Machnamh – October 2006

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, B

1 October 2006                                                                       Mk. 9:38-43. 45. 47-48
Day for Life

There are times in our lives when each one of us will have to give up something that is important to us.  In fact the entire story of our lives is one of letting go.  Being born is a huge letting go – leaving the security of the womb.  Starting school is a letting go of home and its security and moving out into the unfamiliar.  Leaving school and going to college or work is a letting go too.
Then some people are called on to let go of health and independence, some have to embrace bereavement as they let go of someone they love, and ultimately each of us will be asked to let go of life itself so that we can embrace eternal life with God.

No matter who we are then and no matter what stage of our life’s journey we are at, there’s one thing we can be sure of and that is that we are all heading in the same direction on parallel tracks: time of arrival unknown but we’re en-route!

When we look at our lives like that isn’t it easy to see that there is no need for us to be jealous of others or bitter towards them or falling out with them.  Since we’re all going the same way aren’t we as well to help our neighbour rather than competing with or envying him or her?

There seems to be an example of rivalry in both the first reading and the gospel today.  There are people prophesying in the first reading and there is a man working miracles in Jesus’ name in the gospel.  In each case it is people “in the same business”, if you like, who try to stop them – people on the same journey!
Moses in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel refuse to intervene to stop them.  In fact Moses wishes that God’s Spirit was given to everyone – not just the few, and Jesus reminds us that nobody who works a miracle in his name is likely to speak evil of him: “anyone who is not against us is for us”.  Jesus’ words suggest to me that we don’t always have to be madly in love with everybody else, but at least we ought to recognise what is common to us all and try to build on that.  Even the smallest acts of kindness – even a cup of water to somebody simply because they too are Christian is a very valuable thing to do and will not be forgotten.

  1. So as I read through these readings I was struck by the fact that really there is no need for anxiety or division or competition between us.  Each of us has different qualities, different gifts, a different job to do, but it’s all with the same goal and destination in mind.
  2. If there are divisions of conflicts between us, now is a good time to begin the process of bridge building.  Simply by acknowledging the difficulty is a very good starting point.
  3. But note too the very many positive examples there are all around us of people reaching out to help others.  There are many different examples of the “cup of water” being given to so many people.  People working in health and day care, meals on wheels, home help, voluntary committees and community groups of all kinds.

Those who are not against us are for us!

The Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, B
8 October 2006                                                                                               Mk. 10:2-16
Day of Prayer for Emigrants

The summer months can often see a huge number of weddings in parishes.  All of them are similar but yet every one of them quite unique and special in its own way.  And the hype and excitement and preparation which surround a wedding are a very strong indication of how important a way of life it is.  No matter what the statistics say or what the culture says, marriage is still regarded as important and the vast majority of those who decide to marry do genuinely intend it to be permanent.
When I have the privilege of officiating at a marriage I am always struck by how, after months and sometimes years of preparation, the marriage itself only takes a second!  “I do” is a complete sentence, only three letters, two words, and yet it changes a person’s life forever and creates a bond that can never be broken.
And the “I do” refers to taking the other “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, until death do you part”.

When you think about it doesn’t it take great courage to say “I do” to that!  Marriage really is a vocation, a calling from God, a way of life.
And all over the world there are examples of people who have been living their vows day in and day out for years.  They’ve been through some tough times together and they have celebrated happy times together.  In fact we all know people who adorn the institution of Marriage – and because there are so many of them they never make the headlines – but it’s important to say that today because in fact it includes many of you!

One of the foundation stones of society is marriage and the family, and one of the reasons our society has maintained its stability for as long as it has is the part played by married couples living out that “I do” every day.  Their lives are examples of God’s plan finding expression in a real and tangible way.

The gospel today shows us Jesus being questioned on marriage breakdown and more specifically on divorce.  He’s quite clear and unambiguous in his teaching, and therefore the Church and its ministers must be equally clear and unambiguous.

Once the bond of marriage is created by a bride and groom who are free to marry and who understand fully and accept the rights and duties of marriage, that bond can only be dissolved or broken by the death of one of the people involved.  “What God has united, man must not divide.”

