Desmond Knowles, parish priest in Dromore diocese, presents this collection of straight-forward homilies followed by prayers of the faithful for Cycle A. Easily understood by a regular Sunday congregation.
The Season of Advent
The Season of Christmas
The Season of Lent and Palm Sunday
The Season of Easter
Some special occasions during the year:
First Sunday in Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5; Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14; Gospel: Matthew 24:37-44
Advent is upon us again and another year of Christian worship begins with the story of the coming of the Lord. It affords us an opportunity to reflect on the longing and hope within the hearts of Jewish people for the arrival of a Messiah and Saviour. The birth of Jesus, which on the surface seemed an ordinary and everyday occurrence, was an event so far beyond expectation and belief that the Israelites needed a long period of preparation for it. During that time, God sent many messengers and prophets to instruct, guide, encourage and chastise his chosen people. And last of all, when the time was ready, the Almighty sent his Son into the world. Nothing like it ever happened before and nothing like it will ever happen again until Christ returns in glory.
We tend to see Advent as a past event, recalling the birth of Christ but if we fail to move forward from this starting point to Christ coming in glory, our Christmas celebration will be out of focus. A proper celebration of Advent recalls the past, celebrates the present, and yet looks to the future coming of Christ with joyful hope and confidence. Perched on the edge of another New Year we are invited to look at our world with the eyes of faith and realise that God has a plan and a vision for all of us.
The readings present us with a challenge, to look at life and to begin living with a new perspective. In keeping with the season’s note of expectation, they rivet our attention on the breaking of God into human history. Isaiah’s vision of a new future echoes in all our hearts as he looks forward with hope and expectation to glorious times ahead. He dreams of swords being cast into ploughshares, of unity among nations and of all peoples walking together in the peace of the Lord, who is calling us back home. It is an invitation addressed to each and every one of us. Paul encourages us to lead good and upright lives as the dawn of salvation is upon us. In the gospel passage,Matthew is referring to the final coming of Jesus in glory and sets his call on perpetual watchfulness, to be ready for that moment on which our eternal destiny will depend. Since there is no precise forewarning as to when that event will take place, it is important to get ready here and now and not be caught idly napping in careless disregard for God, as were the people in Noah’s day who were swept away in the great flood. Things happen when we least expect. The main thrust of the message is to be vigilant, to rectify our way of life, to admit the need to make a Christian contribution and have a proper lifestyle. A useful reminder of something we would rather forget, is that part of the gospel tradition which tells us that each one of us after death comes face to face in judgement with our God. On that occasion we will be alone and held personally accountable for our life. Busy as we are with our daily activity, we tend to put the thought of that encounter at the back of our minds, giving it scant attention instead of using it as a benchmark and a horizon against which to measure our lives. The gospel warns us against being lulled into a false sense of security, living with only the minimal concern for how our actions appear in God’s eyes.
Advent is a joyful celebration of the condition we find ourselves in as Christians. It announces that God is always moving towards us. He is at work in the world and in our lives, ever creative and ever renewing. The Lord comes to us every day if we are properly disposed, in prayer, in events and in other people. The good news is that we are pilgrims on the move and are going home to God’s house. The only worthwhile baggage to carry on that journey is good works and acts of loving service performed for Christ. The liturgy invites us to allow this future hope to shape our present lives. It’s an invitation to see our life as a preparation for the great call home. We have the assurance that in Christ God has opened up for us a future hope in a life beyond our time. This seasonal call, proposing a deep change in values, beckons us to look forward to Christ’s return in glory. We need to find the time and space to stop, reflect and recognise the hope we have been given in Jesus Christ. Without repentance, forgiveness and renewal there can be no real Christmas Joy.
Prayer of the Faithful
Celebrant: As we enter the Season of Advent, we place our petitions before God the Father as we await the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ.
1. That the Holy Father, bishops and priests may be aware of their unique mission of proclaiming Christ who is the light of the world. Lord, hear us.
2. As we prepare spiritually during these weeks of Advent, we pray that our hearts may be filled with joyful anticipation. Lord, hear us.
3. That the longing in our hearts for lasting happiness may be fulfilled by following our Saviour on the road which he travelled from the crib to the cross. Lord, hear us.
