Thursday, December 14, 2017

3rd Sunday of Advent (John 1:6-8, 19-28) No Christmas without repentance

How would you feel if you got a Christmas card that read like this: 
Our thoughts of you this Christmas are best expressed in the words of John the Baptist, ‘Brood of Vipers! The axe is laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.’
Merry Christmas from Fr. Murchadh."

I suppose we would add Fr. Murchadh, or whoever sent it, to our list of x-friends!

Advent has really become the time of getting ready for Christmas in the sense of buying the gifts we want to give, going to office parties, etc, but this is quite different from the original message. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus and his message was very strong. ‘Repent, confess your sins, change your lives and look for happiness in God.’ This is the part of preparing for Christmas that is easy to overlook. We want the celebration of Christmas, but we don’t necessarily want to have to repent. Just leave us alone and let us celebrate. We want absolution, but without having to confess. We want the love and blessing of God without having to follow the commandments. We want faith on our terms. That is called ‘cheap grace’. It is empty and it is not the message of God.

The message of God is a wonderful one, but is also a very demanding one. We can not come and pick what we like. Instead we come and ask what is required of us? That is what the people who came to John asked: ‘What must we do?’ To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower. We are not used to thinking this way, because our world encourages us to make sure things are as we would like them. If you’re not happy, move on; but this is not the message of the Gospels. In the Gospel we listen to what it is that God asks of us. We follow God on God’s terms and not our terms. 

Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born of woman. He was totally focused on God. He knew what was important and he passed on the message he was told to pass on, but it cost him his life. He was beheaded by Herod for speaking the truth. We don’t always want to hear the truth because it is often demanding and challenges us to change.

If we are serious about celebrating Christmas as a Christian feast, then let us not forget the message of John the Baptist. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ ‘God is coming: get ready.’ The term ‘repent’ can also mean ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.’ That is a particularly powerful message at this time in history. So many people are looking for happiness in the world, but now so much has collapsed and many have been bitterly disappointed and left with a feeling that all is gone. However, the Lord is telling us to turn to him for happiness. It is only in God that we will find true happiness. The world will disappoint us; God will not. People will let us down, but God will not.

The sin of Adam and Eve was a very similar sin to what we see going on today. It involved three things: (1) rejecting the idea that they had to serve God or listen to his commands; (2) that they could have everything they wanted on their terms, (3) that they were like God themselves. That is very similar to what we see going on in our world right now and it is a real temptation for all of us. Why should we have to obey commandments? We don’t like being told we have to obey anyone and yet the word obey literally means ‘to listen intently’ (from the Latin, ‘ob audire’). And if you think about it, it says that Jesus was obedient to the Father. Jesus was equal to the Father, but Jesus was also obedient to him. We are being called to listen intently to what God tells us, to acknowledge that we are God’s creation and that we must obey—listen intently—to what He tells us if we are to find the path to happiness.

The most important preparation we can make for Christmas is the interior preparation, the change of heart, the confession of sins. And yes, most of us don’t like to have to confess our sins, we think we shouldn’t have to, but this is what God asks us to do. The celebration of Christmas is meaningless if we skip the kind of preparation that God asks us to make and sadly for many people it has become meaningless. It doesn’t have to be meaningless, because it is the celebration of something very wonderful, the coming of God among us in the person of Jesus.
I stand at the door and knock. If anyone here’s my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in and sit down to eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20) 

Those words are from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible and this message is repeated all through the Bible in different ways. The Lord wants to be at the centre of what we do, but we are the only ones who can allow that to happen.
Repent, for the kingdom of God is close at hand.’

Saturday, December 9, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Mark 1:1-8) What is God's will for me?

