Christmas Weekday: 9 January

In the days when I was young, slim and fit, my brother and I would often take a small boat out on Lake Windermere where my family would frequently holiday.  One day we found ourselves out in the middle of the lake in a storm, the outboard motor ran out of petrol and we had to row hard against the wind in order to reach the shore.  I know exactly how the men rowing the boat in today’s gospel felt.  They were afraid, their muscles burned, and their arms felt like lead weights.  The wind whipped against them as they struggled to maintain control of the boat.  Our Lord knew where they were and what their needs were.  Suddenly, there he was striding across the water towards them.  They cried out, now fearful both of the water and of the miracle they were witnessing.  Seeing their anxiety, Our Lord climbed into the boat with them and the winds died down.

We can be like those disciples in the rocking boat.  Our Lord asked us to get into the boat that is the Church and we did, first through Baptism, then Confirmation, and later, for some of us, by Religious Profession, Ordination and Marriage, and as often as we recommit ourselves to follow him.  But the storms of life continue to overwhelm us: like everyone else we have our own worries, concerns, illness, anxiety.  Like the disciples, we too cry out in fear from our place in the boat.  Then we realize that the Lord is near, walking through the rough times with us.  Time and time again he climbs into the boat with us, reminding us to get a grip of ourselves.  We need to learn that no matter what the outward circumstances of our predicaments, Our Lord is always near to calm our troubled spirits.

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Christmas Weekday: 8 January

A farmer goes into the field at planting time.  He breaks up the soil, then carefully places the seed into the ground and waters it, hoping for a bumper crop.  In a similar way God has planted the seed of his divine love into each one of us.  As he waters and nurtures this seed, he hopes it will produce much fruit.

As deep as the Gospel message is, it can still be expressed in three simple words: God is love.  We can live in love because God has loved us first and he has planted the seed of his love into the depths of our hearts.

But how does this seed grow?  St. John is very clear about this in today’s first reading.  Love comes from God, and if we know God and are open to his love, then the seed of love sprouts and grows in our lives.  But if we turn away from God’s love, we find it a lot harder to love other people.  Anyone who has been in love knows that love isn’t something we generate ourselves.  It rises up within us, a wonderful gift from God and it’s a taste of his divine love.  It only stands to reason that the more we come into contact with his love for us, the more we will be able to love other people, even when we don’t feel like it.

God wants us to love one another.  We may struggle in our relationships with other people, but we can set these obstacles aside and know his peace.  We may not know how to show our love for certain people, but the Holy Spirit can show us the way.

Once again God is asking us to open our hearts and to put into practice the faith and the love we profess with our lips.

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Saint Raymond, O.P.

The Dominican Saint Raymond had a profound influence on the life of the Church in that he helped to codify what we know today as the Code of Canon Law.  He was the third Master of the Order and refused a bishopric in order to dedicate himself to parish work and help ordinary people with their spiritual lives.  Saint Raymond died in 1275 and was canonised in 1601 by Pope Clement VIII.  Saint Raymond is the heavenly patron of civil and canon lawyers.

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Different groups in the Church are always carrying our research and compiling statistics about the way the Gospel is spread and what effect evangelisation is having in the world today.  Much of the data suggests that many people call themselves Christian, but don’t really grasp the essential truths of Christianity.  They believe that God exists, but that he is far off and removed from their daily lives.  They believe that God exists mainly to help them to become better people.  In short, their answers reveal great confusion about their faith—almost like a cloud over their minds.

The First Letter of Saint John was written in a time of a similar lack of clarity.  Christians from many different backgrounds held different views about the identity of Jesus.  Many disputed whether he could be both fully human and fully divine.  Some wanted to place more of an emphasis on Our Lord’s spiritual nature, hoping to avoid having to change the way they lived in this physical world.  The author of First John wrote this letter to address these disagreements.  He reminded people of the simple heart of Christianity: to believe that Jesus, the Son of God, became man for our salvation.

Like the first-century Christians, people today can find themselves adrift.  They may not be so regular at Sunday Mass.  They may feel disillusioned, and doubt that there is a place for them in the Church.  Or perhaps the pursuit of career or family crowds out time for God.

