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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

Archive for the tag “faith”

33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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We pray today for all those who perished in Paris on Friday night this atrocity serves no one. This Sunday in our Gospel story we hear about the End times and I am sure that the people who died didn’t  think that they were approaching their end times may all of them through the mercy of God rest in peace.

For the past two millennia, Christians have looked to the future and asked, “When, Lord, when is all this going to kick off?” Jesus saw the end of time event as the visit of the divine King. God would prepare the visit with cosmic signs and events as a means of announcement. The King would arrive in a way that reflected his power and reputation (on the clouds); his messengers (“angels”) would go throughout the known world to gather all the faithful. Remember that the Jewish people had been displaced throughout the known world because of economic opportunity or oppression. Jesus implied that the injustice of Jews living on foreign soil would be corrected during his lifetime  How did his disciples know Jesus spoke the truth? Jesus gave a farming analogy of the fig tree to support his belief in God’s immanent judgement.

Every spring we observe the twigs on a bare tree start to grow and go green then Leaves appear and we know that summer is on the horizon. As Spring is a prelude to Summer, and Autumn warns of Winter so we must not be complacent, imagining that life can be held in suspension because life keeps marching on.

After the cosmic fireworks, Jesus imagines a peace beyond suffering. This vision of peace is important for Mark’s persecuted community: they need more than a firework display to see them through their own historical apocalypse. If their hope is not to be exhausted by force of circumstances, they need help to imagine a far side to pain and suffering. Mark gives their hope help in sharing Jesus’ vision. For that is the purpose of all apocalyptic writing: to fund the hope of those who suffer in the present. We live in an age of uncertainty: the future never looks wholly secure. But Jesus holds out a vision that takes us beyond our worst imaginings. There is a place beyond the mountains of arms and weapons, beyond environmental damage and terrorism. This vision doesn’t free us from the duty to strive for peace and right living, but it does free us from the blasphemy of believing that a nuclear holocaust will be the last word in the human story. In the meantime, we have to depend on the promise of Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” No one, not even the Son, knows when all this will take place. The only sure thing we can hold on to is the word of Jesus and all we are asked to do is hold fast to what we know to be good and in these times when we look at all that is happening around us this is good advice.

32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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This Sunday in our Gospel story we hear about the widows mite. Mark sharpens the lesson Jesus gives, by linking this incident with what he has to say about ‘scribes’ who ‘swallow the property of widows while making a show of lengthy prayers’. The situation of widows was insecure. The ‘scribes’, so often mentioned in the gospels, were interpreters of the Law of old Israel they were the lawyers of the day But beneath their exterior religious garb, they were rapacious and in many respects just didn’t give a damn as long as they had what they wanted. The widow, on the other hand, reveals the true religious practice of those who have little, but express great trust in God to provide for them.

Jesus makes a series of charges against the scribes. He criticises their habit of wearing distinctive dress, which marks them as different from others and is calculated to win people’s deference. He criticises their habit of taking the places of honour at religious and civil functions. He criticises their habit of long-winded prayers, made not to God but to their immediate audience. Finally, he denounces their practice of exploiting helpless widows by living off their savings.

In contrast to the counterfeit piety of the scribes, Jesus honours true piety in the generosity of the poor widow. The pious frauds who abused their religious status could take a lesson from a woman who had no status in their religion or society, a poor widow. The two small coins make up the total of her resources. She could have kept one. She doesn’t. Her generosity cannot be bettered. For Jesus, true generosity is measured not by what people give but by what they have left after they give. The poor widow leaves herself with nothing. She cannot give more, for she has nothing more to give. In Jesus’ estimation she is a mighty widow.

We, need to listen to Jesus’s words. We are tempted to preserve our systems and benefit from what they give us: standing in the community, predictability, stability and a blessing of the status quo. The church’s history also reveals how we have blessed armies that invaded and enslaved indigenous peoples, preached slavery and oppression. Our religious apparatus has tended to side more with Caesar and with the economic and political world that belongs to Caesar. Jesus condemns those individuals and institutions that benefit from the burdens put on the poor. He said previously in Mark (11:17) that the Temple had become a den of thieves and not a house of prayer.

