Friday, June 4, 2021

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ ‘Corpus Christi’ (Mark 14:12-66, 22-26)

 





Sometimes when I think of some of the different things that people of different faiths believe, and how strange they seem to me, it also makes me think of the Eucharist. For those who do not believe as we do, it must seem like the craziest notion of all; that God makes himself present through the hands of a priest, in a tiny piece of bread and some wine. What could be more bizarre than that? And we don’t just believe that it is a reminder of Jesus or that it represents Jesus, but that it really and truly is the body and blood of Christ. I also think that it is a teaching so extreme that only God could come up with it and get away with it, so to speak. What human being would try to convince others that a piece of bread actually becomes the body of Christ when a priest says certain prayers over it?

 

To help us believe, the Lord has also given a great number of Eucharistic miracles, to date 107 all over the world. And with modern technology many have been studied by scientists and it has always shown that is the real flesh and blood of a man’s heart.

 

The first time that Jesus gave the people this teaching—“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you cannot have life within you”—it says that many of the people who had followed him up to that point left him. They said “This is madness. Who could accept it?” It is interesting how Jesus responded to them. He didn’t say anything. He just let them walk away. He then turned to the disciples and said, “What about you, are you going to go away too?” In other words, “This is my teaching. Take it or leave it.”

 

In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor 11:23-26)—which is the oldest account of the mass that we have, written about 54 or 55AD—St. Paul says, “This is what I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you…” He doesn’t say that he received it from the other Apostles, but from the Lord himself. Jesus, as you probably remember, appeared to St. Paul while he was persecuting Christians and the event turned his life around. Jesus appeared to him several other times as well and Paul was so affected by what happened to him that he dedicated the rest of his life to preaching about this man Jesus, but the line that always strikes me is where he says, “This is what I received from the Lord…” He is saying, “I didn’t make this up and neither did any other person. Jesus himself taught us this and taught us to do this in his memory.” So, every time an ordained priest says the words of consecration at mass, “This is my Body… This is the chalice of my Blood…” Jesus becomes present in the form of bread and wine. How are we supposed to understand this?  We are not!  I do not understand it, but I believe it. That is why we are meant to fast for an hour before receiving Holy Communion and why we don’t eat or smoke in the church, to remind us that this is something unlike anything else in the world. It is also a beautiful sign of how close God is to us, that He would continually come to us in the middle of our lives, each week, each day, to help and encourage us. He comes to us as we are, not as we should be, but as we are. It is also God himself who makes it possible to receive him, because we could never be ready or worthy enough to even come close to the divine presence, not to mention receive him. That is also why we always say the prayer: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” (just as the Roman soldier said when Jesus offered to come to his house to heal his servant).

 

Mass rock, where masses were celebrated in secret during times of persecution


There are two extremes that I come across with regard to the Eucharist. One is where someone will say to me, “Father, I don’t receive the Eucharist because I really am not worthy enough.” Correct! No one is worthy enough, nor ever could be, but since the Lord himself is happy to come to us this way, we should not be afraid to receive him. The other extreme is where people feel they have a ‘right’ to receive the Eucharist without any kind of repentance, or need to confess their sins, or change a lifestyle that is sinful. That is also wrong. There is no question of this being a ‘right’ on our part. The Eucharist is pure gift from God and for our part we must try to approach it as worthily as we can, especially by confessing our sins every so often. But the most important thing to remember is that Jesus wants to give himself to us, and so we should not be afraid to come to him. Remember that ultimately it is God himself who makes it possible for us to receive him. “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

 

St. Paul also warns us to be careful not to receive unworthily, or we will bring condemnation on ourselves.

Each person must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks condemnation on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick and some have fallen asleep (1 Cor 11:28-30).

 

If we are living in any way that is not in line with God’s teachings, we need to address it. Several years ago, after I spoke about this, a couple came to me who were 48 years married. They said they had both been previously married, but never got an annulment, so they were never married in the Church. They realized that since they wanted to receive Communion, they really needed to put this right. So, after 48 years, they both applied for annulments, got them and were then married here in the church. I found that so inspiring. And that is the right approach. If you find yourself in a second union, without having got an annulment, then you should try and put it right. Come and talk to me and I will help you sort it out. All of us need to make every effort to do what the Lord asks.

 

I want to finish with this story: In the late 1500s there lived a woman named Margaret Clithero in the town of York in England. She was a convert to Catholicism at a time when it was against the law to be a Catholic. Priests used to come to her disguised as cloth sellers, bringing her the Eucharist and she would hide them. She never saw mass in a public church or heard a Catholic hymn being sung even though she lived next to York Minster Cathedral. It was an Anglican (Episcopal) church at the time.

