Saturday, January 23, 2021

3rd Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:14-20) “Repent and believe in the Gospel”

 




 

As time passes in any Church, different issues come up which must be addressed: immigration, racism, the environment, abortion and many others. But it is also important that we don’t forget the primary teaching of Jesus and the Apostles from the beginning, that is, ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ When we are established in our faith, then we also want to make the world a better place and address these other issues as well, but we have to be established in our faith first.

 

We believe that God created everything that exists, the universe that we can see and the invisible world which we cannot yet see. We also believe that the human being was God’s most important creation. It says in Genesis that the human being was the last thing God created, which is a biblical way of saying we were the most important thing God created, being more like him than anything else.

 

We also believe that somewhere back at the beginning, our first parents, represented by Adam and Eve, rejected God’s word, God’s commands. Instead they chose to listen to a lie, by Satan. Jesus called him the deceiver and the ‘father of lies’ (Jn 8:44). He deliberately misled them, to draw them away from God, in order to get at God. Why would Satan be bothered with us, since he is way more powerful and intelligent than any human? Because he hates God’s creation and does everything he can to destroy it, especially the human race, because we are made in God’s image. So out of hatred he continually works to destroy us, to convince us that good is evil and evil is good. That is what we are seeing in our society right now. Good—following God’s teaching—is considered evil, narrow-minded, hateful of others and evil—abortion, euthanasia, immoral sexuality—is considered good. If we criticize what God has taught us is sinful, then we are considered evil and hateful. There is a pastor in Norway who is currently in jail, because he taught a teenager what it says in the Bible about homosexuality. He is in jail for teaching what it says in God’s word. That is the direction it is heading here too.

 

Because Adam and Eve rejected God’s word, we lost the possibility of heaven, of happiness with God for all eternity and it was impossible for us to win it back. How could any human give anything to God, since everything we have comes from him in the first place? But God was not just going to let his creation go to ruin, so, God the Son took on human flesh and became Jesus: fully human and fully divine. His self-sacrifice is what re-opened the doors of heaven for us. But God totally respects our free will and does not force us to accept this. The Lord says, ‘This is what I have done for you. It is yours for the taking if you choose it,’ but we must choose it.

 



In St. Matthew’s Gospel alone, in over 60 places, Jesus says that there is a choice to make, for him or against him, blessing or curse, heaven or hell. Part of making that choice is to repent of sin and accept his teaching. Adam and Eve rejected it, we have the choice to accept or reject it as well. We tend to think of it as just being a case of believing in God and try to be good and that’s all that is required. But there is more to it than that. The call for repentance is a big part of it. That means we are called to reflect on how we live and if it is not in accordance with God’s teaching, then we need to change. Jesus says, ‘It is not those who say to me “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 10:7). Saying that I believe, or I love God, is not sufficient. We must do the will of the Father in heaven and part of his will is that we repent of sin.

 

That means that if we are living in a way that is contrary to God’s law, we must change and repent of the sin. If I am living with someone who is not my wife or husband, I need to rectify that. If you are civilly married, but not married in the Church, you need to rectify that too. It is a question of whether I take offending God seriously or not. Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘God doesn’t mind,’ because it says in the Scriptures that God most definitely does mind. If we want God’s blessing on our lives, we must make every effort to live as He asks.

 

Sin must be very serious if Jesus had to die on the cross to atone for it. God didn’t just say to Adam and Eve, “It’s ok, you are forgiven.” Their sin had to be atoned for and it was atoned for with blood, the blood of Jesus. Sin is the one thing that has the potential to cause us to lose eternal life with God. It is possible for us to lose it. Forgiveness is offered to us, but we must ask for that forgiveness and repent of sin.

 

Think of all the people Jesus encountered that are written about in the Gospels. Those who were living sinful lives, repented of their sin and changed. We have to do the same. Just because society accepts many things as being ok, doesn’t mean they are ok. Am I going to live on what society says is ok and acceptable, or by what the word of God says is ok and acceptable? When we die, we will not come before a group of people from our society for their approval, but before God for his judgement.

