Posts filed under 'Homilies'
St Ignatius on the move
(This is my first time preaching for some years — wish me luck!)
Readings: Jer 20:7-13; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Luke 14:25-33
In my time I’ve worked in vocations and I’ve known a few other vocation directors too and one of the things we have all wondered about from time to time is how to advertise, how to make the Jesuits known. Do we stick to the bare minimum – contact details maybe – and let our reputation do the rest? Or do we try and show what Jesuits are really like with life-stories and videos and a sense of our ordinary life and jobs. Or do we play to our heroism, with our martyrs and high aspirations? Do we appeal to a man’s generosity, his need to be bold, his desire to do something hard and impressive.
Whoever chose the Gospel reading for today’s celebration obviously went with heroism. The Ignatian spirit is about the cost of discipleship and that can appeal deeply to something generous and heroic in us, some place where great desires dwell, where daring is just waiting to be kindled.
Are we able to renounce all we have for Jesus’ sake? You bet! Are we able to risk death for Jesus’ sake? Gulp. Well maybe? Are we able to hate our mothers and fathers for Jesus’ sake? You mean really hate? Seriously?
There is an attraction to the extremism of those gospel challenges but for me the gospel today hides something else as well. It is the other half of the series of contrasts – if you don’t do X you cannot be Y. And I hear that ‘cannot’, that ‘you are not able’, being hammered home. The gospel hammers it home. Do you want to be a heroic disciple? You are not able, you are not able, you are not able.
I am not able. And while enthusiasm and daring and heroism are great things in Jesuits, another part of the Ignatian spirit is rooted deep in that inability. Ignatius knew, when it comes down to it, we cannot live up to our own ideals – we are not able. However heroically we start on the road of Jesuit discipleship sooner or later we become aware that we cannot and we are not able. We are weaker and more cowardly and more attached – we are more lost than we ever thought.
And that’s OK. Being lost is good news. It is good news because the very next three stories in Luke’s gospel are about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. It turns out that the God we want to find and follow is very good at finding what is lost. And rejoicing over it.
July 31st, 2014
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 112:1-8; Luke 1:26-38
Today’s memorial might focus on Mary’s place in the cosmos — and by extension the cosmic identity and destiny of all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve — but the readings chosen to help us probe that identity and destiny are relentlessly focused on God, all about who God is and what God wants and how God brings all that about.
You could preach for days on either of our readings but — don’t worry — I don’t think you can get a better summary than a few lines from our psalm.
‘What is he like, our God?!’ asks the psalmist. I don’t think it’s so much a question as a burst of wonder. ‘So you want to know about God?’ he says. ‘There are only two things you need to know!’
Number One: God has rather a thing for this world and us its inhabitants. God is not content with thrones and celestial palaces and whatever your imagination can concoct about ‘up there’ — God likes it down here — with us, among us, and — amazingly — for us. Which brings me to …
Number Two: The single activity of God among us, the one thing God does forever and always, is ‘lift up’ — God lifts up the lowly, God dusts off the dirty, God honours the poor like princes. That’s all God does all day.
Hm… So what should our one activity be? It seems to follow — that our one concern should be to let that be done to us and, of course, to let that be done to all around us. You see? Our one responsibility is to let ourselves be lifted up — no room for false pride or false humility — and to help, and not hinder, that same work of God in everyone else. That work is going on here today. God is right here, where God loves to be, and God is looking to lift us up — to lift us up from whatever dung heap we are mired in. It’s happening now — maybe in the person sitting next to you, maybe in you yourself. All you have to do is not get in its way. Relax into it. Feel it. Isn’t it easy? … Well, maybe…
You’d never stand in the way of what God is doing in your next-door neighbour here — you’d love to see it, you’d smile and marvel — but we do all the time — if that person is ourselves — we hinder and resist. WE don’t want to let ourselves be lifted up. And the end result isn’t just that we deny ourselves a little uplift. The end result is that the work of God in this world is interrupted just a little — and, little by little, a lot. I mean, why is there war and injustice — the yoke weighing on us, the bar across our shoulders? Why? Only because so many of us, each of us, refuse to let God lift us up, lift up our lowliness, deal with us gently, give us what we have not earned.
We worry about the world, we quake in horror at another war, another atrocity, another tragic evil near or far — but all that — all the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood — all of it could be burnt up to oblivion if only — if only we let God do what God so wants to do – lift us up.
