Saturday, January 28, 2023

4th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 5:1-12) Why I am a priest

 



 

There is a man known as Brother Andrew, who died a few years ago, who co-founded the Brothers of Charity along with Mother Teresa. She asked him to help her do this. He was a Jesuit priest. He begins a short book about his visit to their various communities around the world, with an extraordinary line. He says: ‘Few understand the great weakness on which the Missionaries of Charity are built.’ As he goes on, you can see more and more what he is talking about. He himself suffered from some form of addiction and he is quite open about it. This caused him great humiliation. At one stage he was even asked to leave the order, as some of them thought he had a drink problem. A few months later they realised they were quite wrong and asked him to come back. You can see from his writings the extraordinary things that God did through him, through all this weakness.

 

The Church has always flourished in weakness, in small, disorganised groups who are really open to the movement of the Spirit. The bigger and more powerful we become, the more we rely on ourselves. The Church is full of experts and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is when we begin to rely too much on our own expertise and not enough on the guidance of God’s Spirit, who so often moves in the most unexpected ways and asks people to do the last thing that most of us would choose.

 

Today I would like to share with you something more personal than I usually would. I would like to tell you why I became a priest, which is something I get asked all the time.

 




First of all I believe that God called me to be a priest. There was a real sense of God calling me in this way and it was a persistent call. Although it was something both exciting and wonderful, it was also something scary and painful. I knew it would mean that I would not get married, which is a normal attraction for anyone. But what I always say to people is that the calling to be a priest was stronger than the calling to be married, even though both were there. People often argue against celibacy, but the reasoning behind celibacy is making the sacrifice of married life, to completely dedicate yourself to serving God. It is also a sign of the world to come, since we won’t be married in the world to come and it is a reminder of that. People argue that if there were married priests it would resolve the issue of not enough vocations, but that is not necessarily so either, as the Orthodox Church, which is also Catholic, has married priests and they have the same shortage and problems that we have.

 

During my teens I drifted away from the practice of my faith for a while, but then through a prayer group, which was started because of the apparitions in Medjugorje, it brought me back to my faith and I began to take it more seriously than before. Then after three years going to this group and growing in my faith, I began to feel this calling again.

 

The year I entered the seminary was the year when all the scandals began to break in Ireland. It started with the news of my own bishop having had a child years before and it got steadily worse with all the sexual abuse scandals, which were truly horrific. Morale hit rock bottom while I was in the seminary and it made all of us think about why we were there. But God’s call is a mysterious thing and very hard to resist and so I kept going.

 






After I was ordained the scandals continued and the atmosphere in our society was very difficult to work in as a priest. I know it was the same here in the US. Because of the way the media presented it, drip-feeding story after story to the public, almost every priest was considered a pedophile, which was very difficult, as you can imagine. Why would I want to be part of an organization that tried to cover up such horrific scandals? The reason is simple: I believe.

 

I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord; that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, not in a symbolic way, but really and truly present. I believe that the bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus through the hands of a priest in each mass. I can’t imagine a greater privilege than being God’s instrument in this way. I always consider it an honor and a privilege to be allowed to go to the altar and celebrate the mass, even when I’m half asleep on a Monday morning, or when I humanly don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes it scares me when God reminds me that I am a sinner and struggle like everyone else and yet He allows me to do this for his people, because He wants us to be able to receive him in Holy Communion. For all of us that is an incredible gift. I do not understand it, but I believe it.

 

At times when I feel overwhelmed by my own weaknesses, I think of one of St. Peter’s first encounters with Jesus. Jesus asked him to use his boat as a platform to preach from. When He was finished He said to Peter, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’ (Luke 5:4). Then there was the miraculous catch of fish. What was Peter’s reaction when he saw the miracle? He said, ‘Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8). He was afraid because he knew he was in the presence of someone holy, someone extraordinary. But Jesus replied, ‘Do not be afraid.’ And then Jesus called him to follow him. Our sinfulness is not an obstacle for God. God doesn’t need perfect people, just an open heart, because He is the One who does everything. We are just instruments.

 




I also believe that God speaks to us through the sacred scriptures. God actually speaks to us personally and God has much to say to us. He is constantly guiding us and teaching us. The scriptures were written by human hands, but they were inspired by God and that is why we never replace them with anything else. That is why we continue to read them over and over again and one of the things that I also love to do as a priest is to read the Gospel and try and make sense of them, try and help us to see what God is saying to us.

