Friday, August 26, 2016

22nd Sunday Year C The humility to acknowledge our sins (Gospel: Lk 14:1, 7-14)

Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind.  It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.That phrase ‘so that sins may be forgiven’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was about: ‘so that sins may be forgiven.’

Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed. That fact alone should give us great courage because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin. The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us. He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, but He also wants us to acknowledge and confess our sins. And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God who our ultimate happiness. If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.

There is a powerful story in the Old Testament about King David. It has all the ingredients of a modern movie. David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath. He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. But because he is king and he is used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her. Sometime later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant. Now he is afraid because he knows he is going to be found out. So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away at war fighting for him. When Uriah comes David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc. Later he invites him to dinner with him and then he sends him away and says ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’ But Uriah doesn’t go to his house. Perhaps he is suspicious. Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants. 

The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife he invites him again to come and eat with him. This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace. So the following day David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed. So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.

So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder; quite a list of evil, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David. But because God loves David He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan along to David, who tells him the following story:

Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city. He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc. There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb. And he loved the lamb like one of his own children. One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had him killed for the meal.’ When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’ And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’

Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next. When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him he is big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.

It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him. The Lord doesn’t want our downfall. On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to live in peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession. And we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it. The way to look at it is not to focus on our sinfulness so much as to see God’s desire for us to be healed and to be at peace. But in order to experience that peace we must receive the Lord’s forgiveness through confession. 
You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:19b)

The most important thing about going to confession is the very fact that we go there at all. None of us could possibly know all the sins we have committed against God and against each other, but it doesn’t matter. By the very act of going to confession we are saying, ‘Lord I know I am a sinner, these are the sins I can remember, but I ask your mercy and the grace to start again.’ So that is what we do. We confess what we can remember and leave the rest to the mercy of God. If there is something important the Holy Spirit will prompt us. The most important thing to remember is that the Lord loves us and that He has given us the gift of confession for our benefit, so that we can be healed.

All of us have plenty of sins. We are jealous, we judge people continually, we put people down or make comments against others, we lie, we resent, we don’t forgive, we put so many other things before God. There is no shortage.

There is one sin in particular that I want to mention. It is probably the sin that most of us struggle with more than anything else. It is the sin of unforgiveness. I’d say there is hardly anyone here—including me—who doesn’t need to forgive someone, because we have all been hurt. The key thing to remember about forgiving someone is that it’s not about whether you feel like it or not. Forgiveness is a decision of your will. I forgive someone because God asks me to. Most of us never feel like forgiving someone who has hurt us. And the deeper the hurt the less likely we are to want to forgive them. But if we want to heal we must take the first step, which is to forgive them. By doing that we are opening the door to God’s grace to help us to heal. To put it the other way around: if I refuse to forgive someone, I am blocking God’s grace from helping me to heal from the wound.  In other words I am the one who is going to suffer. If I make the decision to forgive someone who has hurt me, regardless of whether I feel like it or not, then God can begin to heal me of the hurt. Think about who you need to forgive and bring it to the Lord in confession. So if we want to see life in our families improve, life in our society improve, we must begin by repenting ourselves. The first step in being healed is repentance.
This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.

Friday, August 19, 2016

21st Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 13:22-30) Healing and the forgiveness of sins

In my work as a priest over the last fifteen years I have come across many people who have told me about miracles of healing which they or someone close to them have experienced. A close friend of mine by the name of Sandra, who is married with 6 children, saw one of her own children miraculously healed at Lourdes a few years ago. Her son Joe, who was about 7 at the time, was suffering with severe eczema all over his body. It meant that his skin was raw and bleeding a lot of the time. He had to be covered in wet bandages from head to toe which took his mother an hour and twenty minutes to put on each time. They decided to bring him on pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for him. While they were there he was brought to the ‘baths’ which is where many of the sick are brought in order to bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes as Our Lady told Bernadette to do. After he had been to the baths he started to say, ‘Mom, I’ve been healed!’ She paid no attention to him as he was often playing up as little boys will. But then he started to say it to others on the bus and eventually he said, ‘Mom I’ve been healed. Why don’t you believe me?’ She started to get suspicious at this point and said, ‘I do believe you.’ When they went back to the hotel she took off the bandages and his eczema was almost completely gone. That is just one of many stories of healing that I have heard and I’m sure there are many of you here who could tell me more.

