24Mar 24 March: 3rd Sunday of Lent

(n.b. Any parish seeking a priest to help in July-Aug. 2019, click here.)

Jesus rejects the popular myth that all misfortunes are divine punishments.. We are not to imagine a stern, punitive God…

1st Reading: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15

God pities his people in Egypt and will free them, through Moses

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Responsorial: Psalm 102: 1-4, 6-8, 11

Response: The Lord is kind and merciful

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love
and compassion. (R./)

The Lord does deeds of justice,
gives judgement for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses
and his deeds to Israel’s sons. (R./)

The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12

We must persevere, in order to be saved

I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

The Lord of the vineyard offers us ample chance to bear fruit

Some people came and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them-do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”


Inviting us to think

Some unnamed people spread the news about the slaughter of some Galileans in the holy precincts of the Temple. The perpetrator has been acting on the orders of Pontius Pilate. They add the horrifying detail that the victims’ blood has been mixed with the blood of animals that were being offered in sacrifice. We don’t know why they brought the news to Jesus. Did they want him to express solidarity with the victims? Or did they want him to explain what sin those victimes could have committed to merit such a shameful death? Or why God allowed them to be murdered in the sacred area of the temple?

Instead of a direct answer, Jesus recalled another traged that happened in Jerusalem: the death of eighteen people crushed by a falling tower near the pool of Siloam. Then he made two comments about both events. First, that victims were no more sinners than anyone else. And second, that any such tragedy can serve as a warning about the shortness of life. “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did”.

This roundabout answer should make us stop and think. Jesus rejects the popular myth that all misfortunes are divine punishments.. We are not to imagine a stern, punitive God  who metes out sickness, accidents, misfortunes, as a response to people’s sins. Then he changes the topic and invites them to examine their own lives. They must listen to God’s call to conversion and to a change of lifestyle.

On our mass-media we often learn of tragic earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. How can we reconcile such tragedies with our belief in divine providence? Jesus suggests that rather than asking how God could let them happen, we should wonder what positive lesson we can learn from then. Rather than ask, “why does God allow this misfortune”, let’s ask, “how can we leave so many human beings to live in misery, so defenseless and ill-provided for?” We won’t find salvation by protesting at God or denying his existence, but by doing our bit to mitigate suffering in our world. Then, maybe, our heightened awareness of the fragility of life will bring us closer to God.

Listen to him

[José Antonio Pagola]

Jesus’ followers were not without moments of clarity, joy and light. We don’t know what happened on that mountain-top, but we know that in prayer and silence it’s possible to glimpse in faith something of Jesus’ hidden identity. This prayer is a source of a knowledge that can’t be gotten from books. The disciples  «were heavy with sleep» and only when they woke up did they grasp something new. Peter knows that it’s very good to be there and hopes this experience will never end. Luke says that «he did not know what he was saying».

That’s why the scene culminates with a voice and a vital command. The disciples find themselves covered in a cloud. They’re afraid since all this is way beyond them. However from that cloud comes a voice: «This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him». Listening should be the first attitude of the disciples.

We Christians urgently need to «interiorize» our religion if we want to revive our faith today. It’s not enough to hear the Gospel in a distracted, routine and worn-out way, without any desire to listen. It’s also not enough to listen intelligently only trying to understand. We need to listen to Jesus alive in the deepest part of our being. Everyone – preachers and faithful people, theologians and readers – needs to listen to God’s Good News, not from outside but from within. Let God’s word descend from our head to the heart. Our faith would be stronger, more joyful, more contagious.

Learn from the gardener

Death stares out at us from our newspapers and TV screens. Apart from natural deaths, somewhere in the world there’s always some natural calamity, a terrorist attack, ethnic brutalities, murder for gain, epidemics, tsunamis, earthquake or famine. Death does not predict its calendar, but is a certain fate for us all. People who were expected to live to old age die suddenly while others whose childhood was marked by illness often survive to a remarkable age.

Our reactions to other people’s death can be either a philosophical acceptance like, “Maybe it was his/her time to go” or a more shocked sense of loss: “It should not have happened so soon!” When people told Jesus how some Galileans died, victims of Pilate’s anger, they wondered how God could have let this happen; but instead of explaining it, Jesus asks “do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” He goes on to warn about the need of repentance.. “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!” and illustrates this with the parable of the fruitless tree.

