The most difficult question for any spiritual counsellor is “Why”.  Five years ago a young mother called to my house distraught with the news she had received from her Doctor’s diagnosis – breast cancer.  The prognosis was discouraging.  She knew that in all probability her life would be drastically shortened.  She spoke to me about her two small children and said “Father, Why”.  Thanks to medical personnel who cared for her, she has been cured of her illness.

 

Life is fraught with mystery.  Everywhere the question “Why” raises its head.  Why war, why disease, why poverty, why human suffering and heartbreak manifested in a thousand different ways.  All these are questions to which I do not have an answer or as far as I know, nobody does.  So instead of speculating about “Why” it may be easier to focus on why we do not understand.

 

In this weekend’s Gospel we read the story of Lazarus who was a friend of Jesus.  His sisters Martha and Mary sent for Jesus because Lazarus was sick.  By the time Jesus arrived Lazarus was dead and buried.  The story has a happy ending, as Jesus exercised his authority over death and called his friend back to the land of the living.  In this story we have elements of mystery.  The premature death of a young man.  The heartbreak of the family who were hurt and baffled.  They like us could not understand. 

 

One reason we have trouble understanding, is because God’s timetable is different from ours.  Martha and Mary had sent Jesus an urgent appeal for help.  They needed him immediately and they believed in his power and willingness to help, otherwise they would not have sent for him.  His timing was off.  He seemed to be late in arriving.  “Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died”.  Their concept of time almost made a shipwreck of their faith.

 

If first century people had a time problem with regard to faith, how much more have we in the twenty first century.  We literally live by the clock.  Everything seems to move at a hectic pace. Our roads have signposts with minimum as well as maximum speed limits.  Deadlines loom.  “Our days are too short”.  “I have been up only an hour and I am already too hours behind”.  These are some expressions that we hear and use every day.  We do carry the same hectic pace in our spiritual lives. We pray for something and we not only make the request, we set the delivery day.  We pray for a burden to be lifted or a wrong to be righted or a dream to be fulfilled and if God does not answer our faith begins to waiver.

 

We must understand that God’s ways are not our ways.  We operate in the realm of time, God operates in the realm of eternity.  It is a good thing for all of us that God works by his own methods.  We may not always understand, but we can always trust God to do things his own way.                                                               Fr John

 

The healing of the blind man in the gospel unleashes a chain of chaos and confusion. His neighbours are dumbfounded, the Pharisees are suspicious and at war with one another, and the Jewish authorities are cynical, even calling in the man’s parents as witnesses.  The character of Jesus and of the blind man are called into question as everyone tries to figure out what has happened. Jesus and the man who has been healed are both accused of being sinners. The interrogators even ridicule the man, asking, ‘Are you trying to teach us, and you a sinner through and through?’

But things are simple for the man who has experienced Jesus’ healing. He knows what he has witnessed, and is ready and willing to attest to it. ‘If this man were not from God,’ he says, ‘he couldn’t do a thing.’ He understands that his encounter with Jesus was extraordinary. Jesus finally clears up the confusion, turning everything on its head, as is often his way. It is the man who had been blind who sees who Jesus is: ‘Lord, I believe.’ The Pharisees who think they see things clearly are the ones who are really blind to the truth. ‘We are not blind, surely?’ is the question facing all of us as we advance through Lent. How open are we to seeing the truth of God’s presence in situations where we don’t expect it?

 © Tríona Doherty, Athlone, Co Roscommon.  Intercom Magazine, Veritas Ltd.

  

 As a Harbour community we extend our deepest sympathy and our heartfelt prayers to the families, friends and colleagues of Dara Fitzpatrick, Ciaran Smith,  Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby; the members of the Coastguard Service who tragically lost their lives whilst involved in a rescue mission off the coast of Mayo early on Tuesday morning.  The tragedy is a poignant reminder of the unsung heroism of the men and women serving with the Coastguard Service, our Naval Service, the RNLI, mountain rescue crews, ambulance and emergency services, firefighters, the Gardaí and our Defence Forces.  When tragedy strikes, as sadly happened on a number of occasions in recent years, we salute their heroism but it shouldn’t take a tragedy to remind us how indebted we are to them. They deserve to be recognised as heroes not just in times of tragedy but every day.  Each and every day they risk their own wellbeing to save others.  We salute them for their heroism and their incredible generosity of spirit.  May we never take all that they do for us for granted.

