Thursday, September 19, 2019

25th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 16:1-13) Responsibility

In my hometown some years ago, a man took his own life, as sadly often happens.  He was a great family man, involved in his local parish, well known and respected and he had also become very wealthy. Everyone was shocked. After his death it was discovered that he had got much of his wealth through fraud and it was about to come to light. It seems he couldn’t face it and he took his own life. A terrible tragedy that no one would want to happen.

One of my sisters in-law, Claire, used to work as a stenographer (one of the people in court who records every word spoken in each case). She witnessed many court cases and I remember her saying that many of the cases of fraud and corruption, especially on a large scale, become so complicated that no one can follow them and they eventually get rejected. It seems that the bigger the crime the more likely you are to get away with it. One of the judges said to her one time, ‘If you want to get away with a crime, don’t steal something from Walmart (Dunnes Stores equivalent in the US), steal Walmart!’

We are used to hearing many stories of this kind of corruption and it is always so frustrating because there is usually little or nothing we can do about it. The last world economic crash came about because of greed and dishonesty. In the first reading, which was written about 800 years before Christ, the prophet Amos refers to the same problem: greed and corruption in order to gain money. They had the same problems back then. We are convinced that money will be the answer to our problems and yet the Lord tells us to be very careful with it, because it can easily lead us away from what is important.

Everyone will be held accountable for their actions when they come before God and that is good news, because it means that even if people get away with corruption now, they will not get away with it when they come before God.  If we are making any effort to live by the ways of God, then we have nothing to be afraid of. Jesus constantly assures us of God’s mercy, but those who deliberately use and abuse others, to gain wealth, will have to atone for it.

Recently I was watching a series on TV called Narcos, about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar and El Chapo, two of the most notorious drug Lords in Columbia and Mexico. I stopped watching it after a while, because I found myself getting so angry at the brutality of these people and what they got away with, in order to gain money. Most of them just murdered their way to the top. When El Chapo was eventually caught—he is currently in prison in Colorado—he confessed to having been responsible for the deaths of between 2000 and 3000 people. I couldn’t help wondering what it will be like for these people when they come before God.

El Chapo's arrest
There is nothing wrong with having wealth—in case you think this is meant to make you feel guilty!—so long as we realize that we have a responsibility to use it properly. I have often heard it said from people who have done very well, ‘I worked hard for my money.’  No doubt they did, but the poor work hard too, but their circumstances are different. Many of them are trapped in the poverty cycle. They couldn’t afford education, so they can only get unskilled work, which means that they can’t afford to give their children a good education. They are trapped.

If you have done well, thank God for it, but remember, who gives us the opportunities, the health, the education, the ability, the intelligence? Everything is a gift from God. If God has blessed us in this way, we should be grateful, but it means that we also have a responsibility to use it well. Perhaps the Lord gave you money specifically to help people in various situations and that is where we must be careful to do exactly that. Money is a very useful tool, but it is only a tool, which we can use for good or evil. As people who try and follow the Lord we must be especially careful that we do not become slaves to money, or see money as an end in itself. It is a tool and we must use it wisely and this applies to me as a priest as much as everyone else. People are very generous with me as a priest and I have to be careful that I don’t just line my pockets instead of making good use of it. 

Wealth (if we have wealth) and talents have been entrusted to us for a reason. If we stay focused on the Lord, we will know how to use it wisely.

You cannot serve both God and money.’

Thursday, September 12, 2019

24th Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Luke 15:1-32) Return of the prodigal son. The Father carries our shame.

This mass that you are at today, may be the last mass you will ever attend. It may be the last mass I get to celebrate. None of us knows. Two weeks ago, one of our parishioners was at Sunday mass. He died that night. It was the last mass that he would ever attend. That is something to think about, because that is the reality for all of us.

The fact that Jesus taught using parables, is a great compliment to our intelligence. What I mean is this: to understand a parable you have to think about it. If you are searching for the truth in it, you will find it. This means that Jesus is inviting us to think about what he is saying, so that we will come to know what he is teaching us. He is not just speaking to us like children, but acknowledging our intelligence. He is inviting us to search for the truth.

In the first century, there was a tradition, that if a Jewish son lost his inheritance among Gentiles, and then returned home, the community would perform a ceremony, called the kezazah. They would break a large pot in front of him and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!” The community would totally reject him and he would be publicly shamed and humiliated.

In this story, the prodigal son, having squandered his inheritance, was now coming back to the community. For him to have asked for it in the first place was the equivalent of having wished his father dead to his face. He couldn’t have insulted his family more. Then he wastes all the hard-earned money his family had made. Now he is coming home to face total shame and humiliation, not just from the family, but from the whole community.

