Friday, September 23, 2022

26th Sunday Year C (Gospel Luke 16:19-31) You cannot serve both God and money


In 1929 in a particular part of New York city, several wealthy businessmen committed suicide, around the same time. Why? Because of what became known as ‘the Wall Street Crash.’ The New York stock exchange collapsed over night and as a result many people lost millions of dollars. Many of them could not handle this and sadly took their own lives. Money for them had become everything. It was their god and it had just proved itself to be a false god, an illusion. When their god collapsed, they were left with nothing, no money, no faith and apparently nothing to live for. It seems that many of them despaired.


Around the time when I was ordained, two women friends of mine, Marina Hayden and Maura Grealish, both professional accountans, took their final vows in the Poor Clare convent in my home town of Galway. They took four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. They will never own anything of their own, they will not get married, and they will spend the rest of their life enclosed in a convent, dedicating their time and energy to God and to praying for all of us and for many others. Some would consider this a useless waste; others see it as the gift of God which it is, the highest calling in the Church. Their lives lived in this way—as with any religious—is a sign that we believe in the life to come and that it is worth making sacrifices for it. If we didn’t believe in the life to come, then it would be a waste of time.


How are the two related? Well I suppose they are really the opposite of each other. Those in Wall Street and in the business world sometimes put everything into their money. Money can become the only thing that matters. They work for it, they live for it, they may even lie and cheat for it. On the other hand Sister Gabriel and Colette, have given up everything for God, and are depending totally on God for everything. 


Most of us are probably somewhere between the two. We may not be millionaires, but we have not given up everything for God either. We work and try and put bread on the table and provide for our families and loved ones. Most people are under a lot of pressure to pay their bills and mortgages, etc. 


Poor Clare Sisters, Galway, Ireland.

Money is an important tool. It would be very hard to live in our society without it, but it is only a tool. If we lost everything over night it would be very difficult, but we would still be alive. It happens to people every so often, but we do survive. But if God disappeared, what would we have left? When we died there would be nothing. Thankfully God does not disappear, regardless of whether we have more than we need, or barely enough to survive on. Either way God is waiting for us and when we have served our time on this earth then we will go to him.


In the Gospel Jesus gives us this parable of the rich man—traditionally known as Dives—and Lazarus. The rich man is condemned to hell, not because he is rich, but because he only focused on himself and ignored those who were in need. It says that Lazarus lay at his door. In other words, he couldn’t have missed him and said that he didn’t know he was there. It also says that he was covered in sores, which implies he was sick and so unable to help himself, but the rich man still ignored him.


God is reminding us that we have a moral obligation to help those who are less fortunate than we are and there are always plenty of people around us who are in need. We get several phone calls a day looking for help, with bills, food, housing. They are usually looking for St. Vincent de Paul Society, but it is a reminder of how many people are in need.


Why don’t they go out and get a job,’ you may ask? Many people who are in need are working, but are often barely surviving. Just this past week a man called me asking me if I could help an elderly lady find accommodation. He had found her lying on a bench. We did our best to help her, but in the course of the conversation, I realized that although this man was working and had stopped to help this other lady, he himself was living out of his truck. He had part of a deposit on an apartment and was working to try and make the rest of it, but wasn’t getting enough work to make it. He had been living out of his truck for weeks. He wasn’t asking me for help, but when I realized this we were able to help him out and he now has a place to live. And when I say ‘we’ I mean St. Vincent de Paul Church and thanks to donations you have made.

When we live in a world that places so much emphasis on having plenty of money, it’s hard not to be affected by it. There is nothing wrong with having money so long as we remember that it is only a tool to help us survive. It is not primarily what our life is about. We are body and spirit and that spirit will never be satisfied with material things alone.


You also have to be wise about how you use your money to help people. I’m sure I have been ripped off as many times as I have been able to help someone really in need, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we do our part to make good use of what God has given us.


In the parable, note how the rich man although now in hell, is still focused on himself. He asks that Lazarus come and comfort him. He is still arrogant. He hasn’t learnt.