He predicted it would all come tumbling down.  Today’s passage illustrates why this destruction was inevitable, because those in the temple were corrupt. Every day demands are made on us. We are called on to be generous with our love, our forgiveness, our patience, our resources. The good news is that when we do that out of love, Jesus will be our constant support through the good and bad and happy and sad times which we often find ourselves in.

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, the Church’s “Hall of Fame.” They are the men and women who “hung in there” despite all sorts of obstacles, to faithfully believing in God and His Son, Jesus. They are the ones who were truly lovers and followers despite their own sinfulness and weaknesses. During the early centuries the Saints venerated by the Church were all martyrs. Later the  1st  November was set  as the day for commemorating all the Saints.  All of us have this “universal call to holiness.” What must we to do in order to join the company of the saints in heaven? We “must follow in Jesus footsteps and try to conform ourselves to his image as we seek  to do  the will of the Father in all things In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history” (Lumen Gentium)

In today’s Gospel  which is the beatitudes we have Jesus’ charter for his kingdom,. When we listen to the beatitudes we can all put faces to the virtues. We remember these people and we know them. The people whose simplicity and littleness shine like a light in a world of darkness. The gentle folk whose energetic non-violence will never win medals. Those who cry and mourn their loss because they have tasted the presence of love.  The ones who hunger for what is right and who stay hungry until what is right becomes a reality. Those who scandalise us with their mercy because they exclude no one from its embrace. The people who have an undivided heart, whose loyalty to God is never in question. Those who not only look for peace but do everything in their power to make peace and build a kingdom among the ruins.This summary of Jesus’ teaching gives expression to the heart and spirit of the life to which Jesus calls us. True happiness, Jesus declares, will be found by those for whom their relationship with God means more to them than earthly goods – a “poverty of spirit, ” a “meekness” and “gentleness” after the example of Jesus, a “hunger for justice” that shapes what we do according to the values of the Kingdom, in sum “a pure (i.e. undivided) heart.” These are the ideals that have inspired the saints honoured by the Church, and those countless others known only to God.  

The Beatitudes are a sign of contradiction to the world’s understanding of happiness and joy.  How can one possibly find happiness in poverty, hunger, mourning, and persecution?  Poverty of spirit finds ample room and joy in possessing God as the greatest treasure possible.  Hunger of the spirit seeks nourishment and strength in God’s word and Spirit.  Sorrow and mourning over wasted life and sin leads to joyful freedom from the burden of guilt and spiritual oppression.  God reveals to the humble of heart the true source of abundant life and happiness.  Jesus promises his disciples that the joys of heaven will more than compensate for the troubles and hardships they can expect in this world.  Thomas Aquinas said: No one can live without joy.  That is why a person deprived of spiritual joy goes after carnal pleasures.  Do you know the happiness of hungering and thirsting for God alone? So the question to ask ourselves today is are we prepared to take up the attitudes of the Beatitudes and make them our way of life?

30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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In our Gospel for this Sunday Christ walks along the streets of the ancient city of Jericho even in Jesus time the city of Jericho was already thousands of years old. With his disciples and a great crowd following him, our Lord is leaving the city and Bartimaeus the blind beggar calls out to him in dire need: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” Bartimaeus, though blind, could see. His instincts were sharper than a fresh razor blade. The divinity of Jesus had come across to him in waves. But those  around and about him, who enjoyed good vision, were blind to the Son of Man. The blind and deaf Helen Keller said, “The most beautiful things in the world can’t be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” It is possible for good people to spend their days searching but never finding their spiritual hearts.

I often feel that I am going around in circles looking for this or that way of curing my own spiritual blindness. But I always come to the same conclusion that faith in God is what it is all about. Spiritual blindness often prevents people from perceiving the correct way a follower of Jesus should live. Our following of Jesus is not compulsory.

