Friday, October 16, 2020

29th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 22:15-21) Life on earth, versus eternity

 


(Visual homily with rope)

I want to show you something. (Long piece of rope, with about 12 inches colored in blue at one end). Picture this rope going on for thousands of miles, several times around the earth and on to infinity. This is your existence, from the time you were conceived, to all eternity. See this short piece here (pointing to the 12 inches in blue)? That is our time on earth.

When you see it visually, it makes you think. We are conceived here (pointing to the beginning of the colored section), we have our childhood here, hopefully our education from here to here and then some kind of career for the longest part (of the blue part). Then we retire and when our time on earth is complete, we go on to the eternal life we were created for. That is what we have been created for and to make sure we could get from here to here (blue part to the rest), the death and resurrection of Christ took place.

Think for a moment of how much time and energy we put into trying to get everything right here. We want the best education, so that we can have a good career, raise a family, provide for our children and make sure they are as well prepared as possible… for this short piece here (blue part).

How much time do we put into preparing for the rest of it? How much time do we spend preparing our children for the rest of it? Think of how much time we put into looking after our physical body. When we die it will disintegrate. Our soul is what will continue for all eternity. How much time do we prepare it for what is to come, to make sure it will continue to happiness and not darkness? What tends to happen right now, is that all the energy is put into getting everything right and comfortable just for our time on earth, but the decisions we make here, have consequences for all eternity. Our soul is immortal and will continue on after it leaves our body, but where it goes depends on what we choose.

 


Many people won’t even make it this length (the blue part), but will jump unexpectedly to here (beginning of the rest of it), because of sickness, accidents and natural disasters, but sadly we talk about it as our life being ‘over’. So many times at funerals I hear people talking about the deceased as if that is it, there is nothing more. ‘Their memory lives on.’ So many people have lost a sense of eternity, of the world to come, of the existence of God. 2.4 million people die every year in the US alone. It’s simply part of the cycle. Their soul goes somewhere. The biggest mistake we can make is to get so distracted by our life on earth that we forget about what comes after, thinking that this (red part) is everything and at this time, many people are focused only on this earth.

The decisions we make during our life on earth have eternal consequences. How we live on earth is so important. If our life on earth works out well and we manage to have a good career and a happy retirement, it is a blessing. But even if our life on earth is disappointing, or even a failure in our own eyes, or in the world’s eyes, all that really matters is how we lived, because that is what will determine the rest of our existence. Is there even such a thing as a failure? Does it not just mean that it didn’t go the way we expected? 

The first reading from Isaiah is saying that God is guiding and helping us, even when we don’t realize it. ‘Thus says the Lord to his anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp… opening doors before him… I have called you by your name, though you knew me not.’ (Is 45:1, 4-6)


I remember talking to an elderly man in hospital, who was near the end of his life. He admitted that he wasn’t very religious, but as he told me about his life, it became so obvious how God had guided him, even though at the time he may not have seen it. I think most of us can see the hand of God in our life when we look back. At the time it is not usually so obvious. The truth is that God is guiding us all the time and this makes perfect sense if we are his children. What parent would not try to guide their children?

Just because people haven’t come to know God doesn’t mean that God is not guiding them. Who would not guide their children and this is exactly what this reading says. 

Some will say that we are naïve to believe in God. I say that they are naïve not to believe in God. The Lord continually gives us so many signs and miracles to help us believe, but we can choose to ignore them, or dismiss them. There is indisputable evidence of hundreds of miracles around us, from the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to Eucharistic miracles, the Shroud of Turin and  miraculous healings that have taken place with prayer, all of which have been scientifically studied, with no explanation. The Lord is constantly reminding us of his presence, so that we don’t get too distracted by this world and forget what is coming. Our soul is going to live on no matter what, but where it goes depends on what we choose.



 



Sunday, October 11, 2020

28th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14) In God we always have hope

  


Not long after I was ordained there was a program on TV, a chat show, which had four young priests talking about their experience of priesthood and the Church today. I was one of the priests. If I had known more about the program I probably wouldn’t have gone on, as it was the kind of program where they would address all the most controversial issues and could really throw you to the lions. However, we spent an afternoon with a professional communications man before-hand, and that made all the difference. As a result, it turned out to be a very positive presentation of the Church.

After the program was aired, I was really struck by the response that I got from people. Many of those who wrote to me or phoned me, were priests and they nearly all had the same thing to say: they were delighted to hear people being so positive about the Church. They were greatly encouraged. It gave them hope. It made me realize just how much people are looking for hope, how much we need hope. We need a reason to get up in the morning. We need a reason to keep going when we are suffering and our reason is that we believe in God and in what God has promised us. We seem to live in a world of despair, where all we hear is bad news, how many people have been killed, where the latest war is…  Is it any wonder so many young people have committed suicide? They have no hope, they think there is nothing to live for and they despair.

