IHS plaque presentation

2014 is the Year of the Holy Name of Jesus in Ireland for the Franciscans and the Poor Clare Federation and the wider Franciscan family. The aim of the Year is simple – to foster a renewed reverence and devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and in so doing to deepen personal love for the Lord Jesus and faithfulness to His Gospel among all people.

The Year commemorates the centenary of the renewal in Ireland of devotion to the Holy Name initiated by Fr Francis Donnelly, OFM. At the end of 1913, he gave a retreat to the Poor Clare Nuns in Galway. The retreat focused on the power of the Holy Name of Jesus and on the devotion and zeal of St. Bernardine of Siena. At the end of the retreat a monogram of the Holy Name, painted by one of the sisters, was hung in the chapel. Around 1918 he got a supply of IHS plaques from Italy and began to promote their use in Ireland. Even today these can be seen over the doors of old houses in those towns associated with Franciscan friaries, especially in the West of Ireland.

As part of the centenary celebrations the local Secular Franciscan Fraternity presented to the parish of Clonoe in Tyrone an IHS plaque.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

The President’s Address at the SFO Assembly at All Hallows. August 2014

Good afternoon good people. You are all very welcome to our Annual Assembly.

We have two themes to celebrate this year. The first is that this is the year of the Holy Name. Breda Casserly tells me that she will have tiles depicting the holy name monogram IHS which can be put over the doors of our houses or in some fitting place. Our other Celebration is that this is the 800th year of the birth of St Louis, King of France and patron of The Secular Franciscans. His emblem was the fleur-de-lis and indeed I have a few hundred little fleurs-de-lis here on my tie but they are not for sale.

People are overwhelmed by the endless list of abuses that are coming to light, each one exploding like a bomb and shaking the hearts of those who hear about it. Let us have no doubt about it, but if the evil one rejoiced in the evils of the past he must be gloating today as people turn away from religion because of them or drift into what Pope John Paul called silent apostasy, as Fr Michael reminded us at Knock.

Your witness to Christ is needed today as it was never needed before. When Our Lord finished the parable of the widow and the evil judge he asked the question: “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Ireland is changing before our eyes and not for the better. The politicians have their fingers on the pulse on population and they see that they can get away with allowing abortion.

Yes indeed, we might ask will the son of Man find faith in Ireland when he comes. We are supposed to be the salt of the earth and a light shining in the darkness. And as I said we are needed as we were never needed before. What can we do about it? Firstly we must not loose hope or direction. God is as true today as he was when he called Abraham, when Moses lead the chosen people out of Egypt, when Jesus died for us and when he called Francis to repair his church. He has his ways. He has called us to join the SFO and given us the task of being his witnesses here. The harvest indeed is great but the labourers are few. This is where we are. Let us not moan and complain about it. This is where we are called to give our witness. I believe that if we pray hard, explore and pray the scriptures, say our office, and try to live the Gospel after the manner of St Francis and do our best God will do the rest.

Our call as followers of Francis is to “repair my church.” If Francis were to walk in the door and ask us who we are and what we are doing what would we say to him?
If he asked us how the good people of Ireland were practicing their religion he might burst into tears, because he was a very emotional person, and say that love was not loved. If he asked us what we were trying to do about it – what could we say?
If he asked us were we still following the rule he made for those in his Third Order Tary McAvee could tell him that we have a new rule now which was approved by Pope Paul the Sixth and explain it to him. I could imagine him exclaiming when she finished “Yes! this is what I want for you with all my heart!”
If he asked us how we were living it what would we say? What would I have to tell him?
If he were to ask us if we invited anybody in the last year to join the SFO what would we say?

Have I any good news at all for you. Yes I have. The SFO is growing and thriving very well in other parts of the world – especially the third and developing word. There are 10,000 members in India. We in Ireland are all growing older and while many have gone to their reward others are taking their places. I had thought that we had 1,000 members Jackie Corr, who is doing great work has told me that we have over 1221 members. That number rang a bell in my mind. I checked it on the internet and found that it was the year St. Francis gave his rule to his followers in the Third Order.