 

I also consider being able to hear confession a great privilege. To be God’s instrument to bring his forgiveness and mercy to people is something wondrous. That people will come to me as God’s instrument is both humbling and wonderful to me. You might wonder what could be so special about hearing all the sins that people have committed, but that’s not what I see. What I see is people repenting and wanting to be at rights with God, which is always very inspiring. I have heard confessions in many international places of pilgrimage, listening to people from all over the world and what is consoling is that everyone is struggling with the exact same sins, regardless of culture and background. It helps you to see that this is the human race. We are sick because of sin, and that is why we need the saving work of Jesus to set us free. We all struggle the same way.

 

As a priest I am called to people when they are sick and dying, right to their bedside, even though I do not know them and they will tell me things that they will not tell anyone else. I am asked to be there when families are going through great joys and sorrows.

 

Is it difficult? Yes. I have often struggled with it over the last 25 years. Twice I almost left. In fact one time I thought it was all over and I had even told people that I was leaving, not because I wanted to, but because I thought that I couldn’t handle the stress of it anymore; the daily hostility I was experiencing and the sense of isolation I felt in some of the places I was working. Yet each time the Lord called me back and showed me that He would take care of it and He did.

In the second reading today it says:

God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,

and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,

and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,

those who count for nothing,

to reduce to nothing those who are something,

so that no human being might boast before God.

 

In a mysterious way God seems to delight in calling and working through the nobodies of this world, so that it is all the more obvious that it is his power at work and this is something He continually shows me. My faith keeps changing and growing and the path is often difficult, but I believe it is the most important path we will ever be asked to follow and so by God’s grace I will continue. I would like to finish with this quotation where St. Paul is talking about his own life.

 

I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. (Philippians 3:7-8)

 

 




Friday, January 20, 2023

3rd Sunday, Year A (Matt 4:12-23) 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, starting with the Apostles. 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 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 chose 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 chooses 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.

 

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 totally wild with no respect for anything. 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 next day he was to be buried. At the graveside the other priest came disguised as a woman to bless him. Sean spotted him and put a gun to his head, but the gun jammed.  Fr. Kilger 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, but as he was about to kill him, another man intervened and 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. A sapling then grew up and split the tomb in half. It is still there today and is a very eerie sight.




I think it is good to hear these stories, which 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 receive it 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.

 

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


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

 

Finally, if you find yourself becoming disheartened by the bad example of priests or indeed anyone in the Church, remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:2: ‘The priests occupy the chair of Moses, so you must listen to what they say, but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach.’ In other words, we must try and listen to the teaching of Jesus passed on through the Church and through his priests, but don’t be put off when they don’t always live the way they should. What is important is the teaching of Christ and not the example of the priest. The teaching of Jesus is what we hold on to.

 

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

 

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).

 

 


Friday, January 6, 2023

The Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) All peoples of all religions will recognise Jesus Christ as Lord

 




The great 20th century theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84) wrote, ‘The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, or will not exist at all.’ We are called to be mystics, that is, to continually seek and be open to what is mysterious. Sometimes I think we can be too inclined to ‘explain away’ everything in our faith, when in fact it is very mysterious and should be. The truth is that God continues to speak to us in unexpected and supernatural ways and God will continue to draw us closer to himself, as long as we remain open to that journey. St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a 16th century mystic, said that the Lord will bring us to the greatest union with him in this life, as long as we remain open to it. She said that the only thing that prevents us from reaching the deepest union with God in this life, is our own fear and unwillingness to go any farther. God wants us to be as united with him as is possible in this life. Why doesn’t that happen to more people? Because we become afraid and want to put the brakes on. It is easier to settle for a basic understanding and practice of our faith and not go any farther. But the Lord will keep drawing us farther into the mystery of himself, as long as we allow him.

 

The feast of the Epiphany is the feast of Christ being revealed to the world. The three wise men, or astrologers/magicians, were led to this place where Christ was. They are supposed to have come from different countries, pagan countries, who did not know the true God. They were astrologers, which is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures.

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium, or spiritist, or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. (Deut 18:10-14)

 

The Magi (possibly Zoroastrian priests) represent all the peoples of the world since they were not Jewish, but came from pagan nations who did not know the true God. It is a way of saying that Jesus’ coming is for all peoples of all religions and race. All people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. God guided them through what they were involved in, astrology, which was how they were searching for God. It is a reminder to us that God can and does use all and every means to speak to us and draw us closer to himself.

