Friday, March 16, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent (Gospel: John 12:20-33)

Croagh Patrick, where it is believed Patrick spent time as a slave.

 I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people… (Confessions of St. Patrick, 1)

Although today is the 5th Sunday of Lent, I would like to talk about the saint we celebrated yesterday, St. Patrick, not just because I am Irish (!), but because the lives of the saints are so inspiring, but we are often given a very unrealistic picture of their lives. The truth is that most of them struggled a great deal during their lives, but the key to it was that they persevered to the end. They trusted in God against all odds and they kept going.

Every time we celebrate one of our saints—that is the official saints we recognize, since everyone in heaven is a saint—we are not just celebrating what that individual person has done, but rather what God has done through an ordinary, weak human being.

For many people St. Patrick’s Day has just become ‘being Irish’ day. A day to be proud of being Irish, but from a Christian point of view, it’s a day to celebrate what God has made known to us through another one of his instruments. It marks the day when Christianity was first brought to Ireland. And in sixteen centuries the faith in Ireland has developed to a great degree, even with times of savage religious persecution. So many men and women have been inspired to give their lives to God in the priesthood and religious life and in turn bring it to other countries, such as the United States. So many men and women have lived out their faith in ordinary lives, bearing witness to God by the way they live, thanks to the seeds planted by St. Patrick. He was the instrument God used to give us this great gift.

So why did Patrick go to Ireland anyway?  Did they really need Christianity? Didn’t it bring many divisions? The reason why Patrick went to Ireland was very simple: The Lord of heaven and earth wanted to make himself known to them and to know what He had done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God wanted us to share the joy of knowing him and to know what our life is about and why we were created. 

St. Patrick's seminary, where I and over 12,000 other men studied for the priesthood
Patrick was brought to Ireland initially as a slave. Through suffering and hardship, the Lord was helping Patrick to grow in the spirit. According to his own writings, he says that when he went there first he did not know the living God. But somehow God made himself known to Patrick. He says that he used to get up during the night to pray and no matter what the weather was like, he used to spend time praying each day. God was inspiring him to do this, to come to know him better, so that later he would be strong enough in his faith to see him through his difficult mission to the Irish people.

When Patrick finally escaped and returned to his own people he had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to them to teach them about God. Here is how Patrick describes the dream in which he was called:
I saw in a vision of the night a man coming as it were from Ireland, whose name was Victoricus, with countless letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter, which ran: ‘The voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter aloud I thought I heard at that very moment the voice of those who lived beside the wood of Voclut: ‘We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk once more among us’. And I was greatly troubled in heart and could read no further. (Confessions, 23)

Patrick says that his call to go back to Ireland brought him great pain. He didn’t want to go back to where he had been imprisoned. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to return to the very people who had enslaved you? But he believed that God was asking him to do this, and this gave him the strength that he needed. His faith meant enough to him that he wanted us to have it too.  But it wasn’t easy and he says that he met with great opposition:
[God] came powerfully to my aid when I was being walked upon… for many were trying to stop this mission of mine; they were even talking among themselves behind my back, and asking: ‘Why is that fellow thrusting himself into danger among a hostile people who do not know God?’ (Confessions, 46)

Daily I expect to be slaughtered, or defrauded, or reduced to slavery or to any condition that time and surprise may bring. But I fear none of these things because of the promise of Heaven, for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who rules everywhere. (Confessions, 55)

No one would have known Patrick when he came first and he had to start from scratch. But he came here and he preached to the people and taught the people about God, about Jesus and his death and resurrection, about Mary and the saints.  And his efforts paid off because he was prepared to give up everything, so that those people might be able to share in the same faith. The people must also have been ready to hear these words, or otherwise his work wouldn’t have borne such fruit. Only for his sacrifices I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you today.

The apparition at Knock in 1879
Then in 1879 during a time of great suffering in Ireland, 30 people in a small village called Knock, saw a vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God on the altar, accompanied by Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the evangelist. It was a silent apparition that lasted approximately one hour but the people understood that it was a message of encouragement not to give up and reassuring them that they were on the right track. The Lamb of God on the altar was the symbol of the mass and it was accompanied by Mary and the angels and saints. It was heaven’s way of telling the people they were on the right track and that their perseverance was worth it. They had been through very brutal religious persecution, but they had remained faithful.