 



When the Apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, their fear was taken away and they began to preach everywhere. What did they preach? They preached what Jesus preached, that repentance for the forgiveness of sins was necessary to be acceptable to God. They showed people how Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who had made the ultimate sacrifice and atonement for sins, which has now won for us eternal life, but that we must choose to accept that and live in accordance with his word. In St. Peter’s words: ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation’ (Acts 2:40). How true that is today. ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation.’ Turn to what God is offering and don’t be seduced by the lies of the evil one, who says you can have all the pleasures you want and do whatever you want. That is a lie and deception. The more we turn away from the commandments of God, the more miserable and empty our lives will be. Only by obeying God’s word and submitting ourselves to his law, will we find peace and fulfillment. The world tells us that we should have ‘freedom,’ but it defines freedom as being able to do anything you want without accountability. That is what Satan told Adam and Eve: ‘God knows that on the day you eat of the [forbidden fruit], you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:5), but look at what happened when they gave in to the lie. They lost the happiness God had given them. They fell into darkness, pain, distress, mistrust. True freedom is only found in submitting ourselves to God. It seems like a contradiction, that submitting yourself to God’s laws will bring freedom, but it does because He is the One who has created us to be happy. God only wants our happiness.

 

This is the first and most basic teaching of Christianity and we need to take it seriously. We can only address the other issues once we have addressed this first. ‘Christ died for our sins that He might offer us to God. Only in him do we have eternal life.’

 

‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’

 

 




Friday, January 15, 2021

Second Sunday of Year B (Gospel: John 1:35-42) Listen

 



Has God ever spoken to you? Do you wonder why God doesn’t speak to you? Has God ever spoken to me? Yes; many times, but not in audible words. Often through the Scriptures, sometimes in prayer when something just comes to my mind, or I become aware of something and it is often through other people, through something they will say, even though they will be unaware of it.

 

God is speaking to us all the time. A lot of the time we are not aware of it because we are not listening and there is so much noise. Everywhere we go there is noise, music playing, tv or radio on, texts on our phones. It is very hard to find silence and we need silence if we are to listen.

 

If God spoke to you, what would He say to you? If we really believe God created us and that we are being drawn closer and closer to him, then God must have plenty to say to us, but probably not in the way we would expect. Think of your children, if you have children, or nieces/nephews, you want to teach them, guide them and encourage them. You want to help them make sense of their lives and point them in the direction where they will hopefully be most fulfilled. Even if you don’t have your own children, there are always people we come across that we want to help in some way, through encouragement, or a bit of wisdom that we have learnt from experience. That that is also how God speaks to us. Since He created us, He wants to teach us, show us the path that will lead to our greatest fulfillment, guide us in making good decisions and encourage us. He wants to help us make sense of the world around us. Do you ever wonder what exactly Jesus was saying to the people he taught when he walked the earth? It is the same as what He teaches us now. If you read the Gospels it shows us what He was teaching the people and He was showing them how to live in accordance with his word. He was also helping them to live at a deeper level, not just doing the minimum. You don’t give your children the minimum they need, but as much as you can, so that they will be as well equipped as possible.

 




One of the most striking things about what Jesus taught was how different it was to the thinking of the world and it is still the same. One particular example that comes to mind is where Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ (Matt 5:44). Our culture says, ‘an eye for an eye,’ Jesus says the opposite. He says, ‘Do not judge, do not look at a woman lustfully, put others before yourself.’ Our culture says the opposite.

 

Who knows the best path and the best decisions for my life? God does. So if I want to follow the path that will be most rewarding and make the wisest decisions, then I need to listen to the One who has the answers.

 

‘But I am so busy, I don’t have time to stop and pray!’ We make time to eat, sleep and watch TV. We make time for whatever is important to us. If listening to God’s word is important enough to you, you will find there is time for it. Think of all the time you spend driving places. Turn off the radio. Get off the phone and listen! Talk to God from your heart and just be with him.

 



St. Benedict of Norcia lived around the year 500 and he wrote a rule for his monks, which is known as The Rule of St. Benedict, and it is still used by monks today, 1500 years later. It is basically a guideline of how they are to live from day to day. The very first word of the rule is the word ‘listen’. The second word is ‘carefully’. Listen carefully to my teaching.

 

We also talk about being ‘obedient’ to God. The word ‘obedient’ comes from two Latin words ob audire, which means ‘listen intently.’ God is saying to us: ‘Listen carefully to what I have to say to you.’ Following God, means being obedient to God, which means listening to God. We won’t know what God’s word is, unless we read it.

