Aug 28, 2009

Homily for the Feast of St Monica, August 27, 2009

Given at the Church of Our Saviour, New York City – 12.05pm Mass


Prayer is a powerful thing. Often we don’t tangibly feel or see the effects immediately of prayer, but when we truly seek the things of God – salvation and eternal life, our prayers will be answered, if we are patient. In today’s Gospel, Christ is instructing us to be prepared, because at an hour we least expect, the Son of Man will come in glory to judge the living and the dead. It could be today, tomorrow or in a million years, but we need to be prepared to enter into eternal glory today and not delay becoming a saint for 10 years, 20 years, or however long.

If a person we greatly loved was away for a long time, perhaps at war, or travelling, then we would look forward, prepare and pray for their safe homecoming. The Lord Jesus Christ, who came to earth, suffered, died and rose to glory, and has promised to return again for our sake. The Lord’s second coming will be a day of joy and peace and eternal life for those who are prepared – but grief and loss for those who have neglected or lost their faith.

If we knew that a robbery was about to strike our home and threaten our life and our family and loved ones, most of us, with a bit of courage, would do anything to protect ourselves, whether it is getting a baseball bat, calling 911, and so on. Jesus' parable of the thief in the night brings home the necessity for watchfulness and being on guard to protect ourselves from danger and destruction, especially under the cover of darkness and secrecy! While we are in the privacy of our own homes and our own rooms, we can be easily tempted to allow the evil one to enter and to allow ourselves to do harm to ourselves.

For some reason, the dark hours of the night are generally the time when people are involved in terrible acts, acts which give great offence to God, ourselves and to our society. Interestingly, most criminal acts occur during the dark of the night.

But even if we do something that is secretive and don’t get caught, God sees, God knows and God hopes that we will reject the evil, and embrace his mercy, forgiveness and love. We can lose heaven and friendship with God if we allow Satan – the deceiver and father of lies – to rob us of our faith and trust in God! The Lord fortunately does not leave us on our own – he stands watch with us to guide, direct, and keep us from harms way.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast day of St Monica, who died in the 4th century. She lived in North Africa, and though a Christian, she married a pagan man Patricius, and they had 3 children, the oldest being a man by the name of Augustine.

Monica was a greater woman of prayer, and she saw the necessity for living a life with God. Every day she would pray and encourage her husband, and then her children, to repent of their sins, to be baptized and to embrace the life of God within his holy Church.

She worried and prayed so much for her husband and children that her tears were said to have “moistened the earth wherever she prayed.” Her husband converted and was baptised towards the end of his life, but her son Augustine refused to accept Jesus Christ and he lived a life of pleasure with many women. He even had an illegitimate son, but despite the great distance that Augustine was from God, his mother Monica never gave up and she continued to pray, to fast and to storm heaven’s door for the salvation of her son.  When Augustine left North Africa in 383, Monica followed him first to Rome, then to Milan

At Milan, through the influence of St. Ambrose, the prayers of Monica finally bore fruit.  Augustine was converted and quickly became one of the greatest theologians and teachers of the faith of all time. Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St Augustine.

I will now read a passage from the Confessions of St Augustine, about the death of his mother.


Let us always persevere in our prayers for others, as Monica did, especially at the altar of the Lord.  Prayer is powerful and if we truly seek the things of God, then God will surely answer! 

St Monica, Pray for us.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


Aug 27, 2009

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Given at the Church of Our Saviour, New York City on August 23rd, 2009.

Readings: JOSH 24: 1-2, 15-17, 18; EPH 5: 21-32; JN 6: 60-69


“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Ps 33:9

These words of the psalmist today, should echo in our lives on a daily basis. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

Over the last 5 Sundays, the Church has been slowly reading through the great teaching of Christ on the bread of life - the Eucharist. Today we conclude the reading of John Chapter 6, and each of us are given an important choice:

will we truly believe that bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ during every Mass,

and do we believe that we are nourished by Christ,

and do we believe that we will receive eternal life by eating of Christ’s body and drinking of his blood?


At first holy communion, all of us should have made this act of faith. But as we mature and develop, so must our faith, and every time we come to Mass, it shouldn’t be a routine, but an encounter with our God. Seek to encounter God every time at Mass, even if it feels routine. If you come seeking to be bored, then you will be bored. If you come seeking God, then you may experience a slice of Heaven.


In today’s first reading, Joshua wants the people to make a choice for their God and commitment to Him. They may do only one of the following:

a) Serve the gods of their ancestors

b) Serve the gods of the pagan Amorites whose country they are occupying,  

c) Serve the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and might.


