Friday, November 10, 2017

32nd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13) Those who were ready went in to the wedding hall and the door was closed


November is a time when we pray especially for those who have died. We pray for them because we know it’s important to pray for the dead, that they will have their sins forgiven. When we die most people are not holy enough that they can come straight into the presence of God’s pure holiness, so they go through a state or ‘purification’, or ‘being made ready’ for God. This is what we call Purgatory and we know that we can help the souls of those who are there, by praying for them and making sacrifices for them. I often think of it this way: when we wake up in the morning and turn on the bed-side light, we have to shield our eyes because it is too bright. We have to adjust. Can you imagine if we had the full light of the sun at that moment? It would be unbearable. So a time of adjustment is needed. We may also need to atone for sins that we have committed but have not atoned for. How do we know this is true? Many of the saints have been shown Purgatory and this has been explained to them. One of the most extraordinary mystics of all time, St. Pius of Pietrelcina (better known as Padre Pio), said that more souls came to him from Purgatory asking for prayers, than people on earth did. And so we pray for those who have died and not just mourn for them. When I die, I’m sure people will mourn for me as is normal when anyone dies. I would rather that they pray for me.

Is it foolish for us to ever think that hell and purgatory are real? If it were impossible for anyone to go there, then Jesus would hardly have warned people so often to be careful as there would have been no need. But Jesus frequently warned us to be careful and to be ready and not just to presume that everything will be alright. We can always have great confidence in God’s mercy and never be afraid, but I think what Jesus is warning us of, is presumption. It would be a mistake to presume that everything will be fine, even if we have completely ignored God all our life. The attitude that you meet quite often which says, ‘I’ll be alright on the day. I’ll sort things out with God myself’, as though we were equal to God, or could manipulate God. God will of course forgive those who repent and are sincere. That is what Jesus continually assured us of. But it would be foolish of us to think that we can take advantage of his mercy. God is merciful, but God is not a fool.

But how could hell exist at all, you say? How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  It’s a good question. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. We choose it for ourselves by the way we live. Think of it this way: if God is all goodness, beauty, light, love, joy and total fulfillment in a way that we never experience on this earth. Then hell is the opposite of this; evil, ugliness, darkness, hatred, isolation and the terrible pain of knowing that we have lost the chance of total fulfillment and happiness. To reject God is to reject all that God is. By rejecting God, we choose the opposite. Our life on earth is the time we have to make the choice for God or against God and we do that by the way we live.
  

God does not want anyone to be cut off from him. That is not what He created us for. And God continually gives each of us every opportunity to come back to him, all through our life, no matter how far we may have strayed. Think of the ‘good thief’ dying on the cross beside Jesus. When he asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus replies, ‘Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). God will never give up on us, as long as we are alive, but we also have to decide for God and if we don’t, we have to face the consequences. We have free will, but our choices also have consequences.

Look at what it says in the Gospel reading about the bridesmaids who were left outside.  When they said ‘Lord, Lord, let us in.’ He said, ‘I do not know you’. They had never concerned themselves with God and so they did not know God, and so God did not know them.  ‘I do not know you’.

We need not let ourselves be preoccupied with this, as God assures of his infinite mercy to anyone who reaches out to him, but just as the world is full of dangers, such as drugs, violence and people with evil intentions and we always try to warn our children what they need to be careful of, so God is doing the same with us, warning us that we need to be careful. 

The Lord is telling us to be wise and realise that we have to be responsible.  If you say you believe in God, then do, and live as He asks you to live, and don’t be afraid.  We all want to reach the happiness of heaven and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, but we also must be wise and not take it for granted.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

31st Sunday, Year A (Matthew 23:1-12) The priesthood


Perhaps one of the strangest things that Jesus did before he ascended to heaven at the end of his earthly life, was to entrust his Church to priests; ordinary, sinful, weak human beings. This is something that we do not understand, but we believe. Through the gift of the priesthood He gave us the most extraordinary gift of all, the gift of the Eucharist, which is the gift of Jesus himself really and truly present in the form of bread and wine. There is no gift greater than this, but the fact that he made it depend on priests is what is so strange.



