Friday, March 27, 2020

5th Sunday of Lent Year A (Gospel: John 11:1-45) Jesus, master of life and death.



Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)
A few years ago I saw a program about Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), the English physicist who was confined to a wheelchair because of Lou Gehrig’s disease, but whose brain was working perfectly. He was an extra-ordinary genius. He wrote A brief history of time, attempting to explain the origins of the universe. I tried reading it, but it was beyond me! Over fifty years ago he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and he was told he had at best two years to live. Up until his death in 2018 he was still doing ground-breaking work in physics, although the only muscle he could still move was one of his cheeks. There was a small sensor beside his cheek, which was attached to a computer. By moving his cheek he was able to speak to people and continue working through his computer. No doubt one of the reasons why he was still alive was his will to live. He had an extraordinary determination to keep going.

There is so much more to being alive than just physical health, although that is what we all wish for. Many people would consider that life would not be worth living if you were in the physical state that Stephen Hawking was in, and yet look at what he did.

For a few years I used to work in a hospital as chaplain in my hometown of Galway. I often saw people who, having lost the will to live, would go down-hill very quickly and die. I also saw people who were told that they would probably not recover, but because they were absolutely determined to keep going, they would recover, often completely against the odds.  One of the key differences between those who keep going and those who don’t is something spiritual: hope. When we have hope we can keep going even against the odds. If we have no hope, we may not survive even the ordinary.

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal
Several years ago in a housing subdivision called Moyross, in Limerick city—one of the toughest and most troubled areas of that city—a new group of Religious moved in. They are called the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, which were started by Fr. Benedict Goreschel in the Bronx, New York. They live very like the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order) in poverty and simplicity. The area was transformed, for the simple reason that they have given the people there new hope. By moving in to that troubled neighborhood, they have shown those people that they are worth something and that in itself has given them new hope.

Because we believe that God wants us to be happy, to live life in all its fullness, that gives us hope which we are inspired to pass on to others. Because we have hope we are able to work to promote and strengthen married life, even when it is going wrong; we continue to work with younger people and encourage them not to give up, even when their lives have been destroyed through drugs, or alcohol; we continue to work for justice and peace often in very difficult circumstances. Our faith in God gives us hope, which in turn inspires others to keep going. Think also of the hope that Pope Francis has given so many people by the way he lives.

In this beautiful Gospel we hear how Jesus deliberately waited when he heard that Lazarus was sick, in order to work this miracle before everyone’s eyes. He wanted to show them something. He wanted to show them that God has power even over death and that if He allows people to die that it is not the end. Just as Jesus called Lazarus out of death, so Jesus will also call us out of death when we die, except on the other side and we will begin a new and wonderful life with him, if we have chosen life with God. We make that choice by the way we live, the everyday decisions that we make. 

Medical personnel trying to cope with the Corona Virus
In bringing Lazarus back to life, Jesus was helping people to believe in who he was. He is the one who has power over life and death. He is master of all things. He is the one who will judge the living and the dead. He was also giving the people hope, showing them that there is a bigger picture that we do not understand. Death is not the end. Physical health is not everything either, but having hope is essential if we are to keep going through the many difficulties that we continue to face. Our hope in God and the world to come, gives us strength to keep going even when we are suffering, or struggling, or when everything is going wrong. If we do not have hope we may despair. If we believe in nothing else apart from this world, then it could be very difficult to keep going when faced with the many difficulties that we are so often faced with, which don’t seem to have any solution: situations of injustice that we can do nothing about; people killed through violence and hatred. If we believe in nothing else, then how are we supposed to keep going?

In one of his letters to the Christians in Corinth in modern day Greece, St. Paul wrote the following: “If our faith in Christ has been for this life only, then of all people we are the most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:9). If we think that this life is everything then we have completely missed the point. But our faith tells us that this life is only a small part of what is going on and it is so important that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. That was why Jesus deliberately waited until Lazarus was dead, so that he could bring him back to life before everyone; so that everyone would realize that Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead. All things are in his hands and we place ourselves in his hands too.

I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I the Lord have said and done this.”





