Monday, April 25, 2016

Is there more to life than this?

Some members of our Alpha Group 

The Presentation Brothers, Mt. St. Joseph completed another successful Alpha course on Sunday with a themed retreat day on the Holy Spirit. Carolyn and Nora joined us for the retreat. The Brothers organise the Alpha course here in our community in Mt. St. Joseph twice a year and in our community in Glasthule, Co Dublin. Our Youth Ministry Team (PBYM) visit schools in the city to deliver the Junior Alpha Programme to TYO students.   

While Alpha is open to everyone, we encourage young adults in particular to attend. Our Alpha group here in Mt. St. Joseph met on a Tuesday evening throughout Lent. We were blessed with a wonderful mix of ages and background. Alpha groups are all the more enriched when they are intergenerational and indeed international. The Alpha programme embraces all, atheists, agnostics and believers alike. Participants are encouraged to ask the big questions about life in a safe and informal setting. Usually, a lovely bond develops among the participants with a genuine sense of belonging. This truly is Church in action.

Set over an hour and a half, a typical Alpha session consists firstly of time together over an informal meal. This allows for the all-important bonding to take place. Following this, there is a themed input, either in the form of a DVD or a talk in person. Finally, people go into groups to discuss the topic at hand. The Alpha course encourages people to ask questions pertinent to them and to see if there is room for Christ in their lives. Alpha encourages people to strengthen their faith through grappling with their doubts.

By the end of the 10 weeks, people feel refreshed by Alpha. Everyone feels a genuine sense of belonging to this small community with whom they have journeyed in a short few weeks. But what is perhaps most exciting is seeing people who have connected with God in a very personal way. Lives are changed through the power of the Holy Spirit and it is a privilege to accompany them on that journey.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Killarney host Munster Youth 2000 Gthering

It was a privilege to be among a large number of young adults gathered for the Youth 2000 Munster retreat in St. Brendan’s, Killarney over the week end. It was wonderful to see the large gathering of youth give witness to their faith throughout the week end through prayer, faith-sharing, testimonies, talks, music and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Youth 2000 is a Catholic youth organisation that organises faith festivals, retreats, prayer groups throughout Ireland. It is a response to St. Pope John Paul II’s call at World Youth Day in Santiago de Compostella in Spain in 1989 to young people to evangelise each other by gathering together for events and experience the love of God in their lives. The organisation was formally founded in Medjugorje by an Englishman. Youth 2000 has spread in many countries and it was introduced to Ireland in 1993. 

I experienced the week end as a gathering of friends that cut across age, ethnicity, background, culture and personality.  Maura Fitzgerald, a young dynamic woman and one of the leaders said in her testimony; ‘one cannot be a Christian alone, today; we need the support of one another. Faith will never survive on its own, it will dwindle’. Youth 2000 offers that support for young people today.

It was like being part of one big family, the family of God where I felt a sense of belonging, united around Christ through adoration and the Eucharist. ‘Though there were time constraints, I experienced this sense of family, a connectedness and relationship during our small group sharing.

While many of the young adults gathered were coming from various prayer groups from around the Munster Region, there was a feeling that they were coming home for the week end. I was reminded of the words of Jesus; ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst’. It was an opportunity to be refreshed, revived, reinvigorated and re-energised in our faith.

Youth 2000 is focused on youth leading youth to the heart of the Church. It is completely volunteer-based and it depends on the generosity of volunteers. It depends on donations from organisations and people. The young leaders, men and women who organise these events deserve great credit. They give of their time, gifts and talents unselfishly for others. A special word of thanks to my fellow Brothers Stanislaus and Duglus and members of the local youth 2000 for receiving us so well! St. Brendan’s College made available their premises and grounds for the week end. It was hands on deck to oversee the organisation, on-campus accommodation, preparing the food, overseeing security and leaving the place ready again for the following morning.  I acknowledge the weeks of preparation and meetings for the committees in the months leading up to the event. Well done to all concerned!

