Friday, February 26, 2021

2nd Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: Mark 9:2-10) God speaks in the cloud

 

Remains of a girl who had been sacrificed in Argentina aprox 500 years ago
Remains of a human sacrifice found in Argentina from 1500s


I have often heard people say that the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son is horrific, so horrific that maybe it shouldn’t be read at all. It is meant to be horrific. The point is that God asks the unthinkable of Abraham, but more importantly Abraham trusts God and goes along the path that makes absolutely no sense to him at the time.

 

Human sacrifice was actually very common at the time in other cultures, so it would not have been a total surprise to Abraham that God would ask this of him, but what is most important is that ultimately God is showing us that human sacrifice is not acceptable to him. God does not want human sacrifice, ever.

 

Not only was it horrific that Abraham should be asked to sacrifice his child, but it was also through this only child that God had promised him many offspring. So, nothing at all made sense. Abraham suddenly finds himself in a situation of complete darkness, where nothing was right, nothing made sense, but Abraham trusts God and then everything changes at the last second. God ‘put Abraham to the test’ not in the sense of seeing if he was good enough—God knew how much faith Abraham had to begin with—but because God knew that Abraham had great faith and he wanted to stretch that faith to its full capacity.

 

An athlete won’t reach their full potential unless they are pushed to the limit. The trainer will often see more potential in them than they are aware of themselves and if they are a good trainer, they will push them so that they will reach that limit. Sometimes God does the same with us. He knows what we are capable of, more than we do ourselves and sometimes He stretches, or pushes us to the limit, because God wants us to reach our full potential as human beings.




 

Because Abraham was willing to do anything that God asked and because he showed his remarkable trust in and obedience to God, the Lord said that He would bless him greatly:

I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore.”


Sometimes when we pray for a situation to get better, it gets worse? Have you ever noticed that? There is a temptation to panic and not pray any more, but if we believe that God is listening to us and helping us, then we persevere in prayer and we try to trust that the Lord will bring the best out of the situation, even though it often doesn’t make sense to us. That is one of the demands of faith and it is not easy.

 

When God sent Moses to confront Pharaoh and demand that he should let the Hebrew people go free, Pharaoh not only refused, but he made life much more difficult for them. He increased their suffering. So the people came complaining to Moses asking why he had to open his mouth at all, as they were now suffering more. Now he had Pharaoh angry with him and the people angry with him. Moses turned to God in a panic, even though He was doing what God wanted him to do, why was God allowing the situation to get worse.

Why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people and You have not delivered your people in any way.” (Ex 5:22)

 

God did bring about what He said He would do, but it took a while and life became more difficult first. The way God answers prayers is not always to our liking.

 

2000 years later God sends his Son, who takes on human flesh as Jesus and allows him to be sacrificed for the human race. The Father allowed his Son to be sacrificed. He did go through with it. It says in the second reading that because Jesus went through with it, the Father would not refuse him anything. That is why we can have such confidence when we pray to Jesus. It says in the second reading that Jesus now intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. If Jesus, the Son of God, is interceding for us before the Father, then what could we possibly be afraid of as long as we remain open to God? Not only that, but we also have Our Lady interceding for us. Is Jesus going to refuse his mother anything? Is the Father going to refuse Jesus anything? And these are the ones who are interceding for us.

 



In the Gospel, Peter, James and John are granted this extraordinary vision of Jesus, in all his glory. Why were they given this privilege when none of the others were? It seems they were being given a more intense training than the others. They were also with Jesus when He raised the little girl—Jairus’ daughter—from the dead and they were with him in Gethsemane. This vision happened just before the Passion, when Jesus would be tortured and killed before their eyes. Peter, James and John would be with him in the Garden of Gethsemane watching him fall apart with fear. They were going to need great strength not to despair themselves, as this would be so disillusioning for them, but what is especially note-worthy, is that after the vision was over they suddenly found themselves in a cloud where they could not see anything. Only then did they hear the voice of the Father speaking to them: 

This is my Son the Beloved.  Listen to him.”

 

God spoke to them when they were in a cloud. Have you ever been on a mountain when a cloud suddenly descended? It’s quite frightening because you cannot see anything. You just have to stop and wait. Sometimes it is only when we are in a ‘cloud’ or darkness/confusion that God will speak to us most powerfully. When we cannot see the way forward and we cannot get any clarity on what to do, then God will show us what the next step is, but often He will only show us the next step, not the whole path ahead. This brings us back to the need to trust that God knows what God is doing, even when He leaves us in the dark.