Looking around us at this time, it would be easy to think that God has lost the battle and that Satan has won. Evil has been victorious and God has been defeated. Could this be possible? Of course not. God cannot be defeated, ever and we must realize this is true. Even if we can’t understand why there is so much evil around us at this time, be sure of this, God is still very much in control. 

 


One way that we can be sure of this is through the Scriptures, the Bible. The Word of God is truth, not just nice ideas, because it comes from God. It is God speaking directly to us, in our present day situation. In many places in the Bible, it says that God will not be defeated. In the beginning of St. John’s Gospel it says, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not/cannot overcome it.’ (John 1:6)

The first reading of the mass today is a reading of great hope. It is a reading that is often read  at funerals. It is God’s promise to us his people, that He has great things in store for us, beginning in this life, but fulfilled in the next and that is what gives us hope. ‘The Lord will prepare a banquet for his people’, party, a feast. That is God’s promise to us. So even if we don’t see that in this life, it still awaits us, which gives us the strength to keep going.

You might say that it’s fine to quote the Bible, but how does that apply to us in the ordinary things that we do each day? We don’t seem to see any of these promises. It doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly alright, and all our problems are gone, but it does help us to see things differently. I’m sure that during the First World War and the second, that people asked where God was. The same is true of every war for those who are caught up in it.

 


The Apostles were unstoppable because they had learned to rely completely on God and not on their own strength. If they continually focused on the world around them, which had just as many problems, they probably wouldn’t have gotten very far. But their focus was completely on God and that is why their work was so fruitful. They didn’t dwell on the chaos around them. We are being invited to do the same. There was only twelve of them to start with and yet look what happened.

Our hope is in God and that’s why even if someone is suffering terribly, or sick and even if they die, we don’t despair, because we know that God has not abandoned us. We believe that we will see them again, because this is God’s promise to us. We have hope because we believe.

In the Gospel we are presented with another parable. God is inviting everyone to his kingdom, worthy or not. Although everyone was invited, regardless of their social background, one man gets in without a wedding garment. The wedding garment would have been provided, so it means that he was casual, indifferent. He made no effort. That is also a reminder that we cannot be casual about being accepted into God’s kingdom, presuming that it doesn’t make any difference how we live.

In the book of Revelation (Apocalypse), the Spirit says to the Church in Loadicea: 'I know your works; you are neither cold nor not. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth' (Rev 3:15-16). The is no room for indifference when it comes to the things of God. We can never be casual. We are either with Jesus or not.


A few days ago I read something that one of the big music celebrities said, which was blasphemous. She said that she could do whatever she wants (and she was talking about sexual immorality), because Jesus would forgive her anyway. She was boasting about it and it was blasphemy. It is not what the word of God says. In the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says, ‘Woe to the obstinate children, says the Lord, to those who carry out plans that are not mine… adding sin to sin…’ (Is 30:1). God will not be mocked. He knows our hearts and there is nothing we need be afraid of, so long as we are trying to live as He asks, but God will not be mocked. Think of the man who came into the wedding feast with indifference, not bothering to make an effort. He was thrown out.

During times of chaos, such as the times we are in right now, it is all the more important to focus on God, not on the storm going on around us. Otherwise it is easy to be over-come with fear. The Lord is with us no matter what happens and that is our hope.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:6)


Saturday, September 19, 2020

25th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 20:1-16) My ways are not your ways.



There is a book called Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, who ended up in one of the concentration camps during the Second World War. He noticed that the people who survived the longest were not necessarily those who were physically the strongest. It was the people who had a purpose, a reason to live, such as a wife, or husband they wanted to see again, or if they had faith. Those who lived the longest were the ones who had what you might call ‘spiritual purpose’.

As we go through the various struggles and trials that we are continually faced with, sickness and death of our loved ones, marriages breaking up, we often see them as things ‘going wrong.’ Sometimes people even see it as a punishment of some kind. So many times I have heard people say to me, ‘Why did this happen to me. I never did anything wrong?’ as though they were being punished. I think that when we die we will see that many of the things that we considered ‘things going wrong’, played a part in our journey. That doesn’t mean that when we are faced with evil, it is not evil. It is, but God still can and does use it to bring about good.

For the most part there is evil around us because of the actions of other people. We have free will and we can use it to do good or evil. Our actions have consequences and affect the people around us. When people choose to do evil, others suffer. That is why there is so much suffering in the world at this time, because people choose evil, through greed, or selfishness. If God kept stopping us from doing evil, we wouldn’t have free will. So God allows us to choose good or evil, but we will also be accountable for our actions and the suffering we cause others. But God can always bring good out of evil. The greatest disaster in history, what we call Original Sin, caused us to lose eternal life with God. What could be worse than that? But out of it came the greatest good in history, which is Jesus; God made man and also eternal life with him; eternal life, not just a temporary gift.