4. For the sick, the lonely, the discouraged and the heart broken, that they may find strength and hope in the love God has for each of his children. Lord, hear us.
5. That those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, may now rest from their labours and that their good works may go before them. Lord, hear us.
Heavenly Father, you so loved the world that you sent your Son, Jesus Christ to redeem us. Help us to stand ready for his coming, so that we may rejoice forever in the happiness of heaven. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Second Sunday in Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10; Second Reading: Romans 15: 4-9; Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
The spotlight is on John the Baptist as a fiery desert preacher who captures the imagination of his fellow Israelites. He came on the scene when the people had been without a messenger from God for a long period. At an early age John was inspired by the spirit of God to leave home, go into the wilderness and adopt the lonely lifestyle of a hermit. There he settled down to an ascetical discipline of prayer, penance and fasting in the Palestinian desert around the region of the Dead Sea. As a recluse in the wilderness he gave his full attention to the word of God and the things of the spirit. The only interruption from this life of prayer was time out to preach to the crowds who travelled from the surrounding area eager to listen to his message. It was an extraordinary tribute to his charismatic power that people flocked long distances to hear him preach. His words carried little comfort as he spoke the truth bluntly, sparing no one and blasting everything that was false. Addressing the religious leaders who came out to be baptised he confronted them with their hypocrisy and chided them for their complacency in presuming that because they were children of Abraham, God would be on their side. John was foolhardy enough to describe the religious establishment of his time as a brood of vipers. He warned them that God’s strict judgement was close at hand and that nobody’s salvation was guaranteed. The aim of his preaching was to get back to basics by challenging people to look deep into themselves, to search for God and have concern for others. Apart from Jesus he was the most powerful religious force in the first century and is now one of the most revered saints in the church.
As a patron of the Advent season, John reminds us that if God is to come into our lives we have to prepare for his arrival by mending our ways. Through the words of Matthew’s gospel We hear him calling us to conversion inviting us to take a journey inwards, to the spiritual self, which is thirsting and hungering for God. Unfortunately, the hustle and bustle of each day puts us under such stress that we are inclined to live on the surface of things with precious little time to reflect on what is most important in life. Christ’s hope is coming to us all of the time and we receive it when we open the door to him in prayer but we should be careful not to let this living contact wither. We need to make this Advent journey to get in touch with ourselves and with our God.
Every age of Christianity has something to learn from John the Baptist and from his message about the need for purification of the heart and for making a new start. Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process so it is never too late to begin the journey or to pick it up where we left off. Advent promises us fresh possibilities, opens up new horizons and invites us into a world that offers a better way of living. As the weeks before Christmas pass, Johns’ words echo in the emptiness of our hearts and we sense a need to reach out to God for grace and to give him a fuller place in our lives. It is a call to spend a little time contemplating the mystery of the Lord made man, which is the heart of the Christmas story.
This is a disturbing gospel, puncturing the pretence of those who have settled for a merely comfortable religion and are unaware of how far they have drifted from God. There is a struggle involved in making the life of Christ come alive in our hearts. Among other things Advent means admitting our sinful past, reaching out for divine mercy and seeing our work as an occasion for service. Every time we show compassion or work for peace and reconciliation we too are sharing in the Advent vision of John the Baptist. If we care to look, we can see this spirit of Advent reflected all around us in parents who sacrifice so much to meet the needs of their children, in home helps who care and share the pain of the house-bound and whose visits are a sacrament of God’s presence. The spirit of the Lord is with us to give us the encouragement and the strength we need to make our surroundings more Christ-like. Advent is a time when the Lord’s grace is poured upon his church so that we can all be renewed, refreshed and replenished.
Prayer of the Faithful
Celebrant: Having listened to the message of John the Baptist challenging us to renew our lives and bring them into harmony with the gospel, we now pray to our Heavenly Father.
1. For the Church, that it may always shine as a light in the darkness and be a path for all who seek the Lord in the midst of life. Lord, hear us.
2. For our community gathered here, that this Advent season will be a time of blessing, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Saviour. Lord, hear us.
3. Let us prepare for Christ’s coming by praying for a spirit of reconciliation between ourselves and those we have offended. Lord, hear us.
4. That the frail, the lonely and the sick may find in those around them the love, support and comfort they need. Lord, hear us.
