The Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis Xavier
March 4th - 12th 2015
Fr Michael Coutts SJ, from Pickering Retreat House, Upper Canada Jesuit Province.
(Monday-Friday): 11am, 1pm, 5.30pm, and 7.30pm
11am,1pm and 6pm
11am, 12.30pm, 3.30pm
1, 3, 11, 13, 40, 41, 33 and 122
Novena of Grace 2015 Homilies by Fr Michael Coutts SJ:
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2015 Novena of Grace
Homily for 12th March - Day 9 of the Novena - the man in the tree
9 The Man in the tree: Zaccheus. Luke 19: 1-10
· If I’ll only be true to this glorious quest.
· Go where your heart desires, let no barrier stop you.
· Grace to get a balance in life.
We often hear of mid life crisis. A person at the top of their profession. They have a stable family, a secure life. They just quit and go an live in the rough, in the wilderness. Why? All things are good and comfortable, but they find things boring. There is no stimulus to improve, no challenge to brave, no excitement in life. Actually they have all of the above, but they still feel bogged down. They want to life on the edge. We hear of politicians, policemen, priests caught in sexescapades, gambling joints doing things for the same reason. I am not a psychiatrist, and this is a generalization, but not everyone fits in the pigeonholes we make in society.
Many years ago, about 1700 to be precise, an African from the town of Hippo said, “Our Hearts are made for you O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.” His name was St. Augustine. He was not speaking of Zacchaeus, but he might have very well done so. Our reflection is on the Man who climbed the tree. It is found in Luke Ch. 19: 1-10.
Here was a man who had everything he wanted. Wine, women and song. He lived in the lap of luxury as they would describe it. But his heart was restless. His ambition seemed to be as large as he was short in stature or to put in politically correct language: He was vertically challenged. He had heard of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus had done miracles. That however did not impress him. Money and prestige could do miracles. Jesus had attracted crowds. That was not an issue either, all he had to do was flash some 100 euros and people would come flocking. What intrigued him about Jesus was – here was a man who did not want the wealth of Zacchaeus. Here was a man who could stand against the bullies: the Scribes and Pharisees. What was it that made him tick. What was the mysterious element that set him apart. Zacchaeus wanted to know. St. Paul would say in the letter to the Ephesians: to know the length and depth, the height and breadth of the Love of Jesus Christ. Without knowing it, that is precisely what Zacchaeus wanted. But Zacchaeus was short. Jesus was coming his way. So Zacchaeus had to swallow his pride. He had to get rid of the height he had build into his shoes. He climbed a tree.
Whether we are at the height of our success or in the valley of tears, if we want harmony and balance in life, then we have to make some effort to meet Jesus. We have o climb some symbolic tree, we have to ascend some mountain, we have to enter a sacred space where we can and where we will encounter God. God is everywhere it is true, but we have to let go of our secure position and once there, Jesus will stop to meet us.
Jesus wants to dine with Zacchaeus. Jesus wants to dine with us. He has prepared a banquet himself, just as he would prepare breakfast for the Apostles after the resurrection. But if Zacchaeus was to dine with Jesus
· he had to come down from the tree.
· He had to come down to earth
· He had to come back to the very people who despised him, persecuted him, avoided him like a plague.
You and I like Zacchaeus are not going to find Jesus in a vacuum.
I sought my God and found him not
I sought myself and could not see
I sought my brother and found all three.
My God, my brother and me.
During this Novena, we say our prayers with fervour and devotion. Sometimes, we want fast solutions like the fast food. But often we are seeking temporary solutions, quick fixes, DIY manuals. Much as I would like to provide you with a that light, that is not the reality. What I can give you is a direction to Jesus Christ who is the Way, the truth and the light. For that we have to make an effort and climb a tree, we have to make a Sacred Space where God can speak to us face to face. Moses asked that 1000s of years ago. God did not accede to his request then. The glory of God would be too much for the mortal limitations of Moses. But then in the fullness of time, God sent his only Son to talk to us about that love.
What is wonderful, what is the good news, Jesus did not ask Zacchaeus to make any changes in his life before Jesus dined with him. He did not say: how is your family life, are you divorced? You have to get your marriage regularized. Are you an alcoholic – you better go for an AA meeting. Do you have a hot temper? You must go to see a psychiatrist. Jesus accepted him as he was. Jesus again and again would say to the righteous or the self-righteous in Society, it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have come for those who are humble enough to say I have screwed up my life, help me to straighten it out. Without even making any conditions, Zacchaeus himself said: “If I have defrauded anyone I will give back four fold!” Notice, he did not say, Those I have defrauded, but if I defrauded. Too often we are quick to accuse, quick to blame people for things they have not done. We put them in chains with labels and with blame, often without even knowing the facts.
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Homily for 11th March - Day 8 of the Novena - the blind man who saw
8. The blind man who saw: Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52
To fight for the right without question of pause With your eyes you see beauty, with your heart you see love.
Grace: To taste and see the Goodness of the Lord.
1. A blind man was sitting on a busy street corner in the rush-hour begging for money. On a cardboard sign, next to an empty tin cup, he had written: 'Blind - Please help'. No-one was giving him any money.
A young advertising writer walked past and saw the blind man with his sign and empty cup. She took a thick marker-pen from her pocket, turned the cardboard sheet back-to-front, and re-wrote the sign, then went her way.
Immediately, people began putting money into the tin cup. Soon the cup was overflowing.
Confused, the blind man asked someone to read his new sign.
