Deacon Duncan’s Homilies

A Homily for Christ the King

There’s a story about the soft drinks company Pepsi that tells us a little bit about how we respond to death. According to some sources, and Pepsi have never actually denied this story, the company’s popular American slogan: ‘Come to Life with Pepsi’ was mistranslated in China as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life’. Now this is some claim. Certainly, Pepsi’s sales in China didn’t improve appreciably. Having a drink that instantly brings your departed loved ones back to the land of the living was probably seen as something of two-edged-sword. I mean, where would we put them?

Now, as you may be aware I know a little bit about death, because by day I am an undertaker. It’s an interesting word, isn’t it? ‘Undertaker?  But what do I undertake? It’s really a euphemism, I suppose. We don’t want to be too specific about the role. The word comes into English in the early Tudor period, and can mean one who works in business, or acts as some form of agent. It’s reassuringly vague. I undertake something people don’t really want to name, and that’s understandable. Perhaps best not to mention it, really. If I’m at a dinner party and someone asks what I do for a living –– my response is usually met with an odd glance: ‘Oh. You’re an undertaker. That must be very…err…’ I probably should say: ‘It’s not about what I do for a living. It’s about what I do for the dead’. But I don’t think that’s quite true. My job is to serve both parties.

The word ‘human’ derives from the Latin word for earth: humus. So we may well take our name as a species from the fact that we bury our dead in the ground. In Ancient Egypt, the departed were known as ‘westerners’, from the deserts west of the fertile Nile valley. If a modern American met an Ancient Egyptian and announced they were from ‘the mid-west’, it’s likely they would be met with – at best – a measure of incredulity. The Egyptians, prior to the development of their formal buildings of interment, buried their loved ones in the desert. If the wind or animals uncovered the dead, they would appear to the living as being remarkably intact, since the dry and hot conditions slowed down the process of decay. When the Egyptians made mummies, they were likely honouring that early experience. In the Zoroastrian faith of pre-muslim Iran, the dead were cleaned and laid out on beautiful towers so the flesh could be artfully removed by vultures. This was viewed as a form of spiritual cleansing. And in parts of modern Indonesia, the departed aren’t considered dead until they are buried. They are mummified, then placed in their old room in the house, receiving their favourite meals every day.  Burial only takes place when sufficiently lavish plans have been made for the ceremony. Now, these are ‘undertakings’ I might find difficult to understand, and certainly to perform, but they are, of course, deeply important rituals designed to honour the departed, and to ensure safe transition from one place to another. All these practices required somebody to undertake them.

So how do we feel about death? The second Vatican Council states things in this way

’It is in the face of death that the riddle of human existence grows more acute.  Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by the dread of perpetual extinction. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter.

It is something we dread, Shakespeare’s Hamlet asks the audience if it’s better ‘To be, or not to be’. We’ve no idea if anyone in the audience replied, or if lengthy debate ensued. But the hero concludes that death ‘is a consummation devoutly to be wished’. Around the same time, the poet and clergyman John Donne mocked Death in a sonnet that begins ‘Death be not proud, though some have called thee’. The poet seems to be debating with Death, saying his powers aren’t even especially unique: ‘poppy or charms can make us sleep as well, And better than thy stroke’. In Donne’s poem, he shows us that our faith can make nonsense of Death. Our bodies might fail, but the poet concludes: ‘One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die’.

If you had a drink that could bring your ancestors back to life, would you give it to them? I don’t think I would because I believe that that moment will happen, just not in this life. The reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians tells us  very clearly the reality of the Christian belief about what happens after death Death, he says, came into the world through one man Adam – in other words through man’s sin, but the resurrection of the dead and life eternal comes through another man,  Jesus and only through Jesus – for those who belong to him,Christ the  King. We know that Jesus is the one who restores our way back to God, and to life eternal. To steal the slogan of the rival beverage: Jesus is ‘the real thing’. He is the ultimate undertaker, in that through his sacrifice on the Cross he undertook to safely convey us from this life to life eternal. Although our lives can be hard, and sometimes seem impossible, The church has been taught by divine revelation and firmly teaches herself that man has been created by God for a blissful purpose which is beyond the reach of earthly misery.

As St Paul writes elsewhere

‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

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Utter Conviction: Mission Sunday

Two of our Pallottines – Fathers Phil McNamara and Jose Campion – died in the past couple of days and it strikes me that both their lives are very fine expressions of the Mission of the Church which wr are celebrating today.

As God called King Cyrus by name, so He called Phil and Joe and they responded with all of their lives to that boundless divine stirring, the soundless whisper of God’s voice in the depths of their soul. They left home and country as young men to serve in Christ’s Mission to His people.

