Thursday, July 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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