Thursday, July 28, 2016

18th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 12:13-21) If I died tonight...

Any time there is a natural or human disaster, such as the killings in Nice or Munich recently, it makes me think.  One minute those people were just enjoying fireworks on the beach, the next minute they are before God knowing what their whole life was about. That could be there for any of us.

If I was suddenly told, like in the Gospel, ‘This very night the demand will be made for your soul,’ I wonder what would I focus on for the rest of the day? Would I be worried about paying off bills, or loans? I doubt it. I’d imagine my focus would turn to the people I love and also to wondering how have I lived my life so far.

At the moment many people in our society, many people—including Christians—are living as though there is no after-life, as though our life on earth is everything. At funerals I often hear people talking about the dead person as though that were it. Their existence is over; they are extinguished forever. If that were so, then we might as well grab all we can and make our life as comfortable as possible, because we only have one chance. But our faith tells us something completely different. Perhaps the most important thing it tells us is that we will not find full happiness in this life, but in the next, if we choose God. Complete happiness is not to be found in this life. We will have moments of great happiness, and hopefully we will find overall contentment, but that’s about as good as it gets.

When Our Lady appeared to Bernadette in Lourdes 150 years ago, one of the things she said to her was, ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ The point of that message and of the teachings of Christ is to remind us not to ‘miss the bus’, so to speak. It’s important that we don’t forget what our life is really about. We are only on this earth for a short time.

In Jesus’ time the problem of greed for money was just as much of a problem as it is now and it will probably always be this way. When this man said to Jesus, ‘Tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance,’ straight away Jesus pointed out to the disciples the danger of this desire. He said, ‘Watch out for this.’  ‘A person’s life is not made secure by what he owns.’ The problem is that our society tells us the opposite. We are all the time being told that if we have enough of everything we will be happy. But that is not what the Lord teaches us. That’s not where our happiness comes from.

There was a priest called Benedict Groeschel who founded the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the Bronx in New York. He died in 2014. He was a great preacher and he tells the story of a man he knew who was extremely wealthy.  At a particular function this man spoke to Fr. Groeschel, and he said, ‘Father, I have more money than I could ever spend or use and I would really like to be able to put it to good use.’ Fr. Groeschel suggested that he could make a donation to one of the orphanages they run, or something similar. But by the end of the evening the man had not agreed to part with one cent. It’s as if he was possessed by his wealth.  He knew he had way more than he could use, but he was still unable to part with it.

In confession I have heard so many heart-breaking stories of families divided over inheritance. It is so sad, because it is not important. Of course it is not good when someone in a family is left out of their fair share of what is coming to them, but sooner or later we will have to leave it all behind anyway. ‘There is no hitch on the hearse,’ as they say! We will take nothing with us when we die. Is it really worth causing such division in a family for this? I suppose it is a sign again that we believe we will find happiness if we have enough of everything materially. If we get the right car, house, job, furniture, etc, then we will be happy. The reality is we won’t. It is very nice to have these things, but these things won’t bring happiness because we are much deeper than this. Our spirit can never be content with just material things and that is why there is always this deeper longing in us for ‘something’ although we’re often not quite sure what that something is.

God has made us in such a way that we can only be fulfilled in him. It’s interesting that up to recently at least, one of the most popular areas of sales in book stores was the occult, which is another kind of search for the spiritual. Everyone is searching, even if we are searching in the wrong place.

Our time here on earth is a time of love and service; to choose for God or not; and this is a choice that each one of us has to make individually. That is why each week we come to listen to the Word of God and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, so that we remember what our life is about. The key is in making sure that God is at the centre. Otherwise we will forget what we are here for.
You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’

Thursday, July 21, 2016

17th Sunday of Year C (Gospel: Luke 11:1-13) Ask and you will receive

When I was young and I wanted something I would always try and talk my parents into it. I never asked a direct question but always came at it in a round-about way. My mother used say I was like a crab the way I would come at things. Most children just seem to keep asking the direct question until the parents are worn out, as I’m sure many of you are familiar with. Please can we go to the beach? Please can we go to the beach? Please can we go to the beach? It’s interesting that in this Gospel Jesus more or less tells us not to be afraid to pester him in this way when we are praying for something. Keep asking and don’t be afraid to ask.

A common difficulty for most of us is that we continually wonder if God is answering our prayers. So often I’ve heard people say that they have prayed for such and such a thing but God hasn’t listened, or answered. Is this true? Not if what Jesus says to us is true; and of course we believe that He only speaks the truth. ‘Ask and you will receive’; not might receive, but will receive. I suppose the problem lies in the fact that we often don’t recognise the way that God answers us. God always answers us but we may not even be aware of what God has done or is doing.

