Saturday, May 29, 2010

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity (Gospel: John 16:12-15) Created out of love

One of the most beautiful experiences we can have in this life is to fall in love. I’m sure most people here have been in love at least once. I have too, and it is a wonderful experienec although it can also be difficult. As you know, it is the kind of experience that you want to last forever, but it doesn’t. It passes. Lovers always want to be with each other, and have eyes for no one but each other. I suppose God made us this way so that we would be drawn to each other and commit to each other, in order that the human race would keep going.

The strange thing is that even though being in love is such a powerful experience, it is hard to say exactly what it is. It is a very mysterious thing. As it says in the Song of Songs: ‘Love is strong as death, passion as cruel as the grave’ (SS 8:6). It is so powerful and at the same time it is always just out of reach.

One thing we do know, is that love comes from God. God is the first lover and the greatest lover. What we experience when we fall in love and later hopefully when we grow in the deeper stages of love, this is just the tiniest glipse of what comes from God. We only have the experience of love because God gives it to us, and we are being invited to go deeper into a relationship of love all the time. The love that two people experience between each other is just a tiny reflection of the love that comes from God.

Love also wants to share everything. Two people in love will share everything with each other. This is how we came to be here in the first place. The love that the Holy Trinity lives—a relationship of total and intense self-giving love—overflows to us. If you are ecstatically happy about something, you naturally want to share it with someone, or with lots of people. God wanted to share his intense joy and so He created everything, the spirit world and then human beings, in order that we could also experience and enjoy that same love. The fact that we are created last—according to Genesis—is a way of saying that we were the most important thing that God created. We are God’s masterpiece, because we resemble him more than anything else He created.

However, in order for us to be able to love, God also had to make us free, so that we could freely choose to love or not, to reject God or not, because you cannot force love out of someone, it has to come freely. So now we have this bizarre situation where we are created to enjoy the love of God, which we will experience fully in heaven, but we also have the freedom to reject it.

I’m often amazed at the amount of parents who tell me in great distress about a child, or children who have rejected them. They cannot understand why. They did everything they could for their children and then their children turned their back on them. It happens quite often. We also do this with God. God offers us everything and gives us everything, but we can still reject him and people do.

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

The fact that we are here at all is a reminder of what the Holy Trinity is, a relationship of total self-giving love. A married couple is a reflection of what God is, because out of the complete self-giving of a man and a woman there is the potential for another person to be created. The love between the Father and the Son is another person: the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder of the extraordinary role that all of you married couples have in raising your families. In giving of yourselves to each other and for your children, you are mirroring what God does. So the next time you are exhausted with the demands of your relationship or your children, remember this: Difficult and all as it can be, you are imitating what God does, which means that you are called to something extraordinary.

The human being is God’s masterpiece.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pentecost Sunday, Year C (Gospel: John 14:15-16. 23-26) The Holy Spirit will teach you everything

Last Tuesday I had to go to Maynooth for a meeting. Before the meeting I met the three men we have studying for this diocese—one of whom will be ordained a priest in two weeks time—and they invited me to stay on after the meeting for evening prayer and supper; so I did. In the evening I found myself in the chapel praying evening prayer with 80 young men who are studying to be priests and it was wonderful to hear all these men singing to God and praying the Psalms, knowing that they are dedicating their lives to serve God. I was thinking that in one way you would want to be insane to study to be a priest at the moment, so what on earth could draw them? The answer of course is God. The Spirit of God inspires people and moves people when we don’t expect it and often in ways we don’t expect either. But the Spirit doesn’t shout aloud like the news papers do. The Spirit works quietly, but very powerfully.

I am often asked, especially by younger people, how come I didn’t want to get married that I went on for the priesthood? Actually the way they usually put it is to say, ‘did you not like girls?’ And I always say, ‘of course I was drawn to get married, but the call of God was the stronger one.’ The year I applied for religious life was the year the first major scandal in our Church broke. That was eighteen years ago and there have basically been scandals ever since. During my time in the seminary it was very disheartening with all of the stories about child abuse in the papers for the first time. But it made all of us think carefully about why we were becoming priests and it still makes me think about why I am a priest. The reason more or less remains the same: I believe God called me and continues to call me to serve him in this way. Most of the time I’m not even sure I understand the calling or even what exactly the Lord wants me to do, but the ongoing call is unmistakable and very powerful.

