Wednesday, July 1, 2020

13th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 10: 37-42) Focus on Jesus, not on the storm

At this time we continue to see disturbing things happening in our country. During the week one celebrity said that crucifixes should be taken down, because they portray Jesus as a white man, which is a form of white supremacy. Evil, twisted thinking and make no mistake about it, what is behind this is evil. During the week in Los Angeles, a statue of St. Junipero Serra was torn down, because he was associated with colonization, even though he dedicated his life to helping and protecting indigenous people. When people get into a mindset of rebellion, they lash out in all directions and that is what is happening.

These things are upsetting, but don’t be surprised at it. For the first 300 years of Christianity there was open persecution against the Christians and it is never far away. During the Mexican revolution of 1910, many priests were killed. That’s only a hundred years ago and not far from here.

Because of the scandals in the Church caused by a minority of priests, we all got blamed and hated for it. It is the same with the police right now. Because of a few who are corrupt, they are all getting blamed, which is wrong and we must support our police. It is a frightening time for them, and they have a dangerous enough job as it is. Remember that one out of twelve of the Apostles betrayed Jesus to death. That is a very high percentage.

I always find myself getting angry when I meet hostility towards me as a priest. It is upsetting and yet Jesus told us this is exactly what would happen. ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’… ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ (John 15: 18, 20), so I shouldn’t be surprised.

How should we respond to these things? We look to the master. How did Jesus respond to the persecution and resistance that he met? He gave himself completely to the Father. He prayed continually and trusted in the Father’s providence and in his justice. Before he was arrested, Jesus was afraid and in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed to the Father for courage and strength. He was full of human fear, just as anyone would be. In situations of danger, it is normal to feel fear, but we trust in God because we belong completely to him.

Now is the time to stay close to the Lord and completely focused on him. That’s what the Apostles did for the rest of their lives. Nearly all of them were killed, but they were able to keep going because they entrusted themselves completely to God. They weren’t afraid of what happened around them. They remained focused on God. Wherever they went and met other Christians, they celebrated the Eucharist together. That is what we do too. The Eucharist is not just a nice reminder of Jesus, it really is Jesus. It is the greatest treasure that we have and no one will ever take it away from us.

In Ireland, during what were called the Penal Times, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, which was a time of open persecution against Catholics, they had to celebrate the mass in secret. So they had mass out in the fields, with people on guard. Hopefully we will never have to do that, but no matter what happens, the greatest treasure we have is the mass, because in the mass we receive Jesus himself. I was very inspired to see so many people coming to receive the Eucharist when we had to close the doors of the church. Nothing will stop us from having the mass, even if we have to do it in secret.

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and branches. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches… Cut off from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). In difficult times we must come closer to Jesus more than ever, because He is our life and our strength. Only in him does our life mean anything.

Our churches, crucifixes and other symbols are important to us, but remember they are not the church. We, God’s people, are the Church and the Lord is with us no matter what happens. Please God things will settle down and we will be able to continue practicing our faith as normal, but we must also remember what is truly important; that we stay close to the Lord.

With regard to what is happening around us, remember how St. Paul described it, because it is the exact same:
For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil authorities and rulers of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).

Real evil is behind what we are seeing. Evil turns people against people and that is what is happening. How do we fight that kind of evil, with the weapons that the Lord has given us: prayer, the Eucharist, the Scriptures and the support of other like-minded people. In other words, by remaining close to Jesus at all times, because our strength and life is only in him. ‘Do not be afraid.’

Saturday, June 20, 2020

12th Sunday of Year A (Gospel: Matthew 10:26-33) Fear no one

Kinvara, Co. Galway, Ireland

The first line in today’s Gospel has only three words, but it says an awful lot: ‘Fear no one’. God never wants us to be afraid. Three hundred and sixty-six times in the Bible are the words ‘Do not be afraid.’ God is constantly reassuring us that He is there and He only has plans for our happiness.

At this time we are seeing many people living in fear for all kinds of reasons: the unrest in our country, the virus, plagues in different parts of the world. What is happening? For one thing, I think God is telling us to wake up. When people feel their life is in danger—such as with the virus—they begin to think in a different way. It is interesting to see in hospitals how open people are to me as a priest. Many people will talk to me there, who wouldn’t normally and the reason is because their focus has changed. They are suddenly seeing what is really important: themselves, or their loved ones, in danger of death. Times like that make us focus on eternal things and that is good. My life on earth may be suddenly about to end. What happens now?

