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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

PALM SUNDAY

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This weekend we begin Holy Week with our annual celebration of Palm Sunday. This is the day in which we commemorate Jesus entry into Jerusalem his own city. We read the passion gospel, which is often referred to as the long gospel because in simple terms  it is quite long and some would even say boring.  Jesus has brought his disciples together as a group, then it all seems to fall apart with one of his apostles Judas betraying Jesus and then of course we all know what followed.   In many ways the two main themes of Palm Sunday are happiness and sorrow, and these themes  also come into play on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On ash Wednesday we placed the ashes on our foreheads as a sign of our humility as we began our Lenten Journey and now six weeks later on Palm Sunday we remember Jesus entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey as the people raised their voices in joyful acclamation as they sang hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 

But what does Palm Sunday really mean to you and me? What does it mean to us as Christians in the year 2017, a big question indeed. The Passion and death of Jesus will mean so much to some and many other people won’t care one single bit.The Passion narrative of Matthew which we hear this year emphasizes the great humility of Jesus, the King.  Lent, Palm Sunday and Holy week taken as a whole give us  the opportunity to look hard at ourselves and see exactly where we are going and perhaps were we should be going. We need to remember that Christ came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many as a result of this  he points us in the right direction. Jesus took our sinful ways on himself because of his love for us  It is important that we who say we are Christians accept the truth about ourselves that truth  may not always be good and then in our acceptance of the truth we will be able to look at the Cross and recognise the love of God our Father in the man on the cross.

May the passion story inspire all of us to try to imitate in some small way the all loving all forgiving Jesus who went through betrayal to death and finally came to the resurrection for us so that we will have life and have it to the full. Over the next few days let us prepare with greater intensity for the Easter Triduum Holy Thursday, Good Friday and  Holy Saturday and then we will really be able to enjoy the Easter feast which we have been preparing for since Ash Wednesday.

5TH SUNDAY OF LENT

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Well here we are at the 5th Sunday of lent as we look towards Palm Sunday and Holy Week. In this weekend’s gospel reading we listen to the story of Lazarus and we hear about the compassion that Jesus had towards him and his sisters Martha and Mary. This story is also about faith, the faith that Martha and Mary had in Jesus when they sent the message to them that Lazarus was sick indeed he had died and was in the tomb for four days when Jesus arrived and called him to come out from the tomb. When Lazarus was called from the tomb, it was the last sign, worked by the Lord before his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, everything seems to flow to that ‘new reality’ inaugurated by Emmanuel, God with us. Sharing our existence, Jesus loves us with a supreme passion right up to sacrificing Himself for us on the cross of Good Friday. He was moved by those who were linked to him by ties of the most profound friendship who understood that it could not be anything but God’s presence amongst them.

John’s message for us is that Jesus raises us to new life. This raising to new life does not mean that we no longer suffer. As a matter of fact, this new life leads through pain and suffering before it reaches fullness of resurrection. Jesus demonstrates this to us as it leads to his painful death on the Cross on Good Friday. But the new life we live leads to a new creation, a new way of living. The proof of this is the Resurrected Christ of Easter Sunday. He appears after his resurrection to those at the beginning of their new life. We ask the Lord for the courage to walk towards the voice that is saying, Lazarus, Come out! Jesus is calling us. He is calling us to come out of the darkness, and come into his Light. Lent may be winding down as next Sunday is Palm Sunday, but there is still time for us to do our spiritual spring cleaning. There is still time for us to be at peace with ourselves and with the Lord in the light of the presence of Jesus who is God with us.

4th SUNDAY OF LENT

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This Sunday our gospel is the story of the blind man, in this story we have another example of God’s choice, one which confuses the religious leaders of the day. John’s beautifully crafted story tells how a blind man comes to see the light in Jesus, both physically and spiritually. When Jesus’ disciples first see the blind man they presume that his affliction is a result of sin. But Jesus sees in the blind man something else: this roadside beggar who has always inhabited a world of darkness will be the one to display the work of God and point to who Jesus really is. If we are to really see clearly, we need to let Jesus heal us of our blindness  and open our eyes as He did the man born blind in this weekend’s Gospel.  This is a challenging gospel story for all of us even today because so many people are spiritually blind. It is possible that the places and things we think we are seeing clearly are not as clear as they should be. Remember that the ones, who were 100% sure they knew what was going on, the Pharisees, were blind to God. They were religious experts, like many other experts they missed the truth staring them in the face. The one who is turning their world upside down was the Son of God who was trying to open their eyes and send them along the right road. There are many things that raise questions and upset our routines these may be the very places God is trying to open our eyes and give us the vision to set things right for our lives. The story of the blind man getting his  sight gives us an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves:  How well do I see? Do I see what is really going on in my life? Has the road I have taken made me lose my way? Are things happening to me that make me trip up and stumble like a person walking and groping in the dark? We need to ask ourselves: what is blurring our spiritual vision these days?