The details of the Mission given to each of us are different but it always involves being called personally by name to represent Jesus in this world in whatever sphere of life we are involved in. Ours is a communal calling in the Church, lived out in a uniquely personal way and the most authentic expression of Mission is one that stems from our personal experience of Jesus, an experience that draws us into the mystery of the Trinity.

winters1.jpg                   Fr. Johnny McDonagh, Br. Jim McCartan and Bishop Winters in Galapo

Give to God what belongs to God, is what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. What belongs to God in the first place is the essence of Who He Is. Not that we can give that to Him, but it is an essential ingredient in Mission to acknowledge and honour who God is. “I am the Lord, unrivalled; there is no other God besides me…that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing.’” (Isaiah 45:4-6)

Too often we regard God simply in relation to our own needs and, unconsciously, we try to manipulate God into being whatever suits us; we manipulate the “things of God” to suit our own purposes, often forgetting that it is we who are the servants of God rather than vice versa. And then in the mystery of His Love He becomes servant in Jesus and in doing so He shows what is the true quality of Christian service. It is the service of daughters and sons; it is the service of mutual self-giving of lovers.

What is accomplished in the Eucharist is that God gives the fullness of Himself to us in Jesus and we are invited to give all of ourselves in return. “All that I am, all that I do, all that I ever have I offer now to you”, an offertory hymn we sing at Mass. Giving to God means giving my whole self and everything that makes up my life and discovering in the process that by giving away everything I lose nothing and gain everything in return.

The giving of ourselves to God, and in turn to others, in the Mission is always in accordance with the gifts that God has given us – gifts of nature and of grace. God accomplishes His work in us according to who we are, the person He created us to be. I cannot do things as another does and God doesn’t seek to do anything in me that is out of tune with my nature.

When I went to Tanzania in the early 80’s at the age of 26, I was overawed by the work being done by generous and seasoned missionaries in the area of human as well as spiritual development, work that I knew I was incapable of doing. And I was a bit lost for a while.

Then Bishop Patrick Winters came on a visit to Tanzania. He was the retired Bishop of Mbulu, a Galwayman who lived near us at home. I was like a son to him and he clearly saw my limitations and my gifts. When I was appointed to Galapo he advised me to concentrate on preaching the gospel which is what I did.

To my delight I encountered in people a great hunger for the Word of God which was received not only as words but, like St. Paul says, “as power and the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.”

Utter conviction is a phrase that attracts and challenges me right now. An utter conviction that inspires rather than forces, that appeals rather than demands. An utter conviction first and foremost about the person of Jesus Christ and about the Gospel, the Good News which He himself has given us. He is himself the Gospel, He is the Word. I am utterly convinced of this even if I struggle to communicate that conviction.

I think of the conviction I had when I was a boy, the intense hunger I had for Jesus and, what may seem excessive, I used to go to the Augie in Galway on my way home from school and would pray an act of “spiritual communion” even though I might actually have received Communion at Mass that morning.

It’s a prayer that returned to me when I was with Radio Maria Ireland where it was prayed live on air when we celebrated Mass in the studio. Prayed for the benefit of those who would like to attend Mass but were unable to do so, it’s a prayer that can be used by the many who come to Mass but are unable to come to Communion.

“My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”

That was the strength of conviction I had as a child and, while I am still utterly convinced, something has been lost along the way. I’m not sure that I can ever recover what was lost but I am certain that it can be found in a new way in my present life. It is the beauty of life in Christ that all is never lost and there is always something new, maybe even something better to be gained as happened at the wedding at Cana.

– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (

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Bonfire Night – Harvest Sunday

The contrast could not be greater! The bleakness of two nights ago has given way to a summer-like calm; the place where emptiness abounded now overflowing with hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Silence has surrendered to heart-pounding drums that seem to hit you right in the chest, bullet-like bangers explode by the minute. The restrictions of Ireland do not apply here.

It’s bonfire night, commemorating 1066 – the Battle of Hastings – and the the pre-bonfire parade passes beneath my first floor open window. Great view.

People march in period costumes carrying flaming torches to the beat of hundreds of drums, a noise that is both thrilling and frightening! All ages are there. An elderly woman with a walking stick has the resolute bearing of a general and a baby sleeps in her buggy, oblivious to it all. The power of sleep when it descends on an infant!

The air is full of fire and sulphur and good humour! The whole parade takes about 30 minutes to make its way through High Street, which I’m told is part of the route for all the big parades. The English don’t simply observe and remember – they dress up and participate in these historical anniversaries. Like the day during the summer when the whole population of the town dressed as pirates, some even arriving to Mass as pirates.

The bonfire was happening on the pebble beach. I saw the pallets piled up the previous day. High as a house it seemed to me! Being attracted to fire from early childhood I couldn’t resist the urge to go down and see. People are drawn to fire, fascinated! Thousands of people in this instance!