I am sure that one reason in particular why he did this was to make it obvious that it is God who is at work and that the Lord is in no way dependent on the gifts or skills of human beings alone, especially not us priests.


There is a great story in the Old Testament which explains this (Judges 6-8); it is the story of Gideon.  Gideon and his people were being wiped out by the Amorites and it was a time of great suffering for them. Then one day the angel of the Lord appears to this man Gideon and says, ‘Hail valiant warrior. The Lord is with you.’ In reply Gideon says, ‘If God is with us how come we are being wiped out?’ A fair question! The angel goes on to tell Gideon that God has specially chosen him to lead his people to freedom from their enemies. But Gideon asks an interesting question. He says, ‘Why would God pick me, since I am the weakest member of my family and my family is the weakest family in my tribe?’ In other words, why would God pick the weakest of the weak to lead his people to freedom? It doesn’t make any sense by our way of thinking, but the angel convinces him that God has chosen him and he will be alright. Gideon is then told to raise an army and so he gets together 30,000 men, but then to his astonishment God tells him to reduce the number of men to only 300 and he tells him why, and this is the crucial bit: ‘Lest the people think that it is by their own strength that they have won victory over their enemies.’ God chooses the weakest man around, with only a handful of men to conquer the enemy, so that it will be totally obvious that it was the power of God that made this happen. 



If Gideon had been a great warrior and he conquered his enemies with a huge army, then no one would be surprised. But when the most unexpected person leads a handful of men and conquers a huge army, then everyone says ‘Look what God did! What a miracle!’



I believe that God chooses various men to be priests for the same reason, so that it will be all the more obvious that it is God who is at work. So He picks weak men to make it all the more obvious that the Church is still here because of him and not because of priests. 'You did not choose me. No I chose you and I commissioned you to out and bear fruit, fruit that will last' (John 15:6).




St. Paul also speaks about this in one of his letters. He writes,We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us’ (2 Cor 4:7). God uses ordinary cracked pots  (‘cracked-pots’) to carry his message, to make it obvious that it is from him.



When the priest says the words of consecration at each mass the Holy Spirit immediately and humbly obeys the priest and changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. God obeys a human being! I don’t understand it, but I believe it. And when the priest says I absolve your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit immediately wipes away those sins.  God is so humble that He will obey the words of a human being.



What if the priest is not a very good or holy man? Is God any less present in the mass if it is not a holy priest? Of course not. God would never allow his power to depend on the goodness of a human being, because none of us are good enough or holy enough. Even if the priest is a terrible sinner, God is just as powerfully present in the mass, in confession, and wherever He calls the priest to work. It is a great help for our faith if the priest is a holy man, but either way God is just as much present, because God gives himself completely to all of us in this extraordinary way, through the priesthood and it doesn’t depend on the priest being good enough and thank God for that!



I think one of the greatest proofs that the Church is from God is simply the fact that it is still here in spite of the fact that there have been centuries of bad example, bad preaching, scandals, etc, and yet it is still here. Think of all the great empires and dynasties that have come and gone and they were much better organised and impressive, but they are gone, and yet the Church is still here.




At times, if you find yourself becoming disheartened by the bad example of priests, or indeed anyone in the Church, remember the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: ‘The priests occupy the chair of Moses so you must listen to what they say but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach.’ In other words, we must try and listen to the teaching of Jesus passed on through the Church and through his priests, but don’t be put off when they don’t always live the way they should. What is important is the teaching of Christ and not the example of the priest. The teaching of Jesus is what we hold on to.



I have to confess that these readings always scare me a little when God warns his priests about the responsibility they have been given. The Scriptures are also full of very stern warnings to the priests to live as they should and not abuse their position. We will be accountable as God’s priests.

Is it easy? I have found it difficult, but I have also found it very rewarding. I work as a priest because I believe that God called me to be a priest and continues to call me to work as his priest. If I didn't believe it was from God, I wouldnt' do it. I consider it the greatest privilege of my life to be able to serve him in this way. People often ask me did I not want to get married? The only way I can explain it is to say yes, I would like to be married, but the calling to serve God was stronger. May God help me to be faithful.



We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us (2 Cor 4:7).










