Saturday, September 25, 2010

26th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 16:19-31) Being responsible with what we have

A few years ago I was driving somewhere and I gave a lift to a man. He was a musician, a busker and basically lived by busking on the streets; not an easy way of life. He had practically all his possessions with him. He told me he knew over 350 songs, which was quite impressive. When he realised that I was a priest he began asking me about religion. I can’t remember much of what he said except for one thing. He said that he wasn’t very religious but that he preferred to stay out of it and sit on the fence. When we spoke about death and meeting God he said that he would plead ignorance. That was the thing that struck me the most. He said, ‘I’ll just plead ignorance.’

I suppose if God were just another human being, we might get away with pleading ignorance, but since God knows everything about us, including our motivations, all the things that have influenced us during our life that cause us to act as we do, how free or not we are to make choices, I don’t think that pleading ignorance will be much use! This is not to just focus on the negative as if we should be afraid of God because He is out to get us. On the contrary, the Lord loves us and wants to help us in every way possible. He knows our weaknesses and what we struggle with, but He also knows when we avoid responsibility.

In the readings today we are presented not so much with the rich and the poor, rather with those who deliberately turn their back on justice. We are shown the two extremes. The poor man Lazarus was at this rich man’s gate. In other words the rich man couldn’t have missed him because he was right under his nose. And it says that ‘Lazarus longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table’, which implies that he was offered absolutely nothing, not even a small amount. So it’s not as if the rich man did a certain amount and it wasn’t enough. Jesus is telling us that he did absolutely nothing. That is why he lost heaven, not because he had riches. There is nothing wrong with having riches. What you do with it is what’s important. If I am wealthy then that is the situation God has put me in in this life (provided I acquired it in a just way, of course!). What I do with it is what’s important.

Equally you might think that Lazarus could have got off his back-side and done something for himself. But the fact that he ‘lay’ at the rich man’s gate and that he was covered in sores, tells us that he was sick and helpless. You could say that God put him there deliberately to allow the rich man to help him, but he chose to do nothing. I have no doubt that God often puts people in our path who may need our help, but we always have the choice to help them or not. God has given us that freedom. And the help we give people may not even be financial help. It may be something as simple as a smile or an encouraging word that is needed. All the time we are coming across people who need our help and if we are open to it we will recognise them. If we have plenty, well thank God for it, but it does mean that we also have an obligation to help those who are in need and there is no shortage of them, both in this country and all over the world. ‘The poor will always be with you.’

So you could say there is a double message here. First, let us thank God for what we have. Second, let us also ask God to help us make good use of what we have. God has given us freedom to do what we want in this life, but we are also asked to be responsible. There is a common misconception today that being free means being able to do anything you want, good or bad. However, true freedom is the freedom to choose what is good. That is what the Lord wants for us and that is also what will help us the most.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

25th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 16:1-13) You cannot serve both God and money

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

A few years ago, a woman by the name of Maura Grealish—a good friend of mine—took her final vows in the Poor Clare convent in Nun’s Island. She took four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. She will never own anything of her own, she will not get married, and she will spend the rest of her life enclosed in a convent, dedicating her time and energy to God and to praying for all of us and for many others. Some would consider this a useless waste; others see it as the gift of God which it is, the highest calling in the Church. Her life lived in this way—as with any religious—is a sign that we believe in the life to come and that it is worth making sacrifices for it. If we didn’t believe in the life to come, then it would be a waste of time.

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

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

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

In the Gospel Jesus doesn’t say ‘it is not easy to serve God and money.’ He says, ‘you can not’ serve God and money. You must choose who is going to be your master. That doesn’t mean that we can not enjoy our money or the things we have, but we must be careful to use it wisely. It is meant to be a means to help us, but not what we live for. At the end of the day it is only a tool and if it was suddenly taken away from us, we would still survive.

As we live in a world that places so much emphasis on having plenty of money, it’s hard not to be affected by that. There is nothing wrong with having money so long as we remember that it is only a means to help us survive. It will not bring us happiness in itself and it is not primarily what our life is about. God has made us much deeper than just flesh and blood. We also have a spirit and that spirit will never be satisfied with material things alone. This is a reminder that we are not just animals and that we are called to something greater.

I just want to finish with a few verses from Psalm 49.

No one can buy his own ransom,
or pay a price to God for his life.
In his riches man lacks wisdom,
he is like the beasts that are destroyed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

24th Sunday of Year C (Gospel: Luke 15:1-32) The prodigal son

What happens to us when we die? I remember thinking in the last parish that it was amazing the number of people I had known who had died over the four years I was there and that is just in Renmore parish alone. Where are they now? Are they anywhere? We usually say they are in heaven and hopefully that is true. That is what God has created us for. I know that today most people are probably very sceptical about the idea of hell. That seems to be a medieval idea that is dead and gone. However, the reality is that if heaven is real and if we have free will, which we do, then it must also be possible to lose what God wants us to reach. God has created us for life with him, which we call heaven. I guess you could say it is the greatest happiness we could imagine, something wonderful beyond our wildest dreams. Every so often God allows a saint or mystic to experience something of what awaits us, no doubt to reassure us that it is real. Think of someone like Padre Pio, or indeed different places where Our Lady has appeared.

If being with God means light, happiness, joy, love, no suffering, no injustice and being with the people we love, then the opposite of that is darkness, isolation, pain, loneliness, etc. Since we have free will it means that we can lose what God wants us to reach. I think it’s important not to forget that. God offers us something wonderful but we have the freedom to accept or reject it.

I think the next thing that comes to most people’s minds is the fear of not being good enough, or perhaps the fear of what we have done wrong. I remember a priest friend of mine who died a few years ago. When he was dying he kept saying ‘I’ll never get into heaven. I’m not good enough.’ I was sorry for him and he was a holy man, but it seems to be a natural fear that many of us have. I’ve heard so many people express this fear.

Then we come to the parable of the prodigal son which we have today. I think it is one of the most wonderful stories in the Bible for several reasons. What it says more than anything is that God does not act the way we do. In spite of the way we can behave the Father in heaven has compassion for us in a way that we do not understand because we never experience that kind of compassion from other human beings. What it says more than anything is that God doesn’t care how badly we mess things up or whether we are the model child. The only thing God is interested in is that we reach the happiness that He has created us for. And God will do everything possible—apart from forcing us—to make sure we reach this happiness which we call heaven. However, because God completely respects the freedom He has given us He will never force us. The death and resurrection of Jesus is all about making sure that our sins can be forgiven and that we can reach this happiness that God wants for us. That’s also what the mass is.

In this story of the Prodigal son, the younger son was a disaster, but it says that ‘while he was still a long way off, the father saw him and was moved with pity.’ The older son appeared to be the loyal child who ‘turned out fine.’ Yet he was seething with resentment, but the father also showed him compassion.

God is not interested in how good or bad, successful or unsuccessful we are, rather that we will keep coming back to him. If we remain open to him, we have nothing to worry about. Think of the younger son, the one who basically said he wanted nothing more to do with his father or his family and took off. I’m sure there are many of you worrying about children who have said they want nothing more to do with the Church or religion. Well remember this parable. The Lord still loves them just as much as any of us and God will go on reaching out to them until the end of their lives, perhaps through ways that we never see or even think of. But that is where we also have a duty to pray for them. That’s what the first reading is about. Moses intercedes for the people and God has mercy on them.

To sum up: God has created us to experience the fullness of life and to reach a happiness that is more than our wildest dreams could imagine. God will do everything possible apart from forcing us, to make sure we and our loved ones get there. So let us have great confidence in this and never be afraid of our mistakes or of how our lives have turned out. All that matters is that we try and stay open to God. The rest is in God’s mercy.

‘While he was still a long way off, the Father saw him and took pity on him.’

Saturday, September 4, 2010

23rd Sunday of Year A (Gospel: Luke 14:25-33) On pilgrimage to Medjugorje

For the last two weeks I was away, first on pilgrimage and then on holidays motorbiking around Ireland. It's good to be back. This week I would like to share with you a few thoughts on where I was on pilgrimage.

