sunday Readings will be on Conversion and Baptism as we make our Lenten pilgrimage towards the Easter Mysteries of our Faith.

This weekend’s Readings pertain to Thirst and Water. Next week will be Blindness and Sight and the following Sunday Readings will be on Death and Life.

So let us consider the Readings in light of Conversion and Baptism. Let us focus on Thirst and Water.

As so often in the Readings there is dual meaning in the events displayed.

On one level there is physical thirst. In the First Reading from the Book of Exodus, the people on their long pilgrimage to the Promised Land are now “tormented by thirst.” There is the complaining of the people and their “murmuring” (= gossiping).

In the Gospel today it is not the Desert thirst of a people but the Desert thirst of a Samaritan woman. This is from John chapter 4.

On the deeper level, however, there is the Spiritual thirst. The First Reading showcases the people’s lack of faith in the midst of the calamity of thirst and lack of water in their day. It becomes a testing time. Their lack of faith is expressed in their quarrelling with each other and with God.

In the Gospel, in contrast, the thirst of the Samaritan Woman draws her into the fullness of faith. There is the hint of Psalm 42 here were, “Deep calls upon deep.”

In identifying linkages between our life today on our Lenten pilgrimage and the life of the Scriptures, I would suggest there are at least five enduring signs of Christian conversion found in today’s Gospel Reading.

Firstly, as always with our Christian faith, grace proceeds faith. Jesus precedes our response to Him. It is almost like a Spiritual dance.

In the initiatives of grace of Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the well, you can see how he firstly breaks social taboos. Jews and Samaritans were not to talk to each other. This is noted by the woman in her opening address to Jesus. Then there is the breaking a Social taboo, regarding a Rabbi not speaking to a woman under such circumstances.

Cleary it is about Jesus thirsting for her faith. In fact this is mentioned explicitly in the Preface of today, “Jesus thirsts for her faith before…”

The English Poet and Mystic of the 19th Century, Francis Thompson, meditates on God’s pursuing of us in his famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” It is difficult for any of us to feel pursued by somebody but when a “Tremendous lover”, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, shows initiative towards us it can be a moment of complete conversion. This is precisely what is happening to the woman at the well.

Secondly, Jesus comes towards us repeatedly in everyday ways.

With the Samaritan Woman at the well He first of all engages her attention in regard to physical water – “Living water.” This invitation for her to go deeper than the superficial fails. It is encouraging for us to see that Jesus’ evangelisation proposal, from Him the “First Evangeliser,” fails and he needs to start again. This time he begins with her personal life and brings up the topic of her many “Husbands.”

Jesus uses everyday events and life experiences to bring us home to Him.

I witnessed this afresh last week with the wonderful testimonies of those who will become Catholics in the forthcoming Easter. Many gave testimony of how God spoke to them in everyday events and how they were able to “listen to Him” at a deeper level as proposed in last Sunday’s Gospel of the Transfiguration.

Thirdly, there must always be the deep personal acceptance of, “I am He.”

The turning point in the Samaritan Woman’s total conversion to Jesus is her response to the Lord’s Kerygmatic self-description as the “Lord and Saviour.” Over the Christian Centuries, acceptance that “Jesus is Lord” deep down within us, is really the foundation of all that is to follow in our conversion.

Fourthly, the ultimate sign of true conversion is that the one being evangelised ends up becoming the Evangeliser. The Samaritan Woman, being evangelised by the Lord, reaches for conversion then returns to the village. She tells them, “Come and See”, and begins the whole villages journey towards conversion. This is mentioned at the end of today’s Gospel when they say, “Now 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.”

Fifthly, all conversion ultimately is Eucharistic and Ecclesial. All conversion must lead to our participation in the Mass, the source and Summit of all Christian devotion were we hear the Lord in Word and Sacrament. All of this is a result of us becoming a part of the community of the Holy Spirit by incorporation in Baptism.

In the Gospel today all this happens at Jacob’s well. Jacob’s Well therefore, becomes a kind of Parish Church. It is where the Samaritan Woman and the Villagers hear the Word of God and then go out and become the Word of God to the world. So the symbol of Jacob’s well had deep Ecclesial meaning.