In recent years the faith has been greatly tested through scandals of various kinds.  Many people have fallen away and it is hard to blame them, but we persevere in our faith and if we want our children to have this faith too, then we will have to pass it on.  We do that primarily by the way we live, rather than by anything we say. We may not feel that we are having much effect on the world around us, but if we do our best to live it, then we are planting seeds all the time and perhaps that is all that we are called to do. There has been faith in this country for sixteen centuries, and please God we will have it for many more centuries as well. So, as we remember saint Patrick, let us give thanks to God for the faith that He has passed on to us through people like Patrick and so many others and let us also pray that we will have the grace to pass it on to those who come after us. 
I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people… (Confessions, 1)
Check out this interesting website on St. Patrick:

Friday, March 9, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: John 3:14-21) For the forgiveness of sins.

Almost every time I celebrate the mass there is one line which strikes me more than any other. It is the line the priest prays over the chalice, ‘This is the chalice of my blood. It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’ That short phrase sums up what the whole mass is about, what the death and resurrection of Jesus is about and what the whole celebration of Easter is about. God takes on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and dies for his people, for the forgiveness of sins. This is what our faith celebrates above everything else.

We believe in a God who not only created us, but is so interested in us and our happiness, that when we had lost it through sin, He made the ultimate sacrifice for his people, so that we would reach the happiness which He had created for us. If I don’t believe that much, then I am not a Christian, because that is exactly what the Christian faith is all about: a God who loves us so much that He has given everything for us. That is why we call it ‘good news.’ We have been given an incredible freedom, because of what God has done for us. It is the freedom of knowing that something wonderful is waiting for me when I die, if I choose to accept it.

There is an Arabic proverb which says: ‘It is easier to see a black beetle, on a black stone, on a black night, than for someone to see the pride in their own heart.’  How true that is. It also says in one of the Psalms, ‘[The sinner] so flatters himself in his heart, that he knows not his own sin’ (Ps 36:2).

In confession it is amazing how often people will say to me, ‘It is a year (or more) since my last confession, but I don’t really have any sins.’ It says in the first letter of St. John, ‘If anyone says they have not sinned, they are calling God a liar!’ That might seem a bit extreme, but it is not, because if we haven’t sinned, then the death and resurrection of Jesus was pointless; and that would also mean that the mass is meaningless. For us to deny our own sinfulness is more serious than we might think. If I fail to admit my own sinfulness, then I deny the need for God and for all that God has done for me. I am sure that if we could see our own souls before God, we would get quite a shock.

Let me share something personal with you. Years ago I was given this experience of seeing my own soul before God and it was quite terrifying. It lasted just a few seconds, but I will never forget it. For a brief moment I was shown what my soul, as a sinner, was like before God. At the same moment God allowed me to realize that if his mercy hadn’t sustained me, it would have killed me. It also helped me to realize how serious a thing sin is, because it is the one thing that can come between us and God. It is the one thing that could cause us to lose eternal happiness. That means that we need to take it seriously.

Of all the ways that we prepare for Easter, abstaining from things, giving to charity or whatever else, there is nothing more important in the eyes of God than confessing our sins. Why? because this is what God asks us to do. Confessing our sins is not just about us, it is also a way of saying that I recognise all that God has done for me, and I am responding to that.

Now I know that people say, ‘I can tell God I am sorry myself.’ Yes you can if you want, but that is also saying that I know better than what God asks me to do. Why did the Lord say to Peter and the Apostles, ‘Whoever’s sins you forgiven they are forgiven; whoever’s sins you retain they are retained’ (Jn 20:23)? He also said, ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me and whoever rejects you rejects me’ (Lk 10:16). It is good to remember those words.

A priest friend of mine who was an exorcist, told me the following: When a priest has to do an exorcism, if he can get the person who is possessed to make a confession, the job is already half done. Why? because when we confess, we turn back to God, we break the power of sin/evil and we open the door to God’s grace.

Just recently I was reading an article written by an exorcist here in the US and he was saying that when confession lines get shorter, evil increases. God has given us the means to break the power of evil, to continually bring his grace into our lives, but we don’t use it.