 

Think of when someone dies, especially a young person. We are left with so many questions and so few answers. We don’t understand, but God asks us to trust. God asked Abraham to trust because God knew he would be able to, even though He seemed to be asking the impossible and God allowed the three Apostles to see Jesus as the Son of God in his blinding glory, to help them believe. We are only shown one step at a time, if even that. If God doesn’t show us the path it is because we don’t need to see it, only the next step.

 

Finally, think of what God the Father said to the Apostles and what He is saying to us, ‘This is my Son… listen to him.’ Of all the noise and information that is flying around us, listen to Jesus. When you are distressed, or anxious because of what is going on, listen to Jesus. If God the Father is speaking to us then what He is saying to us must be very important.

 

This is my Son the Beloved.  Listen to him.”

 



Sunday, February 21, 2021

1st Sunday of Lent, Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:12-15) Healing and the forgiveness of sins

 



 

In my work as a priest over the last twenty-two years, I have come across many people who have told me about miracles of healing, which they or someone close to them, have experienced. A close friend of mine by the name of Sandra, who is married with 6 children, saw one of her own children miraculously healed at Lourdes a few years ago. Her son Joe, who was about 7 at the time, was suffering with severe eczema all over his body. It meant that his skin was raw and bleeding a lot of the time. He had to be covered in wet bandages from head to toe which took his mother an hour and twenty minutes to put on each time. They decided to bring him on pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for him. Lourdes is an international Marian shrine in the south of France where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. Thousands of sick people are brought there each year and many physical healings have taken place.

 

While they were there he was brought to the ‘baths’ which is where many of the sick are brought in order to bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes as Our Lady told Bernadette to do. After he had been to the baths he started to say, ‘Mom, I’ve been healed!’ She paid no attention to him as he was often playing up, as little boys will. But then he started to say it to others on the bus and eventually he said, ‘Mom I’ve been healed. Why don’t you believe me?’ She started to get suspicious at this point and said, ‘I do believe you.’ When they went back to the hotel she took off the bandages and his eczema was almost completely gone. That is just one of many stories of physical healing that I have heard and I’m sure there are many of you here who could tell me more.

 

Why is it that we don’t see more miracles of healing? Jesus healed many people during his time on earth, so why doesn’t God seem to heal more today?

 

For two summers I worked as a confessor in Lourdes; just hearing confessions, nothing else.  It was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had as a priest so far, although it was exhausting. People are amazed when I say that hearing confessions for hours could be such a wonderful experience as most people couldn’t imagine anything more boring. However, the reason it was so great was because it is where a huge number of miracles take place every day and very real miracles too. When people are given the grace to be able to confess sins they have been burdened with for years, you can physically see a change in their faces.  They are being healed and it is usually a much deeper healing that a purely physical healing. The body needs healing, but the healing of the spirit is more important because it affects us much more. Many people came to me and the other priests and confessed sins they were carrying, often for 20, 30 and even 40 years. It is a very moving thing to watch the transformation in people’s faces when they realize they have been forgiven.  A weight is lifted from them and they are made free. I saw this happen right before my eyes many times and you know straight away that this is the healing power of God at work. 

 



The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was about the forgiveness of sins. In each mass at the consecration the priest holds up the chalice and says, ‘This is the cup of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’  The mass is all about the forgiveness of sins, because at each mass we are at the event of Calvary when Jesus was killed. This was all done so that our sins could be forgiven. That is why the mass is so powerful and that is why we pray for everyone and everything in each mass. God the Son is offered to God the Father, so that sins may be forgiven.

 

Because of the way we are made with body and spirit we need concrete ways of relating to each other and we need concrete ways of being able to understand God. That is one of the reasons why Jesus gives us his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. They are things we can see and touch and taste. We can relate to them. When it comes to the forgiveness of sins Jesus has given us the gift of confession. Through confession we have a definite way of being able to confess our sins to another person in total secrecy and so to be healed. Confession is an extraordinary gift of healing which the Lord offers us, because He knows how much we need it.  It’s not just about confessing everything so that we can be good enough for God, because we can never be good enough for God.  This is a gift that God has given us for our benefit, so that we can be healed and not be dragging around the mistakes of our past with us. The Lord wants us to be free and to be able to enjoy our lives and this is one of the wonderful ways that the Lord has done this.

 

But why can’t I just tell God I’m sorry myself?’ Well you can if you want to and I’m sure that the Lord forgives us when we do that, but God knows that in our humanity we have a psychological need to confess to another person. If you don’t believe me listen to the TV and radio shows where you find people ‘confessing’ their sins to the whole world every day.  We have a need to confess, because that is what helps us to heal. It is also an act of humility to come before God in confession and confess and that is what the Lord has asked us to do; to go to one of his priests, whom He has anointed, to confess and receive his grace.