Then it says that the father ran to him. In middle eastern culture at that time, a man, would never, ever, run, because to do so he would have to hike up his tunic so that he wouldn’t trip, but this would show his bare legs and that would be considered shameful. So why did the father run? Not only because of his joy to see his son return, but also so that he would get to him before the rest of the community, so that he wouldn’t have to go through that shameful ceremony of being publicly humiliated and cut off from the people. The father was prepared to be shamed himself, in order to spare his son the humiliation. This is pointing directly to the shame that Jesus took on for us, dying on the cross, which was considered the most shameful way to die, in order that we might have the happiness God intended for us; the inheritance God wants for us.

What it says more than anything else, is that God has no interest in condemning us, only in bringing us back to himself and that is probably one of the most encouraging things that our faith teaches us. God has no interest in condemning us. God is willing to be shamed, in order that we might receive our inheritance, that is, heaven.

In the parable, when the father welcomes the son, notice how there are no words of condemnation, or accusation. All he does is welcome the son and celebrate. The fact that he put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, also meant that his place in the family was fully restored. Slaves did not wear sandals.

Then there is also the older son, who has been faithful, but is seething with resentment at the younger son and how he is now being treated. He is also very insulting to the father in the way he speaks to him. He does not address him with a title and he accuses him of favoritism. But the father is equally loving towards him.

The parable of the one lost sheep is the same. It is telling us that God will go to the ends of the earth to bring us home. God only wants our happiness and will do everything to help us reach it, except force us. God will never force us to do anything because He has given us free will. That means that we can lose the possibility of heaven. We have to be careful about how we live, because our actions have consequences. God will always forgive us if we ask for forgiveness, but we cannot just presume it.

If everyone automatically went to heaven, regardless of how they lived, then God would not be just. The Lord warns us many times that our actions have consequences and we need to take that seriously. God only wants our happiness and will do everything to reach it, but we must play our part too.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

23rd Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 14:25-33)) The need for forgiveness

Corrie Ten Boom
There is an extraordinary true story about a woman by the name of 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 and she felt above all that God was calling her to speak about the need for forgiveness. And so she did and she was invited to speak all over the country and then 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 and who was responsible for the death of her father and sister. 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 then all her preaching would be meaningless. So she found herself praying to God on the spot asking him to forgive this man for her and finally she was able to put out her hand to him. The book is called The Hiding Place. 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.

One of the hardest things that any of us are faced with is trying to forgive people who have hurt us. Often the people who hurt us the most are the people closest to us. When people say to me that they are angry with someone, it nearly always indicates that they need to forgive that person. Let me try and clear up a few misconceptions about what forgiveness is and is not.

Forgiveness is a decision of the will, as opposed to something we feel like doing. Most of us rarely feel like forgiving someone and if we were to wait until we actually felt like it, we would probably not forgive at all. When I forgive someone, I make a decision to forgive that person, because the Lord is asking me to, not because I feel like it. The reason why it is so important to do that is because when we forgive someone, we open up the door to God’s grace to help us begin to heal. If I refuse to forgive someone, I am blocking God from helping me to heal from the hurt. We are the ones who suffer, not the person we are angry with.

We may think that if I say I forgive someone I am saying that what they did doesn't matter. When we forgive we are not saying that, or that it no longer mattersd, or that the hurt is all gone. But when we refuse to forgive someone, we are the ones who suffer. The anger, hurt and resentment eats away at us inside. It is a terrible thing to meet people late in their life who have continually refused to forgive. You can see the bitterness in them and it is a sad sight to see. None of us want to end up like that. The good thing is that it is never too late to forgive.

It is easy to think that if I don’t forgive someone they will go on suffering because of what they did. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt they caused us anymore. We are the ones who suffer. We are the ones who lose out. The first step in the process of healing from the hurt is to make the decision to forgive them and say the words. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to.’ It doesn’t mean that everything will suddenly be alright, or that we will suddenly love that person. In fact we may need to say those words again and again, but slowly we begin to heal. When we make the decision to forgive, we allow God to heal us, because we are the ones who are injured.

All of us make mistakes and do wrong. We are well aware of that. I’m quite sure that all of us expect and hope that God will forgive us, but Jesus was very clear that we also need to forgive others if we expect to be forgiven ourselves. Jesus gave some very strong stories about people who refused to forgive, finishing with the words: ‘And that is how my heavenly Father will treat you unless you each forgive your brother from the heart’ (Matthew 18:35). In another place Jesus says:
If you come to the altar to make your offering and there remember that your brother has something against you. Go and be reconciled with your brother first. Then come and make your offering’ (Matthew 5:23-24). 