In today’s gospel the choice that Joshua offered his people is echoed when we find Jesus offering his own followers the choice to stay with him or to join the ranks of unbelievers. After hearing Jesus’ teaching on the bread of life, many followers express their confusion and doubts. They find Jesus’ language too tough.


The teaching on the Eucharist has caused division among Christians since the time of Christ. The opening words of today’s Gospel said ““This saying is hard; who can accept it?” and later on we heard in John 6:66, that “many of Christ’s disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

It is not a coincidence that John 6:66, the number 666, is the verse where disciples are unable to accept Christ, the bread of life and the ways of faith.


The teaching of Christ is one of unity, love and eternal life, but my friends, Christ’s teaching needs to be accepted by each of us on a daily basis. We can’t be complacent. If we begin to treat the Eucharist like a piece of bread, then other things in life will also start be treated with a lack of reverence and respect, and quickly our faith will diminish, it will be harder to love and hope will disappear.


If we listen to the statistics of surveys about what Catholics believe, here in the US and in Australia, my own country, we find that supposedly only about 20% of Catholics believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. The teaching on the Eucharist is primarily what divides Catholics from Protestants, and if only 20% Catholics believe in the Eucharist, then most of us are not really being nourished and most of us are not really Catholics. The teaching on the Eucharist is what makes all the difference.


An Islamic theologian I know said that if Catholics truly believe that their God is present in the Eucharist, then Catholics should come to the altar on their knees, trembling at the incredible mystery of receiving their God.


Last Sunday we heard: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.”

The week before we heard: “I am the living bread which has come down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.”

And the week before that, we heard: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry.”


The Eucharistic teaching of Christ divided the followers of Christ from those who were not so committed. Will we believe? Will we allow Christ to nourish us and to offer us eternal life?


Perhaps some of us of are thinking, even in this church today: “This saying is hard; how could anyone accept the Eucharist ?

 You know, it was Jesus' disciples who first made this complaint.  They were offended by Jesus' language.  We are reminded of the writings of St Paul, who spoke of "the offense (scandal) of the cross" (Gal. 5:11), and who said that "the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor. 1:18).


Faithful discipleship is never easy. To receive Christ implies that we deny ourselves, take up our cross and following Christ to eternal life, but following first to calvary, then the resurrection, and then the Eternal Banquet of Heaven.


When I teach children and teenagers about the Eucharist, I like to give them 2 identical-looking dvds, and ask them to tell me what the difference is.

Often, my students study the dvds. They put them up to the light and inspect the reflection. After a few minutes a wise student asks, can we put them into the computer and see what is on them. Then they discover that a movie is contained on one of the dvds, while the other is blank.

To the naked eye, two dvds look the same unless you have a device to receive and decipher the information on them: a computer or a dvd player

The same is true of the Eucharist. The bread used at Mass looks the same before and after the consecration, but through the eyes of faith, we can receive and decipher that this bread is not ordinary bread, but is the spiritual food which nourishes and gives us Christ’s life – the eternal life.


I would hope that all of us truly believe and show the due reverence for the Eucharist every time we come to Mass, but I would be naïve to think that this was the case all the time. I know that we are not in Heaven, although every time we come to Mass, heaven is coming to us.


For most of July and August, I worked in a camp in Lebanon with severely mentally and physically disabled young people. For a variety of reasons, many of the young people were unable to keep quiet for more than 20 seconds at time, and celebrating Mass for them was a very difficult experience, because there were screams, shouts and noise throughout the Mass. But during the consecration, when the bread and wine becomes Christ’s body and blood, for about 1 minute, everyone was quiet and amazingly everyone seemed to be worshipping our Lord and God. When the host was elevated, the disabilities seemed to stop and our young friends worshipped and adored the Body of Christ.


Heaven is coming to us today. Christ is offering himself to us today. This is an amazing mystery. If only we would truly believe.

We can walk away, like some of Christ’s disciples, and not believe.

Or we can do as some of the Corinthians did, who received Christ in communion, but receive unworthily, and as St Paul says: they did not eat and drink eternal life, but they ate and drank their own condemnation.


Being able to attend Mass and to receive Christ should be the most life-changing thing that each of us does today.

In a few short moments, I will offer the bread and wine to become Christ’s body and blood. As I make the offering, I invite you to imagine that you are being placed on the altar, because each of us needs to be make the offering ourselves to God, so that each of us can become Christ’s body and blood, his eyes, ears, hands, and mouth in the world. Make the offering and sacrifice of yourself to God, believe and be nourished by Christ.

As you receive communion, pray for the nourishment of Christ in your life, especially for those things that need the healing goodness of God. Make the Amen before receive communion a true and heartfelt Amen, which means “yes I believe this is the body of Christ.”