Friday, March 20, 2020

4th Sunday of Lent Yr A (John 9:1-41)) Seeing with new eyes




How quickly everything can change. A few months ago it was unthinkable that all of our churches would be closed for several weeks, especially over Easter and yet here we are. It is not the first time this has happened either. There have been other epidemics in the past which have caused churches to be closed. From 1918-1920 the world was hit with the Spanish Flu pandemic, a particularly deadly strain of the flu which took the lives of between 17-50 million people. 500 million people were infected worldwide. That is almost hard to comprehend by today’s standards, but that is what happened. Churches were closed then too.

This morning, Friday 20th, we celebrated our last public mass until further notice. It was inspiring to see such a large crowd at the mass and it was a very emotional time for all of us. The idea of not being able to receive the Eucharist for Catholics, is a kick in the stomach. For a priest not to be able to celebrate the mass with his people is very painful. Yet good will come out of this too. It has already made many people aware of how privileged we are to be able to have mass every day, something that in many parts of the world is not possible. I was talking to a priest friend of mine who worked in South America for some time. He told me that in one place where he worked, he had just two other priests with him (one semi-retired) and between them they had to cover 53 churches. That meant that most of those people would only have been able to attend mass every several weeks. In most places in the United States there is weekly mass and in many places there is daily mass. In my home country of Ireland, most parishes have daily mass. We are blessed, but we don’t realize it.

This crisis is also reminding us just how important it is to be able to worship together. This is what the early Christians did. They met in each other’s houses and celebrated the Eucharist together. ‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts’ (Acts 2:46). They gradually grew in numbers and eventually they were able to build bigger places of worship called churches. If this painful time helps us to appreciate how blessed we are to have the Eucharist so often and to remember what the Eucharist is, then that in itself is worth a lot.


In ancient Israel, when the people were captured and brought into exile in Babylon (near Bagdad, in modern day Iraq), they felt that God was no longer with them, since they no longer had the temple. Sacrifices to God could only be made in the temple. The prophets helped them to see that God was still with them, even if it wasn’t as they would like it to be. It is the same for us. Although our churches are closed at this time and we cannot receive the Eucharist, God is still with us. Masses are still being celebrated by the priests.

Times of crisis are also times of growth. Apart from the scare of contracting the virus, it is also a time of crisis when we cannot go to the church and receive the Eucharist. But this crisis will help us to grow deeper in our faith and perhaps see with new eyes how much God has blessed us.

Now let us turn to this account of Jesus healing a man blind from birth. The fact that he was blind from birth emphasizes that giving him sight would have been a complete miracle and totally unheard of. Once he has been healed, he then comes to believe that Jesus is Lord. The miracles that Jesus worked did more than just heal the person, they were also pointing to who he was and is. When the man is questioned by the religious authorities, he is not able to explain what happened, or how, but simply that it did happen and that he now believes. He does not have the official ‘education’ or religious knowledge, to be able to know the things of God, and yet he comes to believe. On the other hand, the religious leaders of the time had the official education. They were the experts and yet they could not and would not recognize who Jesus was. Perhaps it was partly their religious knowledge which became an obstacle for them. Because Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath, they concluded that he could not be from God, because that was their understanding of how God worked. They had a particular understanding of how God must be, and since Jesus didn’t fit this picture, they concluded he could not be from God. Essentially their minds were closed and they didn’t want to know. But God often acts outside the way we think things should happen. The religious leaders were confined to a narrow understanding of God. You could say that they had a blindness of the heart. The blind man, on the other hand, was physically blind, but he had an openness of heart. Not only did he come to physically see, but more importantly he came to believe.


We have a particular understanding of what it means to believe and how we should express that faith: namely by going to church, praying and loving our neighbor. This is good and important, but that does not mean that God cannot bring people to faith in a completely different way as well. Muslims, Hindus, and many others believe in God too, but they have a very different understanding than we do. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It is just different.

This is a time when we can ask God to help us see again, with new eyes, all that He has given us and is teaching us. The Lord only requires an open heart. Once we are open, God will teach us everything.

The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.’




Saturday, March 14, 2020

Some thoughts on the Coronavirus



A few days ago, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of England, addressed the people of England. One of the things he said was (in so many words), “The Coronavirus has now come to our shores. Some people will get it and some of our loved ones will die before their time.”