 

She was eventually found out and she was dragged from the butcher shop where she worked and brought before magistrates and ordered to plead guilty or not guilty, so that she could go on trial. She refused as she didn’t want her innocent blood to be on the head of twelve jurors. She said, “If you want to condemn me, condemn me yourself.” The judge said, “Because you are a woman I will let you go free, but you must promise never to hide these priests again.” He then handed her the bible and told her to swear on it.  So she took the bible in open court and held it up in the air and said, “I swear by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if you let me go free, I will hide priests again, because they are the only ones who can bring us the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

York Minster Cathedral, England


So just over 400 years ago, she was brought to St. Michael’s bridge in York and given the punishment, worse than being hung, drawn and quartered. It was called in English law, ‘the punishment most severe’. She was pressed to death under heavy weights. It was to take three days and she was to receive only a little muddy water to drink to keep her alive. The executioner was bribed and he put a stone under her head so that she died within an hour as her neck was broken. She was the mother of eight children, and some of them were there when she was executed.

 

In the little chapel that is there to her memory in York today, there is an inscription over the door, which is a message for our times. It says ‘She died for the mass.’

 

So the next time that you find yourself bored with the mass, or just not too bothered to go because you are tired, think of her and think of the many priests and men and women who have been executed for carrying the Eucharist or for saying mass. God has given us an extraordinary treasure in the Eucharist. May He give us new eyes to see what is here before us.

I swear by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if you let me go free, I will hide priests again, because they are the only ones who can bring us the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” – St. Margaret Clithero.

 

 


Friday, May 28, 2021

Feast of the Holy Trinity (Gospel: Matt 28:16-20) We are created for happiness

 

Adrei Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

One thing that all of us have in common, is the search for happiness. Everyone wants to find happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but all of us are searching for it. God shows us exactly where to find it and how to get there, but we are not always convinced. One of the consequences of Original Sin, was that we were no longer in communion with God the way He intended for us. It says right after the Fall, that Adam and Eve hid from God. They had never done that before. They were suddenly afraid of him and this has passed on to us. We are not always convinced that what God teaches us is true, or good for us, or that He really has our best interests at heart. If we were, we would try and live his commandments as carefully as possible, since they are the path to our happiness.


If I asked how many of you here want to be rich, probably everyone would say yes, because we are convinced that we will have happiness if we have enough money. Our problems will go away. They won’t. In fact, Jesus says ‘How hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Why would it be harder to enter heaven if you are rich? Because our wealth can be a distraction. We can become immersed in material things, forgetting about what is truly important and it doesn’t have to be great wealth either. Being obsessed with getting enough money is just as bad, but Jesus taught the opposite. He said, ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Luke 18:25; John 3:3).  The ‘eye of a needle’ was a metaphor for a very narrow opening. The kingdom of heaven is where we will find happiness and ironically, wealth often becomes an obstacle to it, because it distracts us from what is really important. Instead of spending our life growing closer to God, we are focused on material wealth and forget about him. Just recently a man told me that he realized he had spent his whole life working hard to make enough money, but in the process he alienated himself from his family. He realized he would have been far better off to earn less and spend more time with his family.


Many times I have heard people who have worked in third world countries say, that it is always in the poorest countries that people have the greatest joy, even where there is terrible in justice. It is in first world countries where you will find the greatest anger, depression and despair. Why is that? Because in the poorest countries they are not distracted by wealth and they realize that they will only find happiness in God, beginning in this life and fulfilled in the next. They are looking for it in the right place.


When Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858, she said to her ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ If we understand this, we will begin to find peace, because we won’t be expecting to find complete happiness here. We will only have complete fulfillment in the world to come, because we will only find our fulfillment in God.



The wonderful thing is that God has created us for happiness. The Holy Trinity was perfectly fulfilled in every way before He created us, but God wanted to share that happiness. So, God created us to be able to share in his happiness and total fulfillment, which we will, if we remain open to God. Think of times in your life when you were happy: birthdays, weddings, the birth of a child, graduations. Our instinct is to share it, to celebrate it with others. So we invite others to share in our happiness and we have a party. That is why God created us, because He wanted us to share in his happiness and that is what awaits us unless we reject it. Why would someone reject it? Because we think we know better and refuse to listen to what God teaches us and commands us to do. The death and resurrection of Jesus reopened the possibility of heaven, which we had lost because of Original Sin. Now it is offered to us, but we still have to choose it.


How is it that nearly all of us want peace and happiness, but our world is full of war and hatred? We want equality, but we are continually faced with discrimination. The reason is because there is a war going on that we cannot see, but it is mentioned many times in Scripture. Satan rejected God and hates us, because we are God’s creation. He wants to take everything away from God, especially us, his children, purely out of hatred for God. The only reason Satan takes any interest in us, is to get at God.

 In the book of Genesis, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God said,

I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. She will crush your head, and you will strike her heel (Gen 3:15).


And it says in the book of Revelation:

And the dragon was enraged at the woman and went to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.’ (Rev 12:17).