At this stage I have read enough about Medjugorje and the events there to convince me either way. I have often been slated by other priests for going there or having anything to do with it. So why do I go there? Very simply because there is no other place I know of which continues to have such an extraordinary effect on people’s faith. In one sense I think it is almost irrelevant what is said to be happening there except that it continues to bring many people back to faith in God. For me, that is enough.

In 1981 on the feast of John the Baptist (24th June), it is said that Our Ladybegan to appear to six children there. The fact that it started on this feast is interesting. John the Baptist’s job was to announce the coming of the Christ and to get people ready for him. Our Lady has been doing the same thing. Since that time up to now, over 35 million people have visited that place.

For the fifty years previous to 1981 Medjugorje had been part of communist Yugoslavia and this particular area was greatly persecuted because it was very Catholic. Communism worked hard to try and wipe out Christianity in any form. The government continued to tell the people that there is no God and that their faith was an illusion. This is what was taught in the schools. When Our Lady began appearing there one of the first things she said to the children was: ‘I have come to tell you that God exists’. It was a kind of reassurance from heaven to encourage the people to continue to believe. And later when one of the children asked her why she came to that particular place, she said it was because she found many true believers there.

Our Lady’s message there is really the same message as in any of the other places where she has appeared throughout the world. It is the message of the Gospel. She asks us for personal conversion, to read the bible every day, for daily mass and to fast and pray. What is important is that the apparitions are not all about her, but she is simply acting as a sign-post to Jesus. She is saying that we must turn back to Jesus and realise that we cannot live without God. God must be in the first place. Too much of our world lives as though God does not exist, and the consequences of that are disastrous. Just read the papers if you want evidence of what happens when the world tries to live without God.

20 years ago I began to go to a prayer group here in Galway which was started directly because of Medjugorje. That prayer group brought me back to my faith and I ended up becoming a priest. Many priests I know say that their vocation came directly from Medjugorje and a huge number of people that I know personally have come back to their faith as a result of visiting this place.

Today it is said that Our Lady continues to appear to 3 of the six children every day. One of the criticisms of Medjugorje is that it seems ridiculous that Our Lady would appear so many times and for so long. Yet we don’t find it ridiculous that Jesus continues to come to us every day in the mass. Perhaps the apparitions are still going on because people are so slow to respond.

What is the Church’s official response to Medjugorje? The first commission that was set up concluded that ‘the supernatural nature of the events there could not yet be established.’ That means that they are not saying anything either way. Pope Benedict has now set up a new commission to investigate the events again.

One of the visionaries called Mirjana had an exerpience which I think is worth mentioning. About a month and a half before Our Lady began to appear to the children, Mirjana’s mother died. When Our Lady began to appear to the children Mirjana asked her about her mother. Our Lady told her that she was in heaven and was very happy. Before Our Lady stopped appearing to Mirjana she asked her if there was anything she would like to her to do for her. Mirjana asked if she could see her mother again. She recalls that Our Lady then disappeared and her own mother then appeared before her. She was able to talk to her, to hug and kiss her. Her mother told her that she was very proud of her and that she should be obedient to her grandmother who was now looking after her. Mirjana now says ‘I am living proof that there is life after death.’ It is quite impressive to listen to her recall this event.

I also read something about one of the visionaries this year which greatly impressed me. One of them said (I think it was Marija) that now because of what Our Lady has taught them, if she had a chance to have our Lady appear to her or to go to the mass, she would go to the mass first, because she realises that in the mass it is Jesus we meet and receive, and there is nothing greater than this. That impressed me a lot, because it would make sense to me that this would be the case. If we truly believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, then there is nothing greater than this.

To sum up: when any mother sees her children in trouble she will go to any length to help them. Our Lady is our mother and she can see that we are in difficulty and so she has come to put us back on the right track. God must be at the centre. We need to read the Bible, to pray, fast and go to the Holy Mass where we encounter God in the most extraordinary way.

One of the reasons why I keep going back there is because it helps me to keep going as a priest. It gives me new strength and courage to try and persevere and it also helps me to remember what is important. I need that strength and I am a firm believer in using whatever works.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.