Friday, March 16, 2018

Rosary for Life and Faith

Holy Hour on Sunday the 18th of March here, in union with all those praying the Rosary at Mass Rocks and Monastic Sites throughout Ireland for Life and Faith.

5:15 pm- 6:15 pm

Followed by Vespers at 6:30pm

All very welcome

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent: Laetare Sunday

“If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. …”
“We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life, which from the beginning He had meant us to live it.”
“… but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.”

Our Lenten journey has arrived at its half-way point and today, we have been invited to rejoice. 
To rejoice, obviously, in the Lord, Who is the source of all our good and of all the goodness around us.
To rejoice, possibly, in the fact that there are only three more weeks left of Lent – with St Patrick and St Joseph to look forward to, who will enable us to break the journey for a while, and thus help us to persevere … …

There may yet be something else in which we are invited to rejoice, possibly less obvious, maybe even unexpected.  But today’s readings, and indeed most of the liturgy we have been celebrating since Lent began, seem to be calling us to rejoice even in ourselves.

St Paul reminds us that “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life, which from the beginning He had meant us to live it.”  And during the week we were commanded by Jesus Himself to love our neighbour as ourselves. …
It is easy to understand such a command to mean that we must love others as much as, or in the same way and to the same degree as we love ourselves.  But could it also dare us to love others as OURSELVES? – that is, is who we know ourselves to be?  And if this is so, is the commandment not then, even more challenging?  For we are now required to first discover who we truly are, in order that we may indeed love our neighbour as ourselves?  We are dared to set out on a quest for authenticity – not to spend all our time self-absorbed by any means – but, nevertheless, to have that desire: to be true.

All the saints throughout history have understood that abiding in God: attending to His Word; immersing themselves in His love, has opened their eyes to the truth about who they themselves were.  And the world has been a better place because of them.

We could perceive this season of Lent to be a time when we set ourselves to giving things up; to restraining ourselves from indulging in habits that aren’t really good for us anyway.  A comfortable way to reassure ourselves that we are making an effort, perhaps???

Maybe, after all, Lent is more fundamentally a time for us to be more intent on knowing, on discovering the truth, about who we really are, in order for us to truly be who we are. … … …
And what might we discover if we dare to travel along that path???

            That you are God’s work of art;
            That He delights in loving you;
            That He has created you for goodness, for joy, for Himself;
            That He is waiting to be gracious to you, if you will only take the time to welcome Him into yourself and allow Him to speak to your heart (Who, after all, is the only One who truly understands all that you have to bear – the good and the difficult, and sometimes the bad and the awful)
            Allow yourself to believe in all that He has in His heart for you.

Abiding in this truth enables you to see truly, for His love is a radiant light and you are a child of that same Divine Light.  By embracing that truth and living from it … the world becomes a better place, because you are in it. 

What a very much more wonderful world it would be, if we only dared to believe.

A Hymn for Lent, by Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691)
            Lord, it belongs not to my care
            Whether I die or live;
            To love and serve thee is my share,
            And this thy grace must give.

            If life be long, I will be glad
            That I may long obey;
            If short, yet why should I be sad
            To soar to endless day?

            Christ leads me through no darker rooms
            Than He went through before;
            He that into God’s kingdom comes
            Must enter by this door.

            Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet
            Thy blessed face to see;
            For if thy work on earth be sweet,
            What will thy glory be?

            My knowledge of that life is small,
            The eye of faith is dim;
            But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all
            And I shall be with Him.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Homily preached at Sr M Cathy's Solemn Profession

In the old vocations booklet for the Irish province from the 1950s the photographs go through the various stages of the formation of novices and students. By the second last page one arrives at pictures of the priest’s ordination and first Mass, turning the page, the final picture on the last page was of the graveyard in Tallaght. As if to say once you were ordained then the next major moment in one’s life was the grave. I am not saying today is the last big day in the life of Sr. Mary Cathy and the next stop is the community graveyard on the Chord Road. Or am I? For today you will use those stark words: I promise obedience until death.