The woman is Our Lady, the Mother of all God’s children. At the crucifixion, Jesus said to saint John—who is the model disciple and represents all of us who follow God— ‘Behold your mother.’ And to Our Lady, ‘Behold your son.’ (John 19:25). He gave us his mother as our heavenly mother. That is why she has continued to appear many times throughout the world, because she cares about her children and wants to make sure we remain on the right path. The very fact that she has appeared at all means that we have strayed from the right path and we are putting ourselves in danger.


If you think of evil people in the world. If they want to cause pain to someone, they will try and harm whatever is dearest to them. What is abortion, except that? Satan destroys God’s children from their beginning. That is what is behind abortion. Satan has convinced us that it is a good thing, so that we needn’t be inconvenienced. But think of the words of consecration at the mass: ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.’ Think of what abortion says: ‘This is my body and it will not be given up for you.’ It is the opposite of the mass. That’s how you know what is behind it. There is no species on the planet that kills its own young.


So we are in the middle of a war, a spiritual war, where Satan wants to take us away from God in any way possible. St. Paul puts it this way:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).


How did he know that? Because Jesus taught them all these things. I have no doubt that between the time of the resurrection and the ascension into heaven, these were some of the things that God was teaching the Apostles. He was piecing it all together for them. That is why God inspired them to write it down and why we have it in the Scriptures, the word of God.


What is the casting out of demons, except taking back God’s children? How do you destroy an enemy? Divide and conquer: turn them against each other. Look at what is happening in our world right now. We are turned against each other and killing each other, often for no particular reason. This is because we are in the middle of a much bigger war than we can see, when people turn their back on God and on God’s teachings, they lose their way and are open to every kind of suggestion.


But as always, God gives us all the tools we need to fight back. He shows us that living the Commandments and the teachings of Christ is what keeps us safe. If we listen to what God says to us, then we will not get distracted from the path to our happiness. If we live by the word of God, then we will remember what is important and we will see through the lies that we are constantly being told: ‘Abortion and Euthanasia are good for society. You should be able to do whatever you want.’ That was the lie told to Adam and Eve, which they fell for. ‘You don’t need to listen to God.’ Notice in the Gospel where Jesus said to the Apostles, ‘Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.’




God has created us to share in his happiness, but He will not force us to accept it. I’m often amazed at the amount of parents who tell me in great distress about one of their children who has rejected them. They cannot understand why. They did everything they could for their children and then their children turned their back on them. Sadly, it happens quite often. We can also do this with God. God offers us everything and gives us everything, but we can still reject him and people do.


I think that must one of the most difficult sufferings in the life of Jesus must have been knowing that some people would still reject him, in spite of the terrible sufferings He was going to go through. His death and resurrection re-opened the way to heaven for us, but we can still reject it.

God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,

So that all who believe in him might not perish,

but might have eternal life (John 3:16).

 

 

 


Friday, May 21, 2021

Pentecost (Gospel: John 20:19-23) Transformed by the Holy Spirit

 



 

For the feast of Pentecost 1998, in preparation for the millennial celebrations, Pope John Paul II invited representatives from 54 different groups around the world to come to Rome. These groups were all started over the previous several decades by lay people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To give you an example, some of the groups were, the Focolare movement, Marriage Encounter, Cenacolo, Charismatic Renewal. All of these different movements within the Church are really about different ways of living out the Gospel in daily life. These movements have been so successful that most of them have spread all over the world. In Rome there were 400 000 people present representing these 54 different movements. This event was a real celebration of what God is doing all over the world. 

 

In my hometown of Galway in 1988, a prayer group sprang up which was to bring many young people back to their faith, including me. Today there are 4 people in religious life from that group (two priests and two sisters in the Poor Clares) and many married couples who are really living the Gospel and teaching their children to do the same.  A friend of mine from that prayer group, who was one of the first people to welcome me to it, started a school of evangelisation for lay people in Knock in 2006. They had 17 students all eager to learn how to pass on the faith. While that prayer group is no longer there, two other groups came from it and the same thing is happening. 

 

All of these groups were started because God inspired people to act. The Holy Spirit moved people to act and they did. All of those groups were started by lay people.

 

We don’t often hear about these things, because they don’t make the headlines, but I think it is important for us to know that these things are going on all the time.  From what you read on the news you would be forgiven for thinking that the Church is on its way out, or that religion is no longer relevant. Nothing could be further from the truth and times of crisis, such as we are in now, often make people think about God and why we are here.

 



Although I never stopped believing in God, I stopped practicing my faith for a time, while I was in my teens. I found it harder and harder to relate to what was going on at mass. When I was 19 I found myself thinking that I wanted to be properly in or out, but not half way. That same year I came to the US and worked on Long Island for the summer as a student, in the A&P supermarket. It was a great adventure.

 

When I got home I came across a book which had been left in my bedroom called, Power for Living. I don’t know who put it there. This book was a series of testimonies of different well-known people, talking about their faith and how they came to know God. At the end of the book it said, ‘If you want to have God in your life, sit down now and ask him to come into your life.’ And so I did. I remember sitting on my bed and saying, ‘Lord, if you are really there, help me to know you.’ Little did I know what was coming next.