Numbers are not everything We might remember that Francis was all alone and the laughing stock of Assisi when Bernard of Quintavale suspected that he was more than an oddball, invited him to spend the night with him and became his first follower next morning. Francis had only a handful of followers when he walked to Rome to get approval for his movement.

We might wonder if we will have any effect at all but God moves in strange ways and as Jesus said Make your home in me as I make mine in you, says the Lord. Whoever remains in me bears fruit in plenty. (John 15 4.5)

Before our Lord ascended into heaven he told his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. It is unlikely that his disciples had ever heard of Ireland. St Peter later went to Rome where he would have met slaves and Roman soldiers and he may have heard from them of an island far away in the Atlantic at the far side of Britain and if he did he would surely agree that it was at the ends of the earth. That is where you and I are called to be the witness of Jesus today.

If we are the light of the world, as Jesus told his disciples, we must ensure that our lamp is burning ever more brightly. Let us examine our lives and try to root our anything that comes between us and the love of God and Neighbour. Let us avoid squabbles and especially the bitter word. Let us try to live our rule more intensely and apply it to our daily situations. Let us read and pray the scriptures and seek to draw strength and inspiration in them. We are all aware that we must live as pilgrims on our way to the father and strive to purify our hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power – that’s easier said than done and the yearning for power can slide so silently into even the best of hearts.

I hope that you have a very enjoyable weekend and go home refreshed and inspired take on the daily tasks that are involved in following Christ after the manner of St Francis.

Finally, let us never despair because as Jesus said to Jairus he got word that his daughter was dead “Don’t worry. Just have faith.” So let us never despair. Let try to keep our hearts joyful even in the midst of crosses and sorrows. Let us fight the good fight, let us keep the faith and remember what St Francis said “Let us begin again for until now we have done little or nothing.”


Transitus of St Francis

The Transitus of St. Francis will be celebrated next Sunday evening (5th October) at 7 p.m. in St.Brigid’s, Brocagh, Clonoe Parish, Co. Tyrone by the Seven Joys of Our Lady SFO fraternity.

If you don’t have the opportunity to celebrate the Transitus locally you are invited to join us in spirit on Sunday evening by pausing for a few minutes to remember the passing of our seraphic father.





10.30: Arrival/coffee 11.00: Gathering prayer 11.45: Reflection by Sr Julie McGoldrick OSC (Newry) 1.00: Lunch break (please bring a ‘lunch box’! also there are local cafés). 2.00: The launch of The Simplest Prayer: A Book of Love and Faith 3.00: Eucharist (celebrant Kieran Cronin OFM, Vicar Provincial) Friars, Sisters and SFO Members are invited to join this day of celebration! Please let us know if you are joining us. Contact Francis Cotter OFM 086.0235999 fjcofm@yahoo.com SFO fraternities encouraged to come as groups!

