Friday, March 27, 2015

Passion Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:7) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Today we begin the celebration of Holy Week, a very special time when we reflect on the events that lead us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, events which changed the course of history forever.  Because of these events we can now go to heaven when we die.  It’s that simple.

We begin with a short account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, hailed by the people as a great prophet.  They threw down palm branches in front of him and shouted ‘Hosanna!  Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord.’  Yet within a few days everything changed.  He was betrayed for money, illegally tried, then tortured and killed.  Today we read the full account of his passion.  It is the main focus of our mass.

Even though it is a sad event that we remember, it is also a day of celebration, because what we remember is the wonderful event that made it possible for us to experience the eternal life after this one.  That is so important, because if we couldn’t hope for a better life after this one, it would be very hard to keep going a lot of the time.

Everyone suffers, as you know, there are no exceptions.  Probably one of the most difficult things for any of us to experience when we are suffering, is the sense that we have been abandoned by everyone.  Sometimes we even feel that God has left us and we are on our own.  This can be so difficult because we believe that at least God won’t let us down even if everyone else does.  But where do we turn when God disappears too?  There is no where left to go.  This is the worst kind of suffering.  Of course the truth is that God never abandons us, but we may feel that He has.

Just before Jesus’ death on the cross, he cries out: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’  What does this mean?  It seems to point out that even Jesus felt completely abandoned by the Father.  He felt totally alone.

Why would God the Father hide himself from Jesus at the time when Jesus most needed to know He was there?  Perhaps it was so that Jesus could experience this worst kind of suffering, the suffering of believing that you have been abandoned even by God.  By experiencing this, Jesus is brought to the furthest extreme of suffering, as it were.  After this there is nothing that he has not experienced and this means that he can understand us in every kind of suffering we go through, even the feeling of being abandoned by God, because he has been there.  We can no longer say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ because now he does.

I think it is also good to remember that even though we may feel we have been abandoned by God at times, that in fact we have not.  But sometimes God allows us to go through this for reasons only known to God.  It seems to be part of what forms us, even though it is very difficult and we shrink away from it.

Finally I want to mention Our Lady.  She also was at the foot of the cross.  Years before she had been told by the angel Gabriel that Jesus would be great and would reign forever as king.  He would be called Son of the Most High God.  What had happened to all these promises now, as she watched Jesus come to the end of his life before her eyes?  Although Mary must have suffered terribly at all she had to witness, she didn’t give up hope.  She believed that what God had said would come true and she hoped and believed even without understanding.  God invites us to do the same; to hope even when we don’t understand.  There is so much that we don’t understand, but we try to believe that God knows what God is doing and so we don’t give up.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

5th Sunday of Lent, Year B (Gospel: John 12:20-33) Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies it remains just a single grain

‘Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain.  But if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.’

A survey was carried out in America a few years ago to see who were the happiest people and why.  The survey found that the happiest people were old African-American women.  The second happiest people were old Hispanic women.  The third happiest group of people were old women in general.  Why?  Because they had suffered so much throughout their lives. It had taught them so much and they had learned to be at peace and now they were very content and very little would put them out.  I used to notice the same thing with many of the old people when I worked in the hospital. The older people were usually much more patient and tolerant that younger people, even though they would often be suffering more, but they had generally learned to be tolerant and patient.  They weren’t easily phased.

We always wonder when we see people suffering, why we have to suffer so much, especially at the end of someone’s life.  It is the one thing that all of us find hard to face and we have no explanation for.  However, the whole journey of Lent tells us a lot about the place of suffering.

Suffering seems to be an unavoidable part of this life where everything is so imperfect, but it does have its purpose.  God doesn’t want us to suffer, but God brings great good out of the suffering by allowing us to be transformed by it.  However, it is a slow process and we don’t usually see the fruits  of it until afterwards, which makes it all the more difficult.  If at the time of suffering we knew that it would lead to something much greater, it would make it a lot easier, but the problem is that we usually cannot see any point to it at the time and that is part of the suffering.
Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain.  But if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

The whole life of Jesus is also telling us something about what we are called to.  His life was one of total self-giving.  He lived for others.  Yet in spite of all that he did, he was continually persecuted.  In the end he was betrayed for money, falsely tried, tortured and executed and yet he was totally innocent.  All of this was sickeningly unjust, and yet look at what God brought about from the death and resurrection of Jesus: we are now offered eternal happiness with God when we die.  From the point of view of worldly thinking it makes absolutely no sense, but seen with the eyes of faith we see something quite different and that is why our faith is so important.  It helps us to make sense of what does not make any sense from a human point of view.

