Thursday, December 13, 2018

3rd Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Luke 3:10-18) What does God ask of us?

Today we celebrate the third Sunday of advent and we light the rose colored candle. Today is also called ‘Gaudete Sunday’ which means ‘rejoice.’ Advent was originally a penitential time like Lent, in order to prepare for Christmas. This Sunday was meant to give everyone a break from the penitential focus in order to remind us that the Lord’s coming is near and it is something to rejoice in.

Advent is also meant to be a time of hope for us, because the one who is coming to help us is Lord of heaven and earth, the master of the whole universe and all things are subject to him. John the Baptist painted a pretty frightening picture of him as the one who would come to judge all people and bring justice to the earth, but what is also important to remember is that this extraordinary person of Jesus is coming to help us, not to condemn us.

I wonder if John the Baptist came here today what he would say to us? One thing I am pretty sure of is that it would disturb us, because that is what he did. He disturbed people by what he said. He preached with passion and told people to change, to repent, to begin again. What exactly did he ask people to do? He asked them to repent of their sins, to change their way of life, to be open to God. He challenged the religious leaders (the equivalent of bishops and priests) to beware of how they lived, as they would be accountable before God. Their lives must bear fruit. Wearing religious clothes (like the Roman collar I wear as a priest) is no guarantee that a person is pleasing to God. What is important is how I live my life. It is interesting how King Herod had John arrested, because he denounced him for doing what was morally wrong, namely marrying his brother’s wife. But Herod was troubled by John because he knew he was a holy man and it says, ‘he liked to listen to him’.  He knew that John was right.

 The message of the Gospels which we read and talk about each week is a wonderful message of hope, but it is also a message which never lets us get too comfortable, because if we get too comfortable in ourselves we stop growing. This is something that Pope Francis is reminding us of in no uncertain terms. We must live what we profess, especially looking out for those who are poor. 

If John the Baptist came here and preached today, what would he say to us? I think he would probably say things like, ‘Confess your sins to the priests, as God asks you to; be faithful to your marriage; sacrifice yourselves for your children; learn to forgive each other and don’t be seeking revenge when things go wrong.  Stop suing each other. Be just to your employees.’ To us priests he would probably say, ‘Make sure you are living what you preach and sacrificing yourselves for the people you have been sent to serve; don’t let yourselves get too comfortable and make sure God is at the heart of all that you do. Be obedient to your bishops. Do you really need all the things you have?’ We don’t usually want to be challenged in this way, but this is what the Lord presents us with.

 Every year as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, when God ‘pitched his tent among us’, the most important preparation we can make is the preparation of the heart. We begin again. We look honestly at ourselves and how we live. Do we need to change? Probably; because it is easy to become lax and indifferent to the struggles of the people around us.

When the Lord challenges us to look at ourselves and begin again, it is not to make us feel guilty or inadequate; rather, it is to help us to grow. God pushes us, helping us to become the best version of ourselves that we can be.

Because John the Baptist spoke the truth and challenged people with strong words, it cost him his life. Jesus was also killed because he spoke the truth. All the Apostles and most of the Prophets were killed too and thousands of men and women throughout the ages. We don’t like to be told we need to change, but if we wish to continue to grow closer to God then we must remove everything that prevents us from coming closer to him.
Prepare a way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’

Friday, December 7, 2018

2nd Sunday of Advent (Luke 3:1-6) What is required of us?

A page from the Book of Kells (9th Century,
manuscript of the Gospels)
 How would you feel if you got a Christmas card that read like this:
Our thoughts of you this Christmas are best expressed in the words of John the Baptist, ‘Brood of Vipers! The axe is laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.’
Merry Christmas from Fr. Murchadh."

I suppose we would add Fr. Murchadh, or whoever sent it, to our list of x-friends!