Saturday, October 28, 2017

30th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40) Love your neighbor as yourself



 
 

During the week I came across the following quotation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a poet and writer. He was a professor at Harvard and he died in 1882:

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

 

If we understood people’s background, we would probably see them very differently.

 

One of the issues that we are being faced with at the moment and which I think all of us find disturbing, is immigrants. We don’t like the word and we don’t like the idea. We want ‘them’ pushed away from us, so that we don’t have to deal with them. We feel threatened and we don’t want anyone infringing on our lifestyle.

 

Over the last several years, because of the wars in the Middle East and Africa, there has been the biggest migration of people to Europe since the Second World War. Millions of people have walked for hundreds of miles and crossed the Mediterranean, many of them drowning, in order to have some kind of hope for themselves and their families of a new beginning. We saw the terrible image of a two year old’s body washed up on the beach having drowned, as his family attempted to make their way to Italy. For the countries where they end up, it is a problem, as they don’t know how to cope with so many people. Here we have the continual stream of people making their way from South America hoping to find a better life. We don’t like it and we see them as a problem. They seem to threaten us.

 


I watched a program about this recently where a journalist was travelling with the border patrol, who were trying to catch people coming in illegally. One woman who had been caught was crying. When the journalist asked her about her story, she said that she had given all of her money, $3,000, to a gang who would smuggle her across the border. Now she had been caught, would be deported and she had lost everything. She was desperate to begin with and now she was far worse off than when she started.

 

Many times in my life I have met people who have come through extraordinary suffering and hardship, but who have come out the far side and managed to rebuild a life for themselves and their families. If I hadn’t spoken to them individually, they would just be immigrants, sometimes illegal, sometimes not. But having spoken to them individually they become people, human beings and you see them in a different way. They are people whom you now realize are desperate and in need of help. It would be much easier if they weren’t there and we didn’t have to see them, or deal with them, but they are there and the Lord tells us we have an obligation to help those in need.

Today’s first reading addresses this issue. The Lord says to us:

You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt…You shall not wrong any widow or orphan (Ex 22:20-21).



At that time a widow was completely open to being exploited and abused, as she had no rights and a child even more so. But the Lord warns us to look after them, as He will hear their cry when they are suffering.





From a political point of view the government has to figure out the best way to deal with this issue. I hope and pray that our politicians will be able to do what is right and what is just and not just push people away. As people who try to live the teachings of Jesus, we have to ask what is God asking of us. Where do we get the strength to face difficult issues like this? The Gospel answers that question. Jesus tells us we are to love God above everything else and our neighbor as ourselves. The key to being able to love the people around us, is that we grow in our relationship with God. The deeper that relationship grows, the more we see the world around us in a different light. We no longer see Jews, Muslims and atheists. We see people. Immigrants from other countries are no longer just Mexicans, Irish and Iraqis, but people just like us. Growing in our relationship with God is what gives us the strength to deal with issues we would rather not have to face, but we do have to face them, because God asks us to. That is also why we keep coming back each week to listen to God’s word and what He asks of us and also to receive him in the Eucharist, so that we continually grow closer to him. Our relationship to God is the key to it. Loving God first is the greatest commandment and loving the people around us is the second greatest commandment. To ‘love’ someone in that sense, does not mean we have to like them, but it does mean that we try to treat them as we would hope to be treated if we were in the same situation. Imagine if it was one of your own family in that situation? What would you not do for them?



‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind

and your neighbor as yourself.’




Friday, October 20, 2017

29th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21) The Eucharist is the source of our life




The actor and comedian Jim Carey said this: ‘I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of, so they would know that’s not the answer.’ It is always good when we see our economy doing better. I know it doesn’t affect every one of us directly, but it is encouraging and at least it means there are more jobs around. Yet how is it that despite better times economically, we don’t seem to be much happier? There is often more pressure on people to ‘succeed’ and we have less and less time for the ordinary things. Everyone seems to be mad busy trying to get money. Suicide is on the increase and so is the rate of crime. So what is wrong? We thought we finally had it all together.