Fr Hugh McKenna’s talk on the Holy Name at the National Assembly 23 August 2014

A person’s name is their identity. Protecting and defending a good name, or living up to one’s name are still meaningful concepts in today’s world. A person’s name represents their reputation, their family, their business, their legacy. In some cultures, a name is the most valuable thing they own, and it is dishonourable when their name is tarnished. Since the days of antiquity, people could speak or act ‘in the name of’ someone because the name represents authority and power. Decrees could be issued and oral messages delivered in the name of a king, for example. For Christians, the name of Jesus Christ is the most wonderful and most powerful name in existence. In Psalm 72, although King David was writing about his son, Solomon, he also speaks prophetically of Jesus Christ. Verse 17 says, “His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed.” Jesus Christ has given Christians the right and authority to use his name. This means that Christians have been given the power of attorney. Legally, power of attorney is the authority to act in another person’s behalf, at their request. It is authorization given by one person (Jesus) permitting another (Christians) to take action on his (Jesus Christ’s) behalf. “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13,14) “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23, 24) The name of Jesus Christ is not a magic word. The power is not even in saying words, but in understanding and believing all that the name of Jesus Christ signifies. His name represents all of His finished work on the cross, fulfilling God’s plan of redemption and salvation, victory over sin, death, and over the devil’s entire realm. When the name of Jesus Christ is invoked, it carries all of the power and distinction God gave to it. God raised Jesus from the dead, elevated Him to His right hand, and gave Jesus a name above “every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” (Ephesians 1:21) Philippians declares, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth.” (Philippians 2:9, 10) Hebrews states, regarding Jesus, “when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:3, 4) On the day of Pentecost, the people were deeply moved after Peter’s powerful sermon, and asked, “What do we do?” Peter answered, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) One day Peter and John were going into the temple, when a lame man asked for a donation. Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Later, when interrogated about this healing miracle, Peter was bold in defending the name of Jesus and all it stands for. “Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 3:6, 4:10, 12) It is by faith in this name above all names, the name of Jesus Christ, that people are saved, set free from bondage, healed of sicknesses and diseases, and made whole. There is no other name under heaven more powerful or more significant, and this is a dynamic reality that Christians can believe in and have complete confidence in. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13). As you probably know among the ancient peoples a name was more than just a collection of letters, or a handy designation for someone: it expressed a person’s place in the universe or their destiny. It’s interesting to delve into the meaning of people’s names! My name is an old Germanic name, which means, believe it or not, heart, mind, spirit. Our President’s name Colm comes from Columba, which means dove. Fr Pius’ name means pious or dutiful while Fr Michael’s name means one who is like God! So we all have our names, which somehow attempt to describe us. But St Paul tells us in the letter to the Ephesians that God gave his Son the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father. From all eternity the tiny child born in Bethlehem was given the name Jesus, which means God who saves. This name is not merely a name that Mary and Joseph gave the child – it tells us who he is – the God who saves by becoming man in order to die on the cross for the sins of the world. This name is holy because it comes from the depths of God himself from the beginning of time. From the earliest days of Christianity people began to realise that the name of Jesus was not merely a series of letters, but that it had an intrinsic divine power. Jesus himself tells us: If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it you. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken or displayed the power of Jesus can be called upon to obtain peace, holiness and as a protection from evil. St Stephen, the first martyr, died with the name of Jesus on his lips. The tradition of martyrs dying while calling out the name of Jesus continued with the early martyrs, particularly St Ignatius of Antioch, thrown to the wild beasts by the Emperor Trajan around 110 AD. His devotion inspired St Ignatius of Loyola to call his followers the Society of Jesus and adopt the IHS as the seal of his order. While the martyrs turned to the name of Jesus for strength, once Christian thinkers began writing after the time of persecution, their attention soon centred on devotion to the name of Jesus. St Gregory Nazianzen wrote, around 380, of the need to respect the Holy Name, a mighty power to use against the devil. At the same time St Ambrose, in giving the role of various parts of the body, wrote of the knees having the duty of bending to the Holy Name, the powerful Name given to us by the Father. His