Saturday, September 16, 2017

24th Sunday Year A Gospel: Matthew: 18:21-35 Forgiveness is a decision of the will




There is an extraordinary true story about a woman called Corrie Ten Boom, a protestant living in Holland during the Second World War. She lived with her sister and father and they used to read the bible every evening after dinner. During the war as Holland was occupied by the Nazis and Jewish people began disappearing, they ended up hiding people in their home, although they didn’t set out to do this. Eventually they were caught and sent to one of the Concentration camps in Germany called Ravensbruck. Her sister and father both died there, but she survived and was eventually released. When she returned home she began working to help the many people who were so hurt by the war. She felt that God was calling her to speak about the need for forgiveness and so she did. She was invited to speak all over the country and in other countries.

While speaking in Germany one day, a man came up to her after her talk and thanked her for this message of forgiveness. He said, ‘It is good to know that Jesus forgives all our sins.’ She recognised him as one of the SS officers who had been in charge of their prison. As he extended his hand to her, she found herself freezing up and unable to respond, but she realised that if she did not forgive this man who was responsible for the death of her sister and father, all her preaching would be meaningless. So she found herself praying to God on the spot asking him to help her to forgive and she was finally able to put out her hand to him. The book is called The Hiding Place and it is an amazing story. She wrote: ‘And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.’

Probably the greatest obstacle to God’s helping and healing us, is our refusal to forgive. When we refuse to forgive someone we shut the door to God’s grace, we prevent God from healing us, but there is an important thing to remember about forgiving someone. Many people think that in order to forgive someone I must feel like forgiving them. In other words, the hurt has to have gone and so now I can forgive. That is not how it works. Forgiveness is not just a quetion of how I feel, or whether I feel like forgiving someone or not. Most of us when we are hurt, are often hurt for a long time, sometimes for years, and of course we don’t feel like forgiving. The deeper the hurt the longer it takes to heal, but forgiveness is a decision of our will, it doesn’t depend on whether we physically feel like doing it or not. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to’. It doesn’t mean that all the hurt will instantly disappear, but if we are prepared to do this much, then we open the door to allow God’s Spirit to begin to heal us. If I refuse to forgive, I am preventing God’s Spirit from helping me to heal. We may think that by refusing to forgive someone we inflict some kind of revenge on the other person. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt we carry. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us does not hurt them, it wounds us. The resentment becomes a poison within us, which festers. God wants to heal us and help us move on, but we must be willing to forgive. It is not an easy thing to do, but we must try. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times in the Gospels and in very strong terms. If we expect to be forgiven, we must also be prepared to forgive and I doubt that there is anyone who does not need to forgive someone. If you find yourself angry at someone, it usually means that you need to forgive them. Maybe a good question to ask yourself when you find yourself angry with someone is this: if I was in their position, would I hope that the person I had hurt would forgive me?


 For a few years I worked as a hospital chaplain and I met many old people, most of whom were at peace, having come through all the trials of their lives, but sometimes I would meet someone who was bitter and full of resentment, refusing to forgive. They had been hurt, but they refused to forgive and you could see how it had consumed them. It was a sad sight. It had destroyed them. People will hurt us, but we always have a choice to forgive them or not.

I am sure that all of us here expect that the Lord will forgive us. It’s what all the Gospels are about, it’s what we believe in and yet in no uncertain terms the Lord says, if you expect God to forgive you, you must be prepared to forgive others too.  That’s how it works. Forgiveness is a decision of our will that we must make. Once we do this, then we open the door to begin to heal.

Forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.’


Sunday, September 10, 2017

23rd Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20) Hurricane Irma


Today's homily is more of a short reflection than a homily, as today's circumstances are very different to normal. Right now I am with friends in Venice, SW Florida, as we await the full wrath of hurricane Irma. As of now we just have strong winds and rain, but by midnight tonight we are due to have the full force of the hurricane. People are scared, wondering what will happen. Many have already had to evacuate, not sure if they will have a house to return to, including me, as my house is close to the Caloosahatchee river, which could well overflow and burst its banks. Time will tell.

The Gospel that comes to my mind is the Gospel of Mark 4: 34-40. Jesus is out with the Apostles in a boat and a storm breaks out. The sea of Galilee is known for sudden storms. The boat begins to take water and they are terrified that they will drown. Jesus is asleep in the stern. The Apostles wake him and say 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' Jesus gets up and rebukes the wind and sea and all becomes completely calm. The Apostles are left speechless and say, 'Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?' It is a powerful image and even more so if you have seen the power of the sea in a storm.


For all the wonderful advances in technology that we have, it doesn't take long for mother nature to remind us just how small and mortal we are. When nature's forces awaken, all we can do is get out of the way. I believe that this can be a good thing. Depending on where we live, we can develop a false sense of security, especially in the developed parts of the world. Thank God we have all that we have, but when you think about it, there are so many parts of the world where they have to face natural disasters far more often and they are not half as well equipped as we are, but they manage. To be exposed to this reality can be healthy, in the sense that it brings up the bigger questions that we prefer to avoid: why am I here? what if I die? what happens then? Although these are scary questions which usually only arise when the reality of death seems closer than normal, it is also important that we address them. Otherwise we can lose sight of why we are here and get immersed in the world in an unhealthy way. 