During my teenage years I lost interest in the practice of my faith just like many of my peers, although I still believed in God. When I was nineteen I remember thinking at one stage that I wanted to find out whether this was real or not. I didn’t just want to drift aimlessly. A few days before I turned nineteen a close friend of mine was killed in a car accident. This was a terrible shock to me because it was the first real encounter I had with death and it made me ask a lot of questions. At the end of the summer of that same year I came across a book called Power for Living. This was a series of testimonies of other people who had come back to God and whose faith meant a lot to them. Each one described how they had come to have a very real relationship with God which was now at the centre of their lives. At the end of the book it said: ‘If you want to discover God in your life, then ask him now wherever you are to come into your life and make himself known to you.’ I remember sitting at the end of my bed and saying, ‘Ok Lord, if you are there help me to find you.’ And then I put the book away and forgot all about it. I could never have imagined what was to follow. 

A few weeks later I met a friend of mine called Aidan, who told me about a mutual friend of ours called Louise who had been to a place of pilgrimage Medjugorje and had rediscovered her faith, or as Aidan put it: ‘She has become all religious and holy.’ I was intrigued, because Louise was my own age and from a similar background. So I called around to her and asked her about it. I remember she talked for about an hour and a half about what had happened. At the end of the conversation she invited me to come to a prayer meeting. Now I wasn’t that keen to go to a prayer meeting. I thought I was much too cool for such things.  But Louise was smart enough to know that and she asked another girl whom I liked, to ask me. Naturally I went! Both of those girls are now married and I’m a priest!

So I went along to this prayer meeting and I was very surprised to find 50 or 60 young people there praying the rosary, singing hymns and reading the Bible. This was totally new to me. I remember thinking that these people had something that I wanted. It was obvious that their faith was real; none of them had to be there and so I started coming back each week.

Several weeks after I began attending this prayer group they had what is called a ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminar, where they give talks about the reality of the Holy Spirit and the difference it can make in your life. On the fifth night they pray with each person to have an experience of God’s Spirit, just as the Apostles did. I was really looking forward to this and wondering what would happen. My family were also looking on nervously and hoping this wouldn’t be a disaster. After the people prayed with me I was disappointed because nothing extraordinary seemed to happen. But in the days and weeks that followed many things began to happen. It was as if someone plugged in my faith and switched on the power. Suddenly I had a tremendous desire to pray and read the Bible. The words of the Bible began to come alive for me in a way I had never experienced before and also the mass came alive for me. It was as if I was hearing it for the first time. Three years later I began studying to be a priest.

I could never have imagined how God was going to reach out to me and change my life that time I prayed to him sitting on the end of my bed. God does answer us, but often not in the way we expect.
Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened to you.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

16th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 10:38-42) Only one thing is necessary

Dear friends,
For the last few weeks I was traveling and then moving house to a different parish which is why there were no homilies. I'm now working in the parish of St. Vincent de Paul, Fort Myers, Florida. Welcome back again!

A few years ago something like 21 people working for French Telecom took their own lives. The company finally began to take a serious look at what was going wrong and realised that they were just pushing their employees too hard and they couldn’t take it anymore. So the company began to change their work policy and take some of the pressure off. It is terrible that it would come to that, but I think it is also a good reminder that we are not machines and we are not just meant to be worked to death. Apparently something similar has been happening in China where people were also being pushed too hard. We are not machines and there is a spiritual side to us which is just as real as the physical, and which also needs to be cared for if we are to be healthy.

Much of our society has gone like this, working like ‘the hammers of hell’ as the expression goes. We don’t seem to know when to stop, or even how to stop and now because Sunday is a shopping day there seems to be no beginning or end to the week. Business people will tell you that Sunday is now the busiest shopping day of the week (in Ireland at least). Even apart from a religious point of view, this cannot be good for us because we need to be able to rest, to just stop and do nothing. We are not machines.

Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things.’  Look at what Martha was saying to Jesus. ‘Can’t you see how much work there is to be done? Tell my sister to be busy too. She shouldn’t just be sitting there.’ But Jesus’ reply is interesting. He says that only one thing is necessary. He doesn’t just say that there is nothing wrong with her sitting and listening to him; he says it is necessary and that she shouldn’t be stopped from doing that. Stopping and listening is not just a nice idea, but it is necessary. Why is it so important?