contemporary, St Augustine, often mentions devotion to the Holy Name, a name that only those who genuinely love Him can pronounce. We must taste the Holy Name in order to experience its sweetness. Augustine also warns us never to take the name of the Lord Jesus in vain. In doing so we will sound like boisterous frogs with a raucous croak, as in the second Plague in Egypt. Writing around 440 St Peter Chrysologus wrote a classic passage on the Holy Name that was often quoted right through the Middle Ages. “You shall call His name Jesus, because in this Name we adore the entire majesty of the Godhead. All who dwell in the heavens, those who abide upon the earth, and every one of those who are held in the depths of hell, bow down prostrate to this Name. This is the Name which gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, agility to the lame, speech to the mute and life to the dead. The power of this Name forced the mastery of the devil entirely from the bodies of the possessed.” By 500 the normal conclusion of prayers in the liturgy had become variants of “through Jesus Christ Our Lord”. While theologians and preachers continued to stress the importance of the Holy Name, the next major figure to spread that devotion was St Barnard of Clairvaux, who died in 1153. He was a great friend of St Malachy of Armagh. Later authors often quote him. He describes the Holy Name as the Name most excellent, the Name above every other Name. “It is salvation, unction and glory. It enlightens when it is preached, nourishes when it is contemplated and soothes when it is invoked. The food of the soul will be dry unless it is seasoned with the oil of the Holy Name. The Name of Jesus is honey in our mouths, melody to our ears and jubilation in our hearts.” Despite the friendship between Malachy and Bernard, devotion to the Holy Name does not seem to have entered the Irish devotional tradition during the Middle Ages. There is great devotion to the Crucified Christ. The instruments of the Passion frequently appear in art rather than any variant of IHS. Moving into the thirteenth century, that friend of St Francis, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), was very devoted to the Holy Name and developed an imagery that remained popular for at least five centuries. He pointed out that the Holy Name had two syllables, five letters, three vowels and two consonants. He saw the two syllables as a sign of the two natures of Jesus, human and divine. The three vowels indicate the place of Jesus in the Trinity. The two consonants point to the two elements of Christ’s humanity, the body and soul. It was also under Innocent III that permission was given for the first time to celebrate a Mass of the Holy Name. Forty years later an office of the Holy Name was approved. Finally bowing the head when the name of Jesus occurred in the liturgy came during the Council of Lyons in 1274. Saint Francis had a most tender love for the holy name. On Christmas Eve 1223 Francis preached at Mass and Friar Thomas of Celano tells us: Francis proclaimed the Name of the new-born Saviour with such sweetness and such fire, such tenderness and such devotion as to move the hearts of all who heard him. Following St Francis, St Anthony of Padua took up the theme of the Holy Name. In his sermon on the Circumcision, commenting on the text that His name was called Jesus, Anthony called it: “O Name of sweetness, O Name of delight, O Name of blessed hope and of strength for the sinner.” Returning to the text, “Your Name is as oil poured out,” Anthony notes that oil has five functions. “It floats upon all other liquids, indicating that the Name of Jesus is above all other names. It is an emollient, it sweetens, it illuminates and it satiates. Thus preachers can use it to soften the hardest of hearts. It will sweeten the bitterest of temptations. As you think of it, it will illuminate your heart. Read it and your mind will be filled. In another place he talks about how sweet is the bitterness and how trifling the tribulation which the humble soul undergoes for the Name of Jesus.” Finally Anthony talks of the rays of the sun being the poverty and humility, the patience and the obedience of Jesus Christ. Some see this as the beginning of the tradition, later taken up by St Bernardine of Sienna, of surrounding the sacred monogram with the golden rays of the sun. St Bonaventure often turns to that “powerful, gracious, joyous, delicious and glorious Name which is loveable, venerable and desirable above all else. It is well-sounding, charming, redolent and opulent.” It is through the power of the Holy Name that the world is created, sustained and ruled. We should show our love for this Name by doing everything in word and work in the Name of Jesus, undergoing suffering and persecution for that Name’s sake. In the 14th century the great English mystic Richard Rolle wrote extensively on the power of the Holy Name. He said: “If you think on the name Jesus continually and hold it stably, it purges your sin and kindles your heart.” There were many others who popularised devotion to the Holy Name in the middle ages, such as Walter Hilton, but it was our own Bernardine of Siena who spread the devotion so successfully. At the end of his sermons Bernardine would display the IHS monogram and ask the congregation to adore the Redeemer of mankind. Some people thought this was a little unorthodox so he was reported to Pope Martin V. However, the Pope encouraged the devotion and from then on the IHS monograms appeared