We cannot be compelled to love or to accept the mission of God to transform the world after the pattern that Jesus gave us that is our own free choice. We must not accept the voices that would have us silenced and there are so many in our modern world and many of those voices are blind to the Spiritual heart of faith. The gift we seek is sight, that is the ability to capture the vision of a new creation brought about by a faith filled community of people. Of course we will be afraid. Our reflection on the lives of those who have gone before us tell us that the way of discipleship can lead us into paths we may find difficult  The Gospel stories we have heard over these past weeks reveal how blind the disciples and the people around them really were. The bewildered confusion of the twelve; the cruel reaction of the crowd, who “scolded Bartimaeus and told him to keep quiet’”; the blindness of those in Jerusalem determined to destroy him. Through this miracle, Jesus makes Bartimaeus a living sign of what he is doing in the name of his Father – healing the world’s blindness, leading the human family to see in him the truth of God’s ways and not the way of the world. Discipleship is not about having possessions. Bartimaeus had no possessions except his cloak. But he even casts that aside to get up and come to Jesus.

He is a powerful symbol for us: what little he has he puts aside to get closer to Jesus. The last line of the story captures the gospel message. Jesus immediately gives the man his sight to his eyes and his heart. With the gift Jesus has given him he can see where he is to go he gets up and follows Jesus. The gift was swift in coming and Bartimaeus responds just as quickly. “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” “The way” is symbolic language for those who follow Jesus. The disciples, on the road with Jesus, must have thought of themselves as part of the “in crowd,” the way James and John did when they asked Jesus to give them seats of power in his kingdom  in last Sundays Gospel (Mark 10:35-45). While they were physically close to Jesus, they were a long way from understanding and taking his message on board. The blind beggar, with nothing but a cloak, was exactly the kind of person Jesus noticed and invited to come close while those with Jesus still didn’t get it  and as a result they were not his true followers on “the way.” God wants us to say truthfully in the silence of our hearts, “Lord that I may see.” Jesus wants our prayer like that of Bartimaeus to come from a sincere heart that asks not only for the gift of sight so that we can see the world around us, but also for the gift of seeing – of seeing the truth, or the lack of it in the depths of our being, and then taking the action necessary to reverse our blindness.

Bartimaeus the clever man that he was saw Christ with the eyes of faith and  a faith filled heart. So you and I must also look and see Jesus with the eyes of faith so that we may be able to see more clearly what we have to do as people of faith to lead others to Christ.

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Here we are at the 28th Sunday in ordinary time with September a distant memory and now we are well into October the month of the Rosary. At this stage we should be settled into the routines of school and work, routines that are often abandoned during the summer months for a more relaxed way of life.

In our second reading this Sunday we hear about the word of God being alive and active God’s Word can be likened to a two-edged sword. It is living and effective. Even now the word of God gets to the heart of things and it divides the real from the unreal so that we are forced to face up to the uncomfortable truths it may be pointing out to us whatever they may be. In this Sundays Gospel Mark paints a vivid scene of a rich man meeting Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. The rich man is eager, impetuous and effusive. The prophet from Nazareth is calm and practical as he meets the seeker’s enthusiasm with the challenge of the kingdom. When the rich man throws himself at the feet of Jesus and addresses him as “Good master”, Jesus tells him that God alone is the good. When the man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus gives him the standard rabbinical answer – keep the commandments.

Jesus looks on the rich man with love; he wants this blameless enthusiast to become one of his disciples. So the challenge is made: “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The cost of Christian discipleship is heavy for this prospective disciple: he must renounce his security and the prestige his wealth brings him; when he sells everything he owns, he must not give the money to his family or friends, but to the poor. If he does this he will have treasure in heaven. That treasure will be his new security.

Then Jesus tells the apostles to detach themselves from possessions. The rich man is a good person, but he cannot let go of the physical goods he has in order to receive the riches of following Jesus and his sought-after eternal life. Ordinary religious practice and observances are not enough. Jesus asks the extraordinary from his followers, not only giving up possessions, but their very lives, to follow him .Over the years since these words were first spoken right down to us in our own times  many many people have got up and followed Jesus and by doing this they have inspired countless others to take up the road less travelled. This will be the same as we go into the future as many more will come to accept the challenge of Jesus to follow him. We remember that the true Christian, whose principal purpose in life is to serve God, will not overburden him or herself with unnecessary pieces of luggage; instead the true Christian will travel light and be ever ready to help others also to carry their burdens.