There is an order to God’s creation. It will work a certain way and the Lord knows what we are able for much better than we do. The third commandment that God gave us is to keep the Sabbath, or Sunday holy.  It is to be a day of rest, where God is remembered, where God is given priority; but also a day where we can rest and recover because we need it ourselves.

When the people of Israel (who represent all of us) were wandering through the desert, initially they had nothing to eat. So God provided them with manna, a food that they could collect each day. This sustained them each day. But He also told them that they should go out and collect each day just enough for that day; but on the day before the Sabbath they should also collect enough for the Sabbath, so that they could rest and give God priority that day. To put it in modern English, He said, ‘Do enough shopping on Saturday so that you don’t have to go shopping on Sunday.’ Sunday is to be a day of rest from unnecessary work, where we can worship God, relax, take a walk with family or friends. Why? Because we need it. It is necessary for our sanity. It is part of the order that God created and God is well aware of what we need, because He created us.

God also asks us to rest so that we can continually learn how to listen to him. I often hear people say that they wish God would speak to them more. The truth is that God is speaking to us all the time, but mostly we are not listening. To a large degree we don’t even know how to listen any more, because we have gotten used to being so busy and having so much noise around us. 

You might be thinking that that is just how society has gone now and we should just get used to it. But the point is that if we are following the way of Christ as we say we are, then we need to listen to what God is saying to us, even if the rest of society doesn’t. Christians have always been different and we will be different if we follow the path that God shows us. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do I believe in this or not?’ Do I believe this is what God is saying to us or not? If we believe this—as we say we do—then we need to listen to what God asks of us and follow his directions, because they are there to help us. The order that God has given his creation, is not to make life difficult, but to help us blossom because God knows better than any of us what will help us grow.
Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things; only one thing is necessary.  It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.

Friday, June 3, 2016

10th Sunday of Year C (Luke 7:11-17) The life God wants for us

Anointing the sick
For the first few years after I was ordained a priest I worked as a hospital chaplain. It was a good but difficult experience. All day long I was dealing with sickness and death. It probably sounds strange but until then I never realized that so many people died in hospital. Many people are brought to hospital when they are dying, so understandably many people die in hospitals, but it was not how I had thought of hospitals up to that point. The most difficult case I had to deal with was a young girl of about 12 who was very sick and eventually died. I remember feeling so helpless and useless when she died. Every time I read the story of Jesus raising the little girl from the dead I am reminded of that girl and her family.

Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus only brought a few people back to life, although He healed many people who were sick. Wouldn't it make you wonder sometimes why He didn’t heal more people, or why didn’t He raise many more from the dead? I’m sure it would have convinced many more people of who He was. I think the reason He didn’t heal more people physically is because it was not the most important thing for him to do. When you think about it, all the people He healed and even raised from the dead all died later at some stage. But what could possibly be more important that healing people and taking their sickness away? 

Jesus healed those He encountered out of compassion for them, but his mission was teaching the people about God, about how God loves us and what our life is about. Having a sense of what our life is about is actually more important than being physically well, because if we don’t understand what our life is about then we will find it very difficult to keep going when things are going wrong.  One of the great tragedies of our time is to see so many people having no hope and then taking their own lives. This is not what the Lord wants for us. 

During his life on earth Jesus spoke about the reality of life after death, of not getting too caught up with things that are not important. He taught the people about the Father in heaven and how He loves us and has created us out of love. Ultimately His mission was to sacrifice himself for us, so that our sins could be forgiven, so that we could experience total happiness with God when we die. The priest says this in every mass at the consecration, repeating the words of Jesus: ‘This is the cup of my Blood… it will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’ That is why the mass is so powerful, because in each mass we become present to the event of Jesus’ death on the cross, so that sins may be forgiven. Time stands still and we are there. It is a wonderful thing that God allows us to be there.

The Lord is teaching us that there is a reason why we are here. Our life has a purpose and a meaning and is of great value. Each of us has a value so enormous to God that Jesus who is God, allowed himself to be sacrificed on our behalf. That is an extraordinary thought, but it is true. 