Next week end is the turn of the Leinster Region who host their gathering in Ashbourne Community School, Co Meath. The annual Summer Retreatl will take place in Mt. St. Joseph, Cistercian College Roscrea from 7–10 July with over 1,000 young people expected to attend.  It also organises a Christmas retreat in Newbridge College, Co Kildare and an annual Valentine’s Ball in February. Plans are well under way for World Youth Day in Poland this July where over 80 members will travel for the occasion. Youth 2000 continues to grow in strength throughout Ireland. In the words of Lana Wilson, the national director, it is about, ‘youth, leading youth to the heart of the Church’ and it appears YK2000 is the only show in town, guys.      

Monday, April 11, 2016

Be Patient

I find the readings at Mass during this Easter season joyful and life-giving. Aside from the beautiful Gospel readings on Sundays there are other very interesting passages. They are very relevant to those of us who live in the Western World where the Church faces many pressures.

The Acts of the Apostles reminds us that times were difficult also for the first Christians. The early Church faced challenges from within and without. Challenges from within were of hypocrisy (Acts 5: 1–3); murmuring (Acts 6 – 1) and doctrinal questions (Acts 15: 1). The major external challenge was one of persecution (Acts: 4: 1-3; 5: 17–18). The challenges that face us as we follow Christ are both internal and external. Persecution of Christian minorities is all too common today. My thoughts go to the families and friends of 72 Christians killed in Lahore recently as they celebrated Easter. The threat to Christians and Christian places of worship is now a worldwide phenomenon.   

In reflecting on the readings of these weeks I also think of the question, “Who will roll away the stone?” posed by the women on their way to the tomb. I find an answer from St. Paul when he reflects on the struggle that is part of human life in Romans 7, telling us, “It is the Lord!”

The stone is rolled away and we are opened up to new possibilities, new life and seeing things radically differently. This is accomplished by God. Our task is to allow it to be done.

The strange thing is that on entering the tomb the women learn that Jesus is risen, but at this stage they don’t see or experience the risen Lord. They must wait awhile. For each of us Jesus may be risen but we may have to wait awhile before we come to experience this as a lived reality.

Patience is an important virtue for men and women who are discerning religious life. Maybe, when discerning our future, we too must be patient until we see and experience where the risen Lord may be leading us.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

We are the Easter People!

I attended the obsequies of a dearly loved aunt of mine in West Midlands, England at the week end. She left her home and family in the Beara Peninsula in her early twenties to find work in England. She reared a loving, devoted and supportive family and spent her long life as a nurse caring for others. She always thought of others before herself. She bore many crosses in life but she embraced them with great courage and dignity. As I reflected on her death, I recall a story I read in the Irish Catholic recently of a conversation between two unborn twins in their mother’s womb.

  “Tell me, do you believe in life after birth?” asks one of the twins. “Yes, definitely! In here we are growing and gaining strength for what will face us on the outside,” answers the other.
   “That is utter nonsense!” says the first one. There cannot be life after birth; how is that supposed to look, may I ask?” I don’t exactly know myself but it will certainly be much lighter out there than in here. And perhaps we will actually be running around on our legs and eating with our mouths.” “I have never heard such nonsense! Eating with your mouth, what a crazy idea! That’s what we have umbilical cords for, to feed us. And you want to run around? It would never work; the umbilical cord is much too short!” “It will work for sure. It will all be a little different.”
    “You are crazy! Nobody has ever come back from life after birth! Life ends with our birth and that’s it! Period.” “I must admit that nobody knows what life will look like after our birth. But I know that we will get to see our mother and that she will take care of us.”

Jesus told the story in another way using a parable which we often recall when we begin to wonder about death and life after death; “Truly I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus is talking about himself, when he is buried in the ground like the seed and dies, then he can break forth into new life, be raised from the dead and share that life with all of us.
      That’s the first and most joyful message of Easter – that Jesus has, indeed, broken through the barrier  of death to new life and where he has gone, we will follow; each of us, when we die, will be like the seed that breaks forth into new life.    (Article edited; by Fr. Martin Delaney; The Irish Catholic, March 24, 2016)