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Archive for December, 2011

   Christmas Day, 25 December 2011, John 1:1-18 ~ Rev. John Coughlan

I was listening John Moriarty telling a story recently. He had introduced us to his niece, Amanda, earlier on in the story and now he brought her in again. This time it was Good Friday, and while Amanda’s granny, John’s mother, went to the Good Friday devotions, John and Amanda stayed at home to look after the cow that was calving. When they went out to check on the cow, they discovered that she had already begun to give birth to her calf. Amanda squealed when she saw the little hooves coming out the back of the cow. According to Amanda, this was wrong. The calf was coming out wrong! John enquired why, and Amanda declared that she herself had come out of her Mummy head first!

Eventually, after the calf had been safely born and the cow had carefully cleaned it, Amanda and John retreated back into the house where the story developed. John was curious to find out all that Amanda understood about where babies come from. Amanda told him that she had come from her Mummy’s tummy. So, John enquired further: where did Mummy come from? Amanda thought for a minute. “From granny’s tummy!” Then, the really hard one. Where did granny come from? Amanda was vexed. What answer could there be to this question? Eventually her furrowed brow changed into a smile. She had an answer: “Granny came from her own tummy!”

John mused for us about this. For Amanda, there was nothing or no-one before granny. Therefore granny was the beginning of everything. John was worried about this; he described Amanda as being vulnerable to experience. Eventually she would discover that her statement of fact was not true.

I think that John’s line is a wonderful one. We are all vulnerable to experience. The facts that we hold dear can be demolished very easily and quickly.
Like the children in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. In “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe” the children are transported to Narnia where they meet Aslan, the lion. C.S. Lewis is famously known for his conversion to Christianity and the many talks and lectures he gave about Christianity. The children’s stories of Narnia are replete with Christian references. Indeed some say that Aslan, the lion, is the figure of Christ in the stories. Aslan features in all the stories of Narnia. In “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” the children are suffering persecution and enter Narnia through a wardrobe full of fur-coats. When someone tries to follow them, they cannot. Imagination and wonder are the core values that are needed to make the journey to Narnia. It mimics the gospel where it says in Matthew: “unless you change and  become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

This morning’s gospel is kind of cryptic. It does not lend itself easily to listening and it is not the gospel story of Christmas and the Nativity that we hold so dear. No, rather this gospel from the beginning of John’s gospel is just that: a beginning. Jesus is the Word, and “the Word was made flesh”.

How are we to gain access to the Narnia of the gospel message of Christmas? How can we be like the little child and the little children that we celebrate this morning? How can we see beyond the limitations of our crisis-stricken world? We have to be changed. Christmas does not end today. Today is just the beginning. Enter into the joy and celebration of this day. But don’t forget to push through the fur coats to tomorrow. Don’t allow the ‘facts’ of your mind quosh the wonder of your imagination. Grant the Lord of all life permission to enter in.

Pope Benedict put it like this last night in St Peter’s Basilica:

Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity.  Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Source:  frjohncoughlan.blogspot.com

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The Joy of Children as the Prophetic Message of Christmas  ~  Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Several years ago, just before Christmas, a young mother shared with me how, for her, one of the great joys of motherhood was that she got to see Christmas again through the eyes of her three young children: “It brings back the simple joys I no longer have as an adult, but that I once had as a child. It’s so beautiful to see and experience Christmas through the eyes, the anticipation, the excitement, and the innocence of my own children. It’s like being a child again myself.”

She found the joy of Christmas again, vicariously, through the happiness of her children. Most of us are not so lucky. As we get older, lose our naivete, fill with the angers of mid-life and old age, experience failure, and need more realistically to face death, we become daily more hardened and cynical. When this happens, and it happens to us all as adults, it’s not so easy to experience the simple joy of Christmas. Too much inside of us, and around us, protests. It’s not easy to be an adult and still have the capacity for simple joy.

So what do we do about Christmas? This feast is, after all, about simple joy, about child-likeness, about a baby, despite our sophisticated, adult attempts to somehow connect it and its message to the rawer, more adult, questions of life – injustice, war, wound, unhappiness, anger, alienation, divorce, brokenness, death. Christmas is not Good Friday. That’s another feast, a day with a different meaning. On Good Friday all of us wounded, unhappy adults get our chance to luxuriate somewhat in the brokenness of it all. But that’s not what Christmas is about and we should not try to turn Christmas into Good Friday.