What does it take to be King of the World? Queen of Heaven? Only this: to let ourselves be lifted up.
August 22nd, 2008
Edel McClean offers these reflections:
Readings: Amos 2; Matthew 8: 18-22
I’m perplexed by today’s gospel reading. I don’t want this to be my Jesus speaking. I want to catch a softness in his eye. I want him to smile. I want him to be a wee bit easier on people. But Jesus isn’t going to do my bidding. I have to grapple with my confusion instead.
Let’s picture the scene. Jesus, a strangely attractive young rabbi, emerges out of the back end of nowhere. He wanders the hills and valleys of Palestine. He walks among a disenfranchised people, in an occupied state. He walks through their towns and their villages, over their farmland, and on the shores of their lake, and he cries out a new message. A message of a new world order, where the mourning are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, those hungry and thirsty for what’s right feast until satisfied. He doesn’t just talk. He puts it into action. He lays hands on people and they are healed. He looks, smiling, into the eyes of a leper and says ‘Of course I want to cure you, be cured’. With a word from this man’s lips, the sick are made well. The air that surrounds him is so packed full of promise of a better life and a better world, that it seems to be exploding in bursts of golden fireworks over his head.
What’s not to love? The crowds, and the excitement, the acclaim, the glamour, the power. Surely following so talented a preacher and healer holds at least the potential of wealth and health and fame and long life. How attractive to run up and throw yourself at this man’s feet and ask to go with him.
He doesn’t ask anything of the pair we hear about in the gospel. There’s no hint of him demanding that they follow. He’s been among them, healed, preached, given his heart, his time, his love, given generously and richly. He’s told them of the Kingdom. They can believe, they can live the Kingdom message, they don’t need to leave their lives and come with him. But they ask to.
I’m not sure what he offers in response is a rebuke. It seems, instead, to be a simple statement of fact. Jesus seems to want them to be absolutely clear about what it is that’s on offer.
He doesn’t offer health, wealth. Fame. A long life. All things that, on first glance, this charismatic, popular, healing preacher might be expected to offer. There’s no guarantee of health or illness, of wealth or poverty, or fame or disgrace, a long life or a short one. That’s not what they, or we, are being asked to choose. He’s not offering any guarantee of an exciting life or a dull one, an easy life or even a hard one. He’s simply saying that it won’t always look like this.
‘Don’t fall in love with the large crowds and the status and the adulation’ he seems to be saying ‘those things will disappear. I can’t guarantee you a secure home. I can’t guarantee you the security of family acceptance. I can’t offer you an honoured place in the synagogue’. This man with no home. This man so committed to the ‘fierce urgency of now’, so committed to love, that he throws himself on the mercy of our humanity. He stands there, with one foot in the boat, heading off into the unknown. He stands there in all his vulnerability. He stands there with arms spread out saying something like: ‘What do I offer you? Myself, and that’s as good as it gets. My Self is as good as it gets. Here I am. Here’s what’s on offer. Do you still want to come?’
June 30th, 2008
Edel McClean offers these reflections:
Readings: James 1:1-11, Psalm 118, Mark 8:11-13
The liturgical title for today is Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time. A quick look at ordinary in the dictionary tells us ‘unexceptional, plain, uninteresting’. It seems a little like what the Pharisees are accusing Jesus of in our gospel today. They seem to think he’s a little too ordinary and they come demanding a sign. Prove to us that you’re exceptional. Give us something remarkable. Do something out of the ordinary. And then we’ll believe you.
Of course, what the Pharisees were getting was anything but ordinary. They were getting a sign. They had Jesus. Standing slap bang in front of them. Not just any old preacher, but, if we follow Mark’s gospel, a man who had just healed a young child, made a deaf man hear, and fed four thousand people. And still the Pharisees say, we want more. They’re unable to see the sign right there in front of them.
The question is, I suppose, what are the signs right there in front of us? We listened to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem yesterday, of kingfishers and dragonflies. And we can look at moments of beauty and something in us knows they’re a sign. We catch the softness in an older person’s eye as they tell of someone they once loved, and something in us knows it’s a sign. We see a young couple stand in front of a church full of people and, with their hearts pounding, promise themselves to each other for ever. Something in us knows this is a sign. We see a child dancing barefoot, graceful and unselfconscious and we know, it’s a sign. We see a cherry tree, bursting into flower, singing and dancing its colour to the world and, if we take the time to notice, it makes our hearts sing and dance too. And we know that this too, is a sign of something beyond what we can grasp.