You know how angry we all get when we are faced with injustice.  What happened with the economic crash a few years ago is a good example.  The greed of a few causing great suffering for so many and as a result everyone is enraged and rightly so.  It is totally unjust and yet I have no doubt that we will see great good come out of it as well.

It says in the second reading, ‘Although he was Son, Christ learnt to obey through suffering.’  Jesus didn’t want to suffer any more than we do, but he trusted that the Father knew what he was doing, and so he accepted his will.  He became perfect through suffering.  We don’t want to suffer either, but we must also learn to trust that God knows what he is doing.

The society that we live in tells us continually that we should be able to have everything exactly as we want it and whenever we want it, and that we should never have to give in to anyone.  We are told that everything is for our pleasure; but that’s not what Jesus taught us.  He said, ‘Try to enter by the narrow door’ (Lk 13.24).  He also said, ‘Anyone who loves his life loses it, but anyone who hates his life in this world, keeps it for the eternal life’.  Jesus is telling us not to invest everything in this life, because it is passing and what we have here is not really important.  The only thing that is important is what will happen to us in the next life.  We are being faced with a long-term investment.  If we try to find total happiness here, we will be disappointed, because it is not to be found.  It is sad when you see people driven by greed, even if they get away with it.  They are trying to find happiness in this life, through money, but no matter how much they are able to acquire, they still won’t be happy.  It cannot bring happiness, because God has created us in such a way that we will never be completely fulfilled by anything earthly, not even by someone we love dearly. Hopefully we will have many times of great joy, but we will never be completely fulfilled here.

The Lord is telling us not to be afraid of what we have to go through in this life because it is transforming us and helping us to become the best version of ourselves that we can be.  God is well aware of the potential we have and God wants us to reach it.  That is where we must trust him with the process of what He allows happen to us.
Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain.  But if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

4th Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: John 3:14-21) Freedom through the death of Jesus

Will we ever be good enough to get into heaven? I think that is a question that many of us ask and also are afraid of the answer. We know underneath that no matter how hard we try, we keep sinning, we keep struggling with what we know is not right, even if they are small things: gossip, addiction, impurity of one kind or another, resentment and so on. We always seem to fall short of the mark. It is something that I hear a lot in confession. People don’t say it directly, but you can often hear their fear. They know that they don’t seem to be improving.

When Jesus spoke to the Apostles about how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, they asked: ‘Then who can be saved?’ And he gave the disturbing and wonderful answer: ‘For people it is impossible; but not for God. Everything is possible for God.’

St. Paul, to whom Jesus appeared several times , talks about his own struggles with sin: 

I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  ...the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf. Rom 7:14-24)

It is comforting to know that someone like St. Paul also struggled the way everyone else does. You can almost hear his frustration. He finishes up asking, 'Who will save me from this wretched state? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.' That is the key to it.
One of the most central teachings of our faith revolves around this point and so many people miss it. The point is that no matter how hard we try we will always fall short of the mark. We can never be good enough, or holy enough for God. But what’s even more important is that it doesn’t matter, because it is God himself who makes up the difference for us. The perfection that we cannot reach, God makes up  for us and this happens through the death and resurrection of Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.

We hear this message all the time, but I think we don’t always appreciate what that means. It doesn’t just mean that God has won eternal life for us, but also that God makes up for us the goodness that we can not achieve ourselves. So even if we only manage to make it to 70% of the goodness we are supposed to have, God is the one who makes up the other 30%, or 40% or 95%. This is what the death and resurrection of Jesus means. God achieves for us what we cannot do ourselves. That is why we talk about the ‘freedom of the children of God.’ It gives us a freedom so that we don’t have to be afraid of whether we will be good enough to get to heaven or not. God has taken care of that for us. It means that we can be at peace.

Does that mean that we can do anything we want? Certainly not. St. Paul says in the letter to the
Philipians, ‘Continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling.’ In other words, don’t take it for granted. So we continue to try and live by the Commandments of God and do what is right, so that we will blossom as human beings and become the best version of ourselves that we can be, but as long as we stay open to God we need never be afraid.

