Thursday, September 29, 2016

27th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 17:5-10) The mustard seed

So many people I have met feel that they have very little faith, or they will tell me that they are not very religious. However, I think most people have far more faith than they give themselves credit for. Being ‘religious’ and having faith are not the same thing.

Today we are given the unusual image of something as tiny as a mustard seed, which is about the size of the tip of a pen. Jesus tells the Apostles that if their faith was even as big as that they could move mountains, or in this case a mulberry tree! There are two ways to look at this. First we could say, if it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains I must have very little faith at all since I could never do anything spectacular like that! But the other way to look at it is to say that with very little faith you can do an awful lot. Most of us do have faith and that faith grows as our relationship with Jesus grows. We often talk about God ‘testing our faith’ when we find ourselves going through a crisis. But by ‘testing’ I think what is meant is that God is stretching our faith to full capacity. It is not so much a test to see if we are up to standard, rather a time of growth. God knows what we are capable of and God is all the time helping us to reach our full potential. Remember how God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. God knew that Abraham had extraordinary faith, even though Abraham himself probably didn't realise it. But Abraham proved his faith by trusting in God even in this dire situation and God blessed him for it.

The Apostles had faith and must have seen extraordinary things when they were with Jesus. Peter even walked on water for a few seconds, but then he began to sink as he started to think in human terms that it couldn’t be happening. But even the Apostles had a lot to learn with regards faith. After the crucifixion of Jesus they hid themselves away in a room because they were afraid. It was only after they received the gift of the Spirit that they were transformed and began preaching fearlessly and working miracles and they were so convinced of what they believed in that they were willing to lay down their lives for it, and most of them did, but they also had to grow and I’m sure that as their life went on their faith continued to grow. No doubt their faith was very different at the end of their lives than it was when they were with Jesus. They then had a life-time of trying to serve God and seeing many extraordinary things. Faith grows gradually, but it does grow.

This weekend we are also focusing on respect for life, reminding ourselves that all life is a gift from God and all life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death. At the moment we are living in a ‘culture of death’ as John Paul II described it, where life is quickly discarded if it is not convenient. The weakest and most vulnerable are the first to be got rid of. If a child in the womb is not convenient for our life, it is destroyed. This has to be a terrible crime against God and his creation. When we decide who can live and who can die we are playing God which we must not do. Every human being has equal dignity, whether it is someone who is severely handicapped, or someone who finds themselves living on the street because of a crippling addiction. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we are still created in God’s image and we all have the same dignity as human beings which deserves equal respect.

When we hear of all the terrible things that go on in our world, such as abortion, human trafficking and so many others, we can feel very helpless. But going back to the mustard seed it is good to remember that even with very little faith we can do a lot. You could be cynical and ask, ‘What difference will my faith make?’ But if you remember in September 2013 when the US and France were threatening a military strike against Syria, Pope Francis asked everyone to pray and fast for one day. Just after this President Putin stepped in and offered to work out a deal with Syria over its chemical weapons and a possible war was averted. We never know what our faith can do, even if it is smaller than a mustard seed.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

26th Sunday Yr C (Lk 16:19-31) Being responsible with what we have

A few years ago I was driving somewhere and I gave a lift to a man. He was a musician, a busker and basically lived by busking on the streets. Not an easy way of life.  He had practically all his possessions with him. He told me he knew over 350 songs, which was quite impressive. When he realised that I was a priest he began asking me about religion. I can’t remember much of what he said except for one thing. He said that he wasn’t very religious but that he preferred to stay out of it and sit on the fence. When we spoke about death and meeting God he said that he would plead ignorance. That was the thing that struck me the most. He said, ‘I’ll just plead ignorance.’ 

I suppose if God were just another human being, we might get away with pleading ignorance, but since God knows everything about us, including our motivations, all the things that have influenced us during our life that cause us to act as we do, how free or not we are to make choices, I don’t think that pleading ignorance will be much use! This is not to just focus on the negative as if we should be afraid of God because He is out to get us. On the contrary, the Lord loves us and wants to help us in every way possible. He knows our weaknesses and what we struggle with, but He also knows when we avoid responsibility.

In the readings today we are presented not so much with the rich and the poor, rather with those who deliberately turn their back on justice. We are shown the two extremes. The poor man Lazarus was at this rich man’s gate. In other words the rich man couldn’t have missed him because he was right under his nose. And it says that ‘Lazarus longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table’, which implies that he was not offered a thing, not even a small amount. So it’s not as if the rich man did a certain amount and it wasn’t enough. Jesus is telling us that he did absolutely nothing. That is why he lost heaven, not because he had riches. There is nothing wrong with having riches. What we do with it is what’s important. If I am wealthy then that is the situation God has given me in this life (provided I acquired it in a just way, of course!). What I do with it is what’s important.