At the end of today’s Gospel, we read: When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to their own town where the child grew to maturity and he was filled with wisdom: and God’s favour was with him.

And we hear nothing more of him for 30 years, except for the episode in the Temple when he was 12 -  the hidden years of prayer and silent work. We call them the hidden years but also from a human standpoint formative years, years in which in his sacred humanity he grew in maturity.

 Today marks a phenomenal flowering, a maturing of Sr. Mary Cathy’s journey of faith. Today Sr. Cathy offers herself totally to Christ. This one sentence of eight words sums up the Thomistic understanding of solemn profession. Today Sr. Cathy offers herself totally to Christ. Today is the triumph of grace in the life of our sister. She is giving herself, consecrating herself in a public act of worship in the Church, for the Church, to Christ.

The prayers of the blessing of the veil and the blessing of the profession ring focus us on the interior reality of today’s solemn profession.  

 The prayer of blessing of the veil says that the veil is a public sign of her consecration, her giving of herself totally to Christ making her a house of prayer and a temple of intercession for all people. The ring is said also to be a sign of consecration and fidelity pledged to God.  Both are signs of her consecration.

The ring she receives today is a gift to her from her friends, a sign that religious vocations are truly ecclesial, they are never simply between the person making profession and her God, it is the activity of God’s grace in the midst of the Christian community. At her simple profession I spoke of how Cathy’s journey had begun on the day Imelda and John brought her to the church to be baptised, today we all hold Cathy’s beloved mother Imelda in our hearts, we all know how proud she was of Cathy’s decision to become a nun, how often during the months of her final illness did Imelda say she was delighted for Cathy.  Cathy was nourished both spiritually and humanly by her friends in the Legion of Mary, friends who today give her the ring of profession, a faith that has grown and matured here in this community of Siena. We are all part of the story of Cathy’s consecration.

But as Dominicans how do we understand this act of consecration – for us it is always to be consecrated to the truth. This is made concrete in the inscription in the ring she will receive: “Do whatever he tells you” - These words come from the last words spoken by Our Blessed Lady in St. John’s Gospel, at the wedding feast of Cana. These words speak to Cathy of what her consecration as a Dominican means. To be consecrated in the truth means that one will always endeavour to do whatever he tells you, in a word obedience. It commits you to a life of listening, lived in silence in the enclosure always striving to do his will. Knowing that in his will is our peace. This is what you are consecrating yourself to today Sr. Mary Cathy. You are giving yourself over freely to do whatever the Lord tells you.

In the formula of our Dominican profession there is none of the flowery language of other profession formulae, there is the simple giving of yourself to God, to Blessed Mary and to Blessed Dominic and to this religious community in obedience.

For us Dominicans, obedience is not a giving away of our intelligence, it is not a fight between two opposing wills, you and the prioress, or the community or your spiritual directors. – I am sure that Fr. Eamon McCarthy will agree with me, he who was the first priest to help her on her spiritual journey, that our lives would have been a lot easier if someone had told her “do whatever he tells you”, that’s not our Cathy. Cathy may be obedient but never subservient.

Obedience for us Dominicans is not a servile struggle between my freedom and someone else’s authority. It is not a stunting of our giftedness from God rather it is an openness to the truth of the Lord in the midst of the Church, in this community, spoken through the voice of the prioress and the community and indeed the Order with its long history. It is not a subjection of the intellect - rather it is a loving embracing of the truth discovered in Christ. All of us are at the service of this truth, the Master of the Order, his vicar, the prioress, the conventual chapter, the individual obedient religious, all of us are consecrated to the truth, to doing whatever Our Blessed Lord asks of us. Religious Obedience for us Dominicans is not a struggle of wills but an acceptance of God’s truth in ones’ life. A truth that challenges us to mature and grow in wisdom as did the Lord when he went back to Galilee, to his own town of Nazareth.  