If you take faith out of the picture, everything changes. If there was no God, then why should we make sacrifices? We would have every excuse to just take care of ourselves and our loved ones and make ourselves as comfortable as possible. But our faith makes us see things completely differently. Because God is real and our destiny is to be with him for all eternity, then what we go through in this life takes on a different perspective, because it is only temporary and it all has a part in helping us to become holier people. You could describe holiness as being ‘the best version of ourselves, that we can be.’ Depending on how we face them, the trials that we go through can have a big part in forming us, in purifying us and helping us to grow in holiness. That is also why suicide, abortion and euthanasia are not only sinful, but such terrible tragedies as well. The temptation is to think that if my life ends, then all the suffering is over. In fact, that is what you hear people saying all the time, when they are referring to someone who has died. ‘At least they won’t suffer any more.’ But if deliberately cutting a life short, through suicide, or euthanasia, or abortion, is also cutting off some of the very trials that would have helped bring us closer to God, then we are missing out. That is why God tells us not to kill. Only God can decide when we are to die. It is normal that we don’t want to suffer, but we cannot avoid a certain amount of it and Jesus said that the path to heaven involves suffering: ‘Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple’ (Matt 16:24). ‘Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to heaven and few find it’ (Matt 7:14). We want the easy way and our world tells us we should be able to have the easy way, but that is not what the Lord tells us. Who will you listen to? 

When we get to heaven, please God, I think we will look back and see that everything that we went through played a part in getting us ready to be with God. You see it all the time, how suffering changes people. People mature and often begin to see what is most important in our life on earth. If we were not faced with those same trials/sufferings, would we see what is truly important? You know how the sickness, or death of a family member can change everything, especially if it is a young person. All our priorities change. The things of this world suddenly become almost irrelevant.

So many people at the end of their life go through sickness and pain, which often seems so unfair. But I am sure that it is often the final purification that God allows us to go through before we come into God’s presence. When people die, we tend to refer to them as immediately being in heaven, but probably not many people are ready to come directly into God’s presence. It is so important that we pray for them and sadly it is something that is greatly neglected. We keep reminders of them everywhere, but we don’t pray for them. I would rather that there be no reminders of me anywhere, but instead that people pray for me and have masses offered for me when I die.


Passing on our faith is probably one of the most important things we can do for the next generation, because our faith is what puts everything in perspective. If there was no world after this one, what a cruel world it would be for so many people, as most people suffer quite a lot.

It always grieves me when I hear parents saying that they are not going to teach their children about any faith, because they want them to choose when they grow up. First of all, if they are not given any grounding in some faith, it is very unlikely they will choose any faith when they get older. Secondly, their minds are going to be formed one way or the other. Would you rather that their minds be formed by the violence and evil that fills the internet and TV, or in the ways of God? We must do everything we can to teach the next generation about God. I know that many of you here are grandparents. Don’t underestimate the influence you have on your grandchildren. We have a different kind of respect for our grandparents. Don’t apologize for what you believe in. It may be the greatest favor you do for your grandchildren.

When we were in the seminary, they did a survey asking us various questions about our faith. One question was, who influenced us the most in our faith. The majority of people said it was their grandparents. When we are growing up we tend to rebel against our parents as we are finding our feet and our independence, but we listen to our grandparents in a different way. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you believe in.

We are living in a time of increasing Godlessness and we can see the results in our society: chaos and violence. Look at what happens in communist countries where God is denied and atheism is taught: the person loses all dignity. They are simply there to serve the state. Because of that, life becomes cheap. Having faith changes all that, because God shows us that every human being has equal value and will live for all eternity.


What can we do to pass on our faith? Live it as well as you can. When you really try and live your faith, you don’t have to say very much, because your actions and decisions say everything.

Jesus Christ is the only one who makes sense of what our life is about and why we are here. We are on our way to be with him in heaven and all the things that are happening to you, have a part to play in your journey towards God. Believing that helps us to accept the difficulties that come our way as part of our journey to heaven. That’s why we use the phrase ‘offer it up.’ Offer up to God everything that you go through, so that it may help to form you.

In the second reading St. Paul is talking about how he longs to be gone to God in heaven. He had already been allowed to experience heaven and now he wants nothing else, but he knows that he has an important role to play on earth, passing on the faith to others. Until our time comes to be with God, we must do our best to pass on this faith to those who come after us, so that they also may understand the purpose of their life.

