The Deep End
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
3 March 2019 • Day of Prayer for Temperance
‘It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.’
Today’s Gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Plain, where Jesus is warning a ‘multitude of people’ about the dangers of hypocrisy. We, too, are reminded that we are disciples who must learn from the Teacher, otherwise we will be like the blind leading the blind. This learning and listening is ongoing so that we can be filled again and again with Christ’s challenging love. This Gospel calls us to remove the logs from our own eyes so that we can see more clearly. It appeals to the reader to stop and check in with ourselves if we are about to make judgements about others. Whatever the situation may be, perhaps a comment about migrants, homelessness or gossip, we are challenged to ask ourselves first: ‘How am I doing in relation to this?’ before we rush to condemn others. Jesus urges us to remove the planks from our own eyes first.
The end of this parable speaks to the fruits and treasures which come from people. Trees bear fruit according to what they themselves are. It is almost like saying what you put in is what you get out. If we are feeding ourselves with fake news, intolerance and hatred, then that is what will come out. If we are spending time with the Teacher, where we experience healing, forgiveness, love and inner peace, then our hearts will be filled with those qualities and they will be evident in our lives. Spending time with today’s Gospel, perhaps we can examine how we feed our body, mind and spirit to ensure that we are living in a way that is not hypocritical before the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
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First Sunday of Lent
10 March 2019
Into the Wilderness
Lent is a great season where we are called to fasting, almsgiving and prayer. While our motivations may vary from weight loss to genuine spiritual journeying, this is a season where we take time to stop and take stock of our lives. What’s there? What’s there that shouldn’t be there? Are there things in my life that I need to change, to move around, to let go of? Are there obstacles in the way of my relationship with Jesus and with the world around me?
Given the extent of the climate crisis that the world now finds itself in, and Ireland’s dismal record on climate action, Lent would be an excellent time for each of us to examine our relationship with the earth in the hope that we might recognise the interconnectedness of all things. We might fast from our cars when we can, or look at how much food, clothes and energy we consume. How are our recycling habits? You might pledge to read Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, during Lent, and perhaps to ask a few friends to join you.
Whatever you decide to do, embrace this very special time. In the Gospel we are given encouragement as we read that Jesus is being led by the Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness is not a place to be feared: it can be a place of transformation; a place where God is ultimately in control. We might encounter our demons and temptations there, but that is part of the journey. As with all things, we will get out of Lent what we put in. The more we put in, the greater the celebration on Easter Sunday morning.
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St Patrick, Bishop, Principal Patron of Ireland
17 March 2019 • Second Sunday of Lent
Happy St Patrick’s Day! – a day when we remember the roots of the Christian faith in Ireland. There is no doubt that to be a Christian in Ireland today is difficult. Often it is easier to hide our faith, to avoid ridicule, arguments and debates which can wear us down. However, today we should take example and energy from St Patrick. His story was not a walk in the park either. We celebrate our Christian identity today and celebrate the Gospel message that a courageous Patrick brought to us, a message that was preserved and passed on; a message that is very relevant to today’s world and which continues to nourish and sustain us.
Take heart from the parable of the Mustard Seed in the Gospel today. The mustard seed plant is sometimes wild and out of control. Author and activist, Shane Claiborne, compares it to kudzu, a wild vine that could blanket entire mountain areas, smother trees, even crack stone buildings and footpaths. The shrub was banned in certain areas of Palestine because of how it could completely take over gardens. When we are struggling with being a Christian in modern Ireland, feeling excluded in a world that wants to forget God, we can take courage from the parable of the mustard seed. It grew in places where it was not wanted. You might recall the people in your own life who nourished your faith and who guided you along your spiritual path.
‘I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me.’ (St Patrick’s Breastplate)
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Third Sunday of Lent
24 March 2019
‘It may bear fruit next year’
Today’s Gospel brings a thorny question for Jesus, as the people ask why a number of Galileans were killed by the Romans as they made sacrifices to God. The basic question is why do bad things happen to certain people? Some Jewish leaders at the time viewed the Galileans as second-class Jews, and so they are raising more than a question about meaningless suffering here. They want to know if the Galileans suffered because they were not really ‘Jewish enough.’ Jesus responds with a sharp question about a recent tragedy involving those killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Were they worse offenders than others in Jerusalem? No. Jesus responds further by focusing on those who are still living. In the parable of the fig tree we hear that the tree is not producing any fruit and probably should be cut down. However, the owner of the vineyard agrees to one more year, during which it is given special attention.
Jesus’ response to the difficult question on suffering is to focus on the living. We are still alive and therefore should be producing much fruit. Perhaps those who are questioning Jesus need, like the fig tree, much fertiliser, nourishment and growth so that they can focus on producing fruit for the world. The fig tree is blessed, and has received much grace in terms of time and care. The parable is a reminder to all of us of the nourishment and time we have been given; it is a call to examine the fruits that we produce in this world, in our communities, our families and in our church.
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Fourth Sunday of Lent
31 March 2019 • Laetare Sunday
The Elder Son
Sometimes we can be so familiar with a Gospel passage we tend to switch off after the first few sentences. That would be a shame, especially when the Gospel is one of the great blockbuster parables. The real challenge in today’s Gospel is what happens after the lost son returns. The elder brother has ‘worked like a slave’ all those years and is understandably upset. The Father’s welcome of the younger son would have been considered extremely foolish by those listening to this story. However, the Father makes it clear that his outreach to the younger brother will not change his love for the older brother. It will cost the elder brother nothing to reach out. We have nothing to lose in welcoming home the lost.
Today, we can try to place ourselves somewhere in this narrative: where do you stand? This Gospel shows us that God returns the lost to the community, regardless of the boundaries that we might put in place. Jesus teaches us a lesson in radical hospitality. No matter how far we wander from home, God is still a loving God. The elder brother has a choice: to come to the party or to sulk in the corner. Luke, excellent story-teller that he is, leaves the reader to decide the outcome.
‘God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power … that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live’ (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 246)
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