What is God’s will for me?’ This is a question I get asked all the time.Most people who take their faith even somewhat seriously, want to do God’s will, but how are we to know what that is? God’s will for us is primarily to be ALIVE and to love him above all else! Many of us will never know if we have a particular calling or not. I believe that God called me to be a priest. How do I know that? I’ll never know for sure, but the desire to serve God as a priest, was stronger than any other desire, such as to get married, which is the most normal and wonderful thing in the world. But if I had not followed this call, it doesn’t mean that God wouldn’t have been with me. God has given us free will and God will respect the decisions I make, even if they are not good ones. If I had chosen a different path, I may not have been quite as fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean that God wouldn’t have used me in a different way.

Ask yourself this question: What is the deepest desire of your heart? That is probably where you will find the answer. God has created us to be fully alive and to enjoy the wonderful world that God has given us. We are to use our time well, love God above all and love and serve the people around us, but also enjoy all that is good. There is a wonderful quotation from St. Irenaeus which says, ‘The glory of God is man fully alive.’ We give the greatest glory to God by reaching our full potential as humans. To develop our gifts and talents and to use them for good, gives glory to God. This is what we are called to do above all else.

So, what is God’s will for me? God’s will for us is that we live to the fullest degree, according to his word and that may involve a definite vocation or not. For many people, their vocation may not be that obvious, such as the call to priesthood, or Religious life, but that doesn’t mean that the calling is any less real. If a man or a woman gets married, their calling is to live their marriage to the best of their ability; to sacrifice themselves for each other and their children. If a man or a woman are called to Religious life, then their role is to live that vocation to the best of their ability. There are many people who don’t find a partner, or end up in Religious life. What is their calling? Their calling is to live their lives to the best of their ability wherever they find themselves.
I think that it would be a mistake to start worrying that we may not know what God’s will for us is. God’s will for us is primarily to live fully each moment as we come to it. Our greatest calling is to love; to love God and to love each other.

When Jesus was asked to define the greatest Commandment, He answered by referring to the first and second Commandment, because the two are related:
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40).

If the thought of being called to the priesthood or Religious life is something that repulses you, then it is very unlikely that you are being called to it. The same applies with any way of life. We will never know for sure, but the most important thing is that we blossom where we are planted. Although we may not think we make much difference in the world unless we are called to something ‘great’, the truth is that all of us make a difference in the world, one way or the other. I may be the only person in my neighborhood, or workplace, who prays for the other people there. I may be the only one who shows encouragement to someone who crosses my path. All of us have been given the potential to do great good, but it may be very hidden and more down-to-earth than we would imagine. We will only know for sure when we get to heaven. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter whether we know what our vocation is or not. What matters is that we live and love to the best of our ability.

I have a close friend who was married, had children, got divorced and annulled and later went into a monastery. What was his vocation? While he was married, it was to live his marriage to the best of his ability. When he became a monk, it was to live his life as a monk as well as he could. Do we really know? Does it really matter? There are many things we will not figure out in this world, but I think we shouldn’t get too preoccupied with trying to figure them out either.

What if I end up being single but I really wanted to get married? There is no answer to this except that that is what happened. Either way, God can do wonderful things through us if we remain open to him. Some people will say that they feel called to the single life and see that as their vocation. Others end up single without intending to be.

If you look at the great characters in the Bible, most of them were very ordinary people and indeed the kind of people that most of us would over-look. The great king David was a shepherd. Moses murdered a man in his youth and then God called him when he was about eighty years old. Mary was about fourteen when she was asked to become the mother of Jesus and play one of the most extraordinary roles in history. Many of the canonized saints of the Church were very ordinary people in their time, but God did extraordinary things through them. One saint in particular that I often think of is St. Thérèse of Lisieux. St. Thérèse was just fifteen when she got special permission to enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, northern France. In her own writings she says that she longed to be a great saint, but realized that she wasn’t able to do many of the extraordinary things that many others were able to do. She asked God to show her what her particular role was. As she searched through the Scriptures, she read about all the different callings that people have within the Church; Apostles, preachers, teachers, miracle workers, etc. She realized that she could not do any of these things since she was now living as an enclosed Carmelite nun and she was also quite limited because of poor health. Then she went on to read St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he describes the greatest calling of all, which is to love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:1-3,13).

