Preparing for the arrival of someone important takes care and attention. Think of a family preparing to welcome a loved one home from abroad, perhaps a son or daughter who lives in Australia or someone who has been off travelling the world. They get their bedroom ready, buy their favourite foods, perhaps put up banners or even organise a ‘welcome home’ party. It is all done with great excitement and love, and is a way of easing the path home for the traveller. Or imagine new parents preparing for the arrival of a baby. There are practical considerations such as buying nappies and clothing and getting a cot ready, and of course the nerves and excitement as they prepare to welcome the new arrival. On a larger scale, when an important dignitary visits a venue or a country there is also a flurry of activity in preparation. We saw it in the painstaking arrangements made for the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland earlier this year. Such high profile visits often involve a literal preparation of the way – organising a welcome reception, planning the best route from the airport, clearing the streets of traffic, as well as much chatter and anticipation. Today’s Gospel brings these two types of welcome to mind. During Advent, we prepare for the coming of Jesus by our actions, when we are generous with our time, patient with our families, and help those in need. And we do all these things with excitement and love, so that Christ will find the warmest of welcomes and a clear route into our hearts.

© Intercom Magazine, Tríona Doherty, Athlone

Have you ever heard the story of the ant and the grasshopper? It tells the tale of a grasshopper that has spent the summer singing and so is not prepared when winter comes, whereas the ant has been working hard all summer and has stored up enough food for winter. Like many of Aesop’s Fables, it has a stark moral lesson, in this case about the virtue of hard work and being prepared for the future.

Advent is about looking forward to Christmas and our celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is a special time of preparation to welcome him anew into our lives. But today’s readings remind us that Advent is also about looking ahead to another time, the second and final coming of Jesus at the end of time. ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’ meaning ‘coming’. The problem, of course, is that we have no idea when this will happen. Unlike the ant and the grasshopper, we have no way of knowing when the seasons will change. We don’t even know when the sun will set on our own individual lives. All we can do is to be prepared and to ‘stay awake’ – to live now in such a way that when we meet Jesus, we will be ready. This readiness is less a practical skill than a condition, or a way of life. Look at how St Paul describes it: he talks about increasing our love for one another, and continually making progress in living the life that God wants. That is how we store up treasures here on earth to make sure we are ready for the heavenly things to come.

All of us possess two kinds of knowledge. There are some things we know on the basis of hearsay. Someone has told us. For example, I know or at least I am reasonably sure that the sun is approximately ninety three million miles from earth and I am also convinced that light travels at approximately one hundred and eighty six thousand miles per second. I would not know how to test these statements were it not for competent scientists telling me so and I believe them. Much of what you and I accept as truth fits into this category. But there is another kind of knowledge that belongs to a very different category. We know some things not simply on the basis of hearsay and what others have said but on the basis of experience. For example, I know that friendship can enrich the joy of living.  I know this because I have seen it in the lives of others but most of what I know of the value of friendship comes from personal experience.

These two sources of knowledge – hearsay and experience – are the subject of today’s gospel.  It tells of a conversation between Pilate and Jesus.  The topic of the conversation was the allegation that Jesus claimed to be or aspired to become the king of the Jews.  In one sense it was true. Jesus did aspire to reign in the hearts and lives of all people but in another sense it was not true at all. Jesus had no desire or intention to compete with Caesar for his earthly throne. Still the accusation had been made and Pilate felt compelled to investigate it. He put the question to Jesus point blank: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered with a question of his own: “Are you asking me this of your own accord or have others been telling you about me?”  I am convinced that Jesus would ask that same question of you and me today.  It is not enough just to worship Christ the King. The only thing that will suffice is for each of us to make a serious commitment to him and his truth. In your life and mine, is Christ the king of hearsay or the king of experience?           Fr John

 

Our families and our communities are marked by a profound yet silent loss that often passes unknown and is seldom spoken of. I speak of the many families in our community who, down through the years, have suffered the heart-breaking loss of a child, and in some cases, several children, during pregnancy or at birth.  For too long this terrible loss was seldom acknowledged publicly or spoken of. Perhaps we simply didn’t know what to say and so we said nothing.  Perhaps even now we are afraid to face such an inexplicable reality because it mocks our sense of the natural order of things. The loss of a child can shatter the heart of his or her parents and plunge them into a grief more intense and more lasting than most of us can even imagine. To lose a child is to be robbed of the dreams and hopes that they represent. It is literally to have part of yourself taken from you. The priest-poet John O Donohue captured something of that loss when he wrote:

No one knows the wonder your child awoke in you,
your heart a perfect cradle to hold its presence.
Inside and outside became one
As new waves of love kept surprising your soul.