That is not true. No one will die before their time. Everyone will die at the exact moment that the Father in heaven allows them to die and has ordained that their life on earth would be complete, which has been known from all eternity. If you think of it that way, it makes everything different. We may die of the Coronavirus, or something else, but we will die when our time on earth is over. That’s it and it’s not something to be afraid of.

Remember Roy Shoeman, whom we had speaking here recently; the Harvard professor and atheist, who had that amazing spiritual experience where he was shown everything. He saw how everything in his life fitted together perfectly, not only the things that caused him suffering, but especially the things that caused him suffering. Everything fitted together perfectly in the overall picture, so much of it we don’t understand, or like and some of it is caused by evil. But in the end the Father in heaven makes it fit together, for our benefit, because He loves us.

God does not want us to be living in fear. 366 times in the Bible are the words, “Do not be afraid.” That’s every day including a leap year!



In this beautiful Gospel of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, we are shown several things. The most important thing that Jesus is telling us through it, is that we will only find fulfillment in him.

The woman he meets is on her own in the middle of the day, which tells us that something is wrong. Normally she would be with the other women, in the early morning. So why was she on her own? She had been rejected by her community because of the way she lived. Jesus helps her to see that she has not found fulfillment because she has been looking for it in the wrong way and in the wrong place. He points out that she has had five husbands and the current man is not her husband. She has tried to find fulfillment in relationships, but she cannot. Jesus shows her that the only place we will ever find fulfillment is in him. No other human being can every fulfill us, because we are made for the divine. We will only be fulfilled in God. To expect any other human being, including your spouse, to fulfill you, is asking the impossible. Hopefully they will bring you great joy and be a wonderful companion, but they cannot fulfill you, or you them. If we can accept this, it takes a great burden off our shoulders. As humans we will let each other down, we will disappoint each other, because we are so limited as human beings. The only place we will be fulfilled is in God,

Jesus says to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

What is this ‘living water’? It is Jesus himself, who gives himself to us in so many ways. Above all we can receive him in the Eucharist, his own Body and Blood. There is nothing more intimate than this. He teaches us everything we need to know, through the Scriptures. He offers us his forgiveness and healing through confession. And he offers us eternal life and happiness if we want it.



We waste so much time and put so much energy, in trying to find satisfaction and fulfillment in what can never satisfy. God shows us exactly where we will find fulfillment if only we would give ourselves to him and immerse ourselves in him. That is also why he continually assures us not to be afraid, but to trust in his providence.
At funerals I often read the Gospel of John 14:
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Trust in God still and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me, so that where I am you may be too.

When our life on earth is complete, Jesus will come to bring us with him, unless we reject him. Then we will find our total fulfillment. That’s what we are created for. Our time on earth is only step one.

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water". 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

3rd Sunday of Lent (Gospel: John 4:5-42) The waters of life




Any time I go into schools, or get to talk to young people, someone nearly always asks me if I have ever seen an exorcism. When I tell them I have and it is real and something to be very careful of, they are usually a bit shocked. I suppose we tend to associate these things with Hollywood, but they are real.

All around us we see signs for Tarot card reading, fortune telling, psychics, all kinds of alternative healing and other practices that come under the general heading of Occult. We are told to stay away from these things that so many people find fascinating. Why is this? What is so wrong with it? Are we over-reacting because we do not understand it?

If God tells us to stay away from something, there is a good reason for it. God does not give us rules just for the sake of rules. There is a reason for everything. In the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy it says:
You must not have in your midst anyone who... practices divination, or anyone who consults the stars, who is a sorcerer, or one who practices magic, or who consults the spirits, no diviner, or one who asks questions of the dead. For the Lord abhors those who do these things. (Deut 18:10-11)

So what is the problem with these thing? Anything that is occult is generally an attempt to gain knowledge or power of the future. One of the greatest things that God has given us is the gift of free will. All through this life we have the freedom to choose to do what we want, even to reject God, which is quite amazing. God does not reveal the future to us because if He did it would influence our free will. If I thought there was going to be an earthquake in the city center tomorrow, the chances are I would avoid the city center. If I think I know what is going to happen, I am most likely to make decisions based on that information, but the problem is that then I am not totally free to choose, because my free will has been influenced. That is the main problem with things such as fortune telling, tarot card reading, etc. We think we are gaining knowledge of the future, but this influences our freedom to choose and God wants us to be free.