It’s not easy for the person who is in a broken marriage situation to hear that and it’s not easy to accept it especially if it’s through no fault of their own.  Our task is not to judge or to blame but to help and offer whatever support we can.  And remember Jesus’ example:  he always taught the truth but he also always treated those in difficult situations with gentleness and compassion.  We are obliged to do the same.

The Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, B
15 October 2006                                                                                             Mk.10:17-30

How many of you did the Lotto for this weekend’s draw?  And if you don’t get a chance to watch the draw live on television you will probably check the numbers on tele-text or in the papers.  How many of us say to ourselves “someday it will be me – some day I’ll strike it lucky”!  Imagine what it would be like to become a “Lotto Millionaire”.  Imagine what you could do with €1m – all the things you’d get for the house, the family, the children, and then how you’d be able to help all those who are most in need.

Wouldn’t it be great to be a lotto millionaire!  Imagine, then, how you would feel if you were told not to spend a penny but hand it all over to the poor together with all that you have this minute.  In theory it’s hard but we feel maybe we’d somehow manage to do it.  But in practice I think it would be nearly impossible.
That’s what happened in the gospel story we are reflecting on today.  A young millionaire, if you like – and on top of all that he was a very good-living fellow.  When Jesus explained the importance of the commandments this man was honestly able to say that he had kept all of them for as long as he could remember.  And Jesus knew that to be true because and maybe that’s why we are told: “Jesus looked at him and loved him”.  The young man’s crowning glory would have been the surrender of all he owned to the poor and then the acceptance of Jesus’ invitation “come follow me”.  It wasn’t that he wouldn’t do so, or didn’t want to do so, it was that he felt he couldn’t give up that much.  His wealth had a hold of him.  It had control of him.
You know as well as I do that the money that comes into your home each week / month is needed to pay the bills, buy the food, run the car, and educate and clothe the family.  There are times when it is difficult to make ends meet let alone have anything left over to share with those less well-off than ourselves.
I don’t think Jesus has any problem with the people who fall into this category.  He seems to be addressing himself to the people whose focus on money, wealth and luxuries of every kind, is the  be-all and end-all of their lives.  There is a danger that our money might give us a false sense of security and a false sense of superiority, and as a result we may not realise how totally dependent we actually are on God.
So today I think there are three things we can take away with us from the readings:

  1. There’s a call to share whatever we can genuinely afford with the poor – for the poor are always with us.  This is true of every day and every situation.
  2. There’s merit in remembering that this rich man was a very good-living man and the example he gave by living out the commandments since his earliest days is worthy of imitation.
  3. There’s a call there in the gospel, and in the first reading (Wisdom 7:7-11), for us to pray for the wisdom to use what we have well and for the good of ourselves and the good of others, but also for  the grace not to become too attached to or controlled by material things.  As we saw it’s not always as easy as it looks to surrender these or to let go our grip on them.

May God grant us the Serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the Courage to change the things we can, and the Wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

The Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, B

22 October 2006                                                                                             Mk.4:3-9

Mission Sunday

In the era of e-mail, text messaging and low fare airlines, the world has become a very small place.  In fact the world has in many ways been conquered and now the human mind is turned towards conquering outer space.
The mystique and the mystery of the Missions has to a great extent been lost because the image of far away places being penetrated by missionaries in an attempt to bring the Good News of Christianity to people who never knew of God is no longer as sensational as it was.
While many men and women, priests and religious from this country did just that and continue to do it, the whole notion of mission has developed.  Not only is our celebration of Mission Sunday today an opportunity to pray for and make a financial contribution towards missionary work, but it’s also an opportunity for us to consider what Mission is all about.
From the gospel today I would like to draw out just two striking points:

The mission of the Church, and our mission as members of the Church, is to bring Jesus to the people and bring the people to Jesus.  The role of the missionary is to be the facilitator of that process.  Note in the gospel the Greeks make their way ultimately to Jesus through Andrew.  Andrew is a Greek name and it was through one like themselves they made their way to the Lord.
So very often it will be one like ourselves who will open up the way for us to see Jesus too.

  1. Somebody who is loving and kind towards us is a missionary – allowing us to experience something of God’s love for us.
  2. A family member or friend who forgives us and makes it easy to make up after a row.
  3. The one who corrects us when we go astray or do wrong.
  4. The people who pray for us when we are sick or going through a bad time.

