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Homily – Funeral for Shamus Martin

Last week I had what was perhaps the most difficult funeral I’ve ever had. One of our parishioners, a middle-aged and beloved man, took his own life. We’ll never really understand why he did this, but we trust in God’s mercy and turn to Jesus in prayer and in sorrow. The following is the homily I gave for Shamus’ funeral. May he rest in peace.


Loneliness… Have you ever noticed how lonely people are? And I don’t just mean today; people have always been lonely, though I think it’s more severe in our time than it was before. Have you ever wondered why that is, why people are lonely? If you take time to think about, and are honest about it, you’ll come to see that everyone is lonely. Yes, absolutely everyone is lonely.

The great rock icon Freddie Mercury once said: “You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man. And that is the most bitter type of loneliness, success has brought me world idolisation and millions of pounds. But it’s prevented me from having the one thing we all need: A loving, ongoing relationship” (Rock On Freddie, 1985).

You see, that’s because loneliness isn’t a disease, it’s at the heart of the human condition. From the very beginning of Creation, man has felt a certain loneliness, a need for an ‘other’. God Himself said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18). And so God created the animals. But that didn’t suit the man. Then God created woman, and the two became one flesh.

When God created us in His own image and likeness, He created us for union with an ‘other’. Just as God is in Himself a communion of three Divine Persons, so too, has humanity been created for communion. We’ve been created with the need for others, and not just in a marital way, but with the need for deep personal communion with others; it’s part of our design.

Unfortunately, the great tragedy of original sin broke down communion: it broke communion with God, with others, with Creation, and even with ourselves. And it didn’t just break down communion, but even broke down our ability for communion. The joy and oneness of communion now became a sense of isolation and loneliness.

And yet, we still long for communion, we still need this communion, because it’s what we’ve been created for. Now, however, we just can’t seem to achieve it; the other person always remains ‘other’. This is the great misery of the human person.

Well, it’s into this misery that God entered by becoming a man in Jesus Christ. Jesus entered into this misery, lived it out, and even went into its very depths through His Passion on the Cross. Remember His cry on the Cross? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46). Or the Lamentation we sing on Good Friday: Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow (Lam 1:12b) Jesus entered into the abyss of human loneliness — further, I think, than any of us can even imagine —, deep into the darkness of despair. And He did this so that He might be there with us, in the deepest recesses of our loneliness. He did this so that no one could ever say that they’re too far from God to be saved. As Jesus said, the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10; cf. Mt 18:11).

Jesus has gone to the ends, not of the world, but of being in order to save His lost sheep. This, my brothers and sisters, if God’s mercy! This is how deeply He loves us and desires for us to be with Him. Because the truth of the matter is that while our ability for communion has been compromised by sin, His has not. While our loved ones will always remain distant and separate from us, Jesus makes Himself one with us! This is why He became man. This is why He died on the Cross. This is why He continues to call us to Himself.

Yes, loneliness is at the heart of the human condition, and it will never be completely gone, but Jesus invites us to a unique personal relationship with Him that transcends our limitations, even in this life. We need not hide our loneliness from Him, but rather we need to bring it to Him, because only He can truly understand it. Part of what keeps us apart from one another in this life is that we can’t ‘get inside’ of one another; we can’t read each other’s minds, each other’s hearts. The other person forever remains a mystery, especially if they put up barriers. As the actor Robin Williams once said, “All it takes is beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are”. But we can’t hide this from God, because He knows the depths of our hearts, He knows our brokenness better than we do.

But we shouldn’t hide our loneliness from each other either. Instead, we ought to come together before the Lord in our misery, in our deepest longing for communion. Because in doing so we not only find solace in one another, but we find friendship in Christ, friendship through Christ, which leads to communion with one another. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the heart of the Church! Brothers and sisters who come to Jesus, together in their woundedness, together in their loneliness, together in their brokenness to find strength and hope in Him, and companionship with one another.