What’s dulling our appreciation of life and gods place within it? As we remember the Blind spots in our own lives we also remember that faith always remains a choice we make that helps us to see with great clarity of vision. When we choose to trust in God and believe in what he reveals to us, we exercise our freedom to believe. Our minds and wills freely cooperate with God’s grace. Faith is not and can never be an act coerced by God or others. Faith in God and each other is a journey which takes along many roads and the road we are called to follow during Lent is the road that leads us to Jesus the light of the world at Easter. The question we should ask ourselves this weekend is this: will we continue to be blind or will we let our faith in God heal the blindness of our lives and our world?

3rd Sunday of Lent 2017

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As we continue our journey of prayer for lent we come to the 3rd Sunday and our gospel story for this weekend tells us about the woman at the well.  What a surprise it must have been to the Samaritan woman, when Jesus, tired, hungry and thirsty, asks her for a drink of water! He broke all the rules in speaking to her and as we know Jesus didn’t let the rules get in the way when he saw an opportunity to make a difference to someone and the life they are leading. Jesus suggests that He can give her living water that is far superior to anything she had ever tasted. We presume she was no stranger to intoxication, power, and money! Jesus offers this woman spiritual grace that is living water. Finding her heart curious and open to this miraculous water, He proceeds to raise her vision. He asks her to go back and bring her husband to the well with her. Of course, this is the turning point of the story. When He confronts her with the truth, she could have flounced off in righteous indignation and denial as many people do when confronted with the truth of their lives but she doesn’t run away.

In true humility, she accepts the reality of her life. Because of her humility, Jesus floods her soul with grace. Lent is a time for us to let Jesus satisfy our thirst for the truth. Like the Samaritan  woman, we too have tried the all kinds of water to quench our thirst for happiness, satisfaction, and peace of mind without really finding it. Lent   is the time for us to find real joy and satisfaction of letting the Lord fill us with grace in order to fully enjoy the season of Easter. We will find that our joy from that comes from the well of salvation the living water is greatest when we share the gift of salvation with others by really listening to them, praying from the heart in a quiet place, reflecting on the Word privately or at daily Mass, and letting the Eucharist change us into the Body of Christ.  The Samaritan woman at the well reminds all of us who doubt, or struggle with faith that we should take encouragement to stay in the conversation with Christ. The Woman at the well  came looking for physical water and found Jesus, the “living water,” who would quench her thirsty spirit. One of the responses for the psalms of the Easter vigil sums up what this gospel is really about  it tells us with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation May we find joy at the well of salvation which is Jesus Christ, the lining water of salvation.

2ND SUNDAY OF LENT

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This weekend we are continuing our Lenten journey and hopefully the  various  aspects of penance alms giving and fasting that we are undertaking are not too hard. This Sundays gospel story is about the Transfiguration. This momentary vision of Christ, in his glory, was given in order to strengthen the three Apostles Peter James and John  to face the trials to their faith which the sufferings and crucifixion of their beloved master would bring to them. For the very same reason this Gospel is retold to us today, in the early part of Lent so that we will strengthen our resolve to keep our faith.  The Father of Jesus told the apostles “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” What is so important about listening to Jesus? Wouldn’t we rather have the spectacular vision as a sign of God’s presence in our lives of course we would. We live such regular, ordinary lives most of the time and such a vision might help us get stirred up and enthusiastic again. Well it’s not really about the big splash, or the spectacular vision on the mountain, instead its all about listening to Jesus and hearing what he is saying to us in our own time and place.

 

To really listen to anyone with your heart is a  hard thing to do sometimes we have to listen to someone going on about something that is or at least seems to be complete rubbish to us but is really important for the person telling their story. Listening to Jesus means not just hearing his words, but listening  to everything his life and his story tells us about how we should  live our lives as a children of God. There are many people out there who hear the story and pay it lips service but don’t take it to heart. Jesus, trusted completely in His Father’s plan for him with faith that recognized his dependence on his Father. This is the same sort of faith that you and I are asked to embrace during lent and throughout our lives. For us in 2017 this gospel asks us to listen to Jesus words and bring them into our lives so that by our words and actions we will be able to transform and transfigure our own lives and the lives of those around us.