The reality is that we only have a short time in this world and there is a reason why we are here. We are created out of love and we are created to love and serve. That is the purpose of our life. As we grow, we learn about what it means to love and serve, the sacrifices, the joys and pains, but we must also choose to love. This learning is part of what our life is about. Sometimes it is only in a crisis, when someone we love becomes sick or dies, or faced with a natural disaster, that we wake up to this reality. In times of crisis, the things of importance come to the surface and the worldly things disappear into insignificance. Times of crisis also bring great goodness out of people. Humanity shines.


So as we await this great storm, I give thanks to God for this reminder to us all of what we are about. Please God we will all come through it with a greater sense of purpose and even if we do lose our church or our homes it will be painful, but we will still have each other and we will manage. Thank you Jesus for everything.


Friday, September 1, 2017

22nd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27) Do not model yourselves on the world around you




Some time ago I was talking to a friend of mine in my home-town of Galway and we were discussing how much our society has changed. She was saying how it is acceptable now to be just about anything, but not Catholic and I think she is right. If you try to live as a Catholic it will cost you, and the Lord said it would. He was very clear about it.

Today’s readings are all about this. They are saying that following the way of Jesus Christ comes at a price. The early Christians were known as followers of ‘the Way’. Strange as it may seem, I think it can be a very good thing when it becomes more difficult, because sometimes it is only when you feel a bit of persecution that you begin to think about what you believe in and why you believe it. That is very healthy.

In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah is having a bad day. He is complaining about how difficult it is for him to be God’s spokesman and how much persecution it has brought him. He has had enough and he wants to quit. In fact he reminds me of being a priest. It can cause you a lot of grief and you meet a lot of people who turn their back on you, or are openly hostile to you, just as Jeremiah experienced. However, God continually encourages us to keep going, to speak about him and it is as Jeremiah said, like a burning fire within which is irresistible. I always find it consoling to remember that many of the great figures in the Bible also wanted to quit. The prophet Elijah after working an extraordinary miracle, is now running for his life as the queen wants to kill him and he sits down in the desert and says, ‘Lord I’ve had enough. Take my life. I wish I was dead.’

Sometimes people ask me why I became a priest and did I not want to get married? Of course I did, but just like in the reading, the call of God was stronger. It is hard to resist and it is like a burning fire inside. The strength of God is what keeps pushing me on, pushing all of us on.

Jesus spoke harshly to Peter, when Peter objected to the fact that Jesus was going to be arrested and killed. I’m quite sure any of us would have too, but the reason Jesus was so harsh with him was because Peter wanted what seemed easier. Our world will usually suggest what seems easier, but it is not always the right thing to do or a good thing to do. The Lord will take us in ways that we would sometimes rather not follow.  So why bother to follow them? Because the way of Jesus Christ is the way that leads to life. It can be hard, yes, but it is so worthwhile. It is the pearl of great price, which is worth giving up everything for.


The world around can offer us many attractive things and some of them very nice indeed, but it cannot offer us a life after this one. Only God can offer that. ‘What then will a person gain if he wins the whole world, but ruins his life?’ And so Jesus tells us not to be afraid of it, not to be afraid of being different, or following a way that is not always acceptable.

St. Paul says ‘Do not model yourselves on the world around you, but let your behaviour change.’ We cannot follow the way of the world and the way of Jesus at the same time, because the two are radically different.  But how can we follow this way if it is so difficult?  The answer is, by relying on the Lord himself. That’s where we get our strength from. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, that’s why he gave himself to us in the Eucharist. That’s why he invites us to come together every Sunday to listen to his words speaking to us and encouraging us, to build us up. I have always found that it is the people who really live their faith who are least disturbed by things going on in the world. They have an inner strength that that they get from their relationship with God, and that is there for all of us if we want it. I’m sure many of you experience this already. The Lord gives us everything we need, everything. All we have to do is reach out our hand and accept it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

21st Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20) It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven




 When Napoleon was taking over Europe in the 19th century, he met the Cardinal of Paris and he told him that he would take over and destroy the Vatican. The Cardinal told him that he wouldn’t be able. Napoleon assured him that he would. The Cardinal said to Napoleon, ‘We priests have been trying to destroy the Vatican for the last 1800 years and we haven’t been able. You won’t be able either.’

I have often heard people say in interviews, ‘I’m not really very religious, I just go to church on Sundays,’ or words to that effect. I think we often put ourselves down and underestimate how much faith we have. The fact is that if you and I didn’t believe in God, in Jesus coming to us in each mass, that God works through the priest in the mass, we wouldn’t come here. This means that you probably have far more faith than you give yourself credit for. If we really didn’t believe, these things, we wouldn’t come here, because apart from faith, what we believe in sounds completely crazy.