While we all face loneliness, no one should face it alone — in fact, no one does face it alone, but Jesus is always with us; in the depth of our brokenness, in the depth of our suffering, in the depth of our darkness, He is there, waiting for us, waiting to bring His light and His grace, waiting to bring us together to the Father. May we never forget — no matter how lonely we may feel — that we’re never alone: Jesus is here. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 14 C


Is 66:10-14
Ps 66         R/. Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.
Gal 6:14-18
Lk 10:1-12, 17-20


In our Gospel today, Luke recounts the second of three times Jesus sent His disciples on a missions to evangelise. The first was to the Apostles (Lk 9); the third will be during the Last supper (Lk 22).

In each sending out, Jesus uses almost exactly the same language, and He focuses their task on the same object: to make disciples by proclaiming the Good News.

When we examine today’s Gospel text in correlation to the other two commissions, we begin to notice a few key things.

First, we notice that Jesus sends the disciples to prepare His way: [He] sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go (Lk 10:1). The mission of the disciples was to go ahead of Jesus and open the hearts of the people so that when Jesus arrived, they would be ready to hear Him and encounter Him. [C]ure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Lk 10:9). This almost echoes the role John the Baptist had in preparing the way of the Lord.

Second, we notice that Jesus wants His message proclaimed to everyone, no exceptions. In Genesis 10, we hear that there were 70 nations in the world besides Israel. Choosing 70 missionaries is symbolic of their going out to all nations, which Jesus will make explicit in His last words to the disciples before He ascends to the Father (Lk 24:47). The harvest is plentiful (Lk 10:2), and the disciples are to go to everyone who will welcome their words and listen.

Third, we notice that this mission is urgent: greet no one on the road (Lk 10:4). Focus on your mission, Jesus was saying; don’t get distracted. This is also part of why Jesus tells them not to bring anything with them. Don’t worry about your needs, they will only distract you from your work; I will take care of all your needs. This mission was also a lesson in Divine Providence.

Lastly, but most importantly, we notice that disciples are called to progress in the faith. When Jesus first began to preach, many people gathered around Him to listen. As He continued, some began to believe in Him and live according to His words; some even began to follow Him around. The word ‘disciple’ means student, and well describes the beginning of the Christian life. Disciples are called to listen to Jesus, to learn from Him and to follow in His ways.

But in this second mission, Jesus is calling out some of the disciples to advance in their relationship with Him. He calls them to move from being ‘students’ to become teachers themselves, as He gives them a mission to go out and preach the Good News. That’s because there’s a necessary progression in the life of faith to move from merely following Jesus (being a student) to one of announcing Jesus to others (being a missionary).

As disciples we’re called to learn from Jesus, allowing Him to change our hearts and minds. But once transformed, we’re called to grow from being a ‘disciple’ to being a ‘missionary disciple’. Each and every baptised person is called to be a missionary, to go out and help others to know and experience the love of Jesus; this is the basic mission of every Christian! Jesus calls us to Himself so that we might go out!

My brothers and sisters, the sending out of the 70 is our sending out; their mission is our mission. Are we ready to go out and preach Jesus to others? Do we know Him well enough to do that? Do we trust Him enough?

This is what Pope Francis keeps telling us. But in order to embrace this mission, in order to grow from being a disciple to being a missionary disciple, we ourselves must first be transformed by the love and grace of Jesus.

As we ponder this mission today, may we turn to Jesus asking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that we might grow in faith and in our experience of His love and be faithful to the mission He gives us. Amen.PopeFrancis_Missionaries

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Homily – Sunday Easter VI C


Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Ps 67         R/. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
Jn 14:23-29


Have you ever wondered why the Church teaches what she teaches? Have you ever wondered how the Church arrived at her teachings and why she continues to defend and promote them? It’s easy to miss it, but our first reading this Sunday gives us a beautiful insight into the life of the Church and into the historical development of doctrine.

Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles recounts for us the first major theological crisis in the Church. We’ve been reading it all week at daily Mass, but today we get a summary of the event, which has come to be called the ‘Council of Jerusalem’, the first ever Council of the Church’s Pastors.

The question at hand is about whether one is saved by the Jewish practice of circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses, or by Baptism into Jesus. In other words, do those who want to be Christian first need to become Jews? Some said yes, others said no; and so began the first theological fight in the Church.

