Sacred Heart Novena
THE NOVENA IN HONOUR OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
will begin on 20th June and continue until the 28th June
Weekdays: 11:00, 7:30
Saturday: 11:00, 6:00
Sunday: 11:00, 12:30
Homilists at the 11am Mass:
Day 1 - Fr Finbarr Lynch SJ
click to read homily
Day 2 - Pat Coyle
click to read homily
Day 3 - Fr Brendan Comerford SJ
click to read homily
Day 4 - Rev. Dr. Ruth Patterson
click to read homily
Day 5 - Christine Halloran
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Day 6 - Dr. Jessie Rogers
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Day 7 - Bernadette Toal
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Day 8 - Grainne Doherty
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Day 9 - Bishop Eamon Walsh
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Sacred Heart Novena
St. Claude La Colombière
Spiritual director who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart
Claude La Colombière (1641-1682) enjoyed an intense, if brief, life, notable for the part he played as champion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. He is remembered principally as the spiritual director who recognized the truth of the revelation that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received; he also showed heroic virtue in enduring imprisonment that weakened his health and led to an early death.
Colombière was born in southern France and studied at a Jesuit school from an early age. He entered the Society of Jesus when he was 17 and followed a normal course of studies: grammar, literature, philosophy and theology. After teaching for a few years in Avignon, he studied theology in Paris and wasordained April 6, 1669. He taught for another three years and then became preacher at the Jesuit church in that city before going on to tertianship. During that year of prayer and reflection, he felt moved to take a special private vow to obey all the rules of the Society in the most strict manner possible.
The French Jesuit's first assignment after tertianship was to be superior of a small community in Paray-le-Monial, where there was also a convent of cloistered Visitation sisters. One of them was Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque to whom God's presence in prayer was revealing a message of divine love. Some other members of her community thought her prayer was a delusion, and their skepticism caused her suffering. She received assurance from the Lord, however, that he was sending her his "faithful servant and perfect friend." Colombière became the confessor of the convent and Sr. Margaret's spiritual director. She opened her soul to him and told of the supernatural events taking place in her life. He had the insight to recognize this prayer as a real gift from God and a true revelation. In his own prayer, Colombière came to learn the Lord's wishes more clearly. In June 1675 the Lord made an explicit request regarding the devotion to his Sacred Heart, asking her to establish the Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi as a special feast and to tell Colombière to do all he could to spread this devotion.
Colombière's time in Paray-le-Monial lasted only until October 1676 when he was assigned to be the preacher to the duchess of York in London. Although England was officially non-Catholic, King Charles II allowed his brother the Duke of York to have a chapel in St. James Palace. The chaplain had to come from outside England; so the young French Jesuit left his own country to live in a foreign court. He continued to preach what was most dear to him the message of Christ's love for humankind, symbolized by his Sacred Heart. The sermons resonated with the duchess who years later became the first royal personage to petition Pope Innocent XII to establish a solemn feast in honor of the Sacred Heart.
Royal forbearance did not protect the Jesuit from betrayal by a Frenchman whom Colombière had befriended in London. In November 1678 the man falsely denounced the Jesuit to the government in order to win a reward. Colombière was arrested on charges of traitorous speech against the king and parliament and placed in a cold dungeon where his health rapidly deteriorated. He was released after a month in prison, but the damage was done. He returned to France and slowly headed south, stopping frequently when weakness overtook him. He arrived in Lyons on March 11, 1679 and stayed there as a spiritual father to the young Jesuits in the school where he himself once taught. He continued to preach about the Sacred Heart, but his own health did not improve so superiors sent him back to Paray-le-Monial in 1681. Although he loved the place dearly, he could not recover. In early February 1682, a fever took him; when he died on Feb. 15, he was only 41 years old.
DAY 1 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 1 - 20 June 2019
Homily by Fr Finbarr Lynch SJ
2 Cor 11: 1-11 Matt 6: 7-15
We celebrate 23 beatified martyrs today. They are all Irish martyrs. They are people like you and me who have lived their love for Jesus in small ways every day. In this novena of prayer, we also celebrate Jesus' love for them and for all of us.
It is fortunate that our Sacred Heart novena begins with the Lord's teaching on prayer that we heard in the gospel. It was prayer that enabled those martyrs to be faithful to Jesus when the crisis came in their lives: when the crisis came, they did not back off. They had built up a daily habit of saying 'yes' to Jesus.
In the gospel today, Jesus teaches us the 'Our Father'. In my reflection on it, I have come to see that the 'Our Father' is a prayer of the Heart of Jesus: it comes from his heart. It expresses his love for his Father and for all the Father's plans for our world. It expresses his desire that we have a forgiving heart towards each other like the Father has towards us. In this prayer, we see the Heart of Jesus.
In the short space of a homily, I can pick out only a few points that will be of help for our own personal prayer.
The first point that Jesus makes about prayer is that it is more than words. So, he says: "In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard." Personal prayer is more than saying words. It has to come from the heart. In fact, personal prayer can be silence before God. What would make silence be prayer? We know that when we are close to someone in friendship, silence can be more eloquent than words: words can spoil the moment. The close relationship calls for a silent presence.
I remember a woman telling me what her deep prayer was like. It was a prayer without words. She told me what it was like. She said it reminded her of sitting in front of the fire at home, and her mother seated on the left and her father on the right. Mother was knitting, and father was looking over the newspaper. Though there were no words being said, she sensed a communion between them: she sensed her parents were connected with each in their hearts. She said her own personal prayer had grown to be like that. There was something going on between herself and the Lord, but without words. She was towards the Lord and the Lord was towards her. It was a relationship of love. I am sure that many of you here know what I am talking about here, I encourage you to trust the silent moments between you and God.
So, Jesus is saying that personal prayer is more than words. It is more than the saying of prayers. What is it? It is relationship. He tells us what kind of relationship. So, he says, "When you pray, say, 'Father'" That one word contains so much: we must linger here.
Saying 'Father' is much more than getting the title of address right.
If I am to address God as 'Father', who, then, am I? If God is my Father, then I am God's child, a daughter or a son of God, by adoption. This is where our personal prayer begins. You and I are God's children. God is our Father: we are God's family. I begin prayer as a son or as a daughter.
I am accepted already. It is Jesus who is teaching me this.
When Jesus, the Son of the Father, invites me to address God as 'Father', just as he himself does, what is Jesus saying to me about myself? Jesus is inviting me to come close to him. He is saying to me, "When you pray, come, stand where I stand, and be in the same place as me where I address my God as 'Father". I am to stand in the presence of Jesus before our Father. I am already accepted by God. I am already in a special relationship.
There is more. Jesus is saying, 'You belong here now, in the Trinity, with me. I am sharing this space of my Sonship with you.'
All this is implied by Jesus' instruction, "When you pray, say, 'Father'". This is Christian prayer. This is new. This is what Jesus has brought.
The name 'Father' suggests family. We pray as members of God's family. I come to prayer, not as a stranger, but as one of the family. No one is more honoured than anybody else. Whenever I pray, I am in my Father's house, with Jesus, and with you.
When you or I enter prayer, we enter the presence of the Father of Jesus looking at us with love. He looks at us with all the tenderness of a father and mother. God looks at us with desire. God is saying to us, all the time, "I want you. I want you to exist. You are important to me."