Think of all the time and effort we put into training for a career, often tens of thousands of dollars and years of study and yet that career will probably end in forty or fifty years and then it’s over. Sooner or later our time on earth will be over and we will go into the next world, which is for all eternity. How much time do we spend preparing for that one, which is eternal?

It makes me sad when I hear young parents say that they aren’t going to teach their children about God, because they want them to be free to choose when they get older. So they won’t have their children’s minds formed in the ways of God, but they will be formed by the violence in video games and the immorality on tv, because one way or another, their children’s minds will be formed.

In this Gospel passage, Jesus says: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy body and soul in Gehenna.’ Don’t be afraid of what can happen to us while on earth. Be aware of what can happen to you after you die. Fear God and be aware that everything is in his hands. He is the One who has the ultimate say in everything. To ‘fear’ God in that sense, means to have respect and awe for who God is and to recognize that all things belong to him and are subject to him. If times of turmoil help people to wake up to God’s presence and how small we are, then that is a good thing.

God does not want us to be afraid and if we have a relationship with him, we know that we have nothing to be afraid of. If we are focused on God, then even when events around us are disturbing, or even frightening, we can have a quiet confidence. Whenever our own death comes, we will go to be with the God, whom we have hopefully made part of our lives on earth. People who have ignored God for years are the ones who will panic, because they have nothing to turn to. Even if they know they should turn to God, they don’t know who God is.

Jesus says, ‘It is not those who will say “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 7:21). People say they don’t need to go to church. They practice their faith in their own way. Each must decide, but are they just doing their will, or God’s will, because Jesus tells us we must do the will of the Father, not just our will, even if we speak of God.

During the Superbowl half-time show this year, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira put on a performance that they said was ‘empowering for women’. It caused quite a reaction, because anyone who saw it realized that it was completely degrading for women. But before they want on stage to do that performance, they gathered around to say a prayer to ask the Lord to bless them and keep them save. Their prayer may well have been sincere and it is not for me to judge, but if we are to love the Lord we must also do what He asks us to do. I know there are fortune tellers who will begin by praying the Our Father, or Hail Mary. Yet what they are doing is forbidden in the Scriptures. ‘It is not those who will say “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’. The Lord asks us to do his will, not just to use his name, because one without the other is meaningless.

Baptizing your children and making no effort to bring them up to know God is hypocrisy, because at Baptism you make a promise to God to raise them in the faith. If you’re children have had their children baptized, but are not teaching them about their faith, you can remind them of that. They made a promise to God. ‘Oh, God doesn’t mind.’ Jesus says that God does mind!

‘Fear no one’ (Matt 10:26). We will meet many situations in this world which may be frightening, but they are all short-lived. In the first reading Jeremiah knows that the people are plotting against him and he is afraid, but he also has confidence in God, that God will rescue him, whether in this life or the next. Jesus was terrified in the Garden of Gethsemane, because He knew what was about to happen. Yet He had total confidence in the Father and trusted all things to him. Human fear is a normal reaction to danger. But fear of God is something completely different. It is the fear, awe, or loving fright, that helps us to be in the right relationship with God. You can love God and still be in awe and reverence of who God is. That is part of what we learn when we come close to God. What we also have to be careful of is that we are never casual in our approach to God.

You hear me reminding you often of the respect and reverence we need to show when we receive the Eucharist. It is very easy to become casual and we need to be so careful of that. That is why I keep saying, ‘Don’t walk away with the Host, don’t reach out to take it. Put it in your mouth as soon as you receive it.’ Remind yourself who it is you are receiving. If I believe this is really the body of Christ in my hand, I am not going to walk anywhere with it. I will stop and place it in my mouth; not ‘flick’ it in my mouth, but place it in my mouth. In the same way, how we dress also says a lot about the reverence we have for God. The church is a holy place and we should dress appropriately. How would you dress if you were going to meet the pope? Well, here you are coming to meet and touch Jesus.

The more our love for God grows, the more reverence we will have for him. One naturally follows the other. Remember the words of John the Baptist referring to Jesus: ‘He must grow greater. I must grow smaller.’ Before God there is nothing to do but bow down and worship, with love and awe.

‘Fear no one… Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy body and soul in Gehenna.’

