Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday of Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30) Consecration to Jesus through Mary

Bishop Dewane has asked all parishes to make a consecration of the parish and the whole diocese, to Mary. This will be done on Christmas Eve and there is a 33-day preparation for this, which will involve prayers each day to be said in each parish. I would like to try and explain what this means and why we would be asked to do this.

A consecration of something, or someone, means a dedication to something sacred. When a new church is built, it is consecrated, or ‘dedicated’ to God as a place of worship. When I was ordained a priest, I was consecrated to God’s service. To consecrate our parish and our world to Our Lady is to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary. But why not just consecrate our diocese to Jesus directly? Why do we need to bring Mary into it?

God the Father chose to give his Son Jesus to us, through Mary, because He wants us to be part of his work in the world. God could fix everything in the world instantly, but God wants us human beings to be involved in his creation and his work and this is a reminder to us of how much God respects us and loves us. So, God gave us Jesus, through Mary. Mary was his instrument to bring us Jesus. He allowed his work to depend on the cooperation of a human being. This woman, Mary, who was just a teenager at the time, was invited to play this extraordinary role in history. Through her ‘yes’ to God’s invitation, Jesus, the One who would free us from eternal death, came into the world. So the most ideal way for us to come to Jesus, is also through Mary. Who is closer to God than Mary? No one. What request of Mary would be refused by Jesus? Nothing. She is the ideal vessel to bring us to Jesus. To consecrate our parishes and diocese to Jesus through her, is the ideal way to give ourselves to Jesus.

Why do we need to make this consecration at all? Don’t we already belong to Jesus? Of course we do, but in the words of John Paul II, we are living in a time of ‘unprecedented evil’, in a ‘culture of death.’ However, God’s word in the Bible also tells us that ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (Rom 5:20). This means that even where there is terrible evil, God’s help will be there even more, which means that right now, God is offering us more help than ever, to overcome what is happening around us.

When Our Lady appeared in Fatima, she warned the children that the world must turn back to God to prevent further wars and catastrophes. She said that many people had turned away from God and that the sins of the world were greatly offending God. Those apparitions took place during World War 1. Our Lady also said that if people turned back to God with prayer and penance the war (WW1) would end and a second greater war could be prevented. She said to the children:

“To prevent this [Second World War] I shall come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and Communions of reparation on the first Saturdays. If my requests are heard, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, fomenting wars and persecution of the Church.”

Right now we need all the help we can get and to rededicate ourselves to Jesus through Mary, is exactly what we need to do in order to help us reduce and overcome the evil in the world.

We don’t know that much about the life of Mary, but we do know that everywhere in the Bible that mentions Mary, she was always pointing people to Jesus, bringing people to Jesus. At the wedding of Cana when the couple ran out of wine, she asked Jesus to fix the situation. Jesus said that this wasn’t his time to start working miracles, but he did it anyway because Mary asked him to. Anywhere that Mary has appeared in the world, and there have been quite a few places, it has always been about her pointing us back to Jesus. So a consecration to Mary is really about Jesus.

At the end of his life on earth, while dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted John the Apostle to Mary. ‘Son, behold your mother’ (John 19:26). Now St. John also represents the model disciple, in other words, this is what we are also called to be like. St. John was always the one who did the right thing and was faithful to Jesus to the end. He was the only one of the Apostles beside Jesus at the foot of the cross. He represents all disciples, which is us. Jesus entrusted all of us to the care of Our Lady, because she is the perfect instrument to bring us to Jesus. That is why she has continually appeared in different places, pointing us to Jesus, asking us to come back to Jesus, for our own sake.

At this time, our world has gone crazy. Just think about this country alone: all the killings for no particular reason. This wasn’t happening up to quite recently. Why is it happening now? Because there is so much evil in the world and because so many people have turned away from God. We need all the help we can get to prevent it from getting any worse. Therefore, we rededicate ourselves, our parishes and our diocese, to Our Lady, to help refocus on Jesus, rededicate ourselves to Jesus, in order to put things right again.

When we are in trouble, God always shows us what we need to do. This is what God is showing us right now.

This 33-day preparation will involve prayers during each mass starting this Tuesday. If you would like to do this in a more in-depth way, there is also a book available for private use called 33 Days to Morning Glory. 

