Friday, August 19, 2016

21st Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 13:22-30) Healing and the forgiveness of sins

In my work as a priest over the last fifteen years I have come across many people who have told me about miracles of healing which they or someone close to them have experienced. A close friend of mine by the name of Sandra, who is married with 6 children, saw one of her own children miraculously healed at Lourdes a few years ago. Her son Joe, who was about 7 at the time, was suffering with severe eczema all over his body. It meant that his skin was raw and bleeding a lot of the time. He had to be covered in wet bandages from head to toe which took his mother an hour and twenty minutes to put on each time. They decided to bring him on pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for him. While they were there he was brought to the ‘baths’ which is where many of the sick are brought in order to bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes as Our Lady told Bernadette to do. After he had been to the baths he started to say, ‘Mom, I’ve been healed!’ She paid no attention to him as he was often playing up as little boys will. But then he started to say it to others on the bus and eventually he said, ‘Mom I’ve been healed. Why don’t you believe me?’ She started to get suspicious at this point and said, ‘I do believe you.’ When they went back to the hotel she took off the bandages and his eczema was almost completely gone. That is just one of many stories of healing that I have heard and I’m sure there are many of you here who could tell me more.

Why is it that we don’t see more miracles of healing? Jesus healed many people during his time on earth, so why doesn’t God seem to heal more today?

For two summers I worked as a confessor in Lourdes; just hearing confessions, nothing else. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had as a priest so far, although it was exhausting. People are amazed when I say that hearing confessions for hours could be such a wonderful experience as most people couldn’t imagine anything more boring. However, the reason it was so great was because it is where a huge number of miracles take place every day and very real miracles too. When people are given the grace to be able to confess sins they have been burdened with for years you can physically see a change in their faces. They are being healed and it is usually a much deeper healing that a purely physical healing. The body needs healing, but the healing of the spirit is more important because it affects us much more. Many people came to me and the other priests and confessed sins they were carrying for 20, 30 and even 40 years. It is a very moving thing to watch the transformation in people’s faces when they realize they have been forgiven. A weight is lifted off of them and they are made free. I saw this happen right before my eyes many times and you know straight away that this is the healing power of God at work. 

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was about the forgiveness of sins. In each mass at the consecration the priest holds up the chalice and says, ‘This is the cup of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’ The mass is all about the forgiveness of sins, because at each mass we are at the event of Calvary when Jesus was killed. This was all done so that our sins could be forgiven. That is why the mass is so powerful and that is why we pray for everyone and everything in each mass. God the Son is offered to God the Father so that sins may be forgiven.

Because of the way we are made with body and spirit we need concrete ways of relating to each other and we need concrete ways of being able to understand God. That is one of the reasons why Jesus gives us his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. They are things we can see and touch and taste. We can relate to them. When it comes to the forgiveness of sins Jesus has given us the gift of confession. Through confession we have a definite way of being able to confess our sins to another person in total secrecy and so to be healed. Confession is an extraordinary gift of healing which the Lord offers us, because He knows how much we need it. It’s not just about confessing everything so that we can be good enough for God, because we can never be good enough for God. This is a gift that God has given us for our benefit, so that we can be healed and not be dragging around the mistakes of our past with us. The Lord wants us to be free and to be able to enjoy our lives and this is one of the wonderful ways that the Lord has done this.

‘But why can’t I just tell God I’m sorry myself?’ Well you can if you want to and I’m sure that the Lord forgives us when we do that, but God knows that in our humanity we have a psychological need to confess to another person. If you don’t believe me listen to the TV and radio shows where you find people ‘confessing’ their sins to the whole world every day. We have a need to confess, because that is what helps us to heal.

Jesus said to his Apostles, ‘‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).  Jesus was saying that He would be working through in and through them, since it is only God who forgives sins, but the Lord worked it in such a way that He would offer his forgiveness through his priests. That is why we have the gift of confession. It is meant to be a gift, not a burden, but Satan is quick to convince us that we don’t need it; that we can go to God ourselves. Why should we have to confess to a priest when he is just a sinner too? Of course priests are sinners like anyone else, but this is the gift that God has given us through the priesthood, in order to help us, to heal us and to help us be free.