I believe one of the reasons is that we forget that we are body and spirit, and that we have to look after both sides of ourselves. We are experts at looking after the body, but most people are extremely ignorant when it comes to looking after the spirit, or soul. No amount of money, or work, or the right house, or car, will bring us happiness, because there is an emptiness inside us that material things cannot and will not  ever fulfill. This is the spiritual side of ourselves, which can only be fulfilled by what is spiritual.  Sometimes it takes a death, or serious illness, to make us wake up to this fact.
Sometimes we forget that our life comes from God, and that He is the only one who can keep us alive. We say, ‘God didn’t give me my life, my parents did.’ Our parents gave us our bodies, but not our soul. That comes from God and that’s what will live on when we die. God gives us our life and God is the source of our life. So to fulfill the spiritual side of ourselves we turn to him, because He is the only one who can fulfill us and make any sense of why we are alive in the first place.

When Jesus taught the people about the Eucharist, he said, ‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.’ ‘Whoever eats me, will draw life from me.’ There it is from the mouth of Christ. This is where we will find fulfillment, in Jesus and we receive Jesus in the Eucharist every time we receive Holy Communion. God makes it so easily available to us, so that everyone can receive it if they want to. We won’t find fulfillment anywhere else. God is the only one who can fulfill us and this is why Jesus is constantly inviting us to spend time with him and to receive him often. But you object: ‘I don’t have time!’ Let me tell you a short story.


Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity’, recalls the following experience. Shortly after she had begun her work among the poor and there were only a handful of them working together, they found themselves being overwhelmed because there was a huge amount of work to be done. They were struggling to cope, because the needs were so great. They prayed to God and asked him to show them what they should do. And they felt that the Lord was telling them to spend an extra hour a day in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This didn’t make any sense to them since they felt that they already didn’t have enough time to work, so how could they give an extra hour to prayer? And yet they really felt that this was what God was asking them to do so they decided they would try to be obedient to it. So they began to give an extra hour a day to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and an hour less to work. What happened? After a short time many more people began to join the order soon they had many extra people to help them with the work.

If you give time to God He will make it up to you, because God will never be outdone in generosity. God is inviting us to discover him again, to make time for him again. You won’t find the time, you have to make the time and I guarantee you that for every minute you give to God, He will make it up to you. 

It is important to remember that while Jesus is humble enough to give himself to us in Holy Communion, we should be careful about how we approach him. He has come for sinners; that is true. And we are sinners; that is also true. But if we receive the Eucharist often we should also confess our sins often. God has given us the gift of Holy Communion, but He has also given us the gift of confession, so that we can be free of sin and so that we can approach him as we should, with humility. That is why we begin every mass by acknowledging our sins. This is one place where we cannot demand rights. Before God we have no rights. Everything from him is a gift. So we should confess to a priest, especially if there is something serious that we have done and don’t say that you have no sins. In the first letter of St. John he says: ‘If anyone says they have not sinned they are calling God a liar’ (1 John 1:10). This is God’s word. Would you dare to say the Word of God is wrong? It is a great gift to be able to confess our sins and be free of them. Don’t be afraid to because it is for our benefit. God works through the priest and it doesn’t matter how holy or sinful the priest is. It is God’s forgiveness you receive, his gift to you, so that you can be free. The priest is just the instrument. In the same way, it doesn’t matter how holy or sinful the priest is when it comes to the Eucharist. God will be present just the same, because God would never allow his presence to depend on a priest being holy enough. Hopefully the priest does live the kind of life that God asks of us, but either way, Jesus is present just as much in the Eucharist.

If we have emptiness within us, it is because our spirits are starving and there is only one who can satisfy that hunger. ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in them.’ 

 


Friday, October 13, 2017

28th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14) Our hope is in the Lord



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. The reason why I mention it, is because I was really struck by the response that I got from people afterwards. Many of the people 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.

This really made me think to myself just how much people are looking for hope at the moment, 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 in the last few years. They have no hope, they think there is nothing to live for and this is very sad.

When you look around you at the moment 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 at the moment, be sure of this, God is still very much in control. 

One way that we can be sure of this is through the inspired Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures. The Word of God is truth, not just nice ideas, because it comes from God. 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 used at funerals. It is God’s promise to us his people, that He has great things in store for us. ‘The Lord will prepare a banquet for his people’; party, a feast. This is what God has in store for us.