In his riches man lacks wisdom. He is like the beasts that are destroyed.’ (Psalm 49)

Monday, September 19, 2022

25th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 16:1-13) The Triumph of the Cross



Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007), who was cardinal of Paris from 1981-2005, told the following story. Three teenage boys, around thirteen were hanging around with nothing to do. As you know, teenage boys with nothing to do is asking for trouble. They were near a Catholic church. So they decided to have some fun. They went into the church and each went to confession, telling the most outrageous sins they could think of. However, the priest realized what was going on. So to one of the boys, who was Jewish, he said, ‘For your penance, go before the altar, look up at the crucifix and say three times, ‘Jesus you died for my sins and I don’t give a damn.’’ So the boy went before the altar, looked up at the crucifix and said, ‘Jesus I know you died for my sins and I don’t give a damn.’ Then he said a second time, ‘Jesus, I know you died for my sins… and I… don’t… give a damn.’ Then the third time he started, ‘Jesus…’ and he couldn’t finish. The power of the cross and the realization of what he was saying had spoken to him and something was awoken within him. He later was baptized and confirmed and eventually became a priest. And Cardinal Lustiger finished by saying, ‘That boy, was me.’


Some missionaries went deep into the Amazon to bring the Gospel to some of the native tribes. They set up a small camp and made one of the tents into a chapel. The native tribesmen were observing them cautiously from a distance. Gradually they got closer until one day one of them had the courage to go into the camp when it was quiet. He went into the tent they had set up as a chapel. When he saw what was on the wall he ran out screaming. There was a crucifix on the wall.


Earlier this week we celebrated the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. To even say that a cross could be a triumph seems like a contradiction. A crucifixion is a total human failure in every way and a terrible miscarriage of justice, especially for Jesus. And yet we know that the event of the cross was not a failure, but a victory. A failure in human eyes, but a victory in God’s doing. It is something that is hard to understand. In many ways we have become so used to the image of the crucifixion that we don’t see the horror of it any more. We see it in so many places and wear a crucifix as jewelry.


If you came into the church one day and saw the image of a man hanging on a gallows, you would be horrified and it would be reported in the media and people would write to the bishop. The image of a man crucified is just as horrific, if not more so, but we are used to it.


When we are faced with terrible suffering, the death of someone young, or terrible injustice, the first thing we hear people say is, ‘Why would God allow this to happen?’ I’m sure it has been said tens of thousands of times by people who are in pain. I’m sure many people in prison camps and concentration camps and war zones have asked, ‘Where is God now? Why does God allow this?’


Then if you think of the event of the crucifixion, the three women who were there and St. John, watching the holiest, most innocent man, being tortured to death, they also could have asked, ‘Where is God now? How could God allow this to happen.’


When we are faced with the most painful suffering, trying to cope with the loss of a child, or a broken marriage, or sickness, a good thing to do is to take a crucifix in your hand and think about the crucifixion. Instead of saying, ‘God, how could you allow this?’ just think of the crucifixion and the fact that God was in the very heart of that suffering. We may cry out, ‘Where are you now?’ and God replies ‘I am here in this suffering with you.’


The crucifixion meant nothing but failure to those who witnessed it at the time, and yet it was the event that changed the course of history forever. The greatest apparent evil and human failure, won paradise for all who ask for it. That gives us the hope that even with the worst suffering that we face, God is still with us and also that God can and will bring good out of it, but we may never understand it until we get to heaven. So the next time you find yourself crying out to God in anger, take hold of a crucifix and kiss it and say, ‘Lord I do not understand this, but I unite my suffering to yours. Help me to know that you are here in the middle of my pain.’



Friday, September 9, 2022

24th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 15:1-32) Life on earth, versus eternity



(Visual homily with rope)

I want to show you something. (Long piece of rope, with about 12 inches colored in red at one end). Picture this rope going on for thousands of miles, several times around the earth and on to infinity. This is your existence, from the time you were conceived, to all eternity. See this short piece here (pointing to the 12 inches in red)? That is our time on earth.


When you see it visually, it makes you think. We are conceived here (pointing to the beginning of the colored section), we have our childhood here, hopefully our education from here to here and then some kind of career for the longest part (of the red part). Then we retire and when our time on earth is complete, we go on to the eternal life we were created for. That is what we have been created for and to make sure we could get from here to here (red part to the rest), the death and resurrection of Christ took place.


Think for a moment of how much time and energy we put into trying to get everything right here. We want the best education, so that we can have a good career, raise a family, provide for our children and make sure they are as well prepared as possible… for this short piece here (red part).