Advent has really become the time of getting ready for Christmas in the sense of buying the gifts we want to give, going to office parties, etc, but this is quite different from the original message. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus and his message was very strong. ‘Repent, confess your sins, change your lives and look for happiness in God.’ This is the part of preparing for Christmas that is easy to overlook. We want the celebration of Christmas, but we don’t necessarily want to have to repent. Just leave us alone and let us celebrate. We want absolution, but without having to confess. We want the love and blessing of God without having to follow the commandments. We want faith on our terms. That is called ‘cheap grace’. It is empty and it is not the message of God.

The message of God is a wonderful one, but is also a very demanding one. We can not come and pick what we like. Instead we come and ask what is required of us? That is what the people who came to John asked: ‘What must we do?’ To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower. We are not used to thinking this way, because our world encourages us to make sure things are as we would like them. If you’re not happy, move on; but this is not the message of the Gospels. In the Gospel we listen to what it is that God asks of us. We follow God on God’s terms and not our terms. 

Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born of woman. He was totally focused on God. He knew what was important and he passed on the message he was told to pass on, but it cost him his life. He was beheaded by Herod for speaking the truth. We don’t always want to hear the truth because it is often demanding and challenges us to change.

If we are serious about celebrating Christmas as a Christian feast, then let us not forget the
Book of Kells, detail.
message of John the Baptist. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ ‘God is coming: get ready.’ The term ‘repent’ can also mean ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.’ That is a particularly powerful message at this time in history. So many people are looking for happiness in the world, but now so much has collapsed and many have been bitterly disappointed and left with a feeling that all is gone. However, the Lord is telling us to turn to him for happiness. It is only in God that we will find true happiness. The world will disappoint us; God will not. People will let us down, but God will not.

The sin of Adam and Eve was a very similar sin to what we see going on today. It involved three things: (1) rejecting the idea that they had to serve God or listen to his commands; (2) that they could have everything they wanted on their terms, (3) that they were like God themselves. That is very similar to what we see going on in our world right now and it is a real temptation. Why should we have to obey commandments? We don’t like being told we have to obey anyone and yet the word obey literally means ‘to listen intently’ (from the Latin, ‘ob audire’). And if you think about it, it says that Jesus was obedient to the Father. Jesus was equal to the Father, but Jesus was also obedient to him. We are being called to listen intently to what God tells us, to acknowledge that we are God’s creation and that we must obey—listen intently—to what He tells us if we are to find the path to happiness.
The 'Ardagh Chalice' (8th Century)

The most important preparation we can make for Christmas is the interior preparation, the change of heart, the confession of sins. And yes, most of us don’t like to have to confess our sins, we think we shouldn’t have to, but this is what God asks us to do and if God asks us to do it, it is for our benefit. The celebration of Christmas is meaningless if we skip the kind of preparation that God asks us to make and sadly for many people it has become meaningless. It doesn’t have to be meaningless, because it is the celebration of something very wonderful, the coming of God among us in the person of Jesus.
I stand at the door and knock. If anyone here’s my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in and sit down to eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20) 

Those words are from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible and this message is repeated all through the Bible in different ways. The Lord wants to be at the centre of what we do, but we are the only ones who can allow that to happen.
Repent, for the kingdom of God is close at hand.’

Saturday, December 1, 2018

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C (Gospel: Lk 21:25-28, 34-36)

Advent is a time of waiting with hope, for something wonderful. Think of a time when you were waiting for someone to arrive home, someone dear to you. They have been away for a long time. There is the feeling of anticipation, longing and excitement, just like you see in the arrivals hall of an airport. You are looking at each person as they appear, waiting for your loved one. That is what Advent is meant to be; a time of hopeful waiting. The first candle we light, symbolizes hope. The hope of knowing something wonderful is going to happen. Your long-absent son/daughter, husband or wife, is about to come through the door and you can’t wait to see them.

What exactly are we waiting for that is so hopeful? Generally, we focus on the birth of Christ and that certainly is a big part of it, but it is just one part of it. Christmas and Easter are two halves of the same thing and they cannot be separated. What we are waiting for is a whole package that consists of God coming among us, into the messiness of our world, to share in our human nature, to suffer with us and to re-open the possibility of eternal life, through his death and resurrection. Just the last part of that alone, is mind-blowing. Without this whole event we could not have happiness when we die. That is why Advent is such a hopeful time, because we are waiting for this whole event to begin, the event that finishes in eternal happiness.