Reading this was a turning point for Thérèse, as she recognized that the most important thing in the whole Church is to love and this is something that everyone can do. She understood that her calling was to be love in the heart of the Church. She was a young sister, hidden away in a Carmelite convent, but she could still do great things if she did the most ordinary things with love. Even if we are only able to do very small tasks, so long as we do them with love, then we are fulfilling the greatest calling of all. Thérèse recognized that all of us are given an equal chance, because everyone is capable of doing even the smallest tasks with love. Doing things with love is more important than any earthly achievements, because when we love, we imitate God more than anything else. Love is our greatest calling.

So, what is God’s will for me? To live life to the full and to love and serve the people around me.

Friday, December 1, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent Don’t get left behind

Each Sunday when we come together to celebrate the holy mass we pray the Creed. And one of the things we always say as part of that prayer is: ‘He (Jesus) will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ That is what we believe. God came and walked among us in the person of Jesus and Jesus will come again to judge all people. No one knows when this will happen, but Jesus has told us that this will happen. Maybe it will be during our life-time, or maybe not.

Today we officially begin our preparation for Christmas; our spiritual preparation. We are preparing for two things: we are remembering the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, and we are remembering that Jesus will come again at the end of time. 

When there is so much emphasis on buying gifts it is easy for us to lose focus on what this feast is about. In all the advertising that we hear there is almost no mention of the birth of Christ; the coming of the Son of God to set his people free from eternal death; to win the most wonderful thing imaginable for all of us: a life of eternal happiness when we die. This is what everyone wants, even if we have very different ideas as to what happiness might be, but we all want happiness for ourselves and those we love. This is what God has made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The feast of Christmas is about the beginning of this event.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is telling us that while we get on with the ordinary things of everyday life—eating, drinking, marrying, working—we must not forget the bigger things. It is a warning to us never to become so immersed in time and the things of the world, that we forget eternity. Even though the worldly affairs are important, we must not let them distract us from the reality of God; the reality that we will die, that life and death are in his hands, and that whenever He does come for us, He must find us ready.

In one sense, we can never be ready enough for God. How do you prepare to meet God? And yet this is what God has created us for and we believe it will be wonderful beyond our wildest dreams, if we have made any effort to be ready.

Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes, of two people doing the same thing, one will be taken the other left. What does this mean? It means that although both people were doing the same ordinary things that we all have to do, one of them had not forgotten about God, but the other had; the one who had forgotten got left behind.

If we get totally immersed in the world, or in our families, or in our work, then we have missed what it is about, because there is much more to our life than this. 

As you well know, sometimes it is when someone becomes seriously ill, or dies, that we suddenly start realizing how much we have become immersed in the world. We have to get on with the day to day things of working and living, but we are being told to make sure that we also make time for God. 

I think a good recipe for a ‘happy’ Christmas, is to keep it simple and spend some time coming up to Christmas remembering what it is about. Even go to mass once a week, or spend a few minutes in a church every few days. That way we will remember what we are celebrating.
The Angel said to the shepherds: do not be afraid. 
I bring you news of great joy.
Today in the town of David
a Saviour has been born for you;
He is Christ the Lord.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

34th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25: 31-46) Solemnity of Christ the King

At this time of the year before Advent begins, the readings always focus on the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. We do this because it was one of the things that Jesus taught. Jesus taught that he would come again and that when he does come it will be for a time of judgement. All people will be judged. Each week we say in the Creed, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead’.

It can be tempting to discard what we don’t understand, especially if it sounds a little silly. The idea of Jesus appearing in glory and coming on the clouds to judge the world may seem hard to swallow. However, it would be a great mistake on our part if we began to just take the parts of Jesus’ teaching that ‘make sense’ and leave the other ones. Perhaps a better approach is to say we accept all his teachings, but we don’t understand many of them. ‘I don’t understand, but I believe.’ That’s what faith is.