 





The three gifts are symbolic. Gold is the symbol of a king. Jesus is a king, King of kings and the master of the whole universe. The use of frankincense is a sign of recognising a divinity, a God. Jesus is Son of God, the second person of the Godhead. And myrrh is a perfume that represents the suffering He will go through to win eternal life for the human race. It is used as a perfume and also for embalming. Joseph of Arimathea brought myrrh and aloes for the burial of Jesus’ body.

 

Many of the figures in the Bible who were associated with the birth of Christ, had mystical experiences which led them closer to God. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary; he also appeared to Joseph. Angels appeared to the shepherds and a star guided the Magi. An angel also warned the Magi not to go back to Herod.

 

Different events and experiences often open people’s hearts to God. Sometimes it is through a crisis, such as sickness, or the death of a loved one, that gets us thinking differently. Many times I have seen people decide to come back to Church after the death of someone close to them, because it has got them thinking about the more important things and that is always good. Sometimes the death of a loved one causes people to reject God, as they believe that God has been evil in taking their loved one away. But if our destiny is to be with God in heaven, then even though the death of those close to us is very painful, it just means that they have gone on ahead of us sooner than we expected. Sooner or later we will follow after them.

 




The Spirit keeps calling us to search for God. What is important is that we keep searching and remain open. It is good that we ask questions about what we believe in. I believe and accept that the Scriptures and the teachings of our Church are from God and I submit to them, but I will continue to ask questions. The more searching I do, the more my faith grows. God wants us to search and ask questions, because He has given us intelligence and free will. He wants us to use our free will, which is why He doesn’t force us to believe and also why he doesn’t reveal everything to us.

 

Each week when we come to the mass, we come to an encounter with God which Jesus revealed to us, which is why we never change it. That’s also why the time before mass is not just the time for a social gathering, but the time for us to prepare for this wonderful encounter with God through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. God wants us to meet him and hear him and this is one of the most wonderful ways that He helps us to do that. That’s also why it is so important that we dress respectfully and modestly in church, because we are coming into the presence of the living God. It deserves the greatest reverence we can give it.

 

It might seem a bit arrogant of us to say that all people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. That seems to imply that we are right and that everyone else is wrong, but that is not the case. People of different religions have very different understandings of God and God speaks to people of different religions in different ways. Even for those who never come to know Jesus in this lifetime, they still have eternal life won for them by the death and resurrection of Christ and eternal life is still offered to them through him, just as it is to us. When they die they will see this at once. They will know immediately who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

 

Although we lost the possibility of eternal life with God through what we call Original Sin, God regained the possibility of eternal life for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can accept, or reject this gift individually and we do this through our faith. All people are offered this possibility regardless of whether they come to know of God in this life or not, but it is not as if there is a kind of neutral ground for those who do not believe. We accept life with God when we die which will be our total fulfilment, or we lose it forever and that is the choice we must make.  

 




This is also where our conscience is so important, because even if we never hear of God during our life, God speaks to us through our conscience, giving us a basic understanding of what is right and wrong. Our faith and the teachings of Jesus through the Church give us a better understanding of what is right or wrong. All of the decisions that we make throughout our life are bringing us closer to, or driving us farther away, from God.

 

We Christians are the people who recognise that Jesus is the Son of God and has done all these things for us. We consider ourselves blessed that God has made himself known to us in this way, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance of going to heaven than anyone else. That depends completely on how we live our life. When we die, we will realise that all this is really true. And when other people of different religions die, they will also recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord and that it is only through his death and resurrection that we have eternal life. What is important for them is to live their faith as well as they can, just as it is for us. If they do this, God will also draw them closer to him and bring them to holiness, just as He will with us if we remain open. 

 

Sometimes we may feel that we are alone on this journey and God is observing us from a distance, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Jesus keeps showing us that He is with us every step of the way and in a very profound way He has also given himself to us in the Eucharist, which is really and truly his Body and Blood. That alone shows us how intimately close to us Jesus wants to be to us. Every day we can not only receive him, but also come and rest in his presence by simply being present before him in every church where the Blessed Sacrament (Holy Communion/ the Eucharist) is kept. The Lord has made this possible for us so that we can be in his presence in a very concrete way whenever we want. What could be more amazing than that?

Every morning we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 7.15am to 9am mass and until lunch time on Fridays. Now we are hoping to have that on Friday evenings as well. If you want to grow closer to Jesus, come and spend time in his presence, especially during adoration. If you want God to bless your family, give of your time to worship him, especially before the Eucharist when we have adoration. He is the one who knows all the answers to the questions we have, whether they are to do with our faith, or decisions we have to make. Part of our faith calls us to make the sacrifice of our time to come and worship God, which is why we obligated to go to mass on Sunday. It is not just about what we receive, but it is also about giving of our time to acknowledge and worship the One who created us, without whom we would not exist. Just as we thank people who have helped us in any way, so we should also continually thank and praise God for not only helping us, but for creating us.