27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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This Sunday in the Gospel we tackle the thorny  issue of marriage and divorce; Jesus is asked an awkward question about the legality of divorce. He lays down very clearly what God intends for marriage is what is found in Genesis (where the “two become one” for all time) rather than the dispensation granted through Moses (permitting a writ of divorce) which was an exception, not the rule How then did the Christian community come to recognize that easy divorce was not in accordance with the original plan of God? Mark tells us that Jesus cited Genesis to provide the basis of a new understanding of human community. This is an important point as it is an example of one of the many times Jesus showed both his disciples and his critics that it was dangerous to build a case based on one passage from Scripture. By referring to Genesis he pointed them gently in a new direction. If marriage is the formation of “one body”, then the body created by God, cannot be destroyed by humans. As Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom as a new way of being before God therefore disciples would strive to carry out the dream of God in its fullest expression.

Christianity is a religion of reason and conforms in all its aspects to the rational nature of man its basis is the revelation of God who became man and is the author and foundation of all things yet it is the heart of mankind rather than his intellect which Christ means to capture.

The assent of the intellect to the doctrine revealed by Christ is not sufficient in itself for a Christian to earn the eternal kingdom; faith is the acceptance and commitment of the believer to God through Jesus Christ. The person who has faith commits himself or herself to God with childlike trust, assured that if he does all that he can God will do the rest. This is the kind of faith that will move mountains that loom so large in the vision of too many Christian’s mountains that challenge the Christian and his or her way of living life we all know what they are. If we are to be his followers Christ asks us to take up our cross each day and follow him and that means we take the way of the cross after him. Our daily cross is made of the troubles and trials of life from which no one can escape. They can be borne with reluctance and grumbling or they can be accepted as the loving God’s means of training us for the future life.  We don’t know in advance what God may do with us and our own oftentimes selfish plans.

To those who have faith, all things are possible the old saying that faith moves mountains is certainly true. We don’t  know when personal illness, bereavement or some other trying experience will put us to the test. But we do know that our life will be a success if we set our hearts and minds on values that go beyond all the transitory goods of this world. Our faith, is leading us onwards and forwards, it is always pointing to something still to come, and at the end of our pilgrimage on this earth we will find where our true treasure is but in the meantime we have to keep on going though it is sometimes hard. Remember the saying that faith moves mountains but keep on climbing!!!

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20 TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

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 We are now at the midpoint of August and summer has flown by and the thoughts of the children and their parents turn towards going back to school at the start of September. Over the next few weeks the preparations will get going and hit fever pitch with the buying of school uniforms and all the other things required for the school going population. This indicates an unending circle from one September to the next, each year being the same with the people involved getting a bit older as time goes by. Also this week the exam results are is for those doing the A levels and next week we have the results for those doing the GCSE exams. 

 Our Gospel Reading for this Sunday suggests when we take Communion we really are taking real Food and real Drink.   The receiving of this gift becomes the acceptance and acknowledgment of the Lord’s care for us and thus, ultimately, the nourishment we need to continue the journey. Sometimes it is not easy to put one foot in front of the other, let alone continue on the journey of faith.

In His book To Live Is to Love, Ernesto Cardenal says, “If in everything you fulfil God’s will rather than your own, every encounter in the street, every telephone call, every letter you receive, will be full of meaning, and you will find that everything has its good reason and obeys a providential design. To “live in love” requires us to be connected to the Love of God.     There is one concrete way that the Lord helps us to make this connection that is by providing the Eucharist the bread of Life.   In the bread and wine offered at the Eucharist, the risen Lord makes himself present.

While the priest invokes the words of blessing (thus acting as the instrument of Christ or “in persona Christi”), the conversion of the bread and wine into the blood into the Body and Blood of Christ remains the initiative of God (specifically, the Holy Spirit). The offer to partake in the “living bread” is God’s offer of unity with Christ and his followers (his “body,” the Church). The attraction of the Eucharist or Blessed Sacrament is dynamic. Jesus is dynamic.