Today’s readings make an interesting point. In this encounter between Jesus and Peter, Peter recognised that Jesus was the Christ, the one promised by God and right away Jesus told him that he was a happy man, because it was God the Father who had revealed this to him. This tells us that the fact that we believe in God means we have been given the gift which we call faith. You might think, ‘Well, I just learnt about it from my parents’, but the fact is that many other people also learnt about it from their parents and don’t believe, so there must be more to it than that. No human being on their own, will convince you of God, even with the best arguments. I could stand here for hours and try to give you impressive explanations of why we should believe in God, but if the Spirit of God does not touch your heart, I would be wasting my time. It is God and only God who can convince you of his presence. The only thing we need in order to receive this gift, is ‘openness’. If we are open we will come to know God, because that is what God wants for us.
 

The second thing that Jesus said to Peter tells us why we need the Church. Sometimes you will hear people say that they want God, but not the Church. Jesus said: ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.’ He also said, ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be considered bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be considered loosed in heaven.’ In other words, Jesus was giving his authority to Peter and his followers to act and make decisions in his name.

Was that a crazy thing to do? Why on earth would God give his authority to a bunch of ordinary and weak people, to represent him and speak on his behalf? What it means is that God would be working through these people, through his Spirit who guides the Church, who guides us all. So the Lord was saying, ‘I am going to work through human instruments, but it is my Church and it is me that will guide it.’ If you find that idea hard to believe, just think for a minute of all the different empires and superpowers that have come and gone over the centuries: the great Chinese empires, the Roman Empire, people like Napoleon, Hitler, all the different nations that were super-powers. They were all powerful, well organized and wealthy and yet they have all come and gone and they are no more. Why? Because they were of human origin. How is it that the Church is still here, considering we have had centuries of bad example, scandals, bad preaching, etc? The only reason the Church is still here, is because it is from God and it is God who is continually acting through it, in spite of all the mistakes we make, and we make plenty. The history of the Church is nothing to boast about. It was Jesus’ plan to have a Church and to work through it, so that we would have a very concrete way to relate to God and so He guides us through his Church and shows us the path to follow. So today, 20 centuries after Christ, here am I still passing on the message to you and even if I make a mess of it, the Lord will teach us what we need to know, just as long as we go on being open to him.
 

Another time Jesus said, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” Jesus is saying, don’t build your faith on ‘nice ideas’ or just the things that suit you. Have a solid foundation for your faith, or it won’t last. That foundation is what is passed on to us through the Church, because that is his teaching.

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.


Friday, August 18, 2017

20th Sunday Year A (Matthew 15:21-28) Love of neighbor is what will convince



A few years ago, a young man who said to me, ‘Isn’t it a bit arrogant of you Catholics to think that you’re right and everyone else is wrong?’ He wasn’t trying to be nasty, he was quite genuine. I said to him that I didn’t see it as a matter of us being right and others being wrong. I said that we believe that God made himself known to the human race in different ways, but especially through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us to live a particular way, to love God and those around us, to have respect for all people. He taught us that he is the Son of God and that all who want to come to the Father must go through him. Anyone who follows this particular way of life is a Christian, and we believe as Catholics that we are trying to follow this way that he pointed out to us. It is not a question of others being wrong, but it does mean that for us this is the way we believe is right to follow. We try to live the teachings of Christ as best we can.

We also believe that the teachings of the Apostles were very important, because Jesus gave them his authority to teach and that is why we try and listen to the teachings of the Church, because we believe that they come from God. We struggle with them, and there is no harm with that, but we believe that God’s teaching is in them, and that’s why we don’t just replace them with ‘human’ wisdom.

It’s very important for us, as we try and live our faith, to have respect for people of other faiths, other Christians and non-Christians as well, even if we totally disagree with them, and this is what the Lord says to us in the readings as well. 
Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have.  But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience so that those who slander your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations (1 Pet 3:15-16). 


Those who don’t believe as we do, are also very much part of God’s family. Jesus frequently spoke to people who would have been considered complete pagans to the Jews. In this Gospel he heals the daughter of a woman, who was a pagan. Perhaps it was to teach the Apostles and us, that God doesn’t discriminate. Initially Jesus seemed to ignore her, but it was to draw out her faith and to let the Apostles see this. 

What converts people is witness of life, not preaching, not telling others what to do. We will only convince other people of the ‘rightness’ or ‘goodness’ of our faith by the way we love them. That is the only thing that convinces people.

It is interesting that the Missonaries of Charity—the order started by Mother Theresa—never try to convert the people they help. In India much of their work is bringing very poor people in off the streets, people who are dying and allowing them to die with dignity. Most of these people would be Hindu and Muslim, not Christian, but they don’t try to convert them. They simply love them, show them that they are wanted, that they are important and they do more to preach the teachings of Jesus this way, than by anything you could ever say. This is the greatest way to preach the Gospel. This teaches people about God more than anything else.

I can stand up here and argue for hours about all the reasons why others are wrong, or how we are right, but it won’t convince anyone. If I do not love the people I meet and try to respect those around me, then I am wasting my time trying to preach, because people will only be convinced by the way I live, first.




I heard a story about a priest who went to stay with his niece and her husband. Now this couple had no time for the Church and in fact were into the occult and various practices which would be quite anti-Christian and of course they were nervous about how it would go, but when the priest came he just stayed for the few days and showed them great respect and love and never said a word to them about the various things they were into. When he left they were so moved by the fact that he never said anything to them, never criticized them, but just loved them, that they actually began to rethink about their approach to the Church. Love is the only true witness to God.
Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have.  But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience so that those who slander your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations (1 Pet 3:15-16). 


