Friday, April 30, 2010


Twenty-two years ago today a dear friend was ordained to the priesthood.

We had entered the seminary together but shortly thereafter a serious illness, requiring major surgery and a prolonged period of isolation in recovery meant he was absent from the seminary for three years.

The journey both of physical recovery and resumption of studies was long and the best indication of the spiritual impact of that can be found in the Scripture passage he chose for his ordination card: “It is when I am weak that I am strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]

His priestly life is marked by a particular awareness of the poor and suffering and the great joy his presence brings.

As tradition cries out with joy on such an anniversary: Ad multos annos!

May he and all priests have many more years to minister to God’s people.

In chapter five of his encyclical Caritas in veritate, Pope Benedict notes that, “One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation.”

Isolation can be self-induced, obviously because of some squabble with a family member or friend where usually we place all blame on the other and pull away; isolation can be simply because we are a stranger in a new school, place of work, neighbourhood, country or are overwhelmed by a sense of being a minority; some forms of isolation are imposed due to illness and either we are isolated because of the danger of contagion or simply because being single, elderly and such no one comes to visit us in the hospital or nursing home, or prison and even within prison there is the infamous ‘hole/solitary’ where isolation is rather definitive.

Nations in dispute, at least the more powerful ones, will impose, or try to, various forms of economic isolation to bring the recalcitrant nation to heel.

There is also the isolation of unexpected circumstances, or vocation, for example the expectant mother carries the new life within her and no matter how supportive her husband may be there is a type of isolation; the Holy Father himself, by the very nature of his sacred office is the one and only Pope and no matter how supportive those around him may be, a type of isolation is very real, no doubt particularly acute these days.

When, as is the right and natural order of human life, children become adults and leave home, the parents enter the real crucible of isolation, especially when the now adult children marry and form their own families.

For many, old age and its procession is a pilgrimage ever more deeply into the crucible of isolation.

So, in this crucible, can it really be true that it is indeed when I am weak: weakened by circumstance, misunderstanding, lack of a loving other in my life, illness, absence of family, stranger in a strange land, in prison, homeless and alone in an alley, old age home – yes, can it really be true that indeed it is when I am weak that I am strong?

No, not if the emphasis is on ‘I’!

It is important to recall St. Paul makes this declaration after revealing his struggle against self-reliance and pride following graces given, his struggle against pain and suffering, temptation, a type of seeking to isolate himself from spiritual warfare and while Christ reassures St. Paul, and each one of us that “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”, the key is all must be about Christ and for Christ, for only with and in Christ can we be strong.

Thus it is only after enumerating the infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, distresses, in which sufferings St. Paul finds his joy for they are embraced “...for Christ’s sake.”, that the truth can be declared that it is indeed when we are weak that we are strong – not self-strength, Christ strengthens us.

Here I must ask myself two questions: first, if I am in the crucible of isolation, am I trying to get out because it hurts, or am I seeking, like St. Paul, to rely on Christ and embrace this for His sake for as long as He wishes me to as a form of expiation and intercessor prayer in and through Christ for those for whom isolation is constant pain?, and second, have I chosen to isolate anyone from my life because of wounded pride, or a failure to love?

Pope Benedict in the above mentioned paragraph adds: “If we look closely at other kinds of poverty, including material forms, we see that they are born from isolation, from not being loved or from difficulties in being able to love.”

I will admit being exiled because of a false accusation, with increasing old age meaning many of my generation, family, brother priests, friends are gone, living thousands of miles away from my home of over forty years, with my foster-son more and more, rightly, occupied with his wife and growing family, and the necessary and holy type of isolation required of even the urban hermitical life, there are days when the crucible of isolation is such a scalding fire I want to flee, wander around in some crowd, anything but to be isolated – in a word I want to be strong and shake off weakness!

Then, and this is the grace of Jesus coming across the storm tossed sea and grabbing my hand before I sink, the phone will ring or a letter or email arrive or I will open my brievery and gaze upon a friends ordination card – in a word I am being called out of myself into the isolation, as it were, of another who needs time, attention, prayer, love.

As Pope Benedict reminds us: “As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God.”

Jesus call us to such relationship with Him and with others, to such maturity of loving as He loves when He reminds us in the “I was” sayings in Matthew 25:31-40, assuring us the gift of heaven is ours because even if we are in the crucible of isolation we step out of ourselves towards Him in the person of our brothers and sisters and because our loving service is gift to Him in them we will be granted the eternal opposite of isolation: communion of love with Him forever!

Saturday, April 03, 2010



Jesus risen!


Christ is risen! Glorify Him!


Today! Now!


In you, me, the Church, in every life, nation, all creation, in the beginning, throughout history, when all ends?


Today! Now!

Christ IS risen?

The ultimate answer to every WHY: Christ is risen.

In the wombs of the barren, the wombs of those with child, the wombs where the unborn are at risk, Christ is risen.

In the heart and life of every priest, holy or not, receiving him with welcoming joy and love, or not, Christ is risen.

In the heart and life of the baptized, ancient or new, rejoicing or rejecting, Christ is risen!