Whether you decide to do the indepth version of this 33-day preparation, or just join us at whatever mass you find yourself at, take this seriously. Each day make a private prayer for yourself and your family or loved ones, so that we all may be drawn closer to Jesus, through Mary. We really need God’s help at this time and God is offering it to us through this consecration to Our Lady.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Friday, November 10, 2017

32nd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13) Those who were ready went in to the wedding hall and the door was closed

November is a time when we pray especially for those who have died. We pray for them because we know it’s important to pray for the dead, that they will have their sins forgiven. When we die most people are not holy enough that they can come straight into the presence of God’s pure holiness, so they go through a state or ‘purification’, or ‘being made ready’ for God. This is what we call Purgatory and we know that we can help the souls of those who are there, by praying for them and making sacrifices for them. I often think of it this way: when we wake up in the morning and turn on the bed-side light, we have to shield our eyes because it is too bright. We have to adjust. Can you imagine if we had the full light of the sun at that moment? It would be unbearable. So a time of adjustment is needed. We may also need to atone for sins that we have committed but have not atoned for. How do we know this is true? Many of the saints have been shown Purgatory and this has been explained to them. One of the most extraordinary mystics of all time, St. Pius of Pietrelcina (better known as Padre Pio), said that more souls came to him from Purgatory asking for prayers, than people on earth did. And so we pray for those who have died and not just mourn for them. When I die, I’m sure people will mourn for me as is normal when anyone dies. I would rather that they pray for me.

Is it foolish for us to ever think that hell and purgatory are real? If it were impossible for anyone to go there, then Jesus would hardly have warned people so often to be careful as there would have been no need. But Jesus frequently warned us to be careful and to be ready and not just to presume that everything will be alright. We can always have great confidence in God’s mercy and never be afraid, but I think what Jesus is warning us of, is presumption. It would be a mistake to presume that everything will be fine, even if we have completely ignored God all our life. The attitude that you meet quite often which says, ‘I’ll be alright on the day. I’ll sort things out with God myself’, as though we were equal to God, or could manipulate God. God will of course forgive those who repent and are sincere. That is what Jesus continually assured us of. But it would be foolish of us to think that we can take advantage of his mercy. God is merciful, but God is not a fool.

But how could hell exist at all, you say? How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  It’s a good question. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. We choose it for ourselves by the way we live. Think of it this way: if God is all goodness, beauty, light, love, joy and total fulfillment in a way that we never experience on this earth. Then hell is the opposite of this; evil, ugliness, darkness, hatred, isolation and the terrible pain of knowing that we have lost the chance of total fulfillment and happiness. To reject God is to reject all that God is. By rejecting God, we choose the opposite. Our life on earth is the time we have to make the choice for God or against God and we do that by the way we live.

God does not want anyone to be cut off from him. That is not what He created us for. And God continually gives each of us every opportunity to come back to him, all through our life, no matter how far we may have strayed. Think of the ‘good thief’ dying on the cross beside Jesus. When he asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus replies, ‘Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). God will never give up on us, as long as we are alive, but we also have to decide for God and if we don’t, we have to face the consequences. We have free will, but our choices also have consequences.

Look at what it says in the Gospel reading about the bridesmaids who were left outside.  When they said ‘Lord, Lord, let us in.’ He said, ‘I do not know you’. They had never concerned themselves with God and so they did not know God, and so God did not know them.  ‘I do not know you’.

We need not let ourselves be preoccupied with this, as God assures of his infinite mercy to anyone who reaches out to him, but just as the world is full of dangers, such as drugs, violence and people with evil intentions and we always try to warn our children what they need to be careful of, so God is doing the same with us, warning us that we need to be careful. 

The Lord is telling us to be wise and realise that we have to be responsible.  If you say you believe in God, then do, and live as He asks you to live, and don’t be afraid.  We all want to reach the happiness of heaven and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, but we also must be wise and not take it for granted.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

31st Sunday, Year A (Matthew 23:1-12) The priesthood

Perhaps one of the strangest things that Jesus did before he ascended to heaven at the end of his earthly life, was to entrust his Church to priests; ordinary, sinful, weak human beings. This is something that we do not understand, but we believe. Through the gift of the priesthood He gave us the most extraordinary gift of all, the gift of the Eucharist, which is the gift of Jesus himself really and truly present in the form of bread and wine. There is no gift greater than this, but the fact that he made it depend on priests is what is so strange.