Christmas is not about death, it’s about birth and birth needs to be celebrated in a manner quite other than death. Our children know this. We need, at Christmas, to look into their eyes to see what we should be doing. At Christmas trust the child more than the theologian (especially the theologian on a crusade to deconstruct the simplicity of Christmas and turn this feast into a statement of anger and unrest). Listen to that particular theologian on another day. I suggest that he or she get the podium during Lent. But keep him or her silent at Christmas. Let the children speak then. Better yet, let them scream and shriek with joy as they open gifts and plunge headlong into the Christmas pudding. That is the theological statement that more adequately expresses the meaning of Christmas.

And we, the adults, need to let the joy of our own children be a prophetic statement. Their naive, unbridled joy can be the voice that, as Sirach says, turns the hearts of parents towards their children, not to mention towards what’s still best inside of themselves. If we want to let the feast of Christmas prophetically unsettle us, I suggest we might best do that by first looking at the joy of the very young and then looking into a mirror to see how un-childlike and unhappy we have become.

One of our adult slogans about Christmas says: May the peace of Christ disturb you! However, at Christmas time, where Christ should disturb us most is precisely in our itch to disturb everybody else. Christmas offers us the rare permission to be happy. We should take it.

Karl Rahner (and I do appreciate the irony of quoting a theologian at this point!) once put it this way: In Christmas, God says to the world: “I am there. I am with you. I am your life. I am the gloom of your daily routine. Why will you not bear it? I weep your tears – pour out yours to me, my child. I am your joy. Do not be afraid to be happy, for ever since I wept, joy is the standard of living that is really more suitable than the anxiety and grief of those who think they have no hope. … This reality – the incomprehensible wonder of my Almighty Love – I have sheltered safely in the cold stable of your world. I am there. I no longer go away from this world, even if you do not see me now. I am there. It is Christmas. Light the candles. They have more right to exist than all the darkness. It is Christmas. Christmas that lasts forever.”

We should not be afraid to be happy, to light the candles. They have more right to exist than the darkness. What our children feel at Christmas, however dark and inchoate that knowledge may be in them, is one of the deepest truths of all, God has given us permission to be happy. But now the choice is ours, as W.H. Auden says: It lies within our power of choosing to conceive the child who chooses us. It’s good be have been given permission to be happy.

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CHRISTMAS DAY, Year B  ~  Fr. Patrick Brennan

Christmas is here! The waiting is over, the preparations done. A sense of excitement hovers over the people of God who lived in darkness and now see a wonderful guiding light! The Saviour has entered the world and our hearts are to rejoice.
We can marvel at the story captured in the scripture readings proclaimed in the Masses at Christmas. We can find the meaning of the season in the beautifully crafted stable scenes in our churches. By beautifully crafted, I mean God’s loving plan is revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the birth of his Son. He could have been born in a palace anywhere on earth but God revealed his glory in the tiny stable in Bethlehem.
The scene we witness at the stable is of sheer trust and confidence in the love of God revealed in the tiny helpless new born, in the scant surroundings of a run down stable, in the trusting of the vulnerable woman Mary, out of wedlock carrying a child. God’s beauty is crafted in the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph who listened to God’s words and bowed their heads in submission to what they heard.
God beautifully crafts our lives, gives us the gift of life and guides us, leads us, nurtures us to follow his will, he encourages us to find our strength, our purpose, our happiness in following his will. Yet for much of our living we tend to want to go our own way, find our own path, do the things that suit us and our lifestyle. Only to find at some point along the line that all our hopes our founded upon the plan God has for our lives.
The love of God revealed in the Nativity is the time for us to hold onto the hope given us by God, the hope that our lives are to be lived to the full. We are to renew afresh the trust we find in the stable scene so beautifully crafted for us by the God who created us.
No matter how poor we feel we are, how downtrodden or lonely or ignored we may feel at times too, the trust of the figures at the stable are to afford us to hope once again, to be led and guided by the God of Love who crafts for us the beauty of life and the glory of eternal life too.
Spend some time this Christmas at the stable and invite that trusting you find in Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the kings and the angels into your hearts.

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And shepherds were keeping watch in the night!”

When the Gospel of Luke recounts the Christmas story, it tells us that, when Jesus was born, shepherds were keeping watch in the night. What were they watching for in the dark? For more than for what might threaten their flocks. They were looking for light, for something to brighten their darkness.

John’s Gospel makes this point. It doesn’t give us a description of Mary and Joseph in a stable at Bethlehem. Instead it describes the coming of Jesus at Christmas in an image, a light shone in the darkness. Notice that John doesn’t say that a light shone into the darkness, but that it shone in the darkness. That’s an important distinction.