This was a major event in the life of the Church. The outcome established a method of dealing with theological problems, gave a specifically Christian direction for the Church, and instituted a benchmark to evaluate future challenges to the teachings of Jesus.

As our first reading indicates, the theological conflict began in Antioch, in the missions, if you will. Certain Christians, former Pharisees (cf. v. 5), were teaching that in order for gentiles (or pagans) to become Christian, they first had to be circumcised and taught to live according to the Law and traditions of Moses. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them and decided to bring the matter to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem, the Church’s leadership at the time.

What an inspiration for Paul to have! He didn’t insist he was right, but humbled himself to go to ‘experts’ for advice. Who better to tell us what Jesus wanted and intended than the Apostles? This is now the role of the Bishops. And the ‘elders’? Well that’s just English for the Greek word presbyteroi, also translated as ‘Presbyters’ or ‘Priests’.

Here the Apostles establish a new method of interpreting the teachings of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit: conciliar discernment. The Apostles and elders gathered together in prayer to better understand what the Holy Spirit was saying to the Church, and debated the matter as a tool of discernment. This particular portion of the text is omitted for this Sunday’s reading, but I encourage you to go back and read it. You’ll notice some very interesting points, namely Peter’s authority as Chief of the Apostles (he’s the first to make a formal statement); and James’ authority as Bishop of Jerusalem and host of the Council (he summarises the discernment).

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council of Jerusalem set firm in the life of the Church a new course that separated her from the Jewish Religion, establishing a specifically Christian Faith.

After the debate, Peter, based on his experience with the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10) spoke out in favour of the faith: God, who knows the human heart, testified to [the gentiles] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith He has made no distinction between them and us. […] we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (vv. 8-9, 11).

In other words, salvation is through Jesus, not through the Law of Moses; and salvation through Jesus isn’t just for the Jews, but for all peoples. This is the reason why the Church is catholic, or universal. It’s meant for all peoples, not just a select group. It’s for this reason that the Christian Faith continues to spread to all nations; it knows no boundaries. Jesus died for all, and desires that all be saved. This is the purpose and mission of the Church.

The conclusion of the Council is also of particular importance, not merely for the decision that it makes, but for the way it arrived at this decision. After having debated the matter and reached a conclusion through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council writes to the Church in Antioch (and everywhere): it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us — notice the collaboration with the Holy Spirit — to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well (vv. 28-29).

Through the Holy Spirit, the Apostles established a guiding principle for Church doctrine and discipline that has lasted even unto today: nothing should be imposed on the faithful except what is essential. Throughout the ages, in every controversy, this has been the litmus test used to evaluate the demands of the Faith.

So how did we get from the four precepts listed in this letter to the tome that is the Catechism? Well, there have two thousand years of sinful human history since then, with many, many challenges to the Faith over the years, each of which called for a clearer definition of what is essential. There were questions about whether Jesus was human or divine (He’s both); questions about Mary’s motherhood (She is mother of God); questions about the reality of the Sacraments (i.e., the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Jesus); and so on, and so on.

Though the Bible is important and essential, Christianity is not a faith based on a book; it’s a faith based on a Person, a living Person — Jesus —, who invites us into a dynamic relationship with Him. As such, then, it’s a living Faith that deepens and grows over time. It doesn’t change or abandon its roots, but like a tree, it matures and blooms into the fullness of its nature over time.

I find this reading gives us hope, because if there’s ever anything in Church teaching that we don’t understand — or perhaps don’t like — then we owe it to ourselves to seek to better understand it. Where does it come from? Why does the Church teach this? What does it reveal about who Jesus is, what He’s done, and to what He’s calling us?

My brothers and sisters, nothing in the Church is random or accidental; it all serves a purpose: to proclaim Jesus Christ as the loving God who has come into the world to save mankind. May we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit so that He might guide us in the paths of Christ and into the heart of the Church. Amen.

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Homily for Sunday OT 19 B – John 6, The Bread of Life Discourse (part 3 of 5)


1 Kings 19:4-8
Ps 34         R/. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Eph 4:30-5.2
Jn 6:41-51


We continue this Sunday with chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, the ‘Bread of Life Discourse’.