I often travel now in the Luas, and there I often see young children in a buggy being tenderly touched by a mother or a father. It is lovely to see. God is like that towards us, radiating love on us, delighting in us. This love is there already: I don't have to earn it. It is waiting for me. God is close.
In the Lord's Prayer we say "our Father in heaven". The words 'in heaven' are a reverent, Jewish way of saying that he is God. I pray to Father-God. He is the Creator, the Source of all the Universe. Everything in the world comes from him. Everything we have is his gift. Every minute of every day, God is giving us everything we have. God is so good. We want to praise and thank him.
The first three petitions of the 'Our Father' come out of that awareness, out of a desire to praise and thank him. Being grateful to God is important for prayer.
My mother died in her 92nd year. I remember her saying to me a few times in her eighties, "When I wake up in the morning, I give thanks to God that I have another new day. I am grateful that I can see a pin on the ground and bend down and pick it up." My mother came to live in a state of gratitude. She was grateful for all the little gifts that she saw happening in her life. It is beautiful to see people in their old age live in a state gratitude, despite their diminishing health.
I think that to live in a state of gratitude is to live in a state of prayer. It is a prayer without words, like I was describing at the start of my talk. My attitude in prayer:
For a personal relationship to be good, I need to be in the relationship more for the other person than for myself. This counts for prayer, too. When I pray, I need to be in the prayer more for God than for myself. So,
I say to God: it is you I want, not the nice feelings that I like to have when I pray.
A forgiving heart: Jesus, in the 'Our Father', expects me to be a forgiving person. God forgives me: I must forgive other people. If I hold back from forgiving someone, I do something to myself: I close or narrow down my heart in regard to that person. I block myself from giving forgiveness, and at the same time, I block my heart from receiving God's forgiveness. Forgiveness needs to be part of my attitude every day.
- I come to prayer as a daughter or a son of God. I am accepted already.
- In fact, I am greatly loved.I did not earn this love. It is just there.
- Prayer can be without words. This is because prayer is relationship. I am already in a special relationship because Jesus has invited me into his space and to address God as 'Father'. I am part of God's family gathered around Jesus.
- In prayer, I need to have the attitude of being here more for God than for myself.
- Forgiveness needs to become part of my attitude every day.
I am Infinitely Loved. Brian Grogan SJ (Messenger Publications 2017)
Patterns of Prayer. Eugene McCaffrey ODC (Paulist Press 2003)
An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer. Timothy M. Gallagher OMV (Crossroad 2003)
When You Pray: Finbarr Lynch SJ (Messenger Publications 2012)
When You Can't Pray: Finbarr Lynch SJ (Messenger Publications 2016)
DAY 2 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 2 - 21 June 2019
Homily by Pat Coyle
My mother in Derry had great devotion to the Sacred Heart. And one time when I was returning to work in Dublin, she was saying that she needed a new picture of the Sacred Heart to replace her old and battered one. “I’ll get one for you,” I piped up. “I know somebody who does great paintings”. Knowing me she agreed somewhat hesitantly before shouting after me “And Pat, I want to be able to recognise Him as the Sacred Heart! “
My mother certainly had her own very clear image of what the Sacred Heart looked like. And I’m sure all of us here today have our own image to. What God are you praying to in this novena? What are you asking for? What will happen to you and your relationship with God, your image of God, if your prayers are answered – or if they’re not answered.
In the Gospel today Jesus talks of God as someone for whom ‘nothing is impossible’. Not long after this he will use the same words again – this time directly to God – as he pleads for his life in the garden of Gethsemane, terrified of the horrific death that is facing him. “Father all things are possible for you… remove this cup from me.” We know what happens next, his prayer is not answered. But note how he ends that agonised prayer, “not my will but yours be done”.
The hard truth is this. Before we ask anything of God, God has something to ask of us. It’s in todays gospel. What we heard today only makes full sense if we know what went directly before it – the story of the wealthy young man who was truly moral, had kept all the laws, and recognising Jesus as good and wise teacher, went to him for advice.
Jesus, we are told, loved him. And explained to him that he’d one last thing to do – give up all that he held dear and commit his life totally to Jesus. The young man walks away – sad, not bad. Jesus acknowledges to the disciples the price of true love of God in the image of the camel and the needle.
Jesus makes the same demand of his disciples, (Peter got that) and of us too. And it’s equally hard. Total surrender to the loving will of God. Total trust in the loving heart of God and God’s ways, which, let’s be honest, are often a mystery to us. We say it so readily – ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in you’ – but it’s a big ask. Easy to say but a lot harder to do.
Did you ever hear of the famous tightrope walker Blondin? He crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope in this month in 1869. He went blindfolded, across the water and the crowd cheered him – “You’re wonderful, the best”. He did it again in a sack to even more rapturous applause and praise – “You’re amazing, perfection”. Then he trundled over with a wheelbarrow and the crowd were ecstatic – “You’re our hero, we love you.” they acclaimed. “You think I’m the best, can do no wrong, you trust me I can do anything on this rope?” he asked. ‘‘Yes yes, we do “, the crowd replied. “Ok”, says Blondin, “Who wants to get in the wheelbarrow?”
It’s hard to trust when we know that in truth our prayers are not always answered the way we want them to be. If we are to surrender to God, we have to know God loves us. And know it not just in our heads but in our hearts. If you’re afraid of God, if you see him as a judge, a puppeteer who pulls all our strings, a harsh and demanding father, you’re never going to get in that wheelbarrow.
One man who knew all about walking a tightrope was Pope John XX111 as we can see in a revealing story his secretary tells about the Pope’s night time ritual.
It was during the time of the second Vatican Council. Huge upheavals were going on within the Church and millions of Catholics were wondering what was going to happen next? Political instability, wars, and cold wars were the order of the day in the wider world, and John was painfully isolated from his Curia. Each night, he would kneel down on the prie-dieu in his little chapel but only for a very short while. “What prayers do you say?”, his secretary finally asked him one night as he rose up. To which the Pope replied: “I say, ‘God, it’s your church, look after it, I’m going to bed”’
Jesus could face his harrowing death because he trusted the God who all through his life he called ot just Father but ‘Abba’, ‘Daddy’, a term of endearment. God wants the same relationship of love with us. God is vulnerable, open, and seeking every one of us, who are stamped through with God’s image.
It is when we have that relationship with God, that image of God who loves us so much, that our hearts, like Jesus’, become sacred too. And everything we seek and pray for, is answered in the light of that deep love which we follow into mystery.
Mystery like that of the life of St Aloysius Gonzaga whose feast we celebrate today. From the earliest age he was touched in his heart by the loving kindness of God even though he grew up in a society of “fraud, dagger, poison, and lust.” As a son of a princely family, he grew up in royal courts but by 17 he’d turned his back on the possibility of a life of wealth and luxury and became a Jesuit. When he was 23, he washed and cared for people dying of the plague in a Jesuit hospital. There, he caught the plague himself and died. So young, so much to give, it doesn’t make sense. The events that happen to us are random. God is in the response and always responds lovingly – though not always in the way we expect.
I learnt this as my father was dying in our home where we were nursing him. He had Alzheimer’s’ and lung cancer, and had gone into a coma, so it was almost impossible to get water into his mouth without it dribbling out.
My mother was at her wits end, so I suggested if we had an ear drop squirter- yoke like this, we might be able to squirt the water into the back of his throat. I was grasping at straws and we had no such thing. But we muddled through the day.