Christmas, Christ being born in our world, is very much about finding God inside of what’s commonplace and inside even the darkness of sin, violence, war, greed, and the indifference that sometimes seem everywhere. Christmas is about light being seen inside of darkness.

And so one of the things that Christmas asks us to do is to imitate the shepherds in the Christmas story and keep watch, hoping to see “light inside of darkness”. How do we do that?

Our Christian tradition has different ways of expressing it, but it’s what Jesus meant when he told us to “read the signs of the times” and what John of the Cross meant when he said that “the language of God is the experience that God writes into our lives.” God is inside ordinary life and our job is to see God there.

Classically, this was expressed in the concept of “divine providence”, namely, the notion that inside the conspiracy of accidents that shape our lives we can see the finger of God writing history from another point of view. God shines forth, in some way, in everything that happens.

We need therefore to be meteorologists of the spirit, reading inner weather so as to see the deeper movements of God inside the outer events of history. We watch like the shepherds when we look at our world, with all that’s in it, both good and bad, and see light there, namely, God’s presence, grace, graciousness, forgiveness, love, unselfishness, innocence.

But that’s not easy to do. The darkness around us is deep. We live in a world where what we see is often simply bitterness, wound, non- forgiveness, anger, greed, false pride, lust, injustice, and sin. Where do we see light inside of that? Do you see light in the 6:00 news each night?

Christmas tells us that the problem isn’t just with the news, but with how we see the news. What we see is very much colored by what we feel and think at any given moment. Philosophers used to express this in the axiom: “Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.” Sound wisdom. The Buddhists put it more simply. They have an axiom which says that we don’t see what’s outside of us but we see what’s inside of us and project it outside. To illustrate this they offer a colorful little anecdote.

A fat, overweight Buddha was sitting under a tree one day. An arrogant, young soldier walked by, saw him, and said: “You look like a pig!” The Buddha looked up at the soldier and said: “And you look like God!” Surprised, the soldier asked him: “Why do you say that I look like God?” The Buddha replied: “You see, we don’t see what’s outside us, we see what’s inside and project it outwards. I sit here all day and think about God and when I look out, that’s what I see. You, on the other hand, must be thinking about something else!”

The point, I think, is clear. Our eyesight, even our physical eyesight, is linked to our attitudes, our thoughts, our feelings, our wounds, and our virtues. They form the prism through which we see. The task therefore, to keep watch in the night, is to link our eyesight to the virtues of Christmas. What are these?

Christmas speaks of childlikeness, wonder, innocence, joy, love, forgiveness, family, community, and giving. When we are in touch with these we more easily see what’s special inside of ordinary life. These make light shine in the darkness.

Sometimes, just as at the first Christmas, we see light in darkness most clearly in the face of a newborn, a baby, where innocence can still stun us into wonder and soften, for a while, the edges of our cynicism and hardness. That, in fact, is one of the main challenges of Christmas.

Like the shepherds we’re asked to watch in the night and we’re watching when, in our hearts, there is more wonder than familiarity, more childlike trust than cynicism, more love than indifference, more forgiveness than bitterness, more joy in our innocence than in our sophistication, and more focus on others than on ourselves.

Christmas is meant to soften the heart and it’s that which sharpens the eyesight.

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Simbang Gabi na!

  Simbang Gabi is a nine-day Roman Catholicand Aglipayan ritual novena performed in the Philippines which starts from December 16 and ends on December 24. Simbang Gabi, which translates to Evening Mass is usually performed as early as 4 or 5 in the morning. The last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, is called Misa de Gallo, which literally translates to “Rooster’s Mass”

The Simbang Gabi originated not just out of devotion, but also due to practicality. In the early days of Spanish rule, it was the customary tradition to hold novenas in the evenings during the Christmas season. However, the friars and the priests saw that the people attending the novenas were tired and numb from work in the fields, even though they continued to want to hear the word of the Lord. This was because in the Philippines, an agricultural country, families started their day even before the sun would rise to avoid the inhospitable temperatures in the fields. As a compromise, the clergy began to hold Mass early dawn when the land would still be dark, a break in tradition prevalent in Spain and her Latin American colonies.

Filipinos came by the countless multitudes to the Simbang Gabi. Afterwards, it became a distinct feature in Philippine culture to celebrate Holy Mass at such a rather early time. In time, Simbang Gabi became a symbol for Sharing, in both hardship and happiness, for the largely Catholic nation.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simbang_Gabi

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4th Sunday of Advent, Luke 1:26-38

Homily for ‘Do This in Memory’ Mass. This is part of the parish’s preparation of children who will receive Holy Communion in May 2012.