However, we have no way of knowing whether the information we are given is true or not and perhaps more importantly, where is it coming from? If God deliberately does not reveal the future to us, then the information is not coming from God. So where is it coming from and how can we trust that it is reliable? Exorcists will be the first ones to tell you that the Occult and New Age practices are a doorway to the world of darkness. They are a deception of Satan. We are dabbling in the world of the spirit, without knowing what we are dealing with and make no mistake about it, Satan is very cunning in how he deceives us. He hates God’s creation and wants to lead us away from God wherever possible. Jesus called him ‘The father of lies, and the deceiver.’ And don’t be fooled by the fact that a fortune teller starts of with a Christian prayer, as some of them do. If the Lord tells us that these things are detestable to him, then we would be wise to stay away from them. If what the Lord teaches us is true, then the Occult is a deception and a lie. If Occult practices are true, then Christianity is a lie. Who do you want to believe?

I know of a woman who was given the initials of someone she was told she would marry. And she met a man with those initials and she married him, and it was a disaster.

The former exorcist of this diocese was telling me about a house he was called to, where footsteps kept appearing across their couch. When he asked them a little about themselves, he learned that the woman practiced witchcraft, her daughter practiced witchcraft and she was living with a man who was not her husband. There was nothing he could do unless they were prepared to change their lifestyle and start following the ways of God. One is against the other.

If you have dabbled in any of these things it is important to confess them to break any kind of influence they over you, spiritual or otherwise.

Now listen to what Jesus says to the woman at the well:
If you only knew what God was offering you and who it was that was asking you for a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.


What is this ‘living water’? First of all it is the life of faith, the path to God, the truth about God, as given to us by Jesus who is the Son of God. He is telling us that what He is offering us is the path to follow, because it is the only path that leads to happiness. The only path. He guides and teaches us through the Scriptures and through the teachings of his Church—his Church. Jesus is either telling us the truth or he is not. If he is, then we need to listen.

For two thousand years the teachings of Christ have been guiding people on the path to God. The fact that it has lasted this long is itself a sign that it must be from God, especially when you look at the history of the Church, which is nothing to boast about. Yet in spite of that, the message of God is still passed on, through sinful people like me, but passed on none the less. It is there for anyone who wants it. Many things are continually offered to us, but not all of them are good and not all of them will help us. What we believe is that what God offers us—the waters of life—is what will lead us to total happiness, beginning now and fulfilled in the world to come. This is what the Lord is teaching us. Do you believe that? 

Sometimes I think it comes back to something as basic as asking ourselves, ‘Do I believe the Scriptures are from God?’ ‘Do I believe that Jesus teaches us through his Church?’ If we believe that, then we need to listen to it. If we don’t believe that, we shouldn’t be here in the first place. God offers us his word to guide us, his Body and Blood to feed us, his forgiveness to heal us, but if we want to follow the path that He is showing us, then we must listen to what he teaches us and act on it.

If you only knew what God was offering you and who it was that was asking you for a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.





Friday, March 6, 2020

2nd Sunday of Lent Yr A (Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9) This is my Son the Beloved, listen to him




A few years ago I was out with some friends having a drink. There was an American tourist there, a man about my own age, and he was on his own. Eventually he joined us and began chatting. He told us a bit about himself and his wife and children at home. Then he asked me if I had any children. So I said ‘No, I am a priest.’ He was not expecting that reply, but then he said, ‘Yes, Jesus was a good man.’ I was thinking to myself, ‘Yest, Jesus was a good man, but he was also much more than that: he was and is the Son of God.’ That makes a big difference. 

Something that you will come across quite often in discussions on religion, is the idea that Jesus is another one of the enlightened masters, like the Buddha, or Gandhi. You will come across this in what is generally called New Age thinking as well. He is a prophet and a great teacher and spiritual leader, but that is it. However, for us it can not stop there. We believe that he is fully human, yes, but also fully divine. He is God, revealed to us in human flesh. If this is not true, then we should not be here in this church. And if this is not true then what we do here in the mass is idolatry, because it would mean that we claim that this same Jesus, becomes present in the form of bread and wine. It is no wonder that many other religions think what we do is completely crazy. It is hard to blame them. Jesus himself claimed he was the Son of God. Either he was a liar, he was mad, or what he said was true. We believe that what he said was true, that he is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine.