That night I was putting my three-year-old niece Stephanie to bed. A full moon was shining through the landing window as we climbed the stairs. The despairing thought crossed my mind that, as my heart was breaking, G-d was as impassive and indifferent as that moon. “Do you know or care that my beloved daddy is dying?” I heard myself say. “Or are you like the distant God who winds up the clockwork universe and retires?”
I read Stefanie her stories and as I was leaving her bedroom, she called me back, once to tell her another story, the next time to give her another kiss. I was exasperated the third time she called me, anxious to get back to Daddy downstairs.
I went back into her room saying, “This better be good”. “I have a present for you” she sing-songed, and pulling back her duvet she produced, unbelievably, an ear- drop squirter. “I had sore ears one time, my mammy got that for me, and I kept it for you.”
Two days later Daddy died. He weighed five and half stone and all his major organs had broken down.
But the angel Stephanie in a town called Derry had brought us the good news that God never abandons us, and all prayers are answered at least with God’s presence, if we have the courage to follow love into mystery, and trust in the love-filled Sacred Heart.
DAY 3 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 3 - 22 June 2019
Homily by Fr Brendan Comerford SJ
Not to worry!
To be honest with you, I find it somewhat ironic that the Gospel reading this morning tells us ‘not to worry’ when, over the last few days, I’ve been doing just that - worrying about what I might say to you this morning.
Strange experiences from St Paul
Initially, when I looked at the Readings, I didn’t feel too attracted by the First Reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians where Paul speaks about the ‘visions and revelations’ he has had and about ‘being caught up into the third heaven’. What, in the name of God, was Paul talking about? I thought that I’d better do a little bit of background research to help me understand this strange passage. It seems that when Paul was in Corinth in Greece, there were rival preachers to Paul going around boasting about their spiritual experiences in order to show off that they were really authentic apostles.
Spiritual experiences on retreat!
I spend a lot of my time directing people in silent retreats. Therefore, I hear many people talking about their experiences of prayer. Thankfully, in the vast majority of cases, this is a great privilege but, every now and then, you get someone coming in telling you all about the beautiful experiences they’re having during prayer. After a while, the devil in me makes me a bit suspicious and so I begin to ask them about their relationships with other people, only to find, in some cases, that these are so busy praying that they don’t have a meaningful relationships with anyone, but are actually quite critical of others! Perhaps, in the words of St. Francis de Sales, such people are more in love with the consolations of God than with the God of consolation. They’re more attached to the nice feelings they get from prayer than from what the God of consolation calls all of us to do – to go out from prayer into the love and service of our neighbour. Christian prayer should always lead us out of ourselves to attend to the needs of the other in as much as our age and energies permit.
A very “holy” nun
I mentioned St. Francis de Sales there a moment ago. Francis was the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, in the 17th century – he is one of my favourite saints. He was a very attractive, compassionate figure with his two feet planted firmly on the ground. He also happened to have a gentle sense of humour. One day Francis was visiting a convent of nuns which he had help to found. It had been reported to Francis that a nun of great holiness lived there. This prompted Francis to enquire what office in the community this holy nun held. She did not hold any office, the other nuns replied, nor had she ever done so, since she was always intent upon her devotions, always first in chapel and last to leave – therefore, the nuns felt that they could not ask her to do anything else. “In that case,” remarked Francis drily, “let us wait until she has exercised some office in the convent in order to discover just how holy she really is!”
Let’s laugh at our weakness
We all have something to learn from this “holy” nun. Perhaps it might be helpful to smile at ourselves when we catch ourselves out in our human weakness, yet again! I think that one of the most important gifts to ask for in prayer is the gift of a sense of humour – the ability to laugh at ourselves, not to take ourselves too seriously – God doesn’t – I hope! If God doesn’t take us too seriously, maybe we don’t have to spend all that time worrying!
St Thomas More’s sense of humour: “Grant me a good digestion
Speaking of a sense of humour, I love St. Thomas More’s Prayer for Good Humour. Remember Thomas More was the Lord Chancellor of England and he was beheaded because he would not agree to Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. You may know the prayer already. I pray it every day and it helps me.
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humour to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
And that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
But rather finds the means to put all things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
Nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing call “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour.
Allow me the grace to be able to laugh & to take a joke,
To discover in life a bit of joy and to be able to share it with others.
When I say that prayer each morning, my mind often focuses on that phrase that obstructing thing called ‘I’. I don’t know about you but the person who most often gets in my way of seeing and acting correctly is myself with my conscious or unconscious unfreedoms, often trivial concerns, the daily attacks of my ego and what do these do? – they cause me to worry! Worry prevents me from being attentive to others, to the daily gifts that come my way under different guises, to the beauties of nature and to the whispers of God in the everyday.
The beauty of nature
We know from the Gospels how attentive Jesus was to the poor and the sick but he must also have been attentive to the wonders and beauty of nature. Think of how often he refers to nature in his parables. In today’s Gospel, he’s asking us to look at the birds of the air and the flowers in the fields – at the wonder and beauty of them. Jesus is asking us to ‘pay attention’ and learn a lesson from what we see.
God: smiling me into smiling
Just to close with one thought about our consciousness of our weakness. I came across some lines the other day which have really helped me: God forgives me with the compassion of his eyes when my back is turned to him. I have been told that he forgives me, but I will not turn and have forgiveness even though I feel his eyes on my back. God forgives me for he takes my head in his hands and turns my face to him. And though I struggle against those hands, for they’re human, though divine, scarred with nails, though I hurt them, they do not let me go until he has smiled me into smiling and that is the forgiveness of God. (Austen Farrar).
Remember the look and out-stretched arms of the Sacred Heart towards us and recall those words “He has smiled me into smiling.” That’s a much more helpful image of the Sacred Heart!
Fr Brendan Comerford SJ is on the Retreat Team at Manresa Retreat House in Dublin
DAY 4 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 4 - 23 June 2019
Homily by Dr Ruth Patterson
WE ARE WHAT WE EAT.
It is a privilege to be here this morning and thank you for the invitation to share with you on ‘We are what we eat!’ The Gospel reading for today recounts what we have come to know as the feeding of the five thousand, but actually it was more likely to have been about twenty thousand; they didn’t count women and children in those days – sometimes not in our day either! Just prior to this event Jesus had slipped away quietly because he needed time to reflect and to pray. But the crowds found out where he was going and they followed him. My first parish was in a needy area on the outskirts of Belfast. I ministered there for 14 years throughout the height of the troubles. They were wonderful people but for many their concept of institutional church and of God was of a body not really interested in the nitty gritty of their living, remote, judgemental. Not many of them knew that they were accepted just as they were, that they were loved and special. In the early years I set out to try to lead them into an experience of being loved but that soon led to extreme weariness, almost burn-out on my part. Then one day I realised that I had got it all the wrong way round and that what I needed to do was to let God love them through me. That awareness revolutionised ministry for me. It awakened me to the fact that in order to ‘feed’ people, I myself needed to be fed, that I could only give away what had already been given to me; that I needed to regularly slip away quietly – to reflect, to pray.
The crowds followed Jesus; they found out where he was; they were hungry. Jesus recognised their spiritual hunger as well as their physical need; he taught and he healed; he welcomed them unreservedly. And Jesus still has the same heart of welcome for everyone without exception as he had way back then. So absorbed were the crowds that they didn’t realise how late in the day it was. The disciples came to Jesus and told him to send the people away for there was nothing for them to eat in that deserted place.
