The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.
Christ, the Son of God, did the work of the Father; how can we, called to be as Christlike as possible, do less? Use this season of Lent to consider how it is that you fail to do the work that God calls you to do.
Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.
Even as he healed men's bodies, Christ's first concern was for the salvation of their souls. Strive this Lent for the healing of your soul so as to avoid the worst of all possible fates, the loss of eternal life.
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.'
Some crave miracles, saying without them they will not believe. And yet they ignore so much around them that is truly miraculous - all of creation, that life exists, and that they have the God-given mind with which to wonder at it all.
my words be in the name of the Holy and undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
disciples ask him an interesting question in today's Gospel– especially
so in this season of Lent when we strive even harder to take up our
own crosses and better follow our Lord.They see
a man born blind and ask if it is because he sinned or because his
parents sinned that he has been blind from birth. Jesus, of course,
answers that it was neither, but rather so that God's works might be
revealed through him. But their query reflects the not uncommon human
suspicion that personal misfortune represents some kind of divine
punishment. One might wonder, however, why it is that faithful Jews
such as Jesus' followers would ask such a question. It is reasonable
to presume that they should have been familiar with the book Job –
a book of Sacred Scripture which makes it clear that human suffering
is not related to the wrongdoings of those who suffer. Also, they
should have thought of our Lord's own words on the matter, recorded
by St Luke in the 13th chapter of his Gospel, where Jesus
says that the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their
sacrifices – meaning that they were killed by his soldiers while
they offered sacrifice in the Temple – were no worse sinners than
any other Galileans, or that those who were killed when the tower of
Siloam fell upon them were no worse offenders than any one else
living in Jerusalem at that time.
then is not to be seen as some kind of a specific punishment that the
one who suffers has brought down upon themselves. Suffering in a more
general sense, of course,is a result of sin – original sin, the sin
of our first parents. It is a result of our fallen nature and it is
as such part of the human condition. In this life we can all expect
both the good and the ills that this world offers – as our Lord
made clear in chapter five of St Matthew's gospel when he said that
our Father in heaven
makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the
righteous and on the unrighteous.
we have many examples from Scripture showing us how good people can
endure much suffering in this life. Job I have already mentioned. We
may also think of St Peter in the Acts of the Apostles being beaten
and thrown into prison, the Apostle St James being killed by King
Herod's men, and the lengthy list of sufferings that St Paul
underwent – as he tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians,
chapter 11, he endured many imprisonments,
countless floggings, and was often near death. Five times he received
from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times he was beaten
with rods. Once he was stoned and left for dead. Three times he was
shipwrecked, being for a night and a day adrift at sea; on his
frequent journeys, in was in danger from rivers, bandits, faced many
a sleepless night, was hungry and thirsty, and was often cold and
naked. And, as if that were not enough, he tells us in chapter 12 of
the same letter that he was given by God what he calls a thorn in the
flesh. What this mysterious thorn was we are not exactly sure – but
we know that it tormented him and presumably, since he says it was in
the flesh, he means it caused him great pain. So greatly did it
torment him that three times he appealed to God that it might leave
him. But God refused his request saying : ‘My grace is sufficient
for you, for strength is made perfect in weakness.’
would also be well to consider here some other words from St Paul on
the subject of suffering, words that we heard in last week's reading
from chapter five of his letter to the Romans: suffering
produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and
character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy
Spirit that has been given to us.
Our sufferings in this world can be of spiritual benefit to us,
provided that we accept them in the right spirit. This does not mean
that if you are ill you should not seek medical attention or take the
medicines that will cure you; but rather that those sufferings that
can not be avoided can provide an opportunity for growth.
of them, perhaps, as a temptation. One way of dealing with suffering
is to grow angry with God that he allowed this pain to come into your
life or that he will not take it away from you. Another is to accept
it in a spirit of humility, reminding yourself that just as we accept
those things we think of as good from God so also must we accept
those we think of as bad, to paraphrase the words Job use when it
came to his own suffering; and saying to God that with his grace it
is something we can bear. And also remembering the words of the Lord
that those who would follow him must take up their cross. Our Lord
did not reject his cross, painful though it was; and neither must we.
Through our patient endurance God's works are made manifest through
us, just as they were with the blind man; and just as St Paul's
suffering with his thorn helped make him perfect, ours borne with
God's grace can also help us be perfect – and thereby lead us at
the last to be with him in heaven.
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.'
Matthew 18. 21,22
Reflection We hope for forgiveness from God. But as Christ tells us here and elsewhere in Scripture those who would be forgiven must themselves forgive all others.
‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.'
Luke 4. 24
The blindness of the people of Jesus time in rejecting him because he seemed to be one who came from among them seems foolish to us today. Yet how many of us behave in exactly the same way, rejecting him even as we call him Lord?