 

A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of mine by the name of Aidan. Aidan told me that he had met a mutual friend of ours called Louise when he was travelling on a bus. He said she had become ‘all religious and holy.’ She had been on pilgrimage to Medjugorje—the place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Our Lady had allegedly been appearing to six young people. While she was there she had had an awakening of her faith and was now filled with zeal and wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. I was intrigued by this, as I knew Louise, who was from a similar background to myself. So I called to her house and asked her what had happened. She was surprised that I asked her so directly, as she had been trying to find ways to bring this up in conversation, but I asked her before she could say anything. For the next hour and a half she told me all that had happened her and how God had revealed himself to her while she was there. At the end of it she asked me if I would like to come to a prayer meeting the next week. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but Louise was clever and she asked another girl whom I had a crush on, to invite me. Naturally I went. Now they are both married and I’m a priest!

 

When I went to the prayer meeting I found myself in the middle of about 50 young people, who sang hymns, prayed the rosary, shared some Scripture readings, praised God out loud and called on the Holy Spirit. I had never come across anything like this before, but I could see what these people had was real and I wanted it. So I began to attend this group each week and they taught me about the importance of spending some time each day in prayer and so I did.

 

A few weeks later they started what is called a ‘Life in the Spirit Seminar’. This is a series of teachings over eight weeks, which teaches people about the reality of the Holy Spirit and the power of God in your life, how it is real and not just a religious idea. On the fifth week they pray with everyone, laying on hands as the Apostles did, praying that people might receive an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. I was excited about what might happen, but when I was prayed with nothing in particular happened, except that I felt peaceful, though not unduly so.

 



However, over the following days and weeks I found that I had a burning desire to pray, such as I had never experienced before. I was in college at the time, studying marketing and I constantly wanted to go away by myself to pray. I also found that I began to hear the Scriptures as if I had never read them before and the words of the mass were suddenly alive as if I had never heard them before. Everything was different. The Holy Spirit had powered up my faith. From then on my faith was completely different, alive and on fire as it had never been before. That has stayed with me to this day.

 

About three years later I began to feel a call to become a priest and so I began my studies to for the priesthood and then I was ordained when I was 29. People sometimes ask why I didn’t want to get married. I was drawn to get married and I knew giving that up wouldn’t be easy, but the calling to serve God as a priest was stronger and hard to resist. It has not been an easy journey, but the Lord said it wouldn’t be easy. ‘You will be hated by all men on account of my name,’ but I couldn’t imagine a greater privilege. It is a mind-blowing idea, that through my hands as a priest, a piece of bread is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and when I say the words of absolution, a person’s sins are taken away. I cannot imagine a greater privilege than this.

 

A few times I have gotten to the point where I didn’t think I could go on, not because I wanted to give up, but because I was really struggling and felt it was too much. But each time God has called me back and given me the grace to keep going. I know that is also because many people continually pray for me and other priests.

 

The first disciples had nothing to rely on except the power of God and that is why the Lord was able to do so much through them. They didn’t have any prestige, or titles. Nobody knew who they were. They had to rely completely on the power of God’s Spirit and they did.  Jesus had taught them to do this. He told them that they would receive the gift of the Spirit, which is what we celebrate this weekend and they were instantly changed from being frightened men in hiding, to unstoppable me to the point of giving up their lives. This is the same gift that I received, though I suspect they received it in a more intense way.

 


The power of the Holy Spirit is what makes our faith alive. Without the Holy Spirit our faith is nothing. The very desire we have to know God comes from the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures would be just ancient writings, except that the Spirit sets them on fire. The bread and wine at each mass would remain just bread and wine, except that the Spirit transforms them into the Body and Blood of Christ, not just symbolically, but really and truly into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The reason why the Church is still here after 2000 years, is because the Holy Spirit continues to move and inspire people to act. No one is excluded, but it requires an openness on our part, because God will never force anything on us.

 

If you find your faith is not terribly alive, or it doesn’t seem very interesting, it means that you need to pray for the gift of the Spirit. God wants to give us the gift of his Spirit and is just waiting for us to ask. So ask!

 

Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.’

 


Friday, May 14, 2021

The Ascension of the Lord (Gospel: Mark 16:15-20) Death, judgement, heaven and hell.

 



With the age we live in, we have more and more scientific knowledge, which is a wonderful thing; more understanding about our universe and how it evolved. But what often seems to accompany more advanced knowledge, is skepticism about religious, or supernatural things. The Lord knows this is difficult for us, which is why He continually gives us all kinds of signs to help us to believe.