All through our lives God offers us so many things to help us and I’m quite sure this is one of the greatest gifts of healing that we have, but like everything else that God gives us, it is never forced on us, simply offered, just like the Eucharist.

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

20th Sunday, Year C (Lk 12:49-53) I have come to bring fire to the earth

There is a place near my home town in Ireland (Killoran, Balinasloe) called ‘The Bishop’s Chair’. My father brought me there a several years ago (14th Jan 2000). It is a hard place to find as it really is out in the middle of nowhere. This ‘chair’ which is in the middle of a field, was where at least two bishops, between 1679-1701, ordained many priests in secret. At the time it was illegal to be a Catholic priest and if they were caught they could have been executed, so they had to ordain them in secret. It is very moving to visit it even though there is not much to see today, but just to think of the sacrifice that so many men and women were prepared to make at that time, to pass on their faith. Priests were prepared to risk their lives so that the people could have the mass, because they had the faith to believe that the mass was everything, because in it we have the gift of Jesus himself. The people were prepared to risk their lives by going to mass. The mass had to be celebrated in secret, often on what were known as ‘mass rocks’ out in the countryside.  Many priests died for the mass because they were caught. Sadly that kind of persecution continues today.

A few years ago in 2007 a priest friend of mine who was my next door neighbour in the Irish College in Rome for a year and a half, was shot dead after celebrating mass in Mosul, northern Iraq. He was just 35 years old. He had been threatened several times but he remained on in his parish in order to be there to celebrate mass for the people, even though he knew the danger. But on the Sunday after Pentecost in 2007 after celebrating mass in the parish church Ragheed and three deacons were ambushed by several gunmen. They forced them out of the cars they were driving and shot all four of them. Persecution for our faith is never far away.

At the moment we don’t live with that kind of persecution in this country, thank God, though we are living with a different kind of persecution, where our faith and our Church is often put down, mocked and lied about. Maybe it seems strange that something like the Christian faith, which preaches peace and justice, love of neighbour and respect for all people, should face such ongoing persecution? And it still does in many parts of the world. Then we have this line in today’s Gospel:
I have come to bring fire to the earth... Do you suppose I am here to bring peace on earth?  No I tell you, but rather division.

This line seems to be a bit of a contradiction to what we usually associate with what Jesus spoke about. ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ What about peace and tolerance and all that? Preaching the message of Jesus Christ, which is about peace and justice, etc., brings persecution with it, for the simple reason that not everyone wants to hear it? The teaching of Christ is a very challenging teaching at the best of times. It shows us up when we are not living according to the Lord’s teaching and that often makes people angry. We don’t like to be shown up. It says in John’s Gospel: ‘People have preferred darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil’ (Jn 3:19). There is a tendency in us which draws us to what is wrong. We often know what is ‘the right thing to do’, but we find it hard to choose it. And if we have done what is wrong, or are living in a way that is against what God teaches us, then we are not going to be happy with the teaching of Christ because it will show us up. That is why the message of Jesus always brings persecution with it, because it challenges us to our face to follow one path or another. There is no middle ground. But perhaps what is most important to remember is that the Lord’s teaching, difficult though it often is, is there to help us, because the Lord knows what will make us blossom.

I always find it consoling when I read about the calling of any of the prophets in the Bible. Nearly all of them resisted. And even if they didn’t resist initially, they usually asked God after a while if they could quit, as it was so difficult. They suffered for speaking the truth about God. The prophet Jeremiah said: ‘You have seduced me Lord and I have let myself be seduced... For me the Lord’s word has meant insult and derision all day long’ (Jer 20:7, 8b). The prophet Elijah, after working one of the most extraordinary miracles then finds himself on the run because the Queen is trying to kill him and he says: ‘Lord, I have had enough. Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’ (1 Kg 19:4-5). Who would blame them?