 



After mass there are people outside with signup sheets, where you can commit to give time to worshipping Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. So think about it, especially you who are retired. Do you want God to bless your family? Come and spend time in his presence. Do you want to help our parish, to bring people back to God, to help our country back on the right path? Come and spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And even if you can’t do it when there is adoration, make it a habit of visiting a church and spending time in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I have no doubt that if we really believed what we say we believe, namely that Jesus is really here present in the Blessed Sacrament in every tabernacle, the churches would be packed 24-7.

 

Meanwhile we pray that all peoples will come to know that Jesus Christ is Lord, even in this life, because this is the truth which God has revealed to us. All people have a right to hear this, which is why Jesus commanded us to preach to all nations and make him known. No one has to accept it, but they have a right to know what God has done for them.

Every knee shall bow

in heaven, on earth and under the earth

and every tongue confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

 

 


Saturday, December 31, 2022

Mary the Mother of God (Luke 2:16-21)

 




 Any of the feasts of Our Lady always remind me of one thing: what God can do through any human being who has an open heart. God does not need greatness, just an open heart.

 

You could be given the impression that it would have been easier for Mary than for other people because she was without sin. However, the fact that she was without sin means that she would have been more sensitive to evil than others and would have suffered more because of it than anyone else. From what we know in the Scriptures, she suffered from the time that the Angel appeared to her and told her that God was asking her to be the mother of Jesus. She was already legally married to Joseph, but not living with him, as was the tradition with Jewish marriages. Now she was pregnant before she came to live with Joseph in a way that was impossible to explain or understand from a human point of view. So how would Mary explain this to Joseph? What embarrassment, fear and tension there must have been for her. You can imagine how people talked about her. And it wasn’t explained to Joseph until the last moment just as he was about to divorce her.

 

The birth of Jesus was in very difficult circumstances. They then had to flee in the middle of the night when they found out that Herod was going to try and kill the child.

 

Later on, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for three days. During his public ministry she watched as the tension was building up with people for and against Jesus. And finally the arrest, torture and death of Jesus. But Mary never gave up hope. She continued to believe that God would make sense of it. After the resurrection she stayed with and encouraged the Apostles as they waited for the gift of the Spirit before Pentecost.

 

If you take any of those situations that Mary found herself in, you can imagine from a human point of view how we could see many of them as her life ‘going wrong.’ Why would God allow all the misunderstanding over her pregnancy? Why didn’t He allow Joseph to understand it straight away? Why all the public humiliation? Remember that she was only fourteen or fifteen when she became pregnant. How could God allow a death threat against Jesus just after his birth? Why did He have to go through all the rejection during his public ministry? Why did such an innocent man have to be tortured and killed? Yet all of those events fitted together perfectly in God’s plan.

 




Star of the Sea


Now think of your own life. Think of all the things that you think of as having gone wrong. The unexpected changes, sicknesses, jobs unfairly lost, painful marriage breakups, the death of a child. How could God allow all these things to happen when He loves us so much? Yet if you look back at the life of Our Lady, it reminds us that there is a bigger picture, which doesn’t make any sense to us now. It will only make sense when we look back after we have gone to heaven. That’s one reason why the life of Our Lady is so important. We remember many of the events in her life when everything seemed to go wrong, but now we see played their part in God’s plan. Do you think there is any event in her life that she would now say to God would be better if it hadn’t happened?

 

Over the centuries Mary has appeared in many parts of the world, particularly over the last century. Many of those apparitions have been officially recognized, some not yet. What is significant in each place, is that what she says is nearly always the same. She tells us that we cannot exist without God, that we need to turn away from sin and obey the Commandments. We need to read Scripture, go to Mass and to pray and fast. She is always pointing us to Jesus. It is never about herself. She tells us that we need to confess our sins often, yet sadly very few people feel the need for this. I wonder who convinced them that it is not necessary? She also tells us that we cannot live without God. Our life makes no sense without God. We will only be on this earth for a short time, so we need to be careful how we use our time. It always makes me sad when I see or hear of people who get obsessed with money and material things, as if that was the answer to everything. It is also sad to see how people can become obsessed with power, which so often leads to the suffering of others. If God the Father sends Our Lady to us, then we need to listen to what she is telling us, because this is what God is telling us. If we try and live without God we will destroy ourselves, which is what we see happening around us. But what is also important is that the messages, just like the Gospel, are messages of hope, because God is merciful and God will always take us back if we sincerely repent. But our lives don’t make any sense apart from God. God must be at the center.

