Machnamh – December 2006

First Sunday of Advent

The world is probably going to end soon.  All the signs are there.  .  True we are living through frightening times.  Terror the new catchphrase.  Things that were part of normal life a few years ago are now seen as possible pathways to death, like opening your post or taking a plane.

What a few years ago wiht 9/11 could only be imagined as the fantasies of a Hollywood scriptwriter has now become real. Indeed for many people too real.  Literally death has come to the doorstep, and that has to be frightening.

Today’s readings are all too real words jump at us from the pages with a reality that frightens like never before.  Everyone remembers when it started or at least when it seemed to that, on that September day.  A day that started for many as there first day back at college, and finished as the first of a new era of terror.

Terrifying it has been.  Every morning waking to see what the days developments were?  Sky News became the nations number one overnight, but for all the wrong reasons.

But while we’ve seen the agony the gospel speaks of, we’ve also seen the goodness and the hope that has come.  Yes, we are vulnerable, and the past few months have shown us that… but we are no more vulnerable than we have ever been.  It’s just that the false sense of security that we have is gone.  The myth that technology made us invincible when that very technology began to turn on us like we always knew it could, but hoped it wouldn’t.

So here we are turning to a God of whom we thought we had surpassed.  A God in whose name it had all been started, a Muslim God some might say, but still the same God. A God who cares, a God who didn’t start all this, no matter how his words might be twisted.  A god who is still there in the middle of it all.  Like the parent who helped their child grow and was there to kiss better every cut, and the child grow into an adult who didn’t need them any more because they were ‘old hat’.  Now that adult child that we all are discovers that they didn’t know it all after all, and that they still need the support of the older and wiser parent who knows better.

Let us not be afraid to admit that.  That we need God, that are venerable, and far having all the answers have many difficult and painful questions.  It may not be the end of the world, but living as if it were should not make us people on the edge.  Living as if it were the end of the world should only make us live as people who want to be ready.  Ready to meet that God who promises us so much.  So much love, so much comfort, so much life, and so much hope.  If we live as ready people with no second chance we can only bring that promised into our own lives, and into the hear and now.

There is no doubt that this is a difficult task for people who after all are only people, broken fragile and vulnerable people.  Despite that vulnerability though, and indeed more so because of it we can become more the God the scriptures, who understands all the hurts, who wants killing to stop and life to begin in a new and real way.  As followers of that God we have the ability and the right not just to listen to his cry from the pages of today’s scripture reading, but also to act on it.

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SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

The worst kind of phone call is the one that comes in the middle of the night.  The one that’s not expected.  It sends a shiver through you, and while you might ask the question ‘Who is that ringing in the middle of the night’, you are left wondering what is wrong.  Who in the house hasn’t come home yet.  Too many Sunday mornings when we turn on our radios we hear that some other family in some part of the country has got that call.  More young people killed in overnight accidents, accidents that could be avoided. People who, only a few hours earlier had so much of life to look forward to, so much of life still to live.   Some house where no matter how they try it cannot be a happy Christmas.

The road signs in every county cry out the warnings, so many killed on the roads of this county in the last four years.  The twisted metal of other cars on roadsides all over the country cry out ‘Slow down’.  Those horrific television advertisements try seemingly in vein to stop the carnage, to spare some other family from that all too often asked question of ‘why us?’

Each road traveller is only partly responsible for their own life; responsibility also lies with the person in the other car, and indeed with the condition of the road.  But a world where time cannot be wasted, life too often is.  As we approach Christmas we see the Gardaí step up their already fruitful efforts to save life.  And God knows if it weren’t for their efforts things would be a lot worse.  Very often it’s the thought of a fifty pound fine that makes us slow down, when in fact it should be the thought of someone ending up sprawled across the bonnet of a car that should make us do that.

In the readings we see a message, a message of hope, at least hope is offered.  However for the ideal to become a reality there has to be acceptance of the message.  Too often we fail to see that.  Road deaths don’t fall by accident; they fall because care is taken.  We saw that all too visibly when deliberate action was taken to cut road deaths on a particular weekend last year.  When will we really get the message that road deaths can be avoided, but its up to us, every road user, whether cyclist, motorist or pedestrian to avoid them.