Monday, August 14, 2017

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven


The feast of the Assumption that we celebrate today means very simply that Our Lady is in heaven. The teaching itself says: ‘At the end of her earthly life, the Immaculate Mother of God, ever Virgin, was taken to Heaven body and soul in heavenly glory.’ It doesn’t say how it happened or when it happened, but just that it did happen and that Mary is now in heaven, in body and soul. It is a way of saying that because of the extraordinary position that Mary was given, by being the Mother of Jesus, she shared in his sufferings and she also shared in his resurrection and so was taken up to heaven at the end of her life.

You could be given the impression that it would have been easier for Mary than for other people because she was without sin. However, the fact that she was without sin means that she would have been more sensitive to evil and would have suffered more because of it than anyone else. From what we know in the Scriptures, she suffered from the time that the Angel appeared to her and told her that God was asking her to be the mother of God. She was pregnant before she came to live with Joseph in a way that was impossible to understand from a human point of view. According to Jewish law, to be betrothed to someone meant that you were already married, but weren’t yet living with them. So how would Mary explain this to Joseph? What embarrassment, fear and tension there must have been for her. The birth of Jesus was in a very difficult situation. Later on, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for three days and finally the arrest, torture and death of Jesus. But Mary never gave up hope. She continued to believe that God would make sense of it. After the resurrection she stayed with and encouraged the Apostles as they waited for the gift of the Spirit before Pentecost.
  
Over the centuries Mary has appeared in various parts of the world. What is significant in each place she has appeared is that what she asks is nearly always the same. She tells us that we cannot exist without God, that we need to turn away from sin, read Scripture, go to Mass and to pray and fast. She is always pointing us to Jesus. It is never about herself. She tells us that we need to confess our sins often, yet sadly very few people feel the need for this. I wonder who convinced them that it is not necessary? She also tells us that we cannot live without God. Our life makes no sense without God. We will only be on this earth for a short time, so we need to be careful how we use our time. It always makes me sad when I see or hear of people who get obsessed with money and material things, as if that was the answer to everything. It is also sad to see how people can become obsessed with power, which so often leads to the suffering of others.


The life of Mary is a wonderful witness to us for several reasons. One, it is a reminder to us of what God can do through a human being; a 14/15 year old girl. Mary is fully human and we should never worship her as that would be idolatry, but we give her great honor as Jesus did. We ask for her intercession as we continue on our journey to heaven. She has been through dreadful suffering, so we can ask for her help, knowing that she understands our suffering. When we find ourselves losing hope, remember that Mary never lost hope, in spite of that she had to go through. This feast of her being assumed into heaven is our reminder that this is where we are destined to go if we make the right choices.


Friday, August 11, 2017

19th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 14:22-23) Jesus in the Eucharist




Every time I have to change from one place to another like here, it always makes me think about the priesthood and what my work is about. To me the greatest privilege of being a priest is that I can bring Jesus to people in the Eucharist. This is the most important part of any priest’s work. Everything else is secondary, because the greatest gift the Lord has given us is the gift of himself, of his own body and blood. The reason why he gives it to us is first of all because he wants to be intimately part of our lives and everything we do. Second of all, because he knows how much we need his strength to make it through this life, which is difficult at the best of times, and so he gives us his very self which we can receive into our own bodies, every day if we wish.

For the most part God’s presence among us is very subtle. It is easy to miss it and many people do miss it, thinking that God is not there at all. Think of how many people pass by a church each day and really believe that the body and blood of Jesus Christ is present there? Probably very few. The Lord seems to keep himself hidden from us.

The first reading about the prophet Elijah refers to this. Elijah was one of the most extraordinary of the prophets and a man very close to God. God wanted to let him have an experience of his presence and so he sent him up to this cave on the mountain side. Then there was this huge storm force wind, but God was not in this. Then there was an earthquake and then a fire, all great signs of the power of nature which can be so frightening, but God wasn’t here either. And then when all the excitement was over a very gentle breeze and God’s presence was there. In some translations it says ‘A still small, voice.’ Why did God bother to send the storm, the earthquake and the fire at all? I think that God is reminding us that his presence is very subtle and easy to miss, but just because God doesn’t come to us in the form of thunder and lightning, or something very dramatic, doesn’t mean that He is not there. Sometimes I think that it might even be easier if his presence was more dramatic. Then we would be under no doubt about God being there. It would probably be terrifying, but for whatever reason, the Lord prefers to stay quite hidden from us. His coming to us in the Holy Communion is a great example of this. How much more hidden can you get? Who would believe that God comes to us in a tiny piece of bread? It sounds completely crazy and to many people it is crazy, indeed too crazy to be true but this is what Jesus himself has taught us and that is why we believe that it is true. It is the Lord himself who has taught us this.
 

 Perhaps when you come up to receive Holy Communion today, think of the gentle breeze that passed in front of the prophet Elijah. God was in that gentle breeze. Jesus is also present to us here in the tiny piece of bread that we receive, which has become his Body and Blood.