When we receive communion or when we come to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, we don’t receive an inanimate object.  We don’t kneel before a static entity. This is not a crucifix or a statue that reminds us of something. This is Jesus. The One Who Is who was and will be in the future. When we receive communion or come to adoration, we take within ourselves or we come before the dynamic, powerful Presence who speaks to us through the life He has given us. How great is our God. He has found a way for each of us to have continual, intimate encounters with Him. Let us pray, for those whose access to the Gift of the Eucharist or Blessed Sacrament is not so easy whether they have left the faith or perhaps they might be struggling with it or for many they may not yet found it as we remember that Jesus has said ‘I am the Bread of life he who comes to me will never be hungry.’

19 TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

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Here we are heading into another week end and our gospel this Sunday is about bread. Some of the greatest stories I have heard were told around the kitchen table at family meal times so in a similar vein we listen to the Scriptures as we gather around the table of the Lord each Sunday as the family of God. Jesus is the life-giving word. God is feeding us through the Word. “We do not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God Deuteronomy (8:3).” The Gospel reading for this Sunday deals with a doubting audience, they were shocked and critical of Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven as the Bread of Life. Despite the miracles they had witnessed, and the words of wisdom they have heard preached with such convincing authority, they could not go the extra step to accept His claim. We are able to take that extra step because our Christian faith has come to us from Jesus, we know where he came from, we know where we are going and we know how to reach that destination. Of all the knowledge a human being can acquire on this earth, the above facts are the most essential and important. The knowledge our Christian faith gives us concerns eternity and our journey toward it. The personal faith that we have has passed down to us through each generation and this means that “God out of the abundance of his love, speaks to us as friends and lives among us as  the living bread which came down from heaven.

The Gospel lesson for today tells us that we can’t do it by ourselves.  We need Jesus.  And we find Jesus through the teachings and Word of God.  It is through our communion with him, in him, and through him in the eating of the bread of life that his flesh becomes the life of the world.  It is in our relationships of love with each other and our listening to God and learning from God that we experience Jesus among us.  In our simple day-to-day lives of being kind to one another, compassionate, and forgiving one another, we are empowered to be imitators of God.  So, at the end of each day, when we give thanks for all of our blessings, most of all, we should give thanks to God for the presence of Jesus in our lives. 

15TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

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This Sunday our Gospel reading is all about Mission. Jesus summons the twelve apostles and sends them out on a missionary tour.  The chosen followers of Jesus have to carry the word of God as a challenge to others. In that mission the apostles have the authority and the power of Jesus. They have to travel on that. They are not to rely on their own resources but on the authority that has been given to them and the hospitality that will be offered them. With no bread and no money, they have to depend on the kindness of others: that vulnerability makes their message their real resource. If they have bread to eat, it means that people are not only hospitable to them but to the word they preach. If they are not accepted, they have no option but to move on. And when a town rejects their message, the apostles are to shake the dust from their feet – a symbolic act performed by strict Jews returning to Palestine after journeying abroad. The Twelve went out and preached. Jesus and his Twelve preached that God would adopt humanity, making its members which include you and me “sons” and “daughters” of the Father This was Good News then just as it is now!  In recent times we have seen the decline in people attending Church in our parishes for many reasons and I think we need to be like the twelve who were sent out with the message of Jesus but with one difference we need to seek out those who do not want to hear the message instead of shaking the dust off our feet we really need to let our feet get dirty. We have to have carry the word of God as a challenge to others and it should also be a challenge to ourselves in our time and place. There is much within the Church that needs to be challenged but there is so much more that is of value even now. In telling us about the beginning of the church in so dramatic a fashion, Mark, wants to be certain that disciples in his church and in the church  of our time will be mindful of some important implications. We, like the first disciples, are inadequate for the task; yet Christ’s mission for God’s kingdom is given to us. If we labor under the illusion that we can bring about God’s reign on our own, we will be advancing something other than God’s kingdom on earth. Paul refers to his experience of preaching the gospel as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1: 1831). He relishes saying “we are fools for Christ’s sake? Because he understands that it is because of his weakness that the power of Christ can dwell in him (1 Corinthians 4: 10 and 2 Corinthians 12: 9). Of course, we know that is a task not confined to the clergy or to religious sisters and brothers. It is the job of every single member of the Church. The message of hope from today’s Gospel is that we don’t have to communicate the Gospel in highfaluting or overly technical language. We will be far more effective if we just use ordinary words and simple concepts. We don’t have to have spent years of study before we can explain what Christ means; we can do it quite easily using concepts we already understand as well as examples from our own lives.