So, if you really want to receive God’s blessing this Easter, then do as He asks you and confess your sins. God gave us this purely for our benefit, not for his, or to keep the Church happy. It is a most extraordinary gift to us, to help us come closer to him, to be at peace and to be healed. The Lord doesn’t want us to be dragging our sins around with us, but He wants us to be free and at peace and that is why He has given us this extraordinary gift. At the end of a confession I often hear someone say, ‘I feel like a great burden has been lifted from me,’ and it has!
This is the chalice of my blood. 
It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B (John 2:13-25) The commandments are there to give us freedom

I grew up in a large family, with three brothers and three sisters. It was a strict enough family and of course most of the time I resented the various rules we were given. I wanted to have things my way, but I wasn’t allowed to have them my way all the time, or there would have been chaos. Now that I am older I can see the wisdom of a lot of the rules that we were given, but at the time they often seemed unfair, or annoying at the very least. What we were taught served its purpose and helped to form us as children. It helped us to learn that there are basic guidelines that we all must adhere to if a family is to work.

A few years ago a friend of mine was at a business conference in Dublin and one of the speakers was saying that as a society we have forgotten some of the basic principles of living, such as honesty and integrity, respect for the human being. He was saying it was largely because of that neglect that we ended up in the last financial crisis we found ourselves in. Honesty and respect for the human being should be the norm and not the exception. If these are the principles out of which we operate, our society will be a lot healthier. 

A young man once asked me if it was wrong to lie? He was an intelligent man too. One of the Commandments tells us ‘You must not bear false witness’, that is, ‘You must not lie.’ That gives you an idea of the kind of confusion that is around us.

I know that in the past many people have had bad experiences of an over-demanding Church, which for a while focused too much on sin and everything that was wrong. That is not healthy. However, God has given us various teachings which are there to help us. The most basic of these are the Commandments. They are there to help us. Everything God gives us is to help us. God tells us that if you want to do well as a society, if you want to flourish, then stick to these principles: It is wrong to steal, to lie, to cheat, to kill, to commit adultery. We must honour God and respect Sunday as a holy day, a day when God is worshiped because God deserves to be worshiped, whether it suits us or not, and that must take priority over anything else. 

The Commandments of God are essentially a blue-print for living. If we follow these commandments and do our best to live them, we will do well as a individuals and a society. The Commandments are what will help us to become 'the best version of ourselves' that we can be. That is basically what God told the people through Moses, some 4000 years ago and those basic principles have not changed. All down through the centuries the people continually strayed away from the Commandments and worshipped false gods and when they did this their society began to fall apart. Then they realised what they had done and they asked forgiveness from God and tried to be faithful again. The Bible is essentially a collection of stories showing this. The people continually stray away from God, get into trouble, then realise their mistake and ask forgiveness and God always helps them back on their feet with great compassion.

Another thing that has not changed is that we are still very good at coming up with reasons why we don’t have to keep God’s commandments. People have always been good at coming up with excuses, but ultimately we are going against the very thing that will help us. True freedom is not just about being able to do whatever you want, but being able to choose what is good. Living by the principles God gives us is what leads us to true freedom. And yes this will mean that I can’t have everything my way, but we must choose who it is we wish to serve. If God asks us to keep Sunday holy, then what takes priority: worshiping God, or something else? If we live these commandments it will make us different from many others, but that is where we must decide who it is we wish to follow.

It is tempting to say, ‘I’m sure God doesn’t mind,’ or ‘God will understand.’ But if God doesn’t mind, then why did He give us the Commandments in the first place? Why did Jesus fly into a rage when he saw how the temple was being turned into a business instead of a place of prayer? God does mind because, God knows what is good for us and what will help us. The more we live by his teachings, the more we resemble God and so give glory to him.
I came that you may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Friday, February 23, 2018

2nd Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: Mark 9:2-10) Asking the unthinkable

I have often heard people say that the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son is horrific, so horrific that maybe it shouldn’t be read at all. It is meant to be horrific. The point is that God asks the unthinkable of Abraham, but more importantly Abraham trusts God and goes along the path that makes absolutely no sense to him at the time. Not only was it horrific that he should be asked to sacrifice his child, but it was also through this only child that God had promised him many offspring. So, nothing at all made sense. Abraham suddenly finds himself in a situation of complete darkness, where nothing was right, nothing made sense, but Abraham trusts God and then everything changes at the last minute. God ‘put Abraham to the test’ not in the sense of seeing if he was good enough—God knew how much faith Abraham had to begin with—but because God knew that Abraham had great faith and he wanted to stretch that faith to its full capacity.