Older people, young couples, children, cherry trees. They all belong to ordinary time. But they’re extraordinary too. Because Jesus, it seems, has no desire to be confined to ‘special’ times, but comes to meet us, to grace our lives, right in the middle of the ordinary.
And perhaps we recognise too, those moments in ourselves. The glory of God is a person fully alive, which is another way of saying, the glory of God is a person being who God’s called them to be, which is another way of saying the glory of God is a person being fully themselves. The moment when our hearts sing. The moment when we are so fully ourselves that God shines through us. The moments when, like the old person, or the young couple, like the child or the cherry tree, we are so fully what we’re meant to be, that others look at us and see in us a sign, and know God is right there with them. What the world needs most, perhaps, is our having the courage to be ourselves – to bring our true, unique, God-given selves out from the shadows and allow them to shine. To let our very lives, which belong in this, ordinary time, to be signs of God’s grace, touching the ordinary, and setting it dancing.
May 12th, 2008
Though I’m not up to preaching these days I thought I might enlist the Loyola Hall Team to give their reflections occasionally. Today’s offering is from Edel McClean.
Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6,10; Psalm 145:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matt 11:2-11
Advent is all about faith and hope, and our readings today don’t let us down on that front. The first reading from Isaiah, encourages us to be strong, take courage, trust. James tells us to have patience that we will see all things brought to fulfilment. And after all of those calls to faith, and hope, we see, in the gospel, John the Baptist come to what seems to be a crisis of faith and hope.
John’s early days don’t suggest a man prone to uncertainty. His mighty proclamations, his passionate teaching, the absolute sense of urgency. ‘Get a move on’ he shouts on the banks of the Jordan, ‘the time is nigh’. And finally, along comes Jesus to be baptised. And John, with something of a sigh of exhaustion, must say: ‘Here he is. Time for me to decrease, him to increase’.
But now, instead of being told ‘good and faithful servant’ and the satisfaction of seeing all those who’d mocked him stunned to silence, John’s locked in prison by a man who wants him dead and only hold’s back because he’s nervous of a twitchy crowd. John, who’d preached that ‘the axe is being laid at the root of the tree’, is finding that there seems to be a much more immanent threat of the axe being laid on his own neck.
It seems that John’s hope and faith have been severely eroded. He’s lying in prison and when he hears what Jesus is doing he sends a message – ‘are you really the one’? I wonder if the unwritten text was ‘cause you’re sure not looking like it from where I’m sitting?’.
There’s more that a little doubt in John’s message. It’s not full of faith or hope or certainty. It’s full of doubt and fear and uncertainty. ‘I had been sure’ he says ‘but now I’m not so sure’.
How does Jesus respond to the very public doubt of his much beloved cousin? However much John is struggling to believe in Jesus, struggling to believe in himself and his own mission, struggling to hold onto hope, Jesus responds with a resounding statement of his belief in John, his faith in John, his hope in John. He says ‘I am who I am, and you, John, are who you are, and both of those are richly and deeply good’.
Isaiah in the first reading says ‘say to all faint hearts, courage, do not be afraid’. But sometimes our hearts are prone to becoming faint all the same. In the second reading James says ‘you have to be patient, do not lose heart’. But in the thick of all that seems wrong in the world, or in ourselves, it can be difficult to keep patience. John, in his prison cell, cries out, ‘how long? Is this it? How can I be sure?’ And all of us, at some point, struggle too with how to have faith – how to have faith in our own sense of ourselves, how to have faith in God’s love for us.
If that’s our reality then there’s a great deal of comfort to be had from Jesus’ response to John. However much John is struggling to believe in Jesus, Jesus quite clearly believes in John. Whatever John’s sense of inadequacy in those long nights in prison, Jesus says ‘a greater than John the Baptist has never yet been seen’. And not just John ‘the least in the kingdom in heaven is greater’ Jesus says. He expresses belief not just in John but in all of us.