I want to finish with a story of a Eucharistic miracle that happened in Argentina while Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) was cardinal there.

At seven o’clock in the evening on August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet was saying Holy Mass at a Catholic church in the commercial center of Buenos Aires. As he was finishing distributing Holy Communion, a woman came up to tell him that she had found a discarded host on a candleholder at the back of the church. When Fr. Alejandro saw the defiled Host, he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle. That is what we do with a defiled host if we find one and it’s not possible to consume it.

Eight days later, upon opening the tabernacle, he saw to his amazement that the Host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Cardinal Bergoglio, who gave instructions that the Host be professionally photographed. The photos were taken on September 6. They clearly show that the Host, which had become a fragment of bloodied flesh, had grown significantly in size. For several years the Host remained in the tabernacle, the whole affair being kept a strict secret. Since the Host suffered no visible decomposition, Cardinal Bergoglio decided to have it scientifically analyzed.
 


On October 5, 1999, in the presence of the Cardinal’s representatives, Dr. Castanon took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to prejudice the study, he deliberatley did not tell them where the host came from. One of these scientists was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugiba testified that, “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”

Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests. Knowing where sample had come from, they were dumbfounded by Dr. Zugiba’s testimony. Mike Willesee asked the scientist how long the white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a piece of human tissue, which had been kept in water. They would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes, Dr. Zugiba replied. The journalist then told the doctor that the source of the sample had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water; only then had the sample been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugiba’s was at a loss to account for this fact. There was no way of explaining it scientifically, he stated. Only then did Mike Willesee inform Dr. Zugiba that the analyzed sample came from a consecrated Host (white, unleavened bread) that had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science—a mystery totally beyond her competence.”

I have no doubt that God gives us Eucharistic miracles every so often, to help us believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus is present here in each mass and in the tabernacle where the extra hosts are always kept. Only faith in the extraordinary action of a God provides the reasonable answer—faith in a God, who wants to make us aware that He is truly present in the mystery of the Eucharist.



Friday, August 4, 2017

Transfiguration of the Lord (Gospel: Mt 17:1-9) This is my Son, listen to him




 With the times that we are living in there is a lot of talk about different religions like Islam and Judaism. I suppose this has been highlighted with all the terrorism that is going on and sadly people are often given the impression that religions like Islam are ‘dangerous’ because of these extremists, but that is not necessarily true. With every religion you will get extremists who will do crazy things and then give everyone else who is trying to live it, a bad name. It has happened in Christianity too. It only takes a small group of extremists to do a lot of damage. There is no doubt that God speaks to people through many different religions, but that also brings up the question, is Christianity just ‘another’ religion and does it really make any difference? Aren’t they all the same? We don’t believe that all religions are the same.

So what makes Christianity any different? Put simply, the person of Jesus. Either Jesus was who he said he was, or he was a liar, or he was mad man. As we know, his whole life pointed to the fact that he was who he said he was and perhaps this event that we remember today, the transfiguration, points to that more than anything else.

Jesus took with him his three closest men, Peter, James and John. These three were also the ones he took with him when he brought the 12 year old girl, Jairus’ daughter, back to life and they were also with him in the garden of Gethsemane. For some reason he allowed them to see more than the others saw. So they had this vision of Jesus in his glory, which completely terrified them. Everything they saw in the vision had a meaning. Moses and Elijah represented two things. The Ten Commandments were given to Moses and Elijah was considered the greatest of the prophets, so he represented all that the prophets taught the people. For the Jewish people, following the teachings of the Law and the Prophets was their path to heaven. So for Moses and Elijah to appear with Jesus was saying that Jesus was now the path to heaven. He is more important than anything that came before him. He is fulfilling everything. Jesus is everything, fulfils everything, teaches us everything about God, not only by what he said, but also by everything that he did, above all his total self-sacrifice for us. That tells us that God loves us so much that He will give everything for us. If that is true then what is there that we could ever be afraid of?
Wouldn’t you wonder why didn’t Jesus let the other Apostles see it too? And why did he forbid them to talk about it until he had ‘risen from the dead’, which they didn’t understand either? You would imagine that it would have been more helpful if he allowed all of his disciples to see this vision, as it would have strengthened their faith, but he didn’t.

 
 What Jesus was doing was giving them a tiny glimpse of who he really was/is, so that they wouldn’t completely lose hope during his passion, which was to happen shortly after this event. Peter, James and John would need this more than the others, as they would be involved in it more than the others; in the garden of Gethsemane he kept them close enough to him so that they could see what was happening, and watch him almost going mad with fear of what was about to happen to him. It must have been very frightening to watch this.

What has this got to do with us today? Jesus didn’t make it that obvious who he was back then, even to his disciples. They also had to struggle with their faith. We have to struggle with our faith too. Wouldn’t it be much easier if Jesus appeared to us? Then we would have no doubts! But he doesn’t, and he didn’t with them either until much later, because they too had to grow, slowly and painfully in their faith.

The Lord keeps himself hidden from us quite deliberately. He gives us complete freedom to discover him, to believe in him, or not. He wants us to be completely free and everyone struggles to believe. It is part of the journey of faith. Sometimes if we need a little extra help, he gives it to us, but for the most part we seem to be left in the dark. Most of the people at that time were too, but they wrote about what they saw and heard. 