Putting these five enduring signs of Christian conversion together we now go into the Liturgy of the Eucharist were we too will be fed by the Lord’s Body and Blood, the Lamb of God.

For our “Gospill” today I think all this could be beautifully summarised in the last line in the Second Reading from St Paul to the Romans. Here St Paul proudly proclaims the essence of Christianity when he says, “Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” Let us reflect on this over and over again and memorise this saving Gospel passage. Whatever situation we find ourselves in Christ comes to us not because of our perfections but because of our sinfulness. Jesus, our Lord and Saviour is always merciful and forgiving as we return to Him afresh on this Lenten pilgrimage to Easter.

19TH MARCH 2023

 Readings  1 Sm16:1. 6-7. 10-13  Eph 5:8-14  Gospel John 9:1-41

 Today we have the second of the three “Conversion” stories in St John’s Gospel. You will recall we had the conversion story of the Samaritan Woman at the well last week. Next week we will have the Raising of Lazarus.

Today we meditate on the wonderful conversion story of the man who was born blind.

As we reflect on the Gospel today, we first of all notice that Jesus “went along.” Jesus is always on the move. We use the word “Synodal” now. He is always walking with people in a dynamic way. Never a static way.

The first thing that is noted is that Jesus took an initiative. The Scripture says, “He saw a man who had been blind from birth.” So like last week with the Samaritan Woman, Jesus now takes the initiative to move towards the Blind man who physically could not see him at all. It is always Jesus moving in love and mercy to offer healing.

In a somewhat Sacramental way, that is using visible things to bring out invisible realities, Jesus made a paste and placed it on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam”(a name that means ‘sent’).

The Blind man did this and had his sight restored.

Then began the pushbacks!

First of all he received immediate pushback from a surprising quarter – his neighbourhood. They were arguing with each other as to whether this was the man who used to “sit and beg,” they were unable to agree on this even in the first place. Those who disagree with a lack of trust in their heart can never agree. They are always gossiping, murmuring, dragging people down.

The next group from which the man now with sight received push back was from another unexpected quarter. This time from Religious leaders. Their comments seem frivolous to us today. First of all they said that he couldn’t have received this miracle because it was on the Sabbath that it took place! Such things don’t happen on the Sabbath or are not to happen! Then they started to become quite insulting from our present point of view. They referred to the man as a sinner and sinners cannot be healed. They said that he was a “sinner by birth.” This starts now to move into the discredited thought that physical disabilities are the result of a person or a family’s sin. The image behind this is horrendous.

Today both through medicine and through understanding the human person and, of course, through understanding a more Biblical image of God, we should never move in that direction. Having said all that, the healed man continued to stand his ground. Despite the fact that he was forever being almost bullied, he stood his ground and his faith grew stronger.

Then the Lord made another initiative. “When Jesus heard they had driven him away…he found him.” Then the saving question was asked to bring the man into “full faith.” Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?…he is speaking to you.” Then we have the answer of faith from the man, “Lord, I believe, and worshipped him.” He came into “full faith.”

There are two important points to be reminded of from this marvellous conversion story.

Firstly, is the question “Who was truly blind?”

Was it the Blind man or the neighbours/the Religious elite? It was the latter and not the former. The First Reading today from the prophet Samuel reminds us that “God does not see as man sees; man looks at the appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.”

It is heart to heart.

Jesus looks at the man in the Gospel face to face, eye to eye, and heart to heart. It is this personal encounter that is the very essence of Christianity and distinguishes our faith from other Religions.

At the same time we start to understand, in the presence of the light of Christ, what the darkness of sin really means.

Of course we are all familiar with sinful acts and they need to be confessed especially during Lent in the Sacrament of Confession. However, the attitude behind these sinful acts need closer attention. In the Bible, the deepest Biblical definition of sin is “living your life as if God does not exist.” Let us truly reflect on this in these weeks before Easter.

Secondly and finally, it seems that the physical blindness was easier to heal than the spiritual blindness. As the man endures ridicule, bigotry and meanness, it only strengthened his faith. His spiritual blindness gives way to the full light of faith. Ultimately this face to face with Jesus and his answer to the question of faith by saying, “I believe, and worshipped him” shows that this deepening of faith seems to have taken longer than “the mere” healing of his blindness.