An athlete won’t reach his or her full potential unless they are pushed to the limit. The trainer will often see more potential in them than they are aware of themselves and if they are a good trainer, they will push them so that they will reach that limit. Sometimes God does the same with us. He knows what we are capable of, more than we do ourselves and sometimes He stretches, or pushes us to the limit, because God wants us to reach our full potential as human beings.

Did you ever notice that sometimes when you pray for a situation to get better, it gets worse first? There is a temptation to panic and not pray any more, but if we believe that God is listening to us and helping us, then we persevere in prayer and we try to trust that the Lord will bring the best out of the situation, even though it often doesn’t make sense to us. That requires faith, and it’s not easy at the best of times.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, but in the end he didn’t have to go through with it. Because he was willing to do anything that God asked and because he showed his remarkable trust in God, the Lord said that He would bless him greatly:
I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore.

2000 years later God sends his Son, who takes on human flesh as Jesus and allows him to be sacrificed for the human race. The Father allowed his Son to be sacrificed. He did go through with it. It says in the second reading that because Jesus went through with it, the Father would not refuse him anything. That is why we can have such confidence when we pray to Jesus. It says in the second reading that Jesus now intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. If Jesus, the Son of God, is interceding for us before the Father, then what could we possibly be afraid of as long as we remain open to God? Not only that, but we also have Our Lady interceding for us. Is Jesus going to refuse his mother anything? Is the Father going to refuse Jesus anything? And these are the ones who are interceding for us.

In the Gospel the three disciples Peter, James and John are granted this extraordinary vision of Jesus, the Son of God, in all his glory. Why were they given this privilege when none of the others were? This happened just before the Passion, when Jesus would be tortured and killed before their eyes. Peter, James and John were also the three who would be with him in the Garden of Gethsemane watching him fall apart with fear. They were going to need great strength not to despair themselves, but what is especially worth noting is that after the vision was over they suddenly found themselves in a cloud where they could not see anything. Only then did they hear the voice of the Father speaking to them: 
This is my Son the Beloved.  Listen to him.’

God spoke to them when they were in a cloud. Have you ever been on a mountain when a cloud suddenly descended? It’s quite frightening because you cannot see anything. You just have to stop and wait. Sometimes it is only when we are in a ‘cloud’ or darkness/confusion that God will speak to us most powerfully. When we cannot see the way forward, and we cannot get any clarity on what to do, then God will show us what the next step is, but often He will only show us the next step, not the whole path ahead. This brings us back to the need to trust that God knows what God is doing when He leaves us in the dark. We are often left in the dark, especially with regard to our faith. That just seems to be how it works. Think of when someone dies. We are left with so many questions and few answers. We don’t understand, but God asks us to trust. God asked Abraham to trust because God knew he would be able to, even though He seemed to be asking the impossible. We are only shown one step at a time, if even that.  If He doesn’t show us the path it is because we don’t need to see it, only the next step.
This is my Son the Beloved.  Listen to him.’

1st Sunday of Lent (Gospel: Mark 1:12-15) Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving

I always think it’s good that Lent is in the Spring, when there is new growth and new life, because Lent is a time of new beginning. It is a beautiful time, because it invites us to reflect on what we are about. In denying ourselves we remember what is really important. Material things are important, but they are not the most important. When we die, none of our spiritual goods will come with us, only the spiritual part of us—our soul—will live on. Denying ourselves helps us to remember this. It is a kind of spiritual purification. We are also preparing for the greatest event in history, when Christ won eternal life for us. If this had not happened, we could not go to heaven when we die. It’s that simple.

The three main components of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Hopefully, denying ourselves will also make us turn more to prayer, because we are reminded more of the spiritual. When we come here each week it is not because the mass is so spectacular and entertaining, or just makes us feel good. It is because we believe that Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist and speaks to us through the Scriptures. Part of the sacrifice we make each week is also the giving of our time to come here. God has given us our whole lifetime and we try to offer some of that time back to him in thanks, taking time to worship him as He asks us to. It always makes me sad when I hear people say that there were other things that they needed to do instead. Even if people are staying with you, what could be a greater witness than to say that you have to go to mass because it’s Sunday. They won’t die without you for an hour.

Another part of Lent—and indeed the whole of our Christian life—is almsgiving, or put simply; giving to help the needy. Jesus mentioned this many times during his life on earth. ‘The poor will be with you always’. He used the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar who sat at his front gate. Jesus told the story that the rich man was condemned when he died, not because he was rich, but because he completely ignored Lazarus who was right under his nose. In other words, he couldn’t have missed him, but he chose to ignore him and he was condemned for that.