If you want to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ it will cost you. Not everyone in your family is going to like it. Many of the people you work with won’t like it. But that is no reason for us to be afraid, because the Lord assures us that He is with us and that He will help us. For our part we just try to be faithful and live what we believe in as best we can. We follow this path because we believe it is the most worthwhile path, because it is the path that leads to God. 

So each day we rededicate ourselves to God and we try to be faithful to the path that He points out to us.  It is not an easy path, but it is the most worthwhile path. And if not everyone understands us that’s ok too.  That’s how the Lord said it would be. What the Lord has shown us is what makes sense of our life and it is worth everything and anything, which is why we try to be faithful to it no matter what happens.
I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.’

Thursday, August 4, 2016

19th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 12:32-48) What would we see if the veil was pulled back?

There is always a lot of talk of the need for change in the Church and how we need to make things more relevant. Of course this is good and true, but I often think that one thing that we also need to do is to rediscover what we already have. I have always found that when someone has an experience of renewal in their faith, they are astonished at all the treasures they discover already waiting for them. They never noticed them before, but then suddenly they find themselves saying ‘Look at all that God has given to us!’ God has already given us everything we need. Above all He has given us the gift of himself in the Eucharist, so that we are never alone. We can receive him every day if we wish in the most intimate way possible. We can receive his body into our body. What could be more intimate than this? It is given to us as a gift, purely to help us; for no other reason. No obligation, just pure gift for our benefit. The only thing that the Lord asks us to do every so often, is to confess our sins, because we are receiving something so sacred. It is not right to receive often if we don’t confess every so often. Saint Paul speaks specifically about this in one letter:
Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died (1 Cor 11:28-30).

I have no doubt that one thing we will regret when we die, is that we didn’t come to receive the Eucharist more often, because then we will see clearly what it is the Lord has given us in the mass. It is something completely beyond our understanding. I’m sure that when we come before God we will be astonished at what God has given us, what was there to help us. 

What would we see on the altar during the mass if God pulled back the veil and allowed us to see the spiritual world? When the priest says the words ‘This is My Body... This is the cup of My Blood’ we would see the crucifixion: God the Son being offered to God the Father. It is not being repeated again, but we become present to it. Time stands still and we are there. This is the single most important event in the history of the world, because it is the moment when we were re-united to God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what happens before us in each mass. Our sin is atoned for and the way to heaven is reopened for us. For now it is all hidden from us. All we can see is a priest, wearing strange clothes and reciting various prayers, then holding up a piece of bread and a chalice. 

So why doesn’t God allow us to see what is really going on? If He even allowed us once to see this, or if there was a blinding light when we open the tabernacle and take out the Eucharist, wouldn’t it be so much easier for us? However, it is all hidden from us and the reason for this is because God wants us to freely choose to believe or not. If it was clearly put before us, we wouldn’t have to believe any more; we would simply know. But God deliberately keeps it hidden to push us forward in our faith and so that we have a choice to believe in this or not.

I heard an inspiring story about a wealthy lawyer in New York who had no time at all for religion. Every day when he’d be heading off for work in the morning at about 6.30 he’d pass an old woman who was on her way to mass. And he used to laugh at her in his mind and think how stupid she was wasting her time with such religious nonsense. Now there was a very steep hill on the way to the church, where he would usually pass her. One day in winter there was a lot of frost and ice and he was on his way to work not expecting to see her because of the ice, but then he saw her on her hands and knees going up the hill, so that she could get to mass. He was so astonished that this brought about his conversion and he said ‘There must be something in this’. We will never know how we are speaking to the people around us, by the way we live.