 

The feast of the ascension addresses the question of life after death. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and others, many times, to convince them of the reality of what had happened. Then He deliberately allowed the Apostles to see him ascend to heaven, to help them to believe in the reality of heaven, but what He said to them before He ascended is also important. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Tell people what? That God is real, that our life has a purpose, that heaven and hell are real, that our actions have eternal consequences, that we can only go to heaven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. People need to know this so that they will have an understanding of what their life is about. And He also said this: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” In other words, there is a choice and we can also lose heaven if we reject God.

 

This past week we celebrated the anniversary of the events of Fatima, where Our Lady appeared six times to three young children: Lucia (10), Franciso (9) and Jacinta (7). One of the things that Our Lady showed the three young children was a terrifying vision of hell. Visions of heaven and hell have also been shown to many other saints and visionaries. You might wonder why Our Lady would show these children such a dreadful thing. Because it is reality. You don’t hide dangers from your children. You allow them to see the dangers and you teach them about the dangers, so that they can avoid them.

 

Fatima, Portugal, where Our Lady appeared to three children in 1917


Today, as you know, many people scoff at the idea of hell, as if it were some sort of medieval idea which we no longer need to believe; after all, everyone goes to heaven, right? That is not what Jesus taught.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and only a few find it’ (Matt 7:13-14).

 

And in Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus uses the parable of the sheep and the goats, who are divided on judgement day. ‘Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me… Whatever you did not do for the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life.’ Jesus is telling us that there is a choice and there is a judgement. The way we choose to live in this life has eternal consequences and we must take them seriously. Our time on earth is not a time about trying to find total fulfilment and pleasure for ourselves, it is a time of love and service to God. If our live is focused only on trying to make ourselves as comfortable and fulfilled as possible, then we will miss the point of our life. When we die will come before God with empty hands. By serving God, we will find fulfillment, but that is our primary role, not our secondary role.

 





I have no doubt that one of the reasons why Our Lady showed the children this vision—and it has happened in many other places of apparition too—was to make us realize that hell is real and we should not be na├»ve to the idea. If this is the case, should we be afraid? I think the answer is both yes and no.

 

If heaven is real and we have free will, then it is completely logical that hell must be real too. To lose all that God wants to give us, God’s destiny for us, is to be left with the opposite, which is hell. We believe from what Jesus has taught us, that heaven is total fulfillment in God, light, beauty, happiness, peace, joy, the love of God and those who have gone before us. We will never be in want of anything again, totally fulfilled in every way. Since we have never experienced this, it is hard for us to grasp that such a place could exist. To lose that, or reject that, would mean to be left with the opposite: the loss of God, darkness, hatred, isolation and the eternal pain of knowing we have rejected the one thing that could bring us happiness. Images of fire are often used for hell, as this is an image we can easily understand, but the reality is that the eternal loss of God would be far worse, as it is the only thing that would fulfill us. If we have the free will to accept God and all that He offers us, then we must also have the free will to reject it, or otherwise it would not be free will. The vision of hell that Our Lady granted the children, is a reminder to us that hell is real and we should not presume that all of us will go to heaven regardless of how we live. Our actions have consequences and we must take them seriously.

 

Does that mean that those who do not go to church will go to hell? Of course not. Those who do not go to church have just as much hope of eternal life as we do, depending on how they live. Many people who do not go to church cannot understand or relate to formal religion. If I grew up in a family that never practiced religion, or where I was constantly told that the Church is corrupt and evil, then I cannot be blamed for not going to church. What is important is that I do my best to live a life where I continue to choose what is right. God guides us through our conscience, so that even those who have never heard of God still have the chance to live as God calls us to. We have an instinctive understanding of what is good and what is evil, through our conscience.

 

Just because we do go to church doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed to go to heaven either. It depends completely on how we live from day to day. I have two good friends who are in the Poor Clares convent in my home town. They dedicate their lives to God through prayer. People often say to me that they must be so holy and they probably are, but just because they are in a convent, any more than me being a priest, is no guarantee of being holy. It depends completely on how they live and on how I live.

 

So is there any advantage to being a Catholic? Of course there is! We are privileged to have been shown the way that God himself has revealed to us through Jesus. Jesus is the path to heaven and God has made this known to us. He has given us the gift of his Body and Blood in each mass and the Scriptures to guide us. This is a great blessing for us, which helps us to be faithful to the path that leads to God as we have already been shown it. So we are truly blessed, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance than anyone else, because it still depends on how we live from day to day. Going to mass each Sunday will not help me if I spend the rest of my week cheating, stealing and exploiting other people. Jesus says, ‘It is not those who say, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 7:21).

 



Should we be afraid? No, but we should be realistic. We have a healthy respect for fire, because it is dangerous, but we need not be afraid of it if we are wise and be careful to avoid it. It is the same for how we live. God gives us every possible help we could ask for and assures us of his mercy if we are sincere and repent when we fall into sin. But it would also be a mistake to presume on God’s mercy. ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. God will forgive everyone in the end.’ That is not Jesus’ teaching. God will not be mocked.