The crucial point in the Gospel  is that by doing things Jesus’ way the Apostles get close to the people, they understand their concerns and they share their life. There is no better way of communicating the love of God to the people around us than sharing the concerns of others and getting close to the people of God. Let us be fools for Christ like St. Paul as we remember that it is through our weakness that the power of Christ can dwell in us and work through us for other people.

LOURDES PILGRIMAGE

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 Over the next few weeks a number of friends of mine will be travelling to Lourdes here are a few thoughts on what the place and the people mean to me 34 years on from my 1st pilgrimage as a 14 year old in 1981.

When I think about Lourdes so many things like the cold water of the baths and people such as Fr. Leahy and Mrs. Smye and CLM all come to mind. After all the  years of coming and going so much has changed and so many people have gone to God both young and old and all the ages in between. There have been So many happy and sad times together with those who began to mean a lot to me way back at the start in August 1981 and many of those people mean so much more to me now they all know who they are and hopefully they might even be reading this !!!. Lourdes is the one thing that I have in common with all of my friends. The experiences that I have had over the years have changed me So much for the better I hope that I am more thoughtful and a less annoying person than before other people will have to tell me whether that is true or not. Lourdes has many meanings for everyone who visits the place but for me it means love, joy happiness and yes even sadness but above all else it is about the presence of Mary our mother in my life.

It is about Mary bringing all of us to Jesus who in turn brings us to the Father and the father’s house. Lourdes is not about me as an individual instead Lourdes is about giving yourself away in service for others the pilgrims of all nationalities who need your help physical, medical, spiritual or for many including myself it is simply about just sitting listening to what is important to someone which often times is a load of rubbish or at least it seems that way to you but to them it is the most important thing in their lives at that moment. One friend recently stated that Lourdes was the annual dose of steroids for her faith she said this in an interview on the radio and that is a great description of the Lourdes experience it certainly is a boost for those whose faith is strong to keep on going and a kick up the 90’s for those whose faith is not so strong to a start walking along on the road of faith.

In our pilgrimage to Lourdes all of us come with the sick, the fragile, those who long for many different kinds of healing perhaps body, mind or spirit. We place them at the heart of our pilgrimage week as a visible sign of our faith in God’s love for the weak and those in our modern world who count for little or nothing at all when in truth they are of great value more valuable than Gold and Silver.  Those of us, who are sick or weak or powerless, like Bernadette, teach the rest of the able bodied world something of great and vital importance. They teach us that God is with the weak and the powerless and through them he points us along the right road.  We may, at least for part of our lives, enjoy comfort, good health, various kinds of success; they are not what life is about. Life is about the journey we make to God, not about what we think of as our achievements or our plans. Remember the old saying that man proposes and god disposes, this means god does what he sees is good for all of us both as individuals and community. 

When I went overland to Lourdes for the 1st time August in 1981 I didn’t think that I would go back and yet here I am talking about the one thing that is so much of what I have become over the intervening years. There is a line of Patrick Kavanagh that says “Only they who fly home to God have flown at all” I certainly have flown high above the clouds and so many others have been in the flight with me and given me so much in relation to Lourdes and the life I have back as a result back home. I only hope that I have been able to give them something back.  So much good has come into my life as a result of Lourdes and all the experiences that I have had there and I will always be grateful for the people and the place that mean so much to me.

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