Tired of all the bad news

While we can't deny the difficulites for so many people at home and overseas, it's important to take account of the positives, and to spread the Good News. I don't know who said this but; "No-one ever injured their eyesight by looking on the bright side." Blessings..

Saturday, 21 September 2013

St. Matthew the Tax Collector

Today is the Feast of St. Matthew. He was once Levi, the Tax Collector who Jesus saw collecting his taxes at the customs house. Zefferelli brilliantly portrayed the dynamic between Peter and Matthew in his film Jesus of Nazareth. Peter held Matthew in contempt for taking his hard-earned money and giving it to the Roman coffers. Things haven't changed that much between then and now because taxes have still to be paid in order for the machinery of the state to keep moving. And certainly people feel it in their pockets more and more when the exchequer seems to ask people to pay more.

All of us dislike when the official envelope comes through the mail box asking for taxes to be paid or when we see it deducted from the pay cheque. Here in Ireland there is a dislike for the 'clamper vans' and parking attendants who fine cars for being illegally parked or parked over the allotted time. I once parked in south county Dublin near the sea-side to go in to buy an ice cream. I pulled the car up onto the pathway and off the road so as not to cause an obstruction. There were about 15 or 20 cars all parked in the same way. I came back to the car and there was a parking fine on the windscreen. The parking fine attendants were making their way along the row of cars fining all of us. Now, I was parked illegally, I hold my hands up, no arguments there. But that ice cream cost me €80.00. In fairness these people are only doing their jobs and they have to pay taxes too.

With the contempt for the tax collector in the gospels, the one who got his more than his fair share of criticism had to have been Zacchaeus. He was described dishonest in his dealings and even more he was 'low sized' so that he had to climb the sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. Yet, Jesus comes into his life and calls him to a better way. We can see the results of an encounter with Jesus. Matthew too is called to be a disciple and goes on to write a beautiful gospel.

Today, we are called by Jesus as powerfully as he called Matthew. Even though Matthew was seen as a sinner and a tax collector he went on to bring the good news of Jesus to the world. To all who might ask the question 'Why would Jesus bother with the likes of me?' Look at the gospels read the accounts of Matthew or Zacchaeus. There are people who hardly ever pick up the bible or the gospels and read the words of life within, but we are called to be the bible others will read. We are called to reflect Jesus Christ by our example.

Padre Pio's Mitten today

Padre Pio is a saint for our time. He was been recorded on tape, filmed, and photographed by many people. I’ve known and spoken to people who have met him, talked to him, and been to confession to him. I lived with a friar who, while a theology student in Rome, spent the summer months during World War II sitting beside him at table in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo. He has enormous appeal and while he was alive, over the years, people flocked in their droves to meet him, to be blessed by him, and to listen to what he had to say.

Part of his mystique was the supernatural dimension to his everyday life and these examples are well known. Among them was his ability to be in more than one place at once, his power to read souls, his gift of healing, and of course the stigmata.
The stigmata, the visible wounds of Christ crucified on his body caused him great physical pain and more than that, great emotional pain. It meant that he was an object of curiosity, and ridicule by some. He prayed for the physical marks to leave him but for the pain to remain. Each day friars used to bind the wounds with fresh bandages and cover them with a mitten, a fingerless brown or black glove which he removed for Mass.  The visible wounds appeared on his body in 1918 and for 50 years they were a daily source of pain and embarrassment for him. Medical experts were at a loss as to why the wounds continued to bleed over the years. They began to disappear in the months prior to his death in September 1968.

Today, people find great consolation in the mitten of Padre Pio. We get a lot of calls enquiring about the mitten or relics of Padre Pio and asking for them to be brought to hospitals or to those sick and in need. While the friars do their best despite their other work to help those who ask for the mitten, we need point out there are important protocols for visiting a patient in hospital. I say this from some years’ experience as a hospital chaplain.
Sometimes the only power the sick person has is the desire to be left alone. I remember a patient in hospital say to me; “Nice to see you visit me, but even nicer to see you go.” They were simply too ill for visitors.  Does the patient or their next-of-kin know or have they agreed to be blessed by a relic? Is the ward manager or nurse-in-charge aware that someone from outside is calling to see the patient? Is the visit within the visiting hours of the hospital? Are there other restrictions in the hospital which should prevent visitors like MRSA or norovirus etc.? It may be that the patient is in an isolation ward or restricted for visiting.

The main pastoral outreach in hospitals today is the Chaplains. These are appointed by the diocesan bishop/ church authority to the hospital authority, are trained and police vetted, and thus lawfully provide for the spiritual and the sacramental need of the patient.  Be aware that there will be further protocols in the care of sick children.  It is necessary and courteous for the hospital chaplain on call, day or night, to be asked if it’s okay for an outsider to come on to administer pastoral care to a patient, especially with relics of saints. 
There is no doubt that the power of prayer can add to the healing and recovery of patients at home or in hospital. Though there are many stories of help through the intercession of saints by praying with their relics, it is the Lord alone who heals. God heals the sick through the great skills of the medical doctors, surgeons, nursing, and other care staff.