It said, 'Hope you enjoy this beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot. "
2. All present here can see, and I hope will hear – because I want to tell you the story of the Blind Man who saw. Each morning they brought Bartimaeus and left him at the crossroads. He would sit all day and sing, “Money for the Blind.” Every now and then someone who sit and chat with him. He enjoyed their company. At noon his sister would bring him something to eat. Then someone told him that Jesus of Nazareth was coming south on his way to Jerusalem, and would pass by Jericho. Bartimaeus had heard about this Jesus and the wonders he had done. On a day, he least expected there was Jesus passing right before him. He hadn’t got into a strategic position, so the only thing left for him to do, was to shout. Jesus, son of David have mercy on me.
3. The people around him told him to hush, keep quiet. Jesus has not come for the likes of you. He has come for important people: the Prime Minister, the Mayor – the Cardinal, - but not you. But that did not dampen his spirit. Bartimaeus had grown tired of begging. He wanted to reach when your arms are too weary, to reach for the unreachable star. He would not give up at the first barrier! That is what separates the youngsters from the veterans. The veterans have staying power.
4. Another interesting feature in the story of Bartimaeus – and perhaps in your life and mine: our biggest obstacles are home-grown. They do not come from outsiders, they come from among those we know, sometimes our own friends and family, from our Church community. The townsfolk of Bartimaeus village should have encouraged him. They should have brought him to Jesus, but they are the ones who are telling him to keep quiet. They should help us to get out of the mess, they should give us a helping hand when we fall into a hole. From experience criticism and gossip come from within and not from outside.
John Foley had lost a child due to drunken driving. So he would sit in his truck outside a pub, and if he saw anyone inebriated, he would give him a ride home. He would do this a couple of times a week – to do something positive for his son and get over the bitterness he felt. Old Mrs. S began to spread a rumour. Mr. Foley is giving into drink. His truck is seen several times a night outside the pub. After a week of listening to this rubbish. Mr. Foley decided to take action. He parked his car outside Mrs. S. house and left the hazard lights flashing through the night. He came to retrieve it at seven the next morning, blowing his horn and waking up the neighbourhood. The gossip stopped immediately.
Sometimes we have to nip the discouragement in the bud. So when the people tried to stop Bartimaeus, he shouted only louder. Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me. Jesus will always stop when you call out. But we give up so easily. We have to call and call again. Jesus knows what we want, but He also wants to know how earnestly we desire what we are asking. Then the strangest thing happens! Jesus turns to Bartimaeus and says, What do you want me to do for you?
It isn’t as strange as it might appear. Bartimaeus could have very well said, It is a rather hot day. I would like a nice cold Guinness. There are two things in Bartimaeus reply that are very important when we make our prayers before God.
The first is to ask what we NEED, not what we want. It is hot, I am feeling thirsty, I want a drink. But what I need, is what has been a part of my life that needs healing. I need to see. That is what Bartimaeus needed and that is what he asked for.
Secondly, God knows what we want. We simply need to state our need. We do not need to give God a Do It Yourself instructions. So many of our prayers go into detail about what we want.
We specify what we want
We tell God when we want it
We tell God the shape, size and colour.
Bartimaeus who is blind shows us who can see the way… all he tells us to say: Jesus, son of David have mercy on me. There are so many of us in church today that cannot see the way because we are caught up in cages and boxes and in chains. We want to be free – free to see and taste the Goodness of our God.
Perhaps we have to make a list of all those things that bind us and do not let us go free.
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Homily for 10th March - Day 7 of the Novena - the woman at the tomb
The Woman at the Tomb
As a community making the Novena, we have meditated on three women who are
nameless. They represent the women and men within our church.
like the Woman with the Ointment, we need to hear the words:"your sins are
forgiven, go in peace."
Like the Woman with the haemorrhage, we need healing when we know life is
draining out of us. Sometimes, this is physical with sicknesses. Sometimes
it is emotional: we are under pressure, we cannot cope with relationships,
Like the Samaritan woman at the Well, we need affirmation, confirmation,
acclaimed for being who we are.
Today we have the Woman at the Tomb. She is not nameless. She is Mary
Magdalene. She is a woman who is decisive. She knows what she wants to do.
She knows what she has to do. The logistics of how she is going to achieve
it, will come later.
Story: At Christmas time, the teacher asked her six years olds to draw
something connected with Christmas. Some who did not go church drew
Reindeers and frosty the Snowmen. Others drew or tried to draw: the
shepherds and sheep, the wise men and the star, others drew a picture of the
crib. Little Susie was drawing with furious intensity. Her forehead was
puckered up, her tongue stuck out at one corner.
Her teacher asked her what she was drawing. I am drawing the face of God who
sent us his son, Jesus. But the teacher protested, no one knows what God
looks like. Without lifting her eyes from the page, Susie replied: they will
when I finish drawing. Like Mary Magdalene - Susie was a child with a
purpose and no one was going to say, she couldn't.
Mary Magdalene is determined to do what is right. She has no help. But she
is going to carry the body of Jesus and give it the proper burial. There
was: In Dublin's fair city, down streets dark and narrow, there was Good
Molly Malone, who wheeled her wheelbarrow. Mary Magdalene does not have a
wheelbarrow, but that is a minor detail. Jesus rewards Mary. She calls her
by her name. She brought down from her vision to reality. She is rewarded
for her decisiveness by being made the first Easter Apostle. She is asked to
tell the world, what we used in our acclamation of faith: Christ has died,
Christ has Risen!