Think for a moment of all the time we spend preparing for our career on earth. Think of all the time an energy you put into preparing your children so that they will have a good life on earth. How much time do we spend preparing for what comes after this life. This life will soon be over. The world to come will never end.

 

Lilly of the Valley



The life of Mary is a wonderful witness to us for several reasons. One, it is a reminder to us of what God can do through a human being. Mary is fully human and we should never worship her as that would be idolatry, but we give her great honor as Jesus did. We ask for her intercession as we continue on our journey to heaven. She has been through dreadful suffering, so we can ask for her help, knowing that she understands our suffering. When we find ourselves losing hope, remember that Mary never lost hope, in spite of that she had to go through. Much of her life didn’t make sense at the time. So we ask her to help us not to lose hope when our life doesn’t seem to make sense either, but to trust in God’s wisdom that it will make sense when we are shown the whole picture.

 

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

 




Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas. The great rescue

 


 

One year, just before Christmas, I got a call from the diocese asking me if I would be willing to let WINK News interview me. They were doing a short report, interviewing different religious leaders about Christmas. The reporter asked me what message I would like to give people about Christmas. I was thinking, the message we have is the greatest and most hopeful message there has ever been, because it is the message that everyone wants to hear, that is, where to find happiness.

 

Everyone in the world is looking for happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but everyone wants happiness. And the wonderful thing is that God created us for happiness. That was God’s design for us and initially we had total happiness. That is presented to us through the story of Adam and Eve, who represent our first parents. God gave them everything they could ask for and they were completely happy. But God also warned them to respect their limitations and remember that they were humans and not God. That’s what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents.

You may eat freely from every tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For on the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:16-17).

 

Only God tells us what is ultimately good and evil. If they had listened to what God told them, they would have continued to enjoy that happiness.

 




But Satan tempted them with a lie. He told them that they would not die, that in fact they would be like God themselves. Why would Satan even bother with us, since he is such a powerful being? Because he hates God and he hates God’s creation, especially us because we are made in the image of God. If Satan isn’t real, then Jesus lied, because Jesus spoke about him many times. Jesus said he was a liar and a murdered from the beginning.

 

So instead of listening to God, Adam and Eve listened to Satan. They rejected the word of God and as a result they lost the happiness that God had given them. Chaos entered their world, because they did not listen to God. The biggest problem was that they had no way of undoing the damage they had done. They had lost paradise. But because God loves us He would not allow his creation to fall to ruin. And so God the Son took on human flesh and came among us in the person of Jesus, to rescue us and this is what we celebrate at Christmas, the beginning of the great rescue. God came to offer himself in atonement for our sin, so that we could once again have that happiness. This event began at Christmas and ended 33 years later at Easter with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus atoned for the sin of Adam and Eve, which affected all of us. So now, the possibility of eternal happiness is there once again when we die and God offers it to us and we have the freedom to accept or reject it.

 

So Christmas is celebrating the beginning of the great rescue of humanity, so that we could have happiness, which is what everyone is looking for. No wonder there were extraordinary signs at the time of Christ’s birth. Angels appeared to shepherds and different people were led to where Jesus had been born. Even the name Jesus, means, ‘Who Saves’. That’s why the Angel Gabriel said to Joseph, ‘And you must name him Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins’ (Mt 1:21).

 




In practical terms it means that all of our loved ones who have gone before us, can be with God in eternal happiness, which is what God intended for us in the first place. But the amazing thing is that we can reject God, because has given us that freedom. God will not force anything on us, because He respects the free will that He has given us. You cannot force someone to love you and neither will God force us to love him. So we must choose for God and we do that by choosing to live as He asks and that comes down to how we live each day.

 

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 realized that we will not have full happiness in this life, but in the next, we would probably be much more at peace. But if we put all our energies into trying to find complete happiness here, we will be disappointed. We will hopefully find a certain amount of contentment and times of great happiness, but complete fulfillment is only for the world to come.