When I was nineteen I was invited to go to a prayer meeting here in Galway. At the time I wasn’t practicing my faith, but I was searching. At this prayer meeting I saw 50 or 60 young people praying the rosary, singing hymns and reading Scripture. This was completely new to me and I was drawn to it. I could see that their faith was real and I was intrigued by it. These young people basically taught me how to pray and taught me that it was good to start the day by giving 10-15 minutes to God. So I began doing just that. Shortly after I began attending this prayer meeting they held what is known as a ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminar. This is a series of about 8 talks on the reality of the power of God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit—and how that same Spirit is just waiting for us to be open to him so that He can set fire to our faith, so to speak. Well I began doing this seminar and was curious to know what would happen. On the fifth night the people there prayed with each of us—just like the Apostles did—that we would receive a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. I remember being a bit disappointed at the time, because nothing particularly amazing seemed to happen to me. I felt peaceful, but not unduly so. However, in the days and weeks that followed I began to notice all kinds of things happening. It was as though someone had flicked a switch and turned on the power. Suddenly my faith became alive in a way that it had never been before. The Scriptures began to speak to me in a profound way and I had a great desire to spend time in prayer. I also noticed that I began to hear the words of the mass as though I had never heard them before and I was completely blown away with it. Other people who did this Life in the Spirit seminar had similar experiences, the most common being that their faith became alive as never before. That was 22 years ago and the experience really changed the course of my life. A few years after that I began studying to be a priest.

Today when I look around and see all this apparent chaos in our Church, which is very disturbing, I think back of what the Lord has led me through and I am reminded that our Church is in good hands, because it is not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of the Most High God. The Spirit continues to move and cleanse and purify, which is what we are seeing at the moment. But it is not something that we need be afraid of. On the contrary it is a sign that the power of God is very much at work in the Church; and of course, since it is the Lord’s Church. Those of us who try to serve in it are only instruments, and often not very good instruments, but it doesn’t matter as God does not depend on us to get everything right. The Lord is the One who is in charge and who will continue to lead us his people in the direction we need to go. God will bring about the changes that need to take place. All we have to do is to stay focused on the Lord and do our best to serve him.

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name
will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Ascension of the Lord Year C (Gospel: Luke 24:46-53) He continued to appear to them and tell them about the Kingdom

In my work as a priest, people often tell me about spiritual experiences that they have had: sometimes they are experiences of the Lord in some way, sometimes of someone who has died, asking for prayers or something like that. Quite a large number of people do in fact have spiritual experiences. However, often after a time people begin to wonder did they really have these experiences, or was it all in their imagination. Of course it is really impossible to know, and in one way it is even not important. Usually the experience will have helped them, and the rest is irrelevant.

In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles—or the ‘adventures’ of the Apostles, as you might call them—Luke tells us how after Jesus rose from the dead he continued to appear to the Apostles. Not just once, but many times. Why? Probably to convince them that they had not imagined it. One thing that he did on at least two occasions was to eat something with them. The first time when he appeared to them in the room, they were all standing there speechless, and he said ‘do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave him a piece of fish and he ate it in front of them. Then they knew it was not just a vision, but a real person, the same real person they had known before. It was not even food that Jesus had with him, which could also have been part of a vision, but it was something they gave him and then they watched him chew it and swallow it. This was a beautiful and very human thing to do; something that we could completely relate to.