When he was alive, St. Padre Pio spearheaded the building of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering) in San Giovanni Rotondo. Today, it is one of the finest hospitals in South Eastern Italy. He knew the hardships of the sick and also what their families go through. Padre Pio would say that while he will always pray for the sick, he would offer every support to the great work of those whose skills are put at the service of patients.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Television Mass with the 'Teen SpiriT' Dublin Diocesan Choir. RTE Studios. Sunday, September 1st 2013. Return to School/College for new Semester.

In this gospel Jesus goes to the house of a leading Pharisee for a meal. Pharisees were the holy men of the day. People were intrigued by Jesus and wanted to be around him. They often invited him to their homes and good, or bad, Jesus wanted to meet people no matter who they were. He was known far and wide as someone who performed powerful deeds; who healed the sick, who gave back sight to the blind, who raised the dead, and who told people their sins were forgiven. When he spoke the word of God, they were living words; they set people on fire with enthusiasm.

There were those who didn’t like him and his style because he challenged the old order. He didn’t rubbish it or say it was to be disrespected. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he breathed new life into the law. He turned it from a law of fear into a law of love. The great Emmy award winning TV presenter, Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that Jesus makes the word of God become alive so that if you cut the pages of the bible, blood will flow, not ink.
Jesus came to serve and not to be served. He taught his disciples, his followers that their ministry was to be a ministry of service. He commanded them – and by extension all of us, that we love one another. This love was to be a love that puts the other person first. It is a selfless love. It is like the love of a mother for her child, a love of a dad for his daughter or son. This would be the key to real happiness and if we tried to live by this commandment of Christ it would be a recipe for real contentment.

Jesus saw the pomp and the arrogance among some of the church leaders of the time. In the gospel we are told of the jostling for the best seats at the table, for the places of honour. However, for a follower of Christ, it is necessary to take the lowest place.  The Christian message of the lowest place is a counter-witness in a world which glorifies power and control. The Christian idea of moderation tries to talk sense to the worldly popularity of excess and ‘more’ The Christian principle of non-violence (which St. Francis of Assisi preaches in our time) challenges violence and warfare of which we see so much today.

While the glossy magazines and reality T.V. attempt to make us jealous of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, scratch a little below the surface and you will find that sometimes all is not well in the lives of the so called beautiful people. The happiest people are often the people who have little and share it with others with a heart and a half. Of course, there are those who are financially rich and also give more than their fair share because they believe in the principles of justice. And the more they give, the happier they become.
At our Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless in Church St. Brother Kevin helps nearly 600 people from Monday to Saturday who come for breakfast and dinner. On Wednesdays, over 2000 food hampers are given to those who call. There is real need today more than ever because many people are struggling. But Kevin would readily admit that the real good news story of the Day Centre which he helped to set up in 1969 is of ordinary people who send in donations, who run charitable initiatives, and who volunteer to help make a difference. And many of the volunteers are young people who with their great sense of justice and fair play, want to help too.
These days our young people are returning to schools and colleges. We pray for you all, especially those going into exam classes. We also acknowledge those who have left school and are at a crossroads perhaps considering travelling overseas to find work. We pray for you too. In the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II; “Do not be afraid.”

We had a wonderful experience recently in Church St with the ‘Rio in Dublin’ where 500 young people came to a gathering of prayer and song and where 200 stayed overnight to keep the Lord company in an all-night vigil. This was in union with some young people who travelled from Ireland to be with our Holy Father, Pope Francis for World Youth Day where two million young people met with him. Jesus Christ counts on all young people to hear his word and to fan that flame, the flame of faith passed on to us by our parents, and grandparents – real saints. In this way young people can be at the vanguard of this ministry of service to the church. Pope Francis asked the young people at Rio to be a ‘Radical force for good.’ He also Tweets regularly to his millions of followers in eight languages.

Jesus calls on all of his followers to roll up their sleeves. In St. Michan’s Parish, Halston Street where I’m based, we will have a Mass of remembrance tomorrow evening at 7.30 p.m. to commemorate the centenary of the collapse of two tenement buildings in which seven people lost their lives on September 2nd 1913. Some of their descendants still live in the area and we pay tribute to so many people who lent a hand in an heroic rescue effort. We come from a generous and selfless people who have handed on a rich legacy and the gift of faith in Jesus Christ who encouraged his disciples and all of us to never be afraid to serve. And when we do this we will be truly happy.