 

At one of the papal audiences, Pope Francis said this:

When we go to mass, maybe we arrive five minutes early and we start to chat with those in front of us. But it is not a moment to chat. It is a moment of silence, to prepare ourselves for dialogue with God. It is a time for the heart to collect itself, in order to prepare for the encounter with Jesus. Silence is so important. Remember what I said last week: we do not go to a show; we go to meet the Lord and silence prepares us and accompanies us [for this].

(Nov 15, 2017, St. Peter’s Basilica)

 




People come here up to an hour before the mass begins, in order to pray? They understand that it is an encounter with Jesus and they are preparing for it.

 

We are all different. All of us pray differently and that’s normal. But all of us need silence in some shape or form to be alone with God; to listen to God, so that the one who created us can speak to us.

 

One of the most beautiful ways that God speaks to us is through the Scriptures. The Bible is a collection of letters and stories that God has written to us. Everything in the Bible addresses everything in our world today. Everything! Do you have a bible? If not, why not? Don’t you want to know what God is saying to you, because God is speaking to you. Take out your bible, or buy one and read one chapter of one book on a regular basis. It takes about 5 minutes. It probably wouldn’t cost you a thought to watch an hour of TV, but how much time will you give to listen to the One who created us?

 

‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’


If you want to read the core of Jesus' teachings, read St. Matthew's Gospel, chapters 5-7.

If you want to get a bigger picture of what is happening in the world at this time, read the book of Daniel.

 



Friday, January 8, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord (Gospel: Mark 1: 7-11). ‘The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.’ (Acts 10:34-35).

 


One of the many benefits that comes from a more mixed society, where we have people from many different parts of the world living together, is that it helps to broaden our minds. I lived in a religious community for eighteen months and we often had people from different parts of the world. One morning when we came down for breakfast, two of us noticed that someone had cut the loaf of bread not from top to bottom into slices the way we usually do, but from one side to the other across the middle. In other words, they had done the complete opposite of what we were used to. The two of us who noticed this at the same time both began to complain saying, ‘Who is the idiot that did this!’ But then almost immediately we both began to check ourselves and say, ‘I suppose there is no rule that says you can’t do it this way!’ and we laughed at ourselves at how fixed we can be in our ways. It was a priest from China living with us, whose culture is very different from ours. Something as simple as this helped us to see how small-minded we can be in our ways. 

 

In the second reading today St. Peter says he realised how anyone can be acceptable to God if they do what is right. That might seem obvious enough to us, but it wasn’t obvious to them at that time. The Jewish people believed that they were specially chosen by God and that meant anyone else who was not Jewish was not so important to God. But then the Lord began to teach the Apostles that He was there for everyone, of every nationality and creed. It took them a while to come around to this way of thinking. In fact the first few times some Gentiles (non-Jews) received the gift of the Spirit, the Apostles were quite surprised. They hadn’t expected this. They didn’t think that Gentiles would be given the gift of the Spirit. God was helping them to gradually broaden their horizons. Everyone, of every nationality and creed was being called into God’s family. The Lord showed this to St. Peter through a vision (See Acts 10:9-16). Peter saw a vision of a great sheet being let down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals and birds. Then he heard a voice saying:

Now Peter, Kill and eat!”  But Peter answered, “Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean.” Again a second time, the voice spoke to him, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”. This was repeated three times and suddenly the container was drawn up to heaven again (Acts 10:13-16).

 



This vision helped Peter to understand that no-one was ‘unclean’ in God’s sight if they tried to live the right way. The Lord was helping Peter to see a bigger picture, but as with most of us, this happens gradually. Everyone is called to be part of God’s family and all are welcome, however, that doesn’t mean that anything goes. There is a thinking today that everyone should be welcome in the Church and should be able to continue their life-style, whether it is in accordance with God’s teaching or not. That is not what we believe. The Apostles preached faith in Jesus Christ and repentance for sin. Christ died for our sins and we are called to be in relationship with him, but we are also called to repent of sinful ways of living. Our culture is demanding that we accept everyone’s lifestyle, regardless of whether it is sinful or not. That is not what Christ preached. Immoral sexual behaviour is not acceptable to God and the Apostles were very strong in their preaching about this. Listen to what St. Paul wrote:

Of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person (that is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God’ (Eph 5:5).