all over Italy over the doorways of people’s homes. And as we celebrate this year, one hundred years ago Fr Francis Donnelly introduced the devotion to Galway and subsequently to Ennis and Cork. Listen to St Bernardine: The Name of Jesus is a remedy for our infirmities; it gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, nimbleness to the lame, speech to the mute, life to the dead . . . When you feel some suffering, you or yours, without neglecting natural remedies, have recourse to the Name of Jesus . . . I have learned from witnesses worthy of faith that in our days, many have laid their hands on the sick, according to the divine precept, and have invoked the Name of Jesus, and those illnesses were healed. As the Prophet says, “He saved them for His Name’s sake, to make known His power.” [Psalm 105: 7-8] The Name of Jesus is the comfort of those who suffer. God does not let His servants fall in temptation, yet He exposes them to the pains of life. But then, far be it from us to despair! Let us not forget the sweet Name of Jesus, let us invoke it especially then. Saint Augustine says, “The Name of Jesus, written in the heart of the just, gives them an astonishing boldness to counter the blows of every woe.” Before her judge Saint Agatha exclaimed, “If you threaten me with ferocious beasts, they will become tame at the Name of Jesus; if you use fire against me, at that Name the Angels will surround me with life-giving dew.” By virtue of that Name, the Martyrs overcame every torment: “Through Your Name we trampled down Your adversaries; our help is in the Name of the Lord.” [Psalm 143: 6; 123:8] [[The Name of Jesus is the help of the weary soul. Saint Bernard says, “Each time you remember the Name of Jesus, do you not feel your strength reborn?” Who restores our mind like this remembrance? Who repairs our weary senses, reconfirms our virtues, vitalizes our good and honest actions, gives warmth back to our pure affections as much as He? May the Name of Jesus be always placed in your soul, always borne in your hands: in Him you will find a remedy for your indolence, a remedy to correct your evil acts and lift up those that are imperfect, a remedy to keep your senses from corruption and heal them if they become corrupted . . .]] Saint John Paul II wrote: Jesus was the name given by the angel before Christ’s birth. It was the name by which our Lord was known in His family and among His friends in Nazareth. Exalted by the crowds and invoked by the sick during the years of His public ministry, it calls to mind His identity and mission as Saviour. In fact “Jesus” means “God saves”. A blessed name, which also proved to be a sign of contradiction, it was written on the Cross in justification of His death sentence – “Jesus, King of the Jews”. But this name, in the supreme sacrifice of Golgotha, shone forth as a life-giving name in which God offers the grace of reconciliation and peace to all. In this name the Church finds her whole good, she invokes it unceasingly; she proclaims it with ever new ardour. It is the divine name which alone brings salvation “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Himself shows us the saving power of His name, giving us this consoling certitude: “If you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name” (John 16:23). Thus whoever calls with faith on the name of Jesus can have an experience similar to the one mentioned by the Evangelist Luke when he remarks that the crowd sought to touch Jesus, “for power came forth from Him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19). Let us learn lovingly to repeat the Holy Name of Jesus, invoking the name of Jesus with adoring love, putting it at the centre of our prayer. With what motherly tenderness must the Blessed Virgin have pronounced Jesus’ name! In the prayer that the Church addresses to her with the Hail Mary, she is associated with the very blessing of her Son: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”. Let Mary put on our lips and impress on our hearts this most holy Name from which comes our salvation. Today we gather to rekindle in our own hearts that love for the most holy name of Jesus that our ancestors understood so well. We invoke the name of Jesus so easily and very often so carelessly without realising the significance and power of the name – a name which has been in the heart of God from all eternity – a name that has been venerated down through the centuries. We bless ourselves in this name, we celebrate the sacraments in this name and we pray in this name. If this Year of the Holy Name is to be of lasting value to us we must do more than just bow our heads whenever we hear His Name. We need to rediscover the true power of this name. We need to spend time in contemplation of this name. One very practical way, which is recommended by the Catechism, is the ancient practice of the Jesus prayer. This prayer, which goes back to the 5th century desert fathers involves the repetition of the simple prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Or when we pray the Rosary, pause in reverence at the mention of the Holy Name. St Francis was so filled with love for the Holy Name that at the end of his life Friar Thomas of Celano could write: He was always with Jesus: Jesus in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, he bore Jesus always in his whole body. May this Jubilee Year increase our love for the Holy Name of Jesus and may we too, whatever we are doing, be aware of His presence and his power in our lives.

