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Homily – The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

For the next five Sundays the Gospel readings are taken from the Gospel according to John. For most of this liturgical year we have been listening to readings from The Gospel according to Mark and will return to these again on the 22nd Sunday of the year. The reason for this interruption of sequence is that the passages from John fit in very well with Mark’s accounts of the crowds that have been following Jesus and the things he has been saying about himself. 

As in last Sunday’s gospel, the crowd is still following Jesus. Everyone is running after him. One must ask: is it really Jesus they are seeking? The suggestion of the author of the gospel is that the crowd follows Jesus because of the signs he performed by curing the sick. Here we have an example of the irresistible attraction of the human heart to the marvellous, the exciting, the entertaining and indeed the attraction, the lure, of potential benefit.

But Jesus does not despise this psychological reality. He does not dismiss it and least of all despise or reject the people who follow him. However ambiguous peoples’ motives may be, Jesus uses these motives as a starting-point. The question he puts to Philip is intended to test the depth, the perceptiveness, of Philip’s faith.  But, towards the end of today’s passage, when the crowds try to take advantage of his miracles and seize him, even make him king, Jesus flees from them. 

Throughout the Old Testament, bread is a symbol of God’s providence. It is literally the staff of life. Its availability in abundance is seen as a sign of God’s support of his people, its lack a sign of his punishment. In time, bread came also to represent and be a source of community, of sharing, and in the Temple the very presence of God himself among his chosen people.

The Jesus of the New Testament loses no opportunity to point out that the human person cannot live on bread alone. We eat, we survive – and then what? Jesus not only tells us that we need to go beyond living from physical bread – essential though it be – to live from every word that comes from the mouth of God. There is another hunger that only Jesus himself can satisfy. He goes so far as to tell us that he is the one who can satisfy that spiritual, existential, even cosmic, hunger. He goes so far as to point out that he is even the cause of that hunger, that longing, and at the same time the very bread that alone can satisfy that hunger. 

In today’s story, some people give help in the preparations for the meal. Andrew draws attention to the presence of a small boy who gives what little he has – five barley loaves and two fish. And so, if what happens is far from ordinary, the natural order of things is somehow respected. The loaves are not conjured up out of thin air, but thanks to the sharing, and then the multiplication of what a child has in his bag, however inadequate that was, there is enough for all and even some left over.  Whoever among us desires to be a blessing for others should bring to Jesus whatever she or he possesses. The master does not ask us for what we have not got; but in the hands of Jesus, what we are prepared to share works miracles, it fills and satisfies.

The gift of God, superabundant though it be, is not any less precious, none of it should be wasted. This is true of the bread multiplied in the Eucharist. It is also true of ourselves, for all of us are given one to another: the child to her or his parents, brother to sister, bridegroom to bride, friend to friend. Nothing of what Jesus has given should be allowed to be wasted. In today’s second reading, Paul describes the kind of community that results from this sharing: lives worthy of what Jesus calls us to be. ‘Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness. Gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together…’.

Mention was made above of God’s chosen people. Remembering that no phrase in the Gospels is there purely by chance, we might note that when the hunger of all was satisfied, twelve baskets of food remained. Some scholars interpret this as indicating that the twelve tribes of the chosen people remain, but have now been joined by the rest of the human race, all chosen to feed on the new bread which is Christ.

Everyone should be gathered around his table so that while each shares with others what she or he has received – each his or her own five loaves and two fish –  the gifts of God never cease to multiply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fr. John’s Sermon for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s first reading and the accompanying gospel, present us with the image of the shepherd. Israel’s prophets and kings were often portrayed as shepherds and then some of them were berated, even cursed, ‘Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered’. But in today’s gospel, when Jesus steps ashore and sees ‘a large crowd… like sheep without a shepherd’ we are told ‘he set himself to teach them at some length’. He is presented as the good shepherd. And his disciples, who have clearly just been engaged in similar work, are also good – to the extent that they are faithful co-workers with him.

This is meant to speak to us today so that we follow the good shepherd but also become shepherds in our time by spreading the Good News. Let us remember that the people to whom Jesus was preaching beside the lake were Jewish. But we, here, today, are of gentile stock, occupying the place similar to that of the Ephesians whose letter from Paul we heard quoted. Paul told them, as he could have us, ‘ do not forget, I say, you were separate from Christ, excluded from membership in Israel; aliens, with no part in the covenants of the Promise; limited to the world; without hope and without God.’ Such was the  mission territory of Paul and it applies to us, here and now, where the Good News continues to need to be preached and witness given by disciples.