Even if it is the other person who has a problem with us, we are asked to at least be willing to reconcile, to reach out to them. If they don’t accept it, that is their problem, but we must not be the one to refuse to reconcile.

I remember the story of two brothers who lived in an apartment block next door to each other and they had a falling out over something. They refused to speak to each other and would have nothing to do with each other. Eventually one of them began to leave a small bag of candy outside the door of the other and then the other brother did something similar. It was their way of saying I forgive you and I’m sorry, even though no words were spoken.

We also need to forgive ourselves for the sins we have committed. So many people carry the guilt and shame of sins from years ago. If we have asked for forgiveness then God has forgiven us, because He has promised us that. By dying on Calvary Jesus won that forgiveness for us. All we have to do is ask for it and it is ours, no matter how terrible the sin was. God assures us of his forgiveness for anyone who asks. We will always carry the memory, because that is the damage done by the sin, but we have the freedom to know that we are forgiven.

Finally, remember the lady I mentioned at the beginning, Corrie Ten Boom. When she was faced with having to forgive the man responsible for the death of her sister and father, she found it nearly impossible, but she prayed for the grace and it was God who enabled her to do it. By our own strength it is often nearly impossible to forgive, but that is where we turn to the Lord and ask him to help us, and He does.

Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us…

Thursday, August 29, 2019

22 Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Luke 14: 1, 7-14) Forgiveness and Healing

One of the most beautiful experiences of my priesthood so far, was during two summers when I spent a few weeks working as a confessor in Lourdes. I spent up to five hours each day hearing confessions. People are often surprised when I say this, because they couldn’t imagine anything more boring than hearing confessions for hours on end. But it was an extraordinary experience because what I witnessed was not so much people confessing sins, as the mercy of God at work. Every day you would see many miracles in the confessional, and they are just as real as physical miracles, but much more important: people coming back to God after 10, 20, or 30 years. To me it was an education in the mercy of God, which I will never forget.

There is an interesting connection between forgiveness and healing. We look for physical healing all the time, which is good and important, but spiritual healing is much more important. Jesus worked amazing miracles of physical healing, but that wasn’t his main task. His main task was spiritual healing. Helping people to discover God in their midst, helping people know forgiveness, so that they wouldn’t be carrying great burdens of guilt. This is what he spent most of his time doing, helping people put God at the very center. ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will follow.’ The miracles that he worked were signs, to help people believe who he was. It says in the Acts of the Apostles, that their preaching was accompanied by signs and wonders, to help people believe in the message they were preaching.

There is a passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel which describes an extraordinary miracle where Jesus heals a man totally paralyzed (9:1-8):

Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the water and came to his own town. Then some people appeared, bringing him a paralytic stretched out on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven’. And at this some scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming’. Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts? Now, which of these is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’—he said to the paralytic— ‘get up, pick up your bed and go off home’. And the man got up and went home. A feeling of awe came over the crowd when they saw this, and they praised God for giving such power to men.

An interesting thing happens in this account of the man who was healed. First, Jesus was preaching the word of God to the people. That’s why they were listening. Then they brought this paralyzed man to him. But the first thing he said to him was, ‘Your sins are forgiven’. Now I’m sure if you were there, you would have been thinking, ‘Who cares about his sins being forgiven, if you can make him walk’! But Jesus did this deliberately, to show us that forgiveness leads to healing, and it is more important than physical healing. What happens to the spirit is more important than what happens to the body. The body is going to get sick and die eventually anyway, but the spirit will not die. If you think of all the people that Jesus healed and even brought back to life; later they all died. And then Jesus says, ‘But to prove to you that I have authority to forgive sins’, in other words, ‘To prove to you that I can forgive’, he healed him physically as well.

God has passed on this authority to forgive sins to his priests, so that we can all avail of God’s forgiveness and the healing that comes with it. It is God’s gift to us because God wants us to be at peace. Sadly, many people have come to see it in a negative way, as a burden, or something inflicted on us. But in fact it is a beautiful gift that God has given us, so that we can be at peace with him and ourselves; so that when we make a mess of things, we can begin again and not be dragging the past around after us. The Lord has given this to us, because He knows how much we need it. The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins.

There are two tricks that Satan plays on us, to prevent us from receiving this forgiveness. Satan hates the human race and does everything he can to destroy it. He is at war with God’s people. That is why the Church is constantly under such attack, because it is where God’s gifts are most powerful. So he attacks it and continually tries to discredit it.