 




Jesus said to his Apostles, ‘‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).  Jesus was saying that He would be working in and through them, since it is only God who forgives sins, but the Lord made it in such a way that He would offer his forgiveness through his priests. That is why we have the gift of confession. It is meant to be a gift, not a burden, but Satan is quick to convince us that we don’t need it; that we can go to God ourselves. Why should we have to confess to a priest when he is just a sinner too? Of course priests are sinners like anyone else, but this is the gift that God has given us through the priesthood, in order to help us, to heal us and to help us be free. If the Lord has given us this gift, who are we to say we don’t need it?

 

The most important thing about confession is the very act of going there in sincerity and confessing whatever you can remember. It is a way of saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner. This is all I can remember.’ The very act of doing that is a beautiful thing. Just telling God I am sorry myself, does not show any humility and it is just convenient for us. Taking the time and going out of the way to confess is an act of humility and the only way we can every come before God is in humility is knowing that He is everything and we are nothing.

 

Many people carry burdens of sins from the past that they have not been able to confess because of guilt or shame. Remember God never shames us. That’s what Satan does. Jesus called him ‘the accuser’ and that’s what he does. The Lord is always the one to help us back on our feet and that is what confession is about. The Lord is giving us his reassurance and grace to begin again.

 

People continually ask me why past sins keep coming up in their mind, even after they have been confessed. That is because when we sin, it does damage and leaves scars. Those scars remain as memories. So just as when you see a scar on your arm you remember the wound, although it is now healed, in the same way we see the scars of our past sins, which remain as memories. When they come to mind, that is the time to thank God for his mercy, rather than wondering are they really forgiven.

 




Not long ago I told you the story of Marino Restreppo, the Hollywood producer who had been very successful, but was living a very sinful and ungodly life. Then one day while visiting his home in Columbia he was captured by FARC rebels and held in the jungle for six months. One night during this terrible ordeal, he had an illumination of conscience. God showed him everything that had happened in his life and all the sins he had committed. It went on for about eight hours. He knew that if he had died at that moment he would have gone to hell, because he had totally rejected God by the way he was living. But what I thought was especially interesting was that at the end of this experience, which completely changed him, he knew he had to go to confession. Even though he knew he had been forgiven, he also knew that he had to confess to a priest.

 

The Lord has given us confession for a reason and He wants us to use it. Of all the things you do during Lent, nothing could be more important than going to confession. And if you still find yourself thinking that you don’t need to go to a priest, because you can tell God you are sorry yourself, ask yourself one question. Who told you that, because it did not come from God. Who else would want you to stay away from confession, where you receive God’s grace? Satan knows how powerful it is and that’s why he tries to convince us that we don’t need it.

 

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


Friday, February 12, 2021

6th Sunday, Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:40-45) ‘Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God’

 



Two things I think we often forget, which make a big difference to our outlook are, first, that we live in God’s world, God’s creation and it has been entrusted to us to take care of, not to do what we want with. Second, that we are God’s creation, not our own creation. We are created by him and remain in existence because of him and we are indebted to him for everything.

 

There is a line that I have heard several times in commercials which says, ‘My world, my way.’ The commercial is trying to convince us that we should have what we want—their product—because it is all about us. ‘My world, my way.’ But this is not what the Lord teaches us. It is his world and his way. Believing and accepting that can make a big difference to how we live.

 

If the world has been entrusted to our care, then we have a duty to take care of it and maintain it for its owner, God, making it as fruitful and beautiful as possible. It is not ours to do what we want with, which unfortunately is often how it is being treated. We exploit all of its resources to suit us, regardless of how much damage it may do. It is interesting how many native tribes in different parts of the world were much more in tune with this than we are. They didn’t cut down all the trees in the forest for their own use, because if they did, they knew they would be burning themselves. They only killed the amount of animals they needed for their survival, to help keep the balance. They recognized that they had to care for the world.

 

It says in the creation story of Genesis, ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden, to till it and take care of it’ (Gen 2: 15). You could add, ‘because it didn’t belong to the man, but to God.’ It was entrusted to his care. That is a reminder that the world has been entrusted to our care. If we live with that in mind, we will see the world differently and indeed many do.



 

Also, if we remember that we are God’s creation and indebted to God for everything, it will give us a different perspective. We continually hear that ‘this is my body and my life and I can do what I want with it.’ It is true that we can do whatever we want with our bodies and our life, but our actions do have consequences. If we remember that we have been given the gift of life, then it will help us to remember to use it well and respect it. How do we know what we are to do with it? by reading God’s word. What does God’s word tell us to do? It tells us to acknowledge and worship our Creator.

‘I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange God’s before me.’