And this is where we come in.  It’s our duty and our responsibility to help encourage those who are wandering and confused, and bring them back into the fold of the Church, where the Good Shepherd can take care of them.

And it’s not just our duty as religious and priests, but that of everyone in the Church, especially those who know personally friends and relatives who may be confused and need a bit of redirection and challenging.

This is exactly what Saint Raymond did, and we can take him as our example to follow.  Yes, he could have accepted a pointy hat and had his name in lights, but he chose to remain in a situation where he could help ordinary people take a step closer to God.

Saint Raymond, pray for us.

The Epiphany of the Lord

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Our celebration of Christmas began with the shepherds in Bethlehem visiting the new-born Messiah, and now it ends there with the arrival of the Magi in all their splendour.  And what attracts our attention is that these three intelligent, well-read men, made the journey at all, guided only by a mysterious star, which stopped at an out of the way place with no visible signs of royalty or splendour.  There they kneel in the dirt of a common stable to worship the new-born Christ and they offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Life was never the same for those three men after that discovery.  Christ made all the difference to them, transforming their souls and calling them out of darkness into his own wonderful light.

The story of the Magi is timeless and has a relevance which holds true in every age.  In a way it symbolises the religious journey of all people of good will who seek God, using only a glimmer of faith to point the way forward.  The search for the truth always involves leaving something, of giving something up: it could be the comfort and security of home, perhaps a career, or even opinions and convictions in order to face the unknown. Such a journey requires courage, determination and hope, because the road to truth will always be lined with failure, doubt, ridicule and confusion.  Deep down in our lives there is an uneasiness and also a yearning after freedom and happiness that can only be fulfilled when we experience the presence of God in our lives.  We will never find lasting happiness in the accumulation of wealth and things.  Only God can give us that consolation.

Like the Magi called from their own homes in a distant land, we are called to search for, and to discover, the presence of Christ in our own lives.  And this is an on-going relationship, it continues until the day we die and it can’t be programmed, labelled or packaged.  Each journey to find Christ is unique.  And what’s important is that we be open and receptive in order to read the signs of the times, because Christ is being born every day of our lives, and we need the eyes of faith to see it.

Although God has come to us we shall only find him if we search for him and discover him, and we will find him only if we set out on a journey to meet him.

And Christ is to be encountered in the most unusual and varied of places.  He can be found in the smile of a child, he can be found in the painful experience of a person sick in bed, he can be found in the bitter tears of a poor person and in the happiness of newly-weds.  Whenever we look into the eyes of another person we are gazing into the eyes of Christ.  When we meet other people we may not have gold, frankincense or myrrh to bring them, but we can offer them the priceless treasure of the presence of Christ within us.  It’s hardly right then to come before people empty-handed, and with no gifts of encouragement to offer them on their pilgrim way.  We are Christians not for ourselves or for our own sakes, but for the sake of others.  Our faith isn’t something we keep for ourselves and hoard away; it has to be shared with others.  That’s why we are all called to be missionaries, preachers, and witnesses of the Good News.

It’s no good at all if you go home after Mass today and hide your religion in the back of a drawer, or leave it on a shelf to gather dust until next Sunday.  This Feast of the Epiphany teaches us that faith is for sharing.  Faith is a gift that has to be given away if it is to grow.  Just like sowing seeds in the ground: we have to literally throw away the seeds in order for them to take root, multiply and bear fruit.  The same is true of our faith.  If we keep it to ourselves and hoard it then it will slowly wither and die and we’ll end up having no faith at all.  God has called each one of us and has given us the task of showing his Son; of manifesting his Son to everyone we meet.  The word ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ – to make known.  And so our religion means absolutely nothing at all unless we are prepared to manifest it; to share it with all the people we meet when we leave this place.  We come to Mass in order to be nourished with the Bread of Life and when we leave here this morning our task is to be a leaven in the community.  And do you think if we all did that then our society would change for the better?  Change begins with you and me; and society will change only when the individual changes; only when you and I change.

And so, if you haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions yet, make one to be true to yourself, and resolve to live out in your daily lives the Gospel you proclaim with your lips here at Mass.