Why is it that we don’t see more miracles of healing? Jesus healed many people during his time on earth, so why doesn’t God seem to heal more today?

For two summers I worked as a confessor in Lourdes; just hearing confessions, nothing else. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had as a priest so far, although it was exhausting. People are amazed when I say that hearing confessions for hours could be such a wonderful experience as most people couldn’t imagine anything more boring. However, the reason it was so great was because it is where a huge number of miracles take place every day and very real miracles too. When people are given the grace to be able to confess sins they have been burdened with for years you can physically see a change in their faces. They are being healed and it is usually a much deeper healing that a purely physical healing. The body needs healing, but the healing of the spirit is more important because it affects us much more. Many people came to me and the other priests and confessed sins they were carrying for 20, 30 and even 40 years. It is a very moving thing to watch the transformation in people’s faces when they realize they have been forgiven. A weight is lifted off of them and they are made free. I saw this happen right before my eyes many times and you know straight away that this is the healing power of God at work. 

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was about the forgiveness of sins. In each mass at the consecration the priest holds up the chalice and says, ‘This is the cup of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’ The mass is all about the forgiveness of sins, because at each mass we are at the event of Calvary when Jesus was killed. This was all done so that our sins could be forgiven. That is why the mass is so powerful and that is why we pray for everyone and everything in each mass. God the Son is offered to God the Father so that sins may be forgiven.

Because of the way we are made with body and spirit we need concrete ways of relating to each other and we need concrete ways of being able to understand God. That is one of the reasons why Jesus gives us his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. They are things we can see and touch and taste. We can relate to them. When it comes to the forgiveness of sins Jesus has given us the gift of confession. Through confession we have a definite way of being able to confess our sins to another person in total secrecy and so to be healed. Confession is an extraordinary gift of healing which the Lord offers us, because He knows how much we need it. It’s not just about confessing everything so that we can be good enough for God, because we can never be good enough for God. This is a gift that God has given us for our benefit, so that we can be healed and not be dragging around the mistakes of our past with us. The Lord wants us to be free and to be able to enjoy our lives and this is one of the wonderful ways that the Lord has done this.

‘But why can’t I just tell God I’m sorry myself?’ Well you can if you want to and I’m sure that the Lord forgives us when we do that, but God knows that in our humanity we have a psychological need to confess to another person. If you don’t believe me listen to the TV and radio shows where you find people ‘confessing’ their sins to the whole world every day. We have a need to confess, because that is what helps us to heal.

Jesus said to his Apostles, ‘‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).  Jesus was saying that He would be working through in and through them, since it is only God who forgives sins, but the Lord worked it in such a way that He would offer his forgiveness through his priests. That is why we have the gift of confession. It is meant to be a gift, not a burden, but Satan is quick to convince us that we don’t need it; that we can go to God ourselves. Why should we have to confess to a priest when he is just a sinner too? Of course priests are sinners like anyone else, but this is the gift that God has given us through the priesthood, in order to help us, to heal us and to help us be free.

All through our lives God offers us so many things to help us and I’m quite sure this is one of the greatest gifts of healing that we have, but like everything else that God gives us, it is never forced on us, simply offered, just like the Eucharist.

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

20th Sunday, Year C (Lk 12:49-53) I have come to bring fire to the earth

There is a place near my home town in Ireland (Killoran, Balinasloe) called ‘The Bishop’s Chair’. My father brought me there a several years ago (14th Jan 2000). It is a hard place to find as it really is out in the middle of nowhere. This ‘chair’ which is in the middle of a field, was where at least two bishops, between 1679-1701, ordained many priests in secret. At the time it was illegal to be a Catholic priest and if they were caught they could have been executed, so they had to ordain them in secret. It is very moving to visit it even though there is not much to see today, but just to think of the sacrifice that so many men and women were prepared to make at that time, to pass on their faith. Priests were prepared to risk their lives so that the people could have the mass, because they had the faith to believe that the mass was everything, because in it we have the gift of Jesus himself. The people were prepared to risk their lives by going to mass. The mass had to be celebrated in secret, often on what were known as ‘mass rocks’ out in the countryside.  Many priests died for the mass because they were caught. Sadly that kind of persecution continues today.

