Saturday, September 28, 2013

26th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 16:19-31) Rich and poor

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.  That's what the first reading is about.  Through the prophet Amos, God condemns those who lavishly enjoy themselves while ignoring those around them who are suffering and in want.

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 and responsibility.  We are shown the two extremes.  The poor man Lazarus was at this rich man’s gate (the rich man is traditionally known as Dives).  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 was condemned and lost heaven, not because he had riches.  There is nothing wrong with having riches.  What we do with it is what’s important.  If I am wealthy then that is the situation God has given me 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 up 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.  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, let us thank God for it, but it also means that we 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 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 expected 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.  If we find ourselves in a situation where we have plenty, we must remember first that we are in the minority, and second that we have a responsibility to look out for those who are in need and they are in the majority.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

25th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 16:1-13) Responsibility

In my hometown a few years ago a man took his own life as sadly often happens.  He was a great family man, involved in his local parish, well known and respected and he had also become very wealthy.  Everyone was shocked.  After his death it was discovered that he had got much of his wealth through fraud and it was about to come to light.  It seems he couldn’t face it and he took his own life.  A terrible tragedy that no one would want to happen.

One of my sisters in-law, Claire, used to work as a stenographer (one of the people in court who records every word spoken in each case).  She witnessed many court cases and I remember her saying that many of the cases of fraud and corruption, especially on a large scale, become so complicated that no one can follow them and they eventually get rejected.  It seems that the bigger the crime the more likely you are to get away with it.  One of the judges said to her one time, ‘If you want to get away with a crime, don’t steal something from Dunnes Stores (Walmart equivalent in the US), steal  Dunnes Stores itself!’

We are used to hearing many stories of corruption and it is always so frustrating because there is usually little or nothing we can do about it.  The world economic crash came about because of greed and dishonesty.  The prophet Amos refers to the same problem in the first reading, which was written about 800 years before Christ.  Humanity doesnt change.  However, the good thing is that everyone will be held accountable when they come before God and why I say that is good news is that even if people get away with corruption now, they will not get away with it when they come before God.  We will all be held accountable for our actions.

There is nothing wrong with having wealth, so long as we realize that we have a responsibility to use it properly.  I have often heard it said from people who have done very well, ‘I worked hard for my money!’  No doubt they did, but the poor work hard too, but their circumstances are different from the beginning and they are often trapped at the bottom.  If we have done well, thank God for it, but remember who gave us the opportunities, the health, the education, the ability, the intelligence?  Everything is a gift from God.  If God has blessed us in this way it means that we also have a responsibility to use it well.  Perhaps the Lord gave you money specifically to help people in various situations, but that is where we must be careful to do just that.  Money is a very useful thing, but it is only a tool which we can use for good or evil.  As Christians who try and follow the way of the Lord we must be especially careful that we do not become slaves to money, or see money as an end in itself.  It is a tool and we must use it wisely and this applies to me as a priest as much as everyone else.  People are very generous to us priests and I have to be careful that I don’t just line my pockets instead of making good use of it.  I too will be accountable before God.

If we are living in great luxury it probably means that others are doing without.  Usually when couples have families they are more pressed for cash as they try and provide for their children.  But then later on when children have grown up, you may find you have you have more surplus and that is when we must remember to try and provide for the next generation and those around us, as others did for us.

Wealth (if we have wealth) and talents have been entrusted to us for a reason, it is up to us to use it well.

You cannot serve both God and money.’

Friday, September 13, 2013

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 was just in one 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 (St. Pius of Pietrelcina), 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.

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 7, 2013

23rd Sunday, Yr C (Gospel: Luke 14:25-33) Providence


There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to plough his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?"

Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?"

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck?  Who knows?

When we look back over our life, whether it be long or short, I think many of us have regrets and there have probably been many disappointments: relationships that didn’t work; marriages that broke up; careers that fell apart; unexpected sickness that changed everything.  We think that ‘If only things had gone differently…’  While it is normal to experience disappointment I think the eyes of faith can help us to see it differently.

In the story it talks about ‘good luck, bad luck’, but we call it providence.  The Lord provides.  As humans we continually make mistakes, but the wonderful thing is that the Lord can and does bring extraordinary good even out of our mistakes.  In the book of Genesis we read that Moses actually murdered a man and then in fear of the punishment he fled the country.  That was his life written off you’d imagine.  Yet years later God appeared to him in the burning bush and sent him to rescue his people from slavery.  King David committed adultery and then had the woman’s husband murdered to cover his tracks.  This was a terrible double crime.  Eventually he took this woman Bathsheba to be his wife.  However, the second child born to Bathsheba was the future king Solomon who was considered probably the greatest king of Israel because he brought peace and rebuilt the temple.  God can bring extraordinary good out of our worst mistakes.  God is not put off by our mistakes.

Many of the things that went wrong for us that we look back can seem quite different if we look on them with the eyes of faith.  I don’t mean by that that it’s good that they happened, but sometimes they also lead us to other unexpected good things.  That is what we call providence.  This also gives us great hope because it means that even when things do go wrong it’s not the end of the line.

I always find it inspiring to see the great goodness that comes out in people when someone experiences tragedy or when a natural disaster occurs.  People come out of the woodwork to help and often the charity shown in turn brings more goodness out of people.  It is contagious.

So we are wise when we leave it to God to decide what is good fortune and what misfortune, and thank him that all things turn out for good with those who love him.

Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the Lord intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.