 

The chaos that is all around us in our world right now, is because people are doing exactly what Adam and Eve did. They have rejected God and refuse to listen to God’s word. And so what is happening is exactly what God told us would happen: chaos follows. The very answer that people are looking for, is the very thing people have turned their back on. God shows us exactly how to live, so that our lives and our world will flourish. All we have to do is follow what He commands us, but just like Adam and Eve, we are not always convinced and we turn in the other direction. The answer for our world is to turn back to God once again.

 

In the second book of Chronicles 7:14, it says:

If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.”

 

Throughout history, people have done the same thing again and again, rejecting God and then watching their world fall apart. It is only when they turned back to God that everything begins to fit together again. This is what the Lord is calling us to do right now: to turn back to him and ask his forgiveness.

 




The wonderful thing is that God wants our happiness and has gone to the ends of the earth to make sure we can have eternal happiness. All we have to do is listen to what He tells us to do.

 

Think of someone you love who has died. We long to be with them again and the pain of separation is often unbearable. What God offers us is the possibility of being with them again, where we will no longer suffer and we will only have joy. That is what God wanted for us in the first place and that now awaits us if we choose it, but we must choose it.

 

In 1917 in Fatima, Our Lady appeared to three young children: Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia, who were 7, 9 and 10. One of the things she said to them was, “If people knew what heaven was like, they would do everything to change their ways.” Why do you think Our Lady has continued to appear all over the world over the last century in particular? To tell us to wake up, so that we don’t lose this possibility, because we can lose it if we are not careful how we live. If we continually reject the ways of God we will lose it and then we will not be with our loved ones again. That is why our choices are so serious.

 

So, the message of Christmas is the most wonderful and hopeful one of all. This is the answer everyone is looking for and we have already come to know it.

 

The angel said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ the Lord.”


Saturday, December 17, 2022

4th Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Matthew 1: 18-24) Who will save me from this wretched state?

 



Today I want to address a question that often comes up when people are talking to me in confession and it is related to what we celebrate at Christmas. Actually it is more of a fear than a question. Almost everyone talks about a particular weakness that they struggle with, whether it be anger, gossip, a sexual weakness, an addiction, or something else and it causes no end of suffering and humiliation. No matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be able to overcome it. In fact I’ve often heard people say to me that they don’t feel there is any point in going to confession anymore because they just end up confessing the same sin again and again and they don’t seem to be getting any better, so where’s the point? It can make us afraid that we won’t be able to go to heaven because of our weakness. ‘Since I can’t overcome this sin, why would God allow me to go to heaven?’ That is usually the thinking behind it. However, when we think like that I believe we are really missing the whole point of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The truth is that no matter how hard we try to be good enough and overcome our sins, our weaknesses, we continually fall short of the mark. That is our reality. When he wrote to the Christians in Rome, St. Paul put it like this:

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are redeemed by his grace as a gift… to be received by faith (Rom 3:23ff).

 

In plain English that is saying to us, since all of us have sinned and can never be good enough for God by our own strength, it is God himself who has made up the difference for us. God has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that we will always be sinners and will always struggle with various weaknesses is no longer a problem, because God has made us ‘good enough’ through what Jesus did. That is what being ‘redeemed’ means. We cannot get to heaven by our own strength, by our own efforts, because we are too weak and too sinful and no matter how hard we try, we keep falling short of the mark. But we don’t have to be afraid of that because Jesus himself has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves.

 

St. Paul also struggled with his own weaknesses which caused him great humiliation. You would imagine with all that God did through him, the amazing conversion experience he had and the many visions of Jesus that he had, Listen to what he says about it:

I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  ...the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf. Rom 7:14-24)

 

And finally he says, ‘Who will save me from this wretched state? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ That is the same fear that people keep telling me about in confession: ‘Who will save me from this wretched weakness? How can I ever come before God in heaven when this is what I’m like?’ This is where God calls us to realize what Jesus has done for us. He has made up for our weakness himself. That is why the coming of Jesus among us at Christmas is such an extraordinary event, because it is the beginning of God making up for our weakness, our sinfulness. We are not able to be good enough for God by our own strength, but it no longer matters because Jesus has made himself the bridge between God and humanity. Now we can come before God without fear, because Jesus has made it possible. Each time we celebrate the mass we are becoming present to that event—the sacrifice of Jesus—which made it possible for us to go to heaven. No other sacrifice or offering to God will ever be necessary for us, because the selfless act of Jesus dying for us has done everything necessary. All we have to do is to accept it. No wonder we celebrate the mass every day, in every church all over the world.