There is a famous line in the book of the prophet Micah that reads as follows: ‘This is what the Lord asks of you, only this: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God’ [Micah 6:8]. It sums up the very essence of what we are called to as people of faith.  

Those very words haunted me last week as I listened to reports concerning ‘Mother and Baby Homes’ and the shocking revelations of how hundreds of children were buried in Tuam. Listening to those reports and  interviews with those directly affected by the revelations, I felt both profound sadness and deep shame: sadness for those who were judged, marginalised, hidden away and made to feel like lesser beings; shame because our Church was instrumental in fostering a culture that regarded these mothers as outcasts and their children as ‘illegitimate.’ How in God’s name can a child ever be regarded as ‘illegitimate’?  How could the birth of a baby and the precious gift of life ever be seen as a source of dishonour and shame? Every child born into our world is a blessing to be embraced, a gift to be cherished, a godsend to be nurtured and nourished regardless of the circumstances in which they are conceived or the family situation into which they are born. There simply are no ‘lesser children’ for God. There never has been and there never will be! All children are to be cherished equally; all mothers ought to be cared for and supported equally, all families are to be respected equally. To do anything else is to betray everything Jesus lived and died for.

And so this weekend I ask all of us to pray for all those who have suffered unjustly in the past, those who were shunned and hidden away, those who were denied the joy that should have rightfully been theirs in childbirth and motherhood. We humbly acknowledge the part our Church played in cultivating the culture that judged and looked down on these women and children and we pledge ourselves to rediscovering the path that Micah has marked out for us: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God.  When we act justly, there is no room for discrimination.  When we love tenderly, no one is excluded from our care.  When we walk humbly with our God no one looks down on anyone else for we are all created equal in the image and likeness of the one and same God.                                    Fr Seán

Getting to the ‘heart’ of the Law

This Sunday’s Gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount and deals with how we should live the Christian life.  Jesus is telling us that getting by within the letter of the law is not what he has in mind for his followers and he goes on to spell out clearly what is expected of all those who profess to believe in him.  He does not lay down laws and regulations for every situation in life, but he asks us to keep a check on our inner attitudes and on our motivation.

Every society has its laws. We may not like them.  At times we may even resist them but they are absolutely necessary. It would be impossible for us to function without them.  However much we may dislike the laws, they are essential to our very existence.  This is not to say that the laws are always right.   Sometimes they are clearly wrong.  We cannot live without laws but neither can we live with them unless they are constantly revised and corrected. 

There were many who followed Jesus who must have assumed that he supported a life free of the constraints of the Jewish law.  His demeanour was so kind and his association with sinners so enterprising, his denunciation of the Pharisees so stinging, it would be easy to assume that he had come to declare independence from the laws of Moses.  In fact Jesus had come to do the exact opposite.  He had come to restore the law’s proper place in the hearts of people.  He came to show us what a free and full life looked like, when lived in proper obedience to the commandments of God.  The commandments of God do not limit life’s joys: rather they set us free to enjoy life with safety and integrity and are given as a blessing from God and as a sign of His love for us.                                                                          Fr John

 

These weeks of Lent are set aside by the Church so that people may have the opportunity, if they choose to take it, of coming face to face with ourselves, taking stock of our spiritual life and measuring them lives against the yardstick of God’s commandments.

This Sunday’s Gospel finds Jesus in the desert wrestling with issues of right and wrong.  For most of us, except for those who have visited the Holy Land, it is difficult to visualise the dry parched earth, the stark landscape of the desert.  No one books a holiday to the desert unless they can be assured that someone has built a resort spa and a five star hotel. The desert also represents a parched place for the heart and soul.  The desert may be the time when health is broken or promises have been broken.  The desert may be the wasteland of depression, hopelessness and crushed dreams.  Have you been there? Are you there now?