Once again, John tells us how the people refuse to believe what Jesus is saying to them; they refuse to see beyond mere appearances to see the truth that underlies them: Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? (Jn 6:42). Precisely because they only see Jesus as a mere man, they can’t believe His words. They still only believe that He is a Prophet like those before Him; they don’t believe — and therefore can’t understand — His divine origins. This reminds us of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus in chapter 3 (Jn 3:1-21). The crowds are only hearing and seeing with their human senses, with human logic, and not with spiritual senses or looking to understand God’s logic.

And yet, again, this lifting up of the heart and mind to God is precisely what Jesus is trying to awaken in them. As I mentioned last week, faith is what Jesus is trying to arouse in them; faith is what will allow them to see beyond the mere physical to reach the spiritual realities. So that begs the question, then, what is faith?

Jesus tells us, No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me (Jn 6:44a). This tells us that faith is first and foremost a gift: God is the one who gives us faith as He draws us to Himself; it isn’t something that we give ourselves or even something that we take. But we mustn’t be simplistic with what this means: we can’t go around saying, ‘Well, I don’t believe because I just haven’t yet received the gift of faith’ as if it’s something that’ll fall out of the sky someday.

If we take the time to read the Bible, specifically the ongoing story of our relationship with God, and really listen to it, we’ll come to understand that from the very beginning God has been drawing us to Himself. That’s why He created us, and that’s why He continued to speak to us through His messengers and Prophets. God is constantly inviting us, drawing us to Himself; that’s why He sent His Son Jesus to come and bring us to Himself! Drawing us to the Father is precisely Jesus’ mission; salvation is the consequence of accepting this invitation and being one with the Father.

Faith, then, is a gift in so far as it’s the invitation that God makes to us to be in relationship with Him. And it’s a gift because He initiates it. But that’s only the first part. For any invitation to bear fruit, it needs to be accepted! That’s why Jesus told us last Sunday, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (Jn 6:29). In order for us to have faith, we must accept the words of Jesus and believe that He is who He says He is; we must give Him the assent of our will. We need to accept that God wants us, that He has the ability to communicate with us, and that He has sent His Son Jesus to establish a relationship with us. Then, and only then, can faith begin to take root in us and grow. And so, in a sense, faith is also a choice.

We see this most especially in the stories of Abraham and Moses, but also with Elijah as we heard in the first reading today. The Bible tells us that faith is hearing and obeying God’s word. It isn’t a vague idea of simple belief, but a concrete action of obedience. Elijah received the word of the Angel to eat and to journey, and he obeyed; Moses heard the voice of God in the burning bush telling him to return to Egypt and free Israel from slavery, and he obeyed; Abraham heard the voice of God to leave his land, and he obeyed. Obedience to God’s words is the beginning of faith, and is a necessary dimension of the Bible’s understanding of faith. (For more on this, listen to Stephen Ray’s talk Abraham: Revealing the Historical Roots of Our Faith, by Lighthouse Catholic Media.)

This is what Jesus is trying to help the crowds understand. But because they can’t see beyond mere appearances, because they don’t believe that God can do the humanly impossible, their hearts are closed to Jesus’ words. As John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. […] He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (Jn 1:1, 10-12).

Unless we believe that Jesus is who He says He is — the God-made-flesh, the incarnate Son of the Father — then everything He says to us is useless. Jesus’ credibility is rooted in His identity, and, as He tells us Himself, He is the only way to know the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). That’s why Jesus continues, only the Son knows the Father and whoever believes has eternal life (Jn 6:47). Jesus will later clarify this at the last supper, And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (Jn 17:3).

All this is important, because unless we believe in Jesus, unless we give Him the assent of our will and have faith in Him, then we will not find credibility in His words. And unless we find His words credible, we will never come to believe that He means what He says: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (Jn 6:51).

To believe in the Eucharist is to believe Jesus’ words. But in order to believe in His words we must accept them. This is why it’s so important for us to pray. As we’ll hear over the next two weeks, Jesus’ teachings are sometimes difficult to accept and it’s much easier for us to take the easy route and justify to ourselves that He’s merely speaking symbolically, or using hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point. Only in prayer, only by seeking out the one who seeks us, will we be truly drawn into the mystery of God, into the mystery of the Eucharist, into the mystery of faith.