 

 


Saturday, September 12, 2020

24th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew: 18:21-35) Forgiveness is a decision of the will

 

There is an extraordinary true story about a woman called Corrie Ten Boom, a Protestant living in Holland during the Second World War. She lived with her sister and father and they used to read the bible every evening after dinner. During the war as Holland was occupied by the Nazis and Jewish people began disappearing, they ended up hiding people in their home, although they didn’t set out to do this. Eventually they were caught and sent to one of the concentration camps in Germany called Ravensbruck. Her sister and father both died there, but she survived and was eventually released. When she returned home she began working to help the many people who were so hurt by the war. She felt that God was calling her to speak about the need for forgiveness and so she did. She was invited to speak all over the country and in other countries.

While speaking in Germany one day, a man came up to her after her talk and thanked her for this message of forgiveness. He said, ‘It is good to know that Jesus forgives all our sins.’ She recognised him as one of the SS officers who had been in charge of their prison. As he extended his hand to her, she found herself freezing up and unable to respond, but she realised that if she did not forgive this man who was responsible for the death of her sister and father, all her preaching would be meaningless. So she found herself praying to God on the spot asking him to help her to forgive and she was finally able to put out her hand to him. The book is called The Hiding Place and it is an amazing story. She wrote: ‘And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.’

 


Probably the greatest obstacle to God’s helping and healing us, is our refusal to forgive. When we refuse to forgive someone we shut the door to God’s grace, we prevent God from healing us, but there is an important thing to remember about forgiving someone. Many people think that in order to forgive someone I must feel like forgiving them. In other words, the hurt has to have gone and so now I can forgive. That is not how it works. 

Forgiveness is not just a question of how I feel, or whether I feel like forgiving someone or not. Most of us when we are hurt, are often hurt for a long time, sometimes for years, and of course we don’t feel like forgiving. The deeper the hurt the longer it takes to heal, but forgiveness is a decision of our will, it doesn’t depend on whether we physically feel like doing it or not. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to’. It doesn’t mean that all the hurt will instantly disappear, but if we are prepared to do this much, then we open the door to allow God’s Spirit to begin to heal us. If I refuse to forgive, I am preventing God’s Spirit from helping me to heal. We may think that by refusing to forgive someone we inflict some kind of revenge on the other person. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt we carry. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us does not hurt them, it wounds us. The resentment becomes a poison within us, which festers. 

God wants to heal us and help us move on, but we must be willing to forgive. It is not an easy thing to do, but we must try. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times in the Gospels and in very strong terms. If we expect to be forgiven, we must also be prepared to forgive and I doubt that there is anyone who does not need to forgive someone. If you find yourself angry at someone, it usually means that you need to forgive them. Maybe a good question to ask yourself when you find yourself angry with someone is this: if I was in their position, would I hope that the person I had hurt would forgive me?

 


For a few years I worked as a hospital chaplain and I met many old people, most of whom were at peace, having come through all the trials of their lives, but sometimes I would meet someone who was bitter and full of resentment, refusing to forgive. They had been hurt, but they refused to forgive and you could see how it had consumed them. It was a sad sight. Their refusal to forgive had destroyed them. People will hurt us, but we always have a choice to forgive them or not.

I am sure that all of us here expect that the Lord will forgive us. It’s what all the Gospels are about, it’s what we believe in and yet in no uncertain terms the Lord says, if we expect God to forgive us, we must be prepared to forgive others too.  That’s how it works. Forgiveness is a decision of our will that we must make. Once we do this, then we open the door to begin to heal.

'And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart.'

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’

 


Friday, September 4, 2020

23rd Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew: 18:15-20) Salvation in Christ



What do we mean by the words ‘salvation’ or ‘redemption’? These are religious terms that we use all the time, but I’m sure that most people would find it difficult to explain what exactly they mean. To try and make sense of them we need to go back to the beginning.

We believe that God created everything: the invisible world and the visible world. We also believe that God’s greatest creation was the human being. It says in the creation account of Genesis that the human being was the last thing that God created, which is a biblical way of saying that we are God’s most important creation; God’s masterpiece, because we resemble God. No animal could be found for Adam as a help-mate. So it says that God took a rib from Adam’s side and created woman. This is a way of saying that we are made of the same stuff and we are completely different from any of the animals.

How are we made in his image? Above all with our free will. We can choose to love and serve or not. We can choose to accept or reject God. We also mirror God in procreation. The love between a man and a woman can become another human being, which is the same as the Holy Trinity. The love between the Father and the Son is another being, the Holy Spirit.