For the rest of your life Sr. Mary Cathy, until death, you, by your act of profession, give yourself over to doing whatever he tells you, in this community. You together with your community will endeavour to listen deeply to the voice of the Lord in order to do whatever he tells you, as a community and each of us in her own personal responses.  This common search for the truth is what marks our Dominican obedience out from other forms of obedience. Ours is always a searching after the truth, the truth in this particular situation in the life of the individual religious in the midst of a religious community which together search for the truth. Obedience can never be reduced to a war of wills but a common listening to the promptings of the Spirit after the model of Our Blessed Mother, to whom you also make profession, to do whatever the tells you.

This beautiful image of our Heavenly Mother encouraging you to do whatever he tells us should always be the atmosphere in which we Dominicans live out our lives of obedience with creative resourcefulness. It challenges us to a new maturity, not a childish wanting of my own way. Cardinal Ratzinger explains to us what this mature faith entails: An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth… as this friendship with Jesus matures the more our true freedom develops and our joy in being redeemed flourishes[1].

Today Sr. Mary Cathy you consecrate yourself to a life of Obedience lived as a mature woman. Your offering of yourself in obedience to the truth doesn’t reduce you in an act of humiliation but rather allows you to flourish into a mature Christian during these years of your life hidden, here in Siena Monastery.  

The words of St. Paul to the Ephesians sum up my prayer for today Sr. Mary Cathy: that you grow in maturity to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… speaking the truth in love, that you grow up in every way into him, who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

What you do today will be worked out in the years ahead, these hidden years, until they come to light in the fullness of time. Until then may you grow to maturity and be filled with wisdom and may God’s favour be with you. 

[1] From the homily at the election of a pope in 2005

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Sr Mary Cathy’s Solemn Profession

On Friday last, 2nd February, although otherwise 
quite a cold Spring day, the sun shone all day in a beautiful blue sky – symbol of the Sun which was shining in Sr Mary Cathy’s heart and which was visible in her eyes and smile as the day of her Solemn Profession had at last dawned.  She had prepared and longed for this day for many months and now was the moment to make her final commitment as a Dominican Nun until death.

It was a day of joy and thanksgiving for our whole community, Sr M Cathy’s family and our Dominican Family in Ireland.  Fr Gerard Dunne OP, vicar of the Master of the Order for our monastery, officiated and Fr John Harris OP preached the homily, Fr Eamonn McCarthy director of Radio Maria Ireland (a close friend of Sr M Cathy’s) was one of the chief concelebrants at the Eucharist  with 16 other of our Dominican Brothers;  

Sr M Cathy’s family participated in the Readings and Prayers of the Faithful, many of her friends attended – several of whom are members of the Legion of Mary.  Many of our local friends joined us for the Eucharist. The Dominican Sisters, Cabra Congregation were represented by Sr Marie Cunningham OP and our friends from the local community of Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal joined us.

 Being the 2nd of February, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, the Eucharist began with the usual blessing of candles in the cloister and then the community and concelebrants processed to the church.

More Photos available at this link, with thanks to Fr Luuk Jansen OP for his services as a photographer.

The Dominican rite of Solemn Profession is quite simple - the sister making profession places her hands in the hands of the prioress and pronounces the words of profession:

I, Sr NN, make profession, and promise obedience to God, and to Blessed Mary and to Blessed Dominic, and to the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers, and to you Sr NN , prioress of this Monastery of St Catherine of Siena, Drogheda; and to your successors, according to the Rule of Blessed Augustine and the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers that I will be obedient to you and to your successors until death. 

The priest officiating then says:
Sr NN by this solemn profession you have given yourself to God and to His will: God Himself therefore has consecrated you to Himself through the ministry of the Church, to be associated through a life of prayer and penance, with the ‘holy preaching’ of St Dominic, so that you may be His own heritage and that He may be your heritage forever.