People today are talking of the Francis effect. Many are turning to God
because they see in the church a Christ who serves a Christ who heals a
Christ who sits with tax collectors and sinners. He washes the feet of the
ordinary people, women included, and Muslim.
But the church is not going to alive, be vibrant because of one man. The
church is a community. It is going to alive from the grassroots. It is going
to alive because of the decisiveness of women and men in the pews.
It is going to Alive, in spite of, rather than because of some church
leadership that resist this genuine and forgotten image of those who believe
in Christ. They were called Christians for the first time in Antioch in
Syria. (Acts ch. 11) It is going to be alive by respecting the devotions and
traditions of the believers. They come to Mass, they say the rosary, they
light their candles, they close their eyes and pray with intensity, knowing
the Lord will answer their prayers.
We as a community and each one individually must make the decision like
Mary. Where have you placed him? Tell me and I will take him away.
It is important to know that the God's work, God's Kingdom is not only
beyond our efforts, but it also beyond our vision. All we do in our Church,
is only the tiniest fraction of the magnificence and miracle of the Kingdom.
nothing we do is complete
nothing we say can say all that could be said no prayer can fully express
our faith no pastoral programme can accomplish the Church's mission no goals
and objectives can include everything
we plant seeds, but we may never see the fruit we reap what others have
planted We lay foundations on which others will build.
this gives us a great freedom.
it liberates us to do the best we can, knowing that we cannot do everything.
It is incomplete, but it is beginning
We may never see the results, because
we are workers not master builders
We are ministers not Messiahs
We are prophets of a future not our own.
There are people hungering for the Word of God. If you do not take it, Who
will? But to take the Word of God, we must know it first. Get to know the
Lord. Like Mary Magdalene fall in love with him all over again. That love
will decide what you do when you wake in the morning. It will fill your
evenings and your weekends. It will determine what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart and what will amaze you!
Appendix Prayer of Fr. Arrupe.
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your
heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
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Homily for 9th March - Day 6 of the Novena - the woman at the well
THE WOMAN AT JACOB'S WELL, SAMARIA
The grace to be accepted.
There is nothing so painful as not being accepted for who you are. So many
of us have a poor image of ourselves, we do not believe that we have good
within ourselves. We do not believe we are loveable or worthy of being
This is often because of the society we live in. The downside of being
wealthy, or being prosperous, we often have children who are a latch- key
generation. They finish school for today, they come back to an empty home.
Both father and mother have to work to put a meal on the table, to pay the
rent, to clothed themselves, but more especially to afford cellphones and
iPads and electronic devices without which life "is unbearable". The TV
becomes the babysitter until the parents come home. When the parents come
home, they are invariably too tired to spend quality time with the children.
As human beings we need attention, we need company, we need affirmation and
some will do anything to get that. It is perhaps the reason why teenagers
get into gangs where they know you by name They take you by the hand They
put you on a pedestal They call you friend.
All to their own end and purposes.
The woman at the well is precisely the symbol of each one of us who want to
be recognized for who we are.
Story: Helen was a bright young girl who contributed a lot in school. She
was in debates, she edited the school newspaper, she was often the DJ at
school functions. She had polio and did everything from her wheelchair.
Years later one of her teachers saw her and said, I cannot remember who you
are, but your face looks familiar. Helen replied, do I look familiar because
of my wheelchair? Or because of the impression I made as myself?
Story two: students were sitting in a prestigious college doing their
Masters in Business Administration. Everything was going well. The students
had passed their oral exams, all that was left was a written exam which
would put them in First, Second or Pass class. There was tension in their.
There were only two questions of unequal marks. For 25 marks there was a
question on management. For 75 marks, the question was What is the name of
the lady that cleans this classroom each day. The students were
flabbergasted. You are not serious asked one of the students. I have never
been more serious in my life. You can all the information on business
through the Internet. But you will never get the human touch except from
experience. The student sat down and wrote the answers. I did not know the
name of the lady, but afterwards I found her name was Dorothy. I will never
The Woman at the well had five husbands. There could be various reasons for
it: economic, social, psychological - but the simple and perhaps obvious
reason was because she wanted to love and to be loved. She wanted to be
accepted as a person. She wanted to be accepted as a woman. She did not want
to be just an object you pass on the street. She probably made wrong
choices. Each husband or the one claiming to be her husband, used her and
dropped her. Many of us can relate to that with spouses and friends and
perhaps even relatives. We are cultivated. We serve our purpose and we are
put on a shelf. Priests included!
Human beings forget and fail us. But God does not! Jesus is the height of
courtesy. He accepted people for who they are. They are men and women of
God's image and likeness. They are men and women for whom he will shed his
blood. They are men and women the sheep of his flock. They are men and women
entrusted to him by he Father. He will say that he has lost of them, in the
prayer of the Last supper.
Each one of us present just now is precious to the Lord. You are as precious
as the Woman at the Well. Jesus was not concerned about her past sins and
failings. He was only concerned about her thirst for something higher than
her present temporary satisfaction and pleasure. She was thirsting for
something no thief could break in and steal, something that would not rust
and decay in time, something more precious than silver or gold.
She was thirsting for affirmation that she was a child of God, she was a
daughter, precious in the eyes of God. John says in the first chapter of
his Gospel, all those who received the Word were called children of God.
The example of Jesus
Jesus was like in all things but sin. As a human being, he too wanted and
sought affirmation. He received it fro the Father
at Baptism, he heard the words, "You are my beloved son."