1st SUNDAY OF LENT

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Last Wednesday we put the ashes on our foreheads and began our annual observance of lent after the Ashes comes 40 days of hard work. So what’s so special about the number forty in scripture?  Let me explain a little forty is a biblical length of time that represents the period of purification before a momentous change. After forty days on Mt. Sinai, Moses was ready to receive the ten commandments. He descended the mountain with the tablets of the ten commandments and they were a sure way for the Hebrews to live as God’s people. Forty years later, their children and grandchildren would enter the Promised Land as people who had faith in God, not like their parents and grandparents whose faith wavered. And so  for this year we begin our forty days of Lent, looking forward to momentous change as we spiritually renew ourselves by fasting, undertaking charitable works and Alms giving in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. In our Gospel reading for this Sunday we hear about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil. The temptations of Jesus begin with something that seemed so harmless, providing bread for his hunger and ended with the devil showing him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour then telling Jesus that he could have all of them if he acknowledged the tempter or the evil one.  

As we know that didn’t happen as Jesus reply to these temptations from the devil was Be off, Satan! Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ and You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’ There are many temptations in our lives these days and they often begin with something small that then leads onwards to something big. Often the temptation is that we  question our relationship with God and everyone else. Fortunately for us, not only did Jesus resist the temptations in the dessert, his ultimate victory over sin and death are also our victory. We can hold on  to this and find strength from Jesus victory during our own difficulties and we all have these from time to time. On Ash Wednesday the ashes were used as a sign of our desire to “turn away from sinful ways  and to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel,” Lent is a time for us to remember who and what we are, sons and daughters of God created in his image and likeness.   After forty days in the desert, Jesus was strengthened to do battle with the Tempter. Over  the forty days of Lent, we are empowered to join the Lord in fighting off evil in our lives and our world. During these days we are called to fast and pray with the desire to draw closer to God who draws close to all those who call upon him with faith.  

So as we continue our Lenten journey over the next few weeks our call is to have the same confidence that Jesus had in the face of temptation so that we can make the changes in our own lives so we will be able to face up whatever temptations we come across in our lives.

ASH WEDNESDAY

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 Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday here we go again comes to mind as it seems like no time since we began lent 2016  and here we are at Lent 2017 as usual time keeps marching on. As we place the ashes on our foreheads this year and listen to the words repent and believe in the good news  we remember that the Church teaches that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are significant ways to become closer to God.  The decision for each of us on Ash Wednesday is to determine the way we want to celebrate Lent for this year. Over the next six weeks there will be a packed programme of activities providing many opportunities for undertaking spiritual renewal coupled with fasting and alms giving and I encourage you wherever you are reading this to try and take up some of the opportunities provided  in your area for Lent. As we begin our Lenten journey for 2017 may god give us his grace to make a good Lent as we begin our journey  on the road to Easter .

 

8th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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In our Gospel reading for this Sunday we hear Jesus telling us that  ‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money. He then goes on to say that we should  set our hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well.  These day our world has so many worries for everyone with various countries in a state of flux with their governments not doing what everyone expects and this is creating uncertainty. Even where I am in Northern Ireland there is a sense of not knowing what will happen next as we go to the polls next week in what really is an unwanted election but we live in hope of better things and this is what keeps all of us going. I think that the key to this weekend’s readings lies in the psalm which tell us:  In God alone is my soul at rest; my help comes from him. He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress: I stand firm. So for us god is our rock and our strong fortress and if we rest in him no matter what happens we will come through it and come out the other side realising that we got through that problem with the help of God.

This Gospel passage concludes  with Matthew  reminding us to address each day’s problems as they come, confident that we are in God’s loving care he will show us the solutions to our problems as they arise. God is a loving father who holds  each one of us and the whole world in his hands  If we develop that attitude of faith, then whenever the events of our lives become heavy, when calamity strikes individuals or relationships in a family, we can call on the presence of the Lord to care for us, to share our burdens.

Lent always seems to come around so quickly!  Next Wednesday March 1st  is Ash Wednesday, and we begin our 40-day annual Lenten journey once again. As we place the ashes on our foreheads we remember what Lent is about coming back to the Lord. Over the six weeks of Lent there will be a packed programme of activities providing many opportunities for undertaking spiritual renewal coupled with alms giving and all of these are good and I encourage you wherever you are reading this to try and take up some of the opportunities provided  for Lent where you are.