At the moment especially, it is easy to become discouraged and to think that we’re wasting our time. Where’s the point anyway in trying to live our faith, what difference does it make, after all, look at the world around us! This is Satan talking, trying to discourage us and make us think that we are wasting our time. Jesus himself has told us that we are not wasting our time and never to be discouraged with the evil of the world around us. He used many stories and parables to remind people of this. 
The readings today are saying don’t give up. Look at all the people down through the centuries who had to struggle too. They had faith in the promises God made to them, and they stuck at it. This is what Jesus is saying to us. Don’t give up on me. Don’t be afraid to struggle, even though it is hard. Believe that what I have told you is true. It is worth it and we are on the right track. 

What the people saw at Knock, Ireland.

 About an hour north of where I grew up in Ireland there is a place called Knock. On 21st of Aug, 1879 a group of 15 people saw an apparition at the outside wall of the church. In the apparition they saw the Lamb of God on the altar, surrounded by the angels, and to one side Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John. The brightest light was coming from the Lamb on the altar. No word was spoken and the apparition lasted for about 2 hours. This happened at a time when the people had just come through terrible suffering and religious persecution, but they had been faithful. What did it mean? The apparition seemed to be heaven’s way of saying ‘You are on the right track. What you believe in is true, so don’t give up.’ The Lamb of God represented the mass. Think of when the priest holds up the host and says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ The apparition was encouraging the people to persevere and that message is the same for us today. God has given us this extraordinary gift of himself in each mass, purely because He loves us and so that we can know He is constantly with us.

 ‘Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.’


Thursday, July 28, 2016

18th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 12:13-21) If I died tonight...

Any time there is a natural or human disaster, such as the killings in Nice or Munich recently, it makes me think.  One minute those people were just enjoying fireworks on the beach, the next minute they are before God knowing what their whole life was about. That could be there for any of us.

If I was suddenly told, like in the Gospel, ‘This very night the demand will be made for your soul,’ I wonder what would I focus on for the rest of the day? Would I be worried about paying off bills, or loans? I doubt it. I’d imagine my focus would turn to the people I love and also to wondering how have I lived my life so far.

At the moment many people in our society, many people—including Christians—are living as though there is no after-life, as though our life on earth is everything. At funerals I often hear people talking about the dead person as though that were it. Their existence is over; they are extinguished forever. If that were so, then we might as well grab all we can and make our life as comfortable as possible, because we only have one chance. But our faith tells us something completely different. Perhaps the most important thing it tells us is that we will not find full happiness in this life, but in the next, if we choose God. Complete happiness is not to be found in this life. We will have moments of great happiness, and hopefully we will find overall contentment, but that’s about as good as it gets.

When Our Lady appeared to Bernadette in Lourdes 150 years ago, one of the things she said to her was, ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ The point of that message and of the teachings of Christ is to remind us not to ‘miss the bus’, so to speak. It’s important that we don’t forget what our life is really about. We are only on this earth for a short time.

In Jesus’ time the problem of greed for money was just as much of a problem as it is now and it will probably always be this way. When this man said to Jesus, ‘Tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance,’ straight away Jesus pointed out to the disciples the danger of this desire. He said, ‘Watch out for this.’  ‘A person’s life is not made secure by what he owns.’ The problem is that our society tells us the opposite. We are all the time being told that if we have enough of everything we will be happy. But that is not what the Lord teaches us. That’s not where our happiness comes from.

There was a priest called Benedict Groeschel who founded the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the Bronx in New York. He died in 2014. He was a great preacher and he tells the story of a man he knew who was extremely wealthy.  At a particular function this man spoke to Fr. Groeschel, and he said, ‘Father, I have more money than I could ever spend or use and I would really like to be able to put it to good use.’ Fr. Groeschel suggested that he could make a donation to one of the orphanages they run, or something similar. But by the end of the evening the man had not agreed to part with one cent. It’s as if he was possessed by his wealth.  He knew he had way more than he could use, but he was still unable to part with it.