That’s why Jesus paraphrases the words of the Prophets Isaiah (Is 54:13) and Jeremiah (Jer 31:33ff): And they shall all be taught by God (Jn 6:45). There’s a double meaning in this verse: first, God is teaching them in that very moment through Jesus, the Son of God; and second, the Holy Spirit continues to teach us today in prayer. In prayer, God teaches us, heals us, strengthens our faith, and draws us ever deeper into Himself.

I invite you now to kneel.

Pope Francis carries a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi observance May 30 in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)  (May 30, 2013) See POPE-CORPUSCHRISTI May 30, 2013.

Pope Francis carries a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi observance May 30 in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 30, 2013).

[Kneeling toward the Tabernacle:]

Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly believe that you are truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Humbly kneeling before you, in union with all the faithful on earth, we adore you and worship you with all our heart. Grant, O Lord, that we, who declare our faith in this fountain of your love and mercy, may drink from it the water of everlasting life. Amen.

*        *        *

On a side note, an excellent book to learn more about faith and how to grow in it, see The Gift of Faith, by Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer.

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Homily for Sunday OT 18 B – John 6, The Bread of Life Discourse (part 2 of 5)


Ex 16:2-4, 12-15, 31a
Ps 78         R/. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
Eph 4:17, 20-24
Jn 6:24-35


In our Gospel this week we continue with Jesus’ ‘Bread of Life Discourse’. Last week we introduced the scene with the multiplication of the loaves and fish. This miracle was followed by Jesus staying behind in prayer while His disciples took a boat to Capernaum across the sea. He later joined them by walking on water. The lectionary skips this section to focus on the Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist.

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, fresco by Raphael 1509–1510, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, fresco by Raphael 1509–1510, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

Our Gospel today begins with the crowds, who took other boats back to Capernaum, surprised to see Jesus already there. They knew He had stayed behind while His disciples left, and they knew that He hadn’t taken a boat with them, so they were puzzled as to how Jesus got there, and so quickly. This is part of John’s use of irony: they know that Jesus somehow pulled off the impossible, but the crowds don’t understand. They witnessed the multiplication of the loaves, but don’t see what’s really happening. This’ll come up again in just a bit in verse 30.

Continuing last week’s dialogue, Jesus challenges the crowds that they’re only following Him to fill their bellies (v.26). They’re impressed by His capacity to supply for their needs, but don’t understand what He’s trying to say to them through the multiplication. They want Him for what He can do for them, nor for who He is: Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves (v. 26).

But in that miracle, Jesus was only using the bread as a symbol of something greater. He was using the physical to point toward the spiritual. That’s why He now tells them to look beyond the bread: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (v. 27). Bodily food keeps our bodies alive, but does little for the soul. Jesus has come not merely to save the body, but primarily to save our souls. (All the healing miracles of the Bible point to this reality.)

In the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus is pointing us to the fact that He’s the one who gives us spiritual food, food that will heal and strengthen our souls and sustain us on our journey to heaven. This part of the discourse is similar to the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman by the well a couple of chapters earlier (Jn 4:11-15). As one commentary I consulted put it,

On that occasion Jesus was speaking about water springing up to eternal life; here, he speaks of bread coming down from heaven to give life to the world. There, the woman was asking Jesus is he was greater than Jacob; here the people want to know if he can compare with Moses (The Navarre Bible: Gospel & Acts, notes on Jn 6:28-43).

In other words, ‘Moses gave us manna, daily bread from heaven’, they said; ‘what can you do?’ Whether they forgot the miracle that just happened or were challenging Jesus to reveal more power, I can’t say, but again, it’s obvious that they just don’t recognise who Jesus is.

You see, miracles don’t produce faith. They can strengthen faith, and even awaken a weak faith, but they can’t produce faith where it doesn’t exit. That’s because miracles never satisfy those who have no faith: they will always find ways to ‘explain’ them or always ask for more power to be shown. Miracles can never satisfy those who have no faith.

