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

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

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     





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 Gospel on this Sunday may evoke pain, anger, disappointment and condemnation, reassurance and commitment.  Whatever the immediate reaction, everybody has a vested interest in the critical issue of the teaching of Jesus on marriage, divorce and remarriage.  The most futile reaction to the Gospel would be one of blame.  It is easy to blame.  It is common to blame the media, parents, the church or even God Himself for the pain that arises from marriage breakdown.  The real tragedy of our times is not so much that people separate, because unfortunately they find that they can no longer live together but that so many forces in modern society contribute to the disintegration of marriage as a permanent commitment.

The Christian response is to build on what is worthwhile rather than to indulge oneself with negative criticism that leads only to frustration. Jesus puts God’s plan clearly before us.  It is that man and woman will be willing and able to commit themselves to one another for life.  It is a plan that is worthy of our highest human calling.  There is the possibility of great happiness in marriage, but marriage is also hard work.  The divorce rate is one indication that the work is more effort than many are willing to expend, or that many marriages were entered in the first place without thoughtful consideration.  A failed marriage is not just one that ends with a divorce recorded at a court house.  A failed marriage is also a marriage where a couple failed to live together in their own house in the manner that God intended. Successful marriage is not just staying together, it is growing together in a relationship that honours God and honours each other.

The last sentence in the first reading from the Book of Genesis gives a blueprint for the home as God intended it from the beginning.  God intended that happy marriages would be characterised by couples who leave their past, cleave to their partner and weave a new future together.                                               Fr John

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

The principal was visiting first class and asked the students what they wanted to be when they grow up.  A hand shot up.  “I want to be possible,” the boy answered. “Possible?” the principal asked.  “Of all things that you might want to be why do you want that?”  The boy replied, “Because at home my mum and dad are always saying that I’m impossible.”

It is easy to label someone as impossible. It is just as easy for them to think that they are indeed impossible, loose self confidence and not believe in themselves. God never sees anyone or any situation as impossible.  The constant message throughout scripture is how God makes the impossible, possible.  God always believes in us and always believes that we are indeed full of possibility.  Today is a day when I can make something good and positive in my life possible.

                                                     © Fr James McSweeney, A Year in Reflection