This vision that the three Apostles Peter, James and John, were granted on the mountain tells us a lot. These three Apostles seem to have been given a more intense training than the others. The Gospels tell us that on three different occasions Jesus allowed only them to go with him. One time was when he brought back to life the twelve-year-old girl, Jairus’ daughter. He only allowed her parents and Peter, James and John to be there. The other time was in the Garden of Gethsemane when he allowed them to see up close, the fear and terror that he went through, knowing what was about to happen to him. He sweated blood, which is a real medical condition called Hematidrosis, caused by extreme stress.


Why were they given this vision? It was for their benefit, to leave them in no doubt that Jesus was not just another prophet, even if a great prophet. He was the Son of God and then they heard this voice from the cloud saying ‘This is my Son the beloved... listen to him.’ It was another way of telling them, ‘Do not be in any doubt as to who he is. Listen to him.’ He is the only one whose voice we need to listen to. We are constantly being called in different directions. Different voices tell us what to believe, where to go. ‘Don’t listen to the Church because it is corrupt. The teachings of Christ are not real’, etc. But God the Father says, ‘Listen to him’.

Why did these other two men, Moses and Elijah, appear with Jesus? Moses represented the Ten Commandments, which were known as the Law. This was the law they were to follow, which would lead them to God. Elijah represented the Prophets. The prophets were the people whom God sent to point people back in the right direction. The Jewish people believed that if they followed the teachings of the Law and the Prophets, that was their path to heaven. That is why they were so keen to keep the law as perfectly as possible. Now Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, which was a sign that Jesus was now the new path to heaven. All of us will go to heaven because of what Jesus has done for us. He is the new path to heaven, the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. ‘I am the Way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6).


Peter, James and John were also being strengthened for the passion which was to happen right after this event and in spite of being granted this vision, they fled when Jesus was tortured and killed. If it was that difficult for them, it is not surprising that we can find it difficult too and that we doubt and wonder are we all crazy to believe in these things. But that is why God granted them this vision of Jesus in his glory, which must have been both wonderful and terrifying at the same time. God allowed them to see this so that afterwards they would regain their strength and courage. They saw Jesus in glory, to show them who he was/is and also to remind us that this is how we will see him when we die. Years later, Peter writes about this event in one of his letters:
For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (1 Pet 1:17)

We too need the same strength and courage, especially when we are all the time being told how foolish it is to believe all this stuff and that we should really get with the times. The Church is out of date, corrupt, etc. If Jesus is just a man, or a prophet, then what we do here is idolatry and indeed blasphemy. But if Jesus is the Son of God, which we believe he is, then what happens in each mass is the most extraordinary miracle in the world and it is also the most incredible privilege for us to be able to receive his body and blood in each mass. Who could even think up such an idea except God? No human would try to convince other humans of something so outrageous. Jesus told us to repeat this ritual in his memory and so we do, so that we can have him with us continually in a beautiful way, where we can actually receive him into our own bodies.

Despite the difficulty at times to believe and all the confusion that is around us, remember this event on the mountain and the voice that the Apostles heard:

This is my Son the Beloved... listen to him.





Sunday, March 1, 2020

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A The temptations of Christ in the desert




Since I was ordained a priest almost 22 years ago, one of the temptations for me and I’m sure most priests, has been to wish that God would do more spectacular things through me, which would convince people of the presence of God. I believe that God does extraordinary things through the priesthood, such as becoming present in each mass when the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, but as you know it happens in a very humble and hidden way. It is not spectacular and if you don’t believe in it, then it just seems to be a strange religious ritual. So why doesn’t God do something more spectacular every to help us believe?

The account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness gives us the answer. This is an extraordinary story because it must have come directly from Jesus himself, since no one was with him during this time of temptation. At some stage he must have told his apostles what happened there and what he had to go through. 