We are here because God created us out of love in order that we might share God’s happiness when we die. But first we have to learn about God and then we have to freely choose for God or not. Our time on earth is a time of love and service. We are free to love or not to love, to serve or not to serve and most of us do this by raising families, or simply by trying to do what is right from day to day.  But every day we are making choices for God or not by what we do. If we have a sense of this, then it can help us to keep going even when we are suffering, or sick, or things are difficult, because we know it is not forever and we know there is something wonderful waiting for us and so it is worth enduring when things are difficult. We will understand it all when we die, but for now it is hidden from us and part of the suffering we go through in this life is the fact that we cannot see the bigger picture; most of the time it remains hidden from us. Sickness is something that none of us want, but having no sense of worth or what our life is about can be far worse because it can lead to despair. It is a terrible thing to see people having no hope and it is also amazing to see what people can endure when they have a sense of what this life is about.

So in both the first reading and the Gospel today, people are brought back to life, because the Lord loves us. Each miracle was a sign; the first was a sign that Elijah was a man of God; the second miracle was a sign to the people that Jesus is God. The miracles confirmed that God was with them, but in both cases Elijah and Jesus then continued on with their mission to teach people about God and help us know what our life is about. We are called to love God and each other and to serve as best we can while we are here on earth. And when our time here is complete the Lord will bring us home to him.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), (Gospel: John 6:51-58)

Sometimes when I think of some of the different things that people of different faiths believe, and how strange they seem to me as a Catholic, it also makes me think of the Eucharist.  For those who do not believe as we do, it must seem like the craziest notion of all; that God makes himself present through the hands of a priest, in a tiny piece of bread and some wine.  What could be more bizarre than that?  And we don’t just believe that it is a reminder of Jesus or a symbol of Jesus, but really and truly the body and blood of Christ.  It is a teaching so extreme that only God could come up with it and get away with it, so to speak.  What human being would try to convince others that a piece of bread becomes the body of Jesus when a priest says certain prayers over it?

In the second reading—which is the oldest account of the mass in writing—St. Paul says to us, ‘This is what I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you…’ (1 Cor 11:23). He doesn’t even say that he received it from the other Apostles, but from the Lord himself. Jesus, as you probably remember, appeared to St. Paul and turned his life around. He appeared to him several other times as well. And Paul was so affected by what happened to him that he dedicated the rest of his life to preaching about this man Jesus. But the line that always strikes me is where he says, ‘This is what I received from the Lord…’ He is saying, ‘I didn’t make this up and neither did any other person. Jesus himself taught us this and taught us to do this in his memory.’ And so every time an ordained priest says the words of consecration at mass, Jesus becomes present in the form of bread and wine. How are we supposed to understand this? We aren’t! I do not understand it at all, but I believe it and I believe it because it was Jesus who taught it. That is why we fast for an hour before receiving Holy Communion and why we don’t eat or smoke in the church, to remind us that this is something unlike anything else we do in the world. It is also a beautiful sign of how close God is to us that He would continually come to us in the middle of our lives, each week, each day, to help and encourage us. He comes to us as we are; not as we should be, but as we are. And it is God himself who makes it possible to receive him, because we could never be ready or worthy enough to even come close to the divine presence, not to mention receive him. That is why we always say the prayer: ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’

There are two extremes that I often come across with regard to the Eucharist. One is where someone will say to me, ‘Father I don’t receive the Eucharist because I really am not worthy enough.’ Correct! No one is worthy enough nor ever could be, but since the Lord himself is happy to give himself to us this way, we should not be afraid to receive him. We try to confess regularly, but we should never be afraid to receive the Eucharist unless there is something really serious stopping us. Remember it is God who desires to come to us and He does not want us to be afraid of him.

The other extreme is where people feel they have a ‘right’ to receive the Eucharist without any kind of repentance or need to confess every once in a while. This is also wrong. There is no question of this being a ‘right’ on our part. The Eucharist is pure gift from God and for our part we must try to approach it as well as we can, especially by confessing every so often. The most important thing to remember is that the Lord wants to give himself to us, and so we should not be afraid to come to him. Remember that ultimately it is God himself who makes it possible for us to receive him. ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’

For me as a priest this is also a very special feast for two reasons.  First, because it is the feast of my ordination, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is probably the most appropriate feast for a priest to be ordained, because this is what the priesthood is all about. God gave us priests so that we could have the Eucharist, so that his word would continue to be preached, so that his forgiveness would be available to as many people as want to receive it. The Lord Jesus wants to be available in the Eucharist to as many people as possible, but without the priesthood there is no Eucharist. The two are intimately connected. To be able to celebrate the mass for God’s people is really the greatest thing that I can do as a priest. It doesn’t mean that I am worthy enough, because no priest could ever be worthy enough to do this, but God delights in using ordinary sinful people, like me.