Friday, June 12, 2020

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Today the bishop has asked us to speak about the problem of racism. So, I would like to share some thoughts with you.
 Moses said to the people: I charged your judges at the time, “Listen to complaints among your kinsmen and administer true justice to both parties even if one of them is an alien. In rendering judgment, do not consider who a person is; give ear to the lowly and to the great alike, fearing no man, for judgment is God’s” (Deut 1:16-17)

Recently we have seen the ugly head of racism again, with the appalling death of George Floyd. Sadly, it never seems to be far away. In the outrage and protests that followed, it was good to see that there were people of all color protesting. People recognize how wrong it is. Even though there will probably always be a certain amount of it, the more people are made aware of it the better. Children are not racist or prejudiced. They learn it from their parents and others.

During ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland, where there was so much hatred between Catholics and Protestants, there were also many people who worked hard for peace and reconciliation. I remember several times after someone had been shot dead because they were Catholic or Protestant, family members saying that they wanted no retaliation and even that they forgave the killers. How were they able to do that? Because they had faith in God. Faith changes everything.

A priest friend of mine from the North of Ireland told me that sometimes he was invited into Protestant schools to help build bridges and for them to see that he was just a normal human being. He said that when he went into the classes of the young children, he had to take off his shoes and socks to show them that he didn’t have hooves. Their parents had told them that priests were the devil and that they had hooves. They were being taught to hate.

Jesus teaches us the opposite. ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt 5:43). We try to acknowledge the dignity of each person, whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not. It is striking how Jesus treated all the different people he met from different faith and cultural backgrounds: the Samaritan woman (Jews despised the Samaritans); Roman soldiers (the occupying force; equally hated), and several others who were not Jewish.

The death of George Floyd was truly shocking and it is good that it caused such a reaction, but racism and discrimination can be much more subtle than that. How do I treat people from any country? Maybe I think they shouldn’t be here. Maybe I feel threatened by them and yet all of our ancestors came from other countries and were probably discriminated against when they got here first. I think of that infamous sign from the early 1900s which said, ‘Irish need not apply.’ They were despised at the time. If your children went to live in another country, how would you want them to be treated?
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

There is an English author and historian called Tom Holland, who is also an atheist. He says that in studying the ancient world he realized how cruel it was. The Spartans routinely murdered ‘imperfect’ children. Slaves were often used as things of pleasure. Monogamy was common and the poor and weak had no rights. What changed all that? Christianity. Christ helped us to see that each person has unique value and each person has the same dignity. No one life is of more value than another. I always cringe when I hear that expression ‘saving American lives,’ because it seems to imply that people who are not American are less important, or of less value. Is my life of less value because I am a foreigner?

All of us grow up with a certain amount of prejudice, though we don’t see most of it. What we think of as normal, is often prejudiced. That is why we have to keep going back to the teachings of Christ, to help us to see as He sees. What does He tell us? What does his life tell us? His death was for all people, regardless of what they believe, or where they come from. If we are followers of Christ, we must try and see others as human beings before anything else. If we were able to take away all categories from everyone we meet, we would just see another person like ourselves. That is what the Lord did and that is what He is asking us to do too.

We may not like certain cultures, or religions, but that is irrelevant. We all have things we do and don’t like. That doesn’t matter. Every one of us has the same value and will come before God in the same way when we die. When we mistreat or disrespect another person, we are disrespecting Jesus. We are offending God. Remember what Jesus said to St. Paul when He appeared to him? ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (Acts 9:4). Saul was persecuting the Christians, but by persecuting them, he was persecuting Jesus. 'Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me' (Mat 25:40).

After the Resurrection of Jesus, it took the Apostles a while to realize that they were being sent to all people, not just the Jewish people and this surprised them at first. God doesn’t discriminate.

To be able to remain neutral is not easy, but staying close to the Lord is the key to doing that. I often think of Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta. Most of the people she brought in off the street were Hindu and Muslim. She didn’t try to convert them. She just cleaned them up and allowed them to die with dignity. That told people more about God than anything else. She was able to do that because of her faith in God. It helped her to move beyond cultures and faiths. She just saw human beings.

Moses said to the people: I charged your judges at the time, “Listen to complaints among your kinsmen and administer true justice to both parties even if one of them is an alien. In rendering judgment, do not consider who a person is; give ear to the lowly and to the great alike, fearing no man, for judgment is God’s” (Deut 1:16-17).