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. Maybe we don’t allow God enough space. It is easy to treat God as though He is there to serve our needs. We ask for what we want and then we complain when we don’t get it the way that suits us, but the closer we come to God the more we see things in a different light. It doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly alright, and all our problems are gone, but it does make us see things differently. We also begin to realize that much of what seemed impossible before is no longer impossible, because we don’t rely on our own strength, but on God’s power to help us.

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 I’m sure 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. 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.

Through prayer Jesus continually shows us which way to go. He helps us with our decisions and most of all He helps us never to be afraid, but always to have hope in him. So if you wonder how can we have hope for the Church and for the world, the answer is because we rely on God, and not on ourselves.

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

27th Sunday Yr A (Gospel: Matthew 21: 33-43) Making sense of tragedy




Last week we had the horrific killing of so many people who were out enjoying themselves at a concert. No one knows why it happened, which itself is so disillusioning and frustrating. For no apparent reason this man Stephen Paddock, carefully planned to murder innocent people. This makes us angry and often we want to lash out at God. From a spiritual point of view, how are we supposed to understand this? Death always brings up far more questions than answers, but especially this kind of murder done for no apparent reason. Why didn’t God stop it? Why does God allow such things?

The reason God allows such things is because God has given us free will and we are responsible for our actions. I was talking about this last week. If we choose to do evil, other people will suffer. The more evil we choose, the more others suffer because of our actions. There is a great amount of evil in the world at the moment because people have rejected God and are choosing to do evil.

In one of the readings from the prophet Ezekiel, which we had last Sunday, God confronts us saying, ‘You say that God’s ways are not fair. Listen house of Israel, is it not your ways that are unfair?’ When we are faced with disasters like this, we become angry because we know it is unjust and we don’t know where to turn. So we often direct our anger towards God. We are usually slower to admit that this has happened because we have been given free will. A big part of our frustration is also that this man killed himself and so he cannot even be brought to justice. However, he most certainly will be brought to justice, as the Lord assures us that we are responsible for our actions. Jesus spoke many times about this, that we are responsible for our actions and we will be judged for how we live.

There is also another way to look at a terrible event like this, or indeed other events like natural disasters. Remember the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004. Approximately 250,000 people were killed! One moment they were alive, getting on with their day to day business, the next moment they were before God. Those who died, just like in a war, have now gone on to the Lord before they expected to and before we expected them to. God knew this would happen. Since the moment they were conceived, God knew the moment their earthly life would be over. But if those who died had tried to live the right kind of life, which most people do, then they are now with God. If that is true, then we can also be grateful to God that their earthly life is over, because it means they will no longer suffer on earth as we will, until we get there ourselves. We are the ones left grieving and in pain. It is also a reminder to us that we do not know how long we will be on this earth and so it is important that we use our time well. If we believe that, then we will live our life differently, because we then have a purpose.

Often when someone dies we talk about them as though their existence is extinguished forever. We say that ‘their memory lives on’ as though that is the only thing that lives on, but as Christians that is not what we believe. We believe that they are even more alive now than we are, because they no longer experience the limitations that we do. They enjoy life with God, if that is what they have chosen. They are now alive in a more intense way than we are, because they no longer have the limitations that we have in this world.

Why don’t people come back to tell us what it’s like? I’m sure it is because they don’t need to. 
Part of our not knowing is part of the journey of our faith. We are asked to believe, but we do not fully understand and we won’t until we die ourselves. Then everything will make sense. For now we have many questions and we ask God to help us not to lose hope. As Christians that should make us different in how we see things. It is normal to grieve and to be angry when something like this happens, because it is wrong, but we don’t despair because we know that all things are in God’s hands and it will make sense to us when we die to.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.



Friday, September 29, 2017

26th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 21: 28-32) Fatima and the vision of Hell




The vision of the children at Fatima

This year is the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima, where Our Lady appeared six times to three young children: Lucia (10), Franciso (9) and Jacinta (7). Last week I had the privilege of visiting Fatima with 16 other pilgrims from our diocese. One of the things that Our Lady showed the three young children was a terrifying vision of hell. Many questions came up about this vision and why Our Lady would show these children such a dreadful thing. So I would like to try and address this event.