The first thing that Satan tells us, is that our sin is too big, or too terrible to be forgiven. He shames us. So he manages to get many people to become separated from God this way. ‘You couldn’t tell that to a priest.’ God never makes people ashamed. Sin does that and Satan exaggerates it. Look at how Jesus dealt with all the people he met; compassion, mercy and encouragement. He always encouraged people who were struggling.

The second thing Satan tries to convince us of is this: He says, ‘You don’t need to tell a priest. Who is he anyway, what would he know? Look what they are like!’ This is pride. Priests are just ordinary people, true, but it is through his priests that God has chosen to offer his forgiveness. Jesus said to the Apostles:
'Receive the Holy Spirit:
For those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain
they are retained' (Jn 20:22-23). 

Why did Jesus choose to do it this way? I don’t know. Ask him when you get to heaven, but the fact is that he did. This is not something we made up. 

We seem to have a psychological need to tell someone else when we have done something wrong. If you don’t believe me, listen to all the chat shows on the radio and TV. You constantly hear people confessing what they have done wrong, and it’s to the whole country! Through confession the Lord meets us in a way that we can relate to, through another human being, whom He has blessed in a special way. He gives us the gifts that we need to help us, and He knows exactly what we need. He offers us forgiveness, as often as we care to receive it.

Personally I try to go to confession quite often, because I need it. I need to be able to begin again and to receive the strength that God offers me through confession, in order to live as a priest. As a priest, I need all the help I can get and it is there for me if I want it: the Eucharist, God’s forgiveness through confession and his Word in the Scriptures. He has given us so much to help us, there is nothing that we need be afraid of.

So don’t let anyone, or anything, come between you and the forgiveness God offers you. God wants us to be healed and this is one of the means that he uses. 

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins.

Friday, August 23, 2019

21st Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 13:22-30) Try your best to enter by the narrow door

An average of 102 people die on the roads in the United States, every day. Approximately 37, 230 per year. None of the 102 people who will die on the roads today, will be expecting it. I wonder if any of them, after they died and faced God, were asked what was the most important thing they could have done in their life, what would they say?

Jesus is asked this question, ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’ And his answer is, ‘Try to enter by the narrow door.’ What is the ‘narrow door’?

The narrow door is simply, trying to live as the Lord Jesus taught us; keeping the commandments of God and keeping to what we know is right, regardless of what everyone else is doing. That is the narrow door. Not sleeping with someone before you are married, as the Lord taught, keeping Sunday holy, not stealing, or killing, or lying, etc. The Lord gave us the Commandments as a guideline, or a blueprint, for living. If we follow them we will flourish, they will help us to do well as people. They make for a society that works, but if we just do our own thing, we will get into trouble. It is a narrow door because there are many other doors, or ways, which seem more attractive. ‘Why should I have to obey rules? Why can’t I do whatever I want?’ You can do whatever you want, but our actions have consequences and that is why the Lord gives us commandments, to help us to make the best choices which will lead us on the most fulfilling path.

The story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, is teaching us the same thing. It is saying that as people we have limits which we must not go beyond. God has given us boundaries which we must respect. We must not play God, deciding who lives and dies; euthanasia and abortion. If we do, we won’t be able to handle it. That’s why the Lord told them not to touch the tree of good and evil. It is a symbol of our limitations. We must not be the ones to ultimately decide what is good and evil, but to listen to what God tells us is good and evil. Look at what is happening in our world as we decide what is ultimately good and evil. We say abortion is wrong, but it depends… That’s not what God tells us.

As soon as Eve took the fruit from the tree of good and evil, they were in trouble, they felt guilt and shame, they were confused and they didn’t know why. The story is teaching us that they had gone beyond their limits as human beings and so they couldn’t handle it. They needed God’s help again. When God came to them in the garden, he asked them why they were hiding, what was wrong? God wasn’t just giving out to them, but helping them to see where they had gone wrong. ‘Have you been eating from the tree from which I forbade you?’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ Whatever God does is always to help us, but we often don’t see it that way and we cry out to God, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ That’s what the second reading is talking about. Parents discipline their children because they love them. As parents you can see a bigger picture than your children, which is why you don’t let them do whatever they want, or they will ruin themselves. When we are children we need to learn what our boundaries are, what is right and wrong and that our actions have consequences. God does the exact same thing with us.