Friday, June 5, 2020

Feast of the Holy Trinity (Gospel: John 3:16-18) Created for happiness

One thing that all of us have in common, is the search for happiness. Everyone wants to find happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but all of us are searching for it. God shows us exactly where to find it and how to get there, but we are not always convinced. If I asked how many of you here want to be rich, probably everyone would say yes, because we have become convinced that we will have happiness if we have enough money. Our problems will go away. They won’t. In fact, Jesus says ‘How hard it is for the rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ The kingdom of heaven is where we will find happiness and ironically wealth, often becomes an obstacle to it, because it distracts us and holds us back.

Many times I have heard people who have worked in third world countries say, that it is always in the poorest countries that people have the greatest joy, even where there is terrible in justice. It is in first world countries where you will find the greatest anger, depression and despair. Why is that? Because in the poorest countries they don’t get distracted by wealth and they realize that they will only find happiness in God, beginning in this life and fulfilled in the next. We will only find happiness in God. When Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858, she said to her ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ If we understand this, we will begin to find peace, because we won’t be expecting to find complete happiness here. We will only have complete fulfillment in the world to come.

The wonderful thing is that God has created us for happiness. God created us to be happy. The Holy Trinity was perfectly fulfilled in every way before He created us, but God wanted to share that happiness with us. So, God created us to be able to enjoy that happiness and total fulfillment, which we will, if we remain open to God. Think of times in your life when you were happy: birthdays, weddings, the birth of a child, graduations. Our instinct is to share it, to celebrate it with others. So we invite others to share in our happiness and we have a party. That is why God created us, because He wanted us to share in his happiness. And that is what awaits us unless we reject it. Why would someone reject it? Because we think we know better and refuse to listen to what God teaches us and commands us to do. The death and resurrection of Jesus was so that we could reach that happiness. He reopened the possibility of heaven for us, after we had lost it through Original Sin. Now it is offered to us, but we still have to choose it.

How is it that nearly all of us want peace and happiness, but our world is full of war and hatred? We want equality, but we are continually faced with discrimination. The reason is because there is a war going on that we can’t see, but it is mentioned in Scripture many times. Satan rejected God and hates God’s creation us. He wants to take everything away from God, especially us, his children.

In the book of Genesis, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God said,
I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. She will crush your head, and you will strike her heel (Gen 3:15).

And it says in the book of Revelation:
And the dragon was enraged at the woman and went to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.’ (Rev 12:17).

The woman is Our Lady, the Mother of all God’s children. At the crucifixion, Jesus said to saint John—who is the model disciple and represents all of us who follow God— ‘Behold your mother.’ And to Mary, ‘Behold your son’ (John 19:25). He gave us his mother as our spiritual and heavenly mother.

If you think of evil people in the world. If they want to cause pain to someone, they will try and harm their children, the ones they hold dearest in the world. What is abortion, except that? Satan destroys God’s children from its beginning. That is what is behind abortion. Satan has convinced us that it is a good thing, so that we needn’t be inconvenienced. But think of the words of consecration at the mass: ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.’ Think of what abortion says: ‘This is my body and it will not be given up for you.’ It is the opposite of the mass. That’s how you know what is behind it. There is no species on the planet that kills its own young.

So we are in the middle of a war, a spiritual war, where Satan wants to take us away from God in any way possible. St. Paul puts it this way:
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).

How did he know that? Because Jesus taught them all these things. I have no doubt that between the time of the resurrection and the ascension into heaven, these were some of the things that God was teaching the Apostles and later for St. Paul. Jesus was piecing it all together for them. That is why God inspired them to write it down and why we have it in the Scriptures, the word of God.

What is the casting out of demons, except taking back God’s children? How do you destroy an enemy: turn them against each other? Look at what is happening in our world right now. We are turned against each other and killing each other, often for no particular reason. It is because we are in the middle of a much bigger war than we can see. When people turn their back on God and on God’s teachings, they lose their way and are open to every kind of suggestion. That is what we see happening.

But as always, God gives us all the tools we need to fight back. He shows us that living the Commandments and the teachings of Christ is what keeps us safe. If we listen to what God says to us, then we will not get distracted from the path to our happiness. If we live by the word of God, then we will remember what is important and we will see through the lies that we are constantly being told: ‘Abortion and Euthanasia are good for society. You don't need to listen to God. You should be able to do whatever you want.’ That was the lie told to Adam and Eve, which they fell for. 