It says in the Acts of the Apostles that when Paul met up with Peter and the other Apostles, they agreed that Paul would preach to the gentiles and Peter to the Jews, but it says that the one thing they insisted on was that they would collect money for the poor, which they did.

We have a responsibility to look out for those around us who are in need and there are more than you probably realize. In south Florida, just under 23% of children go to bed hungry each night. The only proper meal that many of them get is in school. This means that when school is out they won’t get fed properly.

A few years ago, when I was working in St. Martha’s church in Sarasota, I got talking to a homeless man. He told me that he had been in the army and served his country. He had later done time in jail and now he was living on the streets. What struck me most was when he said, ‘If you think living in prison is hard, you should try living on the streets of Sarasota.’ People are struggling all around us.


One of the most organized ways that we are presented with for giving, is through the Catholic Faith Appeal. Each year our parishes are presented with a goal, based on the previous year’s collections. This year it is $126,000. I know that many people are under the impression that this money is going to the bishop and the diocese, but that is not true. The diocese has to process it, but essentially it enables us to run all the programs in the diocese that support so many people. Some of those programs include Catholic Charities, Pastoral Outreach & Ministries; missions, poor parishes and convents; Evangelization; Worship; Respect Life; Peace & Social Justice; Vocations & Seminarians; Catholic Education; Diocesan administrative support services, and many other programs too.

The CFA is also a great opportunity for our parish, because as soon as it is payed off, we get to keep any further donations 100%. We don’t have to pay any assessment on them. I also have an obligation to contribute to the CFA and I will be contributing.

‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’

Thursday, February 8, 2018

6th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:40-45) Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Today we are given one of the many encounters of Jesus’ healing someone who had the terrible disease of leprosy. Apart from the fact that leprosy was physically so horrible, with a person’s flesh literally rotting on their body, it also had the added pain of excluding them from the community because of the fear of contamination. Anyone who had leprosy had to live outside the community. Notice how it says in the Gospel that when Jesus heals this man he ‘sternly warned him not to tell anyone,’ but in the man’s enthusiasm he couldn’t help himself and began talking about it everywhere.  Because of this people realised that Jesus had been in contact with a leper and so he could now be infected himself. As a result he then had to stay outside the towns ‘in places where nobody lived’. This kind of thing must have been very frustrating for Jesus, but he had to put up with it and adapt his mission accordingly. 

I’m sure there were many thousands of people in Jesus’ time who also needed healing, but who didn’t ever get to meet Jesus.  Jesus healed those people who came to him and asked for help, but that would have been relatively few.  Do you ever wonder why the Lord allowed so many others to remain sick, or why He allows us to be sick?  Is it possible that any good can come out of the sicknesses we have to go through?

There is a beautiful story about the composer Ludvig Von Beethoven (1770-1827). Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany and he had quite a sad life. He suffered from a great lack of affection, because his mother died when he was very young and his father was an alcoholic who used to beat him. His father eventually died as a drunk on the streets. His biological brother never helped him either and on top of it all, symptoms of deafness started to disturb him, leaving him nervous and irritable. There was however, a German prince who became his benefactor and was like a second father to him, but then the prince died and between his deafness and loneliness, he went into a terrible depression and eventually began to wonder whether there was any point in him going on living.

At that stage Beethoven could only hear using a kind of horn-shaped trumpet in his ear. He always carried with him a notebook, so that he could write and communicate with others, but many didn’t have the patience for this and so he began to feel more isolated and alone. Feeling that nobody understood him or wanted to help him, Beethoven withdrew more and more into himself and avoided people. He became so depressed that he prepared his will, saying that maybe it was better for him to commit suicide, but then God’s providence intervened. 

A young blind woman who lived in the same boarding house where Beethoven had moved to, told him one night, shouting into his ears: “I would give everything to see the moonlight.” Listening to her, Beethoven was moved to tears because he realised that he could see and he could compose music and write it on paper! A strong will to live came back to him and led him to compose one of his most beautiful pieces: “Mondscheinsonate” – “Moonlight Sonata”.

In its main theme, the melody imitates and resembles the slow steps of people, possibly of Beethoven himself and others, carrying the coffin of the German prince, his friend, patron and benefactor. Some music scholars say that the notes that repeat themselves, insistently, in the main theme of the 1st movement of the Sonata, might be the syllables of the words “Warum? Warum”? (Why? Why?) or another similar word. Years later, having overcome his sorrow, Beethoven wrote the incomparable “Ode to Joy” from his “Ninth Symphony”, Beethoven’s magnum opus, which crowned the life work of this remarkable composer.