Jesus was about to embark on his public campaign to teach people about God and to win people over for God. For any campaign you must choose the weapons you are going to use. Jesus must have been aware that he had extraordinary powers, or otherwise Satan wouldn’t have tempted him to use them. There would be no point in tempting any of us to throw ourselves down from a great height or to turn stones into bread, because we know we couldn’t do it anyway. So this must have been a very real temptation for Jesus, to misuse his power.

Wilderness of Judea
His first temptation was to find satisfaction in material things. ‘Give people the material things that they want and they will love you.’ In this case it was bread to a man who was starving. But Jesus said, ‘No. Man does not live on bread alone.’ The human being is not satisfied by material things. Jesus was saying, ‘I am not going to try and win people over by offering them just what they want.’ This is what our society does. It tells us that if we have enough money and enough of the right products, then we will be satisfied, but we won’t. We are much deeper than that and we can only be fully satisfied by God, because we are spiritual and not just physical.

Jesus’ second temptation was to work signs and wonders for the people. ‘Throw yourself down from the temple since God will save you.’ If he started doing this, then no doubt he would have thousands of followers in no time, but Jesus also rejected this, because he knew that the way he had to take was the way of service and the way of the cross, which would win people over heart by heart. You cannot buy love and that is why Jesus chose the humbler way, and left it open to us to see what God offers us and then to freely choose to follow him or not.

The third temptation was to compromise with evil. This is a big temptation for most people. When you hear people say ‘The Church needs to get with the times’ this is often what they mean. The Church needs to ‘adapt’ (compromise) some of its teachings to the more difficult moral demands of our age. It is always a temptation for me as a priest to water down the teachings of God so that they are easier to swallow, to keep people happy. But that is not what we are asked to do and when Jesus was tempted this way, he rejected it outright. He was being tempted to compromise with evil, just a little bit, so that it would be easier for people to be convinced. But right is right and wrong is wrong. We must not compromise on the ways of God. Yes, it is more difficult, but if it is the truth then it is better to struggle with it, than to try and change it to suit ourselves. The teachings of God don’t need to change; we are the ones who need to change. I don’t understand some of the teachings of Christ, but I will try and accept them because they come from him. That is why the teachings of our Church don’t change, because we believe they come from God.


The first reading is the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve. They represent our first parents. The tree of good and evil can be understood as the limits that God sets for us. We must not be the ones who ultimately decide what is good and evil. God shows us what is good and evil and we need to listen to and accept his teachings, or we will get ourselves in trouble. ‘Recognise your limitations. Don’t play God.’ But Satan—the Deceiver—tempted them to ignore the word of God and they did. As a result they opened up a whole world of sin and evil. See how he twisted what God had said: ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ That is not what God said at all. They decided to listen to Satan, over God. They rejected God’s word. We continue to do the same today. We think that we know better than God’s teachings and that we can decide what is ultimately good and evil. People justify abortion in all kinds of ways, yet God’s law says, ‘You shall not kill.’ So much of our country has abandoned the ways of God and look at our society. It is falling apart. Constant killings, for no apparent reason and we still defend our rights to be able to kill and lie and cheat.

It is good to ask yourself, ‘Who do I listen to?’ Whose teaching will I live by? Will I keep going back to God’s commandments—commandments, not suggestions—or will I listen to the opposite, which is from the deceiver? Living by the ways of God may seem ‘impractical, unrealistic,’ but they are what makes our society work. We are still quick to justify a different way, but whose voice do you want to listen to? We will be tempted again and again, to compromise, just as Jesus was in the wilderness, but we have to go back to whether we accept God’s teaching as God’s teaching, or not. If we want to live by God’s law, which is what works, then we have to keep going back to it and listening to it, to make sure we are not just taking our version of it.


In many ways I would still love it if God worked spectacular signs and wonders now, so that people would be easily and quickly convinced, but that is not how God works, and I think it is good to remember that, especially when we live in times of great change when God often seems to be very quiet. The Lord knows what He is doing and He puts it to us continually to follow him freely. No one is going to force us.

"Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God".




Thursday, February 20, 2020

7th Sunday Year A (Mt 5:38-48) Love your enemies?