I find a place behind the barrier on the edge of the shore a good distance from the fire itself. Not close enough to feel the heat but still amazing to watch as the flaming torches are thrown at the wooden pile which is gradually set alight into a huge ball of flame.

Having watched it for a while I turned to go when I heard a loud whistling noise and turning back I saw the fireworks begin. This was unexpected and utterly thrilling beyond anything else that had happened this evening. And though I had seen fabulous fireworks in Dinsey Paris, this was up close and personal. They were exploding in beautiful colour right above me so that I had to hold my head back in looking up to see. I was like a child then, first smiling, then laughing and uttering wows with every breath.

The feeling when it was done was one of utter satisfaction. You could sense it in the crowds of those who wandered slowly homeward, the chattering delight of children reviewing, reliving what they had experienced. Thousands of others didn’t wander home at all, but gathered in front of overflowing pubs to extend their satisfaction there.

Back in home I savoured it all over a bar of chocolate and then flicked on the telly where I came face to face with Absolutely Fabulous, a programme I hadn’t seen for years. You should have heard me laughing out loud to myself! Fabulous indeed!

Next morning fire of a different order entered into our hearts, the fire of Divine Love in the Eucharist, not as externally dramatic but inwardly far more pervasive. Sunday morning is wonderful, a roller coaster in slow motion – the Mass itself and the interaction with the people afterwards.

Organised by Sacred Heart School, this week we celebrated harvest at the 10.00 family Mass and I had a lovely conversation with the children about Tanzania and food, our likes and dislikes, being thoughtful of those who don’t have the luxury of liking or not, being grateful for what we eat, even the food we prefer not to eat.

The offertory was a great procession of parents and children bringing food to the altar for those who are hungry in our town. What a sacred thing it is when a little child hands me a tin of beans or a banana. There is a tender generosity in it.

There were a lot of people! We’re doing a head count for the diocese but I prefer not to know numbers and in moments when I want to count and even boast about numbers, I’m reminded of the census of King David that displeased God so much. Greatness is not to be measured and our strength is not in numbers but in the Lord.

As if to emphasise the importance of the little, after the 11.30 Mass I was saying hello to a one year old boy who reached out to touch my beard, smiled withdrew his hand, then reached out again a rubbed my face. So tender so graceful filling me with such joy, the touch of a child’s hand, the touch of the hand of God.

As a calm sun set on the peaceful evening, I think of Ophelia and everyone at home, praying that they will be safe and well in the unfolding storm.

– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (


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Oh Winds of the Night

I find myself singing the Connemara Cradle Song. “Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow!” Out loud! Against the wind, head down in the dark, the wind with rain on it. So it doesn’t matter! No one can hear me.

The seafront on this night feels like a scene from Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes!‘ It is the scene of mostly solitary men, mostly jogging. One woman! Jogging! The bravest is the man who sits on a bench staring out to sea. Stillness mid the elements! Waves like a thousand white horses galloping to the shore.

All the amusements stand deserted. Kiosks closed and shuttered! Palm trees wave frantically and the automated pirate’s voice in the crazy golf place shouts insults at nobody.

I was tempted to sit in front of the TV for the evening. I had just witnessed a teenage boy’s grief over the death of his dad; heard the poem of the man’s godson spoken through tears. Observed the dignified sorrow in the faces of all those who loved him. I soak it all in until I’m filled with a helpless pain.

St. Mary Star of the Sea offers a space of solace, comfort and a bit of warmth when one’s very core turns cold with grief.

John was only 50 and I met him once, the day before he died in a tragic fall. He was at Mass and came up to me at the door afterwards to welcome me to Hastings. A bright smile, vibrant and warm! His beautiful three year old daughter was with him.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me! When I was a stranger you made me welcome” – the words of Jesus keep turning in my mind. This is what John did for me and therefore to Christ Himself. It’s as if an unnameable interior pull drew him to Mass that day to be near to Jesus in preparation for what he did not know was going to happen. God does that when someone is about to die. He visits them in a hidden mysterious way to prepare their soul for the pilgrimage beyond death.

And maybe John’s welcoming of me was part of that preparation. I’m already well welcomed here but there was something about the way it happened with John. It’s one of the things specified by Jesus in the last Judgement that awaits us all in the end. I was a stranger and you made me welcome. Whatever you did to one of the least of these you did it to me.

That’s the kind of thing that determines whether we get to heaven or not – what we do to the least of people or neglect to do.

The wind has a way of reaching into the loss that I have absorbed, stirs up all kinds of stuff and now the fury inside me. It’s a kind of helpless fury over the unspeakable violence that is visited by men and women on the least of all God’s people. The anonymous women, men and children who are violated day in and day out!