 

The acts of the flesh are obvious, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery, hatred and discord, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you as I did before, no one who practices such things will enter the kingdom of God’ (Gal 5:19-21).

 

That means that sexual sins are serious and we must repent of them ourselves and encourage others to do the same: homosexual sin, heterosexual sin outside of marriage (fornication), pornography and every other kind of impurity. ‘Oh, but we might offend people.’ Is it better to warn people of the possibility of losing eternal life with God, or to be quiet in case we offend them? because that is what it comes down to. Jesus’ own words: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt &:21).

 

It is interesting that one of the things that attracted people to Christianity at the beginning, was their way of life, which didn’t allow every kind of immoral behaviour and sexual deviance, because the Christians saw a higher calling from God, that shows us that our bodies are not meant for any kind of behaviour, but a life of purity, which recognizes the dignity that God has given us.




 In 1917 Our Lady told the three children in Fatima that the current war, which was WWI, would soon end, but that if there wasn’t repentance a worse war would follow. There wasn’t repentance and the Second World War followed. In WWI it is estimated that about 20 million people died. In WWII it is estimated that about 50 million people died, because there wasn’t repentance for sin. That is how serious sin is. People are inclined to say that God would never punish us, but that’s not what is in the Scriptures. Many times the world, or different places, became so sinful in their behaviour, that God wiped them out. It is God’s world, not ours. We are God’s creation, not our own and we are accountable for what we do.

 

Everyone struggles with sin. That is normal and God assures us of his forgiveness and mercy if we repent, so we should never be afraid of our own weakness. But to persist in a sinful lifestyle and expect God’s love and mercy is na├»ve and it is not what the word of God says. Everyone is welcome in the Church, but not everything goes. Our culture is demanding that we accept everyone and their lifestyle, even if it is immoral. That is not what the word of God teaches and we have to resist it and we will be despised for it, but it won’t be the first time.

 

After Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan a vision was seen of the Spirit coming down on him in the form of a dove. The Father in heaven was empowering him with the gift of the Spirit, to enable him to live the mission that the Father had given him, to teach the people about God and to offer himself for the sins of the world. The Spirit gave him the strength and wisdom He needed for this difficult mission. 

 

When we are baptised we receive God’s grace and the gift of the Spirit to enable us to live the Christian life. The path to God is not a way of life that we can easily live by our own strength; it would be too difficult. That is why God gives us the gift of his Spirit to help us.

 



When we are baptised, we state what it is we believe and we commit ourselves to this way of faith. If you were baptised as a child, someone else will have spoken on your behalf, but they do this on condition that they will pass on the faith as we grow up, otherwise it would be hypocrisy. If someone comes for baptism as an adult, they have to go through a time of learning about their faith. Only when they understand it properly will they be baptised. At Baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and help us live the life that God calls us to. This is later strengthened through the gift of the Spirit at Confirmation. The Lord is aware that what He calls us to is not easy, but He also gives us all the help we need to live this way of life.

 

The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’ (Acts 10:34-35).

 



Friday, January 1, 2021

The Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) All peoples of all religions will recognise Jesus as God

 


The great 20th century theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84) wrote, ‘The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, or will not exist at all.’ We are called to be mystics, that is, to continually seek and be open to what is mysterious. Sometimes I think we can be too inclined to ‘explain away’ everything in our faith, when in fact it is very mysterious and should be. The truth is that God continues to speak to us in unexpected and mystical ways and God will continue to draw us closer to himself, as long as we remain open to that journey. St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a 16th century mystic, said that the Lord will bring us to the greatest union with him in this life, as long as we remain open to it. She said that the only thing that prevents us from reaching the deepest union with God, is our own fear and unwillingness to go any farther. God wants us to be as united with him as is possible in this life. Why doesn’t that happen to more people? Because we become afraid and want to put the brakes on. It is easier to settle for a basic understanding and practice of our faith and not go any farther.

 

The feast of the Epiphany is the feast of Christ being revealed to the world. The three wise men, or astrologers/magicians, were led to this place where Christ was. They are supposed to have come from different countries, pagan countries, who did not know the true God. They were astrologers (those who study horoscopes!), which is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures.