The ten Commandments are to help us, but just like with children, we don’t always see the wisdom in them. Then when Jesus came along, he helped people to understand these laws at a deeper level. He began to teach people to live from the heart, to pray from the heart. Many times in St. Matthew’s gospel we hear where Jesus quotes the Law, which is from the Commandments and then he says, ‘But I say this to you.’ ‘You have heard how it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy, but I say this to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Jesus is teaching us to live at a deeper level, at the level of the heart, so that we’re not just doing the bare minimum. Outward observances are not enough.

I have two dear friends in the Poor Clares in my hometown of Galway. The Poor Clares are a contemplative Religious order, which means they dedicate their whole lives to praying for everyone else and they don’t leave the monastery. I remember a friend of mine saying, ‘Those women are so holy.’ And I was thinking, not necessarily so! They probably are, but it depends completely on how each one lives out their calling. They live a lifestyle which should lead them to great holiness, but it depends how they live it. It is the same for all of us and that’s what Jesus is saying in this Gospel. It is not just those who say they belong to God, but those who actually live what the Lord teaches us. There will be no use in saying, ‘But I was a Catholic and went to mass,’ if we were not living as God teaches us the rest of the time.

Perhaps the most important part of all this is to realize that our strength to go through the narrow door, begins with our relationship with Jesus. Our faith is not belief in a teaching, or idea, but a relationship with a person. Once this relationship grows then it makes it possible to live the way he asks us to, not the other way around. People often get bogged down with Catholicism because they begin with all the controversial issues and of course they get disheartened.

If we focus first on God and on trying to get to know him a little bit more, then the other issues begin to fall into place. Our relationship with God must come first, through prayer, the mass, reading the word of God, then everything else begins to make sense.

‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door.’

Friday, August 16, 2019

20th Sunday, Year C (Lk 12:49-53) I have come to bring fire to the earth

There is a place near my home town in Ireland (Killoran, Balinasloe) called ‘The Bishop’s Chair’. My father brought me there a few years ago (14th Jan 2000). It is a hard place to find, as it really is out in the middle of nowhere. This ‘chair,’ which is in the middle of a field, was where at least two bishops, between 1679-1701, ordained many priests in secret. At the time it was illegal to be a Catholic priest and if they were caught they could have been executed, so they had to ordain them in secret. It is very moving to visit it, even though there is not much to see today, but just to think of the sacrifice that so many men and women were prepared to make at that time, to pass on their faith. Priests were prepared to risk their lives so that the people could have the mass, because they had the faith to believe that the mass was everything. The people were prepared to risk their lives by going to mass. The mass had to be celebrated in secret, often on what were known as ‘mass rocks’ out in the countryside. Many priests did die for the mass, because they were caught. But now all that sort of thing is in the past, right? 

Just a few years ago in 2007, a priest friend of mine, who was my nextdoor neighbour in the Irish College in Rome for a year and a half, was shot dead after celebrating mass in Mosul, northern Iraq. He was just 35 years old. He had been threatened several times, but he remained on in his parish, in order to be there to celebrate mass for the people, even though he knew the danger. On the Sunday after Pentecost in 2007, after celebrating mass in the parish church, Ragheed and three deacons were ambushed by several gunmen. They forced them out of the cars they were driving and shot all four of them. Persecution for our faith is never far away.

At the moment we don’t live with that kind of persecution in this country, thank God, though we are living with a different kind of persecution, where our faith and our Church is constantly being put down, mocked and lied about. Maybe it seems strange that the Christian faith, which preaches peace and justice, love of neighbour and respect for all people, should face such ongoing persecution and it still does in many parts of the world. Then we have this line in today’s Gospel:

I have come to bring fire to the earth...
Do you suppose I am here to bring peace on earth? 
No I tell you, but rather division.

This line seems to be a contradiction to what we usually associate with what Jesus spoke about. ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ What about peace and tolerance and all that? Preaching the message of Jesus Christ, which is about peace and justice, etc, brings persecution with it, because not everyone wants to hear it. The teaching of Christ is a very challenging teaching at the best of times. It confronts us when we are not living according to the Lord’s teaching and that often makes people angry. We don’t like to be shown up. No one likes to be confronted, but it is because the Lord loves us that He confronts us, to help us become better people. In the last 7 years, 23 priests in Mexico have been murdered, no doubt because they are speaking against the drug cartels, which are pure evil. They are challenging them with God’s word. They have the choice to turn back to God, or not. Instead many of them choose to kill the people God sends.