7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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This Sunday in our Gospel we are told that we should offer the wicked man no resistance and that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us these are strong words. Jesus asks his followers to take a different approach by resisting retaliation altogether. The response to a stronger person who slaps us on the cheek, takes us to court, or demands a service of us is not to resist. Similarly, for a weaker person, such as a beggar or borrower, we are to give him or her what he or she asks for. Those who are called to the Kingdom of Heaven are to go beyond the way the world usually works and serve God’s kingdom here on earth. We must, if we are truly Christian, forgive those who offend or injure us. We must love all men, whether they be friends or enemies. G. K. Chesterton says : “We are commanded to love our neighbours and our enemies;  very often we find that they are the same people.” This is very true for all of us. It is very easy for us to love in a theoretical way all people as they never come in contact with us in a personal way and never tread on our feet. But it is those among whom I live and work, who are liable to injure me and might  become my enemies.

Jesus argues that the love that we his disciples give people is not related to the love they receive from others: it is not a social contract or a fair bargain it is unconditional. The disciple loves because that is what the nature of discipleship involves. That means loving your enemy as yourself and doing good to those who would persecute you . A disciple is the child of the Father  and look at the Father’s gracious love for us as we are. He does not withhold the sun and the rain from those who oppose him; likewise, disciples must not withhold their love from those who oppose them. The love is offered not because Jesus thinks that it will change the enemy into something else: certainly, love might confuse the enemy! Love is offered because that is the example and the way of life disciples of the kingdom should follow.

Jesus is telling us not to follow the way of the world, which often perpetuates old oppressions and makes new ones as well. This only leaves people stuck and unable to move forward.  Jesus is telling us that we should be agents of real change in the world by acting in unexpected ways. This means that we do not go along with the crowd but rather approach the various situations of life with new and imaginative thinking as befits a disciple of Christ.

He wants us to see the world from the top down as God does. And then  by seeing the world the way it really is with all that is good and bad within it we will find that we are in a far better position to change it. 

 

6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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This weekend we celebrate the 6th Sunday of ordinary time along with that we also celebrate World Day of Prayer for the sick which takes place each year on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes February 11th. Here in our parish we will have the anointing of the sick and the blessing of the carers on Sunday afternoon.  We pray for all those who are sick at this time and we pray for all those who care for them family members, friends, doctors, nurses, care assistants and the priests of our parishes along with the priests religious and lay people who are our hospital chaplains.

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us that he has come to fulfil the law not to abolish or replace it. When he introduced the New Law of the Kingdom of God Jesus said something that was absolutely shocking to those heard what he told them that the holiness of the people had to surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees. How could anyone be holier than the Pharisees who were supposed to be holy men”! They dressed well, they fasted said their prayers loudly for all to hear. But Jesus said that his followers had to be holier than the Pharisees. How could that be possible as they were the people that everyone held up as being good. Jesus explains, our external actions must be a reflection of what we are really like. If what we do is not a reflection of who we are, then we are hypocrites. Hypocrite, is the word that Jesus uses over and over to describe the Pharisees.

They were considered the righteous and holy ones who in truth were neither righteous or holy in so many ways.  Jesus’ challenge was not only to his followers, but to the Pharisees and scribes as well. Their religious faith was to go deeper than exterior works – the right motives were supposed  to support right behaviour. His demands are high indeed! They seem impossible to achieve. The Pharisee spent a lot of time and energy fulfilling the Law like so many people today the law was more important than compassion. They were of the middle class and unlike the desperately poor, who were most of Jesus’s followers, the Pharisees had the education and leisure to pursue purity of observance. What chance did the illiterate, overworked and burdened poor followers of Jesus have? For that matter, what chance do we have in fulfilling these teachings? And yet, Jesus calls for a holiness that surpasses those scribes and Pharisees the people who stuck by the letter of the law instead of the compassion of God! Jesus’ demands are more radical; his vision sharper; his expectations greater When we see our own record of doing good against the demands of Jesus in the Gospel, we can all come away feeling helpless. Our own efforts look so shabby against the clear unambiguous demands of the larger vision. May we be courageous in taking up the challenge that Jesus gives each one of us today that is the call to holiness living our lives so that people will see that we are faith filled people who live our lives with the compassion of God for those around us in our hearts.

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