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium, or spiritist, or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. (Deut 18:10-14)

 

The Magi (possibly ZoroAstrian priests) represent all the peoples of the world since they were not Jewish, but came from pagan nations who did not know the true God. It is a way of saying that Jesus’ coming is for all peoples of all religions and race. All people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. God guided them through what they were involved in, astrology, which was how they were searching for God. It is a reminder to us that God can and does use all and every means to speak to us and draw us closer to himself.

 

The three gifts are symbolic. Gold is the symbol of a king. Jesus is a king, King of kings and the master of the whole universe. The use of frankincense is a sign of recognising a divinity, a God. Jesus is Son of God, the second person of the Godhead. And myrrh is a perfume that represents the suffering He will go through to win eternal life for the human race. 

 


If you think of most of the figures in the Bible to do with Christmas, they all had mystical experiences which led them closer to God. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary; he also appeared to Joseph. Angels appeared to the shepherds and a star guided the Magi.

 

Different events and experiences often open people’s hearts to God. Sometimes it is through a crisis, such as sickness, or the death of a loved one, that gets us thinking differently. Many times I have seen people decide to come back to Church after the death of someone close to them, because it has got them thinking about the more important things and that is always good. Sometimes the death of a loved one causes people to reject God, as they believe that God has been evil in taking their loved one away. But if our destiny is to be with God in heaven, then even though the death of those close to us is very painful, it just means that they have gone on ahead of us sooner than we expected. Sooner or later we will follow after them.

 

The Spirit keeps calling us to search for God. What is important is that we keep searching and remain open. It is good that we ask questions about what we believe in. I believe and accept that the Scriptures and the teachings of our Church are from God and I submit to them, but I will continue to ask questions. The more searching I do, the more my faith grows.

 

Each week when we come to the mass, we come to an encounter with God which Jesus revealed to us, which is why we never change it. That’s also why the time before mass is not just the time for a social gathering, but the time for us to prepare for this wonderful encounter with God through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. God wants us to meet him and hear him and this is one of the most wonderful ways that He helps us to do that. That’s also why it is so important that we dress respectfully and modestly in church, because we are coming into the presence of the living God. It deserves the greatest reverence we can give it.

 



It might seem a bit arrogant of us to say that all people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. That seems to imply that we are right and that everyone else is wrong, but that is not the case. People of different religions have very different understandings of God and God speaks to all people through different religions. Even for those who never come to know Jesus in this lifetime, they still have eternal life won for them by the death and resurrection of Christ and eternal life is still offered to them through him, just as it is to us. When they die they will see this at once. They will know immediately who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

 

Although we lost the possibility of eternal life with God through what we call Original Sin, God regained the possibility of eternal life for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can accept, or reject this gift individually and we do this through our faith. All people are offered this possibility regardless of whether they come to know of God in this life or not, but it is not as if there is a kind of neutral ground for those who do not believe. We accept life with God when we die which will be our total fulfilment, or we lose it forever and that is the choice we must make.  

 

This is also where our conscience is so important, because even if we never hear of God during our life, God speaks to us through our conscience, giving us a basic understanding of what is right and wrong. Our faith and the teachings of Jesus through the Church give us a better understanding of what is right or wrong. All of the decisions that we make throughout our life are bringing us closer to, or driving us farther away, from God.

 



We Christians are the people who recognise that Jesus is the Son of God and has done all these things for us. We consider ourselves blessed that God has made himself known to us in this way, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance of going to heaven than anyone else. That depends completely on how we live our life. When we die, we will realise that all this is really true. And when other people of different religions die, they will also recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord and that it is only through his death and resurrection that we have eternal life. What is important for them is to live their faith as well as they can, just as it is for us. If they do this, God will also draw them closer to him and bring them to holiness, just as He will with us if we remain open. 

 

Meanwhile we pray that all peoples will come to know that Jesus Christ is Lord, even in this life, because this is the truth which God has revealed to us. All people have a right to hear this, which is why Jesus commanded us to preach to all nations and make him known. No one has to accept it, but they have a right to know what God has done for them. Either way we try to respect people who believe differently to us and remember that they are also children of God.