British soldiers, Northern Ireland
During what was known as ‘The Troubles’ in northern Ireland, that time of guerilla warfare when the north was riddled with tit-for-tat killings—British soldiers being shot, Catholics and Protestants being shot—I was amazed every so often at the bravery of parents who were interviewed after one of their children had been shot. Sometimes in those very interviews the parents would say ‘We want no revenge, no retaliation. We forgive the people who murdered our son/daughter.’ I think those statements shocked people more than the murders themselves. Much of the time people were ambushed and shot dead simply because they were Catholic or Protestant, which gives you an idea of the kind of evil at work behind such actions. I think anyone would understand if these parents sought revenge, and yet quite a number did the opposite. It was a very inspiring and hope-filling thing to hear.

We have heard it several times here in the States too. Remember the young man who entered a prayer gathering in Charleston North Carolina in 2015 and shot almost everyone there. The following day their families came out and publicly said they forgave that young man. Extraordinary courage and strength. There is great goodness in most people.

When Catholic churches were burnt to the ground, often Protestants would donate money to help rebuild them, but you don’t hear those things on the news. There is great goodness in most people.

Today we are presented with what is probably the most difficult commandment that Jesus gave: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ So far, I have never met anyone who wants to do this! Did Jesus really expect us to take that literally? Maybe it was just a figurative way of speaking? Jesus meant exactly what he said. Remember his own words when he was dying on the cross, a death that was considered so brutal that the Emperor Constantine eventually had it banned: ‘Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ The Lord does expect us to try and live this commandment, but how we are to do it is the key thing. Essentially it comes down to God’s power and strength at work within us, but that will only happen if we remain close to God. Our relationship with God is what gives us super-human strength, the kind of strength you need to love your enemies. That is also why Jesus gave us the Eucharist, so that we can be intimately united to him every day if we wish. That is where we get our strength from. We continually read the Scriptures so that we are being formed in God’s way of thinking and not just a worldly way of thinking. 

Another aspect of this is to try and see people as people, rather than Mexicans, or Irish, Christians, or Muslims. If we see them as human beings before anything else, that changes things.

A few years ago I was watching a documentary about a Kurdish women’s group of fighters in Northern Syria. At this stage there are over 20,000 of them. They have been fighting largely against Islamic State. The journalist interviewing them asked one woman who had been fighting for two years, what it was like to fight these people who were trying to kill them and their families and I was astonished at one thing she said: ‘We have to remember that they are people too.’ She was big enough, mature enough, to be able to see beyond Muslim Extremists. She could see human beings, even if those human beings had a very evil twist on reality.

Think of all the commercials, radio and TV programs and newspapers, that we read and hear each day. We spend a lot of time feeding our mind with the values and thinking of the world around us. But the ways of God are not the ways of the world. They are quite different. Our culture tells us that we should sue people and seek revenge if we feel we have been slighted. There are so many commercials on TV encouraging us to sue people. That’s not what God tells us to do. Jesus says, ‘If you only love those who love you, then what reward can you expect. Everyone does that?’ But our faith calls us to go farther, to see the enemy as people before anything else. That can help us to be tolerant. It doesn’t mean that we can’t protect ourselves, or defend ourselves, but it helps us not to succumb to evil ourselves. Otherwise we are no different to our enemies. That’s exactly what Jesus puts to us in this Gospel. We are called to be different by the way we live and think. When we try and live this way, then we stand out because we are different. Then we are the salt of the earth and the yeast that makes the dough rise. We are small but we can have a big difference on the world around us, just like those parents who publicly said they forgave the people who killed their children. I am sure it was their faith that enabled them to do that, because that takes more than human strength. But our ability to do that, comes from our relationship with God. The more it grows, the more we immerse ourselves in God, the more we see the world differently.

A priest friend of mine from Iraq, was shot dead by Islamic extremists. I have to remind myself that they are not monsters, even if what they did was monstrous. They are human beings, whose minds have been corrupted. If I can see them that way first, then it prevents me from being filled with hatred myself, which only destroys me.

I want to finish with a short part of a very famous speech given by Martin Luther King Jr which reflects this:

To our bitterest opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, we shall continue to love you… Throw us in jail, we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half-dead and we shall still love you. One day we will win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process. (Martin Luther King, Strength to Love)

‘Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.’