When I say “the Body of Christ”, look up, see and believe, and say Amen.


My friends, come to Christ, come prepared and come willing to offer your life with Christ for the salvation of the world and then we will taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Nov 10, 2008

Retreat Talk - "What do you seek? Come and See" - Given to the Men's Retreat for the University of Dallas - Rome Campus - Nov 7, 2008.

Given at the Casa Divin Maestro Retreat Centre, Lake Albano.


A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

John 1:35-42


John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter).


What do you seek?

What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? What is life all about? Who am I? How did we come to be here? Why am I live? Is there a God? Who is this Jesus Christ? What’s the point? What’s the point of anything?


My friends, these questions, and one’s like them are asked everyday, often by young people like yourselves. In fact, many philosophers and theologians have written about how an essential element of becoming an adult is questioning the reasons for what we see, for what we experience, what we learn, what we love.


I am sure that many of us in this chapel, at some stage in our life, maybe recently, maybe even during this weekend, have asked ourselves the question: “What am I to do with my life?” and some of us will hopefully ask: “What does God want me to do with my life.”

Some people think they know the purpose of life and what they are meant to become at a very early stage in life. But for others, and I think for most of us, it takes a long time to really answer the great questions of life.


I would hope and pray that each of us every day can say: “God your will is my will. Help me to understand your will for my life.”


Who am I? What is the purpose? What do I seek?


Pope Benedict XVI recently visited my home town of Sydney for World Youth Day in July of 2008. While he was in Sydney he spoke to young people about seeking purpose and meaning in life.

He said:

“What does it really mean to be “alive”, to live life to the full? This is what all of us want, especially when we are young, and it is what Christ wants for us. In fact, he said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

The Church and the message of Christ is not limited only to a building, a community, or to working for social justice, political change, freedom, education, families, peace and so on.

The Church and the message of Christ – and ultimately relationship with Christ is about absolutely everything involved in life.

It is about sport, art, creativity, imagination, social change, families, the work place, environmental concerns, education, and so on.

Being fully alive is being a good Christian. A good Christian is not boring, lifeless, lacking fun and enjoyment. A good Christian knows how to have a good time and knows how to be fully alive.

In 1st semester 2008-2009, I studied a subject titled: “A Drink Called Happiness.” The classed discussed the essential place of fun, laughter and joy within the Christian life. The professor in fact even traced the discussion of whether Christ actually laughed and joked, and he believed he did. My professor believed that too often people are too serious with themselves and we all need to enjoy life a little more. One of his favourite words, was “frivolity.”


One of the great theologians of the 2nd century AD was the bishop of Lyon, St Irenaeus. For me he is one of the great inspirations for what it means to a Catholic and to be a follower of Christ.

He said: “The Glory of God is a man fully alive, a man fully alive is the vision of God.”


What are we seeking? Have you ever thought about where you will be in 10 years? Have you ever thought about the greater meaning of life, a life lived for the glory of God?

Pope Benedict said: “The most basic instinct of all living things is to stay alive, to grow, to flourish, and to pass on the gift of life to others. So it is only natural that we should ask how best to do this.”


So my friends, tonight begin to seek the answer to the question “what is the meaning of life” for you. Begin to pray about the great questions in your life and the great questions that each of us have. Unfortunately many adults never think or spend time praying about the greater questions in life, especially as teenagers and especially as young adults. For many adults, they are easily caught up in the routine of life: finish school, go to college, get a job, make money, find a wife, get married, have children, and unfortunately by the time they get to 45, they ask themselves, “who am I? What am I doing?” And what happens next? A change of job, a change a career, and change a wife, and so on?

They often try to find meaning, but it is often too late – they may have shut out God, shut of true love and service of others.


Pope Benedict said: “When we love we are fulfilling our deepest need and we are becoming most fully ourselves, most fully human. Loving is what we are programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about real love, the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Mk 12:30-31). This, if you like, is the programme that is hard-wired into every human person, if only we had the wisdom and generosity to live by it, if only we were ready to sacrifice our own preferences so as to be of service to others, to give our lives for the good of others, and above all for Jesus, who loved us and gave his life for us. That is what human beings are called to do, that is what it means to be truly alive.”


What is love? It is far more than a heated night of passion. Three words encapsulate what love is, and it is written on the altar and the wall behind us – Love is the via, veritas et vita – “the way, the truth and the life.”


Love, my friends, gives us meaning, gives us purpose and through love we become who we are called to be.

One of the most studied philosophers of all time wrote: “I think therefore I am.” I wish to propose an understanding based upon Descartes philosophical quote. Instead of finding meaning through purpose. The phrase should be: “I love therefore I am.”