If the Lord is to come to judge the living and the dead, it implies two things:  First, that there must be a heaven and a hell. Otherwise there would be no point in judging us if it were going to make no difference. Heaven is the total happiness that being in the presence of God will bring. This is something that we cannot understand, because we have no experience of it yet, but this will be the most complete happiness we could ever know and this is what God has planned for us; that is what He wants for us and God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject God.

Then there is the total loss of God for those who reject him, and this is hell, the loss of everything that can bring happiness. Jesus has taught us that this is real, otherwise it would make no sense that we have free will, the power to accept or reject God.

 The second thing that the Lord’s coming implies is that we will have to make an account of our lives to God. We will be held accountable for our actions. I often think that when we hear about so many of these tribunals which cost millions and show the wholesale corruption that goes on, it can be very frustrating, because the people who get away with the most never seem to have to pay, either because they are powerful enough, or because of the legal system. They always seem to get off the hook. It’s wrong and it happens every day. But if a young person steals something from the local supermarket, you can be sure he or she will be brought to court and they’ll pay for it with a fine or with jail time. Yet even the rich and powerful must remember that their power and wealth won’t be with them when they die.  They too will have to give an account of themselves to God and nothing is hidden from God. I find this consoling, not because I wish evil on anyone, but because at least I know that in the end there will be justice.

Is this a reason for us to be afraid? Of course not, unless we are deliberately trying to fool God. If we try to live as the Lord teaches us and make even the smallest effort, then we have nothing to fear. If we just get on with the day to day tasks that we are presented with and try to be honest before God, then we have nothing to worry about, because this is what Jesus teaches us. The fact is that we are all sinners, we all fall short of the mark and none of us ever get it exactly right, but God isn’t put off by this. God sees the heart. God knows when we are doing our best and trying to live as best we can.  He knows all the pressures that we are under. He knows how difficult it is to try and survive in the world. The Lord looks at each of our hearts and judges us by what is in our heart. So, there is no reason for us to be afraid if we make even the smallest effort. 

It is also important to remember that God is infinitely merciful and mercy is something which is not deserved. God’s justice and mercy go together.  Think of all the times that we see people in the paper convicted of some terrible crime, and we say, ‘I hope he gets life,’ or ‘I hope they kill him…’  It’s just as well for our sake that God is more merciful with us, than we are with each other, or none of us would stand a chance. 

Another reason why we can never judge someone else is because we don’t know what’s in their heart. We don’t know what has influenced another person’s actions, or what pressures they are under. That’s why Jesus teaches us, ‘Do not judge and you will not be judged’. Only God can judge, and only God will judge perfectly justly. We can judge the outward actions of a person, but we cannot judge the heart.

There is a story of a young man who was in Napoleon’s army.  He deserted because he was tired of war and afraid, but he was caught. The punishment for desertion was death and so he was to be executed. But his mother happened to work in Napoleon’s house. She managed to meet with him and she pleaded on her son’s behalf. She explained that this man was her only son and all that she had in the world. She asked Napoleon to show him some mercy. Napoleon replied, ‘He doesn’t deserve mercy.’ The woman said to him, ‘If he deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy.’ Mercy is not deserved, but it is given out of love and compassion. You can see this from the extraordinary compassion that Jesus showed to the various people he met during his life on earth. Even the ones whose lives were a total mess, he showed such respect and love.

God is infinitely merciful and so if we try to do what is right we have nothing to be afraid of.

Jesus Christ is Lord and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday of Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30) Consecration to Jesus through Mary

Bishop Dewane has asked all parishes to make a consecration of the parish and the whole diocese, to Mary. This will be done on Christmas Eve and there is a 33-day preparation for this, which will involve prayers each day to be said in each parish. I would like to try and explain what this means and why we would be asked to do this.

A consecration of something, or someone, means a dedication to something sacred. When a new church is built, it is consecrated, or ‘dedicated’ to God as a place of worship. When I was ordained a priest, I was consecrated to God’s service. To consecrate our parish and our world to Our Lady is to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary. But why not just consecrate our diocese to Jesus directly? Why do we need to bring Mary into it?