Living now as many of us do, in built up areas, piled high on top of each other in high rise apartments, bombarded day and night with the roar of traffic and the blare of electronic music, we are in danger of losing our desert roots and with that, our inner life.  We need to create a time and space to nurture our spiritual lives.  Lent is such a time.  The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert wilderness and He remained there for forty days.  Like Jesus we too should let the Holy Spirit lead us out into the desert this Lent where we can confront the devils that haunt our lives, and like Christ, triumph over them.                                                                     Fr John

All of us need to know that we are needed. To feel not wanted can have a devastating experience in our lives.  Imagine how you would feel if no one needed your help, your advice, your encouragement, your company or anything else you have. You would be isolated in a world that could get along just as well without you.  Some people feel that way about themselves. They are badly mistaken, but this is how they feel nonetheless.  Most of us have some sense of necessity.  We know that our families need us, our friends need us, and probably we are needed in a business or job somewhere. We have a place in life and we know that our presence and participation are important to a few people.  This gives us some sense of necessity and we may not realise how badly we are needed. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is talking about this.  He is trying to get us to see how necessary each individual is. It isn’t just a matter of your family and a few close friends.  Jesus is saying to each one of us that the world needs us.  We may find it hard to believe this but that is what He is saying “You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.”  When He said those things He wasn’t talking to a few powerful men and women, He was talking to a group of plain ordinary people just like any of us. Salt and light - if we can understand how important these two things are to the world, then we can know how badly we are needed.  Salt in the ancient world served two very necessary functions.  One of them was seasoning for food.  We are still quite familiar with that. The other is less common in our day and that is preservation.  We preserve our food in the fridge and the deep freeze.  Before electricity came to our homes people used salt to cure meat and fish with a saline solution that helped to keep them edible for long periods of time. Jesus had to have this function in mind when He said to his friends “You are the salt of the earth.”  He was saying that we as Christians have a responsibility to serve as a preserving influence in the midst of a decaying world. The function of light – the uses of light in our modern world are so many that we could not even list them let alone discuss them.  Light dispels the darkness and helps us to see where we are going and what we are doing.  Jesus must have been thinking of something like this when he said “You are the light of the world.”  All around us are people groping in darkness and confused about life.  We can help them by the way we live our lives, driving back a little of the darkness, enabling others find their way.  From my younger days I remember a song entitled “The old lamplighter.”  Part of the lyrics said “He made the light a little lighter wherever he would go – the old lamplighter of long long ago.”  This is what Jesus is saying that we should do, make the world a little brighter everywhere we go. Your world needs you.  Let your light shine that people may see goodness in your life and praise God because of it.                                                       Fr John 
 

Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent

This Wednesday, 1st March 2017, we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten Journey.  Blessed Ashes will be distributed at Masses on Wednesday and will also be available to take home for those who are housebound. 

Trocaire Boxes for this year’s Trocaire Lenten Campaign are available in all our Churches this weekend and we encourage parishioners to take one and return it at Easter so that together we can make a difference in the lives of some of the most needy communities in our world.  A Trocaire Box during Lent is a wonderful opportunity to teach young children and to remind ourselves to be grateful for the blessings we so often take for granted and to be mindful of those in our world who are not so fortunate. This Lent let’s make a sincere effort to make some small sacrifice so that others can have a better chance in life.                         Fr Seán

The Choice is Ours An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A battle is going on inside all of us,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”. In a way, it is as simple as that. Each one of us faces hundreds of choices every day. Mostly, they are minor decisions that may not seem important at the time. But they all add up to something. They make us the person we are. Do our choices make us the kind of person who follows Jesus, or the kind of person who goes in the opposite direction? We can stay stuck where we are, repeating the same old patterns, or we can leave it all behind and choose a new path, like Peter, Andrew, James and John did. They were called, and they took decisive action. This initial choice to follow Jesus was reinforced and remade, day in and day out, during their discipleship journey, just as it is on ours.                          © Tríona Doherty. Intercom Magazine