And isn’t faith just what He wanted from them? In verse 28 they asked Jesus, What must we do to perform the works of God? He responded, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (v. 29). Notice how Jesus switches from the plural to the singular: the people asked, What must we do to perform the works of God?, and Jesus replies, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (vv. 28-29). Faith(!) is the work of God. But the people don’t understand because they don’t have faith. And faith is precisely what Jesus is trying to arouse in them, because faith is what will allow them to see beyond the mere physical to reach the spiritual realities that underlie them.

So Jesus continues: it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven (v. 32). Moses wasn’t the source of the miracle of the manna; he was merely the instrument that helped them to see that God was providing for their daily needs on their journey to the Promised Land. This daily bread was only a prefiguring of what God was going to do in the fullness of time: send His Only Begotten Son, Jesus, to bring life to the world (cf. Jn 10:10). And notice how Jesus switches from the past tense (it was not Moses who gave you) to the present tense (it is my Father who gives you); the heavenly bread is being given to them now. And Jesus continues to give us this heavenly bread today!

That’s why Jesus says, For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (v. 33). And what is that bread, or rather who is that bread come down from heaven? I am the bread of life, says Jesus, I am the food that endures for eternal life (v. 27). Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (v. 35).

I invite you now to kneel.

[Kneeling toward the Tabernacle:]

Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly believe that you are truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Humbly kneeling before you, in union with all the faithful on earth, we adore you and worship you with all our heart. Grant, O Lord, that we, who declare our faith in this fountain of your love and mercy, may drink from it the water of everlasting life. Amen.

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HOMILY – SUNDAY OT 21 A

Is 22:15, 19-23
Ps 138: 1-2a, 2b-3, 6,8b         R/. Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Rom 11:33-36
Mt 16:13-20
 

One of my biggest personal strengths is that I’m what you might call a ‘visionary’: I think and see long-term, and big-picture. But if I let myself be carried away with what I envision, it’s easy for me to get lost in what ‘could be’, and that can lead to frustrations when the present doesn’t resemble the vision. That’s why it’s also one of my biggest weaknesses. To prevent this, I always have to remind myself that I’m not in charge, Jesus is. This is one of the reasons why I love today’s Gospel passage.

This scene between Jesus and Peter has become rather iconic for us as Catholics. I bet most of us here can quote at least part of these famous lines. And so it’s easy for us to get lost in the ‘big picture’ of what Jesus is saying to Peter and ignore that the true greatness of this passage lies not so much in the ‘big picture’, but in the small details of Jesus’ words.

In His response to Peter’s profession of faith, Jesus says, And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (Mt 16:18). Now this passage is most frequently used to explain Peter’s primacy or leadership of the Apostles and the beginnings of the Papacy. And it does this, but it also says so much more.

Notice how Jesus speaks of the Church as His Church? I will build my church (Mt 16:18). He didn’t call it Peter’s Church; He didn’t call it the Apostle’s Church; He didn’t give it to anyone. The Church belongs to Jesus (cf. Col 1:18)! It’s His Church, not Peter’s, not the Pope’s, not the Archbishop’s, not mine, not even yours or ours… It is Jesus’ Church! This is really important point: I wouldn’t be able to repeat it enough.

You see, in Baptism we were baptised not just into a community, but into Christ (cf. Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27). Through Baptism we belong to Jesus: He purchased us with His blood (cf. 1 Pet 1:18-19; 1 Cor 6:20). That’s why we often refer to the Church as the ‘Body of Christ’ (JPII, General Audience, Nov. 1991; cf. 1 Cor 12:27).

Our membership in the Church isn’t one of ownership, but one of participation: we don’t own the Church, rather we belong to her because we belong to Jesus. That means, then, that none of us own the Church — not even the Pope —, but all of us are children and servants of the Church. Jesus Christ is her Master, not us. This has been the guiding principle of all of the Church’s teachings: they’re not hers, they’re Christ’s teachings. How often we forget this detail!