I have a fury over the selective outrage that is trotted out in public, on the airwaves, spoken by the sophisticated, glamorous, and powerful of this world.  Every violation is an outrage but it frustrates me to hear one outrage spoken by people who promote other outrages. But they are not seen as outrageous because they are so slick and posh and rich.

It appalls me that people claim to have rights over the lives of others, rights that belong to God alone but maybe He has been turned into an irrelevance by minds that do not wish to know the truth.

And I wonder too is there another storm on the way? A storm of a different order. Is the turmoil taking place in nature prophetic of something spiritual to come?

So that’s the kind of prayer going on in me as I push resolutely against the wind and rain. I think of Jesus in the storm on the sea of Galilee, His own fury in the cleansing of the Temple. Mine is an unholy fury. If unleashed it would just be destructive. And I take no pleasure in it at all. His fury is pure and redeeming. So I give mine to Him for what it’s worth and maybe He will turn it into something redemptive.

“Oh winds of the night may your fury be crossed. May no one that’s dear to our island be lost!”

With the wind to my back now my mind turns to something beautiful, the consolation of another grief, one of the most awful griefs that I have witnessed. A mother who has seen three of her children die, two of daughters in the space of two months. She has a very special place in my heart and it was such a joy to get the news that she has given birth again to a beautiful daughter. The thought of them softens my entire being.

So I pray for them with gladness and gratitude. And I sing the lullaby for them in a sporadic kind of way – not as it is meant to be sung, but I am singing:

“Angels are coming to watch o’er thy sheep
Angels are coming to watch over thee

Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow
Lean your head over and hear the wind blow

Blow the winds gently, calm be the foam
Shine the light brightly and guide them back home”

I turn in home to my quiet house. Earlier in the day a visiting priest asked if I mind living alone and the answer that emerged in me was, “I am not alone!”

– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (

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Michael: Let Me Sing To My Friend

“Let me sing to my friend
Let me sing to my friend the song of his love
Let me sing to my friend the song of his love for his vineyard” (Isaiah 5:1)

Michael scared the life out of me the first time we met! He was so angry and aggressive with bitterness carved into the shape of his mouth. Eyes on fire! I was repelled inside but I stood my ground because he was hungry and he had come to our house for food. So I got something together and gave it to him. He scowled. I left him alone.

Oddly enough we became friends over time; we grew to love each other. And we often laughed together.

He started to tell me the story of his life and I listened. It completely changes your perspective when you hear what the other has been through, even though it also leaves you helpless because there is nothing you can do to change what another person has experienced, can’t change what life has done to them. But we can be present to a certain extent and we can listen. Listen without judgement!

Michael had had a very brutal childhood during which he was severely beaten on a regular basis and it left him seriously damaged. Relationships didn’t work out, jobs didn’t last and he ended up homeless. The only comfort he got was when he drank but that’s a comfort that only lasts a while and when it fades it leaves a man desolate and desperate. He died young and it was probably a happy release for him but I missed him when he was gone.

It’s Michael I think about when I read the lovely and lonely song of the vineyard at Mass today, the 27th Sunday.

The vineyard of the Lord, in Old Testament times, is the House of Israel! Today it is us, God’s own people whom He dearly loves. It is the individual person, especially the one who ends up desolate and rejected for whatever reason.

Vineyards bearing fruit are beautiful to behold. We saw many of them on the Camino – rich grapes full of juice, full of promise, powerful symbol of life. They can only be beautiful when tended carefully, diligently, by hard work.

To let a vineyard go is to surrender it to the wild, untamed ways of nature. I see it in my own back garden. Not a vineyard but a garden, a very nice garden in my mother’s time. It’s still not bad but the end of it has gone wild because I can’t look after it. Amazing the speed and persistence of briars! They take over everything.

There are briars that take over the mind and heart and soul of a person, to such an extent that they give up on themselves and most others give up on them too. They become the rejected.

When Jesus talks about the vineyard in the gospel He reminds us that He too is the rejected one – the stone that the builders rejected – and He takes the part of all those whom society rejects, all those whom we reject, the Michaels of this world.

In the ways of God it is those who are rejects who become the key to salvation; it is through them that we are introduced to the most authentic experience of God, the most profound of spiritual experiences.

It requires a change of mind, a conversion of our way of thinking, learning to think in the way that Christ thinks on all levels of life, as St. Paul said last week, “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2) Most of the time we don’t want to go there because it actually challenges our deep-seated attitudes that we are unwilling to let go of.

But if we take the way of positive, God-like thinking, the way that leads to peace then we will come to see everything and especially every person in a different light.

“Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise…Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:6-9)

When our minds are so filled in this way, then we have the enlightenment to see the rejects of society as God sees them and, hopefully respond to them as God does, in love rather than in fear.

This quote from John Chrysostom, which I saw on Facebook yesterday, is very apt, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”

Please take a look at Snowflake Nightshelter website:

– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (