Saturday, July 28, 2012

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (Gospel: John 6:1-5) The Lord feeds us with his own body and blood

The world we live in makes it very easy to become cynical.  There are explanations for so many things, and people are quick to dismiss what cannot be proved.  Well today I would like to tell you about two events which you could be very cynical about, but personally I believe in them.

The first is a Eucharistic miracle which occurred in Siena, Italy, on 14th August 1730.  As people were preparing to celebrate the feast of the Assumption a thief broke into the church, picked the lock of the tabernacle and stole the gold ciborium, which contained the Holy Communion breads.  This was only discovered the following day and of course there was great distress when people realised that the sacred hosts were still in the container when it was stolen.  Two days later a priest in another church noticed something white sticking out of the offering box in the wall.  He then discovered all the stolen hosts.  Since the hosts were now quite dirty, it was decided to put these stolen hosts into another ciborium and allow them to naturally decay which you are allowed to do in such cases.  However, a few years later when they examined the hosts they discovered they were still perfect, so they continued to preserve them.  Fifty years later they were examined again and still found to be perfect and even smelt fresh.  To make a long story short, various investigations were done over the years, including putting aside other unconsecrated hosts and leaving them for a similar length of time, but after a few years they had completely decayed.  Today, 282 years later, the hosts are still as fresh as the day they were found and they are now on display in a special glass ciborium in the Franciscan church in Siena.  I was there a few years ago and saw them myself.  It is a wonderful thing to see.

The second event is also a Eucharistic miracle which happened in the 8th century around 1200 years ago.  A priest was celebrating mass in a place called Lanciano, which is also in Italy.  Now this priest admitted to having doubts about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  But one day while he was celebrating the mass the bread and wine actually turned into flesh and blood in his hands.  As he got an awful shock when this happened, he first tried to hide what had happened, but then he confessed his doubts to the people and showed them what had happened.  The flesh and blood were preserved and centuries later when science had developed enough, investigation showed that the flesh was real human flesh and was actually heart tissue.  The blood was also real human blood.  Both are still preserved today.  This is only a very brief account of these two miracles, however, they have both been officially recognised as miracles by the Church. 

Why am I talking about Eucharistic miracles?  We are not obliged to believe in them, but sometimes I think it is good to be reminded that these things have happened in different parts of the world, and there have been several other ones too.  Perhaps it is one of the ways that Jesus reminds us of the gift that He has given us in the Blessed Sacrament.  In each mass we believe that the bread and the wine really and truly become the body and blood of Jesus in when the priest says the prayers of consecration. 

Why does this happen?  What is the most important thing for most of us throughout our lives?  To have the people we love around us.  Well this is one way that Jesus gives himself to us in a really extraordinary and beautiful way, showing us that He is with us all the time and that we can even receive him into our own bodies each day if we wish.  He loves us and wants us to know and experience that.  There is no greater way to give yourself to another person than this.

The readings of today’s mass are also all about this.  The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish is a sign of how Jesus would continue to feed us with his own body and blood, which He continues to do today two thousand years after He walked the earth.  It is probably one of the most controversial teachings of our Church, and the one which often causes people to laugh and say ‘What a ridiculous thing to believe’.  And yet when Jesus himself gave this teaching it says that many of his disciples stopped following him.  They said, ‘It is too much, who can believe that?!’  So it has been something which people have struggled with from the beginning.  But remember, we are not asked to understand it, only to believe it.

The Eucharist is the greatest gift that God has given us, because it is the gift of Jesus himself to nourish us; not just holy bread, or a reminder, but really and truly the body and blood of Jesus. 
This is my body which will be given up for you.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

15th Sunday Yr B (Gospel: Mark 6:7-13) If they do not accept you in any town, shake off the very dust of your feet as a sign to them.

As a priest, I often find myself in a position which is strangely similar to what we hear about in the first reading from the prophet Amos (7:12-15), even though this is 2000 years later.  In modern English it might sound something like this: ‘Look Amos/Murchadh go and talk about God somewhere else.  We don’t want to hear about it here, we are important people and we are busy with our own Church.  And I might say, ‘You listen to me (Amaziah)!  I didn’t choose to do this.  It wasn’t my idea, but God ordered me to go and speak to you, and now you can take it or leave it.’

In one way we priests—and indeed anyone who teaches about the ways of God—are still in the same position today.  We are supposed to pass on the same message regardless of whether people listen to us or not.  This is not an easy thing to do, as people often don’t want to hear what we have to say.  There is a great temptation for us, for me, to try to say what people would like to hear, so that people will think well of me, because like anyone else, I want to be accepted by other people too.  But that is not what we are called to do by the Lord. 

We are called by the Lord to do a specific job, and that is to tell people about him and his message.  To tell people that Jesus is the way to the Father, that without him we can not have our sins forgiven, that he is the way for us to find happiness and that God has made himself known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The message that the Lord calls us to preach is not an easy one and often meets with a lot of opposition, but that is beside the point.  It is not my business if people decide to follow Jesus Christ or not, that is up to them.  But it is my job to tell people about the Lord, as He asks us to. 

