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3rd Sunday of Lent 2021 – Year B

Christ cleansing the Temple

7 March 2021

Exodus 20:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look on me a little child. Pity mine and pity me, and suffer me to come to Thee.’  This was one of the first prayers I learned from my grandmother – an appropriate, if somewhat old-fashioned prayer but with a suitable image of Jesus for children. Jesus was certainly gentle and compassionate towards the poor and the sick, a friend to outcasts and sinners, and to all those with heavy burdens of any kind. These he invited to come to him with their burdens: ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Mt 11:28-29). But Jesus was also passionate and determined about his mission of proclaiming and inaugurating the Kingdom of God and not afraid to stand up to those who opposed him, either openly or surreptitiously.

Jesus’ passion turns to anger when he sees the Temple of Jerusalem, his Father’s House, being desecrated. This sacred place, a place of prayer, it has been turned into ‘a market’ (Jn 2:13), or ‘a den of thieves’ (Lk 19:46). So, as today’s gospel tells us, Jesus makes a whip of cord and drives the merchants out, along with their cattle and sheep. He overturns the tables of the money-changers and scatters their coins on the ground. Then, he tells the pigeons sellers to take their pigeons away (Jn 2: 14-15). What made Jesus so angry on this occasion? True, he was often angry and frustrated with the Scribes and Pharisees, but this is the only time we see his anger turning to violent action.

To understand Jesus’ anger we need to realise the importance of the Temple for the Jews. The first Temple of Jerusalem was built by King Solomon in the tenth century BC to house the Ark of the Covenant, the residence of God on earth. Sacked and destroyed a few decades later, a second Temple was built in the sixth century BC. In 63 BC, this new Temple was ransacked but not destroyed by the Romans. In 19 BC it was completely renovated and expanded by King Herod the Great. Today’s gospel tells us that the new Temple took forty-six years to complete. At the time of Jesus, it was a magnificent building of which the Jews were justly proud. It was the centre of their religious, social and commercial life, providing a livelihood for 20% of the population of Jerusalem.

We have no reason to believe that Jesus’ anger was directed against the Temple itself. His challenge to the Jewish authorities to ‘destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up’ (Jn 2:19) was a reference to his physical body as John is quick to explain: ‘But he was speaking about the temple of his body’ (Jn 2:21). The Temple played a significant role in Jesus’ life from his earliest years. His parents were accustomed to travel to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, much to the consternation of his parents, he remained in the temple for three days, listening to the doctors of the Law, and asking them questions (Lk 2:41-42). According to John’s gospel, it was Jesus’ custom to go to the Temple at regular intervals, for the Feasts of the Passover, the Tabernacles, and the Dedication of the Temple. Nor did Jesus hate Jerusalem. Luke tells that he wept over the Holy City, foreseeing its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD.

Jesus’ anger was directed, not against the Temple, but against the powerful Temple authorities, the priests, who had turned Temple worship into a lucrative business for themselves. They controlled the buying and selling of the animals for sacrifice, the exchange of currency, and the collecting of the temple tax, equivalent to half a week’s wages of the average labourer. In effect the pilgrims, and especially the poor, were being fleeced to line the pockets of the wealthy priests. Moreover, the buying and selling of animals and the exchange of money took place in the courtyard of the Gentiles. This meant that non-Jews could not pray in peace. No wonder Jesus was furious and resorted to an action, in open defiance of the Temple authorities that surely sealed his fate. 

The Temple, the House of God, was no longer ‘a house of prayer for all peoples’ (Is 56:7), but a place of empty rituals and corrupt practices. Its worship had become commercialised and hypocritical, not the kind of worship that pleases God. What Jesus wanted, and this is his challenge to us today, is ‘worship in spirit and truth’ (Jn 4.23), the worship of lives marked by integrity and justice, compassion and sacrificial service of others. He has modelled this kind of worship for us by his own life of self-giving love and by his sacrificial death on the Cross. He has become the new Temple of God.

I end with an anonymous prayer found on the door of a Church, and quoted by Fr Flor McCarthy SDB, who died recently. May the Lord grant him the fullness of eternal life!

The House of God

‘Lord, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, not to straying feet. Make this house a house of prayer and a gateway to your kingdom.’

Fr Michael McCabe SMA, Cork

Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA.