He conducted the first performance himself in 1824. By then because he was totally deaf, he failed to hear the applause. One of the soloists gently turned him around to see the hall full of a wildly cheering crowd. It is said the “Ode to Joy” expresses Beethoven’s gratitude to life and to God for not having committed suicide.  All this was thanks to that blind young woman, who inspired in him the desire to translate into musical notes, a moonlit night. Using his skill, Beethoven, the composer, who could not hear, portrayed through this beautiful melody, the beauty of a night bathed by the moonlight, for a girl who could not see it with her physical eyes.

We do not know why we have to suffer but perhaps more good comes out of it than we realise. No doubt the blind girl who inspired Beethoven could never have imagined that any good could have come from her being blind and yet look what happened. I am sure that when we get to heaven we will be amazed at how many parts of our life that don’t seem to make any sense now, will all fit together. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

5th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:29-39) Teaching before healing.

It is interesting that 2500 years ago when the first reading from Job (7:1-4, 6-7) was written, they were asking the same questions that we still ask today? ‘Why do we have to work so hard? What is the point of it all? Why is our life often so difficult? Why is it that good people often suffer so much for no apparent reason?’ Throughout the centuries you’ll find that people continually ask the same questions. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event like a tsunami or an earthquake where thousands are killed in an instant, to make people ask themselves these questions. One minute all those people were just getting on with their daily lives, the next minute the tsunami struck and they were gone. If we can suddenly be snatched away like that, then what is the purpose of our being here?  Is there any purpose, or is it all chance? The Lord teaches us that there most certainly is a purpose to our being here.

During his life on earth Jesus continually worked extraordinary miracles—just as we read in today’s Gospel—and as a result thousands of people were drawn to him looking for healing, just like we do today when we hear of someone who has been given a gift of healing, but this was not the main purpose of Jesus’ being here. Of course he was happy to heal people because he had extraordinary compassion for people, but primarily he wanted to teach people, to teach us about God and about the reason why we are here. When you think about it all the people he healed and even brought back to life from the dead, they all eventually got sick again and died. So he wanted to teach us that we are loved by God and we are not here by accident; that our life has a purpose and is going somewhere; that it is worth keeping going even when we are suffering, and above all the mission of his life was to die for us so that we could get to heaven when we die.

When the disciples found him alone praying the first thing they told him was that everyone was looking for him. There was so much work to do, so many people to heal. But look how he responded: ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ That is why I came: to preach and teach. But why is it so important to teach us? Wouldn’t it be much better just to heal us? Physical healing is important and Jesus knew that, but he also knew that if we have meaning, if we have purpose, that is much more valuable to us. 

What is also interesting is the way that he taught. He mostly used parables. The reason why that is different is that a parable does not give you a definite answer; it points you in a particular direction, but you must go on searching for the truth if you are to discover the meaning. Why is that important? Because it engages us in the work of searching for and discovering the truth. It makes us think and also use our imagination. In other words, he didn’t just shove a set of teachings down our throat and say ‘that’s it.’

When I began my ministry as a priest I worked as a hospital chaplain, I remember meeting a man who had been suffering for most of his life. He had had operation after operation and he was in pain most of the time. But when I met him he was smiling and he said, ‘Father I have so much to be grateful for.’ It was very humbling to hear this. Why was he grateful? Because he had faith and he had purpose. He understood that his life had meaning and that it was going somewhere. He believed that this life was not everything and that it was worth persevering. Having that purpose is what makes all the difference. And that is what our faith gives us. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it helps to make sense for us of why we are here. It reminds us that God does want us to be happy, that that is what He created us for. It also reminds us that it is worth putting up with the various struggles we have to go through because they are often what make us into better people. The suffering will not last forever. Sooner or later we will cross over to the next world where our happiness will be complete. Having that hope is what makes all the difference and that is why Jesus kept moving around and teaching people, so that they would have the strength to keep going especially when times were more difficult.

Meanwhile we will continue to pray and look for healing and it is right that we do, but it is also good to remember that the hope we have in God is actually worth more than the physical healing, because that is what will keep us going.  Remember the words of Jesus: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me.’ God knows what He is doing.