I am sure that one reason in particular why he did this was to make it obvious that it is God who is at work and that the Lord is in no way dependent on the gifts or skills of human beings alone, especially not us priests.

There is a great story in the Old Testament which explains this (Judges 6-8); it is the story of Gideon.  Gideon and his people were being wiped out by the Amorites and it was a time of great suffering for them. Then one day the angel of the Lord appears to this man Gideon and says, ‘Hail valiant warrior. The Lord is with you.’ In reply Gideon says, ‘If God is with us how come we are being wiped out?’ A fair question! The angel goes on to tell Gideon that God has specially chosen him to lead his people to freedom from their enemies. But Gideon asks an interesting question. He says, ‘Why would God pick me, since I am the weakest member of my family and my family is the weakest family in my tribe?’ In other words, why would God pick the weakest of the weak to lead his people to freedom? It doesn’t make any sense by our way of thinking, but the angel convinces him that God has chosen him and he will be alright. Gideon is then told to raise an army and so he gets together 30,000 men, but then to his astonishment God tells him to reduce the number of men to only 300 and he tells him why, and this is the crucial bit: ‘Lest the people think that it is by their own strength that they have won victory over their enemies.’ God chooses the weakest man around, with only a handful of men to conquer the enemy, so that it will be totally obvious that it was the power of God that made this happen. 

If Gideon had been a great warrior and he conquered his enemies with a huge army, then no one would be surprised. But when the most unexpected person leads a handful of men and conquers a huge army, then everyone says ‘Look what God did! What a miracle!’

I believe that God chooses various men to be priests for the same reason, so that it will be all the more obvious that it is God who is at work. So He picks weak men to make it all the more obvious that the Church is still here because of him and not because of priests. 'You did not choose me. No I chose you and I commissioned you to out and bear fruit, fruit that will last' (John 15:6).

St. Paul also speaks about this in one of his letters. He writes,We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us’ (2 Cor 4:7). God uses ordinary cracked pots  (‘cracked-pots’) to carry his message, to make it obvious that it is from him.

When the priest says the words of consecration at each mass the Holy Spirit immediately and humbly obeys the priest and changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. God obeys a human being! I don’t understand it, but I believe it. And when the priest says I absolve your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit immediately wipes away those sins.  God is so humble that He will obey the words of a human being.

What if the priest is not a very good or holy man? Is God any less present in the mass if it is not a holy priest? Of course not. God would never allow his power to depend on the goodness of a human being, because none of us are good enough or holy enough. Even if the priest is a terrible sinner, God is just as powerfully present in the mass, in confession, and wherever He calls the priest to work. It is a great help for our faith if the priest is a holy man, but either way God is just as much present, because God gives himself completely to all of us in this extraordinary way, through the priesthood and it doesn’t depend on the priest being good enough and thank God for that!

I think one of the greatest proofs that the Church is from God is simply the fact that it is still here in spite of the fact that there have been centuries of bad example, bad preaching, scandals, etc, and yet it is still here. Think of all the great empires and dynasties that have come and gone and they were much better organised and impressive, but they are gone, and yet the Church is still here.

At times, if you find yourself becoming disheartened by the bad example of priests, or indeed anyone in the Church, remember the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: ‘The priests occupy the chair of Moses so you must listen to what they say but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach.’ In other words, we must try and listen to the teaching of Jesus passed on through the Church and through his priests, but don’t be put off when they don’t always live the way they should. What is important is the teaching of Christ and not the example of the priest. The teaching of Jesus is what we hold on to.

I have to confess that these readings always scare me a little when God warns his priests about the responsibility they have been given. The Scriptures are also full of very stern warnings to the priests to live as they should and not abuse their position. We will be accountable as God’s priests.

Is it easy? I have found it difficult, but I have also found it very rewarding. I work as a priest because I believe that God called me to be a priest and continues to call me to work as his priest. If I didn't believe it was from God, I wouldnt' do it. I consider it the greatest privilege of my life to be able to serve him in this way. People often ask me did I not want to get married? The only way I can explain it is to say yes, I would like to be married, but the calling to serve God was stronger. May God help me to be faithful.

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us (2 Cor 4:7).