 

2nd Sunday of Lent 2021 – Year B

28 February 2021

Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 15-18
Romans 8:31-34
Mark 9:2-10

Some of you may recall Brenda Lee’s 1960’s hit song, “Is that all there is?” I believe that the song was a hit because it echoed a common human experience of shattered dreams and disillusionment. A somewhat similar view of life was voiced by the American novelist, Thomas Wolff, when he wrote: ‘loneliness is the constant weather of our lives, Love the rare and precious flower’ (“God’s Lonely Man”). Certainly, disappointment and loneliness are part and parcel of human life. They were real experiences for Jesus too in the course of his ministry. But, as today’s gospel illustrates, there are moments when the veil between the visible and invisible worlds is lifted, and the love which makes the world go round transfigures everything and helps us cope with ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (Hamlet).

The story of the Transfiguration, as recounted by Mark takes place at a critical moment in the life of Jesus. He was soon to leave behind beautiful Galilee and face towards Jerusalem where he sensed that he would meet the same fate as the prophets before him. He had already warned his disciples that the Son of man would ‘be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again’ (Mk 8: 31). And he had rebuked Peter for refusing to accept this prophesy: ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s’ (Mk 8:33),

Now, as was Jesus’ custom when facing into danger, he withdrew to a mountain (probably Mount Tabor) to pray and reflect, taking with him three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John. In their presence he was transfigured and, as on the occasion of his baptism by John, affirmed in his identity and messianic vocation by his Father: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him’ (Mk 9:7). It was surely this affirmation that gave Jesus the strength to face the dark and threatening future that lay ahead. His intense experience of the Father’s love confirmed the truth that Paul powerfully articulates in today’s second reading: ‘With God on our side, who can be against us’? (Romans 8:31).

The transfiguration experience was important not just for Jesus but even more so for his beloved disciples, Peter, James, and John. Their eyes were opened to catch a glimpse of Jesus in his glory and their ears were opened to hear the divine confirmation of Jesus’ identity as ‘beloved Son’ to whom they were enjoined to listen. Captivated by the experience, Peter wants to remain on the mountain in the exalted company of Elijah, Moses and Jesus. However, this is not to be. The luminous moment passes and the three disciples find themselves alone with Jesus who warns them not to tell anyone what they had witnessed ‘until the Son of Man had risen from the dead’ (Mk 9:9). We are told that the disciples observed his warning faithfully, but continued to reflect on what they had seen and heard, wondering what it all meant.

Today’s gospel may prompt us to recall ‘transfiguration moments’ in our own lives, moments when we catch a glimpse of a transcendent beauty beyond the horizon of the habitual. The poets capture such moments better than we can. In his poem, ‘Primrose’, Patrick Kavanagh, remembers a moment when, as a child sitting on a river bank, he found

‘One small page of Truth’s manuscript made clear.
I looked at Christ transfigured without fear –
The light was very beautiful and kind,
And where the Holy Ghost in flame had signed
I read it through the lenses of a tear.’

Seamus Heaney, in his poem ‘Postscript’, writes of a moment when, while driving along the coast in county Clare, with the wild ocean on one side and the extraordinary expanse of the Burren on the other, ‘big soft buffetings come at the car sideways / And catch the heart off guard and blow it open’. Such moments may not change us for they are always fleeting. But they do blow open our hearts to a sustaining presence that can help us cope with times of fear and uncertainty, and carry us forward in hope of a better future. 

Lent is a time to remember such moments in our own lives and draw strength from them. It is a time to trust in the Lord like Abraham in our first reading, even when the odds seem stacked against us. It is a time to withdraw to the mountain with Jesus, to listen to him, and let him lead us on our journey towards Easter. I end with a reflection on mountains from the pen of Fr Flor McCarthy, SDB:

Jesus often went into the hills to pray.
He preached his most famous sermons from a hilltop.
He was transfigured on Mount Tabor, died on Mount Calvary,
and ascended to heaven from Mount Olivet.
It seems that he loves hills and mountains.
Why was this?
Was it because he grew up among the hills of Galilee?
Or was it because heights enlarge our vision and cause our spirit to soar?
Lift us up, strong Son of God, so that we may see further.
Strengthen our faith that we may see beyond the horizon.
And when the valley closes us in,
help us to remember the view from the hilltop.’

Michael McCabe SMA

Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA.