Why did Jesus give us the Eucharist at all? Very simply because He loves us and wants us to know that He is with us all the time and that we can receive his body into our bodies every day if we wish. It is an extraordinary gift of intimacy that the Lord gives to us. Jesus gives himself to us purely because He loves us and He knows that we are all struggling most of the time, but when we have the Eucharist we are reminded how close God is to us.

I want to finish with this story: In the late 1500s there lived a woman named Margaret Clithero in the town of York in England. She was a convert to Catholicism at a time when it was against the law to be a Catholic. Priests used to come to her disguised as cloth penders, bringing her the Eucharist and she would hide them. She never saw mass in a public church or heard a Catholic hymn being sung even though she lived next to York Minster Cathedral. It was an Anglican church at the time.

She was eventually found out and she was dragged from the butcher shop where she worked and brought before magistrates and ordered to plead guilty or not guilty, so that she could go on trial. She refused as she didn’t want her innocent blood to be on the head of twelve jurors. She said, ‘If you want to condemn me, condemn me yourself’. The judge said’ ‘Because you are a woman I will let you go free, but you must promise never to hide these priests again.’ He handed her the bible and told her to swear on it. So she took the bible in open court and held it up in the air and said, ‘I swear by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if you let me go free, I will hide priests again, because they are the only ones who can bring us the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’

So, just over 400 years ago, she was brought to St. Michael’s bridge in York and given the punishment, worse than being hung, drawn and quartered. It was called in English law, ‘The punishment most severe’. She was pressed to death under heavy weights. It was to take three days and she was to receive only a little muddy water to drink to keep her alive. The executioner was bribed and he put a stone under her head so that she died within an hour as her neck was broken. She was the mother of eight children, and some of them were there when she was executed.
In the little chapel that is there to her memory in York today, there is an inscription over the door, which is a message for our times. It says ‘She died for the mass’.

So the next time that you find yourself bored with the mass, or just not too bothered to go because you’re tired, think of her and think of the many priests and men and women who have been executed for carrying the Eucharist or for celebrating the mass. God has given us an extraordinary treasure in the Eucharist. May He give us new eyes to see what is here before us.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity (Gospel: Jn 16:12-15) Created out of love; created for love

One of the most beautiful experiences we can have in this life is to fall in love. I’m sure most people here have been in love at least once. I have too, and it is a wonderful experience, though difficult too. As you know, it is the kind of experience that you want to last forever, but it doesn’t. It passes. Lovers always want to be with each other, and have eyes for no one else but each other. I suppose God made us this way so that we would be drawn to each other and commit to each other, in order that the human race would keep going.

The strange thing is that even though being in love is such a powerful experience, it is hard to say exactly what it is. It is a very mysterious thing. As it says in the Song of Songs: ‘Love is strong as death, passion as cruel as the grave’ (SS 8:6). It is so powerful and at the same time it is always just out of reach.

One thing we do know is that love comes from God. God is the first and the greatest lover. What we experience when we fall in love and later hopefully grow in the deeper stages of love, is something of what comes from God. We only have the experience of love because God gives it to us, and we are being invited to go deeper into a relationship of love all the time. The love that two people experience between each other is just a tiny reflection of this love that is God. 

Love also wants to share everything. Two people in love will share everything with each other. This is how we came to be here in the first place. The love that the Holy Trinity lives—a relationship of total and intense self-giving love—overflows to us. When you are ecstatically happy about something, you naturally want to share it with someone, or with lots of people. God wanted to share his intense joy and so He created everything, the spirit world and then human beings, in order that we could also experience and enjoy that same love. The fact that we are created last—according to Genesis—is a way of saying that we were the most important thing that God created. We are God’s masterpiece, because we resemble him more than anything else He created. 

However, in order for us to be able to love, God also had to make us free, so that we could freely choose to love or not, to reject God or not, because you cannot force love out of someone, it has to come freely. So now we have this bizarre situation where we are created to enjoy the love of God, which we will experience fully in heaven, but we also have the freedom to reject it.

I’m often amazed at the amount of parents who tell me in great distress about a child, or children who have rejected them. They cannot understand why. They did everything they could for their children and then their children turned their back on them. It happens quite often. We also do this with God. God offers us everything and gives us everything, but we can still reject him and people do.