‘Do not misuse God’s holy name.’

‘Keep Sunday as a holy day, to acknowledge and worship God’, because everything comes from him.

‘Honor your father and your mother.’ It always breaks my heart when I hear of children who have cut their parents off, because they are angry with them for one reason or another. We may have our differences, sometimes very legitimate ones, but God tells us to honor our parents, ‘so that we may live long and prosper.’

‘Don’t kill, steal, cheat, or lie.’

The Lord is saying, ‘This is how I want you to live in my world.’

 

If we remember that each human being is God’s creation, then we will be unlikely to think that we have the right to kill a baby in the womb, or someone at the end of their life, because they have become inconvenient, or because we feel they shouldn’t have to suffer. When we do that, we are playing God.

 



The Commandments of God show us exactly what we are called to do and not to do. If we are God’s creation and we live in God’s creation, then we must keep asking God how He wants us to live in and take care of his creation. If someone entrusts us with something that is very valuable to them, we take it seriously and do everything we can to protect it, so that when they ask for it back, we can return it in the same condition if not better, because it is an honor to be entrusted with it.

 

There are so many arguments that we are constantly presented with which tell us that we should be able to determine the outcome of this and that. If we want to be faithful to God and do what is right by God—which probably all of us here do—then we keep going back to God’s word, to ask what God wants us to do.

 

I am reading a commentary on the Bible, by the Jewish scholar Dennis Prager. His commentaries on the Scriptures are fascinating, because the Jewish people will see things from a slightly different perspective. One thing he says is that if I really believe the Scriptures are God’s word, then when I come to a part I don’t understand, or which doesn’t seem to make sense in today’s culture, I will say that the Scriptures are right, but I don’t understand them, as opposed to, the Scriptures must be wrong because they don’t seem to make sense in today's culture. Ask yourself, do you really believe the Scriptures are God’s word? If I do, then I need to listen to them and take them seriously.

 

You may argue that all your success is your own doing, because you worked hard. ‘I have no one to thank but myself.’ Thank God if you have done well, but remember who gave you the intelligence, the education, the opportunities, the physical health, the motivation. All these things have been given to us as a gift and we are meant to use them, but remember where they come from to start with.

 

‘Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.’ (1 Cor 10:31)



Monday, February 8, 2021

5th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:29-39) The need for Jesus' teaching

 



 

It is interesting that 2500 years ago when the first reading from Job (7:1-4, 6-7) was written, people were asking the same questions that we still ask today? ‘Why do we have to work so hard? What is the point of it all? Why is our life sometimes so difficult? Why do good people suffer so much, often for no apparent reason?’ Throughout the centuries people continue to ask the same questions. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event like a tsunami or an earthquake where thousands are killed in an instant, to make people ask themselves these questions. I often think of the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, because it was devastating. Within a few minutes, 250,000 people were killed. One minute all those people were just getting on with their daily lives, the next minute the tsunami struck and they were gone. If we can suddenly be snatched away like that, then what is the purpose of our being here?  Is there any purpose, or is it all chance? I think the Covid-19 virus has made many people ask similar questions. The Lord teaches us that there most certainly is a purpose to our being here.

 

During his life on earth Jesus continually worked extraordinary miracles—just as we read in today’s Gospel—and as a result thousands of people were drawn to him looking for healing, just like we do today when we hear of someone who has been given a gift of healing, but this was not the main purpose of Jesus’ being here. Jesus continually healed people, because he had so much compassion for people and it seems there was never anyone brought to him whom he didn’t heal, but that wasn’t his primary work. His primary task—apart from sacrificing himself for us—was to teach people, to teach us about God and about the reason why we are here. When you think about it, all the people he healed and even brought back to life from the dead, they all eventually got sick again and died. Physical healing is important and we will always do whatever we can to find healing, but it is not the most important thing. What is more important is that we have spiritual understanding and strength. We need to know why we are here and what our purpose is and that is why Jesus kept moving on to the next village to teach and preach.



 


He wanted to teach us that we are loved by God and we are not here by accident; that we were deliberately created out of love, to spend all eternity in his presence; he taught that our life has a purpose and is going somewhere, that we have a specific role to play; that it is worth keeping going, even when we are suffering. He also taught us how God calls us to live: to live from the heart, to love and serve from the heart, not at a minimal level of only doing what is required, but giving of ourselves completely. The ultimate mission of his life was to die for us, so that we could get to heaven when we die, so that God’s plan for our happiness could come about.

 

When the disciples found Jesus alone praying, the first thing they told him was that everyone was looking for him. There was so much work to do, so many people to heal. But look how he responded: ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ That is why I came: to preach and teach.

