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.”