May my words be in
the name of the Holy and undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy
The woman Jesus
meets at the well of Sychar, whom we read of in today's gospel,
certainly seems to have been an interesting character. First, she
certainly does not appear to have been a shy woman, as is apparent
from the back and forth banter she engages in with our Lord. And this
conversation reveals her to have been not only sharp of tongue but
sharp of mind also, for after her initial somewhat barbed remarks she
engages with Christ in a quite serious theological discussion.
The next important
thing we may say of her is that she most certainly has not lived what
might be considered a conventional life to date, for she has been
married no less than five times and is now living with another man to
whom she is not married. And we can also glean from Scripture that
she has paid a price for her lifestyle. We can know this because she
comes to the well at noon – the hottest time of the day. This was
not the time for drawing water. That was done either in the cool of
the morning or later in the afternoon when the burning sun was no
longer at its height. And it was a social time, where the woman who
gathered caught up on the gossip of the day. That this woman comes at
noon, a time when she can expect no one to be there, means that she
is someone who is not popular with the other women of the locality.
No doubt they fear that when the time comes for her to move on from
her current partner, her gaze may fix upon one of their husbands as a
Something of this
latter aspect of her character may have been apparent from her
appearance, for Jesus' followers are surprised that he is talking to
her. Why? Because she is a woman? But Jesus, we know, was in the
habit of talking to women – he had many female followers, and
indeed his group relied on some of them for financial support.
Because she is a Samaritan? But Jesus did not go in for the Jewish
custom of shunning those from this part of the world – he even has
one as the leading figure in one of his parables; and we know that he
cured a leper who was also a Samaritan. Yet still they wonder that he
talks with her. I suspect that it is because there is something about
her that signals to them that she is not a respectable woman
according to the lights of their culture. Perhaps she is dressed a
little too flamboyantly. Perhaps she has too much showy jewellery on.
Perhaps her make-up is a little too extreme. Or perhaps it is some
combination of all three. But there is definitely something about her
that tells them that this is not the kind of woman that the man they
are sure must be the Messiah should be talking to.
Their reaction is
illustrative of an age-old problem. How do you indicate to someone
that there are aspects of the way that they are living their life
that you do not approve of because they objectively violate God's
law without falling into the trap of yourself violating God's law by
judging them, something that is the prerogative of God alone? It is a
balance that followers of Christ have struggled with throughout all
the history of the Church. Often we have focussed solely on
moralising the sinner while neglecting completely reaching out to
them. Our attempts at correcting sin have themselves been sinful –
sometimes, it would seem, more sinful than the sin they strive to
correct, for they have taken people struggling with their failings
and driven them out of the Church, the very place Christ created to
be a hospital for the healing of those afflicted by sin.
We would have done
better to follow the example of our Lord, as set out for us in this
passage of Scripture. First, I do not think their meeting was
accidental. St John tells us that Jesus is tired and waits by the
well while the others go on into the town to buy food. And no doubt
he was tired after their long journey from Judea. But was the one who
fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, the one who would
later carry the great weight of the Cross from Jerusalem to Golgotha
after a brutal scouring that would have killed most other men, is he
really more tired than his disciples and unable to go on? Or is he
engineering this meeting with the woman, so that he may reach out to
her – and model for us how we also should reach out? For reach out
of her he does – he, remember, is the one who initiates the
conversation with her, much to her surprise, and persists, despite
her somewhat barbed reaction to it. But his openness to this woman
who has been marginalised by the society she lives in does not extend
to an openness to the things that are wrong about her life. As we so
often see him do elsewhere in the Gospels with those who have been
excluded because of their behaviour, he points out her wrongdoings.
He calls out her less than exemplary behaviour with regard to marital
relations; and he even points out the manner in which she, along with
all other Samaritans, have got things wrong in relation to the right
practice of religion. And her reaction is illuminating. Does this
sharp-tongued woman respond with angry words? Does she turn on her
heel and walk away? No – his openness to her and his honesty about
her situation convince her of the truth of what he says. We can learn
much from her reaction – a person of goodwill will never be
offended by the truth, even if it can be uncomfortable for them to
Indeed, far from
being offended, the woman rushes back to the town, in such a hurry
that she leaves her water jar behind, to tell other about the Messiah
and bring them also to know Jesus. Over the course of her brief
conversation with Jesus something remarkable has happened: she has
gone from being a social pariah, to being a follower of Christ, to
being an evangelist who brings others to know and believe in Jesus.
have no name for the woman our Lord met by the well. But we do have
names for others that we know – others that we exclude because we
are unhappy about the way that they live, or whom, even if we do not
exclude them from our lives we do not truly invite them in because we
would find it too uncomfortable to share the gospel truths with them
for fear it would cast an uncomfortable light on their own lives and
the way that they live it. During the time that remains of Lent it
might be a good idea to consider who it is in your life might fit
that description. And then consider how you might follow the example
of Christ by trying to reach out to them and helping them transform
their lives utterly by drawing them back into the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.'