In confession I have heard so many heart-breaking stories of families divided over inheritance. It is so sad, because it is not important. Of course it is not good when someone in a family is left out of their fair share of what is coming to them, but sooner or later we will have to leave it all behind anyway. ‘There is no hitch on the hearse,’ as they say! We will take nothing with us when we die. Is it really worth causing such division in a family for this? I suppose it is a sign again that we believe we will find happiness if we have enough of everything materially. If we get the right car, house, job, furniture, etc, then we will be happy. The reality is we won’t. It is very nice to have these things, but these things won’t bring happiness because we are much deeper than this. Our spirit can never be content with just material things and that is why there is always this deeper longing in us for ‘something’ although we’re often not quite sure what that something is.

God has made us in such a way that we can only be fulfilled in him. It’s interesting that up to recently at least, one of the most popular areas of sales in book stores was the occult, which is another kind of search for the spiritual. Everyone is searching, even if we are searching in the wrong place.

Our time here on earth is a time of love and service; to choose for God or not; and this is a choice that each one of us has to make individually. That is why each week we come to listen to the Word of God and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, so that we remember what our life is about. The key is in making sure that God is at the centre. Otherwise we will forget what we are here for.
You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’

Thursday, July 21, 2016

17th Sunday of Year C (Gospel: Luke 11:1-13) Ask and you will receive

When I was young and I wanted something I would always try and talk my parents into it. I never asked a direct question but always came at it in a round-about way. My mother used say I was like a crab the way I would come at things. Most children just seem to keep asking the direct question until the parents are worn out, as I’m sure many of you are familiar with. Please can we go to the beach? Please can we go to the beach? Please can we go to the beach? It’s interesting that in this Gospel Jesus more or less tells us not to be afraid to pester him in this way when we are praying for something. Keep asking and don’t be afraid to ask.

A common difficulty for most of us is that we continually wonder if God is answering our prayers. So often I’ve heard people say that they have prayed for such and such a thing but God hasn’t listened, or answered. Is this true? Not if what Jesus says to us is true; and of course we believe that He only speaks the truth. ‘Ask and you will receive’; not might receive, but will receive. I suppose the problem lies in the fact that we often don’t recognise the way that God answers us. God always answers us but we may not even be aware of what God has done or is doing.

During my teenage years I lost interest in the practice of my faith just like many of my peers, although I still believed in God. When I was nineteen I remember thinking at one stage that I wanted to find out whether this was real or not. I didn’t just want to drift aimlessly. A few days before I turned nineteen a close friend of mine was killed in a car accident. This was a terrible shock to me because it was the first real encounter I had with death and it made me ask a lot of questions. At the end of the summer of that same year I came across a book called Power for Living. This was a series of testimonies of other people who had come back to God and whose faith meant a lot to them. Each one described how they had come to have a very real relationship with God which was now at the centre of their lives. At the end of the book it said: ‘If you want to discover God in your life, then ask him now wherever you are to come into your life and make himself known to you.’ I remember sitting at the end of my bed and saying, ‘Ok Lord, if you are there help me to find you.’ And then I put the book away and forgot all about it. I could never have imagined what was to follow. 

A few weeks later I met a friend of mine called Aidan, who told me about a mutual friend of ours called Louise who had been to a place of pilgrimage Medjugorje and had rediscovered her faith, or as Aidan put it: ‘She has become all religious and holy.’ I was intrigued, because Louise was my own age and from a similar background. So I called around to her and asked her about it. I remember she talked for about an hour and a half about what had happened. At the end of the conversation she invited me to come to a prayer meeting. Now I wasn’t that keen to go to a prayer meeting. I thought I was much too cool for such things.  But Louise was smart enough to know that and she asked another girl whom I liked, to ask me. Naturally I went! Both of those girls are now married and I’m a priest!

So I went along to this prayer meeting and I was very surprised to find 50 or 60 young people there praying the rosary, singing hymns and reading the Bible. This was totally new to me. I remember thinking that these people had something that I wanted. It was obvious that their faith was real; none of them had to be there and so I started coming back each week.