He would stay at the house of Martha and Mary, who affirmed him He wept at
the death of his friend Lazarus.
He would ask his friends, "would you also leave me"
He would take Peter, James and John to the transfiguration.
In the garden and on the cross, he cried, My God do not abandon me
To accept another person as they are is the most precious gift you can give.
It does not cost a cent. It is a handshake, a hug, and acknowledgment across
the room by the nod of your head. In a word, you say they are precious - and
that is the truth.
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Homily for 8th March - Day 5 of the Novena - the Third Sunday of Lent
Third SUNDAY of Lent
Exodus 20:1-17 ps. 19 1. Cor. 1:18-25 John 2:13-25.
What a dramatic scene. Jesus has a whip of cords. He drives the buyers and
sellers, and upturns the money changers tables. Coins all over the floor.
The story has its origins in the first reading from Exodus with the 10
commandments. You can relate them by heart. In telegraphic style: one God.
Don't swear. Come to church. Love parents. No killing. No adultery. No
stealing. No false witness. Don't desire neighbours wife or goods.
God makes a treaty or covenant with a chosen people. They will be God's
people. He will be their God. They will keep the commandments. These are
preserved in a special container. It is called the Ark of the Covenant. It
is especially made of acacia wood and covered with the finest gold. It is
two and half cubits long, and one and half cubits in breadth and height. (A
cubit comes from the Latin cubit us which means elbow. It is the distance
between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger. It is about 18 inches)
since the Israelites are travelling the Ark is carried from one place to
another and either kept in the centre or outside the camp. Finally they
settle in one place. King David decides to build a temple to keep the Ark in
a place of honour. The problem is that King David has broken all the
commandments mentioned in the Ark and then some. So his son, Solomon gets
the honour of building the Ark. He builds it of expensive Cedar wood. He
covers it with gold and silver. This is called the First Temple - first,
because it will be destroyed and eventually a Second will be built.
The people pray in this Temple. They offer sacrifice. They burn incense
which rises to heaven like their prayer. They will pray in this Temple for
nearly 400 years. Then the Assyrians come down. They capture the People of
God. They destroy the Temple and take the leaders captive back to their
country. This is present day Iraq, the land of the infamous Saddam Hussein.
Fifty years later, they are sent back to Jerusalem to rebuild the second
Temple. They start in 538 and complete it in 23 years.
This temple will be precious to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Unfortunately in the
decades before Jesus, the Temple was often vandalized and robbed. King Herod
would refurbish it. These repairs would take 46. Years as the Pharisees tell
Jesus after he goes off on a tear. The Temple is precious to the Jews. The
Pharisees are rigid in keeping the Temple laws. They are furious with Jesus
for his action. It is equally precious to Jesus and he is furious at the way
people are behaving. The buyers and sellers are doing a legal and legitimate
business. Animals that are sacrificed are to be without blemish. Animals
that are sacrificed can only be bought with Temple coins. Canadians must
change their dollars into euros to buy stuff in Ireland, so too the Jews
coming from the diaspora, were supposed to change their money. So the money
changers were doing the "correct" thing. The Temple authorities were making
sure that the animals were bought with temple coins and the animals were
without blemish. This is where corruption stepped in. The money changers
were charging more than the usual rate. The Temple authorities were bribed
to turn a blind eye on certain defective animals. No wonder Jesus is furious
and then the drama follows.
As we reflect on this scene, we have to ask whether our motives for coming
to our local church are also on the up and up. If there were no obligation
to come, would we find ourselves week after week at church. Would we give
generously of time, treasure and talents?
Part two: whenever Jesus does a symbolic act we ask What and Why. But in the
story of the Cleaning of the Temple, we have to ask another question:When.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, this story takes place just before the Passion
and Crucifixion. It is as if this were the last straw. The Pharisees are
furious at Jesus' continually behaviour. Now he has to die. But in John,
Jesus uses this action as his Mission Statement. He is telling the Pharisees
that a new order of doing things is on the horizon. It will be a New
Covenant and a New Commandment: Love one another as Jesus has loved us. All
the chapters that follow this dramatic action of Jesus will take on a new
meaning in light of Jesus driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple
Ch. 2. Jesus will have a New and Better wine in the Kingdom Ch.3. Jesus
tells Nicodemus. There will be a New Birth. Born again of water and the
Ch. 4. Jesus tells the Samaritan Woman that neither Samaria nor Jerusalem
will be the places to worship.
Ch. 6. Jesus will give New Food- the Bread of Life, the Eucharist.
Ch. 7. As for water, there will be springs of Living Water Ch. 9. Jesus will
make the blind see the New Light.
Ch. 10. Jesus is the good shepherd
And so we keep the Commandments as Moses handed them down to the Jews and to
us. Jesus kicks it up a notch and speaks to us about Love.
We come to the buildings built with human hands. But True worship will come
with the attitude of our heart With the generosity of our actions With
putting no limits to the horizons of our vision.
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Homily for 7th March - Day 4 of the Novena - the woman with a haemorrhage
1. The story. It is said of sugar cane, the more it is crushed, the
sweeter the juice it produces. I walked into the room. They were a group in
a seniors home. Few friends or relatives came to visit them. Joyce was
seated at the desk, calling the numbers of Bingo.
She knew each by name,
she cracked jokes.
She teased some.
Each Saturday she was there to entertain and bring laughter to the seniors.
When the seniors were taken back to their rooms, she would reach for her
crutches and hobble off the stage. Her right leg was crippled with polio.