Nourished by his faith in God, St Patrick returned to the land of his enslavement to bring the freedom that comes from the Gospel. God also sends you to share that Good News. Do you labour at the task you were given?
He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”
Luke 16. 24
The rich man cared only for his own pleasure in this life. He did not heed the warnings of Scripture and was blind to the suffering of others. Too late he learned his folly. Take warning from his fate.
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.
Reflection Refrain from the violence you do to others from anger in a look, a word, or a thought. The satisfaction it gives is fleeting; and the damage is does to you is eternal.
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.'
How is it that we may ask anything of God other than through prayer? And what better thing to ask for than the strength to turn from our sins that we may attain unto eternal life? If you faithfully ask such of God, he will not deny it to you.
‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.'
Luke 11. 29-30
The people of Ninevah repented in sackcloth and ashes, fasting, when God spoke to them through Jonah. We have our warning through the Son himself. Can our response be less than the people of Ninevah?
'For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.'
Matthew 6. 14-15
Reflection Forgiving those who have wronged us is not easy. Yet we hope that God will forgive us of our wrong-doings and Christ tells us for that to be possible we must also forgive. This Lent consider past hurts you have suffered and pray for the strength to forgive those who caused them.
'When the Son of Man comes in his glory … he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats ... And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Matthew 25. 31,-32, 46
Reflection The season of Lent is a time of cleansing, a time to grow spiritually, and rid ourselves of that which separates us from God ... so that on that last day we may be found worthy to be counted among the righteous.
my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, & Holy Spirit.
is a time when we engage in self-discipline, training ourselves in
how to resist temptation. We deny ourselves things that are good and
permitted us so that we might be better able to resist those things
that are against God's law when we are tempted by them. It is a
season modelled on our Lord's forty days – which is, of course, why
we mark the first Sunday of this time with one of the Gospel accounts
of Jesus' time of prayer and fasting in the desert. And if we study
that account carefully, there is much we can learn, I think, about
temptation and how we may resist it. Today I shall focus on just
three things we may learn from this passage.
first is that because we know that Jesus is the perfect man, like us
in all things except for sin, that it is not sinful to be tempted.
And it is very important indeed for us to know this. From time to
time people come to me to discuss the fact that they have suffered
from temptations; and some can be very distressed indeed that they
have been tempted. They worry that the mere fact of being tempted is
in itself sinful. And this is simply not the case; if it were, then
Christ himself sinned. But since we know that to be impossible, then
we can know that when we ourselves are tempted we do not sin. It is
vital for this to know this; for if we think we have already sinned
by being tempted, it is all the harder to resist committing the
actual sin we are being tempted towards. Indeed, far from being
distressed by temptations we ought, in a sense, welcome them; for we
are told by St Thomas a Kempis, author of the 'Imitation of Christ',
the most widely read book of Christian devotional literature in the
world after the bible, that 'temptations
are very profitable to man, troublesome and grievous though they may
be, for in them, a man is humbled, purified and instructed. All the
Saints passed through many tribulations and temptations and were
purified by them.'
saying that it is not sinful to be tempted is not the same as saying
it all right to dwell on our temptations. That is another lesson we
learn this passage. Notice how our Lord each time that the Devil
tries to tempt him he at once rejects the temptation. That is what we
must do also – push it away at once if we can; and continue to
fight it off if it does not at once retreat. This is spiritual
warfare at its most basic; for if the enemy discovers a weakness in
some areas he will try to work away at it if we allow him to.
Remember the words of the letter of St James in this regard: resist
the Devil and he will take flight. Therefore call on God when
tempted; invoke Christ's name in your heart. Evil can not stand to be
in the presence of good; and evil can not withstand the power of God.
So trust in God when tempted and he will protect you. And as well as
refusing to dwell on temptations when they assail you, learn from
these battles how you may avoid future temptations. What are the
circumstances that open you up to temptations? Are there particular
social occasions that you know will make you particularly vulnerable
to temptation? Then avoid them. Are there individuals whom you know
will try to lead you astray? Do not keep their company. Are there
television programmes, books, kinds of music that put you at risk?
Thrust them from you. To paraphrase our Lord: it is better to enter
the kingdom ignorant of the goings on during the course of the latest
reality tv show than to know every detail of it and be cast into the
finally, we may take special note of the manner in which Christ
resists the ancient enemy of all mankind – by calling upon God's
Word as it has been revealed to man in Sacred Scripture. Satan, of
course, tries to twist it to his own ends; but Christ uses it the way
God intends and so the devil is defeated. We therefore must be well
versed in Scripture. This means we must not only study it in depth,
reading every passage carefully again and again throughout our lives,
but we must be guided in our understanding by the manner in which it
has been understood by the saints and doctors of the Church down
through the ages. Satan's way is to pick a verse here and a verse
there, rip it from its context, and spin it until it says the
opposite of what God intends; but the Christian way is to focus on
the way Scripture has always been understood so that we are not led
astray by falsehoods parading themselves as fresh insights. As St
Paul said, if anyone attempts to preach another Gospel than the one
that he taught, let them be accursed.