Lenten Reflections.

 

 

Below are links to a series of Reflections recorded by SMA’s and lay people. Over the next few weeks new reflections will be added to the top of this page and eventually the whole series will appear here. We hope you find them useful them and that they help us to turn again to our God by loving and caring for each other and for the world that he has entrusted to our care.  

6

Fr John O’Brien SMA

Lent is not a burden: it’s an opportunity.  Count your blessings.


Click above to view

 

5

 
Ber Mulcahy

Lent in Lockdown – find your inner world


Click above to view

Ber Mulcahy works as a nurse and she has a keen interest in helping colleagues prevent compassion fatigue and burnout through mindfulness. Currently completing her degree in theology she uses her mindful practice to enhance her spiritual life and help others experience the value of spiritual well-being.

4

Fr Gus 
O’Driscoll SMA

You’ll never walk alone.


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Fr. Gus O’Driscoll SMA, ordained in 1977, spent the first six years of his missionary life in Ghana. He was then assigned to Formation Ministry in the SMA Spiritual Year House in Wilton. He took up a new assignment in the Philippines in 1992, and remained there till the autumn of 2015.

3

Mr Victor O’Flynn

Time for a Spring Cleaning


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Victor O’Flynn was a past-pupil of and Secondary Teacher at, St.Francis, Capuchin College, Rochestown. He formerly lived at Westgate Estate, Bishopstown, with his late wife Katrina. 

2

Fr Des Corrigan SMA

Forgiveness


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Des Corrigan is from Fermanagh and worked in Nigeria.   He has been involved in spiritual direction / conducting retreats, in SMA formation in Ireland and Nigeria, in administration and is now on the team of Dromantine Retreat Centre.

1

Fr Michael O’Leary SMA
Repent and believe the Good News


Click above to view

Michael O’Leary is currently PP of Wilton Parish.  He previously worked in Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa and hails from Ballinlough, Cork.

SMA NEWS – March 2021

Welcome to the third edition of the monthly SMA News.  Each month this international programme reports on SMA events and activities from around the world that have happened in the previous month.  It is coordinated by the SMA International Media Centre in Rome and is produced in both French and English.  The English version of the Programme is edited and produced here in Ireland by Mr Paul O Flynn and narrated by Fr John Dunne SMA.   This edition contains reports:

  • From SMAs  living amid the on-going conflict in the Central African Republic.
  • About Human Trafficking and how this issue has been highlighted in the Church.
  • From Ireland on celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent in the context of Covie-19.    

Catholic agencies urge G20 nations to provide debt relief amid pandemic

Catholic agencies urge G20 nations to provide debt relief amid pandemic

The Vatican News Agency in and article written by Lisa Zengarini reports that a host of Catholic organizations renew calls for rich nations to cancel debt and offer financial support for developing nations as they struggle with massive debt loads during the Covid-19 pandemic.
 

Catholic social justice organisations have renewed their call for debt cancellation and financial support to poorest countries in the light of the current Covid-19 crisis.  In a statement published ahead of the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting, which took place Friday in a virtual format, the international Catholic network for development and solidarity (CIDSE) urged the world’s leading economies to respond to the crisis with global cooperation and solidarity.

They highlighted Pope Francis’ words that “it cannot be expected that the debts which have been contracted should be paid at the price of unbearable sacrifices.”

Breaking point

CIDSE notes that “as well as the tragic loss of life, Covid-19 has stretched healthcare systems in many poor countries beyond breaking point, left millions of people without jobs and livelihoods, and decimated economies.”  

According to the Catholic network, the crisis has exacerbated existing inequalities “whereby more powerful countries can use their position and power to secure access to vaccines and support their own economic recovery.” It has also “compounded the challenges for many countries that were struggling with the impacts of climate change.”

The organizations pointed out that “the immediate priority for all countries is to save lives and support livelihoods, and debt cancellation is the quickest way to finance this.” They added that, in the long-term, “permanent debt restructuring and new finance is needed to rebuild societies and economies that put the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people first, care for our common home, and tackle the climate crisis.”

“We need to act in global solidarity as one human family, moving from a myopic focus of what is politically, financially and technically feasible, to concentrate on what is necessary to save lives and protect our planet for current and future generations,” they say.