 

What is also interesting is the way that he taught. He mostly used parables. The reason why that is different is that a parable does not give you an obvious answer; it points you in a particular direction, but you must go on searching for the truth if you are to discover the meaning. Why is that important? Because it engages us in the work of searching for and discovering the truth. It makes us think and also use our imagination. In other words, he didn’t just shove a set of teachings down our throat and say, ‘This is it.’ It is a recognition of how God respects our intelligence and freedom. God invites us to look for the truth that He wants to show us, but it is up to us whether we do or not. He is saying, ‘I will teach you more and more if you want to learn.’

 

When I began my ministry as a priest I worked as a hospital chaplain, I remember meeting a man who had been suffering for most of his life. He had had surgery after surgery and he was in pain most of the time. But every time I met him he was smiling and he said, ‘Father I have so much to be grateful for.’ It was very humbling to hear this. Why was he grateful? Because he had faith and he had purpose. He understood that his life had meaning and that it was going somewhere. He believed that this life was not everything and that it was worth persevering. Having that purpose is what makes all the difference. And that is what our faith gives us. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it helps to make sense for us of why we are here. It reminds us that God does want us to be happy, that that is what He created us for. It also reminds us that it is worth putting up with the various struggles we have to go through, because they are often what make us into better people. The suffering will not last forever. Sooner or later we will cross over to the next world where our happiness will be complete. Having that hope is what makes all the difference and that is why Jesus kept moving around and teaching people, so that they would understand the purpose of their lives.

 




Very often people ask me how they can know what they are called to, or what God wants them to do. We are mainly just called to live in the circumstances that we find ourselves. For most of us it is pretty ordinary, and may seem unimportant, but it’s not. How we live our life is everything. If I live my life remembering that I am only here for a short while and that my destiny is in heaven, I will live it very differently than if I believe this world is what it’s all about and that is the difference faith makes. If I have the hope that faith in God gives me, then I will not be afraid even when things are difficult. Even if my life is not as exciting, or ‘successful’ as I had hoped, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I try and live it as best I can, loving and serving the people around me. When my time here is complete, I will go to be with God where I will be completely fulfilled in every possible way.

 

This is what Jesus wanted people to understand. That is why he told the Apostles to go and teach all nations, so that people would know that we have a purpose, and all that He has done for us, and what awaits us. That is why it is so important that we continue to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. All people need to know this. They don’t have to accept or believe it, but they have a right to know it.

 

Meanwhile we will continue to pray and look for healing and it is right that we do, but it is also good to remember that the hope we have in God is actually worth more than the physical healing, because that is what will keep us going, because that is what makes sense of why we are here.

 

Let us go on to the nearby villages, so that I may preach there also. For that is why I have come.’


Friday, January 29, 2021

4th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1: 21-28) “I know who you are. The holy One of God.”

 



Today, many people, including some priests, do not believe in the existence of the devil. They say it is just a symbol of evil. The head of the Jesuits recently said there is no such thing as the devil and yet the devil is mentioned many times in Scripture, including by Jesus. Was Jesus just speaking figuratively? If so, why did he commission the Apostles to ‘heal the sick and cast out demons’ (Matt 10:8). It also says that Jesus gave the Apostles ‘power against unclean spirits, to cast them out’ (Matt 10:1). It says in St. Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11). Was this just his imagination?

 

I want to tell you a story I heard recently by a priest called Fr. Michel Rodrigue, a Canadian priest and exorcist.

 

He says, “When I was having my eighth heart attack and was in an ambulance, being injected with nitrate over and over again and going in and out of consciousness, I heard a man screaming at me and cursing me with rage. He didn’t like my collar. He was a paramedic in the ambulance. The others told him to be quiet, saying he couldn’t treat a patient that way. He said, “I don’t give a @#**! about you, you priest.”

 

When they got to the hospital the paramedic followed him in, continually cursing and shouting at him. The doctors told him to stop, but he refused. He shouted at Fr. Michel, “I’m choosing hell! Do you like that?! Are you okay with that?!” With those words, Fr. Michel took a deep breath, was suddenly alert and said to him, “You want to go to hell? Then may you burn right now” and then he blessed him in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Then Fr. Michel passed out.

 

Fr. Michel Rodrigue


Several hours later when he came to his senses, the hospital staff started telling him about the man who had been cursing him. He says, “At first, I didn’t know what they were talking about and then my brain began to remember.” They told him that this man was still in the hospital because he was burning inside as though on fire and they couldn’t do anything to cool him down. They asked if he could help him.