All of these people bring us closer to God through an experience of his love and concern for us made real through them.  And it’s equally true the other way round – we are missionaries too!  Just notice and remember that in the ordinary things you do every day you are very often a true missionary – and maybe you never even realised it.  Remember too, God sent his Son as one like us in order to bring us to Him.  So it’s equally possible that he would use us to bring others to him.

Jesus speaks in the gospel of the wheat grain falling on the ground and dying before it can yield a rich harvest.
Sometimes we might feel as if it is our duty to produce results, produce a rich harvest.  It’s not!  Our job is to sow the seeds.  That’s all!  God will see to the harvest.  Plant the seed carefully and create an environment in which it can grow healthily and you will have done your part.

  1. Sometimes parents become very concerned about their children who no longer practice their religion.  Maybe they threaten, force or cajole them in an attempt to get them back – but more often than not they fail and then feel let down and disappointed.  Possibly the best route is to remember that you have sown the seed over the years, now just continue to be gentle and continue to give good example and leave the “harvest” to God.
  2. It’s the same for people with very strong and pronounced religious views.  While their motives and intentions may be honourable their approach is often inappropriate.

Our task is always to lead by the good example or care and concern for others, forgiveness and neighbourliness, and fidelity to our own faith.  And while we may never see a bumper harvest at the end of our efforts we can take it as a matter of faith and of fact “that God who has begun this good work in [us] will bring it to completion”.

So the two points:

  1. Ours is the task to sow the seeds in whatever way we can.
  2. God’s is the task of gathering the harvest.

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, B

29 October 2006                                                                                             Mk.10:46-52

When we consider the gospel passages the Church puts before us each week, it’s often a good idea to put ourselves into the shoes of one of the characters.  It’s quite amazing how, when we do this, the gospel comes alive and its good news is unlocked for us.
So let’s imagine that we are in Bartimeus’ shoes for a minute.
The gospel is interesting in that it deliberately tells us his name and then explains it – “Bartimeus, that is son of Timeaus”.  So firstly he is somebody’s son, somebody’s child.  And by drawing out attention to this the gospel wants us to know that that is important.  Each of us has an identity and each of us is somebody’s son or daughter.
Then we notice Bartimeus was in need.  He was a poor blind beggar sitting on the side of the road.  He was marginalised, on the edge, at a remove from the action.
There are times when we feel a bit like that too.  We feel alienated, we feel as if people are passing us by and that we’re not important to them.  We feel isolated and we feel a great need to be acknowledged for who we are and we long for people to care about us.
That’s possibly why Bartimeus called out.  And because he was at the edge some people tried to silence him.  Maybe the most critical voices came from within himself, and it all added to the sense of loneliness and isolation.

Just noticed what happened then.  Jesus heard him and he stopped and said to his followers: “call him here”.  Jesus is always interested in those who are on the margins, those who feel excluded.  In fact Jesus gives Bartimeus a blank cheque, as it were, when he says “What do you want me to do for you?”
If Jesus were to stand in front of you now and say: “what do you want me to do for you?” what would you say?  And the amazing thing is that He is standing in front of you and He is asking you!
Take the opportunity at Mass today and take the opportunity during the week to give him your answer.

Don’t we meet Bartimeus ourselves quite often as we go along minding our own business?  Maybe he’s not lying on the side of the road, and maybe he calls out in less obvious ways:

  1. It might be the disruptive child in the classroom
  2. It could be the one who has turned to drink or drugs because they didn’t know how to ask for help and they didn’t know exactly what help they needed
  3. Maybe it is the man or woman in a difficult marriage crying out through silence or the person who becomes a recluse and hidden away in their own world.

We can be like the people who told Bartimeus to be quiet or we can be like those who said, “Courage, he is calling you” and we can bring them to Jesus who will recognise their unique identity, their human dignity, and he will allow them to ask for whatever it is they need.

Just as we receive Jesus’ offer of help when we are in need, so too the Lord may use us to reach out for him to those whom we encounter in our lives and our work.  And that we might be given the grace to recognise these moments and to respond accordingly we make Bartimeus’ prayer our own: “Master, let [us] see again”!

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