How much time do we put into preparing for the rest of it? How much time do we spend preparing our children for the rest of it? Think of how much time we put into looking after our physical body. When we die it will disintegrate. Our soul is what will continue for all eternity. How much time do we prepare it for what is to come, to make sure it will continue to happiness and not darkness? What tends to happen right now, is that all the energy is put into getting everything right and comfortable just for our time on earth, but the decisions we make here, have consequences for all eternity. Our soul is immortal and will continue on after it leaves our body, but where it goes depends on what we choose.


Many people won’t even make it this length (the red part), but will jump unexpectedly to here (beginning of the rest of it), because of sickness, accidents and natural disasters, but sadly we talk about it as our life being ‘over’. So many times at funerals I hear people talking about the deceased as if that is it, there is nothing more. ‘Their memory lives on.’ So many people have lost a sense of eternity, of the world to come, of the existence of God. 2.4 million people die every year in the US alone. It’s simply part of the cycle. Their soul goes somewhere. The biggest mistake we can make is to get so distracted by our life on earth that we forget about what comes after, thinking that this (red part) is everything and at this time, many people are focused only on this earth.


The decisions we make during our life on earth have eternal consequences. How we live on earth is so important. If our life on earth works out well and we manage to have a good career and a happy retirement, it is a blessing. But even if our life on earth is disappointing, or even a failure in our own eyes, or in the world’s eyes, all that really matters is how we lived, because that is what will determine the rest of our existence. Is there even such a thing as a failure? Does it not just mean that it didn’t go the way we expected?


In the prophet Isaiah God says that He is guiding and helping us, even when we don’t realize it. ‘Thus says the Lord to his anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp… opening doors before him… I have called you by your name, though you knew me not.’ (Is 45:1, 4-6)


I remember talking to an elderly man in hospital, who was near the end of his life. He admitted that he wasn’t very religious, but as he told me about his life, it became so obvious how God had guided him, even though at the time he may not have seen it. I think most of us can see the hand of God in our life when we look back. At the time it is not usually so obvious. The truth is that God is guiding us all the time and this makes perfect sense if we are his children. What parent would not try to guide their children?


Just because people haven’t come to know God doesn’t mean that God is not guiding them. Who would not guide their children and this is exactly what this reading says.


Some will say that we are naïve to believe in God. I say that they are naïve not to believe in God. The Lord continually gives us so many signs and miracles to help us believe, but we can choose to ignore them, or dismiss them. There is indisputable evidence of hundreds of miracles around us, from the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to over 143 Eucharistic miracles, the Shroud of Turin and miraculous healings that have taken place with prayer, all of which have been scientifically studied, with no explanation. The Lord is constantly reminding us of his presence, so that we don’t get too distracted by this world and forget what is coming. Our soul is going to live on no matter what, but where it goes depends on what we choose.



Friday, September 2, 2022

23rd Sunday of Year C. Forgiveness and repentance. Gospel: Luke 14:25-33



Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind. It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood. It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’ That phrase ‘so that sins may be forgiven’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the whole of Jesus life was about: ‘So that sins may be forgiven.’


Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed. That fact alone should give us great courage, because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin. The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us. He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, to be happy and to reach our full potential. ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4). And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God and God is ultimately our happiness. If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.


There is a powerful story in the Old Testament about King David.  It has all the ingredients of a modern movie. David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath. He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Because he is king and used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her. Some time later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant. Now he is afraid, because he knows he is going to be found out. So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away in battle, fighting for him. When Uriah comes David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc. Later he invites him to dinner with him and then he sends him away and says, ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’ But Uriah doesn’t go to his house. Perhaps he is suspicious. Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants. 


The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife, he invites him again to come and eat with him. This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace. So the following day, David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed. So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.


So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David. But because God loves David He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan to David, who tells him the following story.


Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city. He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc. There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb. And he loved the lamb like one of his own children. One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had it killed for the meal.’  When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’ And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’


Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next. When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him, he is also big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.


It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him. The Lord doesn’t want our downfall. On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to be at peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession and we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it. Sadly, many have come to see confession as a burden, or as something inflicted on us, but this is to see it completely backwards. Confession is an extraordinary gift that God has given us, so that we can be free and live in peace, because that is what God wants for us. God challenges us to confess, so that we can be healed. It is for our benefit.