Many of you I am sure have studied Pope Benedict’s encyclical: Deus Caritas Est: “God is Love”. My friends, each and everyone of us is made in the image and likeness of God, and so it is through loving that we actually become who we are meant to be.


Jesus has “come that we may have life, and have it to the full.” Let us seek the answers to the great questions to life. Let us ask these questions of Jesus, as the disciples asked questions of Jesus in the Gospel we heard this evening.


The disciples followed Jesus. We too must do the same.

Jesus asked the disciples: “What do you seek?” And they respond at first, not with the great questions of life, but with a down to earth, human question: “Where are you staying?”

Tonight, begin with the most basic questions about location, identity, and from there, Come to Jesus, experience his life and his ways and receive the fullness of life.


My friends, to guide your prayer this evening and tomorrow, I recommend three things:

1. Take the passage from John 1:35-42 and read it carefully. Imagine that you are in the scene, perhaps as one of the disciples. Imagine what they had been doing before coming to Jesus, imagine the feeling, the nervousness of coming and talking to Jesus. Imagine that Jesus invited you to come and spend a day with him, speaking with him, asking questions, telling him about your life and your hopes and dreams for the future.


As you reflect on your life so far, and the gifts, talents and experiences that you have received, imagine what God and others would call you. Jesus gave Simon a new name – Peter or the Rock.

2. Imagine the name you will be given by Christ.

What name will other people call you? 

Are you a rock? A warrior? A builder? A nurturer? A thinker? A protector? Names tell us a great deal.


3. As you think about this tonight and tomorrow, begin to pray about how you want people to remember you in 10 years, 20 years and 50 years time. Start to think about how you would account for your life – for the good things and the not so good things in your life.

In some places in the world a Eulogy is given at the end of the Funeral Mass or at the reception afterwards, and often friends or members of the family get up and speak about some of the qualities of the person. Unfortunately I have seen some funerals where very few positive qualities are mentioned.

I want to encourage each of you to reflect about how you would like to be remembered at your funeral – so in essence, write you own eulogy. What things would you like your friends, family and even God to remember of your life?


Imagine if you tragically died in 5 years time – what would you be remembered for?

Imagine if you tragically died in 20 years time – what would you be remembered for?

And imagine if you lived a long life – what would you be remembered for?


If money and wealth, success and prestige, power and strength are the most important things in your life, then I presume that this will be reflected in the words spoken about you after your life.


But if love, life, freedom, relationship with God, service, holiness and sanctity are some of things that you want people to remember you for, then now is the time to begin to make your decision to be fully alive with Christ. Now is the time to conform your life to Jesus Christ.

Becoming a saint requires action every day and every moment we are alive. God won’t force us to be saints and he definitely won’t force to enter into His Kingdom if we don’t want to.


Pope Benedict said: “Let his gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life. Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, music and art. Let it be sustained by prayer and nurtured by the sacraments, and thus be a source of inspiration and help to those around you. In the end, life is not about accumulation. It is much more than success. To be truly alive is to be transformed from within, open to the energy of God’s love. In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts! Let wisdom, courage, awe and reverence be the marks of greatness.


What do you seek?                                                                            

Let us seek to be saints. Let us thirst for truth and hunger for virtue. Let us marvel at the beauty of life, to seek its ultimate meaning, and to strive to realize its sublime potential!

Let us “Come and See” the great things that Jesus is offering to us.

Retreat Talk on Liturgy of the Hours

Retreat Talk on Liturgy of the Hours

Given to Men’s Retreat for the University of Dallas, Nov 8, 2008. Given at the Casa Divin Maestro Retreat Centre, Lake Albano.

“This liturgy of the hours or divine office, is principally a prayer of praise and petition. Indeed, it is the prayer of the Church with Christ and to Christ.” (GILH, 1:2)


Those of you who know anything about Muslims would know that they are very faithful in turning to the Lord throughout the day, much better than we are. If any of you have ever visited a Muslim country you will have surely heard the call to prayer about 5 times a day over the large outdoor speakers, and they most likely woke you up very early in the morning. I know in the US and in some other countries, Muslims have caused some difficulties in the work place because they want to take time out from work to pray.


But where did this idea of prayer throughout the day come from?

In fact it is not a Muslim, nor even a Christian idea. But the idea of turning to the Lord throughout the day is found in the Old Testament. King David says: "Seven times a day I praise you" (Ps. 119:164), as well as, "the just man meditates on the law day and night" (Ps. 1:2).


In the New Testament St Paul told the Thessalonians that they should “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5.11)  But is it normal for Catholics to pray without ceasing?