We are fast reaching the point where, by and large, our churches are like deserted places. For the church, as we have known it, it is late in the day. Accusations of hypocrisy, betrayal and irrelevance, the tidal wave of secularism/materialism and so much else have caused crowds to leave – and we in the Protestant churches started to experience that years ago, long before you began to feel the impact within the Catholic Church. We are fast being left with a remnant. Yet all around us here in this city and further afield, there are crowds of people who are hungry. What do we do? Have we, perhaps by our attitudes or actions, sent them away to be ‘fed’ elsewhere, to fend for themselves? Maybe we ourselves are so overwhelmed by our own seeming lack of resources, spiritually, emotionally, physically – that we feel that we have nothing left to give?
That was the way the disciples were feeling when Jesus, preposterously, said, “You feed them. You give them something to eat.” Their immediate response was, “We can’t. We have so little ourselves.” They had been with Jesus for quite some time, listening to his teaching, seeing his miracles, being nurtured by him – but they still couldn’t do it. Most of us, I imagine, have ‘been with Jesus’ for quite some time, listening to his teaching, being nurtured by the Bread of Life, but we can’t seem to do it either. What has happened? What do we do?
It is at that point that Jesus takes over – when they have reached the end of their own resources. The people are asked to sit down in groups numbering about 50. They sit down, in other words, they are given the dignity and respect that is the right of every human being. Jesus takes the little food there is and prays. He then distributes it to the disciples who give it to the people. He keeps on giving until everyone has more than they can eat – and there are even about 12 baskets full of pieces left over. In other words, there has been lavish abundance.
So perhaps we need, individually and collectively, to pause a little, maybe to find ‘a quiet place’ to reflect. We will not move forward; we will not be able to ‘feed’ the multitudes until we reach the point of admitting that we actually are at the end of our own resources. That is the point of hope. It is the point that Jesus has been waiting for, the point where he takes over, the point at which we follow his agenda, not our own. As we begin to trust in that way we will, I believe, see a new day dawning, one that is characterized by welcome, by abundant sharing, by compassion and tenderness.
One remarkable person who incarnated a radical ethic of welcome was Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities for those with learning disabilities and those who share their life with them. He died, at the age of 90, on May 7th of this year. Jean said so often that it became almost a mantra, “To love someone is to reveal to them that they are beautiful.” He also constantly reminded us that community is founded on forgiveness and builds itself up through love. These are the little things that, in the upside down Kingdom of God, are really the big things that each of us can do every day. To rediscover or to be captured again by the simple yet profound truth that God’s very essence is Love is the only force that will enable us to live and work for unity (diversity embraced by love) and justice and peace; in other words to make the new world of Jesus Christ a reality here and now; a world where everyone is ‘fed’ and there is more than enough grace and mercy and bread for everyone.
It could be, you know, that the Church as we have experienced it over centuries is in the process of radical change. There are those who believe that the Church of tomorrow will be characterised by small groups. Groups of about 50, ‘sitting down’ with one another, treating one another with respect and dignity, practising a radical hospitality, serving one another in humility, waiting on God – this may be the template of ‘church’ in the twenty first century.
At the end of the play death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman there is a very poignant moment. Set in a Latin American country undergoing a period of transition after seventeen years of a brutal dictatorial regime, during which many of its citizens either ‘disappeared’ or were held without trial and tortured, a Commission of Truth and Justice has been set up to hear the stories of people who have lost their relatives. One of the chief characters in the play, a member of the Commission, is recounting an incident that had happened that day. He tells how an old woman came in and stood in front of them. Yeas before her husband had ‘gone missing’. She had been on an endless search for him, to no avail. She began to tell her story, but they interrupted her and said, “Please, would you like to sit down?” And the old woman began to weep. In all her weary years of searching and asking, it was the first time she had ever been invited to sit down. If you like, it was the first time she had been awarded any dignity, the first time she had been really noticed, the first time she felt as if her story might be heard, the first time she sensed that she was someone with a name, and not just another statistic. For, let’s face it, no one asks someone without a name, who is unknown, unimportant and invisible, to sit down.
There are thousands in this city, in this country who are waiting for just such an invitation, with all that it implies. Maybe we find it too hard to admit that we have come to the end of our own resources, and, because love never forces, Jesus isn’t ‘free’ to step in and take over. Perhaps Ireland itself, North and South, needs to be asked to sit down so that collectively we might ‘find’ ourselves after centuries of estrangement and, even yet, be a sign of hope for the world.
Jesus says to each one of us, “Please, sit down.” He deeply welcomes us. We are fed by his Word and by his Body. He reveals to us that we are beautiful. The love that flows from his Sacred Heart embraces and nurtures each one of us so that we may then go out and share that love with all whom we encounter, revealing to them that they, too, are beautiful. We are what we eat.
A PRAYER TO TAKE AWAY
Dear Jesus, you are the God of welcomes. We come from different places, externally and internally. Our journeys have not been the same. But somewhere within us there is a common ache or yearning, a desire that we might experience your welcome in a deeper way than we have known before. Increase our trust in you so that we may journey unafraid and with joy to that place where we hear you say, ‘Welcome home!’
Dear Jesus, you are the God who feeds us. We have been hungry and thirsty, searching for food for the journey and wine for rejoicing, but we have been looking in the wrong places – and we’re tired and a bit despairing. Help us to hear your invitation to sit down and be fed by you, you who are the Bread of Life.
Dear Jesus, there is nothing I can do that will make you love me more than you love me already and nothing I can do that will make you love me less. I find that all a bit overwhelming but right now I choose to believe it, to believe you.
Thank you for revealing to me that I am beautiful and beloved. Amen
DAY 5 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 5 - 24 June 2019
Homily by Christine Halloran
My son Michael was born at four minutes past five on a Friday evening. Lying in my arms, the first thing I noticed was his eyes, deep pools of blue that I could get lost in, it blew my heart wide-open.
What did Elizabeth see in John’s eyes?
As I recall that memory today, I wonder what it was that Elizabeth noticed when she first looked at John? What struck her the most? Was it his ten little fingers, his perfectly formed eyelashes, maybe he had a mop of black hair? Was he frail and sickly or strong and hardy? Would she ever have guessed what he was to become?
A bridge for her people to Jesus
A man that would show people that there was a way their sins could be wiped out.
A man who would introduce them to a new way of looking at God.
A man who would move them away from fearful service to a punishing God to the warm embrace of a compassionate Father.
If she had ever thought that her son would be the bridge that would lead people to Jesus – God made flesh and blood, it would certainly have blown her heart wide open.
Times of change for me: love entering or leaving my heart
So I started thinking about today’s gospel in light of my own life, and I wondered if there were times when I had to let go of my old ways of being and open myself to a new and enlightened way of seeing and perceiving God. What I came to realise was that the greatest times of change for me involved love and its effect on my heart. For instance, the first time I fell in love with a boy when I was 17 or when my heart overflowed with love at the birth of my children. At other times, it was when love left my life, when close friends and loved ones died, most especially my mother.