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5 January

The call to love is at the very heart of our faith.  And what could be a simpler or more effective way of evangelization?  Forget about your multiple academic degrees and qualifications; the relationships we form with each other are meant to be at the source of our ability to evangelize.  No matter that such relationships are rare in the world today.  No matter that they seem virtually impossible if God is not part of them.  The fact remains that peaceful, joyful, united lives are still capable of speaking volumes to the world about the power and the love of God.

There are those who think of evangelization simply as clever and persuasive words that inspire others about Jesus and his Gospel.  As accurate as this may be in theory, in many practical instances, we can have an even greater effect on people’s faith through the witness of our actions than by our many words.  Words without actions are useless.  It’s all very well preaching theory, but without a practical application, what’s the point?  Love, care, concern, compassion, generosity, fidelity, good example; these have the power to melt hearts and convince minds far better than an abundance of eloquent doctrine, theology, or defences of Christianity.

I read, just this morning, that ‘Love is a verb, without action it is merely a word’.  Love shows itself in many practical ways.  As St. John says, we are to love “not only in word or speech, but in truth and action” as well (1 John 3:18).

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Saint Zdislava

The Order of Preachers honours Saint Zedíslava as a faithful wife and a loving mother who raised four children, but her care extended to all those in need, especially the sick and the poor.  Saint Zedíslava was one of the first Lay Dominicans and she established two Dominican priories.  She died in 1252 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1995.  We remember in our prayers today all those people associated with the Order and especially the friends and benefactors of our own community.

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We all know how quickly word of mouth can spread.  The day after John the Baptist publicly testified that Jesus was the Lamb of God, he repeated it privately to two of his disciples, setting off an amazing chain reaction.  First, Andrew went to investigate Jesus.  After just one day with him, Andrew was so excited that he told his brother, Simon.  Coming face-to-face with Jesus, Simon began a new life as Peter, the Rock on which Our Lord would establish his Church.  Philip took his testimony to Nathaniel, who was soon declaring Jesus to be “Son of God” and the “King of Israel”.

The word of a friend, an open heart, an encounter with Our Lord, and the Church began.  Obscure fishermen became empowered Apostles, and nothing would ever be the same again, for them, or for the world.

Like the disciples, we too get to know Jesus simply by spending time with him.  We can talk with him in prayer and meet him in Scripture and in the Sacraments and the teachings of the Church.  We can spend time with him on retreat and on days of recollection; we can kneel before him in the Blessed Sacrament, and at Mass and during the Office.  In these and many more ways Our Lord wants to reveal himself to us as the Lamb of God, the Messiah, our Redeemer, our Saviour.  He invites us to be part of the same adventure that captivated his first disciples.  He wants to see us spark a chain reaction of faith among the people with whom we share our lives.  As the New Year begins to take hold, let us commit ourselves to attitudes and practices that will help us spend more time with Our Lord.

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3 January

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John the Baptist has figured prominently in the readings of the past several weeks.  As the forerunner to the Messiah, his role as Advent prophet is second only to Isaiah.  And as we continue to reflect upon the Christmas mystery, St. John’s Gospel offers us John the Baptist’s testimony as the first sign of who Jesus truly is: The Messiah, the Word made flesh, the light of the world, the Lamb of God.  And as we begin to see Jesus in all his glory, we see John gracefully stepping aside.

In today’s gospel, perhaps one of the most remarkable statements John makes is: “I confess I did not recognise him at first.”  John’s whole life, even from before he was born, has been moulded and shaped around his mission as the forerunner of the Messiah.  And yet here he is saying that when Jesus, that very messiah, entered into John’s desert world, John says he didn’t recognise him.  What John’s confession tells us is that we can grow beyond our mistakes.  He puts it behind him and moves on to acknowledge Jesus as the Lamb of God, the one for whom he has been waiting and preparing.  But he doesn’t simply sweep it under the rug.  He offers his own mistake as hope for those to whom he speaks, those who have yet to recognise and acknowledge the same Lamb of God.  There’s still time, time for them to open their eyes, time for them to let go of their misconceptions.  John offers them – and us – the opportunity to move forward, to let go of the past, and to learn from our mistakes.

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