This is a question of morality.  A morality of the modern age.  The sad thing is we can do our bit, if we want to.  That means a lot more than simply paying lip service to the ideal.  This Christmas it means slowing down in every way possible, taking time to save life, and that’s worth a lot more than just saving fifty pounds.

Which person here wants to be the reason why in some house somewhere the Christmas tree lights will stay off this year.  Is it easy to live with the thought that somewhere under some Christmas tree a present still hasn’t been opened, because there’s nobody there to open it.  It’s true that some accidents cannot be avoided; it’s also true though others can.  Let’s give a gift this Christmas to somebody, who mightn’t even know we’re giving it to them. By taking more care on the roads let us offer to somebody, maybe even somebody close to us, maybe even to ourselves the greatest gift of all.  The gift of life.

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THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Most people will have seen the film ‘Shawshank Redemption’.  It’s a film that gives some kind of an insight into prison life.  Most of all though it shows what its like to be restricted. To be locked up, to have to live relying on others.  Prison is not an altogether nice place to be.

Yet all around us we find imprisoned people.  Maybe be cannot see their bars, but they are none the less imprisoned people.  People imprisoned in bodies crippled by serious illness, whether it be Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease.  People imprisoned in addiction to alcoholism or drugs.  Or maybe people imprisoned in the dark and frightening prison of deep depression.  Not bad people, not always people who deserve to be locked up.  Victims of illness, of society, of one stupid mistake.

We can all add our own prisons to that list, whoever created them for us, however they were created.  The reality is that they are there, and they so often hard to come to terms with, not to mention attempting to live with them.

Patience is a word that crops up in today’s readings.  An easy word for the outsider.  A more difficult word for the struggler, the one who has to live with that pain, particularly in today’s world.  The younger you are indeed, the harder it is to embrace that word patience.  Easier to spell than live. Be patient.  It’s hard to be patient when every day feels like living through some kind of nightmare.  In a world full of instant answers and quick fix solutions it often seems to be an impossible word.  A forgotten word in a world full of road rage and air rage, of queue jumping and home deliveries and mobile phones where we’ve forgotten what it’s like to stand in line and wait for a payphone to become free.

Patience is a gift, something we have to work at.  Something that doesn’t come easy.
Whether it’s trying to give up cigarettes, overcome depression or cope with an illness we do need to at least try to live every day as it comes.  Taking small steps rather than attempting to ‘leap frog’ into the future.  Take each day as it comes, but most of all like John in the Gospel, realise that you are not alone.

We are told that God is with us.  What good is that though when cannot see him. When we shout at him and he doesn’t answer us back, when we are left pained, broken, and feeling abandoned. Realise that God exists, God exists in many forms.  God is the mother who puts up with the tantrums, the one who has it taken out on them, even though they far from deserve it.  God is the friend who has the patience and care to sit and listen.  The one who at least tries to understand the pain they see dug into the face of the pained person.  Most of all though God is the giver of the power to be patient.  The giver of power to cope with pain of life.  That power though can be very hard to grasp, let alone accept.

To rise above our prisons whatever they are is far from easy.  If we attempt to do it alone it’s impossible.  We need help, we need others, but most of all, we need God.

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FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

It’s hard to believe it!!  It’s come so quick, there’s only a week left, and so little done, or so it seems… so much to do!!!   For most a time of joy that offers an excuse to party, and for those who still have hair, to let their hair down.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Christmas is a time to be celebrated.  Stepping out of the normal.

For others though Christmas is a difficult time.  The decorations which some put up to brighten and enliven, for others only serve to darken and deaden.  The bright colours and flashing lights mock the sombre feelings that lie within such people.  They bring memories of happier times, when things were as they still should be.  Happy and excited children tearing open bright packages, hands held to show love and togetherness.  For others who never even experienced that kind Christmas, it is a time of regretting that those dreams still haven’t come true.

Christmas for all of us is a time of remembering, whatever those memories may be.  The person who helped us out during the year, and now deserves a bit more than just a card.  The person you’ve known at a deeper level during the year, and have decided that Christmas is as good a time as any to make their present an engagement ring. For others Christmas has a different emotion.  The happy crib scene of new birth and warmth makes sense to the couple coming with their newborn baby.  It brings back a different emotion for the mother who at some time in her life had to say goodbye to her child at the mouth of an open grave. For most it is a time of emotion, whatever that emotion may be.