St Patrick’s College: a passion for books and poetry
Around the time I turned 40, I enrolled in a BA degree programme in St. Pat’s college. I discovered that I was hungry and famished, with a passion for books and poetry. It was a wonderful time of discovery but things started to go wrong in second year when the college/home life balance began to unravel. I felt overwhelmed and my old coping techniques failed me. Then we got word that my mother had been diagnosed with cancer. So I deferred my final year and with my brothers and sisters, we nursed my mother through chemo. I started back in my final year only to get word two weeks in that my mother’s cancer had come back with a vengeance.
She went into hospice care and she died 6 weeks later.
Relationship with my mother: distance and coolness
My mother was a wonderful woman but my relationship with her had been difficult, and a distance and coolness had set in between us over the years.
I remember feeling totally detached over the whole funeral.
It wasn’t until 18 months later that the enormity of the loss struck. I remember going to our family home. The house was freezing, the heart of it, my mother was gone. I felt chilled to the bone and I walked down that garden path in a daze, knowing that something terrible had happened…
Sketchy relationship with God
One morning, a few months later, deep in grief and feeling guilty about my mother, I found myself crying.
I didn’t know who I was anymore.
My relationship with God at the time was fairly sketchy! There was little room for God in my life. Funnily enough though, I always said my bedtime prayers and I did have both my children baptised and they attended catholic schools. Deep down I felt that God would not approve of the way I had been living my life and that he was angry with me.
Slow change: more loving eyes
I don’t know where the words came from that morning but I heard myself cry out to Jesus to take my hand and lead me home…and all I can say is that it was from that day on that things started to slowly change. I began to see myself through more loving and compassionate eyes. I was opening up on a heart level and I began to realise that God was not angry or disappointed in me, his forgiveness was unconditional. It was me who needed to forgive myself for all my mistakes. What I realised was that the more I was able to see myself through affectionate and loving eyes, the more I was able to see others in the same light.
My heart had cracked open, the icy thaw had begun and a path was clearing so God’s could get in.
Friendship with Jesus
And so began my friendship with Jesus. And through that friendship my relationships with family and friends have become stronger; old hurts have given way to new depths of forgiveness. With time I was able to reconcile myself to my mother and I love her more now than ever before. My sense of God as the law-making, punishing, task master of my youth has been replaced by the all loving, all forgiving Father who wants only the best for me.
A John the Baptist experience
Dealing with my mother’s death and the loss of her loving presence was a John the Baptist experience for me. It was a bridge between my old way of being and the new. And like John, It paved a new path for Jesus to enter my heart.
Our hearts are Sacred because God dwells in them. However, we can lose touch with the deep and essential source of power and love if we allow the bitter and painful thorns of life to wither and harden them.
The path of love and forgiveness is the way home to ourselves and to our Sacred Hearts, God’s Sacred home within us. He is waiting at the door to welcome us in.
Like all loving fathers, he knows the colour of our eyes…his heart is blown wide open when we smile.
DAY 6 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 6 - 25 June 2019
Homily by Dr Jessie Rogers
Genesis 13:2, 5-18; Psalm 14:1-5; Matthew 7:6, 12-14
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
A young soldier lay in his brother’s castle recovering from a serious wound. His leg had been shattered by a cannonball and it took six long months before he was up and about again. There was not much to do so he spent a lot of time daydreaming about a beautiful noble lady he was infatuated with, imagining great exploits on the battlefield and how he would eventually win her love. There were also two books in the castle - a life of Christ and stories of the saints - which he read again and again. In the long, dreary days he began to notice how his dreams of being a great knight and winning the lady’s heart, though enticing at first, left him feeling discontented and hollow. But when he imagined following the example of Jesus and the saints he was reading about, devoting his life to serving God and others, he experienced a deep sense of joy. The first possibility was the obvious path for a soldier to take - pursuing status, fame and glory. But deep inside he knew that was not the path that led to life. So the young soldier chose the other path, the narrow one that led to life. Ignatius of Loyola came to know and to experience God’s boundless, passionate love for him, a love that had to flow out in love for others. He devoted his life to serving God, to helping others find the love of God that he experienced, and he gave to the world the gift of his spiritual insight. He taught others to pray, to pay attention, and to find God in everything. His legacy is the work of the Jesuits throughout the world. Gardiner Street parish is part of that.
What if Ignatius had chosen the other path? His life would have had its ups and downs. He might have died happy, he might have died sad, we do not know - but the incredible gifts of insight and imagination, of spiritual wisdom that God was shaping in him, all of that would not have come to fullness in his own life and been shared with the world. To take all of that treasure and waste it on a petty life of seeking fame and glory on the battlefield and in the courts of the nobility, that would have been like taking pearls and giving them to pigs.
Jesus uses powerful images to make us sit up and notice. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine.” A modern equivalent might be feeding the consecrated host to rats. Our whole being recoils at the very thought.
What about the one, sacred life that you have been given? The person that you are, whom God has shaped lovingly from the moment you began to form in your mother’s womb, for whom the Lord was willing to give up everything to draw you into divine friendship - you are holy, you are a pearl of infinite value. What are you doing with that one precious life?
Where else are our pearls, the things of inestimable value that we have been given? Our families, our friends, our communities, the world, the beauty of nature, the moments that make up our lives. Finding God in all things means seeing the holy at the heart of the most ordinary. Are we treasuring it or are we throwing it away?
Jesus tells us to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Paradoxically, if we treat our own life like it is worth more than the lives of others, we end up throwing it away. If we become self-absorbed and focused in on ourselves, ignoring others, then the gift of God within us will suffocate and wilt, like a plant in an airless room without any light. The love that Jesus pours into our heart needs to flow out of us to others. That way there is constantly space in us to receive more of Christ’s love.
That which is holy and precious is not only our own God-given life; it is also the other person, be they family, friend, outsider or stranger. Even our enemy is holy and loved by God. In our world, there are sacred lives, deeply loved by God, which other people, even those who call themselves Christian, prefer to throw away. That breaks the Sacred Heart. As we do to others what we would like done to us, we become more like Jesus.
Jesus invites us to life in its fullness. The image of the broad and the narrow gates makes me uncomfortable. It sounds almost as if God does not want us to find the right road, as if it is only for the good or the lucky ones. But Jesus is not trying to exclude anyone. The gift of life is offered to everyone - it is God’s deep desire for us.
Why then do so many people end up taking the wrong road? Perhaps because we believe the lies we are told, we let adverts dictate our values, we listen to our fears instead of to the loving voice of God. We decide we are valuable or worthless depending on what other people say and think.
- Some of us become like Lot in the first reading, who chose what looked like the best land. He took the ‘sensible’ path, the wide road of taking the very best that he could for himself. But by settling there he joined with the people of the plain who were caught up in selfishness and evil. His own family ended up being corrupted and almost destroyed. He took that which was most precious - his wife and children - and sacrificed them on the altar of prosperity.
- Some of us are caught in addictive and destructive behaviour. To choose the wide road is to decide that it is easier to just stay here, and not to set out on the hard road of recovery.
If we go with the flow, we will live small and selfish lives without even noticing what we are doing. Remember that young soldier and the wide and narrow paths that stretched out before him. The road to life looks like hard work, but it is the road where our own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. It is the road of LIFE!
In our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus we discover more of God’s passionate love for each one of us, and we hear the call to bring this love to others. We open ourselves to God’s transforming work in our lives as we recognise the kingship of Jesus and commit ourselves to living according to his will. Is that hard work? Yes, and no. We take the narrow road, but we discover there the boundless love of God who gives us everything we need. Receive the gift you have been given. Don’t throw it away!