The world that Jesus came into, was very similar to ours. He was born to a couple who were away from home, because of a census. He was born into a country which was occupied by a foreign power and who were known for being particularly brutal. The Romans regularly crucified many people just to show who was in charge. Can you imagine living in the fear of those kind of soldiers. Right after his birth, they had to flee to Egypt because of a death threat. They became refugees fleeing from violence, just like we are seeing in so many countries at this time. His world was full of religious hypocrisy, just like ours and yet he wasn’t afraid to come into this world. All of that is showing us that God is with us in the chaos of our world.

Many Christians have a misunderstanding of what our faith is about. I regularly hear people in confession and outside of confession, express their fear of the sins of their past. Maybe they won’t be able to go to heaven when they die. Maybe they won’t be good enough. We joke about it all the time, saying that when we arrive at the pearly gates Peter will look over our life, to see if we are good enough. That is the complete opposite of the teaching of Christianity. What our faith teaches us is that we are not good enough for heaven by our own strength. We can never be good enough for God, by our own strength. But the whole point of our faith is that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, that has now been made possible for us. God now offers us forgiveness and eternal life if we choose to accept it.  God has already done for us what we cannot do ourselves and that is why the message of Christianity is so amazing. Christmas is the beginning of that whole event; Christ taking on human flesh, living among us in our chaotic world and ultimately allowing himself to be sacrificed for us. Eternal life now awaits us. All we have to do is say ask God’s mercy for our sins and say, ‘Yes, I believe and I accept all that God is offering me.’ Knowing this we need never live in fear of our past mistakes again. What God has done for us is what will bring us eternal happiness. That is why Advent is such a hopeful time.

The Angel said to the shepherds: do not be afraid. 
I bring you news of great joy.
Today in the town of David
a Saviour has been born for you;
He is Christ the Lord.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King (John 18:33b-37) Power in weakness

Storm in Lahinch, West of Ireland
In the book of the Apocalypse (also known as Revelations) Saint John has a vision of a being that terrifies him. He describes what he saw like this:
…“I saw one like a Son of man…His head and his hair were white with the whiteness of wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame, his feet like burnished bronze…out of his mouth came a sharp sword, double edged, and his face was like the sun shining with all its force” (Rev 1:13-16).

John writes that he was so afraid when he saw this being that he fell down as if dead, but then the being in the vision touched him and said:
“Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and look—I am alive for ever and ever and I hold the keys of death and the underworld” (Rev 1:17-18). 

Who was this being? It was of course Jesus, the one that John had lived with for three years. Why would Jesus who was so close to John, appear to him in this terrifying form? Probably to remind John and us, who He is; not just the Jesus whose name we carelessly throw around as a swear word, but Jesus who is Son of God, who will come to judge the living and the dead. This is the one we believe in. When we die, we will all come before him face to face and all people of every religion will understand who He is and what He has done for us.

At this time we are seeing great changes in the world around us. So much violence and hatred. It is a very disturbing, even frightening time, but I think that we need to remember who it is we believe in and who it is we put our trust in. If we put our trust and hope in earthly power, we will be disappointed, because people will let us down. If we rely too much on the human side of our Church, we will be disappointed, because people will let us down, but the one we trust and believe in, is Jesus Christ, who is God. All things are in his power and all things are completely subject to him.

Image from the Hubble telescope
Sometimes you get the impression, especially from Hollywood, that the battle between good and evil, between God and Satan, is an equal one. It is not. There is no question of evil being equal to God. All things are subject to God and I think we need to be reminded of that.