God has created us to share in his happiness, but He will not force us to accept it. I’m often amazed at the amount of parents who tell me in great distress about one of their children who has rejected them. They cannot understand why. They did everything they could for their children and then their children turned their back on them. Sadly, it happens quite often. We also do this with God. God offers us everything and gives us everything, but we can still reject him and people do.

I think one of the most difficult sufferings in the life of Jesus must have been knowing that some people would still reject him in spite of the terrible sufferings he was going to go through for them. His death and resurrection re-opened the way to heaven for us, but we can still reject it.

We are created for happiness and that’s what awaits us unless we reject it.

God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,
So that all who believe in him might not perish,
but might have eternal life (John 3:16).

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Feast of Pentecost. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.

In 1999, in preparation for the second millennium, Pope John Paul II invited representatives from 54 different groups around the world to come to Rome. These groups were started over the last several decades and were all started by lay people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To give you an example, some of the groups were, the Focolare movement, Marriage Encounter, Cenacolo, Charismatic Renewal, Cursillo. All of these different movements within the Church have been started by lay people and are really about different ways of living out the Gospel in daily life. These movements have been so fruitful, that most of them have spread all over the world. For that meeting in Rome, there were 400,000 people present representing these 54 different movements. This event was a celebration of what God is doing all over the world. 
It is good to hear about these things every so often, because it would be easy to get the impression that the Church is dying, or that religion is on its way out. We won’t hear about this sort of thing on the TV, or in the papers, but it is happening all around us.

Just to give you an example closer to home of the power of God’s Spirit working among us. For many years I was part of a prayer group of young people in Galway, started by a young lay woman. From that group there are currently four people in religious life (two contemplative sisters and two priests), and there are about twenty married couples, but more importantly it has helped many people come back to their faith and grow in their faith. Most of the group are now in their 50s but they are people who are really trying to live out the Gospel in their daily lives. It was thanks to that group that I came back to my own faith, because I had also drifted away, and then later I became a priest. That is the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work, and praise God for it.

God doesn’t wait until we are ready. God acts when the time is right. He doesn’t wait for the hierarchy of his Church to decide what to do. I don’t mean that they are not important, but think of the times that Peter and Paul came to pray with people and before they had even started, the Holy Spirit came down on them. The Lord sends his Spirit to inspire and move people to step out in faith and live the Gospel, and they in turn move others, until soon the people are alive with faith again. In the Gospels Jesus says to the Pharisees, ‘The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit’ (Matthew 21:43). God doesn’t wait until we are ready. God inspires people to act when the time is right and that’s why new movements and religious orders keep springing up.

One time when I was working in a hospital in Ireland, I came into one area where I was going to visit patients who were newly admitted. One of the nurses told me that a man had been admitted who had taken an overdose of poison and was going to die. She said that he probably wouldn’t be too receptive to me. I decided to visit him anyway and prayed to God for guidance. When I got to the door of his room, which was open, I could see a young man by his bedside, who turned out to be his son. I stood at the door and I just said, ‘I heard what happened and I’m sorry. Do you regret it?’ The man said that he did regret it. As soon as he said that, I felt this strong prompting inside me saying, ‘That is a confession, so don’t ask for one.’ I really felt that was the Spirit speaking to me. I asked the man if he would like to talk, but he emphatically said that he did not want to make a confession. I told him that he didn’t have to. I spoke to him for a few minutes and he told me that on the spur of the moment he had taken a drink of a weed killer called Paraquot. The doctors told me that they could do nothing and that this would just burn through his insides and kill him. He now had to face his family. I asked him if he would like me to anoint him. Again he said that he didn’t want to make a confession. I told him that it wasn’t necessary and that the anointing included the forgiveness of his sins. And so I anointed him and left. He died a few days later.

Some weeks later a friend of mine was talking about a man in hospital who had taken an overdose of poison. He had refused to see two priests, but eventually he did see a priest, was anointed and died peacefully. It was the same man, but my friend didn’t realise I was the third priest. If I had known that he had refused to see two other priests, I probably would not have gone to him. But the Lord sent me to that man, he made his peace with God and died reconciled. That was the power of the Holy Spirit guiding me to him, just as we read of the Apostles being guided to different people.