In the second reading St. Peter is talking about this event and he says, ‘We were there on the mountain and we saw the vision and heard the voice ourselves’. He is saying, ‘This really happened. We saw it!’ And he writes this to help us to believe. So yes we struggle to believe, but yes, we are meant to struggle, because it is part of the journey of faith.

So is there any difference between Christianity and other religions? Yes! Jesus is the difference. Put in the simplest terms: we try to live this way of life because this is how God made himself known to us through the person of Jesus Christ. This is the path He invites us to follow by listening to his teaching and trying to live as he lived. He also speaks to other peoples of different faiths, but this is what He has made known to us and we believe it is true and so we try to follow this path while at the same time remembering that God also speaks to people of other religions, but in a different way. Remember the words that the three Apostles heard on the mountain: ‘This is my Son the beloved. Listen to him.’ For us, Jesus is everything.



Saturday, July 29, 2017

17th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 15:44-52) The hidden treasure




 There are two lady friends of mine, good friends whom I’ve known for many years: Maura and Marina. Both were accountants, with good jobs and a nice lifestyle; great party goers and very popular. Then one day Marina announced to us all that she was going to leave everything and enter the Poor Clare convent, in my home-town. The Poor Clares are an order of contemplative sisters, which means they dedicate their lives to prayer. They don’t leave the convent, except for things like visits to the doctor, or to vote. Otherwise they spend the rest of their lives in the convent praying for all of us. People from all over the city and beyond continually go into them asking them to pray for different intentions. About two years later, my friend Maura did the same thing. This meant that they would give up their job and salary, their independence and nice lifestyle and also the chance to get married and have children. Marina’s family were very upset when she decided to do this, even though they were a very religious family themselves. In spite of their faith they found it very hard to accept. It is an extraordinary calling and one of great sacrifice.

Six year later, Marina made her final profession, taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Two years after that, Maura, my other friend, did the same thing. They will spend the rest of their lives in that convent praying and interceding for people, helping us by the sacrifice of their lives.

Every time a man is ordained to the priesthood, he also dedicates his life to God and to service of his people. He gives up the chance to be married and have children.


It’s not only Religious people who do this, many other friends of mine who are married have also changed the direction of their lives and begun to live more closely to God, trying to give time each day to prayer and to living out the faith that they believe in. They continue to work just as before, but they have begun to make a conscious effort to live by the Gospel they believe in and this happens all the time.

Why did my two friends decide to leave everything and spend the rest of their lives in a convent? Many people consider it is a total waste of a life. The Church says it is the highest calling that God can give to anyone, but what makes someone want to do this, or to become a priest, or to really try to live out their faith?

The answer is that they have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price that Jesus talks about. They have recognized that it is worth everything and so they have given everything for it. It is what Jesus often calls ‘The kingdom of heaven’. In other words it is the discovery, or realization that God is real and that what Jesus has told us about God, is true. It is as if this suddenly clicks into place and they can see it and it makes sense. They realize that God isn’t just an optional extra, but that God is at the center and we are a part of his world. We are the optional extra. We are the ones who would not be here except that God created us. God is at the center of everything and our life only makes sense in relation to him and in relation to what Jesus told us about him. Apart from God, our life makes absolutely no sense. To come to know this is worth everything, because it is the truth.



Just because someone finds this treasure, as Jesus calls it, doesn’t mean that they have to become a priest or Religious. Most people are not called to be priests or Religious, but to continue on as normal in society, working, having families and giving witness to the reality of God by the way they live. That’s what most of us are called to, but the fact that some people are prepared to live a life dedicated to God, shows the value of what they believe in, of what we believe in. It testifies to the fact that what we believe in has a greater and more lasting value than anything we can know in this world. It’s a sign that we believe there is more to come and that it’s worth waiting for, suffering for and making sacrifices for. That is also one of the ideas of celibacy, or the vow of chastity. People decided to give up the possibility of marriage, because they believe in the world to come. It is a sign of our faith in the next world, because that is how we will be in the next world.

God created us so that the most natural thing for us to do is to get married and what could be greater than what God has designed? But God has also called some to live in a particular way, to encourage and remind others that there is more to this life than meets the eye.

Often when I’m finding it tough going and wondering why I’m a priest or what it’s all about, I think of my two friends in the Poor Clares and their witness makes me say yes, it is worth the effort.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Friday, July 21, 2017

16th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43) The problem of evil




One of the most difficult questions in religion is about the problem of evil. If God is all good and all powerful, then why does evil exist? This is a big problem for most of us and it is not easy to answer. Many people will use it as an excuse to discard the argument for God. They will say that God could not exist if there is evil in the world. The answer comes down to two words: Free will.

A knife is a very useful tool. I can use it to cut bread or meat, but I can also use it to kill someone with. If I have free will then I can choose to do good or evil. I would not be free if God continually stepped in when I decided to do wrong. If God did this then I would not be free. We are free to do right or wrong, but our actions also have consequences, both in this world and the next, the next life being much more serious as they are eternal consequences.