As a priest I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the one I worship as God and try to serve. If I stay focused on the world around me, I find myself getting depressed, or disillusioned. Also if I spend too much time worrying about the state of the Church, I also find it hard to keep going, but the Lord keeps reminding me that He is the one I need to stay focused on, because He is the one in charge. He is master and Lord of all things. What we have seen happening in the Church over the last few years is the work of his power purifying his Church, because He loves us and will not allow his people to continue with poison festering under the skin. So God allows his Church to be purified and renewed, which is what we are seeing happening. I have no doubt that what is happening in the world is also a kind of melt-down which God is allowing which will bring many people back to him. Nothing like a crisis to focus the mind! There is nothing like disasters from nature to focus the mind and be reminded of just how small and mortal we are. These devastating fires, or hurricanes, remind us of just how small we are and that can be a good thing. Ultimately we rely completely on God for everything. Thankfully we got away lightly here in south west Florida with hurricane Irma, but think of the effect those fires must have on the people in California. One moment they are alive and well, and within hours everything they owned is in ashes.
California fires 2018
People who have a certain amount of power like to show it off and make it felt. People who are really powerful don’t seem to feel the need to show it off. But God who is all-powerful, goes one step further and shows his power in weakness. This is an extraordinary thing and something we find very difficult to get our heads around.

The greatest demonstration of God’s power was shown to us in the death of Jesus on the cross. The Lord God did the exact opposite to what we would do and showed his power by not doing anything; by appearing to be a failure. So the people laughed at him and mocked him, not realising that what they looked at was a demonstration of the power of God. This is why we use the symbol of the cross and why it is so powerful. This is also why Satan hates the symbol of the cross, because it is a symbol of the extraordinary power of God and it is a reminder of the event that broke the power of sin and death. 

Writing to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul says,
We are preaching Christ crucified; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans, madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jew or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God (1Cor 1:22).

What the power of Jesus on the cross also shows us, is that in the bleakest and darkest situations of pain and suffering, loneliness and abandonment, Christ is there with us, in his strength. We are never alone no matter what we are going through. God is with us.

Jesus Christ is our king, the most powerful king in heaven and on earth. If we accept him as our king, we also share in his power, but it is not a power as we understand it and this is where many people find it hard to accept. We want something that we can see and touch. We want to know that we are important and that our King is the greatest of all. But God in his wisdom knows that this isn’t the most important kind of power.

If Jesus is Lord and God, as we believe He is, then we have nothing to be afraid of.

Every being in heaven, on earth and under the earth,
shall bend the knee at the name of Jesus;
and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).

Friday, November 16, 2018

33rd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Mark 13:24-32) Judgement, heaven and hell

At this time of the year before Advent begins, the readings always focus on the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. We do this because it was one of the things that Jesus taught. Jesus taught that he would come again and that when he does come it will be for a time of judgement. All people will be judged. Each week we say in the Creed, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead’.

It can be tempting to discard what we don’t understand, especially if it sounds a little silly. The idea of Jesus appearing in glory and coming on the clouds to judge the world may seem hard to swallow. However, it would be a great mistake on our part if we began to just take the parts of Jesus’ teaching that ‘make sense’ and leave the other ones. Perhaps a better approach is to say we accept all his teachings, but we don’t understand many of them. ‘I don’t understand, but I believe.’ That’s what faith is.

If the Lord is to come to judge the living and the dead, it implies two things:  First, that there must be a heaven and a hell. Otherwise there would be no point in judging us if it were going to make no difference. Heaven is the total happiness that being in the presence of God will bring. This is something that we cannot understand, because we have no experience of it yet, but this will be the most complete happiness we could ever know and this is what God has planned for us; that is what He wants for us and God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject God.

Then there is the total loss of God for those who reject him, and this is hell; the loss of everything that can bring happiness. Jesus has taught us that this is real, otherwise it would make no sense that we have free will, the power to accept or reject God. If heaven is being in the wondrous presence of God, which means total fulfillment, light, happiness, joy, the company of those we love and peace, then to lose that would mean to be left with darkness, hatred, pain, isolation and the pain of knowing we have lost the possibility of happiness.
When Our Lady appeared to the three children at Fatima in 1917, one of the things she said was, ‘If people only knew what eternity is, they would do everything in their power to change their lives.’ She also said, ‘God condemns no one to hell, people condemn themselves to hell.’ Why would we condemn ourselves to hell, you might ask? We would do it by the way we live, the choices we continually make.