There’s a beautiful line at the beginning of today’s psalm. ‘It is the Lord who keeps faith forever’. Given how fickle our own faith can be, that’s an immense reassurance. However much we struggle to hold on to faith in our own essential goodness, or however much we struggle to trust in God’s essential goodness, God keeps faith in us. He looks to us, as he looked to John, and with all our inadequacies and uncertainties and fears, he keeps faith in us. He holds on to all that he knows to be good in us, when we struggle to trust it ourselves. God keeps faith in us and says ‘I am who I am, and you are who you are, and both of those are richly and deeply good’.
Advent is all about faith and trust and belief. About our faith and trust and belief, yes. But much more importantly, about God’s faith, God’s trust, God’s belief in us.
December 16th, 2007
Readings: 1 Sam 26:2-23; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
Today’s readings are a charter for stupidity and a counsel for failure.
Economics is founded on the belief that value grows by self-interest. Politics is built on the conviction that power must be contained by power and violence met with violence. And the biological science has shown that you just can’t beat tit-for-tat as an evolutionary strategy and way of life. Any population of Jesus-type, turn-the-other-cheek do-gooders will always be overrun by those who get their own back.
The gospel recognises that—even sinners love those who love them. On the other hand the gospel says that God doesn’t play tit-for-tat—God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
But isn’t that puzzling? How can it be that the world should play with different rules to the one who made it? Aren’t the rules God’s? It isn’t all down to the Fall—the biology of tit-for-tat doesn’t depend on sinful structures but on the simple clarity of mathematics and the logic of natural selection.
What the numbers say is that tit-for-tat can’t be beaten. It’s always a good bet and evolution favours it. But the numbers also say that real altruists don’t die out—they just remain a minority and a minority always vulnerable, always blessing those who curse them, always turning the other cheek, always lending without hope of return.
And this is exactly where God chooses to be—beaten, cheated, cursed. And it is where we are challenged to choose to be also.
But why should we? The gospel offers two answers. The first is this: so that we might be like God. That we might be with the God who has no truck with war, with violence, or punishment, or tit-for-tat.
The second answer proves just how hard the first answer is to believe–because Luke cops out and introduces tit-for-tat all over again. ‘Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Give and there will be gifts for you. The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’
But even there I think there’s something subversive in God’s economy—it’s not quite tit-for-tat when God’s response is such over-the-top goodness. No judgment. No condemnation. But pardon and plenty: gifts by the lap-load, full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
Because even if we are beaten, cheated, and cursed we have the compensation of good company.
February 18th, 2007
Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; I Cor 12:4-11; John 2:1-11
Here’s a quiz for you… How many times does Mary appear in John’s gospel? … Trick question: the answer is none. The ‘mother of Jesus’, however, appears twice. Isn’t that a strange way to tell the story? It’s not that John didn’t know her name – so something else must be going on here.
In fact, the way John tells the story today, the mother of Jesus is quite an ambiguous character. She has her eye on the dwindling wine supply and she has faith in her son to be able to put it right. And though Jesus seems quite rude to her with his ‘Woman, what is that to you or to me’, he still goes ahead and works a wonder with water and wine. But then John doesn’t mention her again until she stands with the other women at the foot of the cross.
So is she the hero of our little story or does she miss its meaning? I think John is trying to tell us she falls somewhere in between. She believes in Jesus and his power and she wants him to use it but she hasn’t grasped the one essential thing about her son. Nowhere in John’s gospel does Jesus do anything that anyone asks him to do. The one person he listens to is God. No one else.
And I think it’s the same here: the mother of Jesus asks for a domestic face-saver and Jesus tells her off — it isn’t his hour; instead of a conjuring trick Jesus gives a sign, he lets his glory be seen. He doesn’t do what his mother asks; he does what God says.
That’s why I think John never names her. Jesus is not defined by his parentage; he isn’t who he is because of his mother but because of God. And that goes for Mary too. As John writes it she isn’t important in her own right but only in her relationship to Jesus. And that’s true for each of us. Whatever the joys and gifts and blessings and burdens we have through family and friends, through history and experience – none of that is our identity, none of it names us truly. Our only true name rises from our relationship to Jesus. …
There’s another unnamed character in John’s gospel: the Beloved Disciple. The Beloved Disciple is there with the mother of Jesus at the cross. We tend to think that John means himself when he writes the Beloved Disciple but I think he means you and he means me. That is who we are. That is our true name. We are only known by who we are to Jesus – each of us is that Beloved Disciple. ‘Beloved of Jesus’ is our only true name.