Equally you might think that Lazarus could have got off his butt and done something for himself. But the fact that he ‘lay’ at the rich man’s gate and that he was covered in sores, tells us that he was sick and helpless. You could say that God put him there deliberately to allow the rich man to help him, but he chose to do nothing. 

I have no doubt that God often puts people in our path who may need our help, but we always have the choice to help them or not. God has given us that freedom and the help we give people may not even be financial help. It may be something as simple as a smile or an encouraging word that is needed. All the time we are coming across people who need our help and if we are open to it we will recognise them. If we have plenty, thank God for it, but it also means that we have an obligation to help those who are in need and there is no shortage of them, both in this country and all over the world. ‘The poor will always be with you.’

So you could say there is a double message here. First, let us thank God for what we have. Second, let us also ask God to help us make good use of what we have. God has given us freedom to do what we want in this life, but we are also asked to be responsible. There is a common misconception today that being free means being able to do anything you want, good or bad. However, true freedom is the freedom to choose what is good. That is what the Lord wants for us and that is also what will help us the most. If we find ourselves in a situation where we have plenty, we must remember first that we are in the minority, and second that we have a responsibility to look out for those who are in need and they are in the majority.

Friday, September 16, 2016

25th Sunday Yr C (Luke 16:1-13) You cannot serve both God and money

In 1929 in the financial district of New York city, several wealthy business men committed suicide all at the same time. Why? Because of what became known as ‘The Wall Street Crash.’ The New York stock exchange collapsed over night and as a result many people lost millions of dollars. Many of them could not handle this and sadly they killed themselves. Money had become everything for them. It was their god and it had just proved itself to be a false god, an illusion. When their god collapsed, they were left with nothing, no money, no faith and apparently nothing to live for. It seems that many of them despaired.

Several years ago two good friends of mine by the names of Maura Grealish and Marina Hayden took their final vows in the Poor Clare convent in my home town of Galway. They took four vows, of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. They will never own anything of her own, they will not get married, and they will spend the rest of her lives enclosed in a convent, dedicating their time and energy to God and to praying for all of us and for many others. Some people consider this a useless waste; others see it as the gift of God which it is, the highest calling in the Church. Their lives lived in this way—as with any Religious—is a sign that we believe in the life to come and that it is worth making sacrifices for it. If we didn’t believe in the life to come, then it would be a waste of time. Jesus says to us: ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:36)

These two situations are the complete opposite of each other. Sometimes people in the financial world put everything into their money. Money becomes the only thing that matters. They work for it, they live for it, they may even lie and cheat for it. That is certainly not true of everyone. There are also many who are extremely generous. But in contrast, Sisters Maura and Marina and many others have given up everything for God and are depending totally on God for everything. 

Most of us are probably somewhere between the two. We may not be millionaires, but we have not given up everything for God either. We work and try and put bread on the table and provide for our families and loved ones. Most people are under a lot of pressure to pay their bills and mortgages, etc. as I’m sure you know. 

Money is an important tool. It would be very hard to live in our society without it, but it is only a tool. If we lost everything over night it would be very difficult, but we would still be alive. It happens to people quite often, but we do survive. But if God disappeared, what would we have left? When we died there would be nothing. Who would we turn to, to make some sense of our life? Thankfully God does not disappear, regardless of whether we have more than we need, or barely enough to survive on. Either way God is there with us and when we have served our time on this earth then we will go to him if we have made the right choices.

In the Gospel Jesus says ‘You cannot serve God and money’.  We must choose who is going to be our master. That doesn’t mean that we can not enjoy our money or the things we have, but we must be careful to use it wisely. At the end of the day it is only a tool and if it was suddenly taken away from us, we would still survive.

When we live in a world that places so much emphasis on having plenty of money, it’s hard not to be affected by that. There is nothing wrong with having money so long as we remember that it is only a tool to help us survive. It is not primarily what our life is about. God has made us much deeper than just flesh and blood. We also have a spirit and that spirit will never be satisfied with material things alone. We are called to something greater.

I just want to finish with a few verses from Psalm 49.
No one can buy his own ransom,
or pay a price to God for his life.
In his riches man lacks wisdom,
he is like the beasts that are destroyed.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

24th Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Luke 15:1-10) We must not become like them



Today is the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, a terrible event we will never forget. We remember all those who were killed and their families.


It is said that at the end of his life St. John the Apostle said hardly anything to his followers except, ‘Love one another.’ I suppose he had got to the stage where he realized that was probably the only thing that was truly important. If we really manage to do this then everything else is included. There is nothing more important than this.