The Lord’s coming also implies that we will have to make an account of our lives to God. We will be held accountable for our actions. I often think that when we hear about so many of these tribunals and hearings, which cost millions and show the wholesale corruption that goes on, it can be very frustrating, because the people who get away with the most never seem to have to pay, either because they are powerful enough, or because of the legal system. They always seem to get off the hook. It is wrong and it happens every day. But if a young person steals something from the local supermarket, you can be sure he or she will be brought to court and they’ll pay for it with a fine, or with jail time. Yet even the rich and powerful must remember that their power and wealth won’t be with them when they die. They too will have to give an account of themselves to God and nothing is hidden from God. I find this consoling, not because I wish evil on anyone, but because at least I know that in the end there will be justice.

Is this a reason for us to be afraid? Of course not, unless we are deliberately trying to fool God. If we try to live as the Lord teaches us and make even the smallest effort, then we have nothing to fear. If we just get on with the day to day tasks that we are presented with and try to be honest before God, then we have nothing to worry about, because this is what Jesus teaches us. The fact is that we are all sinners, we all fall short of the mark and none of us ever get it exactly right, but God isn’t put off by this. God sees the heart. God knows when we are doing our best and trying to live as best we can.  He knows all the pressures that we are under. He knows how difficult it is to try and survive in the world. The Lord looks at each of our hearts and judges us by what is in our heart. So, there is no reason for us to be afraid if we make even the smallest effort. 

It is also important to remember that God is infinitely merciful and mercy is something which is not deserved. God’s justice and mercy go together. Think of all the times that we see people in the paper convicted of some terrible crime, and we say, ‘I hope he gets life,’ or ‘I hope they kill him…’  It’s just as well for our sake that God is more merciful with us, than we are with each other, or none of us would stand a chance. 

Another reason why we can never judge someone else is because we don’t know what’s in their heart. We don’t know what has influenced another person’s actions, or what pressures they are under. That’s why Jesus teaches us, ‘Do not judge and you will not be judged’. Only God can judge, and only God will judge perfectly justly. We can judge the outward actions of a person, but we cannot judge the heart.

God is merciful and if we try to do what is right we have nothing to be afraid of.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

32nd Sunday, Year B (Gospel: Mark 12:38-44) The Lord provides

Lake Dall, India.
I heard a story about an old Dominican by the name of Maurice Fearan. He was giving a retreat in Kashmir (India) in a place called Shrinagar, beside the Dall lake. It is 7000 feet above sea level and a big tourist attraction; very beautiful. So many people came to the retreat that they had to give him accommodation apart from where the retreat was being held; so they put him on one of the tourist boats. Each evening after the retreat he would go back to the tourist boat, have a light meal and sleep. 

One evening when he was eating, a young lady from Argentina joined him. While they were chatting, a storm began to blow up on the lake and it was coming towards them. Eventually there were flashes of lightening near them and they were both getting nervous, especially since they were on water. Then she leaned towards him and said, ‘Father, I’d like to go to confession, but before I go to confession I want to tell you something.’ And then she said, ‘Father I don’t believe in hell.’ Maurice said, ‘OK, but why don’t you?’ She said, ‘I am an only child and my father loves me completely and I know that no matter what I do, my father would never reject me. Sometimes he may do things which embarrass me, but I could never do anything which would embarrass him. No matter what I do he would never reject me. And so I don’t believe God would ever reject me either.’ Isn’t that powerful? And I think that is the approach we should take too.  I’m not suggesting that hell isn’t real, but I think that is a good way to see God.

I think we often pray ‘too small,’ so to say. We are afraid that we can’t have the very best, or that God might frown on us if we expect too much. And yet Jesus taught the very opposite. ‘How many of you would give your child a snake if he asked for a fish; or a stone if he asked for bread?’ And then he said, ‘If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father look after you?’ It is a wonderful teaching and probably one that we could reflect on more. The Father wants to give us everything. He wants the very best for us always.