Now you sit bereft inside a nightmare,
your eyes numbed by the sight of a grave
no parent should ever see.

You will wear this absence like a secret locket,
Always wondering why such a new soul
Was taken home so soon.

© For a Parent on the Death of a Child

Often the Church, instead of reassuring people of God’s unfathomable love for each and every child from the first moment of their being, only added to the awfulness of that grief with shameful notions of limbo and unfounded fears of no baptism.  For far too long the Church failed to honour these children as we should have by denying them the full rites of Christian burial and by failing to offer their parents the solace and support that Jesus would surely have wished for them. 

This weekend, we wish to acknowledge and pray for these precious little ones who are forever part of our families and our community and who are certainly part of God’s family forever. There are no lost children in God’s family!  All children, born and unborn, find their resting place in the heart of God and are loved equally and completely.  In each of our Churches this weekend we have created a Sacred Space for remembering and honouring those who have died during pregnancy or at birth or shortly afterwards.  We invite you to take a moment to remember your lost little ones and we pray that, in so doing, you will find a measure of solace and the seeds of a new hope. In the words of John O’Donohue, may:

You glimpse how your eternal child
has become the unseen angel who parents your heart
and persuades the moon to send new gifts ashore.                             Fr Seán

There's a time for remembering, a time to recall

The trials and the triumphs, the fears and the falls.

There's a time to be grateful for the moments so blest:

The jewels of our memory where love is our guest.


 The opening lines of Liam Lawton’s hymn ‘There is a Place’ capture the spirit in which we are invited to remember our loved ones and the deceased of our community over the coming weeks. We are called simply to let ‘love be our guest.’  Love always remembers, love is forever grateful.  Love never stops wishing the best for those it loves, even when they are no longer with us.  That is why we will prayerfully honour all those who have touched our lives and all those who have gone before us on our journey home to God over these coming weeks of November.  Our November prayer is rooted in profound gratitude and a deep sense of hope: an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the incredible blessing they have been in our lives, an unwavering hope rooted in our conviction that they are now, as scripture tells us, ‘in the hands of God.’                                                              Fr Seán
 
 

The First World War, often referred to as The Great War, from 4th August 1914 to the 11th November 1918, is remembered for the countless thousands of men and women who lost their lives, perhaps needlessly, for a cause often beyond their comprehension. Amongst those who died were many of all ranks and creeds from our own communities, who bravely answered the call. Some fell on the Western Front whilst many others were lost in sea battles such as the Battle of Jutland. These were our own people and we should not forget them. It is only right and fitting that they should be in our thoughts and prayers this weekend as we mark the centenary of Armistice Day which marked the cessation of the war “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918. A Parishioner

Last Sunday was a very special and proud day for me. A man I have long admired and looked up to, Oscar Romero, was canonised a saint of the Church in Rome. He was a truly extraordinary man of faith and I believe that his life ought to be a constant inspiration to people of faith everywhere in the struggle for justice and the work of peace.

Appointed Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 at a time of great political turbulence and ruthless oppression in El Salvador, Romero was initially seen as a “safe pair of hands” who would steer the Church clear of trouble.  Barely a month later however, Rutilio Grande, a fellow Jesuit priest and a personal friend of Romero, was brutally assassinated and his death was to have a profound impact of Romero. It awakened deep within Romero an indomitable sense of solidarity with the oppressed and a vision of faith centred on the call to justice.  He began to courageously denounce social injustices and became a fearless advocate on behalf of the poor in El Salvador.  He said at the time: “When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which that cry arises.” In his weekly radio sermons he exposed human rights abuse listing disappearances, incidents of torture, murder and much more, insisting all the while that it was his faith that compelled him to do so: “There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being, abuses God’s image.  We know that every effort to improve society, above all a society that is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”  Such outspoken condemnation of the authorities was unlikely to go unpunished and Romero paid the ultimate price for standing with and for his oppressed people when he was assassinated while celebrating Mass on the 24th October 1980.  His Funeral Mass in San Salvador was attended by over 250,000 mourners from all over the world.  Twenty five years later I had the great privilege of being amongst a crowd of over 50,000 people that gathered in San Salvador to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of his assassination and to say a prayer at his tomb – a moment I count among my most treasured memories.