 

Fr. Michel said, “It’s good for him, it’s not a problem. Let him burn,” but the staff kept asking if I could see him. I came to a room in the hospital where all the windows were flung open. This was Canada in wintertime. “We took his temperature and the thermometer was at its maximum. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

 

“When I walked into the room, I could feel the heat coming from his body, even though the gusts of air coming into the room from outside were freezing. A male nurse was holding up a sheet in front of him because he was completely naked, unable to wear any clothes or anything that would touch his skin.”

 

The man started crying out, “I’m so hot. Help me. I’m burning!”

Fr. Michel said, “You told me this is what you wanted. You wanted to burn in hell. Is that still where you to want to go? You don’t know what you’re saying when you say that’s where you want to go. You’re experiencing it now. Is that what you want?”

 

He said, “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to go!”

“Then are you ready to confess your sins?”

“Yes, yes.”

“There in the hospital, I heard his confession and when he received absolution, he not only felt completely normal, but like an entirely new man.




I had to stay in the hospital for a few days in order to recover and then I wanted to get out and see some new scenery, so I went with a fellow priest to a jazz festival in Montreal. As we were walking through the noisy festival, I was telling him about the incidence with the “burning” man. He said, “The Devil is not real. You’re just imagining all that.”

“You’re wrong, I said. The devil is very real.” Then I stopped. I could hear my name being called out, even though there was so much noise.

We looked around to see a man in the distance walking quickly toward me, accompanied by a woman.

 When he arrived he said, “I’ve been looking for you for such a long time. I want to thank you.” he said to me.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” I asked him.

“I’m the paramedic who was cursing you when you had the heart attack and you helped me so much when you heard my confession.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

 

Then the woman spoke. She was his wife. She said for almost ten years she hadn’t been able to recognize her husband because he became so mean. She hardly knew him any more and prayed daily for his conversion. “When he came home after you heard his confession, he came home the man that I married.”

 

Fr. Michel went on to say that the priest with him stood there with his mouth open, in shock at what he was hearing. He said all this happened to help this priest to believe in the reality of the devil.

 

They say that Satan’s greatest achievement is to make us believe he doesn’t exist. If we believe that, then we won’t take any precautions to protect ourselves against him and his ongoing attacks against us.

 



Look at what is happening in the world around us right now. What do you think is causing all of this? Is it just human evil that is causing it? I think it is obvious that there is something more sinister at work and one of the reasons is that so many people have turned away from God and left themselves wide open to the powers of darkness. Not only that, but people are actively engaging in all kinds of actions which open them up to spiritual evil. The Lord warns us to stay away from these things in Scripture. In Deuteronomy it says:

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, who interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or casts spells, or who is a medium, or spiritist, or consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. (Deut 18: 10-12)

 

You can add fortune tellers, psychics and Tarot card readers to that list. If we deliberately go against what is forbidden in the Scriptures, or deliberately persist in what we know is sinful, we are opening ourselves up to evil. That is why the Lord warns us to stay away from these things, because they will harm us. In the same way, we cannot expect God’s blessing on our lives and our families if we deliberately go against God’s Commandments.

How do we protect ourselves from the influence of evil? By using the weapons the Lord has given us: above all, prayer; our faith, the Scriptures, using holy water and keeping blessed objects in our homes.

 

Listen to what St. Paul says about it:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:12).

 

How did he know this? because the Lord must have taught him. And we have been given these writings to make us aware too.

 




Should we be afraid? Of course not. If we are with the Lord, there is nothing we need fear. Look at today’s Gospel reading, where there was a man who was possessed. When Jesus came into the synagogue, the demon shouted out in Jesus’ presence:

“What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth?

Have you come to destroy us?

I know who you are. The holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24)

 

The same account is repeated in St. Luke and St. Matthew's Gospel and there are several other instances of the same thing. The demons are terrified of Jesus, because he is the Son of God. Everything is subject to him and that is what we need to remember. We should be wary so that we don’t put ourselves in harms way, but also believe in what God’s word tells us; it tells us not to be afraid. Everything is subject to God’s power.  


Saturday, January 23, 2021

3rd Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:14-20) “Repent and believe in the Gospel”

 




 

As time passes in any Church, different issues come up which must be addressed: immigration, racism, the environment, abortion and many others. But it is also important that we don’t forget the primary teaching of Jesus and the Apostles from the beginning, that is, ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ When we are established in our faith, then we also want to make the world a better place and address these other issues as well, but we have to be established in our faith first.

 

We believe that God created everything that exists, the universe that we can see and the invisible world which we cannot yet see. We also believe that the human being was God’s most important creation. It says in Genesis that the human being was the last thing God created, which is a biblical way of saying we were the most important thing God created, being more like him than anything else.

