Friday of Week 5 in Ordinary Time

We all know how Adam and Eve felt after they disobeyed God.  They felt guilty.  After eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve realized that they were naked, and they tried to cover themselves with foliage.  But it must have been something more than guilt they felt.  Not only did they try to hide their mistake; they tried to hide themselves.  They didn’t want God to see them at all.  So along with guilt, they experienced the related, yet even stronger feeling of shame.

Shame can do the same thing to us that it did to Adam and Eve.  It’s the feeling that tells us, ‘You’re no good’.  Shame gets at who we are, not just what we’ve done.  Instead of motivating us to fix our problems, shame makes us believe we are the problem, and that we’ll just never be good enough.  As such, shame is the devil’s ultimate weapon.  In his ongoing quest to drive us away from God, the devil always tries to convince us that we have no hope of receiving God’s mercy.

What a contrast to the way God sees us.  God is the very perfection of love, and he wants to shower us with that love.  He sent his Son into the world so that we could be free from our sins and never again feel that we have to hide from him.  When Our Lord died on the Cross and the veil of the Temple was torn in two, we were invited back to the Garden of Paradise.  We were offered another chance at eternal life.

Every day, God calls us to draw closer to him.  Let us be confident in knowing that He will bring to completion the good work he has begun in us.

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Ss. Cyril & Methodius

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Today we celebrate the feast of two of the Patrons of Europe: St. Cyril and St. Methodius; two brothers who evangelised many countries and areas now known as Eastern Europe.  They had an astonishing influence in that they standardised the language used in those regions, and they translated the Scriptures so that ordinary people could read and understand the Gospel.  Through their ministry as bishops they saved many people who lived in darkness and brought them into the light of Christ.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius were to the Slavic peoples exactly what St. Paul was to the Gentiles: a bright light shining for them in the darkness of their lives.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius should give us inspiration to preach the Good News we ourselves have received and to pass it on to those who need to hear it in our own country.  It is part of our Christian duty to shine the light of Christ among those with whom we share our lives.

Our Lord advises us to travel light, meaning we should keep our minds, our hearts and our goals set on him and him alone.  Let us pray today that we may be faithful to our calling to be heralds of the Kingdom of God.  It is now our turn to bring light into the darkness and confusion of those who hear us.  May we all take heart from the witness of St. Cyril and St. Methodius and do for the people of our time what they did for theirs.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius, pray for us.

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Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P.

Today we honour the memory of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, who succeeded Our Holy Father Dominic as Master of the Order in 1222.  Blessed Jordan was such a powerful preacher that Saint Albert the Great was moved to join the Order after hearing one of his homilies.  Blessed Jordan became an effective promoter of Dominican vocations and he is the patron of Dominican vocation work.  He died in 1237 when his ship sank en route to the Holy Land.

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When God created the world, he gave human beings a special power which sets us apart from other creatures.  This power makes people more like God, and yet its misuse can drive people away from God.  People have fought and died for the right to exercise this power, and others have attempted to suppress it in order to gain complete domination over individuals and nations.  This awesome power is freedom.

Although we have instincts like those of the animals, we are not completely controlled by them.  We have the ability to choose.  A hungry animal when faced with food has no option, it is driven to eat, it can’t help itself.  And yet an equally hungry man or woman can, for whatever reason, choose not to eat.  And so it’s no wonder that the Scriptures present the problem of freedom within the context of forbidden fruit.  The Tree of Life is presented as a symbol of the fact that we human beings are called to choose what is good, and that God directs us in what is the real good of life.

When God gave us the gift of freedom he ran the risk that we would abuse this gift.  And yet he judged the risk to be worthwhile.  God wants us to return his love freely, not by compulsion.  He sees value only in love which is freely given.  God doesn’t want robots who must respond to the proper command.

The fact that we are here at Mass today shows that we have used our gift of freedom well.  We could be elsewhere, reading a newspaper or washing the car.  We have freely chosen to show our love for God by coming to Mass to worship him, and making this an important part of our daily routine, and the most sacred and special time of our day as a religious community.  Love freely given is, without doubt, pleasing to God, and despite the dangers of freedom, we should be glad that God has given us this most extraordinary gift.

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Blessed Reginald, O.P.