'Every knee shall bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' (Phil 2:10-11)

 


 


 

 



Sunday, December 27, 2020

Feast of the Holy Family (Gospel: Luke 2: 22-40) To love and to serve

 


My family lived in Dublin until I was six years old. One time when I was about five I was brought to a party of a school friend, but for some reason I decided that I didn’t like the party and that I wanted to go home. I figured that the best way to do this was secretly. So I told my friend that I would hide out in the garden and that he should come and try to find me after a few minutes. I then made my escape and headed home. The only problem was that I had no idea how to get home. So I headed off and asked a post-man how to get to ‘York Road’ in Dun Laoghaire, where we lived. He looked at me suspiciously but told me where to go. When I finally arrived home I found a big police motorbike in the front drive.  Maybe that’s where my love of motorcycles began! Everyone was out looking for me. My poor parents were not the better for this experience.  Family life is not easy.

 

This is a feast day which I think can often make us feel disappointed with our own families, although we don’t admit it, because it seems to tell us that our families are not what they should be. Things go wrong and we drive each other crazy. Someone gets into trouble and lets the family down. Marriages don’t always work out. We are afraid what others will think of us.

 

Then we are presented with the ‘holy family’, who we imagine were living in bliss all the time. That is not reality. They were poor. When Jesus was born they were homeless. Then with a new baby they had to flee to Egypt to escape an attempt on the child’s life and became refugees. When Jesus was brought to the temple, Simeon told them he was destined to be a sign that would be rejected. He would not be a ‘success’. Later they lost him for three days. Can you imagine the stress of losing one of your children for three days?

 


So why are they presented to us as a model? Perhaps because they had their priorities right. God was at the center of this family. It was the right environment for the person of Jesus to grow and mature. Jesus had to grow up as a person just as all of us do, learn to be responsible, learn the Jewish traditions and that takes a long time. It involves a lot of learning for each of us, and a lot of patience and sacrifice on the part of our parents, but how we are formed is vital. There is an African proverb which says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ We all have a part to play, even if that is just encouraging those who are struggling. If there are young families around you who are struggling financially, especially one parent families, look out for them. There is a couple I know who were telling me recently that at one stage, because one of their children was sick, they lost their home in order to pay hospital bills. The husband told me that for several months they lived on next to nothing. We never know how people are struggling and we must look out for each other.

 

We know almost nothing about the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, but no doubt it was very important for his growing and maturing as a person, and to help him be ready for the mission that He lived out for the last three years of his life, teaching people about God and sacrificing himself for us.

 

I met a man several years ago, who is now a friend of mine. He told me the story of his marriage which was so inspiring. When he was in high-school he was in a lustful relationship with a girl. He got her pregnant and she ended up graduating, six months pregnant. He decided to marry her for the child’s sake, but it was a loveless marriage for the first ten years. They just endured each other and spent any time they could, away from each other. Ten years into their marriage both of them were starting to take an interest in their faith. They decided to try and live their marriage exactly the way that the word of God directs. They started to live as faithfully to God’s word as they could. And he told me that it completely changed their marriage. They fell in love for the first time and their marriage has been wonderful ever since. They followed God’s directions and it worked. Why did it work, because God knows exactly what will work for us and He continually shows us. ‘Follow my directions and my commandments and your life will work.’ Who better to turn to when things aren’t working, than the One who designed us in the first place.

 


One very simple thing can make a huge difference as to how we live our life on earth and that is if we continually remind ourselves that our destiny is heaven. That is what we are created for. If we live with that in our mind, then we will live very differently on earth.

 

The word of God tells us that our time on earth is about service and sacrificing ourselves for others. That’s exactly how Jesus lived. He served others and completely sacrificed himself for others, ultimately with his life and He is the one we look to, to see how we should live. The world around us tells us the exact opposite. It tells us that our time on earth is about finding fulfillment and satisfaction in every way possible. It offers us every pleasure imaginable and tells us that we should have it all and if someone gets in our way, then we should move them aside so that we can find fulfillment. It is the opposite of the word of God. Who are you going to listen to?

 

The Holy Family were focused on God. They understood their role and their duties and that is how they lived. We are called to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas Day. We are of infinite value

 




Christmas is about what happens to us when we die. It is the feast of the greatest hope imaginable, because it tells us two things: First, that what all of us want—happiness—awaits us if we choose it. Second, that we have extraordinary worth and value in God’s eyes, regardless of how our life on earth turns out. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

The birth of Christ is the beginning of a great event that really has three parts. The Son of God comes among us, to live as one of us and take on the human condition with all its difficulties; to teach us about God and why we are here; and ultimately to sacrifice himself for us, so that we can reach that happiness. Hopefully that happiness will begin in this life, but it will only be fulfilled in the world to come. Our Lady said that to St. Bernadette at Lourdes in Franc: ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this world but in the next.’ And in Fatima she said, ‘If people knew what heaven was, they would do everything to change their ways.’