In Australia the Church unfortunately struggles to get Catholics to Mass on a weekly or even monthly basis, let alone people praying without ceasing. In some parts of the US I have been told that a similar situation exists.


In the early Church, daily prayer was considered an integral part of being of Christian. In the Eastern monastic tradition, they have the custom of praying during every breath that one takes. For the Eastern Christians, they will often pray the Jesus prayer, while going about their daily business: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”


Turning to the Lord throughout the day is not new.

By the end of the fifth century, what we know as the Liturgy of the Hours was being formalised in monasteries all over Europe and the Middle East. These evolved to seven hours of structure prayer: today known as:

1. Matins (or the Office of Readings)  2. Morning Prayer, Mid-Morning, Midday and Mid-afternoon Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer,


The liturgy of the hours, like all other liturgical services, such as the Mass and the Sacraments, is not a private matter but belongs to the whole Church. It is in fact the public prayer of the Church, even when a person is praying it by themselves.

The different hours “extend the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the Eucharistic mystery, "the source and summit of the Christian life.” Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vat II.

The liturgy of the hours is an excellent preparation for the celebration of Mass, because it inspires and deepens the dispositions necessary to receive Jesus: it strengthens faith, deepens hope, and fills us with love and devotion for the things of God, and gives us a spirit of self-denial.

For the same reason, the Divine Office continues to help us draw fruit from the Eucharistic Celebration throughout the day.

Is the Liturgy of the Hours for everyone?
Yes, all should pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Priests, deacons and religious promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day with and for the Church, but the Divine Office is open to everyone.


Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, thought that the Liturgy of the Hours was a key part of renewing the Church in the Third Millennium. He spent the last few years of his life teaching on the Psalms at his weekly general audience and he warmly invited the laity to join in the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. In fact he also granted a plenary indulgence to those who pray Evening or Night Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. (This evening, at the conclusion of Evening Prayer we will pray the prayers for the intention of the Holy Father, in order to receive the Plenary Indulgence, which is granted under the normal circumstances – communion on the same day and confession within 7 days.)


So what is the Liturgy of the Hours?

Most hours involve, as you may have noticed, a hymn, 2 to 3 psalms from the Old Testament, often a canticle from the NT, and short reading and response from Scripture, then we all stand. At morning, evening, and night prayer we stand to recite a Gospel canticle – Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis.

What's the difference between liturgical prayer and private prayer?
Liturgical prayer is the official prayer of the Church. Examples of liturgical prayer are the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the other sacraments. The liturgy is the prayer of the whole Church, the very voice of Jesus Christ praying to the Father. Whereever you are in the world, when you pray the Liturgy of the Hours and say "O God come to my assistance," you are transported before the throne of the Father and are placed in communion with all of the saints and angels.


Another feature of the Liturgy is that it is the approved prayer by the Holy Father and the Bishops throughout the world. In fact, Monsignor Fucinaro (are revered Chaplain) works for the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation which oversees the Liturgy and the Prayer of the Church.

Private prayer, though absolutely vital to the spiritual life, does not have this status. The role of private prayer is important because it makes our faith personal. Ultimately, though, it is to support and lead to liturgical prayer.

Many in the Church today pray the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet as their personal prayer, but this is not the Liturgy, nor is it the Official Public Prayer of the Church.


In fact, the Rosary itself developed out of the custom of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. For many hundreds of years, the Liturgy of the Hours consisted of singing all 150 psalms in one day. When priests and religious became mobile and went on mission to different places, it was difficult to be able to complete all 150 psalms, especially before the advent of the printing press. So as a replacement when clergy were absent from the monastery or religious house, they were permitted to pray what has become known as the “Rosary” which consisted of 150 psalms in a day. This practice of praying the Rosary as a necessary replacement for the 150 Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours quickly spread to the fields and workshops of Europe, and before the Church knew it, the Rosary had become the focus of daily prayer for the peasant and working class. However, the Church has always intended that the faithful actually pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Especially now with the ease of publication and the simplification of the Liturgy of the Hours, it has become very possible and do-able for all the laity to pray at least morning and evening prayer.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of devotions, private prayer and the importance of the liturgy.

“These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They "should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.” CCC 1675 [179]


So the Rosary in fact emerges from the Liturgy of the Hours and should in fact lead the faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours.


So if we are to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, how should we pray the psalms during the Liturgy of the Hours?

Fr Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal explains beautifully how we should pray when reciting the psalms.

a.       he says we should make a special act of reverence – because these are the words of God.

b.      We need to LISTEN – we are dealing with poetry and there are many ways we can listen to the psalms.