For anyone interested in learning more about this incredible man of faith and justice I invite you to join me this Tuesday night, 23rd October 2018, in the Gill Room in Monkstown to watch the movie ‘Romero’ starring the late Raul Julia. The movie will begin at 7.30 p.m. and runs for one hour and forty minutes.  All are welcome. Parking is available in the yard of Monkstown Church.  Come and join me in celebrating an extraordinary life.                                                               Fr Seán

In sporting activities and especially in the Olympics the heroics and sacrifice of the athletes is often marred by the use of drugs and many high profile cases of athletes caught using drugs caused several gold medals to be withdrawn.  How did the officials catch the athletes who were using drugs?  By random testing after the competition.  The threat of testing helped many more athletes stay off the drugs.  In the same way the threat of random audits of tax reports may provide incentive for many of us to be more honest on our tax forms.  Most of us shiver at the word “audit” because we immediately think of the Revenue reviewing our tax returns.  Audits are as necessary in daily life as they are in the business world.  We need to take stock of our lives periodically to see how we are doing.

When it comes to the question of our stewardship before God there is no random audit.  With God every life is audited.  If random audits by the Revenue help us to stay honest how much more should the guaranteed audit by God on our lives help us to make good stewardship decisions.  If we are all going to have God auditing our books, how should we prepare for that audit?

In our Gospel reading this Sunday Jesus goes straight to the heart of what constitutes good Christian living – love God and love your neighbour as yourself.  This is the total and complete commitment of love that Jesus is talking about and wanting us to practice.  The starting place is a right relationship with God.  The only thing we need to do in order to have a right relationship with him, is to accept and return his love.  How to do that will take a life time of learning.  Anyone who wants it can have a right relationship with God this very day.

A second factor that Jesus considered is highly important.  He said “You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself”.  Jesus knew that it was impossible for any of us to have a right relationship with anyone until we first have a right relationship with ourselves.  To say that is one thing, how to do it is something else.  I am not suggesting that it is easy for any of us to truly love ourselves.  Sometimes it is quite difficult, but it can be done.  Basically two things are involved.  First we must recognise and remember who we are, not just our names but our true identity.  “I am a child of God”.  Don’t ever forget that.  The second thing is to act out our true identity.  Since we are children of God we should try our best to live accordingly, of course we will not always succeed in that effort.  We will fail at times but when that happens we can start again building a right relationship with himself or herself once more.

The third factor that Jesus considered important was having a right relationship with other people.  Even as we love ourselves, we must also love others – all others.  In order to live by this seemingly impossible commandment we need to understand that it does not require us to like everybody.  This is not realistic   In the Christian sense we can love people without liking them.  This does now mean that we have to approve everyone’s conduct.  To the contrary, if we love people we will strongly disapprove some conduct and will say so.

If we are all going to have God audit our books, our readings today show us some ways on how we should prepare for that audit.                                    Fr John

 

One of the most delightful scenes in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” begins with Tevye talking to God.  He says “Lord you made many, many poor people and I realise it’s no shame to be poor but it’s not a great honour either.  What would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune”.  Then he begins to sing his dream of how life would be “If I were a rich man”, the house he would build, the clothes he would wear and the respect he would have in the community.  There are times when all of us dream the same dream.  We have thought about how nice it would be never to worry about paying the bills.  It is a lovely dream, but we should keep in mind that money has its own category of problems.

In this weekend’s Gospel reading Jesus talked about the dangers of prosperity.  He said “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”.  Most of us do not think of ourselves as being rich, but most of us would like to be.  We live in a culture that is obsessed with the material side of life.  The word success has come to mean only one thing – MONEY.  It would of course be foolish to under-rate the importance of the economic side of life.  Money is not simply money.  Money is food on table and a roof over our head.  It is education for children, it is help for those we love in time of sickness, it is old age relieved from the prospect of poverty.  It would be foolish to minimise the importance of life’s economic support.

Prosperity can keep us from seeing ourselves as we really are.  It can convince us that we are a special breed, deserving special consideration, when in reality we are nothing more than little people who just happen to have a little money. Prosperity can prevent us from facing the truth about ourselves.  The person who has plenty finds it difficult to understand the problems of people who have virtually nothing.

Jesus knew what he was talking about.  “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God”, especially for the prosperous. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”.  This does not mean that prosperity is not allowed in God’s Kingdom, it simply means that it is difficult to reconcile the two.  Jesus said “For man it is impossible, but not for God”.  That is how difficult it is, we can never do it without God’s help.  Money is a powerful thing but it can block the door of God’s Kingdom.  When money is earned honestly and used unselfishly, it can enrich the lives of those who have it and bless the lives of those who are served by it.    

                                                                                                             Fr John