Then the veil is blessed with the following beautiful prayer:
Lord bless this veil which Sr NN wears for love of you and your blessed Mother Mary, ever Virgin, as a sign of her consecration to you.  Through your help and protection may she always preserve the purity of heart that it mystically signifies.  In wearing it may she be recognised as a house of prayer and temple of intercession for all people.  Clothe with your grace her entire being, so that she may love you with all her heart.  May she always live in this love and be introduced one day to the joy of your kingdom, through Christ our Lord.

Then the ring is blessed and presented to the newly professed:
Receive this ring as a sign of consecration and fidelity pledged to God, so that wearing it, you may be defended by the power of heavenly protection, and keep true faith with Him until you come into everlasting joy.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God - 1st January 2018

The great feast of Mary Mother of God, the world day of peace, the first day of a New Year, New year resolutions, all these came together for me this morning when Father began his homily with this Scripture verse—Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. I have no idea what he had to say after that. For these words reached me with great force and an immediate question. What things, events, situations, do I treasure and ponder in my heart and why do I do it? As I was quietly working in the kitchen I continued to reflect on this Word:  “Where your treasure is there also will your heart be.” What my heart has been most focused on during this past year will reveal to me what my treasure really is. What do my inner dialogues reveal? When I ponder the daily happenings in my life is it to bring to bear the Word of God on these events, so that God’s  plan for my life may come to full fruition, as I gradually allow his light and truth to shine in my darkness.? Is my focus on listening to the voice of the Lord and as a result of that entering into His Peace. Do I treasure all the happenings of the day, both positive and negative because I know that each of them is a gift through which God is speaking to me if I have ears to hear? Do I believe that God is bringing about His plan both for my salvation and the salvation of the world as I willing assent and respond to His revelation to me moment by moment? I f I did how I would hug to myself each happening, each encounter, excited by the prospect of learning something new about God, about myself, about the needs of others. I would be like a child on Christmas morning tearing apart the wrapping to discover the enclosed gift.

 Or do I  in fact ruminate deeply on hurts, on negative experiences, pondering over grievances, blaming others, judging others, protecting myself from others. Are these the things I treasure and ponder in my heart? Thoughts that serve to reinstate me as the one in the right, thoughts that diminish others? And yet even these inner monologues are stepping stones to grace if I can but listen to them in truth and invite Jesus the light of the world to bring to light what darkness is hiding.

Mary listened no matter who or what God chose to speak to her through and because of her inner disposition “Be it done to me according to your Word" she heard His voice; through the angel Gabriel, through her cousin Elizabeth, the inn keeper, the shepherds, the wise men, Herod, Simeon and Anna, Jesus in the temple, the wedding feast of Cana, when Jesus left to begin his ministry, when she was told he was mad, when he was persecuted and murdered and in all the events in between. No matter what came her way, her response was to take it and ponder it in her heart. And because of that she was there at the foot of the Cross, sharing with her whole heart in His Passion and she was witness too to his Resurrection, and now reigns with Him to “mother each new grace which does now reach our race”. To paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins, may she who holds high motherhood, towards all our ghostly good continue her work as this new Year begins so that our hearts may become new Bethlehems, where she shall yet conceive Him and He be born there , evening, noon and morn.


Christmas reflection

It is customary that the prioress gives short reflection at First Vespers of Christmas - we share the following with our readers:
The theme of my reflection, on this Christmas Eve night, is ‘ Peace’. The Order has just established the month of December as the month designated for all its members to pray for world peace and each year the whole Order will focus on praying for peace in a particular area of the world. This year the focus is on Colombia, South America, -that the peace agreement signed in 2016 will become a reality there. Conscious also of the lack of inner peace in ourselves at times  and in people in general, I was led to ponder the title given to Jesus before his birth, that of Prince of Peace,  in the book of the prophet Isaiah, which will be read tonight at Mass:

            For there is a child born for us,
            a son given to us
            and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
            and this is the name they give him:
            Wonder – Counsellor, Mighty –God,
            Eternal- Father, Prince-of –Peace.
            Wide is his dominion
            In a peace that has no end.( Is. 9: 5-6 )