 
 What about so many innocent people suffering because of the evil choices of others? The example that is most in our minds today is the so called Islamic State; religious extremists who believe they are doing a holy thing in wiping out those who see differently to them. They feel they have the right to do this, but all they are doing is causing immeasurable suffering. Why should children suffer because of the evil choices of others? Shouldn’t God step in? There is no easy answer to that and it angers just about everyone, because we know it’s wrong. The free choices of some people have consequences and sometimes those consequences do terrible things to others. Political leaders can make choices which are wrong and may cause immense suffering for people. Should God step in every time someone chooses to do wrong? If God did, then would we really have free will?

Another side of it is this: Evil was involved in the death of Jesus. Jesus was given up to the authorities because Judas chose to betray him, even though he regretted it afterwards. The religious authorities of the time had Jesus convicted through a trial which was illegal according to their own law. They chose to do what was wrong and yet the mysterious thing is that even though Jesus was betrayed, tried, tortured and killed by the deliberate choices of men who decided to do evil, yet look what God brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The course of history was turned around because of his death and resurrection. Eternal happiness was won for us. What does that tell us? One thing it tells us is that God can and will bring great good out of the worst evil imaginable. We often hear of people working so hard to correct injustice, where someone is falsely accused and imprisoned. People will fight for years to bring about justice and they also inspire others to do the same. Think of people like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They suffered greatly because of the evil choices of others and yet they brought about wonderful things and also inspired so many, because they were prepared to battle on in spite of the evil brought about by other’s free will.

In times of war we don’t always hear about the many heroic acts of justice and kindness that people do in order to help those who are suffering. Two years ago I remember hearing the account of a BBC journalist called Fergal Keane, who has covered areas of conflict for years. He told one story about two women in their seventies he came across in the Ukraine. They had lost everything, including their pension and they were now living in a basement. They didn’t know how they were going to survive. Sometime later many people wrote to Fergal asking him if he knew what had happened to them. So he went back to try and find them. He discovered that they were now living in another tiny room together, but they were also cooking food for many people fleeing the war. They were using what little they had to bring about relief for others, even though they had hardly anything themselves. When Fergal was asked how he was able to keep working in the midst of so much suffering, he said it was because of stories like this one which inspired him so much. People can also choose to do good in spite of the suffering caused by others.

Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was asked about the problem of corruption and scandal within the Church. In his response he pointed to today’s Gospel and the parable about the wheat and the darnel, or weed. He said that Jesus is teaching that there will always be evil in the world. We try and deal with as much of it as possible, but there will always be a certain amount we can do nothing about and we have to learn to live with this. But Jesus also teaches us that it will ultimately be dealt with, because all of us will have to give an account of our actions. There will be justice when we come before God. Does that mean we should be afraid? Of course not. Jesus reassures us of his infinite mercy if we make even the smallest effort to ask for forgiveness, but we must not take it for granted either. I actually find it reassuring to know that all of us will be accountable for our actions, because when you think of people who choose to do terrible evil and cause so much suffering for others. It often seems that they are not brought to justice in this world. I find it comforting to know that they will not escape God’s justice. No one gets away. 

Does God ever intervene? It seems that sometimes God does intervene and people are miraculously cured or saved. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit continually whispers to us to help us make good choices, but we are free to listen or ignore those suggestions, just as we are free to listen to the whisperings of temptations.  

"The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear."



Saturday, July 15, 2017

15th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23) A sower went out to sow




Do you ever wonder why it is that some people believe in God and take the practice of their religion seriously and others don’t? How is it that some people are converted and others aren’t? Why did I come back to my faith at 19 and many of my friends did not? Why did so many people listen to Jesus when he preached? Nobody knew who he was and he had no education to boast about and yet he gathered a huge following of people wherever he went. You could say that it was because he was the Son of God; but nobody knew he was at the time. I am sure it was because he was preaching the truth and people’s spirits recognized this, because all of us are searching for the truth; the truth about God and the truth about life and we instinctively recognize it when we hear it.

Truth is attractive to us and it pierces right to the heart, so that when we hear it we want to hear more of it, even though it may be difficult or painful for us to hear. Our faith is about a search for this truth, which has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. That’s why we keep struggling with it, even though it can be a bit up-hill at the best of times, but it is too important to ignore, and deep down, we all know that. People flocked to hear Mother Theresa whenever she spoke. They say that even his critics listened to Pope John Paul II, because they recognized that he spoke the truth, even if they didn’t like it.

 
In today’s parable Jesus is teaching us two things about religion. First of all, that it is a part of life that some people will hear about God and ignore it, or become preoccupied with something else, or not like the idea that it means you might have to suffer for it. Only a few will actually hear it and really grow because of it, as God intended. Those who do are generally in the minority, but the other thing is that, the rich soil that he talks about, which bears fruit, doesn’t happen by itself. In other words, it is not just fate whether we will be open to believe or not, we have a part to play in it. Rich soil only comes about with hard work and a lot of care; preparing the ground, getting rid of the weeds and stones. If the word of God is to grow in us, we have to make some effort to be ready for it and help it to grow. We are not going to grow in faith just by watching television. Jesus says, ‘Try to enter by the narrow gate. For the road that leads to hell is wide and spacious, but the road that leads to life is narrow.’ It may not be the most attractive road, but it is the most worthwhile one. If we want our relationship with God to grow, we must make it happen, by taking time to develop our faith, through prayer, reading the Scriptures, listening to God. It won’t happen without giving it time, a certain amount of time every day and there is always time, because we always give time to what is important to us. Would you expect a relationship with someone to grow without giving it any time? Of course not, and faith is no different.