We also understand that somewhere back at the beginning we lost our harmony with God. Something happened that we call Original Sin. There was some kind of rebellion, or rejection of God’s word. The Genesis account of creation says that Adam and Eve, who represent our first parents, rejected the word of God. God told them what they needed to do, but they gave in to temptation and they did not listen to God. Because of this, we lost paradise, the possibility of eternal life with God; we describe it as going to heaven when we die. Now here is the real problem: how could we win this back? How could any human being make anything up to God, since we owe everything to God in the first place? To make up for a human sin, a human being would have to make that offering. But the only offering that could ever be acceptable to God would have to be a divine offering, since only the divine would be worthy of God. So God the Son takes on human flesh and joins divine nature to human nature. Jesus comes among us to sacrifice himself and it will be the perfect offering because it is both divine, which is acceptable to God and human, making up for a human sin. That is the Incarnation. The name ‘Jesus’ means, ‘Who saves.’ So when we say we are ‘saved’ by the death and resurrection of Jesus, this is what we mean. It is now possible and only possible, for us to go to heaven because of the death and resurrection of Christ. What could possibly be more important than this? What could be more amazing than this?

 


Since all have sinned...

Now here is something that many Christians don’t get and this is really at the heart of our faith. Most of us believe that if we work hard enough at being good and doing the right things, we will be pleasing to God and we will become holy and so God will allow us to go to heaven. Right? The truth is that we cannot become holy enough by our own strength. We will always be sinners, but it is God who makes us holy, if we are open to it.

Secondly, no matter how hard we try we will never be ‘good enough’ to go to heaven by our own strength. It is simply impossible because of the way we continually sin. So what are we to do? Think of it this way: it is as if we can get 80% of the way to coming close to God. But no matter how hard we try we will never be able to make up that other 20%. So what do we do? We don’t have to do anything because God makes up the difference for us. That’s what the death and resurrection means. Jesus makes up for us what we cannot do for ourselves. What do we have to do? We just have to accept that on faith. Listen to this quotation from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith (Rom 3:23-25).

God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that He might show mercy to them all (Rom 11:32).

This may seem a bit simple, but this is where so many people struggle so much and get so disheartened by their own sins and weaknesses, addictions, inadequacies. We think that because we keep on struggling we will never be good enough. That is correct! We will never be good enough by our own strength, but that doesn’t matter, because Jesus has made us ‘good enough’ by his death and resurrection. All we have to do is accept that and how do we accept it? By faith.


All of us struggle. I always find St. Paul’s own testimony of his weakness so encouraging. Listen to what he says:

I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  ...the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf. Rom 7:14-24)

Remember that this was St. Paul to whom Jesus appeared several times. Jesus worked many miracles through him and converted half the Roman world through him and yet this is what he writes about his own struggles. Here he is again:

Wherefore, so that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself. About this, I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me; but he has answered me, ‘My grace is enough for you; for power is at full stretch in weakness... What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is infected by death? Thank God through Jesus the Messiah (2 Cor 12:7, 24). 

Paul struggled with sin and his own weaknesses, so did Peter, so did Mother Theresa and everyone else in history, but the key to it is to realise that God makes us good enough through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is what salvation is.

So should we do anything?

And so, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I am absent, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).


We do our best to live holy lives, to follow the path that Jesus sets out for us, because this is the path that helps us to find the greatest fulfilment. It is not an easy path, but it is the most important one because it leads to God. God knows that the only way we will reach full happiness is in him. God points us in the right direction and calls us to follow this path, but it is up to us whether we do or not. Our struggles help us to grow in virtue, to become the best version of ourselves that we can be and we are called to this. The more we grow the more we resemble God and that is what God wants for us.

You will notice that people who are very holy are usually very much at home in their own skin. Is this because they have it all together and no longer sin? No. It is because they have come to realize that they must rely totally on God for everything and that everything is done for them in Jesus. This allows them to be at peace and they know that. It is Jesus who makes all things possible. He makes eternal life with God possible and they know that. So they rely totally on God and they submit everything to God’s mercy. The closer we get to God, the more it grieves us to offend him, not out of fear of punishment, but because we are hurting someone we love. Padre Pio has this beautiful saying: ‘My past O Lord to thy mercy; my present O Lord to thy love; my future O Lord to thy providence.’

In the early Church the main thing that the Apostles preached was very simple. It was known as the Kerygma, which means to cry or announce: ‘Christ died for our sins so that we would be acceptable to God and that Jesus Christ is Lord’. We are created out of love and we are created for love; to be in the love of God for all eternity. All the writings in the Bible (the Scriptures) point to this.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

This is why the Apostles and so many others went crazy with this message and were happy to sacrifice the rest of their lives to pass it on. This is why the martyrs died for what they believed in, because there is nothing greater than this message. This is what our whole life is about.

What about all those who are not Christian or never come to hear of Christ? Can they go to heaven too? Of course they can if they live the right way. No matter what religion they are part of, when they die they will know straight away what Jesus has done for us by dying for us and then they must choose. Primarily they choose for or against God by the way they live their life.