Today we honour the memory of Blessed Reginald, an early Dominican and friend of Saint Dominic.  He was a powerful preacher and inspired many novices to join the Order in Bologna.  Dominican tradition tells us that Our Lady appeared to him in a vision and presented him with a black and white habit which members of the Order were to wear – and Dominicans have done so ever since.

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When you’re looking to buy a car, it can be difficult to size up all your options.  You look at the bodywork.  You start it up: how does the engine sound?  You may even look under the bonnet and peer at the engine.  But this gets you only so far.  It’s so much better if you also know that this model has a good track record, and if you know the car’s previous owner and how well they maintained it.

In some ways, the same is true about understanding ourselves and our world.  We get only so far by looking at the way things are right now.  It’s much more helpful to know where the world came from, who made it, and why.  Today’s first reading tells us just that.  In it we learn that God made the world.  We learn that he made it good, and that it gives him great pleasure.  We learn that he made it for us.

It can be easy to forget these basic facts about our world.  Sin has wounded our world, but we must always remember the goodness, the beauty, and the lavish generosity that lies at the heart of all creation.  Today’s first reading is overflowing with wondrous details.  Look at the words that show the bounty of creation: teem, abundance, fertile, multiply.  Notice the variety of the creation, both in the passage and simply by looking outside the window.  God doesn’t do anything in half measures.

And then there’s the crown of creation, the culmination of all that God made.  “God created man in his image”.  Humans are unique in all of creation because God modelled us after himself.  Now, it’s difficult to even take in what that means, but it’s certainly a life-changing truth.

God made us to share his creation; he has appointed us as caretakers of his world.  In part, this means that we hurt because of the darkness sin has brought into the world, but it also means that we can still delight in its beauty and goodness.

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Our Lady of Lourdes

We believe that on this day in 1858 Our Lady appeared for the first time to the 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous.  During one apparition, Our Lady told Bernadette to drink water from a mysterious fountain that suddenly appeared and which had not previously existed.  On another occasion, Our Lady told Bernadette to tell the local priest that she wanted a chapel built and procession made to the grotto where Our Lady appeared.  This was the beginning of countless pilgrimages to the shrine of Our Lady at Lourdes.

Naturally, the first reaction of the local clergy to the apparitions was total disbelief.  And yet four years later the bishop of the diocese declared that the faithful were ‘justified in believing the reality of the apparition.’  A basilica was built and consecrated in 1876.  And before you knew it, this building just wasn’t large enough to handle the thousands of pilgrims who flocked to Lourdes, and it was quickly replaced by the present structure which was consecrated in 1901.

Pope Leo XIII authorized a special office and a Mass in commemoration of the first apparition; and in 1907 Pope Pius X extended the observance of this feast to the Universal Church which is now observed today, 11th February, albeit as an optional memoria in the universal calendar.

According to internet statistics, more than six million people a year visit Lourdes, and while this number is overwhelming, what’s more remarkable are the number of cures that have been attributed to Our Lady’s intercession.  70 cases have been declared a scientifically inexplicable miracle.

Today we observe a Day of Special Prayer for the Sick and this is a perfect opportunity for us to turn to Our Lady of Lourdes and pray to her on behalf of all those in need and ask her to intercede with her Son and to once more bless us with supernatural interventions.  God’s miraculous intervention of grace, mercy and love will once more confirm the words of Our Lady who said, ‘Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.’

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5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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To be a fisherman is to be at the mercy of nature.  A farmer can at least see his land and his crops and do something to protect them and help them grow.  But the fisherman has to search the seas for shoals of fish.  He doesn’t have any control over where the fish are; his art or craft – even with the help of technology – is in knowing the likely places and then casting his nets in the hope that he may find some fish.

Fishermen on the Lake of Gennesaret, like Peter, James and John, worked in pairs from rowing boats.  They used a net, which they would pay out behind their boats, and then drag through the water before hauling it back on board.  This arduous procedure would be repeated many times during the night.  And it was after such a night’s work, when they had caught absolutely nothing, that Our Lord came to teach on the shores of the lake near to where the fishermen were washing their nets.

After Our Lord had used Peter’s boat as a floating pulpit he asked Peter to row out into deep water and pay out his net.  Now Peter and his friends were professional fishermen and they knew it was a waste of time trying to catch fish in deep water during the daytime.  But, in deference to Our Lord, they did as he asked.