In the heart and life of Pope Benedict, in the heart and life of the Church, in the heart and life of each believer and unbeliever, each Christian and non-Christian, in the heart and life of every atheist and nihilist, hedonist and confused, Christ is risen.

In the dark where evil spirits are at work, Christ is risen; in the dark of alleys where the lost are to be found, the homeless shiver, the criminal lurks, Christ is risen!

In those places where men and women soldiers lay down their lives, seeking to end war and protect the vulnerable, Christ is risen.

In those caves and shadows where terrorists lurk, thinking they are unseen, Christ is risen!

In hostels of those on the threshold of death, hospitals where the sick await hope, the staff give care, in lonely hotel rooms, in places where firemen risk all to save, police keep vigil to protect, Christ is risen!

Where there is pain, suffering, wounding, hunger, thirst, nakedness, in places of solitary confinement and other prisons, in the depths of aching hearts, Christ is risen!









It is Holy Saturday!

Jesus has given Himself to us, first on Holy Thursday in the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood, the former filled with His glorious Self, the latter – well every priest, like all the baptized, is called to be holy, that is through cooperation with the Holy Spirit to be filled with the glory of Christ Himself.

Alas, the Eucharistic species can be trampled underfoot, Jesus ignored in the Tabernacle, Holy Communion received unworthily and priests, heart-wrenchingly, do commit horrific sins.

The great question then is, simply: what kind of God, what sort of Redeemer, remains with us in states of vulnerability?

Why does the Almighty, the All-powerful seem to stand by while wars rage, the innocent are abused, famine devastates millions, and the culture of death casts the heavy shadow of evil seemingly in almost everyone’s life, certainly over vast swathes of the earth, slaughtering the unborn, fuelling anger and hatred throughout the human family?


I can hear the moans and astonished incomprehension, even anger in the words: “You are nuts Father! Love? Are you kidding me?”


No joke, no kidding, absolutely serious: LOVE!

We exist because God who is Love creates us to love us.

We pilgrimage through history with the firm hope of eternity in Love’s embrace because the Father so loves us He sent His only Son, Jesus, to dwell among us in the flesh, to embrace our humanity, to suffer, die, be buried so we might have life in abundance.

We struggle to love one another, serve one another, forgive each other, because the Love-Gift, the Holy Spirit works tirelessly within us to sanctify and vivify.

Even the unbaptized know love, true love, is gift.

Any human being can be overpowered by someone who is stronger – but no human being is powerful enough to make someone love them!

To love you I must be free – free to choose you as the person I love.

Freedom means the ability to say no!

A man who batters his wife, a woman who manipulates her husband – the battered/manipulated spouse may say: ‘I love you.’, but it is always a lie because there is no freedom.

God who is love, is absolutely, infinitely free – thus His love is eternal gift.

God who is love, and treasures our love, creates us with free will.

We are free to love Him, or not.

We exercise this freedom and love Him by the way we love each other.

Sin is fundamentally a refusal to love God by acting in ways that are anti-love towards each other.

So on Good Friday Jesus pours out this divine and redeeming love to the last drop of His Blood, crying out the ultimate love-cry: ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’

Then, once dead, Jesus is buried, as we proclaim in the Creed: “…..was buried. He descended to the dead [into hell].”

Into what place of the dead, what hell?

Not just that place where every human being since Adam and Eve were awaiting Jesus to open the gates of heaven.


Love is more creative than that!

Jesus, because of His Incarnation, His Self-Gift in the Eucharist to remain with us always, His Agony in the Garden, His Passion on the Cross, Jesus enters every moment of collective and personal human experience and history.

The full impact of any anti-love word or action by any human being against another, yes the greater portion of any sinful act, hits Jesus first.

He stands in the gap between one fist and another face, between one warring army and another, between the vulnerable child and the approaching abuse, between the hateful word and the ear of the downtrodden.

Jesus cannot take away the freewill of any aggressor.

To do so would require snuffing out their existence.

Victim of abuse, violence, hatred, in our pain we may well wish He would snuff out the existence of our attacker.

All Jesus can do is a twofold act of love: Try and motivate the aggressor to choose love over sin; take upon Himself the worst of what happens to us.

Once when I was a boy I was beaten and spat upon by a gang of older boys and I wondered where Jesus was.

When a friend of my youth took his own life, I wondered where Jesus is.

The day I was falsely accused and for months thereafter it sure seemed to me Jesus was nowhere to be found.

Each time one of the homeless shows up in the soup kitchen battered and despairing, however, as we do what we can to comfort, to feed, to clothe I see, I know, where Jesus is: right there in that man or woman needing to be served, right there in the volunteers who serve – ah, so that beaten boy was not alone; my friend did not die alone; Jesus entered the agony of being lied about long before I was even born!

Yes the experience of waiting at the threshold of hell for hope, some tomb in life, the hell-tomb of some deep wound because of an outrage we have suffered, rejection which cuts to the quick of our heart, the darkness of crushing doubt, can seem pointless, for what ‘hell’ we have experienced has ever been emptied of its horrible pain?

Indeed, who has ever come back from the dead?

What tomb has ever been flooded with light?


Do you hear it?

It is the sound of a stone being rolled away!