In ancient times and to this day, in various parts of the world, the shepherd’s primary function was to see that his sheep had plenty to eat and drink. ‘In fresh green pastures he gives me repose, near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit.’ That, metaphorically, is precisely what Jesus was doing in Galilee by his teaching and healing. Coming humbly, as a servant, not for power or possessions, not for him fanfare and the financial gains of the false prophets of his time. Christ was that longed for saviour, sent by the Father to respond to the needs of wayward humanity, peoples stumbling in the dark, not knowing what direction to take or having the strength to pursue paths of peace. With Christ that waywardness, running after shadows, could be overcome.

And Christ makes of us his disciples to continue his work which is one of witnessing, at a minimum. The church is full of  examples of this: the married couple is a powerful witness to love because nothing less than unconditional love is required of married partners. A temporary contract, until one of them finds something better, will not do for a Christian marriage.
Secondly, it is a Christian service, a holy service to mankind, to recall core Christian values that make fraternal community relations possible: speaking the truth in the public arena, seeking the common good beyond personal profit, justice and reverence towards all as we face common challenges. Never before has the need been so great, in these climate changing times.

Thirdly, to distinguish right from wrong, endow society with a moral compass, is a Christian testimony for all to share. Morality reminds us that an action is not right simply because it is legal. Nor is everything good although it may be technically possible.
And as for the challenges at the
end of life, death is not made dignified by personal scheduling or choosing when we have crossed a subjective threshold of being a burden on society. Death can only be dignified, if at all, by entrusting oneself to the love of the Father, after the manner of Jesus. For the believer death opens onto eternal life by God’s gift. Our testimony is to teach that hope.

However it was not only by teaching the Way and the Truth that Jesus was the good shepherd but also by giving his life for us. The mystery of the cross was at the heart of Jesus’ mission as the Good Shepherd. It was the great service he rendered us. He gave himself. And it was not just once in a distant past. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the union with God that it brings and the life that it transmits to us, is made present for us daily. It is for us every Sunday on the altar, in the eucharist.

To conclude: in ancient times the sculpure of a shepherd bearing a lost sheep on its shoulders evoked an ideal and gentle world. For Christians it naturally became an image of Christ who had set out in search of fallen humanity. It became the image of Him who seeks us, in our meanderings through the sparse deserts and darker valleys, only to put us on his own shoulders and return us to the true pasture. He continues to be our shepherd and invites us in turn to show the Way, the Truth and the Life, to others in these difficult times – to find those ‘green pastures which give true repose.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mindful Monk – Saying Amen to life

 

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Abbot Brendan’s Homily for the Solemnity of St. Benedict

The life of St Benedict revolves around two recurring themes, being in love and being on the move.

As a young man, Benedict fell in love with learning. To follow his love, he left his family and the familiar surroundings of Nurcia and went to seek out that learning in the schools of Rome. The decaying city of Rome proved a disappointment for Benedict, but during this time, he slowly nurtured a new love, the love of righteousness. Eventually this love drove him out of Rome in a search for solitude, which he found in a cave near Subiaco looking down on the ruins of the Emperor Nero’s villa, a constant reminder of the decaying ancient world all around him.

His years of solitude fostered the growth of a third love, a love of intimacy. This intimacy with God led him to abandon the austere solitary life as followers began flocking around him. He formed them into small communities of twelve monks each and later, after much torment, found himself on the move one last time to Monte Cassino, where he established his largest community and finally wrote his Rule for monks.

That Rule opens with famous words taken from the Book of Proverbs, ‘Listen my son to the precepts of the Master…’ The Rule is the fruit of Benedict’s love and his journey. He did not come up with the precepts of his monastic Rule in one sitting, but in one lifetime. The Rule speaks from Benedict’s own monastic journey of seeking and loving God. It is full of learning, the fruits of years spent in solitude with God, lessons learned from leading a community of monks and the wisdom and discretion of old age. It charts a long journey encompassing many new beginnings. Benedict can truly say with St Peter “Lord, we have left everything to follow you”.

Benedict insists that the love of Christ must come before all else, finding expression within the dynamics of community life in the love of others, where mutual obedience and care in all humility are live out, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

Today, we face the challenge of being faithful to that love of Christ while adjusting to a fast-evolving world. We are living with a global pandemic and the challenges of a rapidly changing society. What does it mean for us to constantly love and leave behind the familiar and our personal preferences for the sake of this love? No matter how effective former ways may have been, we are urged to embrace the new ways that God invites us into: new ways of praying, of working, of relating with one another, of using the earth’s resources; but always for the sake of the love of Christ. For only then, does leaving the familiar behind and embracing the newness of life make sense.

Benedict has shown us the way. He felt the urge to leave behind the familiar in the pursuit of this love. He had the strength and courage to do so only because he loved God first. This is the key for all of us if we truly yearn for life and desire to see good days.

