The Lotto goes from strength to strength. Every week thousands of players ensure that whether they are home or way they are in with a chance to become rich. Many say that they do not want to become millionaires but that they would like to win enough to be more comfortable and to be able to provide for themselves and their families. It is said that those least able to afford the outlay are the most addicted.  Their needs are certainly more pressing but the dream that wealth in itself brings happiness touches most hearts at some level in our world today.

This Sunday’s Gospel contains what we call the eight Beatitudes, what we might call a recipe for living and for happiness. It outlines a series of choices and gives us a programme for living. It is, in many ways, Jesus’ manifesto.  We are all familiar with manifestos trotted out during general election campaigns.  No matter how much good will is involved, no matter how well intentioned, promises will often be reneged on and many programmes will be put on hold. The big difference in the manifesto that Jesus offers is that it comes with a guarantee and a promise. As well as offering us the manifesto, Jesus offers us all that it takes to be able to live up to it. That is something that no earthly power could ever hope to achieve, let alone offer. The Beatitudes contain the secret of happiness.  To be poor in spirit has nothing to do with living in poverty or without the basic necessities for life.  It means that the inner me, the real me, is not influenced by wealth or greed or material things of any kind. The hunger that Jesus speaks of has to do with the hunger for justice, for fair play and equal rights.  The deepest hungers in the human heart are not for wealth and riches but for self-worth, dignity and personal freedom.                  

Fr John

Recently at Mass we were treated to music and song from one of the children’s choirs in the parish. Their singing was truly beautiful and yet some of them are so young and small, it was hard to believe they could create such a wonderful sound. You could hear their innocence in the notes and words. They enhanced the Mass and bridged the gap between earth and heaven.

I thought what a wonderful gift their parents were giving them. Teaching them the love of Christ through music and song. I thought of my own parents. Their methods of teaching faith were not child centric but I learned early on that while they did not have all the answers they certainly knew who did. They had a saint for every occasion and a prayer for every worry. They had novenas to heal a multitude of ailments and at the heart of our home stood Our Lady and her Son. We were typical of most Irish families of that time. As I grew older, more opinionated and mouthy, I turned to prayer only when I needed it. However the seed my parents planted had taken root. It would take years to flourish. I would read all around my faith and the faith of others first. I would look to science for answers and would find my peace in eastern practice. None brought satisfaction.

Close by where I live there is a field. In its centre stands an elm tree. Its roots go deep into the ground, its beauty on display above. It is the tree that housed the secrets of childhood. It contained children’s laughter for years. It was full of sound but not so anymore. However, in its silence it is as beautiful as ever. It still stands strong, waiting for new hands to reach into its branches and find the beauty within. Faith is like that. It is deep within each of us, planted there by someone who felt it important enough to share. I believe my parents planted my elm. They gave me a gift like no other. My faith had taken root and it became my foundation. I left it unattended for years but when life brought challenges, I found my way back and took shelter deep within its branches. For my own children I wish one thing. I wish them to have the confidence to question and be blessed with a life of faith. I pray their faith will keep them from straying. I pray they will never live in fear always knowing that Christ is with them. I thank God for my own parents. They planted the seed and gifted me the space and freedom to find my own path.                              A Parent in our Parish

Today’s gospel begins where we left off last Sunday, with Jesus telling the people in the synagogue in Nazareth that the scriptures are being fulfilled in their hearing. Their initial positive response to him augurs well but change in attitude comes quickly as it becomes apparent that Jesus is not interested in popular acclaim but in repentance.

The word of God is alive and active and invites us to ponder where and how God is at work in the daily circumstances of our lives. It is always a word that saves and heals but if we are not ready to be challenged by it then we can either deceive ourselves by pretending it is what we want or we can just reject it. That was the situation of the people in Nazareth, and today, like them, we must ask ourselves if we really want what God wants – that is what repentance is all about.                         © Sean Goan, Let the Reader Understand, www.columba.ie

Last weekend one of the parents at our Do This in Memory Mass in Passage West shared a powerful reflection on the meaning of forgiveness. Afterwards several people asked for a copy of the reflection and we are happy to reproduce it below to help us all to reflect on the gift and the challenge that is forgiveness.

 

To forgive is not to forget.

To forgive is really to remember

That nobody is perfect;

That each of us stumbles when we want so much to stay upright;

That each of us says things that we wish we had never said;

That we all forget that love is more important than being right.

To forgive is really to remember

That we are so much more than our mistakes;

That we are often kind and caring;

That accepting another’s flaws can help us to accept our own.

To forgive is to remember

That the odds are pretty good

That we might soon need to be forgiven ourselves;

That life sometimes gives us more than we can handle gracefully.

To forgive is to remember

That we have room in our hearts

To begin again ……. and again ………….and again.

©Author unknown

All of us at times have taken a ‘true or false’ test.  The concept is very simple.  You are presented with a statement and you must judge whether it is true or false. The great thing about this kind of test is its simplicity.  Even if you don’t know the answer you can take a guess and still have a fifty-fifty chance of being right.