She was going back to her husband who was both a drunk and mentally abusive.
But none of her personal problems would make her bitter. The heavier the
cross, the more genial was her attitude. Like sugarcane - the more it was
crushed the sweeter it became.
2 Our story today is a woman with a haemorrhage. She wanted to be
healed. She wanted to be made whole again. She has suffered for 12 long
years. God wanted her to be healed. In Isaiah Ch. 61 we read: the spirit of
the lord is upon me. He has send me to make blind people see, lame walk.
Jesus entire ministry was punctuated with healing. Each major teaching or
visit to a village was accompanied by the healing ministry. He was making
Isaiah's prophecy a reality.
3. In the Old Testament, a true sacrifice of an animal was that it
should be without a blemish. Jesus came to preach the Kingdom. He wanted
salvation for all. There was no one that was excluded from the heavenly
banquet. Each one of you present at this Novena of Grace is invited to the
Kingdom. There is a reserved sign at the table with your name on it. But as
Jesus offers you to the Father, like a true Jew he wants each us to be whole
Jesus prayed at the last supper, none of those you entrusted to me, have I
lost. He makes the same prayer today of each one of us. He does not want to
loose any of us.
4. And so we come this day do the Novena, with the same grace as the
woman with the haemorrhage. I want to be healed. But we have to acknowledge
our brokenness. It is like going to a doctor. We do not say to the doctor,
give me some tablets, any tablet, I want to be healed. It might be a case
of mumps, or broken arm, or diabetes. We have to acknowledge our brokenness,
we have to acknowledge our blemish, we have to acknowledge the haemorrhage
of grace in ourselves. For some it may be drink, others gambling, others
pornography, others still infidelity. None of these are shocking to the
Lord. We might be ashamed, but the Lord still loves us.
5. Other blemishes can come from a concerned heart. We worry and have
sleepless nights because of child or grandchild
who is on drugs,
Who is in and out of prison,
who cannot hold on to a job,
who finds the church irrelevant.
Like Jesus, they were given to us and we want to want to return them to the
Lord like an unblemished offering.
Like the woman with a haemorrhage, we have to go where the brave dare not
She had to go into a rows that judged her.
She had to go into a crowd, which if they knew her condition, would have
treated her as an out cast
But she persevered. She was cured. So can we
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Homily for 6th March - Day 3 of the Novena - the woman with a perfume
We find this story in all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only
LUKE has this story taking place in Galilee and earlier on in the public
ministry. The other three have this Story taking place in Bethany, close to
Jerusalem. It takes place close to the Passion and the Crucifixion. In those
three stories, it is understandable for Jesus to say "leave her alone, she
is anointing me in preparation for the burial."
This sharing is not intended to be a Scripture course on the Anointing
Theme. However, I wanted you to have the context setting, before I share a
reflection on the Woman with the Perfume. According to LUKE, it takes place
in Galilee, at the house of an unknown Pharisee. We later learn his name to
be Simon, because Jesus calls him that in a conversation. Simon mentally
censures the whole scene, but does not have the courage to articulate his
I was reluctant to use this story, because as Catholics we seem to have a
monopoly on guilt. We love to beat our breast and say, "through my most
grievous fault." We go to confession and each time we will say for these
sins and for all the sins of my past life, I want absolution. It is as if
God does not have the power to wipe the slate clean.
I remember saying this and a woman came up to me, and said, "I don't care
what you say, I am still going to ask for all my sins of my past life to be
wiped clean each time!"
This is a story of boundless love, rather than a focus on sin. The boundless
love is both on the part of Jesus and the part of the nameless woman.
Story: a woman wrote to a priest friend who shared it with me. The woman
said. Until I was 40 years of age, I did not commit any sin. Don't get me
wrong, I broke every commandment, except murder and I even thought of that
several times. I did not commit sin, because sin is a betrayal of love.
Since I loved nobody, and nobody loved me, I did not sin. God loved me, but
I did not know it then, and I had not experienced God's love in a tangible
Then at 40 something wonderful happened. I fell in love, and he loved me for
who I was. I experienced LOVE and I know the betrayal of love is a SIN. Now
I know what sin is and try my best not to sin.
With this modern day story, I would like to narrate the story from the
woman's viewpoint. It is prayer applying all our senses. It is based on a
poem by Sr. Irene Zimmerman.
The woman knows that Jesus is in town. She knows where. She rushes home and
grabs everything and anything that is valuable. Then she is off to the pawn
shop. She has been there often enough before. She then rushes off to the
perfumery. She spots an expensive jar of ointment. She checks the price. She
checks her purse. She has enough. She grabs the jar. She places the money
before the cashier. She is not worried about the receipt. She rushes off
clutching the jar to her chest.
She stops in the doorway to accustom her eyes to the darkness. There is a
babble of men's voices. She recognizes some of them. They have been with her
before. Some avert their eyes in embarrassment, lest she talk to them. The
rest strip her with their lewd eyes. They have used her before and tossed
her aside like a ragged doll. But she has no time or effort for any of them.
She notices Jesus and in a flash she is on the floor near his feet. She
opens the jar, and turns it over so that the precious ointment fellas on his
feet. The soles of his feet are hard, because he walks a lot. The fragrance
fills the room. Some of the wealthier guests know the exact cost, because
they have bought it for their wives, as a guilt offering. There is some
murmuring, but not too loud. As in the case of Hamlet and his mother: the
lady doth protest too much, methinks! They do not want attention to be
brought to them.