He suggest 4 ways or meanings we can listen for and pray with during the Office. He adds that Scriptural Exegesis and Biblical Studies, although important, do not negate these 4 spiritual meanings.

1.      The Simple Literal Meaning

This is when we try to read a psalm as if it directly applies to us. An example would be Psalm 139 which can be useful for a personal examination of conscience.

“O Lord you search me and you know me, You know my resting and my rising; you discern my purpose from afar. You mark where I walk or lie down, all my ways lie open to you.”

2.      The Allegorical Sense.

Those who have studied any literature would know that allegory is a very common literary tool. Allegory is a device to indicate that the principal subject is described in a symbolic way. The reader is left the creative task of applying what is said of one to the other. This opens the mind to imagination and even more to intuition. In the OT there is a great deal of allegory which prefigures and points to Christ and events in the NT.

Eg. Psalm 30 points to Christ:

“To you O Lord, I cried; to my God I made appeal. What profit would my death be, my going into the grave? Can dust give you praise or proclaim your truth? The Lord listened and had pity. The Lord came to my help.


Fr Groeschel says: “The liturgy abounds with allegories of all kinds and it is not the purpose of the one who listens at prayer to speculate about their degree of literal accuracy. It is to our advantage to let the psalm or sacred song open our mind to rich images, new thoughts and shade of meaning, and opportunities to place ourselves imaginatively in the biblical situation.”

3.      The Conversion Sense – or the Tropological Sense.

This provides an opportunity for daily conversion or turning to God and away from evil influences.

a.      The need for daily repentance.

Unfortunately many Christians today are unaware of a need for conversion until they find themselves deeply enmeshed in sin.

Pope John Paul II said to the Bishops and Priest of the Church: that “being converted means returning to the very grace of our vocation. Being converted means continually “giving an account” before the Lord of our hearts about our service, our zeal and our fidelity.” 

b.      The Scriptural Prayer of Repentance

The Psalms call us to conversion. Often in the psalms there are reminders that the people of God were in trouble in the first place because they had been unfaithful to the covenant with God.


Through reading the psalms: each of us should be able to recognise that we “have often surrendered to or eagerly embraced the vicious tendencies without our minds and heart.” In short, some of the psalms remind us that the enemy is not our there – we are the enemy of God.

“The psalms do not get us off the hook for our evil actions but they remind us of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the midst of our struggles.”

This often leads the sinner to a consolation that we are not alone. We are not the only person who has sinned. They should also remind us of what God has done for you and each one of us.

Eg. Psalm 32:

“Happy the man whose offence is forgiven, who sin is remitted. O happy the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no guile… So let every good man pray to you in time of need.”

4.      The Anagogical Sense – suggests a transcendent experience

For a brief time we join the choirs of heaven to participate in the joy of the saints to which we are called. We rejoice as if we were already in our heavenly home.”

These psalms call us to feelings of joy, thanksgiving, exultation, which unfortunately people rarely experience in the ordinary routine of life.

But the most important element of these types of psalms, they give us HOPE.


Eg. Ps 47 – “All peoples, clap your hands, cry to God with shouts of joy! For the Lord, the most High, we must fear, great King over all the earth… Our inheritance, our glory is from Him, given to Jacob out of love.”

Through the psalms we should have a profound conviction of faith in the transcendent meaning of life. Through these psalms we learn the message that “what we do in life echoes to all eternity” as Marcus Aurelius said famously in the Gladiator Movie.


In Summary:

3 main points to remember when reading and praying the psalms.

1. Never read or listen to Scripture as if it were some other book.

God is praying with us, and even if we think we don’t hear the message, God is working on our souls. Cardinal Newman said that the Words of God must never be treated like the words of men. We need reverence, attention and prayer.

2. Read and pray intelligently.

Make use of you life experience and the studies you have done in other subject areas. Also make use of commentaries and explanations on the Scriptures. The Scriptures are living and we bring ourselves to the Word of God during the Liturgy of the Hours.

3. The words of Scripture must always be heard in the context of the Church. The Word of God will not be active and will not guide you to do evil, but often the devil can confuse our thoughts and take us towards using a passage to justify something else.

Eg. Story of drug addict who justifies his drug use based upon Genesis 2: the Lord gave all seed-bearing plants for man to eat.”


In Conclusion:

The Liturgy of the Hours is:

1.      The public prayer of the Church

2.      Structured so that we are called to prayer throughout the day

3.      We don’t pray alone, but we are praying with the choirs of angels and saints and with the whole Church.

4.      We don’t only pray for ourselves, but we pray for the Church and the whole world.


In Conclusion for praying with scripture:

4 senses:

1.      Literal meaning

2.      Allegorical sense – symbol for something else.

3.      Conversion Sense

4.      Transcendent Sense


Homily for Saturday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II

Given to the Men’s Retreat for the University Dallas, Rome Campus – Nov 8, 2008.