It says in John’s Gospel: ‘People have preferred darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil’ (Jn 3:19). There is a tendency in us which draws us to what is wrong.  We usually know what the right thing to do is, but sometimes we find it hard to choose it. And if we have done what is wrong, or if we are living in a way that is against what God teaches us, then we are not going to be happy with the teachings of Christ, because it will confront us, just as a parent will confront their child if they have done wrong. That is why the message of Jesus always brings persecution with it, because it challenges us to follow one path or the other. There is no middle ground. But perhaps what is most important to remember is that the Lord’s teaching, difficult though it often is, is there to help us, because the Lord knows what will make us blossom.

I always find it consoling when I read about the calling of any of the prophets in the Bible. Nearly all of them resisted. And even if they didn’t resist initially, they usually asked God after a while if they could quit, as it was so difficult. They suffered for speaking the truth about God. The prophet Jeremiah said: ‘You have seduced me Lord and I have let myself be seduced... For me the Lord’s word has meant insult and derision all day long’ (Jer 20:7, 8b). The prophet Elijah, after working one of the most extraordinary miracles then finds himself on the run because the Queen is trying to kill him and he says: ‘Lord, I have had enough. Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’ (1 Kg 19:4-5). ‘I wish I was dead. I can’t go on.’  Who would blame them?

If you want to be faithful to Jesus, it will cost you. Not everyone in your family is going to like it. Many of the people you work with won’t like it. But that is no reason for us to be afraid, because the Lord assures us that He is with us and that He will help us. I know of many parents whose adult children challenge them about their faith, but we have nothing to apologize for and we have a right to ask others, even our children, to respect what we believe, just as we try to respect what others believe. For our part, we just try to be faithful and live what we believe in, as best we can. We follow this path because we believe it is the most worthwhile path, the path that leads to God. 

So each day we rededicate ourselves to God and we try to be faithful as best we can. It is not an easy path, but it is the most worthwhile path.  We will meet resistance, but that is how the Lord said it would be.

I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.’

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven: God asks Our Lady to put aside her plans

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.

In many countries there is still a strong devotion to Our Lady. We have always found great consolation in Our Lady and still do. Mary is completely a human being and very much sympathizes with us in our struggles, because she has been through the same struggles. She has appeared in many different places in the world and always to guide us back to the right path.

When the angel Gabriel came and told Mary that God was asking her to become the Mother of Jesus, the first words of the angel were: ‘Mary, do not be afraid, you have won God’s favour.’ The few lines that the angel said to Mary, might be summed up in a different way. You can imagine that the Lord was saying something quite startling to Our Lady: ‘Mary do not be afraid... God is asking you to put aside all your plans for the future and do his will instead. Do you accept?’ In a way, this is what the angel was saying to her, but he started it off with ‘Mary do not be afraid.’ ‘God knows what he is doing.’

No doubt all of us have had various ideas as to what we hoped our lives might involve; different plans and indeed often very good plans. I believe that one of the greatest challenges facing anyone who tries to be faithful to God, as most of us do, is when God dramatically changes what we thought He was going to do.  God asks us, ‘Will you leave aside all your plans for serving me, and take on my ones instead?’ The thing is we probably weren’t even aware that we had our own plans, until He asked us to give them up, by making our lives take all kinds of unexpected turns. And then what did actually happen may have turned out to be quite disappointing. ‘I had hoped it would be much more.’ Think of the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection when Jesus suddenly joined them walking along the road. They talk about what had happened and add, ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free’ (Luke 24.21). ‘We are so disappointed.’ What must Our Lady have been thinking when she watched Jesus take his last breath and then bury him? What about all the promises of the prophets and the angel? Now he was dead.

The plans we had may have been really excellent ones. I have no doubt that Our Lady probably had really beautiful plans as to how she would serve the Lord. But the Lord may ask us at some stage, ‘Will you follow my plans for you?’ ‘Are you prepared to give up this brilliant work that you are doing at the moment, because I have a different one?’ ‘Are you prepared to accept this disappointment in your family, or your marriage?’ I think that this can be a key moment in anyone’s life. Two things can happen from it. We can accept it in faith and go with it, thereby opening the door to allow Jesus to transform us, or we can fight it and resent the fact that ‘it all went wrong for us’, which may lead us to become bitter. 

If we really remain open to accept what God asks, to the many twists and turns  that God takes us through, He will bring the greatest good out of us, because He will transform us through these things. This is really the only thing that is important, that we allow God to transform us. God’s purpose for us is so that He can fill us completely with himself, unite us to himself at a far deeper level than we may have ever imagined and then use us a hundred times more effectively in the world, but God asks for our openness.