In the first reading, God is showing us never to be afraid, because if we trust in his word He will never let us down. The woman had almost nothing left and the prophet Elijah asked her to share it. She was afraid, but Elijah said, ‘Trust in the word of God and you will be alright.’  So she did and she was alright.

God invites us to do the same. We are so often afraid that we won’t be able to manage and yet the Lord keeps telling us, ‘Trust in me and I will look after your every need.’ And He does.

Something that the Lord has taught me as a priest, is never to be afraid to give away money to people who need it. I don’t just mean people who come to the door asking for money, but people I come across who I know are in need of help. They are the ones who rarely ask, but the Lord often lets me see their need. People often give me money as a priest and I see it as part of my work to pass it on, whenever the Lord shows me such need. But I have always found that every time I have given away money, sometimes reluctantly as I feel maybe it’s too much or that I might be stuck, within 24 hours I will be given the money back by someone else and usually more. This has happened to me so many times that I always believe it is God’s way of teaching me to trust him. He looks after all our needs and He will never be outdone in generosity. 


In the Gospel today Jesus sees the poor woman putting in what seemed to be a very small amount. But he knew it was everything she had. God sees what we do and He constantly encourages us to be generous, especially with those who are in need. Remember, God will never be outdone in generosity. If we are generous, God will be far more generous. We forget that Our Father in heaven is the Lord of all the universe. God has lots of money. Any father will give his children whatever they need and with great generosity if he can. Our Father in heaven is never outdone in generosity, so let us never be afraid.

For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

Friday, November 2, 2018

31st Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 12:28b-34) Love God and do what you like

Most of us were brought up with the understanding that we must love our neighbour.  That is very much part of what it means to be Christian. We respect the people around us, even if we don’t like them. We respect them because we believe that we are all children of God, created by the one God, no matter what our race, colour or religion.

We also know that sometimes it can be very difficult to love the people around us. It is much easier to give to charities, supporting people in other countries, than to show respect to the people living next door, or even in the same house, or work place.

However, there is something else that comes first. That is, the love of God. It is no accident that Jesus put this first, or that it comes first in the commandments. Love God above all else, with all your heart and soul, with all your strength and then love your neighbour as yourself.

Why is this so important? because it is very difficult to love the people around us, especially the ones we find difficult, unless we love God first. It is our love of God, as our faith begins to grow, that gives us the strength to love others. The more we are filled with the love of God, the more sensitive we become to the world around us. It is then we begin to notice people in trouble and people in need. God’s Spirit within us that shows us these things and helps us to see others as people with needs, rather than just Christians, or Muslims, Mexicans or Irish. First they are people; human beings with the same needs and desires as anyone else. It is the love of God within us that shows us this and that gives us the desire to help them.

How do I love God? By keeping his commandments. If you love anyone you show your love by trying to please them and by trying to do what they ask. It is the exact same with God. There is no point in saying that I love God if I’m not prepared to keep his commandments. There is no point in sleeping with your boy friend or girl friend, and then saying that I love God. God asks us not to do this. Who am I kidding? We cannot justify stealing, or not paying taxes and then praying to God to help us. If we hope for God’s blessing and help, or to grow in our spirit, we must try to live his commandments. They are commandments, not suggestions and this means sacrifices. It means that we will be different from others who don’t believe in God. And this is how it has been throughout the centuries. Christians have always been different. If I want to call myself a Christian I have to try to live as a Christian. Otherwise it means nothing.

All of us will all have to give an account of ourselves to God when we die. And we will be on your own then. We won’t have friends or politicians standing behind us to cheer us on. We will not have any earthly status either. It will just be each of us before God. Does that mean we need to be afraid? Not if we try. If we sin, or fall, or do what is wrong, we should never be afraid to ask forgiveness. God promises forgiveness, if we turn to him and repent. But I’m talking about persisting in some way of life that is contrary to the laws of God. We must be careful that we’re not rewriting the commandments for ourselves. God doesn’t ask for 100% success, only effort. 