 






The mistake we continually make, which causes us to be afraid, is to think that we have to become ‘good enough’ for God by our own strength, but the problem is that that is impossible for us by our own strength. If we stop there, then we would have every reason to despair, but once we realize that it is Jesus who steps in and bridges the gap, then we have endless hope, because it no longer depends on us being good enough. All we have to do is accept this extraordinary gift from God and continue to try and do what is right.

 

However, it would also be a mistake to think that since Jesus has opened the possibility of heaven for us, that we can do whatever we want. ‘It’s all the same, God loves everyone and so everyone goes to heaven.’ That is an error of our times and it’s not what the Scriptures say. St. Paul writes, ‘Go on working out your salvation in fear and trembling.’ Don’t take it for granted, because we also have to play our part, which is to do our best to do what is right and live by God’s Commandments.

 

Why does God allow us to go on struggling? God could take away these weaknesses from us if He chose. The reason is because the very weaknesses we struggle with, are often the very thing that keeps us close to God. They make us aware that we are weak and how much we are in need of God’s mercy. Again in his writings St. Paul talks about a particular weakness that he had—although he doesn’t say what it was—and how he begged God to take it away from him. And he said that God gave him this ‘thorn in the flesh’ as he calls it, because of the extraordinary visions and miracles that he was given. This weakness helped him to stay humble. And although he begged God to take it away from him, the Lord said no.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take this thing away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.’ (2 Cor 12:8).

 

No doubt he felt that he would serve God much better if he could overcome his weaknesses, but God doesn’t see it this way. We generally feel the same: ‘If only I could overcome my weaknesses/addictions, I would be more pleasing to God and I would serve him better.’

 




A man said to me in confession one time, ‘I have a terrible anger and I lose my temper so often. It causes me great shame. If I could just get rid of this anger I’d be perfect!’ I said to him, ‘You thank God for that anger!’ You can imagine how easily we could become arrogant if we thought we had overcome our weaknesses and we were ‘blameless’ before God, as a surprising number of people think they are. St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘The only thing that we can take credit for are our sins’. Everything we have is a gift from God, including our abilities, our education, our successes, our health. We have nothing to boast about before God and it is often our weaknesses that help us to see this.

 

So is Christmas relevant to us in a practical way in our day to day living? It certainly is, because the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus is what reassures us that no matter how weak or sinful we are, the path to heaven will always remain open to us as long as we ask God for it. All we have to do is accept from God this amazing gift which He is offering us. What is the best way for us to prepare for this wonderful feast? by doing what God asks us to do and that is to repent and confess our sins; to acknowledge our sinfulness before God and ask for his mercy.

 

Who will save me from this wretched state? 

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ (Rom 7:24)




Friday, December 9, 2022

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A (Matthew 11:2-11) The conversion of an atheist

 

Roe Shoeman


Today I would like to share with you the amazing conversion story of a man named Roy Shoeman, born 1951. If you can watch the video of his story I would highly recommend it, as it is one of the most inspiring stories I have heard in a long time.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWDevlijGUI&t=4s

 

Roy Shoeman was born and raised in a very Jewish family, the son of Jewish German holocaust refugees. He received a very Jewish upbringing and education. He then went to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), which is a very a technical and scientific institute. He says that in college he lost his faith and became an atheist. Having graduated from MIT, he went on to Harvard business school, and completed his degree in marketing. When he graduated at the age of 29, he was invited back to work on the faculty as professor of marketing. He was obviously a very clever man.

 

When he was a child he always believed there must be a God and purpose to life. When he made his Bar Mitzva, which is similar to Confirmation, he hoped that it would be the beginning of a personal relationship with God, but it was not. He said that in fact it was one of the saddest days of his life. He then got caught up with worldly living and went on through high school and college. But having become a Harvard professor at the age of 29 and more successful than he ever dreamed of, he fell into a terrible despair. He had everything, except meaning and purpose; in other words, he had nothing.

 

One day he was out walking in nature and he had the most extraordinary experience of his life. He said that suddenly the veil between earth and heaven disappeared and he could see the spiritual world. He was intensely aware that he was in the presence of God and he could also see back over his life. In an instant he saw most of what is taught in the Catholic faith—although he didn’t realize that at the time—that we live for all eternity, that every action has a moral content which is recorded for all eternity; that everything that had ever happened to him was perfect and in the hands of an all-knowing, all-loving God, not only including the things which had caused him the most suffering, but especially those things, that they all fitted together perfectly in God’s plan. In other words, the sufferings we go through serve a higher purpose, which we are not aware of now.