DAY 7 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 7 - 26 June 2019
Homily - Bernadette Toal
LOVE – IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE. IT’S A LITTLE WORD TO DESCRIBE SOMETHING THAT CAN CAUSE US A LOT OF TROUBLE – AND IT CAN ALSO BRING GREAT JOY. As human beings we have always been preoccupied with love. We never tire of talking about love – writing about love – singing about love. And I don’t just mean romantic love – as important as that may be – because, as you know, love takes many forms.
In the oldest story ever written – older than the bible - called the Epic of Gilgamesh – we read about two friends who loved one another deeply. Unfortunately one of them died and the other was utterly inconsolable and speaks beautiful poetry about his love for his friend.
A French philosopher (Jean Paul Sartre) once said – Hell is other people – which, of course, can be true – but the opposite is also true – heaven is other people too.
It’s great to see so many here for this Novena. As you know Churches aren’t as packed as they once were – for many reasons – some of them very understandable. As I’m sure you know Milltown Park – which was a Jesuit student house since 1880 - is up for sale. I was a student there for many years. I was always fascinated by the many photos on the Chapel corridor of the Jesuits who had been ordained over a long period of time. I was also a member of the Retreat Team in a place called Orlagh in the Dublin mountains. I worked there for almost 20 years. Orlagh is sold now. Now, I don’t think it is my fault that Orlagh and Milltown are gone – I’m not taking responsibility for that but things are changing. Practice of the faith isn’t what it once was – we are at a time of transition.
I would like to make two comments about that.
Firstly, the full Churches that many of us experienced when we were young was not the common experience in Catholic countries across Europe. One of the Augustinian priest in Orlagh used to tell the story of when he was a young priest in Rome in the 1950s and having a discussion with some young Italians. He asked them “are you Catholics?” – and they said yes, yes, Si, Si. Fortissimo – strong Catholics. But, he said, you don’t go to mass every Sunday. “Father”, they said, “We’re not fanatics.”
The other thing I would say and I take great comfort from this, now when people turn up in Church, it’s because they want to be there. Their faith means something to them and that can only be a good thing.
To return to the topic of love. You’ve come here because this Novena means something to you. Your relationship with Jesus means something to you. Like me, you probably remember the picture of Sacred Heart in your living room when you were growing up with the eyes that followed you around the room. My parents got theirs as a Wedding present. It is such an iconic symbol of an Irish household – even Mrs. Brown has one in her pretend kitchen on the telly.
The Sacred Heart symbolizes – as you know - God’s love for us. Nowadays the word love is often replaced by a heart shape as in I heart New York or I heart Dublin.
There was a Scottish Psychiatrist called R. D. Laing who often came to Ireland. Some of you might remember he had a big row with Gay Byrne on the Late Late show one night. Anyway, apart from being a psychiatrist he also wrote poetry. One of his poems goes like this:
My mother loves me, I feel good.
I feel good because I am good.
I am good because I feel good.
My mother loves me.
My mother doesn’t love me, I feel bad.
I feel bad because I am bad.
I am bad because I feel bad.
My mother doesn’t love me.
R. D. Laing wasn’t criticizing mothers – this person’s mother may have had a perfectly good mother. He was saying that how we feel inside – what goes on in our minds and hearts - affects everything in our lives. And, if we don’t feel loved and valued – especially when we are young – then we don’t feel good about ourselves and it makes it very difficult to negotiate life – to make good relationships – to be fulfilled – to be happy.
I remember making my first communion and I remember our teacher – Sr. Anthony – telling us about how much Jesus loved us. Our communion – the bread and the wine were a sign that he was willing to die rather than deny the message he came to give us - that message being – that “God so loved the world that he gave us his only son”. It meant a lot to me – it still means a lot to me. I’m involved with the Holy Communion programme in my parish and when I’m speaking with the children and their parents, I say – it’s not about the dress, or the suit or the money or the bouncing castle – important as they are as visible signs of celebration – we need visible signs – sacraments themselves are visible signs of invisible realities. The journey to communion is about getting to know Jesus and that journey is lifelong. Getting to know him as a friend and someone we can turn to at any time. That’s what it is all about. It’s as simple as that. And how do we get to know Jesus - through prayer and the sacraments surely but very especially through the stories in the gospels. Reading the gospel accounts – reading about what he said – how he behaved with people, what he did and above all about the message of God’s love for us that he came to give us.
Jesus was born into this world not to change God’s mind about us but to change our minds about God.
He passionately wanted to give us the message that we are loved. Of course,
believing that God loves each and every one of us is probably easier when things are going well. When we’re not sick, nobody belonging to us is sick and we have no money problems and we have nothing on our conscience. But, who has a life like that. Even if we don’t have immediate problems the world contains a lot of darkness that we can’t hide from. Nobody escapes trouble and nobody gets out of the world alive. The poet Mary Oliver says:
“Tell me about your despair and I’ll tell you about mine…
But, no matter who you are the world offers itself to your imagination.”
Perhaps, one of the hardest things to believe is that God really loves me despite all the mistakes I’ve made and despite the problems I am having which are of my own making. That’s when we look to the gospels to see what Jesus tells us. We remember the story of a son who more or less told his father to drop dead because he wanted his inheritance. So he took his inheritance – his money - and when off and squandered it. When he fell on hard times and ended up working with pigs – which was a terrible thing for a Jewish person, I don’t know if you noticed that in the story. The young man decided to go back to his Father and you remember what happened. In the story Jesus says the father saw him coming from far off – which probably means that he was scanning the horizon for him, probably every day and when he saw the son the father did something unusual and fairly undignified - he ran to meet him and threw his arms around him.
By telling us that story Jesus was telling us that no matter what we’ve done, we are loved and that God wants to embrace us - he wants us to know that we are loved. Pope Francis in his book The Joy of the Gospel, tell us that “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (E.G. 3)
In the gospels we read the words of Jesus when he says things like
“I call you friends”; “I will be with you always”; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives”; and over and over again he says “Do not be afraid.”
He wants us to know that we are loved – that’s what the image of the Sacred Heart is all about. The image may be regarded as old fashioned by some people but the message is always fresh, always new, always relevant.
Matthew’s gospel today says that by their fruits you shall know them. That means that just as we are loved by God and he wants us to show that love to others.
Pope Francis writes about that kind of “fruitfulness”. He say: “We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others…. no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted.”
And, more than anything he invites us to be joyful in showing love to others. He says that the Gospel
… constantly invites us to rejoice. (E.G. 5) But, unfortunately,
“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter…who go around like sourpusses (which apparently translates into vinegar faces) and who look like they have just come back from a funeral” (E.G. 10) He says our reason to be joyful is because we can be personally certain that when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. (E.G. 6)
So, let me finish by paraphrasing R.D. Laing:
The Sacred Heart of Jesus love me.
I feel good because I am good,
I am good because I feel good.
Jesus loves me – and each one of you as well!
THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL - POPE FRANCIS
EVERYTHING BELONGS, THE GIFT OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER –
By RICHARD ROHR, THE CROSSROAD PUBLISHING COMPANY,
NEW YORK, ISBN 0-8245-1995-7
DEEPER INTO THE MESS – PRAYING THROUGH TOUGH TIMES
By BRENDAN MCMANUS S.J. AND JIM DEEDS
MESSENGER PUBLICATIONS, 37 LOWER LEESON STREET,
DUBLIN D02W938, ISBN 978 1 78812 021 0
Remember the experiences that have helped you to believe in yourself. How has your faith helped you to see yourself as precious in the eyes of God and in your own eyes?
When and how did being a member of a Christian community help you to see that in life you are not on your own?
BIDDING PRAYERS FOR WEDNESDAY 26TH JUNE 2019
We pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Give him the strength and wisdom that he needs to guide your people and bless him with courage and fortitude in the decisions he makes.
LORD HEAR US
GOD OF ALL WISDOM
We pray for all those who are in positions of authority and power in the world and in our own country. We especially pray for those who can use their influence to create peace and harmony among people. Send your Spirit of peace into their hearts LORD and give them the desire to make peace a reality.
LORD HEAR US
FATHER OF ALL
We pray for those who have lost their homes, and even their countries, because of war and violence. We also pray for those who are homeless and in poverty in our own country. Inspire us to respond generously and lovingly so justice will prevail and all will find a home and everything they need to live secure and fulfilled lives.
LORD HEAR US
Thank you for our beautiful world. It brings joy to our hearts and gives us what we need for life. Help us to be responsible stewards of your creation so that future generations will also praise you and have what they need to live.
LORD HEAR US
GOD OF LOVE
We pray for those who have taken part and who will take part in this Novena to the Sacred Heart. We did not choose you – you chose us and appointed us to bear fruit; fruit that will last. Abide with us LORD, and give us life in abundance so that we can be witnesses to your love with our friends, our families and our communities.
LORD HEAR US
DAY 8 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 8 - 27 June 2019
Homily - Gráinne Doherty
Sacred Heart Novena, Gardiner Street Parish
Thurs. 27th June 2019
As we have just heard, Jesus talks to us today about the choice of building a house on sand or building it on a rock.
It’s something you’d think we don’t actually have to be told. Common sense tells us that, of course, we build on something solid so that the house remains strong, secure, undamaged. So yes, we all want to, intend to build on something solid… but unfortunately – despite it making sense … despite our best intentions… - it doesn’t always work out that way.
My mother is living with both advanced Alzheimers and Parkinsons. She is now in a nursing home but before that, I cared for her so that she could stay at home as long as possible. During this time – despite many, many good times, and despite the fact that looking after my mother was something I wanted and chose to do - my overall feeling was one of ‘being on sand.’
I was not in control of anything. I could attempt to cook a lovely dinner but it often sat growing cold and inedible as we looked yet again for her purse that she had in her hand only five minutes previously; I hardly slept as Mammy would often want to see Daddy at about 3:00 in the morning. That doesn’t sound too bad – except Daddy had died many years before and the cemetery was about 1.5 miles away!
Like many carers, I was drained emotionally, physically, psychologically … Spiritually… because the demands of looking after Mammy were never-ending.
During that time, there were many, many times I felt that my house… my life… my faith… were built on anything but rock. It was definitely on sand – and not on that harder sand which has been strengthened with water… Oh no! There were times when it was the light sand – you know the type, the sand that is so fine, it only takes a little breeze to make it go everywhere.
Many’s the time, I felt everything slipping away… out of my control… out of my grasp… the ground under me always shifting and changing.
Any time I felt I was struggling on the sand, I really longed for my life… my faith to be rock-like – filled with certainty and clear direction… feeling strong and secure… ready for every eventuality!
But is that what Jesus means by building my house on a rock rather than sand?
I have a lot of sympathy for the disciples in this gospel. I sense that many of us are a bit like them in some ways – Just like them, we work hard, trying to do the right thing… looking after others… - days filled with ‘busyness’. And we get so busy, we begin to think everything depends on us. And if we stop, everything will collapse.
Jesus reminds us that the opposite is the case: It is God who is the rock, not us.
Knowing that God is the one in charge is so obvious to every person of faith … and yet it’s something we can forget so easily. Jesus was annoyed with the disciples, not necessarily because of what they were doing, but because they had lost sight of the fact that it was God who was in charge, not them. Maybe like us, they were doing things out of their own need to be liked… or because of other people’s expectations of them… or because there was no-one else to do it… Whatever the reason, Jesus knew that they had lost sight of the bigger plan of God.
I don’t know if you’re the same as me, but I’m very good at handing over the reins to God in prayer and then, a couple of hours later, I forget I have given this trust and I snatch the reins back again. “Sacred heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.” I say it again and again. But then, without my even being aware, I get impatient. I want God to act faster… more decisively… or to at least give me some clues about his plans.
I’m a bit like the person that fell off the cliff… I don’t know if you know the story?
A person fell off a cliff but as he tumbled, he caught hold of a branch of a small tree. There he hung above the rocks a thousand feet below. Knowing he wasn't going to be able to hold on much longer, he called out:
“Help! Is there anyone there?”
“Is there anyone there?” He calls again.
Suddenly a voice came back: “I’m God, and I’m here to help! Do you trust me?”
“Oh yes, God. Thank you for being here. I do trust you.”
“Okay then, that’s great,” God said: “Let go of the branch and I’ll save you.”
“Just let go of the branch and you’ll be okay.”
And then the man called out again: “Is there anyone else out there?”
Complete trust in God is difficult. Our insecurities kick in… our anxieties… our need to control/ to be doing something.
God knows how difficult it is to trust … to stay on that rock and really believe that he has a plan…
And so, he keeps reminding us to trust. Listen to some of the words God repeatedly tells us:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be worried, I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” (Is 41:10)
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. (Is. 43:1)
“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:15)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (Jn 14:27)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for prosperity and not for harm, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)
Building my house on the rock doesn’t mean a life of certainty or of being able to see clearly into the horizon. Building my house on the rock is the opposite of that – it means that I hand over the reins completely and deeply trust that things will work out… it means that I deeply trust that God’s plan is at work. Building my house on the rock means that I must follow those words of the wonderful Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin when he says: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”
And finally …
I have recently moved back into the home house. It had been sitting empty for a few years and needed to be completely gutted and everything re-done. One of the big problems was with the electric wiring. The power kept tripping and switching off and electrician after electrician came and went and couldn’t find the source of the problem. Eventually – not holding out much hope - I asked another electrician to have a look. Noticing that it was quite an old house, he asked if we ever had a little sacred heart light anywhere. After I pointed it out to him, he took a look and found a loose wire which had been the culprit all along. I asked him, how did he know to look at the sacred heart lamp?
In older houses, once the sacred heart light is working, all the connections are working. If the sacred heart’s not looked after, it can cause a lot of problems.
I think he thought he was only talking about the electrics … but I think Jesus is saying the same kind of thing to us in the gospel today!!!
DAY 8 SACRED HEART NOVENA 2019
St Francis Xavier's Church, Gardiner Street
Day 9 - 28 June 2019
Homily - Bishop Eamon Walsh
The Shepherding Heart
The Heart of Jesus is evidenced, witnessed through his actions.
“Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends; goes after the lost sheep”.
Today, each one of us is called to be the shepherding heart. How can we be that? In reality we may hit it in spots, between us all, if we try with God’s grace, there may be a reflection of the love of the Sacred Heart around the place. HOW?