Suddenly she realizes her mistake, by touching him, she has made this young
Rabbi ritually unclean. She breaks into tears. The tears splash on his feet.
They pour out like a torrent. All the years of holding them in, now bursts
like water from a broken dam. She has no towel so she wipes them with her
hair. Through all the murmuring, she feels the hand of Jesus on her head.
She hears his voice to the host: Simon, because she has loved much, her many
sins are forgiven. Well she might as well go the whole hog. She turns the
jar upside down and empties all the rest on his feet. She does not care if
there is ointment all over the floor. She gets up. Her head held high. She
makes an exit like a queen - she is surrounded by the fragrance of
As men and women, we too are forgiven of all our sins even before we step
into the confessional. We still go ahead like this woman, because we are men
and women of flesh and blood, we are people affected by senses.
We need to do something tangible,
We need to say something audible, and
We need to hear something aurally
the words of Jesus through the members of this sacred Body.
Go in peace your sins are forgiven.
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Homily for 5th March - Day 2 of the Novena - the man who visited by night (John 3:1-15)
1. The Vice President of the United States, Mr. Joe Biden and the Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry are both Catholics. They are said to attend their parishes regularly when they are not away on political business. They say as Catholics and personally they hold the Church's position - pro-life. But as representatives of their constituents, they vote pro-abortion. Some American Bishops have said that both should be denied Communion when they approach the rails. Evidently there is a controversy, should the Bishops do this and do they have a right?
If you ask the wrong question, you are going to get the incorrect answer. The real question is what is the purpose of the Sacraments. Are they a trophy to be given to the Catholics who keep the law and the teachings? Or are they a gift from God to support and nourish as we are on our earthly journey, just as manna was for the People of Israel in the Sinai desert. Are the sacraments for healing when a catholic is hurting, wounded, dying because of drugs, alcohol, violence, broken marriages or divorce? Jesus came for the sick. Those who are healthy do not need a physician. Should not the one who is dying receive the Bread of Life?
Questions like these are a constant challenge to Catholics, to Christians who are on this journey on earth. The person to approach is the One, who has the Wisdom of God. Today we have Nicodemus who was a person with a dilemma, a person who was troubled, a person who had questions and genuinely sought answers.
2. Who was this Nicodemus? He was a card carrying member of the School of Pharisees. They were basically good Jews who studied the Law and the Prophets. They made the Torah their floor plan to guide them. They were so good in the knowledge of the Torah, that some of them became arrogant and patronizing.
There was a young Rabbi who came from Nazareth. He spoke with authority and he challenged the Pharisees. This young Rabbi was neither a Scribe nor a Pharisee but had the qualification to be either or both. Nicodemus was disturbed. Was this Rabbi right? We're his fellow Pharisees pushing the envelope? Nicodemus wanted to see him. But he did not want to burn his boats. He would test this Rabbi. If he were a fraud, he, Nicodemus could return to his Pharisees tribe with a clear conscience.
3. In our church today, we find more and more people like Nicodemus. They want to know the truth and they want reasons. It is a healthy growth within the church and it makes for a mature and well-informed Christian. The leaders within our church need to foster and encourage such questions, such challenges.
Gone are the days when the Catholic was simply expected to: "pray, pay and obey”. Our Catholics are better educated, they are more widely read, they expect from the hierarchy a teaching that is substantial and well prepared.
they do not want a homilist who is a stand-up comedian.
They do not want a homilist who is a parrot repeating what is read in the Gospel each Sunday.
They do not want drivel
Like Nicodemus they expect to be challenged.
Our Catholics in the pew, want what Pope Francis says in the Joy of the Gospel. “We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive and a message that cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates the depths of our hearts sustaining and ennobling us. It is the truth that is never out of date, because it reaches a part of us that nothing else can reach. (265) Our Catholics expect to hear and know this treasure. Nothing more, nothing less !
4. And so we find Jesus in this night encounter. There were other people who sought Jesus – Herod for example, and the crowd. Jesus would not give them the time of day. But here was a person genuinely seeking. Jesus would say, “there are other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice.” John 10:16. Tonight Nicodemus would hear the voice of the Shepherd. Jesus would meet Nicodemus and will meet each of us at our time, and at our convenience. But Jesus will not force but only invite us to the Kingdom of God. Matthews Gospel tells us, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” Ch.12
· Here was a Pharisee that was troubled.
· Here was a Pharisee that was seeking.
· Here was a Pharisee in whom there was no guile.
5. And so Jesus will talk to him about deep theological matters. At the conclusion of the encounter, Jesus says those beautiful words which are the most quoted in Scripture: God so loved the world, that he sent his only beloved Son so that whoever believes in him should have everlasting life.
Who could ask for anything more?
Unless you are born again by water and spirit, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God.
Yesterday I spoke about the Man walking on the Water. Today I would like to share with you about a man moved by the Spirit. He is the Man who came to visit at night: Nicodemus.
St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote the Spiritual exercises. One of the main reflections and exercise was called Discernment of Spirits. It happens at two stages in the life of the one making the exercises.
first: when a retreatant is still struggling with sin, the good and evil spirit affect him in different ways. He is trying to change his sinful ways, the Evil spirit tells him to take things easy. Don't worry be happy. You can always do it tomorrow. It tries to create a deceptive calm. The good spirit on the other hand tries to ruffle this calm. "Come on old chap, you can do a better job. Do it now."