5. That those who have recently departed this life may rest peacefully with God and may those who mourn their loss find solace and peace during this Advent season. Lord, hear us.
God of peace and joy, with humble hearts we ask you to hear our needs. Help us to know your will for each of us and accept in faith whatever it brings. We make our prayer through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Third Sunday in Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-6a; Second Reading: James 5:7-10; Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
There seems to have been the slightest hint of confusion among John the Baptist and his followers as to who Jesus really was. John, whose only home since childhood had been the open desert, was languishing in captivity in Herod’s dungeon cell and that was not an altogether nice place to be. John the Baptist, who had never known doubt, was puzzled and was having second thoughts about the identity of the Messiah because Jesus seemed different from what he had expected. Walled up in prison and waiting for a brutal and senseless death, he was wondering about Jesus because the truth and worth of his life’s work depended on the answer. The tone of Jesus’ message, indeed his lifestyle, differed so much from his own that it raised some doubts and misgivings. Was Jesus really the Messiah or had he made a mistake in pointing him out? A stern and committed man, John had his own idea of how the Messiah would appear and expected his arrival with fire and whirlwind to crush the foes of God, shake off the rule of Rome and rid Israel of the Scribes and Pharisees. To his distress John was getting reports that Jesus was making no move in this direction. Instead Jesus had embarked on a different style of mission and was turning out to be a substantially different Messiah than was expected. Unlike his recluse cousin, Jesus was mixing freely with his fellow Israelites and socialising with life’s losers, the down and outs of Jewish society. He was spending his days journeying through the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching not the wrath of God but mercy, healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and love. Great prophet though he was, John was experiencing a crisis of faith and could not grasp the true nature of the Messiah’s mission. Small wonder that he sent messengers to Jesus to enquire and find out who the Messiah was and why all these things were happening. Even though he was honoured with the task of announcing the coming of the Messiah, John was in the dark and couldn’t grasp the true identity of Jesus.
We can almost sense the exasperation and the frustration of John’s mind in the blunt question his followers put to Jesus. ‘Are you the one who is to come or have we got to wait for someone else?’ In his reply Jesus hearkens back to Isaiah who spoke of comfort, healing and love. ‘Just tell John that the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear’ and let him decide for himself and draw his own conclusions. Jesus is saying: ‘See what I have done, put your trust in me and don’t lose heart.’ The messengers return to John with joy and excitement at the good news that the Messianic age has dawned. The Messiah and Redeemer is in the world proclaiming that humankind can be saved and healed only by the power of God’s love.
Like John we experience moments of darkness, doubt, despair and anxious expectation as events in our own lives, or perhaps in the life of one of our children, do not work out the way we had planned. When our hopes are dashed and our dreams shattered, we lose heart and the feeling that we are living in a wasteland with a bleak future may tempt us to look elsewhere for meaning. At these critical times we need reassurance to continue believing that our individual path in life is a walk with God, that our future is in his hands and is perfectly safe in his presence. No matter how hard and rocky the road, once we let God into our lives we experience his strength and are surprisingly filled with peace, freedom and joy. Every challenge undergone, every test passed, every cross carried makes us stronger. The message of Advent is that we should wait patiently for the Lord to come into our lives. Everything has its moment and being patient is part of the process of life. In a world filled with instant answers and quick fix solutions, it’s hard to be patient. However, you can’t rush nature and you can’t hurry God. He works in our lives in his own time and takes nature’s gifts and builds on them with grace. With our co-operation he can heal our wounds, free us from anxiety and give us a peace that the world cannot give. Just as Jesus invited John to trust in him, so does he call on us to be faithful in our life’s work.
Prayer of the Faithful
Celebrant: As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we confidently place our needs before God the Father.
1. That the leaders of the church will always keep faith and be a beacon of joy and hope in a troubled world. Lord, hear us.
2. We pray for those who live without hope and suffer loneliness, heartache or homelessness, that they might find comfort and shelter through the concern of others. Lord, hear us.
3. That the celebration of Christ’s birth will bring a renewed desire into the hearts of all people to work for and live in peace with one another. Lord, hear us.
4. That parents may follow the example of John the Baptist in pointing out Christ and preparing his way in the lives of their children. Lord, hear us.