The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said to Peter, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Mat 16:18ff.). And in St. John’s Gospel after the resurrection Jesus appears to the Apostles and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain are retained.’ (Jn 20:22). And now the Lord continues to offer us that forgiveness through the priesthood, which is a wonderful thing because it is a very concrete way of knowing, through another human being, that our sins are completely forgiven. We need that concreteness and God knows that.


As we watch the chaos of our own society around us and the evil that seems to continue to grow, the best way we can begin to bring about change is by repenting ourselves. We ask God’s forgiveness for our own sins. That is the way to get ready for the coming of Jesus.  There is no point in pointing out the sins of others if I am not willing to begin by acknowledging and confessing my own sins. That is the way to begin to improve life in our families, our workplaces and our world. We must begin with ourselves.


Why do I have to confess to a priest?

God in his wisdom, knows exactly what helps us most and He knows that we need to be held accountable. And so He gave us the priesthood, so that we can make ourselves accountable to one of his ministers and that also takes humility on our part. Who wants to acknowledge to another person that they have sinned? No one, because there is a certain humility needed. But God also knows that that is the only way we should come before him, in humility, acknowledging our own sinfulness. There is no other way we should come before God. And if you find yourself saying, ‘I don’t need to confess to a priest, I can tell God I am sorry myself,’ then you are telling God that you don’t need the gift that He gave us through the priesthood. ‘I don’t need your gift. I can do it my own way.’


In Matthew chapter 9, we have the account of a paralysed man being brought to Jesus on a stretcher, in the hope that Jesus would heal him. Jesus begins by saying, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ And the Pharisees say, ‘Who is this man to say he can forgive sins?’ And I’m sure the onlookers could care less about the forgiveness of the man’s sins. They were hoping for his healing. But then Jesus goes on to say, ‘“But to show you that the Son of man has the power to forgive sins,” He said to the paralytic, “Get up. Take up your mat and go home.”’ And the man was healed.


Why did Jesus start by saying, “Your sins are forgiven”? because He is showing us that there is a direct connection between our begin healed and the forgiveness of our sins. We tend to focus only on the physical, but we are body and spirit. The two are intimately linked. What happens to one affects the other.


Receiving God’s grace through confession, heals us. One of the privileges of being a priest is to hear confession and to see the change that takes place in people when they confess, especially when they confess serious sins they have been carrying for a long time. You can see the change in their face. A burden is lifted from them. They become more at peace. That doesn’t happen when you tell God you are sorry by yourself. That happens when you confess to a priest and I know because I see it constantly and it is a beautiful thing to see.


You often hear me talk about apparitions, because they are important and heaven speaks to us through them. One of the things that is always said by Our Lady, is that we need to confess our sins to a priest; not by ourselves, but to a priest, because this is what brings healing and because this is what God asks us to do.


This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’



Friday, August 26, 2022

22nd Sunday Year A Gospel: Matthew: 18:21-35 Forgiveness: a decision of the will


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


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


Probably the greatest obstacle to God’s helping and healing us, is our refusal to forgive. When we refuse to forgive someone, we shut the door to God’s grace, we prevent God from healing us, but there is an important thing to remember about forgiving someone. Many people think that in order to forgive someone I must feel like forgiving them. In other words, the hurt has to have gone and so now I can forgive. That is not how it works. Forgiveness is not just a question of how I feel, or whether I feel like forgiving someone or not. Most of us when we are hurt, are often hurt for a long time, sometimes for years, and of course we don’t feel like forgiving. Sometimes the injustice is not even resolved. People are betrayed by loved ones, or cheated out of money. The deeper the hurt, the longer it takes to heal, but forgiveness is a decision of our will. We have to choose to forgive, regardless of how we feel. It doesn’t depend on whether we physically feel like doing it or not. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to’. When we do this, it doesn’t mean that all the hurt will instantly disappear, or that we are saying what happened doesn’t matter, but if we are prepared to do this much, then we open the door to allow God’s Spirit to begin to heal us. If I refuse to forgive, I am preventing God’s Spirit from helping me to heal.