‘Mary’s Yes!’
Invite the children to locate a statue of the woman who is mentioned in this Sunday’s Gospel.

Why do you think is Mary so important at this time of year?

In the Gospel, Mary said ‘Yes’ to God.
What would have happened if Mary had said ‘No’?

  • No Jesus
  • No Christmas

But, she didn’t say ‘No’. Mary said ‘Yes’!
And, because Mary said ‘Yes’, we will soon have a good reason to celebrate. What will that celebration be?

So, today we remember Mary and her ‘Yes’.
We say thank you to Mary for saying yes.
We promise to love Mary and to honour her by praying her special prayer and by trying to live like Jesus wants us to.

What is Mary’s special prayer?

Perhaps you might take time after Mass to light a candle and to pray the ‘Hail Mary’.

Source:  http://frjohncoughlan.blogspot.com/

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3rd Sunday of Advent, John 1:6-8, 19-28

   This Sunday we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete comes from the Entrance Antiphon to today’s Mass, “Rejoice, again I say to you, Rejoice”. Today is the one time in the Church’s year that the priest can wear rose coloured vestments. This Sunday we light the rose coloured candle on our Advent wreath. This Sunday is a Sunday of joy in the middle of what is otherwise a penitential season, a time of preparation for the feast of Christmas.

My generation, those born after Pope John Paul II visited Ireland, have never really known a Christmas without plenty. Plenty of presents, plenty of alcohol, plenty of food, plenty of money, even if it was borrowed money. There was plenty of everything. Our celebration of Christmas has been tied up with big parties, lots of new clothes, expensive presents handed around.

This Christmas is different though. Many people in our own community are taking a long hard look at their budget for this Christmas. Gone is the spendthrift attitude, gone is some of the festivity of yesteryear.

It is difficult to rejoice in the circumstances we find ourselves in. The places where we have sought the Christmas spirit are no longer open. We find ourselves approaching Christmas in a very different way, approaching Christmas in a new way.

We’re challenged this year to dig deeper to answer the question: What is my reason for rejoicing this Advent as we prepare to greet the Christ-child this Christmas. As one phrase goes “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Another one goes: “Lets put Christ at the heart of Christ-mas.” Listening to the Ryan Tubridy yesterday morning on the radio, I was struck by a caller who rang in to share that he was going in to work to hand back his car, his phone and his laptop. Yesterday was his last day at work. As the conversation went on, I was amazed to hear the same caller tell us all that he was going to go bring his child into town yesterday afternoon to buy a toy for the SVP toy appeal. Here was a man losing his job in the face of Christmas and yet he was still willing to be generous and give. If this is not Christian, I don’t know what is. This is putting Christ back into Christmas for me anyway.

This year, more than ever in the past decade and a half, we are being given a delicate opportunity to reflect on the reason for our rejoicing. We do not rejoice in expensive gifts, nice though they are. We do not rejoice in wasted food and drink. We do not rejoice in all the stuff of Christmas. We rejoice in the Emmanuel, in God become one of us.

We can choose to be depressed and blue about the circumstances of our world today. Or we can place our hope and trust in God who cared enough for each one of us to give us his Son.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say, Rejoice!”

Source:  http://frjohncoughlan.blogspot.com/

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2nd Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8

A good friend of mine began his journey towards priesthood by reading the gospel that we have begun reading today: the gospel of Mark. Somebody handed him a copy of the gospel on it’s own, a copy of this one gospel taken out of the rest of the Bible. He often told me about how he carried that gospel up into his bedroom, where no one else could see him, and he gradually read through it.

Mark’s gospel has been called the disciple’s handbook, maybe because it is the shortest of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you wanted to read the whole Bible, beginning with the gospel of Mark isn’t a bad idea. You could easily read it in a couple of hours.

Reading the gospel transformed my friend’s life. It led him to offering his own life as a priest to share the Good News with other people. In Mark’s gospel, my friend encountered what the writer of the gospel intended, “the Good News about Jesus Christ, Son of God.”

At the moment, we are journeying with a new translation of the Roman Missal, the book of prayer that we use in the Catholic Mass. We could say that we are, at the moment, ‘Lost in Translation’. You see, all of the prayers that we use, all of the readings we listen to, are translations.

We might not be aware of it but, for example, the Old Testament was written first of all in Hebrew, the language of the People of Israel. Properly speaking, the Old Testament is called the Hebrew Bible. When the Israelites were expelled from their own land, they journeyed out into the greek speaking world. Eventually, they translated their Bible into greek for all of their people who were gathering to worship & pray in their synagogues.