I draw to an end, one final thought. Our Lord, having having
vanquished Satan during his time in the wilderness was then
surrounded by and ministered to by angels. We should not think of
Lent as a gloomy or grim time. The athlete as he trains is not
miserable, but rather takes joy in the way his body grows stronger as
a result of every challenge he sets it. So too we should rejoice in
our spiritual growth in this season. Especially knowing that this
strength will be rewarded not only with the company of angels come
the end our our days, but to be in the presence of God himself:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.'
Matthew 9. 15
Giving things up for Lent can sometimes seem old fashioned. But Christ envisaged that his disciples would fast, and there is never anything that he calls us to do that is out of fashion, for his message is the same yesterday, today, and always.
my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, & Holy Spirit.
is Ash Wednesday which marks the first day of Lent. I well remember
my first Lent – or rather, the first Lent I actually engaged with
in the sense of giving stuff up.
was seven. We were living with my grandparents on their farm near
Newmarket in North Cork. Our teacher, Mrs FitzPatrick, was quite
religious – well, wasn't everyone back then? - and she encouraged
us children to take the season seriously by giving something up.
this was back in what now seems like the dark ages. Television was
black and white and had only one channel. There was no internet or
mobile phones back then, so none of your 'digital fasts' from their
beloved devices that are popular with some these days. No, back then
giving things up meant giving up some tasty food item you were
particularly fond of. Adults tended to go without milk and sugar in
their tea – and perhaps the biscuits that normally went with it. Or
maybe the drink. And children gave up sweets.
found this both hard and surprisingly easy. Hard, because, as we all
know, sweet things are pretty much addictive, so saying 'no' to them
voluntarily is tough. On the other hand, children didn't have much
money back then. This made sweets an occasional treat. I think my
intake at the time would have been limited to a few penny sweets from
the shop near the school a couple of days a week; with the odd
chocolate bar thrown in … but something as large as a chocolate bar
always had to be shared with friends, which meant you could only
reasonably expect to eat at most half of any bar you bought.
with relatively few sweets in my life my first Lent was tough - but
not so bad that I thought it was going to kill me. And, of course, I
comforted myself with the thought of all the sweets I would buy when
it was all over. By the time I got to the end I had a whole lot of
pennies burning a hole in my pocket screaming at me 'Lent is over –
you can buy sweets again!' Not long after Easter Day we went to town
for the Fair Day and I bought all the sweets I would have eaten over
Lent at once. And then I ate them all. And felt dreadfully ill. I
didn't actually throw up, which was a blessing as the whole town
would have seen.
would like to think that I have learned a little more about what the
meaning of Lent is since I was that little boy. I think of the season
as being a gift to us from God through his Church. It is a time that
allows us to bring very forcefully to mind the fact that we are
indeed sinners in need of redemption, sinners who need to repent.
That is the significance of ashes on Ash Wednesday – the use of
ashes being in keeping with the Biblical tradition of repenting in
sackcloth and ashes; a tradition emphasised by our Lord in chapter 11
of St Matthew's Gospel when he speaks wonderingly at the lack of
faith in certain cities that he has performed miracles in, and
remarks that if certain foreign cities that the Jews regarded as
sinful had seen such wonders they would have been moved to repent in
sackcloth and ashes.
is also a time that allows us to discipline ourselves in resisting
temptations. We do not give up things just for the sake of doing so,
or making some kind of a public display; no, we do it so that in
order by giving up things that we are allowed to have or do we may be
better able to resist doing things that are not in accordance with
God's will. Just as the athlete trains in order to be better able to
run the race, even though the training itself is not the race, so our
training in resisting allowing ourselves small but permitted
pleasures during Lent helps give us the self-mastery that will aid us
from falling prey to temptation and doing what we know to be wrong.
as I finish, one final thought. My first Lent as a child was perhaps
not done as well as it might have been. But it was done with a
childlike sincerity and simplicity. And our Lord, we know, exhorted
us, to be like little children if we were to enter into the kingdom.
So my prayer for you today is the hope that you may recapture some of
your own childlike wonder and innocence as you engage with the season
of Lent this year; and thereby grow stronger in the faith and closer
to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6. 17,18
From the earliest days, Christians have observed Lent as a penitential season. It's 40 days echo Christ's own time in the wilderness. We, who are called to imitate Christ, must use this time to be ever more like him through the prayer, self-denial, and alms-giving that are the hallmarks of this season.