 

God offers us a wonderful life, if we listen to how we are meant to live it. The world tells us to do everything to find personal fulfillment and comfort. The Lord tells us to stay focused on him and serve the people around us. Our complete happiness and fulfillment is in the world to come. If we understand just that much, it can help us to live quite differently.

 

God has created us all to be with him in heaven. That is what God wants for us and God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject God, by the way we live. God will not force us to love him and if we reject God’s love, then there is nothing that God can do for us, because He has given us free will.

 

So going back to the question of whether we should be afraid of hell or not. We should be aware that it is real and that we could lose heaven if we reject God. At the same time we need never be afraid that we will not be able to reach heaven, because it is God himself who makes it possible. We do our best to stay focused on God, to live by his commandments and to repent when we sin. That is enough.

 

And the angels said: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking into the sky. This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will return in the same way you have seen him going into heaven.”

 

 

 


Friday, May 7, 2021

6th Sunday of Easter Yr B (Gospel: “If you love me you will keep my commandments”

 


 

All of us continually make prayers of petition. We ask God’s help with our everyday needs: relationships, money worries, work, health, whatever it is; we ask God for help and expect to be answered and rightly so, since God has told us that we should ask him for what we need. Jesus says it in this Gospel reading: “…the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.” But if you go back a few lines he says something else: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love… and then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.” God asks us to keep his commandments first, because that’s how it is in any relationship. You ask someone you love for something and you know that they will do their best to give it to you, or do it for you, because of your love for each other, but the love for each other is there first. You don’t ask favors from complete strangers, at least not often. You ask people you love.

 

Love brings with it obedience and faithfulness. A couple who love each other try to obey each other and try to be faithful to each other and as their love grows they know they can rely on each other for what they need. Our love for God is the same. The more we come to know God, the more we know that we can rely on him for what we need, because it is based on a loving relationship, with a real person, the person of Jesus. Our faith is not just about belief in a ‘thing’, or an idea, but in a person, the person of Jesus. We cannot expect God to answer our prayers if we are not willing to do as God asks. What kind of a relationship would that be? It would be just one person using the other, or treating them as a servant. If our relationship with someone we love was only about asking for what we need, it wouldn’t be a relationship at all.

 

Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” In other words, this is how we show God that we love him, by trying to be obedient to him. What are his commandments? Love God before all else, respect his name, keep Sunday holy, honor you parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, or lie. If we aren’t prepared to try to keep these commandments of God, can we still expect him to give us what we ask? Would you expect your husband or wife, or someone you love, to do things for you, if you refused to do what they asked you? Of course not.

 




God loves us first and that is where we get the strength to do as he asks us. ‘You did not choose me. I chose you.’ What we have to do, is be open in our hearts. You may find yourself saying “It is very hard to keep the commandments. It is very hard to try and love your neighbor as yourself. It is very hard to keep Sunday as a holy day.” You’re right, it is very difficult to live as God asks, if you rely only on your own strength, but we are not expected to. We rely on God’s strength for these things. It’s called grace and that’s what makes the difference. I could not live as a celibate man by my own strength. I rely on God’s help every day. I ask for God’s help, every day. We cannot say it’s too hard, because we have God’s strength to help us. But how do we get this help, this grace? We get it from prayer. There are 24 hours in a day, no one can say they can’t spare 20 minutes for God. If you do, it just means you have no interest, no love for God. We get this strength through prayer, fasting and making sacrifices. Lent isn’t the only time to fast. One day a week we can eat less, or don’t watch TV, or give up something you like, until it hurts. We get this strength especially from the Eucharist. Receive Jesus often if you want to grow in the spirit. We get it from reading the Scriptures, where God speaks to us. We get it through spending time with Jesus in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We get it through confession, when we are healed of our sins. 

 

God constantly offers us this strength, but we have to open our hearts to him. Then you will find a strength that you didn’t know existed; strength to love God, strength to keep his commandments, strength to love other people. We turn to God first to receive from him, then we can live as he asks.

 

Jesus also says, ‘I am telling you these things… so that your joy may be complete.’ God wants our happiness and shows us exactly what we need to do to reach this happiness. If we do as God asks, we will find joy and happiness. Everything God tells us to do is to help us, so that we may find fulfillment, but we are not always convinced it is the best thing for us. This is one of the consequences of Original Sin: we no longer fully trust God. We are not always convinced He has our best interests at heart. But the Lord continually assures us that He has our best interests at heart. ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.’ ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.’ ‘I no longer call you slaves… but friends.’ ‘I did not come to condemn the world, but to redeem the world.’

 

If you love me you will keep my commandments.’