We long so much for this peace that ‘has no end’. We long for it for ourselves, our families, our communities, our friends and for the world at large. We want Isaiah’s prophecy, which says;
            For all the footgear of battle,
            every cloak rolled in blood,
            is burnt,
            and consumed by fire

- we want that to be realised now, without further delay. The Gospel tonight further reinforces this message of peace when it says:

            And  suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host,
            praising God and singing:

 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to
                        men who enjoy his favour’

This theme of peace abounds everywhere in the Christmas Liturgy tonight and tomorrow. In the entrance antiphon, Jesus is personified as peace itself as it says:

            ‘ True peace has come down to us  from heaven’

On the very first weekday of Advent, and on all Mondays in Advent, I was very struck by the post communion prayer, again referring to peace; it says:

“Come, O Lord, visit us in peace, that we may rejoice before you with a blameless heart.”

In all these quotes humanity and God are linked together because peace is a gift bestowed on us by God  the Father, through and in his son Jesus Christ

The truth of Isaiah’s words come to mind:

     You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
     Trust in the Lord for ever for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. ( Is.26)

This is really  to say that our peace, our inner peace is dependent on our relationship of trust in God. It is the fruit of a personal relationship with  Jesus. We are not alone. God, gentle and humble, is with us, watching over us and guiding us. Jean Vanier teaches us in his book, Finding Peace, when he says : “ As we learn to  relax and trust in love we become free of the walls and barriers that imprison us in fear, prejudice, hostility and guilt. We are filled with a new joy, a new life, the very life of love.

Sometimes when I feel my own inner  peace is disturbed I remind the Lord of his promise in St. John’s Gospel, when he says:

            Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you.
            A peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.

In speaking about peace St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine in defining peace as the tranquillity of order. Peace consists in the calm and union of our desires and is twofold in that there is perfect peace and imperfect peace.

Perfect peace, he says, consists in the perfect enjoyment of God which causes all our desires and tendencies to be united and at rest in one. This perfect peace is only possible in Heaven.

Imperfect peace, on the other hand, is the peace  which we can have in this world. It is imperfect because, even though the soul’s principal movement is to rest in God, there still remain certain obstacles, both within and without, which disturb our soul’s peace. St. Thomas goes on to say that peace is the effect of charity since charity means that we love God with our whole heart by referring everything to him, all our desires become focused on loving God in Himself and we know that love is always a unifying force.

I have come to understand that ‘the peace which God gives is not a freedom from the storms and conflicts of life, but a mysterious strength and comfort amid the storms; not the removal of pain, but the bestowal of a precious gift. The gift is God himself, the comforter, the one who stands alongside us.

Also peace is not just the work of governments or armies or diplomats but the task of each one of us. We can all become makers of peace. Peace  must begin with myself, within my own heart and from there radiate outwards. This is in fact possible because tonight we celebrate what God, in his infinite love for us, has done by sending Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to dwell among us and in our hearts, as the teacher and source of peace.

 The kingdom of God is within us but there, it has to grow and spread. In that process we may experience the apocalyptic chaos and disruption and the Messianic peace and harmony – and everything in between! Our lion may have to learn to  lie down with our lamb! And then after coping with my own lion what about coping with the lions in everyone else around me!?

 The following medieval verses recognised this inner world and the transformation Christ’s coming brings:

            You shall know him when he comes
            Not by any din of drums,
            Not by anything he wears,
            Nor by the vantage of his airs;
                        Not by his gown,
                        Nor by his crown,
            But his coming known shall be
            By the holy harmony
            That his presence makes in thee.

May all of us experience this holy harmony, this peace, fruit of the Holy Spirit, and true effect of charity, gift of God to be received by faith, as we celebrate  with thanksgiving the great mystery of Christ’s incarnation, of his coming among us and within us, as the Prince of  Peace. Amen