Litany of the Holy Name

Lord, have mercy Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy Lord, have mercy
God our Father in heaven have mercy on us
God the Son, have mercy on us
Redeemer of the world have mercy on us
God the Holy Spirit have mercy on us
Holy Trinity, one God have mercy on us
Jesus, Son of the living God have mercy on us
Jesus, splendor of the Father have mercy on us
Jesus, brightness of everlasting light have mercy on us
Jesus, king of glory have mercy on us
Jesus, dawn of justice have mercy on us
Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary have mercy on us
Jesus, worthy of our love have mercy on us
Jesus, worthy of our wonder have mercy on us
Jesus, mighty God have mercy on us
Jesus, father of the world to come have mercy on us
Jesus, prince of peace have mercy on us
Jesus, all-powerful have mercy on us
Jesus, pattern of patience have mercy on us
Jesus, model of obedience have mercy on us
Jesus, gentle and humble of heart have mercy on us
Jesus, lover of chastity have mercy on us
Jesus, lover of us all have mercy on us
Jesus, God of peace have mercy on us
Jesus, author of life have mercy on us
Jesus, model of goodness have mercy on us
Jesus, seeker of souls have mercy on us
Jesus, our God have mercy on us
Jesus, our refuge have mercy on us
Jesus, father of the poor have mercy on us
Jesus, treasure of the faithful have mercy on us
Jesus, Good Shepherd have mercy on us
Jesus, the true light have mercy on us
Jesus, eternal wisdom have mercy on us
Jesus, infinite goodness have mercy on us
Jesus, our way and our life have mercy on us
Jesus, joy of angels have mercy on us
Jesus, king of patriarchs have mercy on us
Jesus, teacher of apostles have mercy on us
Jesus, master of evangelists have mercy on us
Jesus, courage of martyrs have mercy on us
Jesus, light of confessors have mercy on us
Jesus, purity of virgins have mercy on us
Jesus, crown of all saints have mercy on us
Lord, be merciful Jesus, save your people
From all evil Jesus, save your people
From every sin Jesus, save your people
From the snares of the devil Jesus, save your people
From your anger Jesus, save your people
From the spirit of infidelity Jesus, save your people
From everlasting death Jesus, save your people
From neglect of your Holy Spirit Jesus, save your people
By the mystery of your incarnation Jesus, save your people
By your birth Jesus, save your people
By your childhood Jesus, save your people
By your hidden life Jesus, save your people
By your public ministry Jesus, save your people
By your agony and crucifixion Jesus, save your people
By your abandonment Jesus, save your people
By your grief and sorrow Jesus, save your people
By your death and burial Jesus, save your people
By your rising to new life Jesus, save your people
By your return in glory to the Father Jesus, save your people
By your gift of the holy Eucharist Jesus, save your people
By your joy and glory Jesus, save your-people
Christ, hear us Christ, hear us
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer Lord Jesus, hear our prayer
Lamb of God, you take away
the sins of the world have mercy on us
Lamb of God, you take away
the sins of the world have mercy on us
Lamb of God, you take away
the sins of the world have mercy on us


Let us pray.
Lord, may we who honor the holy name of Jesus enjoy his friendship in this life and be filled with eternal joy in the kingdom where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.




