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.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

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

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

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

Probably the greatest obstacle to God’s helping and healing us, is our refusal to forgive. When we refuse to forgive someone we shut the door to God’s grace, we prevent God from healing us, but there is an important thing to remember about forgiving someone. Many people think that in order to forgive someone I must feel like forgiving them. In other words, the hurt has to have gone and so now I can forgive. That is not how it works. Forgiveness is not just a quetion of how I feel, or whether I feel like forgiving someone or not. Most of us when we are hurt, are often hurt for a long time, sometimes for years, and of course we don’t feel like forgiving. The deeper the hurt the longer it takes to heal, but forgiveness is a decision of our will, it doesn’t depend on whether we physically feel like doing it or not. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to’. It doesn’t mean that all the hurt will instantly disappear, but if we are prepared to do this much, then we open the door to allow God’s Spirit to begin to heal us. If I refuse to forgive, I am preventing God’s Spirit from helping me to heal. We may think that by refusing to forgive someone we inflict some kind of revenge on the other person. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt we carry. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us does not hurt them, it wounds us. The resentment becomes a poison within us, which festers. God wants to heal us and help us move on, but we must be willing to forgive. It is not an easy thing to do, but we must try. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times in the Gospels and in very strong terms. If we expect to be forgiven, we must also be prepared to forgive and I doubt that there is anyone who does not need to forgive someone. If you find yourself angry at someone, it usually means that you need to forgive them. Maybe a good question to ask yourself when you find yourself angry with someone is this: if I was in their position, would I hope that the person I had hurt would forgive me?

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

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

23rd Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20) Hurricane Irma

Today's homily is more of a short reflection than a homily, as today's circumstances are very different to normal. Right now I am with friends in Venice, SW Florida, as we await the full wrath of hurricane Irma. As of now we just have strong winds and rain, but by midnight tonight we are due to have the full force of the hurricane. People are scared, wondering what will happen. Many have already had to evacuate, not sure if they will have a house to return to, including me, as my house is close to the Caloosahatchee river, which could well overflow and burst its banks. Time will tell.

The Gospel that comes to my mind is the Gospel of Mark 4: 34-40. Jesus is out with the Apostles in a boat and a storm breaks out. The sea of Galilee is known for sudden storms. The boat begins to take water and they are terrified that they will drown. Jesus is asleep in the stern. The Apostles wake him and say 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' Jesus gets up and rebukes the wind and sea and all becomes completely calm. The Apostles are left speechless and say, 'Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?' It is a powerful image and even more so if you have seen the power of the sea in a storm.

For all the wonderful advances in technology that we have, it doesn't take long for mother nature to remind us just how small and mortal we are. When nature's forces awaken, all we can do is get out of the way. I believe that this can be a good thing. Depending on where we live, we can develop a false sense of security, especially in the developed parts of the world. Thank God we have all that we have, but when you think about it, there are so many parts of the world where they have to face natural disasters far more often and they are not half as well equipped as we are, but they manage. To be exposed to this reality can be healthy, in the sense that it brings up the bigger questions that we prefer to avoid: why am I here? what if I die? what happens then? Although these are scary questions which usually only arise when the reality of death seems closer than normal, it is also important that we address them. Otherwise we can lose sight of why we are here and get immersed in the world in an unhealthy way. 

The reality is that we only have a short time in this world and there is a reason why we are here. We are created out of love and we are created to love and serve. That is the purpose of our life. As we grow, we learn about what it means to love and serve, the sacrifices, the joys and pains, but we must also choose to love. This learning is part of what our life is about. Sometimes it is only in a crisis, when someone we love becomes sick or dies, or faced with a natural disaster, that we wake up to this reality. In times of crisis, the things of importance come to the surface and the worldly things disappear into insignificance. Times of crisis also bring great goodness out of people. Humanity shines.

So as we await this great storm, I give thanks to God for this reminder to us all of what we are about. Please God we will all come through it with a greater sense of purpose and even if we do lose our church or our homes it will be painful, but we will still have each other and we will manage. Thank you Jesus for everything.

Friday, September 1, 2017

22nd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27) Do not model yourselves on the world around you

Some time ago I was talking to a friend of mine in my home-town of Galway and we were discussing how much our society has changed. She was saying how it is acceptable now to be just about anything, but not Catholic and I think she is right. If you try to live as a Catholic it will cost you, and the Lord said it would. He was very clear about it.

Today’s readings are all about this. They are saying that following the way of Jesus Christ comes at a price. The early Christians were known as followers of ‘the Way’. Strange as it may seem, I think it can be a very good thing when it becomes more difficult, because sometimes it is only when you feel a bit of persecution that you begin to think about what you believe in and why you believe it. That is very healthy.

In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah is having a bad day. He is complaining about how difficult it is for him to be God’s spokesman and how much persecution it has brought him. He has had enough and he wants to quit. In fact he reminds me of being a priest. It can cause you a lot of grief and you meet a lot of people who turn their back on you, or are openly hostile to you, just as Jeremiah experienced. However, God continually encourages us to keep going, to speak about him and it is as Jeremiah said, like a burning fire within which is irresistible. I always find it consoling to remember that many of the great figures in the Bible also wanted to quit. The prophet Elijah after working an extraordinary miracle, is now running for his life as the queen wants to kill him and he sits down in the desert and says, ‘Lord I’ve had enough. Take my life. I wish I was dead.’

Sometimes people ask me why I became a priest and did I not want to get married? Of course I did, but just like in the reading, the call of God was stronger. It is hard to resist and it is like a burning fire inside. The strength of God is what keeps pushing me on, pushing all of us on.

Jesus spoke harshly to Peter, when Peter objected to the fact that Jesus was going to be arrested and killed. I’m quite sure any of us would have too, but the reason Jesus was so harsh with him was because Peter wanted what seemed easier. Our world will usually suggest what seems easier, but it is not always the right thing to do or a good thing to do. The Lord will take us in ways that we would sometimes rather not follow.  So why bother to follow them? Because the way of Jesus Christ is the way that leads to life. It can be hard, yes, but it is so worthwhile. It is the pearl of great price, which is worth giving up everything for.

The world around can offer us many attractive things and some of them very nice indeed, but it cannot offer us a life after this one. Only God can offer that. ‘What then will a person gain if he wins the whole world, but ruins his life?’ And so Jesus tells us not to be afraid of it, not to be afraid of being different, or following a way that is not always acceptable.

St. Paul says ‘Do not model yourselves on the world around you, but let your behaviour change.’ We cannot follow the way of the world and the way of Jesus at the same time, because the two are radically different.  But how can we follow this way if it is so difficult?  The answer is, by relying on the Lord himself. That’s where we get our strength from. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, that’s why he gave himself to us in the Eucharist. That’s why he invites us to come together every Sunday to listen to his words speaking to us and encouraging us, to build us up. I have always found that it is the people who really live their faith who are least disturbed by things going on in the world. They have an inner strength that that they get from their relationship with God, and that is there for all of us if we want it. I’m sure many of you experience this already. The Lord gives us everything we need, everything. All we have to do is reach out our hand and accept it.