 



He was also shown the two greatest regrets he would have when he died. The first was all the time he had spent thinking he was not loved, when in fact he was held in perfect love, all his life by God. The second regret was all the time he had wasted doing things of no value in the eyes of heaven. While he felt that life had no meaning, he was shown that in fact life has an infinitely deep meaning and value. He was also shown that every moment of our life has the possibility of doing something of value in the eyes of heaven and that each valued action we do, will be rewarded for all eternity.

 

He says that the most transformative part of this experience was being shown that not only was God with him all throughout his life and held him in the deepest love, but that God was with him through every joy and sorrow he ever experienced. What made him happy, made God happy and what made him sad, made God sad. He realized that we are created to worship and serve God for all eternity. He says he began praying and asking God what his name was. He didn’t care if it was the Buddha and he had to become Buddhist, or Krishna and he had to become Hindu, just so long as it wasn’t Christ and he would have to become Christian. He says he felt that way because coming from a Jewish background he felt that if he became Christian he would be being unfaithful to his Jewish heritage. However, God respected this and did not reveal any name to him.

 

He then went home, happier than he had ever been in his life and began looking into various mystical ideas to try and find out who God was. Initially he tried New Age ideas, but he soon realized this was going in the wrong direction. He prayed every night that God might show him who He is.

 

A year to the day after this experience, he went asleep and was awakened and led to a room where he found himself in the presence of the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. Without being told, he knew immediately that this was Our Lady. She spoke to him and said, ‘Are there any questions you would like me to answer for you?’ He says that he wished he knew the Hail Mary so as to show her honor and respect, but he didn’t. So, hoping to learn the Hail Mary, but being too embarrassed to admit he didn’t know it, he asked her what her favorite prayer was. She recited a prayer in Portuguese, which he didn’t understand, but he remembered it phonetically and later asked a Portuguese Catholic woman what it meant. She said it was the prayer ‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’ In the dream he found himself asking her how it was that she was so profoundly glorious and majestic. In response, she looked at him with pity and said, ‘Oh no. You don’t understand. I am nothing. I am only a creature. He is everything.’ When he woke the next morning he knew immediately that the God who had revealed himself to him was Christ and that he wanted to become Christian.

 




Straight away he found himself going to a phone book, looking up the nearest Christian Church. He knew nothing about Christianity and the difference between Protestants and Catholics, but he found himself talking to a Protestant pastor. When he shyly asked him about Our Lady, the pastor was not respectful in how he referred to her and this made him realize that he was in the wrong place. In the days and weeks that followed he found himself visiting Marian shrines and realizing that they were all part of the Catholic Church. He also found himself going to mass at times. When he did this, he felt a profound desire, almost lust, to receive the Eucharist, even though he had no idea what the Eucharist was. Within a short time, this led him to becoming a Catholic.

 

He says that not only did he not find himself being unfaithful to Judaism, but in fact he realized he was more Jewish than ever, because he was a Jew who had recognized the Messiah and was now following him. That’s exactly what the Apostles did. As Jews, they recognized Jesus as the Messiah and followed him. One leads directly to the other, which is what we believe.

 

After he became a Catholic, he says he still struggled with some of the teachings of the Church and it was about 18 months before he fully realized that all the teachings of the Church were true, because they are from God. The one he struggled with most was the teaching that people could be condemned to hell for all eternity. Talking to a priest that was guiding him, he expressed his doubt about this teaching. But the priest said to him, 'But it is a dogma (official teaching) of our faith.' In other words, we are obliged to accept and believe it as part of our faith, because it comes from God. He realized that he had been deciding what he should and should not believe, as opposed to accepting the teachings of the Church, because we believe they come from God. Who was he to decide what should be believed and what should not be believed. If God had revealed them, then they must be true. From then on he was able to accept what was taught by the Church as coming from God, even when he found it difficult to understand. This can be a challenge for all of us. It is a temptation to think that if a teaching doesn’t make sense to me then I need not believe or accept it. But if we really believe that what the Church teaches is God's teaching, then who are we to decide whether we will believe certain parts of it or not?


 




God gives us the experiences of people like Roy Shoeman, to help us believe. We all need help and encouragement, but testimonies like his are ongoing reminders of God’s wonderful providence among us, guiding us and encouraging us. He is constantly pointing us in the right direction, but always giving us the freedom to accept or reject him.

 

I want to finish with this quotation from the book of Joshua which I love and which expresses how I feel and hopefully what more and more people will embrace.

 

Joshua said to the people, “If you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve… As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”’ (Joshua 24:15)

 

Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’