“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance… I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

For many of us, I am guessing we think we know how to live with abundance. We know how to eat well, we know how to travel well, to stay in good places, to use technology in abundance, but is that living with abundance?


 People often think that this passage is referring only to material wealth, but it also has a deeper meaning.


Last night I talked about how Christ “came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Interestingly, being able to manage wealth doesn’t come naturally to most people and being able to live life with abundance is not easy as you would expect. Once a person has received a great gift or fortune, one needs to be careful as to what you do with it.

I know in my country that a high proportion of lottery winners who win more than 1 million dollars are often in a worse position financially after only 5 or 6 years. So I checked on the internet and I found an article that claimed up to 80% of lottery winners in the US spend all the money and many even file for bankruptcy. 


You might be thinking to yourself, what does this have to do with the readings and message of the Gospel?

Well, faith and relationship with Jesus Christ is like winning the lottery. Through what Jesus has done for us, we have received the greatest fortune possible. Through baptism we have been promised a place in eternal life and we have been given, right here and now, the graces to live life to the full – to live life with freedom, love, hope and faith.

But my friends, it can all be lost.

1 million dollars, 5 millions dollars, a hundred million dollars – in itself money is not evil. The fortunes of lottery winners are lost because they don’t know how to live life truly with abundance, they don’t know how to use their gifts for the building up of God’s kingdom. For many people, money defines them and becomes who they are, and if power, status, prestige and the lifestyle of the rich and famous are what defines a person, then the gifts and money you have will quickly disappear. It costs a lot to maintain such a lifestyle. Ferrari’s don’t come cheap these days, people tell me!


In today’s Gospel it says: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”


As I said last night, what is each of us making our focus in life? Is power what we seek? Do we want to be rich and famous? Do we want to run a big company? Do we want to change the world and receive a Noble peace prize?


Each of us has received many wonderful gifts from God so that we can live life with abundance. In essence we have received the gifts of millionaires. But we have been given free will to choose what we will do with our gifts.


We can make our gifts define us and become eventually a stumbling block for ourselves and our relationship with our loving God, or we can make our gifts a means to serve our God.


My friends Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote “Our vocation is to belong to Jesus. The easiest way and the simplest way of belonging is this: the Holy Spirit makes us do that ‘giving of self’, that ‘total surrender to God’, without any reflection, without even counting the cost. We call that “blind surrender.” It is like our Lady: when she knew that the Lord was calling, she said yes. And she never withdrew that yes. It was a blind, continual yes in her life. It is the same thing for us. The whole of our life must come to that one word YES. Yes to God: that is holiness. We allow God to take from us whatever he wants and we accept whatever he gives with joy. That is yes in action.”


You may be thinking to yourself, I have made my Yes by being a Christian, so what more is needed. You may be thinking: it all sounds good to say Yes, but that doesn’t need to happen for a number of years.


God is preparing us and is wanting us live life abundantly here and now. As today’s Gospel tells us: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.”

Every day we have the opportunity to respond as Jesus intends us to respond.


How do we live abundantly with our gifts?

We need to pray, to trust and to develop a deep relationship with Jesus Christ.


We have been given great gifts and we are more wealthy than millionaires.

But how are we going to use our gifts? Will we throw them away, or will we become so focussed on our particular gifts that they absorb us.

God has given us the strength through our gifts to build the Kingdom of God.


I will finish with some words from Mother Teresa:

“This will need much sacrifice, but if we really mean to pray and want to pray we must be ready to do it now. This is only the first step toward prayer but if we never make the first step with determination, we will not reach the last one: the presence of God.”


Sep 14, 2008

Homily for the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross - given at Bundeena on Sept 14, 2008

2. “The Son of Man must be lifted up” (Io. 3, 14).

Today the Church makes special reference to these words which Christ spoke to Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a man who loved God’s word and studied it with great attention. He had a hunger for the truth, an eagerness to understand and a desire to know answers to the great questions of life. It is to Nicodemus, that Jesus speaks these words which still have meaning for us today: "The Son of Man must be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life in him" (John 3, 14-15).

When Christ said this to Nicodemus, Nicodemus had no idea that this one sentence would summarise the entire mission of Jesus. Nicodemus would not have imagined that Jesus was referring to his death at Calvary when he said that “The Son of Man must be lifted up”. In order to be understood, Jesus referred to an event from the history of the Jewish people which Nicodemus would surely know about, namely, Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert, written about in the book of Numbers.