Emotions have to be expressed, not bottled up.  Christmas makes a place for all of those emotions whether we realise it or not.  When we look deeper than just the smiling figures of the crib we see everything else that lies there.  We may be looking at the image of a newborn saviour, but we are looking at the image of a saviour born into poverty.  We are looking at the image of a child who was to know what it would be like to come from the wrong side of town.  We are looking at a child who was to know what it would be like to be an outsider, to die at a young age without owning his own house or having a family of his own.  We are looking at a mother full of joy at the birth of her new born baby, but we are also looking at a mother who was to know great pain in her life.  We are looking at a family who can empathise with all who suffer.  After all Christmas is about hope, not just hope for the already happy, but hope for those who need it most.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us look to its true meaning.  Let this be a Christmas that brings Christ in a way that does something to mend the brokenness, and reaffirm the love that already exists in so many lives.  Let Christmas be a time of gratitude for, and celebration of that love, we all know the ways in which we need to do that.  For everyone the Christmas message has a different, let us take the message that we ourselves most need, and see that as God’s gift to us, and our gift to ourselves and to each other this Christmas.

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NATIVITY OF THE LORD

The lights have been turned on now.  Everything is ready.  Christmas is here.  Everywhere we walk are signs of Christmas, signs of life.  It’s a time when we forget about the normal.  It’s a time when we go a bit silly.  The time when Santa needs to come, not just into the lives of children, but into all our lives. When we get carried away with the air of joy, of celebration, and of giving that is everywhere.

Christmas is one of the great symbols of hope.  Christmas is birth in the midst of death.  Hope in the midst of bleakness.  Winter is the time of sleeping, the time of going to school in the dark, and coming home in the dark.  Christmas breathes life into the darkness, coming in the very middle of winter, around the time of solstice, the darkest day, the time when we need Christmas most.

Christmas brings hope, a sign that we are loved, not just by a God who brings birth into the middle of death.  New beginning a few months before its time.  Christmas is a sign that we are not forgotten about.  That no matter how dark the days are God still wants to be with us, to brighten those days, to bring hope and to show us that we are loved.

It’s up to ourselves how we live those Christmas days.  Do we lock ourselves away and wish it over, because it only seems to be a time for children, a time for the young. Or do we embrace those days shed the shackles that keep us down.  Do we use Christmas like it should be used, a time of celebration, a time of thanks.  We can’t have Christmas every day, the sometimes cold business of life has to go on, but we do need it once a year, just like we need a holiday in summer.  Even the first Christmas family, the family who brought us Christmas only lived it for a short while.  The kings and all their gold went away again.  That family were still poor financially, but it was good while it lasted.

Let us take Christmas for what it is, a gift from God.  Let us thank that God for his gift, by celebrating, by at least attempting to drop differences to drop pain.  Let us share that gift with those who cannot drop the pain even for these few days.  The people for whom Christmas increase the pain, because it’s the first Christmas without a loved one, because it’s the time when the spirit of Jameson fights so hard to overtake the power of God.

Let this Christmas be a happy one.  Because we all need a bit of happiness as unreal as that might be.  While we cannot have Christmas every day it would be good if we could hold the spirit of Christmas with us throughout the year, the spirit of breathing life into dark days, the spirit of giving up when the nights are longer than the days, and God knows that can happen at any time of the year, for some the longest of summer days can be darker than the darkest day of winter.  Let us be like God for each other breathing hope wherever we can, and making the days longer.

Happy Christmas.

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THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH

This can be a funny kind of week.  Most people are still off work.  People are still hanging round, the visiting that wasn’t done before Christmas is still being got out of the way at a frenzied pace.  Being stuck in the house over Christmas isn’t always easy, despite all that Christmas cheer.  Nerves can be tested and old wounds sometimes opened in the most cruel way.  Very often people can be faced with the reality that they are not part of a perfect family.

Then again what is a perfect family?  The Nazareth Family whom we celebrate today, are they our ideal of family?  Taking a look at their situation they certainly didn’t have it easy.  Spending Christmas in a shed, on the run from the law, going to live in the wrong part of town.  Being God didn’t make it any easier; being God didn’t help them escape the pain.  So often in our lives we ask, why so much suffering, so much pain.  Yet when we look at that Nazareth family of so many years ago we see that they didn’t escape that pain either.  Indeed they had more than their fair share.