Real repentance is a reflection about whatever is unfruitful in our lifestyle. Jesus’ words “Repent or you will perish” remind us of what Socrates said at his trial, after he had opted for death rather than exile: “The un-examined life is not worth living.” The parable of the fruitless fig tree is thought-provoking. It is not about doing wrong but about failure to do what is positively right. The fig tree that bore no fruit is like a Christian who attempts no good work and lives a purely selfish life.

Francis of Assisi once invited a young friar to go with him into town to preach. Francis and the young friar spent all day walking through the streets and then came home. When the day’s journey was done, the young friar was disappointed and asked “Weren’t we supposed to preach today?” Francis replied, “Son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was noted. It is of no use walking anywhere to preach unless we preach wherever as we walk!” He summed up his idea in these words “Preach the Gospel everywhere, and if necessary, use words.” To him witnessing to Jesus wasn’t merely quoting some words out of the Bible from time to time but one who lives by the word of God each day.

The gardener in the Gospel asked the owner of the vineyard to give the barren fig tree another chance to produce fruit. He promised to dig around it and manure it, to give it one last chance to prove itself. It suggests that we too need to nurture our faith and commit ourselves to being helpful to the lives of others. Are we nurturing our faith and trying to love, so as to bear the kind of fruit God wants from us?



Léitear sa Soiscéal gur chuir an garraíodóir ceist ar úinéar an fhíonghoirt deis eile a thabhairt don chrann fige le súil go mbeadh sé torthúil. Gheall sé go ndéanfadh sé tochailt timpeall air agus go gcuirfeadh sé aoileach air, chun an deis déanach a bhronnadh ar an gcrann . Dála an garraíodóir, b’hfearr dúinn ár gcreideamh a chothú, agus iarracht a dhéanamh ar theacht i gcabhair ar daoine eile. An bhfuil ár gcreideamh á chaomhnú againn, agus grá Dé á chleachtadh chun go mbeimíd torthúil mar a bhfuil súil ag Dia linn?31


Saint Macartan, bishop

Mac Cairthinn, or Macartan, was the first bishop of Clogher, from 454 to his death in 506. Legend has it that,on hearing of St Patrick’s teaching, Macartan traveled from his home to hear him preach in Armagh, leaving behind his wife and child. Soon he became one of Patrick’s official missionary staff and was considered as Patrick’s “champion” or “strong man”. He is patron of the diocese of Clogher.

2 Responses

  1. Seamus Ahearne

    God’s love letter this weekend:

    In the cheap language of today; words such as WOW, AMAZING, AWESOME are hurled around. Their use is regularly cheap. Such words need to mean what they say.
    With Moses, he came to Horeb. This was God’s mountain. A place where God is met. Moses saw a fire – a burning bush. He was told to take off his shoes. It was holy ground. God spoke. But Moses couldn’t look at God. There is a need in us – to find that reverence; to find that awareness; to find that transcendence. To stop. To realise our littleness. To bow our heads in humility. Until and unless, we allow ourselves be touched by the holiness, greatness and awesomeness of God; we can never be truly human.

    The Gospel spins a yarn. Not in the sense of being untrue but rather it tells a story.
    We like easy and simple answers. Everything is explainable. We understand all things.
    This age is so smart. Smart phones. Smart TV. Smart cars. Smart people. But we aren’t.
    The message of the Story was – when bad things happen; it must be due to the sinfulness of the people afflicted. However, it isn’t quite like that.
    How often we delve into the past and want explanations. We look for scapegoats, for easy answers. We are sure of ourselves. I recall a young man (an alcoholic). He came to a fascinating solution. The boozing wasn’t his fault. His mother hadn’t breast fed him!
    I am also not sure that after Saville inquiry (and recent decision) – that it is right to charge one soldier. Or after Hillsborough, that it is right to charge one Police Officer. In a blame culture, we want our pound of flesh. When do we let go and move on? When do we accept the mess of the past, the debris of history and just move on with life?

    Biblical Job is a book about suffering. Ch 38 is a summary response to the tragedies of life. We cannot understand why things happen. God is too big.
    We have to be like Moses. Our Horeb. Our mountain. Our holy ground. Our shoes off.
    The fig tree story amuses. We know about fig leaves. Many works of art were covered with fig leaves to safe the blushes of the religious innocents. We all use lots of fig leaves to cover up our embarrassment in life. But the ultimate story is: Be responsible. We are all responsible for ourselves. Get on with it. Don’t dump blame on others. We are here to blossom. Bloom where you are. Or something like that.