Fr Pius’ Homily at the SFO National Assembly 24 August 2014

21st Sunday Cycle A. Matthew 16:13-20.
Pius Mclaughlin, OFM

There is a beautiful story told about a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his rucksack with bags of crisps and some coca-cola cans and then started out on his journey.

When he had gone about a mile, he met and old woman sitting on a bench in the park, talking to some pigeons. The boy sat next to her and opened his rucksack. He was about to take a drink from is coca-cola when he noticed the old lady looked a bit hungry, so he offered her some crisps. She gratefully accepted them and smiled. Her smile was so pretty that they boy wanted to see it again, so he offered some cola. Again she smiled at him and the boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling but they never said a word.

As dusk approached, the boy realized how tired he was and got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old woman and gave here a hug. She gave him the biggest smile ever.

When the boy arrived back home his mother was greatly worried and was about to scold him when she noticed the look of joy and smiles on his face. “What did you do today that made you so happy”? He replied, “I had lunch with God” And before his mother could respond, he added, “And you know what? She’s got the biggest smile I have ever seen”,

Meanwhile the old woman, also radiant with joy returned to her home where she lived with her son and his wife. Her son was amazed at the look of peace on her face and asked, “Mum, what did you do today that made you so happy. She replied slowly, “I ate crisps in the park with God”. Before her son could reply, she added. “You know, he’s much younger than I expected”

Who do you say I am? In the Gospel I’ve just read, Jesus asks his disciples a burning question. He wanted to know what they were saying about him and who it was that they thought he was…so struggling with answers, the disciples tried to share their thoughts.. So what about us?

What does Jesus look like?. We don’t know what he looked like, although we can get some idea by studying what a Jewish man in his early thirties, looked like during the time Jesus lived. We might be surprised at what we find……….

Without a doubt, the person who has been depicted in art the most down through the centuries is Jesus. We have seen pictures of Jesus in Bibles and Bible storybooks, all of them radically different in how they depict him.
Rembrandt’s Jesus is very human, gentle and kind-looking. Typical of Rembrandt…. a lot of light and shadow is associated with Jesus
El Greco’s Jesus is a striking, lean somewhat wild and demanding Jesus. He is portrayed here as the judge and ruler of the world – severe, starring as if he can see straight through
Fra Angelico portrays Jesus as sweet, soft and angelic Raphael paints Jesus with innocent boyish features
There is Jesus, the Good Shepherd – loving, smiling , caring – protecting, gentle and kind… In literature Jesus has been viewed in a wide variety of ways. In both art and literature there are so many images of Jesus and so many ideas about what kind of person Jesus was.
What Jesus’ physical appearance was like is anyone’s guess. Of all those who have painted portraits of Jesus maybe one of them has come close but we will never know (not in this lifetime anyway). So far as who Jesus is regarding his divinity, his work as saviour, his ministry, life, death and resurrection, these are well documented in scripture.