We may think that by refusing to forgive someone we inflict some kind of revenge on them. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt we carry. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us does not hurt them, it wounds us. The resentment becomes a poison within us, which festers. God wants to heal us and help us move on, but to do this we must be willing to forgive. It is not an easy thing to do, but we must try. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times in the Gospels and in very strong terms. If we expect to be forgiven, we must also be prepared to forgive. I doubt that there is anyone here who does not need to forgive someone. If you find yourself angry at someone, it usually means that you need to forgive them. Maybe a good question to ask yourself when you find yourself angry with someone is this: if I was in their position, would I hope that the person I had hurt would forgive me?


Jesus used the parable of the unjust servant in Matthew 18:


Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


Note the last line. If we refuse to forgive others, the Father will not forgive us!


As a priest I meet many people near the end of their life. Most of them are at peace, having come through all the trials of their lives, but sometimes I meet someone who is bitter and full of resentment, angry with everyone and everything. They had been hurt, but they have refused to forgive and you can see how it has consumed them, destroyed them. It is a sad sight. People will hurt us, but we always have a choice to forgive them or not.


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


Forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.’


Friday, August 19, 2022

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


It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” St. Pope John Paul II


All of us are looking for happiness and Jesus reminds us that we will only find that happiness and fulfillment in him. Things of earth will never fulfill us, but the path that leads us to him is not an easy one. Why is that?


Great athletes, or musicians, are not that way when they are born. They are born with gifts in those areas, but it is only after years of training and guidance that they reach their full potential, even extraordinary people like Mozart. He still had to learn how to play the piano and how to write music.


God sees our full potential as human beings and He wants us to reach our full potential, because we will give him the greatest glory by becoming our greatest selves. But as with any great artist or musician, it takes years of training, in fact a lifetime of training and that is a big part of what our life on earth is about. The daily trials we go through are the main part of our training, of our being formed and that’s why it is a narrow winding path. Being faithful to God’s Commandments in the middle of things going wrong, family members becoming sick, or dying at a young age, marriage breakdown, being attacked or exploited by other people. Each time we are faced with difficulties we have a choice as to how to respond to them. We can seek revenge and turn to evil, or we can try and sort it out justly, with the least damage all round. We always have the choice to bless or to curse. Each time we are willing to keep going, without wishing evil, or seeking revenge, we grow another bit.


When we become demoralized by our own weaknesses, we have the choice to give up, or to get up again and again and again. That is the narrow winding path. Being faithful and persevering is one of the biggest challenges. Being faithful to God’s Commandments and teachings when the world around us calls us to take the easier way, that is the narrow winding path.


What we see as things going wrong in our life, are part of the narrow winding path. They play a part in how we are formed. We don’t see that at the time, but that is what is happening.


You may remember some time back I told you the story of Roy Shoeman, a Harvard professor and atheist who became a Catholic. We had him here to give his testimony. He grew up in a practicing Jewish family, but after going through college he lost his faith. At the age of 29 he had become a Harvard professor and reached the top of his career, but then he began to fall into a deep depression. He felt he had achieved all he could, but that he didn’t have any purpose. One day when he was out walking in nature, God granted him an extraordinary experience and pulled back the veil between heaven and earth, allowing him to see the whole spiritual world. He saw his whole life and how God had been with him through everything. He saw how every part of his life played its part, especially the most difficult times. He saw that God was with him through everything and that is purpose was to serve and worship God as it is for all of us. Needless to mention this experience brought about his conversion. But I thought it was interesting how he saw that the times of suffering he went through were some of the most important times in his journey. We tend to see them as failures, or things not working out. From God’s perspective they play a vital part in our journey. The most difficult experiences we go through, are the ones where we have the potential to grow the most. That was one of the things that God showed him.


Our relationship with Jesus, is what gives us the strength to keep going on the winding path that leads us to heaven. We often think that we are on our own, but we are not. That is why it is so important that we keep coming back to the mass to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, to listen to his guidance, to repent of our sins through confession. Every time we do that we are staying close to him, so that He can help us, which is all He wants to do.


Many people are afraid they won’t be good enough to get to heaven. The truth is none of us are good enough by ourselves, but God isn’t asking us to follow this narrow winding path by ourselves. God is with us and even though we don’t always feel his presence, that doesn’t mean He is not there. If God really wasn’t with us, we would cease to exist. The sad thing is seeing so many people turning to everything except Jesus, in order to find happiness. And of course they don’t find happiness.