One of the biggest challenges we are being faced with today is the problem of terrorism and how to respond to it. Small groups of people who are consumed by evil and hatred want to bring fear and pain to others. People are being killed for no other reason than hatred. The saddest part is that it is often being done in the name of God. What a terrible insult to the God who created us out of love. Usually our reaction to any of the acts of terror that we hear about is to become angry and hate these people back. They hate us so we will hate them even more. They try and hurt us so we will try and wipe them out completely. Generally that is the first thing that comes into our heart when we hear about all these terrible acts of violence for no reason. Satan, who hates God’s creation and wants to destroy it, is behind this evil. Jesus spoke of the reality of Satan many times during his life on earth. We would be foolish to think that Jesus was exaggerating. Satan wants us to hate the terrorists just as they hate us; to kill them just as they try and kill us, but Jesus teaches us something different.




First of all it is important to say that Jesus always wants us to work for justice, to stop evil, to prevent violence. We must do everything we can to try and stop this kind of evil. But God also teaches us that if we turn to hatred and violence the way the terrorists do, then we are no different from them. Jesus teaches us by his life that the way to respond to it is by working for justice first, but also by not allowing ourselves to be drawn into hatred and violence. He tells us to remember that those who carry out acts of terror are human beings, not monsters, even though they have become consumed with evil. We can conquer evil by refusing to hate back. We will win them over by refusing to kill back. That is the way of God and that is what changes the world. Jesus—the only one who was completely innocent and only did good—allowed himself to be tortured and killed in order to win happiness for us, even for the people who were killing him. ‘Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’ In doing this He was also teaching us about the greatest power on earth, which is the power of love. To love means to refuse to hate, to refuse to turn to violence, because that is what changes the world.


After the attacks in Paris which killed 89 people at a concert hall last November (2015), one man called Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in the attack wrote the following open letter to terrorists.

(Antoine Leiris is a journalist at the French radio network France Bleu. His wife Hélène Muyal was killed in the attack).

“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.

“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”
The letter continued: “You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost.

“I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.

“Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have.

“Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep. He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free. Because you will never have his hatred either.”




People like this man are a wonderful example of what God wants us to be. He calls us to be bigger than hatred, to refuse to hate and return violence for violence. We must always work hard for justice and to stop evil, but we won’t behave as the terrorists do or we will be just like them.


Maybe the question to finish with is this: Where are we supposed to get that inner strength from? The answer is simple: in God, in Jesus. That is where love comes from first and so He is the One we must stay close to. If we remain with God, focused on God, with God at the center, then we too will be able to rise above the temptation to return hatred for hatred. That is how you change the world.


‘Love one another as I have loved you.’



Friday, September 2, 2016

23rd Sunday, Yr C (Gospel: Luke 14:25-33) Providence

There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to plow his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck? Who knows?

When we look back over our life, whether it be long or short, I think many of us have regrets and there have probably been many disappointments: relationships that didn’t work; marriages that broke up; careers that fell apart; unexpected sickness that changed everything. We think that ‘If only things had gone differently…’ While it is normal to experience disappointment I think the eyes of faith can help us to see it differently.

In the story it talks about ‘good luck, bad luck’, but we call it providence. The Lord provides. Because we are human we continually make mistakes, but the wonderful thing is that the Lord can and does bring extraordinary good even out of our mistakes. In the book of Genesis we read that Moses actually murdered a man and then in fear of the punishment he fled the country. That was his life written off you’d imagine. Yet years later God appeared to him in the burning bush and sent him to rescue his people from slavery. King David committed adultery and then had the woman’s husband murdered to cover his tracks. This was a terrible double crime.  Eventually he took this woman Bathsheba to be his wife. However, the second child born to Bathsheba was the future king Solomon who was considered probably the greatest king of Israel because he brought peace and rebuilt the temple. God can bring extraordinary good out of our worst mistakes.

Many of the things that went wrong for us can seem quite different if we look on them with the eyes of faith. I don’t mean by that, that it’s good that they happened, but sometimes they also lead us to other unexpected good things.  That is what we call providence. This also gives us great hope because it means that even when things do go wrong it’s not the end of the line.

I always find it inspiring to see the great goodness that comes out in people when someone experiences tragedy or when a natural disaster occurs. People come out of the woodwork to help and often the charity shown in turn brings more goodness out of people. It is contagious.
So we are wise when we leave it to God to decide what is good fortune and what misfortune, and thank him that all things turn out for good with those who love him. That is also why we try to thank God for all situations, regardless of whether they make sense to us or not.
Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the Lord intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.