Second: when the retreatant is on the way of living a holy and better life, the actions of the spirits are reversed. The evil spirit creates unease and turmoil and discouragement. " who do you think you are? You have failed in the past, you will fail again. How long do you can keep this up. You do not have the stamina" meanwhile the Good Spirit is creating an atmosphere of confidence and support, " You can do it. All you have to do is trust in Jesus."
Our meditation today finds Nicodemus at the second stage. He has kept the Law and listened to the prophets. He is disturbed by the way of behaviour of his fellow Pharisees and so he seeks out Jesus by night.
Appendix: Saint Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus appears three times in the Gospel of John.
He first visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings.(John 3:1–21) The second time Nicodemus is mentioned, he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged.(John 7:50–51).
Finally, Nicodemus appears after the Crucifixion to provide the customary embalming spices, and assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial.(John 19:39–42)
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Homily for 4th March - Day 1 of the Novena - the man who walked on the water (Matthew 14:22-33)
Some 25 years ago, I took a group of Seniors on a Charismatic Workshop to the beautiful island in the Caribbean: Trinidad. At a break in the workshop we went down to the beach for a dip in the sea. All of the seniors were content to just wet their feet and ankles. I told them to be brave and at least come up to their waists in the water. One of the Trinidadian fishermen called me aside and said, “Listen, young man this particular beach is rather dangerous. It has a vicious undercurrent. You might be able to swim, but for the seniors it is rather dangerous.” No sooner had he said that, I too stood just at the water’s edge. In the sea, you have to have a healthy respect for its power and strength.
Jesus is calling Peter to do something dangerous, not just his feet and ankles. Jesus is calling Peter to walk on the water. On another occasion ( LUKE 5:4 ) he tells Peter to launch out into the deep. Jesus was calling Peter to get out of his comfort zone, to do something dangerous. The only difference between the Trinidadian Fisherman and Jesus was that Jesus was the Lord of the Universe. He could and would calm the sea.
Jesus has a call for each one of us. Some he calls to a life as a single Christian in our faith community, others he calls as priests and religious, but the vast majority are called to the vocation of marriage. This is for companionship and for the continuation of the human race. But each of these calls is a gamble. You know that from experience. The married couples here know the joys and the heartaches in married life. Would you get married, if you know that the marriage was going to end in separation or divorce, that your spouse would die within a year of marriage, that children would end in jail, on drugs, commit suicide. Every vocation is a call to walk on the waters. The secret is to keep our eyes on Jesus. The moment Peter took his eyes off the Lord, and concentrated on his own powers and human ability, he sank.
The Call of the Lord is a strong call and a urgent call. It reminds me of the poem of John Masefield, Sea Fever.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; That pretty well sums up the vocation of every Christian.
The Call of Peter and the Call of each one of us, coincidentally is connected with water. A woman speaks of her waters breaking and a child is born. Every child no matter the faith, is a child of God. But we take an added step of being taken to the baptismal font, where in a symbolic and dramatic way – we are born spiritually as Children of God. And with that spiritual birth comes our Call, our vocation. Jesus said to Peter, “Come” – we are called to a three-fold vocation.
1. First at Baptism, we are anointed and called to be Priest, Prophet and King. As priests we are called to offer up in sacrifice the fruits of all creation. Each one of you is a priest as you offer up each day the sacrifices you make. I thought my mother was a great priest. She sacrificed her time, her talent, her career. She was excellent artist and painter and designer. So are you women and men in the church today sacrificing dreams, visions and a moment in the sun for your families, for your friends, for the community its for the church.
2. The second call comes with our very creation and overlaps the first. In our catechism we learnt that Human Beings were made to know God, love God and serve God in this life and be happy with him in the next. Our very existence is to PRAISE GOD. To stop praising is to stop living. We can EXIST, but we do not live. It is the meaning and purpose of our existence. Every move we make, every breathe we take must be oriented to God. There is a beautiful prayer said by the Jesuits: Lord may every thought, word and action of ours today, be directed solely for your greater glory and honour.
3. The third call which is also connected with the first two is articulated so beautifully in the exhortation of Pope Francis on the 24th November 2013, called Evangelii Gaudium. We are called to be messengers of the Joy of the Gospel. The joy of the Good news should exude from everything we do and say and in the manner we interact with others. Pope Francis says, that since it is the Joy of the Gospel, we cannot do this with a face of one who has just come back from a funeral.
Example : If you remember the BBC comedy series in the 70s, On The Buses. There was actor Reg Varney, always up to tricks. His boss was Stephen Lewis, the man who had absolutely no joy in life. Everything was a tragedy. If things could get worse. It always did when Stephen Lewis was on the scene. That was a funeral face. He had the same face in the Last of the summer wine.
Story It is said that during the Summer months, your parish priestFr. Donal Neary and his good Rabbi friend take a weekly trip on a boat on one of the lakes. They talk about the joys and difficulties of their faith communities. This time, Fr. Donal decided to take a fellow priest along. They were just about to untie the boat, when Fr. Donal said, "oh, I forgot my mobile" so he steps out the boat, walks on the water. He gets his mobile. They are about leave, when the Rabbi who loves a cigar, says, I have forgotten the lighter. So he steps out of the boat, walks on the water. He gets his lighter. The young priest is absolutely gobsmacked! Well he thinks if they have the faith so can I. He steps out the boat, and promptly sinks into the water. Not deep, since they are close to the shore. Fr. Donal shakes his head, we should told him where the rocks are placed!