I have no doubt that one of the reasons why the suicide rate is so high, is because so many people have lost faith and so they don’t see any purpose to their life, especially if they are going through times of struggle. If we have a sense of why we are here and what awaits us, that gives us the strength to follow the narrow winding path, which is the only one that leads to God.


In the Gospel Jesus says, ‘Not everyone is strong enough.’ The strength we need is the willingness to keep getting up each time we fall. And that strength itself comes from God if we ask him to help us. It doesn’t matter if you fall six times, so long as you get up seven times.


Jesus also says here that not everyone will go to heaven. There is a point where the door will be closed and waiting to the last minute to put things right, is too late. ‘But I love God and I’m a good person.’ This is something you hear a lot, and what it implies is that that is enough. But Jesus says that is not enough. ‘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’ (Mt 7:21). To say I know God, or believe in God is not enough. That is what Jesus is saying in this Gospel. We are called to do as God asks us, not just say that we know him. To love God is to keep his Commandments. ‘If you love me you will keep my commands’ (Jn 14:15).


The narrow winding path is not an easy one, but it is the only one worthwhile, because it is the one that leads to our happiness.


It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted.” St. Pope John Paul II.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

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



There is a place near my hometown in Ireland (Killoran, Balinasloe) called ‘The Bishop’s Chair’. My father brought me there once (14th Jan 2000). It is a hard place to find as it really is 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 priests 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, because in it we have the gift of Jesus himself. 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. A mass rock was a large rock used as an altar. Many priests did die for the mass because they were caught. But now all that sort of thing is in the past, right? 


A few years ago in 2007, a priest friend of mine, who was my next-door 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 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 this time we don’t live with that kind of persecution in this country, thank God, but we are living with a different kind of persecution, where our faith and our Church is constantly being undermined, mocked and lied about. Maybe it seems strange that something like 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. In China there is the official Catholic Church, controlled by the Communist party and then there is the underground Catholic Church. 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. Why, because not everyone wants to hear it. The teaching of Christ is a very challenging teaching at the best of times. It shows us up when we are not living according to God’s will and that often makes people angry, because we don’t like to be shown up. 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, which we call concupiscence. We often know what is ‘the right thing to do’, but we find it hard to choose it. St. Paul writes: ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. What I hate, I do’ (Rom 7:15). This is the struggle within us. Even extraordinary people like St. Paul also struggled with the same temptations, which is good to know. No one is exempt.


If we have done what is wrong, or are living in a way that is against what God teaches us, then we are not going to be happy with the teaching of Christ, because it will show us up. That is why the message of Jesus always brings persecution with it, because it challenges us to choose one path or another. 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 help us to become the best version of ourselves.


I always find it comforting 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, because 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, who is considered the greatest of the prophets, 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), or as we would say, ‘I wish I was dead.’ Who would blame them?


If you want to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus it will cost you. Not everyone in your family is going to like it. Sometimes it makes people feel guilty about their own life and they will take it out on you. Many people have shared with me about children in their own families who mock them, or sometimes spouses. It is always cruel when it comes from those closest to us, but that’s exactly what Jesus said would happen: ‘From now on a household of five will be divided; three against two and two against three.’ 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. ‘In the world you will have trouble. But do not be afraid. I have conquered the world.’


I think it is also worth remembering that we don’t have to defend the Church. The Church can defend itself. ‘The Catholic Church is full of corruption and hypocrisy’ Yes that’s true, but that doesn’t take from the teachings of the Church and that’s the only thing that matters. Show me any Church, or organization that doesn’t have corruption and hypocrisy. I got an angry email from someone once, pointing out more hypocrisy and corruption in the Church. I replied by saying, ‘If you want to find scandal in the Church, you have two thousand years of corruption to choose from.’ The corruption doesn’t take from the fact that it is God’s teaching coming through his Church. There has always been hypocrisy and corruption and there always will be, because the Church is the people of God and the people of God are sinful people.


I also think it’s good to demand respect, when others are being disrespectful to you. ‘I respect what you believe, or don’t believe and you should have respect for what I believe, whether you accept it or not.’


For our part we just try to be faithful and live our faith as best we can. We follow this path because we believe it is the most worthwhile path, because it is the path that leads to God. Not everyone understands us, but that’s ok. That’s how the Lord said it would be.


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