Several weeks after I began attending this prayer group they had what is called a ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminar, where they give talks about the reality of the Holy Spirit and the difference it can make in your life. On the fifth night they pray with each person to have an experience of God’s Spirit, just as the Apostles did. I was really looking forward to this and wondering what would happen. My family were also looking on nervously and hoping this wouldn’t be a disaster. After the people prayed with me I was disappointed because nothing extraordinary seemed to happen. But in the days and weeks that followed many things began to happen. It was as if someone plugged in my faith and switched on the power. Suddenly I had a tremendous desire to pray and read the Bible. The words of the Bible began to come alive for me in a way I had never experienced before and also the mass came alive for me. It was as if I was hearing it for the first time. Three years later I began studying to be a priest.

I could never have imagined how God was going to reach out to me and change my life that time I prayed to him sitting on the end of my bed. God does answer us, but often not in the way we expect.
Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened to you.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

16th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 10:38-42) Only one thing is necessary

Dear friends,
For the last few weeks I was traveling and then moving house to a different parish which is why there were no homilies. I'm now working in the parish of St. Vincent de Paul, Fort Myers, Florida. Welcome back again!

A few years ago something like 21 people working for French Telecom took their own lives. The company finally began to take a serious look at what was going wrong and realised that they were just pushing their employees too hard and they couldn’t take it anymore. So the company began to change their work policy and take some of the pressure off. It is terrible that it would come to that, but I think it is also a good reminder that we are not machines and we are not just meant to be worked to death. Apparently something similar has been happening in China where people were also being pushed too hard. We are not machines and there is a spiritual side to us which is just as real as the physical, and which also needs to be cared for if we are to be healthy.

Much of our society has gone like this, working like ‘the hammers of hell’ as the expression goes. We don’t seem to know when to stop, or even how to stop and now because Sunday is a shopping day there seems to be no beginning or end to the week. Business people will tell you that Sunday is now the busiest shopping day of the week (in Ireland at least). Even apart from a religious point of view, this cannot be good for us because we need to be able to rest, to just stop and do nothing. We are not machines.

Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things.’  Look at what Martha was saying to Jesus. ‘Can’t you see how much work there is to be done? Tell my sister to be busy too. She shouldn’t just be sitting there.’ But Jesus’ reply is interesting. He says that only one thing is necessary. He doesn’t just say that there is nothing wrong with her sitting and listening to him; he says it is necessary and that she shouldn’t be stopped from doing that. Stopping and listening is not just a nice idea, but it is necessary. Why is it so important?

There is an order to God’s creation. It will work a certain way and the Lord knows what we are able for much better than we do. The third commandment that God gave us is to keep the Sabbath, or Sunday holy.  It is to be a day of rest, where God is remembered, where God is given priority; but also a day where we can rest and recover because we need it ourselves.

When the people of Israel (who represent all of us) were wandering through the desert, initially they had nothing to eat. So God provided them with manna, a food that they could collect each day. This sustained them each day. But He also told them that they should go out and collect each day just enough for that day; but on the day before the Sabbath they should also collect enough for the Sabbath, so that they could rest and give God priority that day. To put it in modern English, He said, ‘Do enough shopping on Saturday so that you don’t have to go shopping on Sunday.’ Sunday is to be a day of rest from unnecessary work, where we can worship God, relax, take a walk with family or friends. Why? Because we need it. It is necessary for our sanity. It is part of the order that God created and God is well aware of what we need, because He created us.

God also asks us to rest so that we can continually learn how to listen to him. I often hear people say that they wish God would speak to them more. The truth is that God is speaking to us all the time, but mostly we are not listening. To a large degree we don’t even know how to listen any more, because we have gotten used to being so busy and having so much noise around us. 