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

The fact that we are here at all is a reminder of what the Holy Trinity is, a relationship of total self-giving love. A married couple is a reflection of what God is, because out of the complete self-giving of a man and a woman there is the potential for another person to be born. The love between the Father and the Son is another person: the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder of the extraordinary role that all of you married couples have in raising your families.  In giving of yourselves to each other and for your children, you are mirroring what God does. So the next time you are exhausted with the demands of your relationship or your children, remember this. Difficult and all as it is, you are imitating what God does, which means that you are called to something extraordinary.
The human being is God’s masterpiece.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pentecost Year C (Gospel: John 7:37-39) The Spirit will teach you everything

A few years ago I had to go to our national seminary for a meeting, Maynooth. Before the meeting began I met three young men who were studying to be priests for our diocese and they invited me to stay on after the meeting for Evening Prayer and supper; so I did. In the evening I found myself in the chapel praying alongside 80 young men who were studying to be priests and it was wonderful to hear all these men singing to God and praying the Psalms together, knowing that they were dedicating their lives to serve God. At a time when it is not easy to be a priest it made me ask myself what on earth could draw them? The answer of course is God. The Spirit of God inspires people and moves people when we don’t expect it and often in ways we don’t expect either. But the Spirit doesn’t shout aloud like the news-papers do. The Spirit works quietly, but very powerfully.

I am often asked, especially by younger people, why I didn’t choose to get married and instead went on for the priesthood? Actually the way they usually put it is to say, ‘Did you not like girls?’ And I always say, ‘Of course I was drawn to get married, but the call of God was the stronger one.’ That is the only way I can explain it.

The year I began in the seminary was the year the first major scandal in our Church broke. The bishop of my own diocese, who lived just down the road from where I grew up, had fathered a child. That was 24 years ago and there have basically been scandals ever since and most of them much more serious. During my time in the seminary it was very disheartening with all the stories about child abuse in the papers for the first time, but it made all of us think carefully about why we were becoming priests and it still makes me think about why I continue as a priest. The reason more or less remains the same: I believe God called me and continues to call me to serve him in this way. Most of the time I’m not even sure I understand the calling or even what exactly the Lord wants me to do, but the ongoing call is unmistakable.

When I was nineteen I was invited to go to a prayer meeting in my hometown of Galway. At the time I wasn’t practicing my faith, but I was searching. At this prayer meeting I met 50 or 60 young people praying the rosary, singing hymns and reading Scripture. This was completely new to me and I was drawn to it. I could see that their faith was real and I was intrigued by it. These young people basically taught me how to pray and taught me that it was good to start the day by giving 10-15 minutes to God in prayer. So I began to do the same. Shortly after I began attending this prayer meeting they held what is known as a ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminar. This is a series of about 8 talks on the reality of the power of God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit—and how that same Spirit is just waiting for us to be open to him so that He can set fire to our faith, so to speak. So I began doing this seminar and was curious to know what, if anything, would happen. On the fifth night the people there prayed with each of us—just like the Apostles did—that we would receive a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. I remember being a bit disappointed at the time, because nothing particularly amazing seemed to happen to me. I felt peaceful, but not unduly so. However, in the days and weeks that followed I suddenly noticed all kinds of things happening. It was as though someone had flicked a switch and turned on the power. Suddenly my faith became alive in a way that it had never been before. The Scriptures began to speak to me in a profound way and I had a great desire to spend a lot more time in prayer. I also noticed that I began to hear the words of the mass as though I had never heard them before and I was completely blown away with it. Other people who did this Life in the Spirit seminar had similar experiences, the most common being that their faith became alive as never before. That was 27 years ago and the experience really changed the course of my life.  A few years after that I began studying to be a priest.

Today when I look around and see some of the problems in our Church, I think back on what the Lord has led me through and I am reminded that our Church is in good hands, because it is not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of the Most High God. Those of us who try to serve in it are only instruments and often not very good instruments, but it doesn’t matter as God does not depend on us to get everything right. God is not asking us to succeed, only to be faithful.

As we celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, when the disciples’ faith was ‘switched on’, we turn once again to God’s Spirit and pray that He will help us never to lose heart, never to become discouraged, but to remember that God knows what He is doing. When we have the gift of the Spirit, which we have since our Baptism and Confirmation, we have everything. The guidance, wisdom and courage we need are there for the asking. It is for us to try and remain open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If we begin to rely only on our own expertise, our own ability, we will soon find that we come up short. If, on the other hand, we continue to seek the guidance of the Spirit, then we have nothing to fear, even though we may not know exactly what we are to do. God shows us what we need to do, as we need to know it. Most of the time we are not allowed to see very far ahead, but neither were the Apostles. They were just told to go and preach the Gospel, and that is what they did. 

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name
will teach you everything 
and remind you of all that I have said to you (John 14:26).