Some people try to apply the same method to the Christian faith. They look at it and then ask themselves ‘Is it true or false?’ That however is an inadequate approach to faith. Faith cannot be reduced to a series of true or false questions. More often than not, what matters is possibility not credibility. This seems to be the approach that Jesus takes with his own faith.  In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus reads from the  prophesy of Isaiah which looks forward to the coming of a Messiah.  The passage reads:  ‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me for he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to the blind new sight and to set the downtrodden free’. This is the kind of scripture that lends itself to endless speculation. Who wrote it? Who were they talking about? Has it already been fulfilled? Is it true or false?

But Jesus did not concern himself with any of this. He read this ancient text and decided to allow it to come true in and through his own life.  I am aware of course that he was the Messiah and these things were actually written about him.  I am also aware that he was not forced to accept any of them. Allowing them to find expression in his life was a choice that he himself made.  Any one of us can choose to make that same choice. We too can be bearers of good news to the poor, we can help the hungry, release people from unjust burdens and campaign for the homeless.  The question is do we want to? Do we choose to allow the words of scripture be fulfilled in us by the choices we make and the lives we live?

Many people have never looked at Christianity this way? They think of it as a creed to be accepted or rejected rather than as a deed to be done. Is Christianity true?  People have debated the question over and over. But is Christianity possible? That is a different question!  And it is the one that really matters. Each of us has the power to allow the scriptures and the promises of God be fulfilled in our lives and when we do so we show the world that a Christian life is indeed possible.

                                                                                                                Fr John

The Wedding Feast of Cana is a familiar story, rich in symbolism. It is the first ‘sign’ recorded in John’s Gospel. These ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel are miracle stories but John prefers to use the term ‘sign’, as they point to something far more than just the miracle itself. John used these signs to encourage belief in his readers but they are also an invitation for us to understand something more of how God operates in our lives.      Jesus transforms the water which would be used for the Jewish purification rite. He takes something used to give life to people, and transforms it into something which brings joy, celebration and new life to the party. There are many messages we can take from this account: the ability of God to transform our lives, to transform that which is dead and stale. The abundance of wine (approx. 700 litres!) is a significant reminder of the abundance of God’s love for us, beyond our comprehension.  We could also focus on the role of Mary in this Gospel – she is the one who notices, she is attentive to the needs of those around her and brings this concern to Jesus. We might pray today that we too may be able to notice, to see, to intervene when we are faced with situations that need attention. This may be a situation of injustice or it may be a situation where something in our own lives or in our church has become dead and stale and is in desperate need of new wine.

© Jane Mellett, Intercom Magazine

The issues facing our world nowadays are major and have enormous significance. What are they? First and foremost is peace on earth. How can nations and peoples live together and resolve their differences without resorting to war ever again.  Another is the urgent need to tackle climate change. How can we stop polluting this wonderful world of ours? The stark reality of the damage that we humans are causing to the earth is evident – storms, hurricanes, flooding and extreme weather events continue to worsen. When we look at major issues like these our first reaction is one of genuine care and concern and we all agree that something should and must be done.  But our second reaction is very often to excuse ourselves of responsibility on the grounds that there is nothing we as individuals can do.  The issues are simply too big and we are too small to make any real difference.

This Sunday’s Gospel deals with the ministry of John the Baptist preaching about some great issues of his time – the kingdom of God, a call to repentance and the need to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. The people wondered how all of this was connected to their individual lives. If the kingdom of God is soon to appear, surely one individual person cannot do anything about it. Probably not much and certainly not everything, but they could do something.  They asked John “What must we do?” His answer was a simple basic approach to important issues of living justly and compassionately in the circumstances of their own lives. They could make a difference by seeking to make a positive change in their own lives. 

As we approach the celebration of the coming of Christ we ask ourselves “What should we do?”  John’s answer is within the reach of us all.  Firstly, share with those in need. Secondly, do our daily work honestly and well.  Then Christ, the great giver, and Christ, the great worker, will indeed come and live in our midst.             Fr John                                                                                                                                                                                        

May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you will live from deep within your heart.  May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace. May God bless you with tears that cry for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them  and to change their pain to joy. May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done. If you have the courage to accept these blessings, then God will also bless you with:

 

happiness           because you will know that you have made life better for others. inner peace         because you will have worked to secure an outer peace for others. laughter              because your heart will be light. faithful friends    because they will recognise your worth as a person.

 

These blessings are yours - not for the asking, but for the giving - from One who wants to be your companion, our God, who lives forever and ever. Amen.

©  This blessing was written by Benedictine Sister, Ruth Fox, and first delivered at a college graduation some 32 years ago. It still has much to say to all of us!        Fr Seán

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

God so loved the world

St John’s Gospel sums up the wonderful mystery of Christmas in a single sentence in John 3:16 when he says: ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.’  We can only understand the true meaning of Christmas in light of the love that inspired such a gift.  If we want to embrace the true spirit of Christmas then the greatest gift we can share over the coming week is the gift of our love.  I recently came across a reflection that spoke of ways to love.  We might all try to take it to heart this Christmas.                                                                                            Fr Seán

Ways to Love

Listen .................... without interrupting

Speak...................... without accusing

Give ....................... without sparing

Answer ................... without arguing

Share..................... without pretending

Enjoy...................... without complaining

Trust ...................... without wavering

Forgive .................. without punishing

Promise ................. without forgetting

Honour .................. without fail

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.