5. For all who have lived the word of God in their lives and have now gone to their eternal reward that they may rejoice eternally in heaven. Lord, hear us.
Father, in your love, listen to our prayers and make us, like John the Baptist, fearless and humble witnesses of your Son’s teaching throughout the world. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Fourth Sunday in Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14; Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7; Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
Advent is running out of time and Christmas is almost upon us. The readings invite us to step aside for a while from the hustle and bustle of the commercial word to reflect on the events leading up to that first night in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Matthew views the story of the birth of Jesus through the eyes of Joseph and gives us a remarkable insight into his personality. The ideal that Jesus expressed when he said ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it’ was deeply challenged when Joseph learned the news that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant. There was nothing straightforward about this situation since they had not been living together as husband and wife. It was traumatic news and Joseph wondered how this could be. Faced with such a real dilemma and a crisis of intimacy, he felt cheated, embarrassed, hurt, and left out. As he struggled with this extraordinary happening, his heart must have been heavy and his dreams shattered. However he did not act rashly but responded to the situation with a generous and open heart.
Afraid, confused and unsure he prepared his course of action and made a lonely decision. Being an honourable and upright man of God, he planned to act quietly and chose a way that would shield Mary from scorn and save her from public embarrassment. But before he put his plan into action Joseph was taken into confidence by the appearance of God’s messenger who came in a dream to explain Mary’s uprightness and the divine origin of the baby. Joseph listened to God’s word and through the angel’s message allowed his life to be influenced and directed to God’s will and acted accordingly. As head of the household Joseph had the specific role of naming the child. Moved by God’s inner prompting, he accepted Mary as his wife and adopted her child as his own.
There wasn’t much that was comfortable and cosy about Joseph’s decision to hear and obey the word of God. He was what we would describe as an ordinary working class man called on to respond to God’s extraordinary plan. Like any parent he had to cope with the same fears, worries and bitter disappointments that come to every home. His relationship with God must have been close because in this time of crisis he trusted God’s word and co-operated with God in a decisive manner. Anguished he may have been and he may not have understood all that was happening, but he had come to realise that the hand of God was in everything, taking care of all things and he put his trust in this power. He was open to the Spirit at work in his soul and ready to turn his life upside down each time he heard God’s call.
We can learn from this aspect of his character how to respond to God who communicates with us in the challenging situations of life. Nowadays, the vast majority of people are unaware of the religious significance of Christmas. They view it as a break from work in the wilds of mid-winter. It is our destiny to live in a world of unbelief and confusion where difficulties arise at every turn. With God’s help Joseph got it right and so will we. Once we believe like Joseph and humbly surrender to God, there is no limit to what he can achieve in our own very ordinary lives. Christmas is a time for remembering and showing gratitude to those people who helped us out during the year. Let’s not forget to show them the recognition that they deserve.
The basis of our Christmas hope is that not only is there a God who made the heavens and the earth but he is here with us now in the flesh offering us peace and reconciliation. We all have something unresolved in our lives that quietly eats away at us, disturbing our peace and our ability to show true love for others. As we approach this great feast of Christmas can we say like Joseph that we are ready to rely on God’s help and guidance when we sorely need to be reconciled to another family member? Joseph’s silent presence in the gospel is a testimony of God’s great love for all the poor, humble and just people down through the ages, who are quietly faithful to trusting and relying on God in good times and in bad. As Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’
Prayer of the Faithful
Celebrant: Mindful that God the Father speaks to us in various circumstances, we pray that we may hear his voice and listen to his message.
1. That the church and all those who give direction within it will continue to be a light guiding the faithful on the way to everlasting life. Lord, hear us.
2. That those who are living under the shadow of fear and worry may feel the presence of Mary walking with them in their distress. Lord, hear us.
3. In this time of giving and receiving, may Mary’s openness be an example to us of how to receive God’s gifts and in our turn, share what we have with those who are in need. Lord, hear us.
4. That the sick and housebound may be helped by people with caring hands and loving hearts, helping to ease their burdens and comfort their distress. Lord, hear us.
5. We recall our friends who have gone ahead of us sealed with the sign of the cross and commend them to God’s loving care in his eternal home. Lord, hear us.