To sum up: If we are open to following God, to trying to do his will, He may continually ask us to take different directions, often having to let go of plans or ideas that we thought were very good. The more open we are, the more quickly the Lord can transform us within. So if you do find yourself thinking sometimes, ‘Everything seems to have gone wrong. I never managed to do this or that,’ remember that if you just stay open and allow the Lord to guide you, then not only have your plans not been wasted, but in fact you have allowed the Lord to do far more in you than you might have imagined.

I am the handmaid of the Lord said, Mary. Let what you have said be done.’

Thursday, August 8, 2019

19th Sunday of Year C (Gospel: Luke 12:32-48) Eucharistic Miracle in Buenos Aires

Probably one of the strangest things we believe, is that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the mass. It is a bizarre teaching. How are we supposed to understand this? We are not, but we are asked to accept it in faith, because Jesus himself taught us this at the Last Supper. All down through the ages people have struggled with this teaching, because it is so extreme. Protestants generally don’t believe that the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Christ, but a symbol, or representation of, or sometimes that Christ is present with it, but not that it is actually his Body and Blood. It is very easy to be skeptical about such a teaching. That is why, every once in a while, the Lord gives us a miracle to help us believe. Today I would like to tell you about a very recent one that happened in Argentina.

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 candle-holder at the back of the church. On going to the spot indicated, Fr. Alejandro saw the defiled Host. Since he was unable to consume it, he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, to let it dissolve naturally.

On Monday, August 26, upon opening the tabernacle, he saw to his amazement that the Host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Auxiliary Bishop at the time; now Pope Francis), 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.

Eucharistic Miracle in Buenos Aires, 1996
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 purposely did not inform the team of scientists where it came from. One of these scientists was Dr. Frederic Zugibe, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugibe 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.”

Dr. Frederick Zugibe
The flesh was still alive when the sample was taken, three years after it had been found and it was taken from a body that had been under severe stress, such as a beating, or torture: Jesus on the cross.

Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests. Knowing where sample had come from, they were dumbfounded by Dr. Zugibe’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. Zugibe 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. Zugibe’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. Zugibe 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. Zugibe 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.”

St. Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)
who used to suffer the Passion, while celebrating mass.
Only faith in the extraordinary action of 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.

The Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires is an extraordinary sign attested to by science. Through it Jesus desires to arouse in us a lively faith in His real presence in the Eucharist. He reminds us that His presence is real, and not symbolic. Only with the eyes of faith do we see Him under appearance of the consecrated bread and wine. We do not see Him with our bodily eyes, since He is present in His glorified humanity. In the Eucharist Jesus sees and loves us and desires to save us.

In collaboration with Ron Tesoriero, Mike Willesee, one of Australia’s best-known journalists (he converted to Catholicism after working on the documents of another Eucharistic miracle), wrote a book entitled Reason to Believe. In it they present documented facts of Eucharistic miracles and other signs, calling people to faith in Christ who abides and teaches in the Catholic Church. They have also made a documentary film on the Eucharist—based largely on the scientific discoveries associated with the miraculous Host in Buenos Aires. Their aim was to give a clear presentation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the subject of the Eucharist. They screened the film in numerous Australian cities. The showing at Adelaide drew a crowd of two thousand viewers. During the commentary and question period that followed, a visibly moved man stood up announcing that he was blind. Having learned that this was an exceptional film, he had very much wanted to see it. Just before the screening, he prayed fervently to Jesus for the grace to see the film. At once his sight was restored to him, but only for the thirty-minute duration of the film. Upon its conclusion, he again lost the ability to see. He confirmed this by describing in minute detail certain scenes of the film. It was an incredible event that moved those present to the core of their being.

God gives us these wonderful and mind-blowing events, to help us believe. We cannot explain them, only accept them on faith, but they are a reminder to us that the Eucharist is the living Body and Blood of Christ, just as that heart tissue was alive at the time sample was taken from the consecrated host, three years after it had first been discovered.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

18th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 12:13-21) 'This very night the demand will be made for your soul...'

Whenever there is a natural, or human disaster, it makes us think. In Feb 2018, in Parkland, Florida, there was the horrific school massacre, where seventeen students were shot dead. One minute they were just at school as normal, the next minute they were dead. Think of any one of those teenagers who died. One moment they were just getting on with their school day, then suddenly they were before God, knowing what their whole life was about. That could be there for any of us.

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

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

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

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

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

In confession I have heard so many heart-breaking stories of families divided over inheritance. It is so sad, because it is not important. Naturally, it is not good when someone in a family is left out of their fair share of what is coming to them, but sooner or later we will leave it all behind anyway. ‘There is no hitch on the hearse,’ as they say! Is it really worth causing such division in a family for this? I suppose it is a sign again that we believe we will find happiness if we have enough of everything materially. Our spirit can never be content with just material things and that is why there is always this deeper longing in us for ‘something,’ although we’re often not quite sure what that something is.