Seeking permanent solution

CIDSE therefore urges immediate action from the G-20, namely to “support a new and significant issuance of $3 trillion Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) by the IMF, that will enable all countries to respond to the current Covid crisis and support a just, sustainable recovery” and “to extend the debt moratorium through the DSSI (Debt Service Suspension Initiative) for longer (at least 4 years) and to more countries, including those climate vulnerable countries who were already struggling to respond to added pressures of climate change.”

The Catholic network also asks that private creditors – who are currently continuing to take debt payments from countries which are struggling to respond to the needs of their citizens – should be “compelled to participate in all debt restructuring and debt relief.”

Finally, CIDSE calls for “a permanent debt workout mechanism to deliver timely, comprehensive, and fair debt restructuring to all countries with a high and unsustainable debt burden, without conditionality.”

Another Catholic church in northern Nigeria burned and destroyed

The Vatican News Agency – FIDES – is reporting the destruction of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Kikwari, Kajuru County in the Archdiocese of Kaduna, Nigeria. According to state authorities, the perpetrators are members of an “armed gang”. The armed men entered Kikwari and set fire to the Church and two other buildings. The villagers fled after learning of the attackers’ arrival in their community.

State Commissioner for Homeland Security and Internal Affairs Samuel Aruwan confirmed the incident in a statement released on Sunday, February 21. According to Commissioner Aruwan, Governor El-Rufai also condemned the attack and expressed his solidarity with the villagers. Aruwan said the governor has “asked believers to stand firm in their faith and devotion, and to regard the assault as an act perpetrated by enemies of peace, humanity and diversity who will not succeed but will be defeated by the grace of God“.

El-Rufai meanwhile instructed the state crisis team in Kaduna to quickly assess the damage caused and take appropriate measures. The governor also assured that the security authorities will increase control measures in the region.

Meanwhile, in an attack on another village, also in Kaduna State, at least two people were killed and nine others kidnapped.

The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria have repeatedly condemned the inaction of Government agencies – through the country – to act against such groups. Last October, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah [pictured] of Sokoto diocese was scathing in his criticism of the Nigerian Federal Government for its failure to curb the ongoing violence and allowing Nigeria to become “a boiling pot that everyone wants to escape from.” The Bishop accused the President of the country of nepotism and favouring Muslims in 85 percent of key positions. “Nepotism has become the new ideology of this government”, Bishop Kukah stated in the article carried by La Croix International.

With thanks to FIDES and La Croix International

Fr Michael Boyle SMA [RIP] – Funeral homily

Fr Michael Boyle SMA, the oldest member of the Irish Province, passed peacefully to his eternal reward on Ash Wednesday morning in St Joseph’s Nursing Home, Warrenpoint, Co Down, aged 96 years. In accordance with his wishes, his Funeral Mass took place in the Community Chapel in the African Missions, Dromantine, Newry, on Friday, 19 February 2021 at 11am.
Due to Irish government travel regulations the Provincial Leader, Fr Malachy Flanagan SMA, was unable to attend the funeral. He was represented by the Dromantine Local Leader, Fr Damien Bresnahan SMA, who celebrated the Funeral Mass in the presence of the Dromantine community and some of Fr Boyle’s relatives. Assisting Fr Damien at the Mass and burial was the Very Rev Canon Francis Boyle, the last surviving member of Fr Michael’s immediate family.