Another time I was in one of the hospitals here in Fort Myers. While I was in the elevator a young woman asked me if I was a priest. Then she asked me how I could get a priest to come and visit her husband. I offered to go right way and we went to his room. He had fallen and broken his back and was still unconscious. I asked her if she would like me to give him the sacrament of the sick (anointing). She awkwardly told me that they were not married in the Church. I told her that this wasn’t the time to worry about that and I anointed him. She was in tears and then asked me to bless her and her children which I did. That showed her that God was with her and looking out for her. What a privilege it is for me to be that instrument that God uses and this happens to me all the time.

Do you know what God’s Spirit is doing in the Church all over the world over the last few years? He is stripping it down so that it can become beautiful once again. Because of the scandals, He is removing all the prestige, power and respectability which we had come to depend on. We had become too powerful, too prestigious and it was causing us to wander away from what the Gospel is really about. The scandals have brought us to our knees and that is not a bad thing. God is, ironically, forcing us to turn back to depend on his Word and his Spirit and to get away from what we don’t need. God is rebuilding his Church because He loves us. When someone is sick with cancer, you remove the cancer so that the person becomes well again. When the Spirit’s work is finished the Church will be beautiful again. The Spirit is removing the cancer of sin and corruption, so that God’s Church can bear fruit again and God does this because He loves his Church.

Before he ascended into heaven Jesus told us that the Father would send us the ‘Helper’, who would be with us forever, and who would teach us everything. He knew that we would need help and so He sent us the best help that we could have, his own Spirit, to guide us and teach us. And He does teach us constantly, through the example of people He inspires, through the Word of God, through prayer when we are open to him, in fact, through many ways we will never even be aware of.  But the Spirit is very gentle and that is why we don’t notice him sometimes.

Think of this: in each mass, nothing would happen when the priest prays over the bread and wine, if the Spirit didn’t come down and transform them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Sins would not be forgiven through the priests if the Spirit didn’t act, because it is the Spirit to takes way the sin, through the instrument of the priest. Baptism and Confirmation would be meaningless if the Spirit didn’t anoint the person receiving the sacrament; marriage and ordination would mean nothing, if the Holy Spirit didn’t act. Because of the presence of the Spirit, when a couple get married in the Church, God becomes involved in that marriage. It is no longer just the couple, but the couple with God helping them and blessing what they do. We wouldn’t know how to pray, or even feel the desire to pray except that the Spirit is prompting us continually. Our preaching would have no effect if the Spirit did not anoint the words we speak.

Here is something that happens to me quite often. I preach a homily that I feel disappointed with, or that I thought I did not do well. Afterwards people come up and thank me for such a powerful message. That is the Holy Spirit and it is also God reminding me that it is his work, not mine. I do my part and prepare as best I can, but ultimately it is the power of God at work through me. That is also why it is so important for me to pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the words I speak. God will speak to your heart if you are open. I think it is always good to ask God to help us to hear what He wants us to hear, every time you read the Scriptures, or listen to them at mass. God has plenty to say to us if we are willing to listen.

The gift of God’s own Spirit is really the greatest thing God can give to us after life itself, because when we have the Holy Spirit we have everything. It is also good to remember that the anointing of the Spirit does not depend on how brilliant, or learned we are. It simply depends on us being open to the Spirit. If you look at so many of the characters God used in the Bible, most of them were very insignificant people. God seems to delight in using ordinary and indeed ‘useless’ people, according to the world’s thinking; the kind of people the world casts aside as being irrelevant.

In the first book of Samuel, it says that Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to anoint God’s chosen instrument who would be the next king of Israel. God tells Samuel He will show him whom to anoint. Samuel comes to Jesse’s house where there are seven sons. He looks at everyone in the household, starting with the eldest, but God did not choose any of them. Having seen all of the sons in the house, Samuel asks if there is anyone else. They tell him there is just the youngest who is out minding the sheep. He is the least important, who was not even considered, but he is the one God anoints and he turns out to be one of the greatest kings of Israel, king David. That tells us something. We don’t have to be great for God to use us, just open. The more we root ourselves in God’s life, through his Word and through the Eucharist, the more the Lord will use us.

Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful people,
send forth your Spirit and we will be created,
and you will renew the face of the earth.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Ascension of the Lord, Yr A (Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20) He continued to appear to them and tell them about the Kingdom

In my work as a priest, people often tell me about spiritual experiences they have had. Sometimes they are experiences of the Lord in some way, sometimes of someone who has died, asking for prayers, or something like that. A lot of people do in fact have spiritual experiences. However, often after a time, people begin to wonder whether they really did have these experiences, or was it all in their imagination. It is really impossible to know, and in one way it is not even important. Usually the experience will have helped them at that time and that is enough. It has achieved its purpose.