Let me take you on a journey. Moses and the Jewish people were walking in the desert. They had escaped from Egypt and they were trying to find their way to the land promised to them by God.  This journey lasted forty years and was full of tests, maybe similar to a season of the TV Show Survivor: Moses and the Israelite people "tested” God with their unfaithfulness, their lack of trust, their disobedience; God responded to the Jewish people by providing obstacles in order to strengthen and purify Israel’s faith.

Near Mount Hor a particular test took place, and this involved poisonous serpents. These serpents "bit the people" with the result that many of them died (Nu. 21, 6). Then Moses was ordered by God, to make “a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered” (Nu. 21, 9).

We might ask: why such a test?

God intends to save the people of the world. The bronze serpent in the desert is a symbolic representation of Christ on the Cross. If someone was poisonously bitten and then looked at the bronze serpent "lifted up" by Moses, then that person was saved. That person remained alive, not because he had looked at the bronze serpent, but because of the belief in the power of God and his saving love. In this way, when the Son of Man is lifted up on the Cross, when Jesus is crucified, "all who believe will have eternal life in him" (Jo. 3, 15).

There exists a deep connection between the bronze serpent in the Old Testament and the Cross of Christ. These two stories go together hand in hand. Salvation and healing came to the Jewish People in the desert through the lifting up of the bronze serpent, and salvation and healing came to all the world through the lifting up of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  

This connection, Pope John Paul II said:  “becomes even more striking if we keep in mind that the salvation from physical death, a death caused by the poison of the serpents in the desert…” was a death which began in the Garden of Eden with the serpent or the snake tempting Adam and Eve. Salvation and healing from this death, a death that was caused by the actions of a man Adam – this salvation and healing came through a Man, through the Son of Man "lifted up" on the Cross.

You may be thinking, where on earth is Deacon James going with this. My friends, the Old Testament as we all know prepares us to listen and to hear the message of Christ.

In the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares an eager student of the Scriptures, so that in time he will understand the saving mystery contained in the Cross of Christ. Nicodemus did understand in time, but not straight away.

What, then, does this "being lifted up" mean?

In today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, "being lifted up" means "being brought low." God become man. This is the first dimension of "being brought low", and at the same time it is a "lifting up". God is brought low, God becomes man, so that we man, humanity, may be lifted up, so that humanity may become as God.

Why? Because "God so loved the world". Because he is love itself and God desires our friendship, love and relationship.

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son". GOD GAVE. This emptying is itself the gift. It is the source of every gift and we can’t truly understand how to love or to give without understanding what happened on the cross. In this emptying, this is the beginning and source of every "lifting up."

The Church puts before us the Cross of Jesus Christ. My friends, the cross is not just the image of a criminal being humiliated and killed. This image is the perfect image for the Christian and for humanity.

We look around the world and we often see the crucifix displayed as jewellery or as an ornament. Many don’t understand why the cross is important, but deep down within us there is a sense that this is an amazingly powerful image, relevant even for us today.

My friends this Sunday is my last Sunday here at Bundeena. In 9 days time I will depart Cronulla to begin further post graduate studies of theology in Rome. I ask you to pray for me and to pray for the people of Bundeena and for the faith of our families, friends and those around us.  The church here at Bundeena could be a thriving centre of hope and love for our world even more than it is already.

Unfortunately it is difficult for Bundeena because in essence you never have a full-time priest. So the responsibility and mission of building up the faith here in Bundeena falls in a very special way to each of you.

I would love to return to Bundeena in 5 or 10 years time and see a church packed with young people, young children and young families. The role of leadership in this community needs to be more tangibly passed onto the next generation. Our Bishop Ken and Dame Cath can’t keep it going forever.

The Cross and the message of Jesus Christ are powerful. By looking towards the cross with faith and belief, we receive healing and salvation, as the Jewish people received healing when they looked at the Bronze Serpent while in the Desert.

Jesus is lifted up on the cross but before he is lifted up, God came down to our level so that each of us can be lifted up and enter into the eternal glory of Heaven. God has given us something wonderful. The Cross shows us and enables each of us, you and me, to empty ourselves for another, and at the same time, by emptying ourselves we will be lifted up.

I thank you very much for all your support over the past 11 months. I have tried a few different things while I have been in Bundeena and in the parish of St Aloysius and the friendship, hospitality and kindness which have been extended to me have been exemplary.

As I finish my homily, I ask invite of you to look at our crucifix for about 1 minute and pray about how the cross has an impact in your life – does it give you healing, does it encourage you to empty yourself for another as true gift and do you believe that you will be lifted up be emptying yourself.

“The Son of Man must be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life in him.”

Let us pray.