 

This year alone we have buried 16 people from this parish and that doesn’t count all the people who died here and were buried elsewhere. If the Son of God hadn’t come among us and died for us, none of those people could be with God in heaven. That is our destiny, but it is only possible because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That means that Christmas is the feast of the greatest hope imaginable.

 

It also tells us something that we find hard to grasp; that is, that we have an infinite value and worth in God’s eye’s, regardless of how our life turns out. It means that God will do anything to get us to heaven. We generally tend to think that if we really get our act together and if we become holy enough, then we will be acceptable to God. That is not what God teaches us. God teaches us that He loves us totally and completely, as we are right now. We may think of ourselves as failures, or disappointments in the world’s eyes, but that is not how God sees us. Think of a little child. No matter how much that child makes a mess of things, you don’t love them any less. You love them just because they exist.


There is a Jesuit priest called Fr. Greg Boyle, who for the last thirty years has worked in the toughest gang-land areas of LA. He wrote a book called, Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion. Up to the time he published the book in 2010, he had already buried 167 young people, from gangland shootings. In the book, he talks about the fact that most of the young people who end up in gangs, really have little else. Most of them have grown up in homes with no parents, or with parents so wrecked by addiction that they might as well not be there, or of such violence that they have left and lived on the streets. They end up in gangs because the gangs provide them with a sense of belonging; a family of sorts. He says that they don’t plan their futures; they plan their funerals. Young women often want to get pregnant early, so that they will have the experience of having a child before they get killed. Most of them don’t expect to make it past 20.

 

Fr. Greg helps them to see that they are valued, that they have worth and that they are not failures. He says that so many of them have come into his office and just cried, saying that they are total failures and they live in shame. But once he takes an interest in them, learns their name, helps them to see that he has an interest in them, they begin to change and many of them then leave the gangs and even get jobs. Once they begin to feel loved and valued, their life starts to turn around. He has now set up an organization called Homeboy Industries.

 

He spoke about one instance where he remembered the name of one young man and when he saw him on the street one time, he called out his name, ‘Hey Mike, How are you doing?’ He said the young man was astonished and kept turning back smiling. He couldn’t believe that someone noticed him.

 

Many of us are often afraid that we will not be good enough to get to heaven and that God might refuse us. We even joke about meeting St. Peter at the gates and him going through the log-book of our life, to see if we meet the grade, or testing us with questions. That is not the teaching of our faith. What the Lord tells us is that we are not capable of getting to heaven by our own strength, but He has made it possible for all of us to get to heaven by his life, death and resurrection. The only reason it won’t happen is if we reject God and we accept or reject God by the way we live.

 


Pope Francis, when he was a much younger priest was head of the Jesuits in Argentina.  During the military dictatorship in Argentina he had to make some very difficult choices, resulting in at least two Jesuit priests being arrested and tortured for several months. One forgave him the other did not and considered him a traitor up to his death. He made bad decisions with very serious consequences. Years later the Lord made him pope. Yes, I said the Lord made him pope. Why would God choose someone who had betrayed other priests, even if he didn’t intend to? Why would God choose a failure? Because he was not a failure. He is a human being who made mistakes. Why did he choose St. Peter who also betrayed him? because he saw the greatness in him, just as He does in us. God sees the greatness in us. We are beautiful in his eyes, regardless of the mistakes we have made. We are never a failure in his eyes. And that is why He has made it possible for us to have eternal happiness when we die. And that is what we are celebrating at Christmas.

 

‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’





Friday, December 18, 2020

4th Sunday of Advent, Year B (Gospel: Luke 1:26-38) Who will save me from this wretched state?