In our Gospel today, Jesus casually asks the disciples “Who do people say I am?”The reply came, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah (because it was believed Elijah would return) while others say Jeremiah (the prophet of gloom and doom) or some other prophet.”
People who had witnessed Jesus work miracles, listened carefully when he taught about the Kingdom of God…. heard him speak harshly at first to a Canaanite woman and then observed his extraordinary care and compassion….these were all trying to work out who this man from Nazareth really was and came up with all kinds of suggestions.
Jesus wasn’t interested in conducting a popularity poll about what the crowds thought of him. He wasn’t looking for information either? He was more interested in helping his close circle of friends to be quite clear about who he is. He asks the disciples straight out, “What about you? Who do you think I am?” He is asking “Who am I for YOU?” What do I mean to YOU?
The question is more like a question that a husband might ask his wife or vice versa, for example, “Are we two people who just happen to live together or do we have something in common?” Or the kind of question someone might ask a friend concerning whether or not the questioner has made a difference insofar as the other person shares the same dreams /hopes that the friend asks of his or her friend.
Let’s change Jesus’ Question, “Who do you say I am?” to “Who am I for you?” Now, if I’m right about the meaning of Jesus’ question. And if this question applies as much to us as it did to his first disciples, then it’s a pretty important question. How does each of us answer that question? Obviously, all of our answers will be different and indeed we can sometimes be blinded by our own prejudices, our own religious background or those groups or people don’t fit into our picture of Jesus. **STORY of LITTLE GIRL in ART Class…
The art teacher allowed her class to draw anything that came to mind and as she walked around the room she was amazed at some of the drawings. She came to one little girl working furiously and asked her what she was drawing….She replied “I’m drawing God” so teacher said, “Well, you can’t really do that”. “Why not?” asked the little girl. “Because no one has seen God or knows what God looks like. The little girl looked at the teacher with grim determination and said “They’ll know when I’m finished!!”
This question of Who is Jesus?…… is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.”When it comes down to it what is the one thing that makes Christians, Christian?” The thing that makes us who we are is who Jesus is. Jesus Christ is Christianity. Other faiths have love; have beliefs about the good and the true, Only Christianity has Jesus.” Jesus was always passionately concerned about breaking down barriers between the fit and unfit. During his ministry, he crossed boundaries by bringing together people who otherwise would have remained distant from one another. Jesus mission and passion was to include, not exclude, others.
Of course, if we really want to get an idea of who Jesus is and whether or not we are answering the question as Jesus understood himself, – we need to think about what he said and did in his life that he thought was important. His preaching and living out his Gospel way of Life was his call for all of us to live and belong to the “Kingdom of God”
Christianity is not just a collection of truths to be believed or laws to be obeyed….No, Christianity is a person…Christianity is Christ. Perhaps it should be added that Christianity is the only religion where the God of the universe will do anything to reach out to every person on this planet with love, compassion and forgiveness.

We have all come across various images of God in our own lives which can influence the ways in which we relate to ourselves, to others and to God. – maybe an old man with a beard, a disappearing God never around to prevent bad things happening, a cruel God, and absent God a God who has no time for fun and play, a God who offers conditional love. The images are endless depending where we are coming from or where we are at in our lives. If that’s the way we are, then it’s time to reflect on the question again “Who do you say I am” It might be helpful to explore some of the distorted image we have and forever cast them out of our lives as being false and untrue of the God we believe in………
I don’t believe in a God who can forgive some of my wanderings and not others. I don’t believe in a God who retaliates and gets his own back, who makes me suffer for my mistakes and failings. I don’t believe in a God who judges me, keeps records in his little black book and instills fear in people. I don’t believe in a God who gloats over my mishaps and tells me “it serves you right”. I don’t believe in a God who is solemn, conservative, boring, no fun or life within – who is found only in Churches. I don’t believe in a God who is never around when natural disasters happen, who sets up traps for me. I certainly don’t and never will believe in a God who doesn’t love me, who doesn’t believe in me and care for me – who is incapable of healing and hope in every situation. NO, THE GOD I BELIEVE IN IS THE OTHER GOD… the one who ……. Through his son Jesus, has come down to our level, walked the earth, experienced what it is really like to see and meet people caught up in sin and the havoc that it causes in our lives, and was even willing to suffer and die to make things right again between God and us. So Now….who do you say Jesus is for you?
So now, along with Peter we too confess “ You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”….. and as Franciscans we pledge to carry on his vision of being bearers of the Good News and the Joy of the lived Gospel. To use Francis’ words “being Heralds of the great King and Troubadours of the Lord”
And so we pray from our hearts …………….
“Stay with me Jesus because I need you….Let me recognize you as Your disciples did at the Breaking of the Bread, so that my communion will be the light that disperses the darkness. Stay with me Lord, and give me the gift of awareness, of your presence within me always”. Amen.