Therefore as we go on with the Mass let us use as our “Gospill” the word of faith of this wonderful healed man in today’s Gospill. With him let us say, “Lord, I believe, and worshipped him.”   As we pray our Creed together in this Liturgy we use the plural and we say, “Jesus, we believe and we worship you.”

Let this be our repetitive prayer as the days go on.

26TH MARCH 2023

 Readings  Ez 37: 12-14  Rom 8:8-11  Gospel John 11:1-45

 We have often wondered over the centuries why Jesus delayed going to visit Lazarus, Mary and Martha in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, when Lazarus became perilously ill.

I suppose there are two narratives at play here simultaneously. First there is the particular story of Lazarus’s illness. We don’t often hear that Jesus had very deep personal friends. However in Lazarus and his sisters we certainly understand Jesus’ closeness. All the more strange that he did not visit him immediately.

The bigger narrative is seen in the longer version of this Gospel where it was quite clear if Jesus was to go to Jerusalem and continue on His healing ministry, especially during the Passover, His life would be in peril. Even His Disciples cautioned him against going for fear that He would be stoned to death.

At any rate, all of us have to deal with the delays of Jesus when we pray to Him. There is much wisdom in the old expression, I think coming from Ireland, “Jesus is never known to be in a hurry, but is never known to be late.”

Given this as context, we see in this wonderful Gospel passage on the fifth week of Lent as we pilgrimage towards Easter, three great saving gifts of Jesus.

Firstly, Jesus gives saving words to Martha. When Martha meets Him outside Bethany and wonders at His late coming, Jesus is given the opportunity to say the great words of the Gospel, “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” We find then that Martha gives a full faith filled response to the words of salvation.

She says to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”

In giving such a faith-filled response she joins the leading figures in the last couple of Sunday Gospels. There was the total surrender of the Samaritan Woman two Sundays ago when she encounters Christ is seen in her evangelising of her villagers. Then last Sunday the man born blind who now sees, gives Jesus the words, “I believe…and he worshiped him.” Now it is Martha’s turn.

What about us? As we knock on the door of Holy Week, will Jesus find us ready to give a full faith response to His initiative of grace? We will have an opportunity of doing that ritually and liturgically over the Easter Vigil.

Secondly, a great saving gift of Jesus is also seen in His actions to Mary and those who mourned.

Arriving at the scene, there is an expression that Jesus “sighed.” The sighing of Jesus comes deep from within. In the longer version we also here the shortest sentence in the Gospel that, “Jesus wept.” He then instructs the mourners to “take the stone away.” They respond, “This is the fourth day.” Meaning, of course, that his body is decomposing. Again Jesus gives them an opportunity to believe fully! This is not the first time that Jesus has raised somebody from the dead. In fact it is the third. He raised the little girl when he went to her home, he raised the young man whose corpse was on the way to the cemetery, and now he is raising from the dead Lazarus. When Lazarus appears Jesus instructs them, “Unbind him, let him go free.”

The third great gift that Jesus gives is His saving salvation of hope to us all.

It is interesting to note that in this Gospel passage from John 11, great detail is given as Lazarus comes out of the tomb. This is how he is described, “His feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face.” Why so much detail? I think that question is answered in John 20 which will be the Gospel of Easter Sunday. When they went to the empty tomb of Jesus on the day of His Resurrection it is also commented that Peter notices that the burial clothes were all folded “and rolled in a place by itself.” It is almost as if they weren’t even used.

Here is the contrast!

In Lazarus we have a resurrected body. However, one day he will have to die a second time. With Jesus, in contrast, something completely different and unprecedented has happened. He has risen from the Dead! His body is not decomposing and others don’t have to unbind Him. It is not a resurrected body but a risen Body! It will take us the next few weeks to be able to meditate more fully on this saving event which has changed the course of history.

Jesus rising from the dead gives us hope. Why? Because as the reading from Romans says in the Second Reading today, “He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.” So our union in Christ through our Baptism holds the key to living in the Risen Lord. More about this in the weeks ahead.

Let us take for our memory in the days ahead the beautiful expression from the Gospel, “Unbind him, let him go free.” Perhaps we could pray many times together over the next few days, “Unbind us, Jesus, and set us free.”