Friday, April 30, 2021

5th Sunday of Easter Yr B (Gospel: John 15:1-8) The priesthood and the Eucharist

 


 

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

 

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

 

There is a great story in the Old Testament which explains this; it is the story of Gideon (Cf. Judg 6:11 ff).  Gideon and his people were being wiped out by the Amorites and it was a time of great suffering for them. Then one day the angel of the Lord appears to this man Gideon and says, ‘Hail valiant warrior. The Lord is with you.’ In reply Gideon says, ‘If God is with us how come we are being wiped out?’ A fair question! The angel goes on to tell Gideon that God has specially chosen him to lead his people to freedom from their enemies. But Gideon asks an interesting question. He says, ‘Why would God pick me, since I am the weakest member of my family and my family is the weakest family in my tribe?’ In other words, why would God pick the weakest of the weak to lead his people to freedom? It doesn’t make any sense by our way of thinking, but the angel convinces him that God has chosen him and he will be alright. Gideon is then told to raise an army and so he gets together 30,000 men, but then to his astonishment God tells him to reduce the number of men to only 300 and he tells him why, and this is the crucial bit: ‘Lest the people think that it is by their own strength that they have won victory over their enemies.’ God chooses the weakest man around, with only a handful of men to conquer the enemy, so that it will be totally obvious that it was the power of God that made this happen. 

 

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

I believe that God picked various men to be priests for the same reason, so that it would be obvious that it is God who is at work.  So He picks weak, ordinary men, to make it all the more obvious that the Church is still here because of him and not because of priests.

 

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

 

A 'mass rock', where masses were celebrated in secret during times of persecution.


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

 

Satan does not want us to receive the Eucharist, because he knows it really and truly is the body and blood of Jesus and throughout the centuries he tries to stop us. If you want to prevent people from receiving the Eucharist, the easiest way is to get rid of the priests, since you cannot have one without the other.

 

I want to share with you the story of one such incidence which took place in the west of Ireland in the early 1700s. During this time the British government passed what were called the Penal Laws, which made it illegal to be priests, or for people to attend mass. Their reasoning was that if they could crush the people’s faith, they would be able to control the people. It was a very difficult time for the people, as they had to practice their faith in secret. Many priests were hunted down and killed.

 

During this time there was a young man called Sean Malowney, who became known as Sean na Sagart, which means ‘Sean of the priests.’ As a young man he was very wild with no respect for anything or anyone. Eventually he was caught stealing a horse and sentenced to death. As he was about to be hanged, instead of showing any remorse, he continually cursed and blasphemed. The local sheriff Bingham, who was under great pressure to get rid of the priests, noticed the fearlessness of this man and he offered him a deal. He would release him if he agreed to hunt and kill priests. Sean happily agreed to this and was set free. He would get £5 English pounds for every associate pastor (curate) killed, £10 for every pastor (parish priest) and £20 for a bishop. £1 at that time would buy 15 cows, which was a huge sum of money.

 

Sean then began to hunt and kill priests and he was particularly good at it. He would cut off their heads and bring them to the court where he would get paid. He then threw the heads into a nearby lake, which is called Loch na gCeann, which means the Lake of Heads and it is still there. The local people could not stop him because he was protected by the British soldiers.

 

In one particular town there were two priests by the names of Fr. Kilger and Fr. Burke. Sean knew of this but he could not track them down as the local people hid them. So he devised a scheme to catch them. One night he went to his sister Nancy, who lived in the area and made as if to be dying. He told her that he knew if he died that night there was no chance for his soul and he wished to repent and confess his sins.  Nancy was skeptical at first, but eventually he convinced her and so she went to find the priests. When she told the priests they knew it could be a trap, but they also knew they couldn’t refuse him if he was truly repentant. Fr. Kilger went to hear his confession. Sean pretended to be very weak and could only whisper. As Fr. Kilger came close to hear him, Sean stabbed him in the heart.

 

The grave of Sean na Sagart, now split in half by an ash tree


The next day he was to be buried. At the graveside Fr. Burke came disguised as a woman to bless him. Sean spotted him and put a gun to his head, but the gun jammed.  Fr. Burke fled, but Sean pursued him and the chase lasted all day. Eventually Sean got close enough that he was able to throw his knife which stabbed him in the leg and disabled him, but as he was about to kill him, another man intervened, shouted to the priest to throw him the knife and then killed Sean with his own knife.

 

The soldiers had Sean buried in the local cemetery, but after they left, the locals dug up his body and threw it in the lake. The priest, however, said that he should be buried properly and so they found Sean’s body and buried him. Normally Christians were buried facing East as a sign of waiting for the risen Christ, but they buried him facing north, which was a pagan burial and a sign of no hope as it never faced the rising sun. An ash tree sapling then grew up and split the gravestone in half. It is still there today. I got a friend who lives near by to take some photographs of it just a few days ago and although it is Spring and everything is in blossom, there are hardly any leaves or buds on the tree. It is a very eerie sight.