A man came to me early one Saturday morning. He seemed distressed. Initially I thought he was going to ask me for money, which is often the case, but in fact he wanted to go to confession. He told me that the previous night a friend of his who had died some time before, had appeared to him. He was obviously quite shaken by the experience and he realized that he needed to go to confession himself. It was a wake-up call for him.

Different spiritual experiences help us to be aware of just how real the spiritual world is, which we can become very cynical about. We will say, ‘Yes, I believe in God, but don’t expect me to believe in angels, or the devil, or hell.’ Why are these any more extraordinary to believe in. If God is real, then the spiritual world is real. That means there is an awful lot we haven’t seen and don’t understand, but the Lord tells us that these things are real and so we should believe in them. Jesus often spoke about the reality of heaven, hell, Satan, angels, sin and so many other things and yet we doubt. It’s amazing how many people doubt the existence of hell or Satan and yet Jesus often spoke about both. If they are not real, then the crucifixion was meaningless, because the whole point of the death and resurrection was to make it possible for us to be able to go to heaven, which means we could lose it, which means hell must be real. If we lose heaven, we are left with the opposite, which is hell.

In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles—or the ‘adventures’ of the Apostles, as you might call them—Luke tells us how after Jesus rose from the dead, He continued to appear to the Apostles. Not just once, but many times. Why? No doubt to convince them that they had not imagined it. One thing that He did on at least two occasions was to eat something with them. The first time when he appeared to them in the room, they were all standing there speechless, and He said, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave him a piece of fish and He ate it in front of them. Then they knew it was not just a vision, but a real person, the same real person they had known before. It was not even food that He had brought with him, which could also have been part of a vision, but it was something they gave him and then they watched him chew it and swallow it. This was a beautiful and very human thing to do; something that we could completely relate to.  

Luke also says that he not only appeared to them, but He continued to tell them about ‘the Kingdom.’ What is ‘the Kingdom?’ What was he telling them about? I have no doubt that He was telling them about the reality of heaven: life with God, which He has created us for; that it is real and that we could also lose it if we are foolish. There we will be reunited with the people we love and we will experience happiness there, in a way that we can not even begin to imagine now. He was probably also explaining to them what the purpose of his life on earth was, why He had to suffer and die the way He did, what all this meant for the human race; God’s plan for his people. Also He probably told them that He had a lot of work for them to do and that they must remember that their life here on earth was a time of service and not to worry if things were not easy, because when their work here was done he would bring them home to be with him again.

Notice too, how they still didn’t understand about the kingdom of God even though Jesus had risen from the dead. It says that they asked Jesus, ‘Now are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ It was only after they received the gift of the Holy Spirit that they began to see the bigger picture. Until then they were still thinking in earthly terms, political power, Israel being dominant.

Why were they suddenly able to go out and start preaching to everyone about a man that most people had never heard of and not only preach about him for a while, but for the rest of their lives with passion? I think all of them ended up being martyred, but they didn’t care, because they knew that the only thing that was important was to be faithful to the Lord Jesus as best they could.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the same thing exactly applies to us. The Apostles were real people and these are real experiences that we are reading about. Our life on earth is just as short as theirs was and it is also a time of service, just as theirs was. For most of you it will be serving by looking after your families. For single people and also for priests and religious it will be in a different way, but that is why we are here, to learn to love, to serve, to freely choose for or against God. However, I think it is also worth remembering that we are living in a time when people are very cynical and skeptical about religion and they point to the scandals as being ‘proof’ of just how hypocritical the whole thing is. We must not let that put us off. It has always been difficult to believe and probably always will be, but we ask the Lord himself to help us to persevere and not become negative, or cynical. If this Gospel it says that when Jesus appeared to them and was about to ascend to heaven, they worshiped, ‘but some doubted.’ Even with all they had seen, some of them still had doubts. It is normal to have doubts, but that is why we try and keep feeding ourselves with the things that will keep us close to God. If we fill our minds with only earthly things—think of all that you watch on TV—then the things of heaven can seem to be unreal. I have often noticed in Hollywood movies, if the hero or heroine is asked if they believe in God, they will nearly always say no. What does that tell you about Hollywood? It is saying that only foolish people believe in God.