A few years ago in 2007 a priest friend of mine who was my next door neighbour in the Irish College in Rome for a year and a half, was shot dead after celebrating mass in Mosul, northern Iraq. He was just 35 years old. He had been threatened several times but he remained on in his parish in order to be there to celebrate mass for the people, even though he knew the danger. But on the Sunday after Pentecost in 2007 after celebrating mass in the parish church Ragheed and three deacons were ambushed by several gunmen. They forced them out of the cars they were driving and shot all four of them. Persecution for our faith is never far away.

At the moment we don’t live with that kind of persecution in this country, thank God, though we are living with a different kind of persecution, where our faith and our Church is often put down, mocked and lied about. Maybe it seems strange that something like the Christian faith, which preaches peace and justice, love of neighbour and respect for all people, should face such ongoing persecution? And it still does in many parts of the world. Then we have this line in today’s Gospel:
I have come to bring fire to the earth... Do you suppose I am here to bring peace on earth?  No I tell you, but rather division.

This line seems to be a bit of a contradiction to what we usually associate with what Jesus spoke about. ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ What about peace and tolerance and all that? Preaching the message of Jesus Christ, which is about peace and justice, etc., brings persecution with it, for the simple reason that not everyone wants to hear it? The teaching of Christ is a very challenging teaching at the best of times. It shows us up when we are not living according to the Lord’s teaching and that often makes people angry. We don’t like to be shown up. It says in John’s Gospel: ‘People have preferred darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil’ (Jn 3:19). There is a tendency in us which draws us to what is wrong. We often know what is ‘the right thing to do’, but we find it hard to choose it. And if we have done what is wrong, or are living in a way that is against what God teaches us, then we are not going to be happy with the teaching of Christ because it will show us up. That is why the message of Jesus always brings persecution with it, because it challenges us to our face to follow one path or another. There is no middle ground. But perhaps what is most important to remember is that the Lord’s teaching, difficult though it often is, is there to help us, because the Lord knows what will make us blossom.

I always find it consoling when I read about the calling of any of the prophets in the Bible. Nearly all of them resisted. And even if they didn’t resist initially, they usually asked God after a while if they could quit, as it was so difficult. They suffered for speaking the truth about God. The prophet Jeremiah said: ‘You have seduced me Lord and I have let myself be seduced... For me the Lord’s word has meant insult and derision all day long’ (Jer 20:7, 8b). The prophet Elijah, after working one of the most extraordinary miracles then finds himself on the run because the Queen is trying to kill him and he says: ‘Lord, I have had enough. Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’ (1 Kg 19:4-5). Who would blame them?


If you want to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ it will cost you. Not everyone in your family is going to like it. Many of the people you work with won’t like it. But that is no reason for us to be afraid, because the Lord assures us that He is with us and that He will help us. For our part we just try to be faithful and live what we believe in as best we can. We follow this path because we believe it is the most worthwhile path, because it is the path that leads to God. 

So each day we rededicate ourselves to God and we try to be faithful to the path that He points out to us.  It is not an easy path, but it is the most worthwhile path. And if not everyone understands us that’s ok too.  That’s how the Lord said it would be. What the Lord has shown us is what makes sense of our life and it is worth everything and anything, which is why we try to be faithful to it no matter what happens.
I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.’

Thursday, August 4, 2016

19th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 12:32-48) What would we see if the veil was pulled back?