God has created us to be with him in heaven. And God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject him. We do our best and although it will never be good enough for God it doesn’t matter, we can relax. We try to live as we are called to, but we can also be at peace as long as we remain open to God. That’s what it says in the second reading. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God.’

This is also what the whole mass is about; the forgiveness of sins. Remember the words the priest prays over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood, which will be shed for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’ There is no need for us to be afraid. Everything has already been taken care of.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

3rd Sunday of Lent (Gospel: John 4:5-42) The waters of life

This Sunday my homily is based on the Gospel of 3rd Sunday of Lent from Year A, as it is used for the first 'Scrutiny' which is for those about to be received into the Church.

All around us we see signs for Tarot card reading, fortune telling, psychics, all kinds of alternative healing and other practices that come under the general heading of ‘occult’.  We are told to stay away from these things that so many people find fascinating.  Why is this?  What is so wrong with it?  Are we just over-reacting because we do not understand it?

If God tells us to stay away from something, there is a good reason for it.  God does not give us rules just for the sake of rules.  There is a reason for everything.  In the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy it says:
You must not have in your midst anyone who... practices divination, or anyone who consults the stars, who is a sorcerer, or one who practices magic or who consults the spirits, no diviner or one who asks questions of the dead.  For the Lord abhors those who do these things. (Deut 18:10-11)

So what is the problem with these thing?  Anything that is ‘occult’ is generally an attempt to gain knowledge or power of the future. 

One of the greatest things that God has given us is the gift of free will.  All through this life we have the freedom to choose to do what we want, even to rejecting God, which is quite amazing.  God does not reveal the future to us because if He did it would influence our free will.  If I thought there was going to be an earthquake in the city centre tomorrow, the chances are I would avoid the city centre.  If I think I know what is going to happen, I am most likely to make decisions based on that information, but the problem is that then I am not totally free to choose, because my free will has been influenced.  That is the main problem with things such as fortune telling, tarot card reading, etc.  We think we are gaining knowledge of the future, but this influences our freedom.

It is also true that we have no way of knowing whether the information we are given is true or not and perhaps more importantly, where it is coming from.  If God deliberately does not reveal the future to us, then the information is not coming from God.  So where is it coming from and how can we trust that it is reliable?  We are dabbling in the world of the spirit, without knowing what we are dealing with and make no mistake about it Satan is very cunning and knows how to deceives us.  Jesus himself called him ‘the father of lies.’  And don’t be fooled by the fact that a fortune teller starts of with a Christian prayer, as some of them do.  If the Lord tells us that these things are detestable to him, then we would be wise to stay away from them. 

I know of a woman who was given the initials of someone she was told she would marry.  And she met a man with those initials, and she married him, and it was a disaster.  If you have dabbled in any of these things confess them and let them not have any kind of influence over you, spiritual or otherwise.

Now listen to what Jesus says to the woman at the well:
If you only knew what God was offering you and who it was that was asking you for a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.

What is God offering us?  What is this living water?  First of all it is the life of faith, the path to God, the truth about God as given to us by Jesus who is Son of God.  Jesus is either telling us the truth or he is not.  If he is—and we say we believe he is—then we need to listen.  For two thousand years the teachings of Christ have been guiding people on the path to God.  The fact that it has lasted that long is itself a sign that this must be from God, especially when you look at the history of the Church, which is nothing to boast about.  Yet in spite of that, the message of God is still passed on, through sinful people like me it is true, but passed on none the less.  It is there for anyone who wants it.  Many things are continually offered to us, but not all of them are good and not all of them will help us.  What we believe is that what God offers us—the waters of life—is what will lead us to total happiness, beginning now and fulfilled in the world to come.  This is what the Lord is teaching us.  Do we believe that? 

Sometimes I think it comes back to something as basic as asking ourselves, ‘Do I believe the Scriptures are from God?’  ‘Do I believe that Jesus teaches us through his Church?’  If we believe that, then we need to listen to it.  If we don’t believe that, we shouldn’t be here in the first place.  God offers us his word to guide us, his Body and Blood to feed us, his forgiveness to heal us, but if we want to follow the path that He is showing us, then we must listen to what he teaches us and act on it.
If you only knew what God was offering you and who it was that was asking you for a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.