    Seamus Ahearne osa

  2. Joe O'Leary

    “I am who am.”

    When we turn from the Book of Genesis to Exodus, we find ourselves in a different and rather scary world. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a benign, supportive presence, whereas the God of Exodus seems to be angry most of the time. The violent scenes in Exodus, though perhaps exciting in Cecil B. de Mille’s The Ten Commandments (he made two films with this title, in 1923 and 1956; many Irish schoolchildren were taken to see the latter), have been an embarrassment to many theologians. Marcion, in the second century, called for Christians to jettison the Hebrew Bible with its cruel God. The Church condemned this suggestion, but it kept the “Old Testament” in its canon of Scripture only on the basis of reading it in a spiritual and Christological way.
    The actions of divine destruction against the Egyptians, the Israelites themselves, and the peoples of Canaan were read as far as possible as allegories of God overcoming vices and sins. More important was the highlighting of the way the Exodus story anticipates and prefigures the Christian message of Redemption. The central role taken by the Paschal Lamb in Exodus anticipates that of Christ as the Lamb of God, and the spectacular crossing of the Red Sea was seen as an image of Baptism and the new life it brings.

    While the majesty and power of God are affirmed throughout Exodus, culminating in the giving of the Law (20-23) and the long account of his Tabernacle in the final chapters (25-30, 36-40), they are conveyed most attractively in the quiet scene of today’s first reading, the story of the Burning Bush.
    Its similarity to the theophanies of Genesis makes it a link between the two books. Here Moses is not yet the awesome leader and legislator, but a lowly shepherd, with warm family connections, someone quite like his remote ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God speaks to him in the same tones as he did to them.

    Moses asks God’s name and gets the answer “ehyeh asher ehyeh, I shall be as I shall be,” which in the Greek Bible become “I am the one who is” (Ex 3:14). This is awe-inspiring, but in a quiet and subtle way, without thunder or trumpets. It led the Fathers of the Church to meditate on the eternity and immutability of divine being, and on God as the fulness of being, the foundation of all beings.
    Some Jewish thinkers object to the Greek translation and the metaphysical pondering to which it gave rise. For Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) “those who find in Exodus 3:14) the notions of ‘being,’ or ‘He who is,’ or ‘the Eternal’ are all Platonizing. God is not called ‘He who is’ but ‘He who is there,’ that is, ‘there for you.’” It’s almost as if God steps down to our level by using the formula of family drama: “I’ll be there for you.”

    St Augustine sees “I am who am” as God’s naming of his very being (nomen substantiae). But God has already addressed Moses using a more familiar self-description: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:6)—a relational, caring God who does not remain aloof in inscrutable majesty.
    Now after giving the puzzling name “I Am,” God repeats the earlier description of himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, raising it to the status of a divine name, valid forever: “This is my name forever” (3:15). St Augustine calls this the “name of mercy” (nomen misericordiae).

    Our faith is nourished by the thought of divine greatness. “Lord of all, we bow before Thee.” To bow down before him in adoration is to be freed from the narrowness of our anxiety-bound thinking. We are allowed to rest in the contemplation of the eternal and infinite sea of divinity. But just when we are about to lose ourselves in these thoughts, we hear the Lord speak to us in another way. After the thought of divine greatness comes the thought of divine condescension, the thought that the great God has heard the cry of his people and made haste to help them. The eternal and infinite God is not an abstract beyond, but a presence always near to hand, and not a passive presence either but a power of salvation. Is giorra cabhair Dé ná an doras—The help of God is nearer than the door.

    The patience of the Jewish people under extremest tribulation is not a Stoic submission to Fate, but an act of loving surrender to a God who is beyond understanding yet worthy of total trust. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). Even when he seems to hide his face, even this becomes a mode of his presence. “I am who am” is a word of deep reassurance, urging us to trust in being, in the goodness of being, in the eternal and infinite source and ground of being, and telling us as well that this eternal gracious reality is ever present, closer to us than we are to ourselves, always working on our behalf, always inviting us to tune into it and to root and ground our lives in it.

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