Loving Father, you walk beside us on our earthly pilgrimage. Like Joseph and Mary, we long for the coming of your Son into Our lives. Hear these prayers of your waiting people. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7; Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14; Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
With the arrival of Christmas there is an unspeakable sense of exhilaration and happiness in the air. It’s that wonderful time of the year when the bright star of Bethlehem sets the world aflame with its message of good news. The mysterious joy of the season is irresistible, and affects the whole tenor of life for weeks on end. Of course what makes Christmas special is the presence of children in the house. Words fail to express this natural and very human joy, which is unique in every family.
The festive season is celebrated in many ways with a rich variety of customs, traditions and legends associated with this special time. Falling as it does in bleak midwinter with the cold and frosty fog outside Christmas breathes life into the darkness and makes us concentrate on nearness and the warmth of love. Family and friends draw closer to each other at this time of year and gather to celebrate not just Christmas but also the ties that bind them together. One of the most joyful parts of the season is the return of family members making what is for some their yearly visit home. For those who are far away and unable to make the journey there is a heartfelt yearning and a longing to be united with their nearest and dearest. For most people the images of a quiet peaceful nativity are probably the strongest and warmest memories of our childhood faith.
Amidst the hullabaloo of the Yuletide festivities we must not lose sight of the first Christmas Day and the birth of Christ as a vulnerable infant in the simple trappings of a stable at Bethlehem. Otherwise we are emptying the feast of its original meaning and closing our eyes and ears to the message of Good News. The gospel describes the harshness of the situation into which Jesus arrived. How as a helpless baby, he was born outside the city gates, in a stable, a feeding trough for animals, the child of poor parents and his first visitors were shepherds. In this way he accepted us as we are, and identified with the outcast, the marginalised, the poor and lowly. Like the shepherds we ponder the mystery of the Christ Child, the Son of God entering our world as one of us, clothed in our human flesh with all its limitations and weaknesses. Just as the angels praised the glory of God made visible in the child Jesus with songs of joy, so too must we. In the mystery of the baby breathing in the manger we are reminded that God breathes his spirit into the darkness of our lives and opens up an everlasting future for us. The coming of Jesus among us can change our view of life, restore our sense of self-esteem, and enable us to be channels for bringing his love and peace to others. God entering our physical world makes everything in it holy and good and helps us realise that we are people of hope, waiting for something great to break into our lives.
Visiting the crib, we pause and say a prayer of thanks for what we have. Spending time there we can gaze in silent wonder upon the mystery of God coming into our world, embracing us with his love, stamping his image upon humanity and giving divine worth and greatness to every human soul. The delicate image of a new-born child who came in poverty teaches us that there is greatness in humility, glory in service and power in selfsurrender. We can ask to become more like him and reflect his grace in the way we conduct our lives. If we live by what is best and noblest in the human spirit we value the things that Jesus treasured.
Yet even in this joyful season suffering and sadness do not go away. Christmas is an incredibly emotive time especially for those who have lost a friend or family member during the past year. There is the pain of absence in memories of times past and a life shared with a beloved. Then there are those who are poor or alone and those who are under pressure because of some misfortune or personal tragedy. We think of them in their suffering and make them part of our prayer. Christmas brings the assurance that, no matter how dark are the days, God wants to free us from worry and grant us a peace that the world cannot give. Whatever your circumstances, wherever you are and whoever you are with, I do hope that you are able to find happiness and joy in this Christmas season.
Prayer of the Faithful
Celebrant: As the light of Christmas morning dawns upon our earth and the glory of the Lord shines upon us, we pray to our heavenly Father and give thanks for the birth of his Son.
1. For the Holy Father and all people of goodwill that they may be blessed in their striving to establish peace in the world. Lord, hear us.
2. That our celebration of God’s love for his people may bring harmony and peace into our lives. Lord, hear us.
3. We remember those who are far from home this Christmas and pray that they may find a welcome and support through the kindness of others. Lord, hear us.
4. We pray for our children. Keep them in your care and let no harm befall them or sorrow touch them. Lord, hear us.
5. Let us remember our friends and relatives who have died since last Christmas and who are in our thoughts this day. May the Prince of peace welcome them into his heavenly banquet. Lord, hear us.
Heavenly Father, whose light, love and happiness have been shown to us in this Christmas season, give us the grace to walk in your presence. We make our prayer through Christ, our Lord. Amen.