Before the body can recover from chemotherapy, the poison of the chemo has to get out of the system. Only then can some kind of normality return.
If there is any poison in our hearts it will hinder the love of God finding an expressed life in us.
I will focus on two points in this homily/reflection: Dealing properly in a Christian way with life’s hurts and allowing the love of God poured into our heart to blossom. It is so easy to let the poison within to enter into everything – to paraphrase Leonard Coen.
Life is quite simple, but we make it quite complicated. For example, if we get a cut, then we get it stitched, but the healing starts from within, and it is only when it comes to the surface with a scab, do we realise that the healing process is nearly almost complete. When we are wronged, or feel we have been treated unjustly, it is so understandable to let hatred, resentment, feeling sorry for oneself, becoming a victim, to let it take over. But, it is only on the day that we start to allow the healing to begin from within that we start making progress. How often have we met people who have been stuck in a groove and they can’t let go, and it eats into them, and into them, it is almost like keeping their hand on a hot plate which continues to burn them.
At this time of the year, we see the flowers, and if we go back to earlier in the year when the seeds were put into the ground, and let their inner nature push forward through the soil and burst out into the surface and become the flowers that we love so much. It is easy for us to forget, that there is an inner goodness at the core of each one of our beings, and that that is accompanied by the spirit of God through the moment of our baptism, so that the inner goodness is given growth, by the warmth and love of God, if we allow it to push out into the way we speak, live and think.
When we look around life we realise that people are dealt very different hands and that life is kinder to some than to others – for some people life can be very unfair, they get a very rough hand, but regardless of what hand we are dealt the key thing is how do we play the hand we are given. Do we just let our goodness push out forward, or do we go in on ourselves, feel self-pity, get locked in a groove that we cannot get out of. That really is the challenge facing all of us, because some knock comes to everybody at some stage along the road of life. Life is not always fair but we still have to make the most of it; easier said than done.
I would like to introduce you to a woman who did just that. She died in Auschwitz in 1943. Her name is Etty Hillesum. She was one of four of a Jewish Family who grew up in Amsterdam. She would have described her family as a bit chaotic and at time described it as a mad-house. This had an effect on her later in life, she was depressed and eventually agreed to go to a Therapist called Julius Spier. She became his friend, his secretary and she even became his lover. But in today’s world he would have been struck off but leave that as it may, can I just go to the core: he realised how damaged she had been through her childhood and introduced her as a non-practising Jew to the Bible and to St. Augustine, to Rilke and Dostoevsky. The effect of all of this was that it opened a window for her to have a look at life from the inside out. Spier encouraged her to write a diary which she began in 1941 until she was deported to Auschwitz in 1943. As a result of all her reflections, she decided that she would work as a volunteer at the Westbrooke Transit Camp for Jews, who would eventually be transferred to the Concentration Camps. She went there as a volunteer, she was not a prisoner, for want of a better word, but she decided to stay with the people in their misery and try to help them. This all brought her along a path of deep reflection, along a path of asking what is it all about?
Etty worked daily with people who were hungry, ill-treated, angry, being reduced to tears. She was in the presence of absolute misery, but somehow she managed to be able to say to herself, wait a minute, we must look outside of this – life is beautiful and there is the good and the bad mixing together, but they are all part of the every day picture. It is a bit reflective of the Bible story of the weeds and the darnel. But, she never lost sight of this and at one stage she says: ‘I often see visions of poisonous green smoke. I am with the hungry, I am with the dying, and with those who are suffering, but I am so with, as I look out the window, the lupins and the jasmine, and I see a little piece of the blue sky beyond my window’. She then goes on to say there is room for everything in a single life, for our belief in God and for a miserable end. Her base line is that God is a power that we must nurture within us ourselves. The love of mankind is greater than the love of man, for when you love one person you are merely loving yourself. Etty goes on to say that the ability to love others springs from the ability to love yourself first, and that in turn comes from the realisation that we are loved personally by God. So, she sees life as a journey, that we try to let loose the intensity of God’s love that is within us. When she sees somebody who is lost in victimhood, gone in on themselves in despair, wanting to die, she sees the challenge as this, ‘how do I get the waters of life to begin to flow again in dried up souls’. In the life of misery and suffering that she was surrounded by, she still kept saying we must help to increase the share of love in this world. For every bit of hate that we add to the hate that is already there, renders this world more inhospitable and uninhabitable. Then she returns to her theme of the love of God being within each one of us she says: ‘I shall try to find a dwelling and a refuge for You in as many houses as possible. What would it be like after the war?, and she suggests that after the war two torrents would be released upon the world – a torrent of loving kindness and a torrent of hatred. We all from time to time point the finger at somebody else and are very annoyed by what they do. Her suggestion is that each of us must turn inward and destroy in him or herself all that he/she thinks he ought to destroy in others. Our greatest injury is the one we inflict on ourselves. This could well apply to harbouring resentment and not letting go and so forth. This does not mean that we don’t seek justice and try to make people account for what they have done and receive a just punishment. But, if we just get locked into wanting retribution forever and never been satisfied then we only succeed in making ourselves smaller and inflicting a great injury on ourselves whereby we just narrow our outlook on life to being one of becoming absorbed in our own self-pity.
Etty refers to God, not as a Saviour, but as a power in us that we must nurture inside of ourselves. She neither denies the horror of Nazi terror, not identifies with her victimhood. She says I have discovered that by bearing one’s heavy burden one can convert it into something good. She goes on to say that life is beautiful and meaningful, and that it is not God’s fault, that things are as they are at present, but our own. She says to her fiend, Jopie, ‘it still all comes down to the same thing, that life is beautiful and I believe in God and I want to be there right in the heart of what people call ‘horror’ and still be able to say life is beautiful’. She is no doubt a bit of an idealist and a mystic, but has a beautiful mind, and she has this belief in the afterlife and makes an attempt to give a vision of all life together. She says ‘I shall live on with that part of the dead that lives forever and I shall rekindle into life that of the living that is now dead until there is nothing but life, one great life of God’. In another place she says, ‘I shall try all my life to bring some of the sunken treasures to life’.
At one stage talking to God she says ‘alas there does not seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances or about our lives, but neither do I hold you responsible, but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside each one of us. She concludes by saying that everywhere things are both very good and very bad at the same time. The two are in balance, everywhere and always. Every situation, however miserable is complete in itself and contains good as well as bad.
Finally, on her way to Auschwitz, she wrote a card to Christine Van Nooten to whom she had entrusted her diaries. And she says Christine – opening the Bible at random I find this: ‘The Lord is my Tower’. I am sitting now on my rucksack in the middle of a full freight-car, father, mother and Mischa are a few cars away. In the end the departure came without warning. We left the Camp singing, father and mother firmly and calmly and Mischa too. We shall be traveling for three days, thank you for all your kindness and care. Friends left behind will still be writing to Amsterdam perhaps you will hear something from them or from my last long letter from the Camp. Etty’s last lines were written on a postcard and thrown from the freight-train on which she, her parents and brother were being transported to Auschwitz, where she died on the 30 November 1943.
Vincent Van Gogh – The Boots illustration.
It is by taking time each day and letting the word of God seep into our hearts and minds through reflective prayer, we will discover the depths of God’s love that has been poured into our hearts. It is like outer-space within, waiting to be discovered and released.
With God’s grace, between us all we may from time to time reflect the shepherding loving heart of God in the world around us.