We do not have to look out for rocks. Keep your eyes on Jesus and you will walk on water, on air, through fire, on glass - without a problem
So why do we back away from the Call? Why are we afraid of walking on the water. Each of us dreams of doing something heroic. We want our moment in the sun.
Actually we are no better or worse than the apostles. We are bothered about our own skin. Like the Apostles, James and John we want to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in the Kingdom. Or like Peter, we say, “Lord we have given up all things for you, what will be our reward?” The reason why we do not answer the Call of the Lord quickly and with generosity, is our own selfishness, our own self-centredness. This is constantly saying, “NO” to the call of the Lord. It is not the danger of walking on the water, is not the fear of launching into the deep. We all want the thrill of something exciting. But when I put myself first, the moment I do that, like Peter I begin to sink. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus, and do that and not blink! The moment we blink, we sink.
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Hymn to St Francis Xavier (cantor Margaret Brennan)
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Reflective Music From The Novena (soloist Denise Doyle)
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Video - Fr Donal Neary SJ, parish priest at Gardiner Street Church, explains the Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis Xavier.
Prayer Exercises at the Novena of Grace
The Novena of Grace includes a Meditation in the Jesuit tradition of spiritual exercises. Some of these popular prayer exercises are available on our prayer page.
More about St Francix Xavier
The Story of St Francis Xavier
Reflections from the Feast Day of St Francix Xavier
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THE NOVENA OF GRACE
Donal Neary SJ
An often-quoted memory of centre-city Dublin people is the time when the novena of Grace stopped the traffic. Crowds would come early for the devotions in honour of St Francis Xavier from March 4th – 12th each year. The overflow would block traffic on Gardiner St. The church seating about 900 would be filled, as would the small Ignatian chapel in the building, the corridors and the novena would be relayed to the old St Francis Xavier Hall. Crowds still come to the three sessions in the church, and to the novena which is now held in about twenty Dublin churches. A search on the web gives over 7700 sites mentioning it.
People say things like, ‘St Francis Xavier never let me down’. They come to hear some good homilies, to take part in the prayer before the Mass, to pray for their intentions, as a sort of a Lenten retreat, to join in a community of faith for the nine days. People have been coming for forty, fifty or even sixty years, linking into the faith of their childhood and of their parents and grandparents who always made the novena. They come because they know they will like it, enjoy it and deepen their faith with like-minded people.
This novena originated in Naples, Italy in 1643, when a Jesuit, Matteo Mastrilli, was cured through the intercession of St Francis Xavier, who promised that those who made the nine days of prayer in preparation for the anniversary of his canonisation would receive many graces and favours. Thus the name, Novena of Grace. It was first held in Dublin in 1712, in the church at Mary’s Lane, now in Halston St parish, and began in Gardiner St church in 1832, the year the church was built.
It is simply nine days of prayer, bringing intentions to the Lord and opening ourselves to his grace. Its special focus is on the following of Jesus in the life of St Francis Xavier, listening to the word of God in the Eucharist and following responses to it in the homily.
In Gardiner St there are three sessions each day. Some churches have one or two. It is a quiet, devotional novena. It is not a parish mission, and its essentials are to come to Mass and pray the novena prayer. Basic themes of the christian life are the subject of the homily each night, with reference to the life of St Francis Xavier. At each session there is the novena prayer, where we bring our intention for the novena to God. Why do that?
We come in trust to God that God is interested in our life and in our needs, and in the sadness and sorrow of life. Many intentions are for loved ones – that sons and daughters may come back to practice of faith, that someone may give up drink, drugs or crime. That someone might give up an affair, or find work. People pray for jobs for themselves and for the family. For cures from depression and illness, that family conflicts may be resolved and that loved ones may find peace in life. The petitions cover most human needs and hopes. The novena brings the ordinary yet deep cares of life to God, based on the faith that God does care for our lives and is concerned for us and with what concerns us.
The novena is centered on the liturgy of the Mass, is rooted in the bible in its readings and homilies on the Scriptures; it is focused on Jesus Christ whom Francis Xavier loved and served, and is a popular and communal renewal of people’s faith in people.
Is it old-fashioned? Yes and no. Its tradition is long, some of the hymns are the old favorites, while others are more up to date. The language of the prayer can vary whether the more traditional prayer is used or the modern version. It is traditional in format and contemporary in the message of its inputs. Each Mass in our church ends with a short guided prayer. This prayer with the red lights on the altar at the painting of Xavier in Japan is a popular part of the evening.
The novena presents no magical formula. In good gospel tradition it hears the words of Jesus, ‘ask and you shall receive’, and we ask, knowing that God always gives something through prayer. People say sometimes they have received a particular intention, and this is part of why people come. Other times they get something different - nobody goes away disappointed from God.
Deepening of Faith
I have given the novena now for about twenty years in many places. It is a time for me of deepening my faith in being influenced by the faith of people. It is nine days of living in the fragrance of God and the faith of others, as people give time and space to God in the cares of their lives. It is a devotional time focused on growing in love of God and Jesus for the preacher and the choirs and the ministers as well as those who attend.
The traffic is no longer diverted, but lives are diverted towards God and others. The novena of grace can divert our lives to open ourselves to God’s love and to his call, as seen in the life of Xavier and in the lives of those who make the novena. In introducing us each year to Xavier, we allow his life introduce us to new and refreshing aspects of Jesus Christ, and to discover anew the challenges and love of his gospel in a new century.
Come and see, come and hear and find the Lord Jesus close to you as you give time and space to him over nine days.
First published in Irish Catholic, March 2003.
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