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Abbot Brendan’s Message for the Feast of Saint Benedict

10th July 2021

Dear Friend,

On 24th October 1964, Pope Paul VI wrote as follows about St Benedict,

When darkness seemed to be spreading over Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, he brought the light of dawn to shine upon this continent. For with the cross, the book and the plough, Christian civilization was carried, principally through him and his disciples, to the peoples who lived in those lands which stretch from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, and from Ireland to Poland.

With the cross, that is, the Law of Christ, he strengthened and developed the institutions of private and social life. Through the “Work of God,” that is, through the careful and assiduous conduct of prayer, he taught that divine worship was of the greatest importance in the social order…

With the book, that is, with the culture of the mind, this venerable patriarch from whom so many monasteries have drawn their name and their spirit, spread his doctrine through the old classics of literature and the liberal arts, preserved and passed on to posterity by them with so much care.

And lastly, with the plough, that is, through agriculture, he changed the waste and desert lands into orchards and delightful gardens; and joining work with prayer in the spirit of those words, ora et labora, he restored the dignity of human labour.

As we celebrate his feast on 11th July, we pray for our own country and for the continent of Europe, for peace and for prosperity, for an end to this pandemic and for health. Above all, we pray that the peoples of Europe will continue to treasure the message of St Benedict, the cross, the book and the plough: love of God, love of true learning and all that is best in human culture, art and literature, and love for God’s beautiful creation that has been gifted to us.

With every blessing

Brendan Coffey OSB,  Abbot of Glenstal

 

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Mindful Monk – A Swarm of Bees

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Homily – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

14th Sunday B

 

The expression familiarity breeds contempt is as old as the hills. We find it in works ranging from Aesop’s fable of ‘The fox and the lion’, to the tale of Melibee in the Canterbury Tales, where Chaucer says, over-greet hoomlynesse (or familiarity) engendreth dispreisynge (engenders contempt). We all know from experience what the reality of this expression can mean in our lives. We get used to people and assume we know them. We take them for granted and can be blind to their good qualities. We become dismissive and are quick to find fault. We lose a sense of wonder.

In today’s gospel we hear of Jesus’ return to his home village after a period of preaching and working miracles around Galilee. No doubt news of his activities found its way back to Nazareth and on the Sabbath he is invited to teach in the local synagogue. Initially the people are astonished and they recognize in Jesus something out of the ordinary. Where did this man get all this, they ask, his wisdom and his power to work mighty deeds? We don’t know what Jesus said but the initial astonishment quickly sours and gives way to hostility and rejection. Who does he think he is? We know him. He grew up among us. He is just the local carpenter. We know his family. He is no different from us. How mistaken they are! Yes, familiarity breeds not just contempt but unbelief. Jesus says as much when he tells them, ‘a prophet is not without honour except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.’ And he is taken aback at their lack of faith.

Today’s gospel suggest that a great obstacle to faith is familiarity, hoomlynesse: a refusal to believe that God’s presence could possibly come to us in so familiar a form as the person next door; a resistance to recognise that God might have sent us a prophet in someone who, to our eyes, does not quite fit the bill. We can be like the locals of Nazareth who had fixed ideas as to when and where and how the Messiah should come to Israel. The local carpenter, the son of Mary, did not measure up. And they really missed out.

In today’s second reading St Paul draws our attention to another type of prophet that God sends into our midst, one to which we also turn a blind eye and even ask him to take away. Paul calls it ‘a thorn in the flesh’. All sorts of suggestions have been made as to the nature of this thorn in the flesh of the Apostle but that is not the point. For Paul it was the discovery that this thorn, the abiding personal weakness that he shunned, could be a channel of God’s grace, an opening onto the mystery of the cross of Christ. ‘I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me.’ Shutting the door will not do, he tells us, for the God who came to us in the flesh meets us there in the flesh of our experience, all of it, all of our self and our world.

Growth in the Spirit almost always shows itself in the capacity to recognise Christ more and more in the ordinary, the everyday. The great saints never ceased being filled with wonder at the mysterious presence of God. ‘The Word became flesh’ not only means that the Son of God became a human being, but that he took human form in a town as ordinary and insignificant and out of the way as Nazareth. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? For sure, it can! But can we identify the Nazareth in our own selves, in our families, in our community and open the door to the Heaven in ordinarie that is in the place we would least expect it to be?

Fr Senan OSB

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Mindful Monk – the final episode in the current series

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Education at Glenstal

https://youtu.be/8a2RhiKmkMs

In this final episode, Father Martin talks about Glenstal Abbey School and how the rhythm, culture and traditions of the monastery give a distinctive shape to school life: https://youtu.be/8a2RhiKmkMs

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Mindful Monk – Fr Simon tells us about ferns in the glen