You might be thinking that that is just how society has gone now and we should just get used to it. But the point is that if we are following the way of Christ as we say we are, then we need to listen to what God is saying to us, even if the rest of society doesn’t. Christians have always been different and we will be different if we follow the path that God shows us. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do I believe in this or not?’ Do I believe this is what God is saying to us or not? If we believe this—as we say we do—then we need to listen to what God asks of us and follow his directions, because they are there to help us. The order that God has given his creation, is not to make life difficult, but to help us blossom because God knows better than any of us what will help us grow.
Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things; only one thing is necessary.  It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.

Friday, June 3, 2016

10th Sunday of Year C (Luke 7:11-17) The life God wants for us

Anointing the sick
For the first few years after I was ordained a priest I worked as a hospital chaplain. It was a good but difficult experience. All day long I was dealing with sickness and death. It probably sounds strange but until then I never realized that so many people died in hospital. Many people are brought to hospital when they are dying, so understandably many people die in hospitals, but it was not how I had thought of hospitals up to that point. The most difficult case I had to deal with was a young girl of about 12 who was very sick and eventually died. I remember feeling so helpless and useless when she died. Every time I read the story of Jesus raising the little girl from the dead I am reminded of that girl and her family.

Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus only brought a few people back to life, although He healed many people who were sick. Wouldn't it make you wonder sometimes why He didn’t heal more people, or why didn’t He raise many more from the dead? I’m sure it would have convinced many more people of who He was. I think the reason He didn’t heal more people physically is because it was not the most important thing for him to do. When you think about it, all the people He healed and even raised from the dead all died later at some stage. But what could possibly be more important that healing people and taking their sickness away? 

Jesus healed those He encountered out of compassion for them, but his mission was teaching the people about God, about how God loves us and what our life is about. Having a sense of what our life is about is actually more important than being physically well, because if we don’t understand what our life is about then we will find it very difficult to keep going when things are going wrong.  One of the great tragedies of our time is to see so many people having no hope and then taking their own lives. This is not what the Lord wants for us. 

During his life on earth Jesus spoke about the reality of life after death, of not getting too caught up with things that are not important. He taught the people about the Father in heaven and how He loves us and has created us out of love. Ultimately His mission was to sacrifice himself for us, so that our sins could be forgiven, so that we could experience total happiness with God when we die. The priest says this in every mass at the consecration, repeating the words of Jesus: ‘This is the cup of my Blood… it will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’ That is why the mass is so powerful, because in each mass we become present to the event of Jesus’ death on the cross, so that sins may be forgiven. Time stands still and we are there. It is a wonderful thing that God allows us to be there.

The Lord is teaching us that there is a reason why we are here. Our life has a purpose and a meaning and is of great value. Each of us has a value so enormous to God that Jesus who is God, allowed himself to be sacrificed on our behalf. That is an extraordinary thought, but it is true. 

We are here because God created us out of love in order that we might share God’s happiness when we die. But first we have to learn about God and then we have to freely choose for God or not. Our time on earth is a time of love and service. We are free to love or not to love, to serve or not to serve and most of us do this by raising families, or simply by trying to do what is right from day to day.  But every day we are making choices for God or not by what we do. If we have a sense of this, then it can help us to keep going even when we are suffering, or sick, or things are difficult, because we know it is not forever and we know there is something wonderful waiting for us and so it is worth enduring when things are difficult. We will understand it all when we die, but for now it is hidden from us and part of the suffering we go through in this life is the fact that we cannot see the bigger picture; most of the time it remains hidden from us. Sickness is something that none of us want, but having no sense of worth or what our life is about can be far worse because it can lead to despair. It is a terrible thing to see people having no hope and it is also amazing to see what people can endure when they have a sense of what this life is about.

So in both the first reading and the Gospel today, people are brought back to life, because the Lord loves us. Each miracle was a sign; the first was a sign that Elijah was a man of God; the second miracle was a sign to the people that Jesus is God. The miracles confirmed that God was with them, but in both cases Elijah and Jesus then continued on with their mission to teach people about God and help us know what our life is about. We are called to love God and each other and to serve as best we can while we are here on earth. And when our time here is complete the Lord will bring us home to him.