So is there any advantage to being a Christian?
Of course there is. It is an enormous privilege because it means that we already know what God has done for us through Jesus and we have the gift of that knowledge to help us all through our life. This is why Jesus told the apostles to go and preach this message to everyone, because everyone should know about this. This is what makes sense of our life and gives us more hope than anything else.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11)

 

Where does the Holy Spirit come in?

The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us this conviction. When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit we become convinced of this in the deepest way and that gives us a new energy for our life. Then we realize that everything is worth living for Jesus and suffering for Jesus because there is nothing more important in the world than knowing and loving the Lord.

Because of Christ I have come to see all the advantages I had as disadvantages. Not only that, but I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him (Phil 3:7-8).

 


Think of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. John immediately recognized who Jesus was and even though John tried to refuse, Jesus convinced him that it was necessary. When Jesus was baptized it says that there was a vision of heaven opened and the Spirit coming down on him in the form of a dove. The Spirit was empowering Jesus for the mission he was about to start. It says that the Spirit then drove/led him into the wilderness for a time of testing. He went through a time of fasting and prayer to prepare him for the work ahead. I think we can forget that Jesus was tempted just as we are, but he did not sin.

 

We are given the gift of the Spirit for the same reason, to empower us to live the Christian life, to follow the path of Jesus. So we are baptized and confirmed to give us the strength we need. The beautiful thing is that God gives us everything we need to help us in every way possible. God continually guides us through the Scriptures and through his priests He gives us the Eucharist. However, we also have to be open to it, as nothing is forced on us.

 

 

 


Friday, August 28, 2020

22nd Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27) Standing up for our faith; China man tortured.

 




In the Fujian province in China today, it is still illegal to be Catholic. But Catholics there risk their lives to have mass in their homes. One night in a particular house they were having mass in secret. They had sentries outside to watch for the police. At the end of mass, the sentries rushed in to say that the police were on the way. So everyone ran, including the priest, but the owner of the house had no where to go as it was his house. The police arrested him and took him away and he was tortured for about four weeks. They would strip him naked, use a cattle prod with high voltage and continually electrocute him all over his body. They kept saying, ‘Just tell us where the priest is and you can go home.’ But he knew that if he gave up the priest, his family and friends would no longer be able to celebrate the Eucharist, so he continually resisted in spite of the torture. After about four weeks of torture, they released him, as they realized they were not going to break him. As soon as he could, he arranged for passage to the United States and moved here. Now he was able to go to mass every day, in public, without any fear. But he also realized in the US that if he worked harder, he could make more money. And because he wanted to give as much as possible to his family, he began working harder and harder. Soon he didn’t have time to go to daily mass, so he just went on Sundays. Sometimes he would miss mass on Sunday because of his work. Eventually he only went to mass on Christmas and Easter. Finally he didn’t even go at Easter.

What Communism and torture couldn’t do, American culture was able to do without even trying; without even trying. Torture for four weeks couldn’t break this man’s love for the Eucharist, but materialist culture did it in a short time, without even trying.

 


The same thing happened in Poland. Communism was not able to break the people’s faith, but within a few years of Communism falling, materialism did, without even trying. The rate of practice dropped, because people got caught up in material things and became lazy. We get sucked into the lure of riches and that is also what has happened in this country. ‘How hard it is for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19:23).

Every so often the Church becomes big and powerful and then it starts to get lethargic and lazy. Right now we have things easy, because we can practice freely and that’s when people get lazy. Look at what has happened in first world countries over the last several decades. There has been a continual abandoning of the faith. It is an age of apostasy. You will hear people say, ‘But I’m a good person…’ God doesn’t just ask us to be good people, but to acknowledge him, to worship him and live by his Commandments. The first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your God; you will not have strange gods before me.’ The first three Commandments are about God. Don’t misuse God’s name. Keep Sunday as a holy day, when God comes first. The first half of the Our Father is about acknowledging God.

‘But I don’t have time to go to church because my kids have sports.’ When you die and come before God you can tell him that you ignored his Commandments because your kids had sports. ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me, is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers sons or daughters to me, is not worthy of me’ (Matt 10:37). I know it is easy for me to say that and it is hard for parents to choose, because sports have been put on Sunday morning. Who do you think did that? Satan did, because he is smart and knows that parents will find it harder to choose for church.

To follow God is not easy. ‘Unless you take up your cross, you cannot be my disciple.’ Being faithful to God means having to make difficult decisions.

 

Pilgrims on top of 'Cross Mountain', Medjugorje.

The recent lockdown was a good reminder to us of just how easily the Eucharist can be taken away from us and that was a good thing, because it was a wake-up call. I have heard so many people say, ‘This is the US, we will always be free to practice our faith here.’ That was also said in all the countries where religious persecution began. It can happen much more easily than you might think. Ireland was 99% Catholic when the most savage religious persecution began, because the British government passed a few laws.