The following is an edited version of Fr Damien’s homily.
“Little could Michael Boyle ever have imagined where the road of life would have brought him when he left O’Hagan & O’Hare’s Chemist, Newry, to go out to Dromantine in 1945 for an interview for the Missionary Priesthood with the Society of African Missions (SMA).
At the age of twenty years, Michael answered the Call from God and presented himself for mission. That same year he headed West, to Cloughballymore, Co Galway, to the SMA Novitiate for two years before going to Dromantine for his studies and formation programme for the missionary life with the SMA.
Of course, the main preparation was the formation Michael got at home, in Warrenpoint and later Rosetta Park, Belfast, from his parents James and Delia and his siblings. Being nurtured in the faith within the Boyle family and growing up as the middle child of seven, Michael was well prepared to leave home and country and take up the missionary life.
The gifts and talents that Michael was blessed with would find plenty of scope for sharing with the wonderful people he was to meet in the various missions in mid-west Nigeria.
I always knew that Fr Michael had special qualities but it was only recently that I learned that he was born in Strabane, Co. Tyrone and at was possibly this factor that gave him a special edge in life!!
In 1951, Michael was ordained for priesthood in the Society of African Missions with eleven other classmates. The Ordination was celebrated in St. Catherine’s Dominican Church, Newry on 13th June as Newry Cathedral was undergoing renovation. Made up of witty and interesting characters, you could imagine how this SMA class of 12 might have looked upon themselves as the current 12 apostles of their day!
Fr Michael celebrated his first Mass in the Parish church in Warrenpoint with family and parishioners before he set sail for West Africa and the welcoming shores of Nigeria.
His appointment was to the Diocese of Benin City and he arrived in the town of Asaba in late 1951. For the next forty-two years Fr Michael was to serve in many Mission stations and parishes throughout Benin and later the Diocese of Warri: Asaba, Sapele, Ozoro, Warri, Ughelli, Benin City, Eme-Ora, Ekpoma, Ewatto, Ugo, Osiomo, Agbor and Kwale.
During the Nigerian Civil War Fr Michael became Bishop Kelly’s secretary and as Fr Jimmy Higgins put it – ‘there in that little office, just off Bishop’s bungalow, Fr. Michael kept the records and the financial accounts of this vast diocese, with efficient, meticulous scrupulosity’. Michael has great admiration for Bishop Kelly and in many ways imbibed something of Bishop Kelly’s simple and austere style of living.
Michael was abstemious and a strict disciplinarian who brooked no nonsense either as manager of schools or pastor of souls – but with this of course, he himself was very hard working – very conscientious and devoted to his work. Sr Loreto McCarthy, OLA, who worked with Michael at Agbor, was telling me that if you wanted something done well you could ask Fr Michael and he would be sure to see to it.
Many knew him as a sympathetic priest, especially to those in need. Many sick people, invalids, handicapped and catechists who came under his care in the Bishop’s compound and in so many Mission stations, can never forget his loving help. Michael spent nothing on himself but all was for the needs of others.
When he was Parish Priest of Ugo he was also an attentive chaplain to the women, men and children who lived at the Osiomo Leprosy Settlement. Fr Dick Wall claims that Michael’s brief training as a chemist at O’ Hagan & O’Hares, Newry, before joining the SMA, was a great help to him in the work with those suffering from leprosy.
It seemed appropriate that Fr Michael died on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent which is a special time in the Church for those preparing to receive Sacraments at Easter. He always took a very active interest in catechumens, often preparing them personally for the reception of the sacraments. At this time in many Mission parishes many people will be following that path during this Lenten Season leading up to Easter. This important ministry was so central to Fr Michael’s mission life.
Due to persistent ill-health in the early 1990s Fr Michael reluctantly had to retire in 1993 and returned to live in Belfast, while being a member of the SMA Apostolic Community at Dromantine. At the end of 2014, Michael moved to live in Dromantine and spent the last few years at St Joseph’s Nursing Home, Warrenpoint, where he received wonderful care from the nurses, carers and all the staff there. The SMA and the Boyle family are so grateful to all at St Josephs’s.
However, it has to be said that ‘the star’ in Fr Michael’s constellation was undoubtedly Jacqueline Kennedy who continued to care for him – not just in Dromantine but throughout his time in St Joseph’s. It was so appropriate and proper that Jacqueline would be with Fr Michael when he breathed his last on Ash Wednesday morning just after 11am. Thank you Jacqueline for all your devoted care.
Ageing is a privilege, denied to many’. Fr Michael was certainly among the privileged as he celebrated his 96th birthday on the first day of this month of February. He was so blessed with clarity of mind and continued to the end to enjoy a laugh and fun with his quirky and dry wit and sense of humour.
We have gathered in celebration today to pray Michael home to God to join his parents, his sister Sr. Joan OSF, his brothers Canon Liam, James, Dom Bernard OCSO and Xavier and all the many people to whom he made a difference during his long life and especially his many years of generous missionary service.
He will be missed by his brother Fr Frank and all those whose lives he touched – but no one can begrudge his easy, gentle passing as he goes to share the fullness of God’s presence in Heaven. May Fr Michael rest in peace.”

Following the Funeral Mass, Fr Michael was laid to rest beside his parents and others in the family plot in Kilbroney, Rostrevor, Co Down.