For that reason, remembering that Jesus was a Jew, the first Christians wrote down the gospels in the primary language of their day: greek. When Christianity spread as far as Rome, and became more or less the State Religion of the Roman Empire in the third century, the Bible, and all the prayers of the Church were translated into Latin, because Latin was the official language of Law, of Business, and of Civic Life in ancient Rome.

It took almost twenty centuries, almost 2,000 years, for the Church to make the big leap to using the language of local people around the world for the Mass. And, so it was in 1965 that the first translations of the Roman Missal in English, Irish, and all the other languages of the world, began to be used at Mass. It would take another ten years, from 1965 to 1975 for a stable translation in English to be developed. This translation was in use up until last weekend when we made the momentous leap to using the newest translation of the Roman Missal in English. The story of translation is a core part of the story of Christianity.

To go back to the gospel of our Mass today. The word ‘gospel’ in English is a word that we associate with Church. The word gospel is not really used outside of Church, and where it might be used it is automatically associated with all things ‘churchy’. The word ‘gospel’ is a translation of the greek word, ‘evangelion’. From evangelion we get the familiar word: ‘evangelise’. But the word ‘evangelion’ in contemporary English means ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings’. So, to evangelise means to share with others the good news that we have already heard ourselves. The gospel is literally ‘good news’.

The story of Jesus is The story of Good News – and this evangelion – this good news, is a story that we cannot put down once we pick it up. It is a story that promises to change and shape our lives in ways that we may wish it didn’t.

The ‘good news’ will evangelise us, but only if we want to be evangelised. And to be evangelised means to be absorbed by the story of Jesus and ultimately to encounter the Lord in a profound and personal way in prayer, in the Sacraments and in the broken Community of Faith that the Church is. Pope Benedict put it like this in his first homily as Pope:

… Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world. www.vatican.va

Don’t let the good news be lost in translation. Very often we assume that our experience of Church, our experience of faith, our experience of God, is all that there is. Our hearts and our minds are not open to the possibility of being evangelised, not because we are bad, but because we become used to religion in the way that it seems it always has been. We know that religion is no subsitute for the personal encounter with Christ that Pope Benedict speaks about.

It is never too early, and it is never too late to be evangelised. It was as a teenager that I really encountered the good news of Jesus, even though I had been baptised and confirmed and went to Sunday Mass with my family long before that. The real encounter with Jesus led me to where I am today as a happy human being, as a happy priest. And the first task of this priest, and all priests, is not to ‘say Mass’ but to share “the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Source:  http://frjohncoughlan.blogspot.com/

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1st Sunday of Advent, Mark 13:33-37

In the summer of 2007, I spent a month in Los Angeles. I was a deacon at the time. Spending a month in America was about killing two birds with one stone; I wanted to get a holiday and I also wanted to pick up some pastoral experience. So I stayed in a parish there. It was a very nice place, I had access to a car most of the time, and there was plenty to see and do.

One night, about two weeks into my stay, I was brushing me teeth before going to bed. Suddenly the bathroom window began to shake and rattle. I didn’t know what was going on, and at first I thought that someone was trying to break into the house. Then, I saw the mirror over the sink. It was swaying in and out from the wall. It was then that I realised that I was experiencing my first earthquake! It measure 4.1 on the richter scale and it woke up many people in the neighbourhood.

In California earthquakes are commonplace. But, even though I knew that, I just presumed it would never happen while I was there. I presumed wrong. If it had been a more serious quake I wouldn’t have been at all prepared, and God only knows what might have happened.

We don’t experience extreme weather here in Ireland. We don’t have to prepare for any extreme conditions, because they rarely if ever happen here.

The Gospel call on this first Sunday of Advent, is to become prepared, to stay awake because we do not know when the time will come. ‘The time’, this is God’s time. In God’s time, not our time.

Advent is not about staying awake to wonder when the end of time will be. Advent is about recovering that which has become hidden in us over time. It is about waking up from our spiritual darkness and assuming a position of waiting, of waiting, fully prepared for the coming of the Lord.

As the economic situation changes in our country, the certainties that we thought we had are now gone. We have no choice but to wake up from our sleep. We must waken to the fundamental and unchanging things, the signs of God’s hand in our lives. As once we were talked up into a frenzy about the Celtic Tiger, now we’re being talked down into an economic depression. Where is the truth in this news? Where is God in all of this? As Christians, we’re called to see God’s creative and redeeming action in the world, in our world. We are called to come awake again to the God who has been waiting for us, God who lights up our way.

Source:  http://frjohncoughlan.blogspot.com/

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