 



Today I want to address a question that often comes up when people are talking to me in confession and it is related to what we celebrate at Christmas. Actually it is more of a fear than a question. Almost everyone talks about a particular thing that they struggle with, whether it be anger, gossip, a sexual weakness, an addiction, or something else and it causes no end of suffering and humiliation. No matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be able to overcome it. In fact I’ve often heard people say to me that they don’t feel there is any point in going to confession anymore because they just end up confessing this same sin again and again and they don’t seem to be getting any better, so where’s the point? It can make us afraid that we won’t be able to go to heaven because of our weakness. ‘Since I can’t overcome this sin, why would God allow me to go to heaven?’ That is usually the thinking behind it. However, when we think like that I believe we are really missing the whole point of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The truth is that no matter how hard we try to be holy enough and overcome our sins, our weaknesses, we continually fall short of the mark. That is our reality. When he wrote to the Christians in Rome, St. Paul put it like this:

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are redeemed by his grace as a gift… to be received by faith (Rom 3:23ff).



In plain English that is saying to us, since all of us have sinned and can never be good enough for God by our own strength, it is God himself who has made up the difference for us. God has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that we will always be sinners and will always struggle with various weaknesses is no longer a problem, because God has made us ‘good enough’ through what Jesus did. That is what being ‘redeemed’ means. We cannot get to heaven by our own strength, by our own efforts, because we are too weak and too sinful and no matter how hard we try, we keep falling. But we don’t have to be afraid of that because Jesus has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves.

St. Paul also struggled with some kind of weakness that caused him great humiliation, in spite of the fact he had several visions of Jesus and of heaven and so many miracles that were worked through him. Listen to what he says about it:

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)



And finally he says, ‘Who will save me from this wretched state? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ That is the same fear that people keep telling me about in confession: ‘Who will save me from this wretched weakness? How can I ever come before God in heaven when this is what I’m like?’ This is where God calls us to realize what Jesus has done for us. He has made up for our weakness himself. That is why the coming of Jesus among us at Christmas is such an extraordinary event, because it is the beginning of God making up for our weakness, our sinfulness. We are not able to be good enough for God by our own strength, but it no longer matters because Jesus has made himself the bridge between God and humanity. Now we can come before God without fear, because Jesus has made it possible. Each time we celebrate the mass we are becoming present to that event—the sacrifice of Jesus—which made it possible for us to go to heaven. No other sacrifice or offering to God will ever be necessary for us, because the selfless act of Jesus dying for us has done everything necessary. All we have to do is to accept it. No wonder we celebrate the mass every day, in every church all over the world.




The mistake we continually make, which causes us to be afraid, is to think that we have to become ‘good enough’ for God, but the problem is that that is impossible for us by our own strength. If we stop there, then we would have every reason to despair, but once we realize that it is Jesus who steps in and bridges the gap, then we have endless hope, because it no longer depends on us being good enough. All we have to do is accept this extraordinary gift from God.

Why does God allow us to go on struggling? God could take away these weaknesses from us if He chose. The reason is because the very weaknesses we struggle with, are often the very thing that keeps us close to God. They make us aware that we are weak and we need God’s mercy. Again in his writings St. Paul talks about his weakness—although he doesn’t say what it was—and how he begged God to take it away from him.

‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take this thing away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.’ (2 Cor 12:8).

No doubt he felt that he would serve God much better if he could overcome his weaknesses, but God doesn’t see it this way. We generally feel the same: ‘If only I could overcome my weaknesses/addictions, I would be more pleasing to God and I would serve him better.




A man said to me in confession one time, ‘I have a terrible anger and I lose my temper so often. It causes me great shame. If I could just get rid of this anger I’d be perfect!’ I said to him, ‘You thank God for that anger!’ You can imagine how easily we could become arrogant if we thought we had overcome our weaknesses and we were ‘blameless’ before God, as a surprising number of people think they are. St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘The only thing that we can take credit for are our sins’. Everything we have is a gift from God, including our abilities, our education, our successes, our health. We have nothing to boast about before God and it is often our weaknesses that help us to see this.

So is Christmas relevant to us in a practical way in our day to day living? It certainly is, because the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus is what reassures us that no matter how weak or sinful we are, the path to heaven will always remain open to us as long as we ask God for it. All we have to do is accept from God this amazing gift which He is offering us. What is the best way for us to prepare for this wonderful feast? by doing what God asks us to do and that is to repent and confess our sins; to acknowledge our sinfulness before God and ask for his mercy.

 ‘Who will save me from this wretched state? 

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ (Rom 7:24)