January 14th, 2007
Readings: Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus confuses me. I love this gospel but my first reaction hearing Jesus words ‘I am gentle and humble in heart’ is to say ‘who are you kidding?’
We used to have a big red poster downstairs, done by Cafod I think, with a face of Jesus, Ché Guevara-style, and the words ‘Meek. Mild. As if!’ Someone nicked it—or maybe it was taken down in protest. Either way they were wise.
Gentle. Humble. As if. It’s not just the Temple-cleansing incident, the argy-bargy with the authorities, or the increasingly outrageous claims he makes for himself—it’s not even the yoke and burden we’ve since fashioned from his words—it’s the whole idea, the very foundation, of his mission: ‘Come to me’, he says. Who does he think he is? ‘Come to me and I will give you rest, rest for your soul’.
Rest for the soul—who doesn’t need it? We long for our unburdening. God knows there is enough weight across our shoulders—whether imposed by others or worn by habit.
Isn’t that what Advent is for? To see through the gentleness of our illusions and feel again the rod of our oppressors, weigh once more the burdens upon us, reconsider the yoke of our bondage. And yearn for freedom—long for a liberator. Need one more than comfort and calm.
‘Come to me’, Jesus says but who does he think he is? Isaiah paints a picture of a real God, a God to get the job done—a celestial sergeant major, strong, powerful, and untiring. Part of me would like that kind of liberation. But the answer to all my advent longing will not be him at all but a baby. It’s like those T-shirts—‘My parents went on holiday and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’. I’ve waited, longed, yearned and all I get, is Jesus—complicated, vulnerable, human Jesus. So much more and so much less than I deserve.
December 13th, 2006
Homily for a Study Day on the Spiritual Exercises dealing with the Contemplatio ad Amorem
Readings: Dan 12:1-13; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
A plane passed over and I could hear it with a shudder even though I was sitting in The Arches (basement prayer room). I heard the plane in my praying and the thought passed through me that it could be the first bomber of a nuclear war. Twenty years ago in the last days of my 30-day retreat.
That wasn’t the only apocalyptic shiver of those days: someone was coughing and coughing and I found myself thinking of polluted air and poisoned waters; and then among the great cloud of witnesses gathered to help me pray ‘take Lord receive’ I could see the starving children of Africa in their millions. It felt like I was back at the beginning: looking at the way sin scars the world, or at the Incarnation looking down on all we are and all we do, well and ill.
But wasn’t this the Fourth Week, weren’t we asking for the grace of joy, the fruitfulness of the resurrection? What place does apocalyptic have here?
Well every place! Apocalypse means unveiling, lifting the veil that hides reality. And this was, and is, our reality: those horsemen of the apocalypse—war, plague, famine, and destruction—ride among us yet. They are our sin. They killed the one who came to save us. And yet he is not dead and we are offered a share in his joy. Not because we are better at covering up reality than the rest, nor because we are eager for the end, but because Jesus bore the brunt of hell on earth and was not bent by it. He is here today, alive, wounded, and joyful—the veil is off, he knows the full horror of global warming, of terrorism and genocide, of heartbreak and retribution—and he is not bent by it—not broken, not violent, not victorious—not bent.
It is with eyes wide open, eyes unveiled, we ask to stand with him and be as vulnerable as he: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will—all that I have and possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for that is enough for me.”
November 19th, 2006
Readings: Philippians 4:10-19; Luke 16:9-15
Money continues to be in the spotlight today and it’s interesting how Jesus both praises and condemns it in the same breath.
He calls it tainted, little, even loathsome and yet, precisely because it is so unimportant it assumes importance. How we handle the small stuff reveals our hearts better than our big-banner projects or the public values we claim. Money, because it means so little says so much: it speaks of what we worship truly rather than who we say we do.
Isn’t this an interesting thing to hear from Jesus’ mouth: ‘Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when money fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity’. No one bribes their way through the Pearly Gates. Heaven’s honours can’t be bought—not even with a backdoor loan. What Jesus seems to be saying is that what opens the gates to us is not what we have but who we know, who our real friends are, where we have given our love, our time and treasure.
That’s the only investment that pays off in the long term: the friends we have made, the generosity we have shown, the love we have spent.
November 11th, 2006