Today, as you know, many people scoff at the idea of hell, as if it were some sort of medieval idea which we no longer need to believe; after all, everyone goes to heaven, right? I have no doubt that one of the reasons why Our Lady showed the children this vision—and it has happened in other places of apparition too—was to make us realize that hell is real and we should not be naïve to the idea. If this is the case, should we be afraid? I think the answer is both yes and no.

First of all, if heaven is real and we have free will, then it is completely logical that hell must be real too. To lose all that God wants to give us, God’s destiny for us, is hell. Heaven is total fulfillment in God, light, beauty, happiness, peace, joy and the love of God and those who have gone before us. We would never be in want of anything again. As yet we have never experienced this, so it is hard for us to grasp that such a place could exist. To lose that, or reject that, would mean to get the opposite: the loss of God, darkness, hatred, isolation and the eternal pain of knowing we have rejected the one thing that could bring us happiness. Images of fire are often used for hell, as this is an image we can easily understand, but the reality is that the eternal loss of God would be far worse, as it is the only thing that would fulfill us. If we have the free will to accept God and all that He offers us, then we must also have the free will to reject it, or otherwise it would not be free will. The vision of hell that Our Lady granted the children, is a reminder to all of us that hell must be real and we should not presume that all of us will go to heaven regardless of how we live. Our actions have consequences and we must take them seriously.

The shrine of Fatima today

Does that mean that those who do not go to church will go to hell? Of course not. Those who do not go to church have just as much hope of eternal life as we do, depending on how they live. Many people who do not go to church cannot understand or relate to formal religion. If I grew up in a family that never practiced religion, or where I was constantly told that the Church is corrupt and evil, then I cannot be blamed for not going to church. What is important is that I do my best to live a life where I continue to choose what is right. God guides us through our conscience, so that even those who have never heard of God still have the chance to live as God calls us to.

Just because we do go to church doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed go to heaven either. It depends completely on how I live from day to day. I have two good friends who are in the Poor Clare sisters in my home town. They dedicate their lives to God through prayer. People often say to me that they must be so holy and they probably are, but just because they are in a convent, any more than me being a priest, is no guarantee of being holy. It depends completely on how they live and on how I live.

So is there any advantage to being a Catholic? Absolutely! We are privileged to have been shown the way that God himself has revealed to us through Jesus. Jesus is the path to heaven and God has made this known to us. He has given us the gift of his Body and Blood in each mass and the Scriptures to guide us. This is a great blessing and honor for us and helps us to be faithful to the path that leads to God as we have been shown it. So we are truly blessed, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance than anyone else because it still depends on how we live from day to day. Going to mass each Sunday will not help me if I spend the rest of my week cheating, stealing and exploiting other people.

Lucia, Francesco and Jacinta around the time of the apparitions
By our own strength none of us could ever be good enough to reach heaven. No matter what we do, we will always be sinners, but it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that makes it possible for us to get to heaven, if that is what we choose. In one sense heaven will always be just out of our reach, because of our own sinfulness. But Jesus reaches down and lifts us up the rest of the way. That is what the death and resurrection of Jesus means and that is why we focus on it so much. Without his self-sacrifice we could not get to heaven no matter how much we tried. So from that point of view we need never be afraid of not being good enough, as it is God himself who makes us good enough, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. So long as we choose for God by the way we live from day to day, then we have nothing to be afraid of. Jesus assures us of his mercy, so long as we make the slightest effort to do the right thing. Falling into sin is not a problem so long as we are prepared to get up again and ask his mercy.

God has created us all to be with him in heaven. That is what God wants for us and God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject God by the way we live. God will not force us to love him and if we reject God’s love then there is nothing that God can do for us, because He has given us free will.

So going back to the question of whether we should be afraid of hell or not. We should be aware that it is real and that we could lose heaven if we reject God. At the same time we need never be afraid that we will not be able to reach heaven, because it is God himself who makes it possible. It is for us to continue to try and do our best. The Lord is asking us for effort not perfection.