Now, by all human standards Our Lord’s instruction was foolish, and Peter’s acceptance of the instruction was even more foolish.  Most fishermen know that fish avoid deep water during the day.  Yet something in Our Lord must have prompted Peter to accept the command.  We are not told what Our Lord had been preaching about, but something must have struck a chord with Peter for him to do this, and he was rewarded with a bumper catch of fish.

It wasn’t faith that prompted Simon Peter to pay out the nets.   It was only the beginnings of faith.  It was a realisation that Our Lord was special in some way; and yet many people, including those who met Jesus face to face, have realised that and yet they still went on to crucify him.  Simon Peter appreciated the power of Our Lord’s words; but so have millions of others who have decided not to follow him, or have fallen by the wayside and no longer practice their faith.  For Simon Peter, faith didn’t begin until he fell to his knees and said, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man”.

Peter is the only person we hear of in the scriptures who asks Jesus to go away, all the others who were impressed by him wanted him to stay, and they wanted to be his followers.  But Peter begged Jesus, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man”.

Peter had true faith, and this means he was prepared to go a stage further than any of the others.  The others saw a wisdom in Our Lord’s words and so thought it would be nice to have him around, provided of course, that this didn’t demand too much of a disturbance in their lives.  But Peter saw that being with Christ meant the ultimate disturbance – and what is the ultimate disturbance for a person of faith but ‘conversion’ – a change of heart – and a change of life.  Peter was the first person not only to do as Christ instructed, but also to recognise his own sinfulness and his absolute need of Christ.  And that is true faith.

In Peter, perhaps, as he asked the Lord to leave him, there was a vestige of not wanting his life to be disturbed.  And yet the first person to acknowledge his sinfulness became the first to be called.

Faith isn’t just a matter of seeing something in Our Lord that we like.  It’s more about seeing something in ourselves.  Saint Peter, like the prophet Isaiah in the first reading and Saint Paul in the second, saw that he was in a “wretched state” … “the least of the apostles”.  And so it is for us.  At the heart of any weakness of faith is our refusal to acknowledge our sin in a real way.  For at heart most of us imagine that we are no worse than the average person: yes, we see ourselves as sinners, but then add “just like anyone else”, and do nothing about it.

So many times in Confession I hear people say that they are worried because they always seem to be committing the same old sins.  And that’s fine.  What is important is that we acknowledge our sins and accept Our Lord’s invitation to follow him in prayer and in the Sacrament of Penance.  And, as we confess our past, he will direct our attention to a more glorious future.

Faith means that no longer will we be in control of what is happening to us.  Recognising our own weakness, we can only rely on the grace of God.  Peter, as a fisherman, was at the mercy of the power of nature.  Perhaps that’s why he could accept being at the mercy of the power of God.  Perhaps that’s why Peter was chosen to lead the Church.

Statue St Peter Basilica St Peter at the Vatican.

Saturday of Week 4 in Ordinary Time

Our Lord extends this invitation to his Apostles and to us: “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.”  The Apostles had just returned from an arduous missionary journey, and Our Lord was eager that they enjoy not only a physical rest but a spiritual one as well.  He was concerned that the rigours and the demands of ministry and the apostolic life might so absorb them that they could lose their sense of union with him.  And so, he wanted them to spend some time alone with him, in retreat.

We all need time alone with Our Lord.  We all need to spend some time with him in retreat, and not just once a year during the community retreat.  Here at Mass we fulfil the exhortation of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Through Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise.”  The Mass is community prayer and it’s meant to be generous, outgoing, and not a self-centred type of prayer.  As community prayer the Mass cannot possibly cater to the taste of each individual; just as it can’t always satisfy genuine personal needs.  For a proper and well-balanced life of prayer we need both liturgical and private prayer, each in its own time and in its own place.

Some older people still complain that they don’t like ‘the new Mass’ because there is little opportunity for them to say their personal prayers.  With Mass in a language we can all understand and with active participation encouraged, there is little or no opportunity during the Mass for personal devotions.  This opportunity must be found outside the liturgy.

Coming to Mass each day means that we have already made a sacrifice of time and effort, and a very worthwhile sacrifice it is.  But even more is needed.  In addition to daily Mass, each of us must search for solitude and a time to pray each in our own way.