I think we also have to be careful that we don’t come to the church with the mindset of ‘What will they have on for us today?’ Our coming to the mass each week is a combination of worshipping God, as God commands us to, searching for God and trying to hear what God is saying to us. Ultimately, we get to receive the Body and Blood of Christ reminding us of how close the Lord wants to be to us.

Every so often when I want to go to confession I have found myself before a priest who I don’t like, but I have no other option unless I want to put it off for another time. But that is when I try to remind myself that it is God’s grace and mercy I am seeking, even if the particular priest I find myself with is not who I would choose. I think that is also a good approach to the mass. It is important that we find ourselves a church which helps us to grow, but we also need to remind ourselves what it is we come for. It is not a form of religious entertainment, but our coming before God. It is better to go to a church that helps you to grow, even if it is not your own parish.

 
 God has given us free will, and He wants us to use it intelligently. Our future is not already set out for us, we have a major part to play in it. That is why God does not reveal the future to us and that is also why the Scriptures tell us it is wrong to go to fortune tellers and psychics, because it is only for God to know the future and also because they can mislead us and influence us into making decisions for the wrong reasons. God could give us the information we need much more accurately than any fortune teller, but He doesn’t, because we don’t need to know the future and God wants us to be able to make decisions about our life, freely.

The Lord is constantly throwing out seed on the ground. He continually invites us to follow him, no matter what stage of life we’re at and it’s never too late to start again.  God will continue to call to us to follow the path of faith, until we die. The invitation remains, but the choice is ours. 


Friday, July 7, 2017

14th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 11: 25-30) Come to me all you who labor and are over burdened



Recently I was at home in Ireland on vacation, but I was greatly saddened to see the atmosphere in the country with regards to the Church. It has become very anti-Catholic. Much of this is understandable because of scandals that have happened in the past, but much of it is also grossly unfair. A few days ago I read that in the last 10 years, 8 priests in Ireland committed suicide, which is really shocking. I knew two of them. I don’t know exactly what happened to them, but it seems that they couldn’t take what was going on any more. I also know many who have left. One friend who left the priesthood recently wrote in an email to me that the priesthood had become so joyless and such a burden to him. He had little or no support where he was working and that is not how it is meant to be. Priests are meant to be the shepherds of the people and the people are meant to take care of their shepherds. Thankfully that has not been my experience here. People are wonderful in looking after their priests in this country and I am very grateful for that.

One of the politicians at home recently said that if you see a priest you should probably throw a stone at him and that the Catholic Church should be in the trash, where it belongs. That is religious persecution and inciting hatred, but the problem is that it is subtle. It would be much easier to deal with bloody persecution, because then you would know who is with you and who is not.  

Why is this happening, apart from the scandals that have outraged people? The reason is because Satan knows what God has given us in the Eucharist and he wants to do everything possible to take that away from us, or to make us turn against it and there is no Eucharist without the priesthood. So the easiest way to do it is to turn people against the priesthood. Jesus ordained that we would have the gift of his Body and Blood through the priesthood. Priests are ordinary, weak, human beings, just like everyone else, but for whatever reason Jesus made it so that priests would be his messengers and the instruments through which we would have the gift of the Eucharist, the gift of his Body and Blood.

Ireland is not the only place where this is happening. It happens continually in different countries, but it is usually more public and bloody. In China most of the Catholic Church has to operate underground, because the government doesn’t want it. In the Middle East at the moment great numbers of Christians have been executed because they are Christian. A good friend of mine, called Ragheed Ghanni, was shot dead in Iraq because he was a priest and refused to close the church.

 

Why am I painting such a bleak picture of what is going on? I think it is good that we are reminded of the gift that we have in the Eucharist and the lengths people are willing to go to, in order to make sure that we continue to have it. Thank God we do not have open persecution here, but it could happen. The Eucharist is the gift of Jesus himself, his Body and Blood and without our priests we will not have that gift.

Sometimes I get frustrated when I meet hostility because I am a priest, but then I am reminded that Jesus said it would be like this. ‘You will be hated by everyone on account of my name, but the one who perseveres will be saved’ (Mt 10:22). The other side of this is that we continually turn to Jesus to receive the strength we need to persevere. I don’t just mean priests, but all of us. Satan will continue to try and convince us that we don’t need the Eucharist, or the Church, and especially not the priests, but the reason he does that is because he knows that this is one of the greatest gifts that Jesus has given us, because it is the gift of Jesus himself.

So let us remember to pray for our priests, especially those who are being persecuted and let us also remember where our strength lies when we are getting frustrated or find it hard to keep going. Our strength is in Jesus, in the Eucharist which is really and truly the Body and blood of Jesus.

“Come to me all who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.”