Yet it’s not lack of suffering that makes a perfect family.  It’s how that suffering is confronted.  It’s whether that suffering becomes something that divides a family or something that brings them closer together.  Suffering takes many forms and unfortunately no family escapes whether originate from external force or from within.  We are all too well aware that the closer we are to somebody the more ability we have to cause that person hurt, but at the same time the more ability we have to bring that person so much of what they need in life.

Actions do speak louder than words, whatever those actions whether it be turning away from somebody or turning toward them.  Joseph could have walked away from that family more than once, but he didn’t.  He stuck it out.  He could have walked when he heard that Mary was having a baby that wasn’t his, or when the police wanted to kill that baby.  It’s true that there are situations that are very hard to stay within; there are families where the hurt is unbearable.  That’s a reality of life and there’s no easy way to change reality.  Pain is going to be a part of life.  That reality will never go away.

When we look to the Holy Family, we see a family blessed by God in many ways.  However we still see a family who still had to endure so much pain.  The fact that they did offers us hope.  In our pain we can turn and take comfort from them because they understand.  Because of their pain we know that we are not alone.  Let us cherish our families, any pain that we have created within those families, let us try to heal.  Any other pain that exists let us try to shoulder together.  Let us make each of our families a holy family, not a family that escapes pain and hurt, but family who at least tries to bring real love to each member.

Real loves includes pain, but it also includes forgiving, embracing, positively challenging and starting all over again.  What better time to let go than at the end of an old year.  As we at least attempt to let go of old hurts, let us prepare to embrace the new, so that in some way it will truly be a happy New Year for those close to us, for those who at the end of the day mean the most to us.

Happy New Year!!

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THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

Mary was a remarkable woman.  Very often we don’t give her the credit she deserves.  We dress her up in blue robes and light candles to her.  She probably never wore such finery in her life, because she couldn’t afford it for starters.  Why is she so attractive to us?  There has to be a reason for dressing her up in those beautiful clothes and lighting candles.

Mary was one of our own, yes she was chosen for a very special job, but she was still just a girl from the country.  A young girl who found herself alone and pregnant at a young age, and God knows the wagging tongues of the village must have had it in for her like the wagging tongues of other villages where there was any kind of gossip fodder.  So she certainly understands what that was like.  She knows what it was like to be turned down, because that’s what Joseph wanted to do when he discovered that she was carrying a child that wasn’t his.  Only an act of God changed his mind.  She knew what it was like to be a political refugee, running from the law and living in a foreign country where she probably wasn’t wanted.  She knew what it was like to live in the wrong part of town.  She knew what it was like to be the mother of a son who didn’t tow the line, who went against the people who seemed to know best.  Most of all she knew what it was like to be a mother, a mother who lost her child and had to stand by helplessly as he died a criminal’s death.

She was a woman blessed by God, but she was not a woman who in any way escaped the hardships of life.  What good was it being born without sin if she still had to suffer, and suffer she did.  It’s that suffering that makes her so special.  She could have avoided it that very first day by telling the angel where to go but she didn’t.

Mary is a model of living, not just because she was the mother of God, but also because she walked in the same mess as the rest of us.  It’s hard to tell your life story to someone who doesn’t understand. She understands. She’s been there and that’s why we can turn to her.  In fact that’s why she has been given to us.  Mary is God’s gift to a broken world, a gift that compliments that of her son.  He was one of us too, but he was still God.  He was a man, and God knows it’s hard for men to understand women, only a woman could do that and Mary fulfilled that important role.  A woman who knows a woman’s sufferings.  That’s her appeal.  She’s been through it herself, she knows what it’s like.  Trust her and turn to her that’s why she’s there, and she’s in a powerful place, she has the ear of God, and like all mothers she must have some influence.  Influence to bring about a sense that God knows us and that He cares.

That’s why we celebrate her, that’s why we look to her, the mother of God, and the mother of every person who longs for the care of a mother who has been there, and who has the ability to absorb any pain, if only the pained child has the ability to turn to her, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.

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