St. Augustine has a lovely saying which sums it up. He says, ‘Love God and do what you like.’ If we really love God, we will try and do what He asks. While trying to live as God asks can seem like a burden initially, the reality is the opposite. Living by the teachings of Christ brings a great freedom and happiness, because your spirit knows that you’re on the right track and that takes away fear. Once we begin to come closer to God this way, then we begin to be filled with a love for him that gives us the strength to look out for the people around us.

I know many people I would term ‘people of faith’, who really try to live what they believe, and they are always keen to help people around them who are in need. It comes quite naturally to them, because of their love of God and I’m sure there are many of you here too. If we focus on growing closer to God, looking after our neighbour comes quite naturally. The same goes for a lot of the moral teachings of the Church, which people love to argue about so much. If we start arguing about these problems before we have faith, they will just remain an obstacle between us and God. But if we grow in faith first, these things naturally fall into place.

Hear O Israel,
The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

29th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 10:35-45) Bringing good out of evil

The only known photograph of Maria Goretti
Today I would like to tell you the story of a remarkable young girl called Maria Goretti, who died in 1902 three months before her 12th birthday. Maria was born into a farming family, near Ancona in the east of Italy. She was one of seven children. They were poor farmers and eventually had to sell their own farm and work for others. They ended up working on another farm in Paliano, about fifty miles south of Rome. Her father contracted malaria and died when she was just nine. They ended up sharing a house with a father and son by the name of Giovanni and Alessandro Serenelli. Their life was hard, but they were a close family. Maria generally stayed in the house doing housework and minding the youngest children, while the others worked on the farm.

Alessandro Serenelli, was eight years older than Maria and several times had tried to take advantage of her, but each time she refused. One day when he knew she was in the house on her own, he cornered her and threatened to kill her if she didn’t give in to him. She refused and kept saying that it was a mortal sin and God would not want it and that he would go to hell. Eventually in a rage, he stabbed her fourteen times, leaving her for dead. When her family found her, she was rushed to hospital, but she died the next day from her wounds. However, before she died she said that she forgave Alessandro because she wanted him to be with her in heaven when he died.

Alessandro was arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison. Initially he was completely unrepentant. In fact, as is often the case with sexual predators, he blamed Maria, saying that if she had just given in to him, none of this would have happened. It claimed that it was basically her fault. However, six years later Maria appeared to him in a dream. She was holding lilies and she allowed fourteen of them to fall into his hands, but as each one landed in his hands it turned to ashes. This experience brought about a profound conversion in Alessandro. He understood the fourteen flowers to mean the fourteen times he had stabbed her and that she had forgiven him. From this moment on, his life changed completely. He became totally repentant and a model prisoner, so much so that he was eventually released three years early because of his exceptional behavior.

 When he was released, after serving twenty-seven years in prison, he went straight to Maria’s mother’s house and begged her to forgive him for what he had done. She said to him that if Maria was able to forgive him, she could too. The two of them attended mass together the next day and received Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro spent the rest of his life in a Franciscan monastery, helping out as a receptionist and in the garden.

Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in St. Peter’s Basilica. Both Maria’s mother Assunta and Alessandro, as well as some of her siblings, were there for her canonization. Her canonization was the first one to be held out-doors in St. Peter’s square, because of the size of the crowd. It is estimated that about 500,000 people attended the ceremony. Alessandro died peacefully in 1970 at the age of 87. All this because of the bravery of an eleven-year-old girl, who was willing to suffer rather than offend God.

What has this got to do with us today? At the moment as we hear about so much evil, and sexual abuse, I think it is good to be reminded of the extraordinary good that God can bring out of the most evil of situations. Who would have thought that an 11 year old girl could inspire so many people and bring about the conversion of a murderer and rapist?

St. Maria Goretti, virgin and martyr, pray for us.