 

I think it is good to hear these stories. They remind us of the risks people were willing to take to receive the Eucharist. It helps me to remember what an extraordinary gift it is. It is easy to take it for granted, because we are free to come to mass, to receive the Eucharist and practice our faith. I am sure if we were faced with persecution like that, people would still risk their lives, because what could be greater than being able to receive the body and blood of Christ. I think it can also help us to remember the respect we need to show when we come to receive Holy Communion; how we approach it, how we dress, how we receive.

 

To receive Jesus is to receive life itself. May we always have a sense of the greatness of this gift.

 

‘This is my Body which will be given up for you.’


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24:35-48) “Repent, therefore and be converted…”

 



Pope John Paul II said that modern society has lost a sense of sin and it is so true. We live in a time where sin is continually denied. What is evil is considered good and no one is allowed to say otherwise, or they are considered hateful. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil… Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight’ (Is 5:20). That is exactly what we see around us at this time, even within the Church. I read recently that the German bishops are on the verge of breaking with Rome. They disagree with some of the moral teachings of the Church and believe that they know better, thanks to modern developments in science and psychology. ‘Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…’ They are basically saying, we know better than God’s word.

 

Much of what was considered sinful in the past is now accepted as normal. If you go back a few decades, sex was only considered to be acceptable within marriage. Now look where we are. Largely because of TV and music videos, we have come to accept it as normal for any relationship, any time. Yet in the Scriptures, it is called fornication and it is a sin, which means it is offensive to God. While that might be considered old-fashioned, there is great wisdom in it for many reasons. If intimate relations are kept only for marriage, that would stop most sexually transmitted diseases instantly. It would also drastically reduce the amount of abortions. Research shows that teens who sleep around experience a higher rate of anxiety and depression. God in his wisdom knows what works best for us, just like any parent looking out for their children and He shows us what will work best, what will bring the greatest joy and peace, but we have to listen.

 

As we try and be faithful to the laws of God, we must also pass this teaching on to the next generation. If we don’t teach them what is respectful in church, what is morally right and wrong, who will? TV and internet are probably the biggest sources of influence for most people, especially the younger generation. We must not be afraid to point out what is right and wrong, even if everyone else is saying it is acceptable.

 



It is interesting that people who are considered holy, are referred to as God-fearing people, rather than God-loving people. Of course, God-fearing also implies God-loving. There is a healthy fear of God, just as there is a healthy fear of our parents. ‘I would never do that, because my mother would kill me!’ That is a healthy fear. ‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Prov 9:10). We tend to focus more on the importance of knowledge, which is good, but knowledge without wisdom can be dangerous. In Nazi Germany, the people were well educated and had all the information and knowledge they needed, but there was no wisdom, which led to terrible evil. A very important thing to pray for, is wisdom, knowing what is important and what is acceptable to God. It is an ongoing choice for us to keep asking what God wants us to do and the answers are in the Scriptures, which is why we keep going back to them. If we want to negotiate all the obstacles we are facing, we have to keep asking God to guide us.

 

One of the central teachings throughout the Bible, is repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is mentioned in the first reading and the Gospel today. Jesus sends the Apostles out to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When the Apostles started preaching, Peter said, ‘Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away’ (Acts 3:19). The blood of Jesus was shed for the forgiveness of sins. Throughout the Old Testament God continually called the people to repent of their sins, not just individually, but also as a society. God calls us to do the same. That is something that we have also lost sight of to a large degree. ‘It is several years since my last confession, but I haven’t really sinned.’ In St. John’s first letter he says, ‘If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar’ (1 Jn 1:10). If sin is not real, the crucifixion is meaningless and there was no need for Jesus to come among us.

 

Scripture says, ‘Though the righteous falls seven time, he gets up again.’ In other words, we continually fall, but we also continually get up again, repent.

 

One of the lines that strikes me repeatedly is where Jesus says, ‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’ (Matt 7:21). It is easy to say I am a Christian and I love God, but Jesus says that is not enough. We must do the will of the Father in heaven. He is saying that if we want to go to heaven, we must do the will of the Father in heaven.

Recently I read an article where a young lady was saying that she wasn’t going to let her Christian faith stop her from putting pictures of herself on one of these adult websites, where she could make money from it, as if the two were compatible. They are not. It is not those who say, ‘Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.’

 



Everything that God commands us and shows us, is to help us, because He loves us. Even when He punishes the people for the sinfulness, it is out of love for them so that they might repent and come back to him.

 

One of the consequences of Original Sin, is that we are not convinced that God is good, that God has our best interests at heart. Remember how it says that after Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God. ‘Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God… and they hid from the Lord God among the trees’ (Gen 3:8). Suddenly they were afraid of God, although they hadn’t been up to that point. They were no longer convinced that God was good and that He had their best interests at heart. The effects of their sin has carried through to us and as a result we are not always convinced that what God tells us is sinful, is really that bad. I need to accept God’s word as truth, because it comes from God, even if I don’t understand it. If you are questioning whether something is no longer sinful, read the Scriptures and the Catechism, because what is sinful rarely changes.

 

It is not those who say to me ‘Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.’