Pray for us priests that we will have the courage that we need to do what the Lord calls us to do.  Help us to be strong in our faith. It is not our place to preach our opinions, but to preach the Word of God.  Our opinions will not help you or nourish you, but the Word of God will.  What we say should challenge you, because the voice of the Lord, which is always calling us to begin again, is not an easy one to follow or listen to.  Just about all of the prophets were killed because they challenged the people about how they were living when they strayed away from the ways of God.  They kept calling them to come back to God, to continually change their ways and many didn’t want to be challenged in this way, so they got rid of the prophets.  Killing them off was their way of shutting them up.

We constantly want to do things our own way, but the Lord says, ‘If you really want to follow me, then you must listen to what I tell you and follow the way that I point out to you.’  ‘The way’ is the way of Jesus Christ, but it is one that we constantly need to re-commit ourselves to.  It is not enough to say, ‘Well I go to mass once in a while and I’m alright.’  The Lord Jesus is not just calling us to do something once a week, or once a month, but He is calling us to a whole way of living and thinking that affects everything we do.  The Lord will never force us to follow him; He simply points out the way to us and invites us.  We must make the decision.

Perhaps it seems like I’m preaching to the converted, but I believe that if we really want to grow in our faith, then we need to continually re-decide to follow Jesus Christ.  The world around us may not agree with us, or like the way we live.  Many people today are deciding not to be Christian anymore, perhaps not consciously, sometimes just by indifference.  But the Lord is very strong in the Gospels about indifference.  He demands a decision from us. 
If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

14th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 6:1-6) The thorn in the flesh. Our weaknesses can help us

A couple of years back I was talking to a man who was telling me about himself.  He said that most things in his life were grand, except for one thing.  He had a terrible temper, which was so frustrating.  And he said, ‘If only I didn’t have this temper, everything would be perfect.’  I couldn’t help thinking that this weakness that was so frustrating to him, was probably also one of the things that helped him to stay close to God.  If we thought we were perfect we would probably also think that we had no need for God.  It is also true that when we are not aware of our weaknesses we can become terribly arrogant.

There is a priest known simply as Brother Andrew, who co-founded the Brothers part of the Missionaries of Charity with Mother Teresa.  In one of his books about his experiences, he begins by saying: ‘Few people would believe the weakness on which the Missionaries of Charity are built.’  It is a strange statement for most people to hear when we think of people like Mother Teresa and the extraordinary work that she and the many other sisters and brothers do.  Brother Andrewe speaks a lot about his own weakness, although he doesn’t say exactly what it was, except that he suffered from some kind of addiction.  This weakness, which frustrated him so much, was also one of the things that made him holy.   He doesn’t say that, but you can see it from his writings.  The reason why God did such great work through him, through Mother Teresa and through so many others, was not because they were talented enough, but because they were aware of how weak they were and so they relied totally on God for everything.

The reason why God was able to do such extraordinary things through the saints is not because they were perfect, but because they were weak people who continually turned to him and so God was able to use them in an extraordinary way.  It is very easy to get a false impression of what holiness is:  Books can often give us the impression that saints were people who did no wrong.  The truth is that saints were and are weak people, with just as many weaknesses as any of us, but they continually turned to God for help and as a result God was able to work through them in an amazing way.  To understand this is key to growing in the spiritual life.  If the saints were perfect people who never did any wrong, then very few of us could relate to them.  But if they were weak people just like any of us—which they were and are—then not only can we relate to them, but it should help us to see that the same path is open to us, because it doesn’t depend on us being good enough, rather it depends on us continually turning to God.  That is the key.

There is no one here who doesn’t struggle with weaknesses of one kind or another.  It could be some kind of addiction, it could be a need to control, an emotional dependency, whatever.  We all have something and as you well know it can be extremely frustrating.

I find it consoling that two thousand years ago St. Paul writes about the exact same thing (See this Sunday’s second reading 2 Cor 12:7-10).  Paul was a very intelligent man, well educated and obviously very talented.  And even though he had visions of Jesus which converted him and then he went and preached everywhere, he too suffered from some kind of weakness, although he doesn’t say what it was. In this second reading you can really sense his frustration as he says that three times he asked God to take this thing away from him, and three times God said ‘No, my strength is at its best in weakness.’  This weakness, whatever it was, obviously helped him more than he realised.  It kept him humble and it meant that he continually needed to turn to the Lord and ask for his help and that is why he and so many other men and women were such powerful instruments in God’s hands, because they relied totally on God and not on themselves as they were well aware of how weak they were.

I have no doubt that all of us probably feel we would be much better off if we could overcome our weaknesses.  But perhaps these readings will help us to see that the Lord knows what He is doing when He allows us to struggle with them.  Yes, they are frustrating, but they can also be a gift in the sense that they make us rely on the power of God more than on ourselves.  It also reminds us that it is not a question of being ‘good enough’ for God.  We will never be good enough, but that doesn’t matter.  As long as we know that we are weak then we will see that we have someone to turn to who really can and will help us.
So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me.