Do you really have complete religious freedom if you are put under pressure to choose between your children’s sports and going to church? It is a subtle, but real form of undermining faith.

If we want to remain strong in our faith, it takes work and fidelity. It takes a certain discipline and commitment. The Lord’s day must come before anything else. Worship of God must come before anything else. I must go out of my way to pass on the faith to my children. The best way for me to keep my faith strong and alive in our country, is to live it as well as I can. It starts with me, not with what the church down the road is doing. It starts with me. 

I often think of how people get so obsessed with gaining wealth, that they lose all sight of what their life is about, and this is exactly what the Lord says:

‘What profit would it be for a man to gain the whole world, but to forfeit his life?’

Let me share with you part of the testimony of a man called Dale Recinella. Dale was a very successful attorney based in Miami. He was also a devout Catholic. In 1984 he changed law firms and his workload increased greatly. The focus on his faith became more difficult, because of the demands of his work. However, he was able to provide a very nice life-style for himself and his family. 


In 1986 he handed over the deposit for the construction of their new dream-home in Tallahassee. That evening they went to out to dinner to celebrate, but first they went to mass. During the mass they heard the Gospel of the rich young man, who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-25). You know the story, Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. He says that he already does this, so what else should he do. Jesus says, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me.’ But the young man went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth. And Jesus went on to say, ‘How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

When Dale and his wife Susan heard this, it hit them in a different way. During dinner, Dale said to his wife, ‘Do you think he meant it?’ And Susan said she didn’t know, but nobody really takes that literally. They decided to pray about it and ask the Lord to speak to them. 

Some time later Dale woke up screaming in the middle of the night from a nightmare. Susan pressed him to tell her what had happened. He explained that he had suddenly found himself outside their house raking leaves with their kids. Suddenly he heard this voice of indescribable beauty which seemed to be coming from the setting sun. He wanted to follow it. Everything in him knew he had to follow it, but as he tried he could not and when he looked down he saw a massive chain attaching him to the house. He did everything he could to break the chain, but he could not. The voice was starting to fade and he was getting more and more desperate until eventually the voice was gone and he was left alone in the dark, which was when he woke up screaming. They realized that God was speaking to them and that they had choices they needed to make.

Eighteen months later, Dale and his wife were out eating and he had a raw oyster. As soon as he took the first bite, he knew something was wrong. Shortly after he found himself in hospital and the doctor telling him that he had 10 to 12 hours to live. He had eaten a deadly bacterium called vibrio fulnificus, which almost certainly causes death and there was nothing he could do. But after he went unconscious, Jesus visited him again. This time he found himself in a room and Jesus was in front of him in all his radiant beauty, but Jesus was looking at him with eyes of sorrow and the question Jesus asked him was, ‘What have you done with all my gifts.’ Jesus showed him all the gifts he had blessed him with, his intelligence, upbringing, education, personality and all the things that had helped to bring him worldly success. Immediately he began to defend himself saying that he had worked hard to give a good life-style for his family. They were safe, lived in a good neighborhood. His kids went to good schools and their future was well provided for. But he realized as he said this, that everything he was talking about was for himself. Everything he had gained was only focused on himself and his family. And finally Jesus said, ‘What about all my people who are suffering?’ He knew that he had no answer for this, only the shame of seeing his own neglect of everyone but himself.

To cut the story short, he woke up early the next morning to the doctors unbelief. They had no explanation for it and said that what had happened was inexplicable. He knew that Jesus had given him another chance. From then on he completely changed his life-style. They began to live a much simpler life and he ended up working in a prison ministry, helping those on death row.

Why did all this happen to him? Not just to speak to him, but also to speak to us. Our world tells us that we need only look out for ourselves. If we have enough left over and enough time, then we can also reach out to others. But that is not what the Gospel teaches us. The Lord teaches us that our gifts and talents are not just for ourselves, but also for the people around us. When we have been blessed with gifts and opportunities, they are not just for ourselves, but also to help God’s people around us. We may have been placed in the exact place we find ourselves, because God wants us to take care of others who need it. We must be careful to use our gifts and talents well, because they are not just for ourselves. They are gifts which have been entrusted to us. Thank God if you can enjoy a comfortable life-style, but remember who gave it to you and remember that we have a God-given responsibility to use those gifts properly. What we have here on earth is only for a very short time.

‘What profit would it be for a man to gain the whole world, but to forfeit his life?’


 



Saturday, August 22, 2020

21st Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20) You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church


St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

When Napoleon was taking over Europe in the 19th century, he met the Cardinal of Paris and he told him that he would take over and destroy the Vatican. The Cardinal told him that he wouldn’t be able. Napoleon assured him that he would. The Cardinal said to Napoleon, ‘We priests have been trying to destroy the Vatican for the last 1800 years and we haven’t been able. You won’t be able either.’