 

We also believe that somewhere back at the beginning, our first parents, represented by Adam and Eve, rejected God’s word, God’s commands. Instead they chose to listen to a lie, by Satan. Jesus called him the deceiver and the ‘father of lies’ (Jn 8:44). He deliberately misled them, to draw them away from God, in order to get at God. Why would Satan be bothered with us, since he is way more powerful and intelligent than any human? Because he hates God’s creation and does everything he can to destroy it, especially the human race, because we are made in God’s image. So out of hatred he continually works to destroy us, to convince us that good is evil and evil is good. That is what we are seeing in our society right now. Good—following God’s teaching—is considered evil, narrow-minded, hateful of others and evil—abortion, euthanasia, immoral sexuality—is considered good. If we criticize what God has taught us is sinful, then we are considered evil and hateful. There is a pastor in Norway who is currently in jail, because he taught a teenager what it says in the Bible about homosexuality. He is in jail for teaching what it says in God’s word. That is the direction it is heading here too.

 

Because Adam and Eve rejected God’s word, we lost the possibility of heaven, of happiness with God for all eternity and it was impossible for us to win it back. How could any human give anything to God, since everything we have comes from him in the first place? But God was not just going to let his creation go to ruin, so, God the Son took on human flesh and became Jesus: fully human and fully divine. His self-sacrifice is what re-opened the doors of heaven for us. But God totally respects our free will and does not force us to accept this. The Lord says, ‘This is what I have done for you. It is yours for the taking if you choose it,’ but we must choose it.

 



In St. Matthew’s Gospel alone, in over 60 places, Jesus says that there is a choice to make, for him or against him, blessing or curse, heaven or hell. Part of making that choice is to repent of sin and accept his teaching. Adam and Eve rejected it, we have the choice to accept or reject it as well. We tend to think of it as just being a case of believing in God and try to be good and that’s all that is required. But there is more to it than that. The call for repentance is a big part of it. That means we are called to reflect on how we live and if it is not in accordance with God’s teaching, then we need to change. Jesus says, ‘It is not those who say to me “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 10:7). Saying that I believe, or I love God, is not sufficient. We must do the will of the Father in heaven and part of his will is that we repent of sin.

 

That means that if we are living in a way that is contrary to God’s law, we must change and repent of the sin. If I am living with someone who is not my wife or husband, I need to rectify that. If you are civilly married, but not married in the Church, you need to rectify that too. It is a question of whether I take offending God seriously or not. Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘God doesn’t mind,’ because it says in the Scriptures that God most definitely does mind. If we want God’s blessing on our lives, we must make every effort to live as He asks.

 

Sin must be very serious if Jesus had to die on the cross to atone for it. God didn’t just say to Adam and Eve, “It’s ok, you are forgiven.” Their sin had to be atoned for and it was atoned for with blood, the blood of Jesus. Sin is the one thing that has the potential to cause us to lose eternal life with God. It is possible for us to lose it. Forgiveness is offered to us, but we must ask for that forgiveness and repent of sin.

 

Think of all the people Jesus encountered that are written about in the Gospels. Those who were living sinful lives, repented of their sin and changed. We have to do the same. Just because society accepts many things as being ok, doesn’t mean they are ok. Am I going to live on what society says is ok and acceptable, or by what the word of God says is ok and acceptable? When we die, we will not come before a group of people from our society for their approval, but before God for his judgement.

 



When the Apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, their fear was taken away and they began to preach everywhere. What did they preach? They preached what Jesus preached, that repentance for the forgiveness of sins was necessary to be acceptable to God. They showed people how Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who had made the ultimate sacrifice and atonement for sins, which has now won for us eternal life, but that we must choose to accept that and live in accordance with his word. In St. Peter’s words: ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation’ (Acts 2:40). How true that is today. ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation.’ Turn to what God is offering and don’t be seduced by the lies of the evil one, who says you can have all the pleasures you want and do whatever you want. That is a lie and deception. The more we turn away from the commandments of God, the more miserable and empty our lives will be. Only by obeying God’s word and submitting ourselves to his law, will we find peace and fulfillment. The world tells us that we should have ‘freedom,’ but it defines freedom as being able to do anything you want without accountability. That is what Satan told Adam and Eve: ‘God knows that on the day you eat of the [forbidden fruit], you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:5), but look at what happened when they gave in to the lie. They lost the happiness God had given them. They fell into darkness, pain, distress, mistrust. True freedom is only found in submitting ourselves to God. It seems like a contradiction, that submitting yourself to God’s laws will bring freedom, but it does because He is the One who has created us to be happy. God only wants our happiness.

 

This is the first and most basic teaching of Christianity and we need to take it seriously. We can only address the other issues once we have addressed this first. ‘Christ died for our sins that He might offer us to God. Only in him do we have eternal life.’