God has made us in such a way that we can only be fulfilled in him. It’s interesting that the third most popular areas of sales in bookstores is the spiritual, which is basically the search for God. Everyone is searching, even if we are searching in the wrong place.

Our time here on earth is a time for love and service; to choose for God or not; and this is a choice that each one of us has to make individually. That is why each week we come to listen to the Word of God and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, so that we remember what our life is about. The key is in making sure that God is at the center. Otherwise we will forget what we are here for.

This very night the demand will be made for your soul;
and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?’

Thursday, July 25, 2019

17th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 11:1-13) Ask and it will be given to you

There is an American writer called Scott Hahn, who used to be a Presbyterian and extremely anti-Catholic, but through his own studies ended up converting and becoming a Catholic. He is a brilliant writer and teacher on the faith. His own conversion story called Rome Sweet Home, is well worth reading. He now writes and teaches as a Catholic theologian in Stubenville University. In one of his CDs he mentions that he had arranged to have a public debate with a Muslim about the differences between the two faiths. Before they had the debate he met the Muslim and he mentioned to him that he would be talking about the fact that Christians understand God as a loving Father who looks after his children. Before he was able to go any farther, he said that the other man got upset and said that it is not right to talk about God as a Father. He said God is master and that it was insulting to speak about him as Father. The Muslim ended up refusing to have the debate at all. Scott says that this really brought home to him the difference in the way we understand God. 

Jesus taught us to talk about and address God in a way that was strange and almost scandalous, for many people then and now. The Jews in Jesus’ time were scandalised that Jesus would talk about God as Father, especially the way Jesus used the word ‘Abba’. Once when I was in Israel I remember hearing a boy address his dad as ‘Abba’. It was amazing for me to hear this and it really brought home to me what it meant. The idea of addressing God as ‘daddy’ is still strange to us, and yet that’s what Jesus did.

While God is all-powerful and doesn’t need us in any way, yet He chooses to have us involved in what happens in the world. He asks us to take part in his creation, by interceding for each other, by being responsible for our actions. That is very much the action of a good parent with their child. Any parent doesn’t need their children’s help, especially when the children are small, but they love to allow the children to take part in things, for the sheer joy of having them there and helping them to learn. God does the same with us, even though there is the risk of us making a mess of things, which we regularly do.

In the first reading Abraham intercedes for the people of the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God is threatening to destroy and in the classic Middle-Eastern way, he bargains his way down to the best deal. The wonderful thing is that God is happy to let him do this. God showed him what He intended to do, so that Abraham would intercede for those people. He wanted Abraham to be involved. He wants us to be involved in his world. He wants us to pray and intercede for the world around us and you are in exactly the right place to pray for those around you. You may be the only one who is praying for those people. Take it seriously. We have been blessed with the gift of faith and that is part of what God asks us to do; to intercede for those around us.

In the New Testament, Jesus brought this idea to a new level. He taught us that of course God is going to help us and listen when we ask him for help, and he spoke about it in terms of parents looking after their children. ‘Ask and you will receive. The one who asks always receives.’

Now the question comes up with most of us, ‘How come I’m always asking for things and they often aren’t answered?’ God can see a much bigger picture than we can, and what we ask for is not always the wisest thing to ask for. If your eight year old son asked for a chainsaw for his birthday, would you give it to him? of course not. The child may think that you are really mean and never give him what he asks for, but you can see a bigger picture than he can, because you are older and wiser. God is the same with us. God does answer our prayers, otherwise Jesus is a liar, but He doesn’t always answer them in the way that we expect, or understand, or even recognise. That is where we have to believe and trust that God knows what He is doing and God is looking after us.

When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gives them the Our Father. Note, they didn’t ask him for ‘a prayer’, but a way of praying. So this is teaching us how to pray; a question which people often ask. The first half of the Our Father is acknowledging God, his holiness and that his will may be done. Only in the second half do we ask for our needs. So even if you only take that much away from the Our Father, remember to always start by praising and thanking God for all that we have before you ask for what you need. That’s why at the beginning of the mass each Sunday, we pray the Gloria. We praise and acknowledge God. It is only after listening to the readings that we ask for our own needs in the intercessions. This is how God teaches us to pray.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing of all is the way that Jesus teaches us to pray to the point of being annoying, the way a child will keep asking you for the same thing until you give in. This is how Jesus tells us to pray. Be persistent, until God gives in!

For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.