But notice also how He’s not merely the ‘owner’ of the Church, He’s also her builder: I will build my church (Mt 16:18). We must never forget that the Church exists not because of what we say or do, but because Christ is building her up. The Church has existed almost 2000 years not because we’ve had great Popes, Bishops and Saints — anyone who’s read the history of the Church knows we’ve had some pretty terrible people over the centuries. But the Church has lasted so long because it’s Jesus who acts in and through her, despite sinful people. It’s Jesus and the Holy Spirit who build the Church; who make Saints in every age according to what’s needed; who lead and guide the Church; who build her, perfect her, expand her. We must never think that the Church depends on us; she depends, and must always depend, only on Jesus Christ. Our task as members of the Church is to make ourselves open and available for the Spirit to work in us; the rest will follow from this according to God’s plan.

And finally, notice how Jesus adds and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). No matter how bad things get in the world, no matter how confusing things get in the Church, not matter how wrong (or how mean) a Priest or a Bishop might be, the Church will never be lost, Hell will not prevail against her. The moment we think everything’s ‘going to Hell in a hand basket’ and that the Church is lost, pride and fear take over and we make Jesus out to be a liar, and we cause scandal and division in the Church — just look as how many different Christian groups there are.

The Church isn’t ours: she doesn’t belong to us, nor does her survival depend on you or me. The Church belongs to Jesus, who is her source of life and her guarantee. That’s why, my brothers and sisters, we must never loose hope, never despair. The Church doesn’t depend on mere mortals, but on Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and death and sits at the right hand of the Father. We only need to trust in Him, and open our hearts so that the Spirit might work in us to build us up into holy members of His Church; that we might become living stones in that Church (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5). Amen.

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Homily – Easter Sunday 2014

Ac 10:34, 37-43
Ps 118         R/. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
Col 3:1-4
Jn 20:1-18

 Easter_Christ_is_risen

Christ is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!! (R/. Truly He is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!!)

What joy we celebrate today, this (beautiful) Easter morning, as we gather in the light of the Risen Christ! [Christ], who for a little while was made lower than the angels, [but is] now crowned with glory and honour because of [His] suffering of death (Heb 2:9).

But it’s not because He died that we believe in Christ! Our faith in Christ doesn’t rest in His death; No, our faith rests in His Resurrection! As St. Paul wrote: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Cor 15:17). As Christians, our faith depends on the Resurrection of Christ; that’s why this is our most holy day of the year! Because, in fact Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:20); God’s steadfast love has endured! His mercy is stronger than our weakness, greater than our sins; and His love is more powerful than even death itself. Thanks be to God! Alleluia! (R/. Alleluia!)

Christ’s victory over sin and death has been shared with us in faith through Baptism, when we were baptised into His death and Resurrection. Therefore, says St. Paul, we have been buried with Him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (Rm 6:4-5).

You see, Christ’s Resurrection is our resurrection; that’s why we rejoice today! By rising from the dead, Jesus raised us up with Him so that we might share in His eternal life. That’s why we can say that today is the day of our salvation; that’s why this our greatest feast! The risen Jesus has united us with God, and now we’re able to be in communion with the Father. Alleluia, indeed! (R/. Alleluia!)

That’s why St. Paul urges us in the second reading this morning to set [our] minds on things that are above not on things that are on earth, for [we] have died and [our] life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:2-3). Because of the Resurrection we now live in God, and so we can no longer live our lives as before, in sin and darkness; we have been redeemed!

The Resurrection has changed everything; we must now live according Christ’s light, according to His life. This means that we must love and respect each other; that we must forgive each other, and be patient with each other’s weaknesses; that we must honour the new life that Christ has merited for us, and be faithful to His love. This is what morality is all about; the moral life is about living according to Christ’s love for us.

But this isn’t always easy; we need God’s grace to live according to His love. That’s why He’s given us Confession and the Eucharist. These are the gifts He’s given us that flow from the Cross; these are the gifts of the Resurrection, the gifts Christ has given for our sanctification.

This year, as we renew our joy in the Resurrection and the hope of faith in Christ, may we also renew our commitment to follow Him with our whole heart. May we embrace the Cross that set us free, and live the life of faith, because Christ is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!! (R/. Truly He is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!!) Amen.

 

A joyful and blessed Easter to you all!!

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