 

‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’

 

 




Friday, January 15, 2021

2nd Sunday of Year B (Gospel: John 1:35-42) Listen

 



Has God ever spoken to you? Do you wonder why God doesn’t speak to you? Has God ever spoken to me? Yes; many times, but not in audible words. Often through the Scriptures, sometimes in prayer when something just comes to my mind, or I become aware of something and it is often through other people, through something they will say, even though they will be unaware of it.

 

God is speaking to us all the time. A lot of the time we are not aware of it because we are not listening and there is so much noise. Everywhere we go there is noise, music playing, tv or radio on, texts on our phones. It is very hard to find silence and we need silence if we are to listen.

 

If God spoke to you, what would He say to you? If we really believe God created us and that we are being drawn closer and closer to him, then God must have plenty to say to us, but probably not in the way we would expect. Think of your children, if you have children, or nieces/nephews, you want to teach them, guide them and encourage them. You want to help them make sense of their lives and point them in the direction where they will hopefully be most fulfilled. Even if you don’t have your own children, there are always people we come across that we want to help in some way, through encouragement, or a bit of wisdom that we have learnt from experience. That that is also how God speaks to us. Since He created us, He wants to teach us, show us the path that will lead to our greatest fulfillment, guide us in making good decisions and encourage us. He wants to help us make sense of the world around us. Do you ever wonder what exactly Jesus was saying to the people he taught when he walked the earth? It is the same as what He teaches us now. If you read the Gospels it shows us what He was teaching the people and He was showing them how to live in accordance with his word. He was also helping them to live at a deeper level, not just doing the minimum. You don’t give your children the minimum they need, but as much as you can, so that they will be as well equipped as possible.

 




One of the most striking things about what Jesus taught was how different it was to the thinking of the world and it is still the same. One particular example that comes to mind is where Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ (Matt 5:44). Our culture says, ‘an eye for an eye,’ Jesus says the opposite. He says, ‘Do not judge, do not look at a woman lustfully, put others before yourself.’ Our culture says the opposite.

 

Who knows the best path and the best decisions for my life? God does. So if I want to follow the path that will be most rewarding and make the wisest decisions, then I need to listen to the One who has the answers.

 

‘But I am so busy, I don’t have time to stop and pray!’ We make time to eat, sleep and watch TV. We make time for whatever is important to us. If listening to God’s word is important enough to you, you will find there is time for it. Think of all the time you spend driving places. Turn off the radio. Get off the phone and listen! Talk to God from your heart and just be with him.

 



St. Benedict of Norcia lived around the year 500 and he wrote a rule for his monks, which is known as The Rule of St. Benedict, and it is still used by monks today, 1500 years later. It is basically a guideline of how they are to live from day to day. The very first word of the rule is the word ‘listen’. The second word is ‘carefully’. Listen carefully to my teaching.

 

We also talk about being ‘obedient’ to God. The word ‘obedient’ comes from two Latin words ob audire, which means ‘listen intently.’ God is saying to us: ‘Listen carefully to what I have to say to you.’ Following God, means being obedient to God, which means listening to God. We won’t know what God’s word is, unless we read it.

 

At one of the papal audiences, Pope Francis said this:

When we go to mass, maybe we arrive five minutes early and we start to chat with those in front of us. But it is not a moment to chat. It is a moment of silence, to prepare ourselves for dialogue with God. It is a time for the heart to collect itself, in order to prepare for the encounter with Jesus. Silence is so important. Remember what I said last week: we do not go to a show; we go to meet the Lord and silence prepares us and accompanies us [for this].

(Nov 15, 2017, St. Peter’s Basilica)

 




People come here up to an hour before the mass begins, in order to pray? They understand that it is an encounter with Jesus and they are preparing for it.

 

We are all different. All of us pray differently and that’s normal. But all of us need silence in some shape or form to be alone with God; to listen to God, so that the one who created us can speak to us.

 

One of the most beautiful ways that God speaks to us is through the Scriptures. The Bible is a collection of letters and stories that God has written to us. Everything in the Bible addresses everything in our world today. Everything! Do you have a bible? If not, why not? Don’t you want to know what God is saying to you, because God is speaking to you. Take out your bible, or buy one and read one chapter of one book on a regular basis. It takes about 5 minutes. It probably wouldn’t cost you a thought to watch an hour of TV, but how much time will you give to listen to the One who created us?

 

‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’


If you want to read the core of Jesus' teachings, read St. Matthew's Gospel, chapters 5-7.

If you want to get a bigger picture of what is happening in the world at this time, read the book of Daniel.