There is always a lot of talk of the need for change in the Church and how we need to make things more relevant. Of course this is good and true, but I often think that one thing that we also need to do is to rediscover what we already have. I have always found that when someone has an experience of renewal in their faith, they are astonished at all the treasures they discover already waiting for them. They never noticed them before, but then suddenly they find themselves saying ‘Look at all that God has given to us!’ God has already given us everything we need. Above all He has given us the gift of himself in the Eucharist, so that we are never alone. We can receive him every day if we wish in the most intimate way possible. We can receive his body into our body. What could be more intimate than this? It is given to us as a gift, purely to help us; for no other reason. No obligation, just pure gift for our benefit. The only thing that the Lord asks us to do every so often, is to confess our sins, because we are receiving something so sacred. It is not right to receive often if we don’t confess every so often. Saint Paul speaks specifically about this in one letter:
Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died (1 Cor 11:28-30).

I have no doubt that one thing we will regret when we die, is that we didn’t come to receive the Eucharist more often, because then we will see clearly what it is the Lord has given us in the mass. It is something completely beyond our understanding. I’m sure that when we come before God we will be astonished at what God has given us, what was there to help us. 

What would we see on the altar during the mass if God pulled back the veil and allowed us to see the spiritual world? When the priest says the words ‘This is My Body... This is the cup of My Blood’ we would see the crucifixion: God the Son being offered to God the Father. It is not being repeated again, but we become present to it. Time stands still and we are there. This is the single most important event in the history of the world, because it is the moment when we were re-united to God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what happens before us in each mass. Our sin is atoned for and the way to heaven is reopened for us. For now it is all hidden from us. All we can see is a priest, wearing strange clothes and reciting various prayers, then holding up a piece of bread and a chalice. 

So why doesn’t God allow us to see what is really going on? If He even allowed us once to see this, or if there was a blinding light when we open the tabernacle and take out the Eucharist, wouldn’t it be so much easier for us? However, it is all hidden from us and the reason for this is because God wants us to freely choose to believe or not. If it was clearly put before us, we wouldn’t have to believe any more; we would simply know. But God deliberately keeps it hidden to push us forward in our faith and so that we have a choice to believe in this or not.

I heard an inspiring story about a wealthy lawyer in New York who had no time at all for religion. Every day when he’d be heading off for work in the morning at about 6.30 he’d pass an old woman who was on her way to mass. And he used to laugh at her in his mind and think how stupid she was wasting her time with such religious nonsense. Now there was a very steep hill on the way to the church, where he would usually pass her. One day in winter there was a lot of frost and ice and he was on his way to work not expecting to see her because of the ice, but then he saw her on her hands and knees going up the hill, so that she could get to mass. He was so astonished that this brought about his conversion and he said ‘There must be something in this’. We will never know how we are speaking to the people around us, by the way we live.

At the moment especially, it is easy to become discouraged and to think that we’re wasting our time. Where’s the point anyway in trying to live our faith, what difference does it make, after all, look at the world around us! This is Satan talking, trying to discourage us and make us think that we are wasting our time. Jesus himself has told us that we are not wasting our time and never to be discouraged with the evil of the world around us. He used many stories and parables to remind people of this. 
The readings today are saying don’t give up. Look at all the people down through the centuries who had to struggle too. They had faith in the promises God made to them, and they stuck at it. This is what Jesus is saying to us. Don’t give up on me. Don’t be afraid to struggle, even though it is hard. Believe that what I have told you is true. It is worth it and we are on the right track. 

What the people saw at Knock, Ireland.

 About an hour north of where I grew up in Ireland there is a place called Knock. On 21st of Aug, 1879 a group of 15 people saw an apparition at the outside wall of the church. In the apparition they saw the Lamb of God on the altar, surrounded by the angels, and to one side Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John. The brightest light was coming from the Lamb on the altar. No word was spoken and the apparition lasted for about 2 hours. This happened at a time when the people had just come through terrible suffering and religious persecution, but they had been faithful. What did it mean? The apparition seemed to be heaven’s way of saying ‘You are on the right track. What you believe in is true, so don’t give up.’ The Lamb of God represented the mass. Think of when the priest holds up the host and says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ The apparition was encouraging the people to persevere and that message is the same for us today. God has given us this extraordinary gift of himself in each mass, purely because He loves us and so that we can know He is constantly with us.

 ‘Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.’