I have often heard people say in interviews, ‘I’m not really very religious, I just go to church on Sundays,’ or words to that effect. I think we often put ourselves down and underestimate how much faith we have. The fact is that if you and I didn’t believe in God, in Jesus coming to us in each mass, that God works through the priest in the mass, we wouldn’t come here. This means that you probably have far more faith than you give yourself credit for. If we really didn’t believe, these things, we wouldn’t come here, because apart from faith, what we believe in sounds completely crazy.

Today’s readings make an interesting point. In this encounter between Jesus and Peter, Peter recognised that Jesus was the Christ, the one promised by God and immediately Jesus told him that he was a blessed man, because it was God the Father who had revealed this to him. The fact that we believe in God means we have been given the gift of faith. You might think, ‘Well, I just learnt about it from my parents’, or ‘I just grew up Catholic.’ but the fact is that many other people also learnt about it from their parents and don’t believe, so there must be more to it than that. No human being on their own, will convince you of God, even with the best arguments. I could stand here for hours and try to give you impressive explanations of why we should believe in God, but if the Spirit of God does not touch your heart, I would be wasting my time. It is God and only God who can convince you of his presence. The only thing we need in order to receive this gift, is openness. If we are open, we will come to know God, because that is what God wants for us.

 

The second thing that Jesus said to Peter tells us why we need the Church. Sometimes you will hear people say that they want God, but not the Church. That really means that they don’t understand what the Church is. Jesus said: ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.’ He also said, ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be considered bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be considered loosed in heaven.’ In other words, Jesus was giving his authority to Peter and his followers to act and make decisions in his name.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah refers to this authority being passed on. The Lord says that He will place the key on the shoulder of Eliakim. The key is the symbol of authority. The authority is being passed on to the next leader. ‘When he opens, no one shall shut. When he shuts, no one will open.’ ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…’ This is telling us that the authority bestowed on Peter is to be passed on to those who come after him. It is the same authority that is passed on. That is why we continue to listen to the teaching of the Church, because it is the teaching of Christ. It is from God, not man.

Was that a crazy thing to do? Why on earth would God give his authority to a group of ordinary and weak people, to represent him and speak on his behalf? What it means is that God would be working through these people, through his Spirit who guides the Church, who guides us all. So the Lord was saying, ‘I am going to work through human instruments, but it is my Church and it is I who will guide it.’

 

If you find that idea hard to believe, just think for a moment of all the different empires and superpowers that have come and gone over the centuries: the great Chinese empires, the Roman Empire, people like Napoleon, Hitler, all the different nations that were super-powers. They were all powerful, well organized and wealthy and yet they have all come and gone and they are no more. Why? Because they were of human origin. How is it that the Church is still here, considering we have had centuries of bad example, scandals, bad preaching, etc? And not only is it still here, but it is continually growing. The only reason the Church is still here, is because it is from God and it is God who is continually acting through it, in spite of all the mistakes we make, and we make plenty. The history of the Church is nothing to boast about. It was Jesus’ plan to have a Church and to work through it, so that we would have a very concrete way to relate to God and so He guides us through his Church and shows us the path to follow. So today, 20 centuries after Christ, here am I still passing on the message to you and even if I make a mess of it, the Lord will teach us what we need to know, just as long as we go on being open to him.

Jesus also said, “Anyone who listens to these words of mine is like a wise person is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock” (Matt 7:24). Jesus is saying, don’t build your faith on ‘nice ideas’ or just the things that suit you. We need a solid foundation for our faith, or it won’t last. That foundation is what is passed on to us through the Church, because that is his teaching.

A very common practice today is to take bits and pieces of faith; just the parts that suit us. We live in a society of convenience, so we are used to being able to pick and choose, but that thinking can flow into the practice of our faith. ‘It doesn’t suit me to go to church on Sunday, this week, so I won’t.’ It is a commandment of God, not a suggestion. ‘We can’t be expected to take all of it seriously…?’ We are expected to take all of it seriously, because it is from God. If it is truly from God, why would you take some of it and leave other parts? If it is from God, then we need all of it.

 

There will always be parts of our faith that we struggle with. That is normal, but it is not a reason to disregard them. Is it from God or not? Jesus is showing us that we need a solid foundation and that foundation is his teaching, passed on through his Church.

One other line from that Gospel is worth mentioning: ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.’ In another translation it says, ‘and the powers of hell will not overcome it’ (New Living Translation). It is easy to get the impression that the Church is about to disappear at any moment. We see so much evil around us, which is very disturbing. Will the Church survive? That’s what the Lord is telling us. It will never be overcome, because it is from God.

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.’