If we truly believe that what awaits us is worth the sacrifice of anything, then it doesn’t really matter what happens to us in this life. It is only temporary. And when our time here is complete God will come and bring us home. I have no doubt that this is probably what Jesus was telling the Apostles about for those forty days. He wanted them to have no doubt about why they were here, so that we also could have a good understanding of our purpose here, through their teaching.

God has given us every possible help that we could ask for. If it seems too difficult it is only because we are not using the help that He has given us. What help? Above all, the Eucharist; the word of God; confession, etc. It is all there waiting for us. The clearer a picture we have in our own head as to what our life is about, the easier it is to keep going. That is also why we needn’t be afraid of anything in this world. If we offer ourselves to God, then why should we be afraid? All things are in his hands.

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.

Friday, May 15, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A (Gospel: John 14:15-21) If you love me you will keep my commandments

Something that I come across quite a lot as a priest is this: when someone has died, or someone has become very ill, it often makes people angry, because they feel that God has let them down, or even betrayed them. Working in a hospital for a few years I would often hear people say: ‘I never hurt anyone. Why has God done this to me?’ They are basically thinking, ‘God owes me.’ It is as if there was a legal contract and if we keep our side of it, then God is obliged to keep his side of it, by looking after us and making sure that nothing happens to us. This is also one of the effects of Original Sin. We are suspicious of God and not convinced that He is good. We are quick to blame God when things go wrong and only to thank and praise him for the things that suit us.

The problem is that there is no love in this way of thinking. There is no love in a legal contract. It is a contract, on paper, or by word of mouth, and it is as cold as ice, just as the law is. However, there is one big difference with the way God works. God deals with us on the basis of love alone. Everything that we have is a gift from God. We do not deserve any of it and we have not earned any of it. God does not owe us anything and will never owe us anything. If I manage to be faithful to my priesthood and to all that the Lord Jesus asks me to do as a Christian, then when I die, I cannot demand eternal happiness from him. He does not owe me anything, but God does offer it to me as a free gift. That is why whatever we do on this earth for the Lord, is supposed to be done out of love for him and because he asks us to do it. Our relationship with God is meant to be one of love.

Look at the first words of the Gospel: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’  ‘If you love me…’ What would you do for someone you love? Would you keep their wishes? Would you respect them? Would you keep their commandments, God’s commandments?

It is interesting how many people have the idea that you should follow all the demands of your faith ‘in so far as it suits you’. If it doesn’t suit you then obviously you don’t do it. That is the mentality of the modern world and it is a selfish mentality. We are constantly told that we don’t owe anything to anyone and we shouldn’t have to do anything unless it suits us. The idea of sacrifice is not part of the thinking of our world. The difficulty is this: Jesus does not tell us to follow him on our own terms, but on his terms. In other words, we must try to live as He asks. They are commandments and not suggestions. ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’

However, we must also remember that anything God tells us to do, is for our benefit. God knows exactly how we work and also what will help us to grow and blossom. He knows the path we need to follow, which will lead us to happiness. So, He points out the way and tells us the way we need to live. ‘If you live as I command you, you will be alright.’ Unfortunately we do not always trust God and we often think that we know better. That is also why they are commandments and not suggestions. God is well aware that we often think we know better, so He tells us which path is the one to take. For our part we must trust him, even when it does not seem to make sense to us.

Our faith can certainly be demanding, but any way of life worth living is demanding.  If I wish to be a Catholic, and to follow the way of Jesus Christ, then this is what is expected of me. These are the demands of our faith. But while it is demanding, it is not beyond us, because God gives us the strength we need to live it. He gives us ‘The Advocate’ or Holy Spirit, to give us both strength and understanding. The Spirit empowers us to live as God asks us to. Think of the Apostles when they received the Spirit. They were completely transformed and the Spirit took away all their fear. From then on they were able to preach with power and authority, because God had given them the strength they needed.

It says in the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostles continually prayed with people so that they would receive the gifts of the Spirit, what we call Confirmation. The Lord gives us everything we need to live as He asks, so we can never say that it was too much for us.

That is why we need to keep coming back to be renewed by the strength which God gives us through prayer, fasting and especially through the Eucharist. God shows us what we need to do and He also gives us the strength to do it. Above all, remember that it is all given to us for our benefit, purely out of love.

‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’