God the Father chose to give his Son Jesus to us, through Mary, because He wants us to be part of his work in the world. God could fix everything in the world instantly, but God wants us human beings to be involved in his creation and his work and this is a reminder to us of how much God respects us and loves us. So, God gave us Jesus, through Mary. Mary was his instrument to bring us Jesus. He allowed his work to depend on the cooperation of a human being. This woman, Mary, who was just a teenager at the time, was invited to play this extraordinary role in history. Through her ‘yes’ to God’s invitation, Jesus, the One who would free us from eternal death, came into the world. So the most ideal way for us to come to Jesus, is also through Mary. Who is closer to God than Mary? No one. What request of Mary would be refused by Jesus? Nothing. She is the ideal vessel to bring us to Jesus. To consecrate our parishes and diocese to Jesus through her, is the ideal way to give ourselves to Jesus.

Why do we need to make this consecration at all? Don’t we already belong to Jesus? Of course we do, but in the words of John Paul II, we are living in a time of ‘unprecedented evil’, in a ‘culture of death.’ However, God’s word in the Bible also tells us that ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (Rom 5:20). This means that even where there is terrible evil, God’s help will be there even more, which means that right now, God is offering us more help than ever, to overcome what is happening around us.

When Our Lady appeared in Fatima, she warned the children that the world must turn back to God to prevent further wars and catastrophes. She said that many people had turned away from God and that the sins of the world were greatly offending God. Those apparitions took place during World War 1. Our Lady also said that if people turned back to God with prayer and penance the war (WW1) would end and a second greater war could be prevented. She said to the children:

“To prevent this [Second World War] I shall come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and Communions of reparation on the first Saturdays. If my requests are heard, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, fomenting wars and persecution of the Church.”

Right now we need all the help we can get and to rededicate ourselves to Jesus through Mary, is exactly what we need to do in order to help us reduce and overcome the evil in the world.

We don’t know that much about the life of Mary, but we do know that everywhere in the Bible that mentions Mary, she was always pointing people to Jesus, bringing people to Jesus. At the wedding of Cana when the couple ran out of wine, she asked Jesus to fix the situation. Jesus said that this wasn’t his time to start working miracles, but he did it anyway because Mary asked him to. Anywhere that Mary has appeared in the world, and there have been quite a few places, it has always been about her pointing us back to Jesus. So a consecration to Mary is really about Jesus.

At the end of his life on earth, while dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted John the Apostle to Mary. ‘Son, behold your mother’ (John 19:26). Now St. John also represents the model disciple, in other words, this is what we are also called to be like. St. John was always the one who did the right thing and was faithful to Jesus to the end. He was the only one of the Apostles beside Jesus at the foot of the cross. He represents all disciples, which is us. Jesus entrusted all of us to the care of Our Lady, because she is the perfect instrument to bring us to Jesus. That is why she has continually appeared in different places, pointing us to Jesus, asking us to come back to Jesus, for our own sake.

At this time, our world has gone crazy. Just think about this country alone: all the killings for no particular reason. This wasn’t happening up to quite recently. Why is it happening now? Because there is so much evil in the world and because so many people have turned away from God. We need all the help we can get to prevent it from getting any worse. Therefore, we rededicate ourselves, our parishes and our diocese, to Our Lady, to help refocus on Jesus, rededicate ourselves to Jesus, in order to put things right again.

When we are in trouble, God always shows us what we need to do. This is what God is showing us right now.

This 33-day preparation will involve prayers during each mass starting this Tuesday. If you would like to do this in a more in-depth way, there is also a book available for private use called 33 Days to Morning Glory. 

Whether you decide to do the indepth version of this 33-day preparation, or just join us at whatever mass you find yourself at, take this seriously. Each day make a private prayer for yourself and your family or loved ones, so that we all may be drawn closer to Jesus, through Mary. We really need God’s help at this time and God is offering it to us through this consecration to Our Lady.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.