Luke also says that he not only appeared to them, but he also continued to tell them about ‘the Kingdom.’ What is ‘the Kingdom?’ What was he telling them about? I have no doubt that he was telling them about the reality of heaven: the life with God which He has created us for; that it is real and that we could also lose it if we are foolish. There we will be reunited with the people we love and we will experience happiness there in a way that we can not even begin to imagine now. He was probably also explaining to them what the purpose of his life was on earth, why he had to suffer and die the way he did, what all this meant for the human race; God’s plan for his people. Also he probably told them that he had a lot of work for them to do and that they must remember that their life here on earth was a time of service and not to worry if things were not easy, because when their work here was done he would bring them home to be with him again. Why do you think they were suddenly able to go out and start preaching to everyone about a man that most people had never heard of before? And not only preach about him for a while, but for the rest of their lives with passion. I think nearly all of them ended up being martyred, but they didn’t care, because they knew that the only thing that was important was to be faithful to the Lord Jesus as best they could.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the same thing exactly applies to us. The Apostles were real people and these are real experiences that we are reading about. Our life on earth is just as short as theirs was and it is also a time of service, just as theirs was. For most of you it will be serving by looking after your families. For single people and also for priests and religious it will be in a slightly different way. But that is why we are here, to learn to love, to serve, to freely choose for or against God. However, I think it is also worth remembering that we are living in a time when people are very cynical about religion, and they point to the scandals as being 'proof' of just how hypocritical the whole thing is. We must not let that put us off. It has always been difficult to believe and probably always will be, but we must ask the Lord himself to help us to persevere and not become negative or cynical. And when our time here is complete God will come and bring us home. I have no doubt that this is probably what Jesus was telling the Apostles about for those forty days. He wanted them to have no doubt about why they were here, so that we also could have a good understanding of our purpose here, through their teaching.

You might say, ‘but it is too difficult', or 'not realistic', or 'too hard to believe.’ God has given us every possible help that we could ask for. If it seems too difficult it is only because we are not using the help that He has given us. What help? Above all, the Eucharist; the word of God; in the Scriptures, confession, etc. It is all there waiting for us. The clearer a picture we have in our own heads as to what our life is about, the easier it is to keep going. That is also why we needn’t be afraid of anything in this world. If we offer ourselves to God, then why should we be afraid. All things are in his hands.

I am going now to prepare a place for you

and after I have gone and prepared you a place,

I shall return to take you to myself (Jn 14:3).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C (Gospel: John 14:23-29) If anyone loves me he will keep my word

Think for a moment of someone that means a lot to you, someone you really love. It might be your husband or wife, it might be a very good friend. When you love someone you will do things that they ask you, because you love them. They may ask you for a favour which doesn’t really suit you, but you will probably do it anyway because you love them. Trying to please them is a way of showing them you love them.

Our relationship with the Lord works the same way. We try to follow the way of life that he taught us, because we love him. We try to keep his commandments, because we love him. It is a way of showing God that we love him. And not just because we love him but also because we believe that what God teaches us gives us life. The path that He has pointed out to us is the one that will help us the most and lead us to the greatest happiness. The difficulty is that we cannot see that, so we are often tempted not to bother. ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word.’

Because of what we call original sin, we do not enjoy the harmony within our own selves that God originally intended for us. In other words there is a struggle going on within. And one of the effects of that is that we don’t always see things as clearly as we should. We often find it difficult to choose even what we know is right. We are often suspicious of God and his teachings. We are not always convinced that God is trying to help us. Think of times when you see some situation of terrible suffering on the news, or with someone you know, and you find yourself saying, ‘how can God allow this to happen?’ as though God were evil. We may see his commandments as a burden for us instead of a blueprint or plan that will lead us to the most fruitful way of living. We don’t see clearly.

Because God is much wiser than we are, because He can see the whole picture and journey that is ahead of us, He gives us laws which He knows will help us. They are teachings which will help us to flourish; a kind of framework around which to live our life. They are also commandments not suggestions. In the Old Testament, when He gave the law to Moses, He said very definitely, ‘choose today blessing or curse, life or death.’ One leads to life, the other to death. Each of us still has that choice.

There is a tendency today, as you know, to believe that we can just pick the parts of our faith that suit us, and ignore the other ones. I’ve often heard people saying, ‘sure God will understand.’ Or, ‘I’m sure He doesn’t mind’. But why would God give them to us at all if he doesn’t mind?

The television doesn’t help us either, because it continually shows us that sleeping around, stealing, murdering, lying and ignoring God, are both normal and acceptable. And if we are told something often enough, we will begin to believe it. And that’s what the TV is doing to us. It is de-sensitizing us to sin and to what is wrong.

Now to go back to the words of Christ: ‘if you love me you will keep my words.’ And then he says, ‘peace I leave you, my own peace I give you.’ It’s as if he is saying this is what follows when you live my words. We receive peace, a deep peace which is the assurance of God’s presence even when we are struggling. The Lord knows well how much we struggle to live by his teaching. Everyone who tries to live it struggles, almost all of their life. But the Lord is telling us not to be afraid of the struggle, it is the path that leads to heaven, the only path worth following.

‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’