Friday, January 27, 2017

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time yr A (Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12) Why I am priest

St. Patrick's Seminary, Maynooth, Ireland, where I studied.
Today I would like to share with you something more personal than I usually would. I would like to tell you why I am a priest. Not how I became a priest, but why I am a priest. I suppose it’s something you probably don’t think of very often, but people often ask me why I became a priest.

First of all I believe that God called me to be a priest. There was a real sense of God calling me in this way and it was a persistent call. Although it was something both exciting and wonderful, it was also something scary and painful. I knew it would mean that I would not get married, which was a natural attraction for me. But what I always say to people is that the calling to be a priest was stronger than the calling to be married, even though both were there.

The year I entered the seminary was the year when all the scandals began to break in Ireland. It started with my own bishop having had a child and it got steadily worse with all the sexual abuse scandals. This made all of us in the seminary think a lot about why we were there. After I was ordained the scandals continued and the atmosphere in our society was very difficult. I know it was the same here. Because of the way the media presented it, almost every priest was considered a pedophile, which was very difficult, as you can imagine. Why would I want to be part of an organization that tried to cover up such horrific scandals? The reason is simple. I believe.

The high cross at Clonmacnoise 
I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord; that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, not in a symbolic way, but really and truly present. The bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Since I believe that is true, there could be no more extraordinary miracle and I always consider it the greatest privilege that I have as a human being and as a priest. It is always an honor and a privilege to be allowed go to the altar and celebrate the mass, even when I’m half asleep on a Monday morning, or when I humanly don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes it scares me when God reminds me that I am a sinner and struggle like everyone else and yet He allows me to do this for you his people, because He wants us to be able to receive him in Holy Communion. For all of us that is an incredible gift. I do not understand it, but I believe it. I also believe that God speaks to us through the sacred scriptures. God actually speaks to us personally and God has much to say to us. The scriptures were written by human hands, but they were inspired by God and that is why we never replace them with anything else. That is also why I continue to read them over and over again.

I consider being able to hear confession as a great privilege. To be God’s instrument to bring his forgiveness and mercy to people is something wondrous. That people will come to me as God’s instrument is both humbling and wonderful to me.

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

Is it difficult? Yes. I have struggled with it every day since I was ordained 18 year ago. Twice I almost left. In fact one time I thought it was all over and I had even told people that I was leaving, not because I wanted to, but because I thought that I couldn’t handle the stress of it any more; the daily hostility I was experiencing and the sense of isolation I felt in some of the places I was working. Yet each time the Lord called me back and showed me that He would take care of it and He did.

In the second reading today it says:

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

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

and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,

those who count for nothing,

to reduce to nothing those who are something,

so that no human being might boast before God.

8th Century monastery off the West coast of Ireland
  In a mysterious way God seems to delight in calling and working through the nobodies of this world, so that it is all the more obvious that it is him at work and this is something He continually shows me. My faith keeps changing and growing and the path is often difficult, but I believe it is the most important path we will ever be asked to follow and so I will continue. I would like to finish with this quotation where St. Paul is talking about his own life.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A (Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23) Repent and believe in the good news


One thing that all of us here have in common is the search for happiness. Everyone wants and hopes to find happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but we are all looking for it. The biggest problem seems to be where to find it. We will look for it in a partner, in having children, in work, in material things. When we fall in love we may think we have found it, but if we persevere in a relationship we will realize that while it is a great gift to have this other person, they won’t completely fulfill me either, because they cannot. I am asking the impossible of someone if I expect them to completely fulfill me because only God can do that. Hopefully our happiness will begin in this life and we will have many happy times, but total fulfillment is in the next life. I think that even to recognize that much is a big step. In 1858 Our Lady appeared several times to St. Bernadette in Lourdes and one of the things she said to Bernadette was, ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ We will not have total fulfillment in this world.

When Jesus began his public ministry one of the first things he said was, ‘Repent and believe the good news’, or in today’s Gospel it says ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ What does ‘repent’ mean, and what is ‘the kingdom of heaven’ that we so often hear about? In different places Jesus says, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is among you and ‘within you.’

All of us see the world in a particular way. We have a particular mindset which is usually formed by our upbringing and our culture. We think that the way we see the world is the right way, maybe the only way. And yet if we go to a different country and culture we realize that others see it in a completely different way. There are different ways to look at the world and our way is not the only way.

Part of today’s thinking is that the way to heaven is wide and easy and that most people find it. Yet Jesus said almost the opposite. He said that the way to heaven is narrow and difficult and that not everyone finds it. He said the way to hell is wide and spacious and that many people take it. What we call ‘hell’ is the opposite of what God offers us. God offers us happiness, joy, fulfillment, love, peace and the joy of being with the people we love. To lose this is what we call hell, the opposite of all that God offers us: isolation, hatred, despair, pain, darkness and knowing that we have lost the possibility of happiness, which is the eternal presence of God, the only thing that will fulfill us. If we have free will then it makes sense that we can choose one or the other.

The kingdom of heaven that Jesus mentioned so often, is the way of looking at the world that comes from him. Seeing the goodness and beauty in the world around us and the people around us. Learning to live the commandments of God that help us to see the world in this way. And that’s why the kingdom of heaven is within us and among us, if we choose to live as Jesus taught us, with compassion and mercy, realizing that our life is about love and service.

Why does Jesus tell us to ‘repent and believe’? To repent is to continually ask forgiveness and turn back to God since we continually stray from the path that leads to heaven. It means to change our direction and follow the way that leads to happiness, to God. To lose that is the worst thing imaginable, because it would mean losing our chance of happiness, which all of us want. That is why Jesus tells us to keep coming back and seeking the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness, which He assures us awaits anyone who makes even the smallest effort to do, but to believe that we don’t need to repent is a big mistake.

He also tells us to ‘believe in the good news’, or ‘the kingdom of heaven’ because that is the way that leads us to that happiness. To understand Jesus’ teaching, to believe in it, is to understand why we are here. The teaching of Christ is the only thing that makes sense of what our life is about. While I was at home in the last week I heard a shocking statistic, which says that at the moment there are two suicides every three days. What is going on? People have lost faith and so they don’t know where to turn. They have lost the vision of what their life is about. They have lost sight of the kingdom of heaven and so they have nothing to live for. That is why what God offers us is so important and that we keep coming back to it through repentance. Not to take this seriously would be a big mistake on our part, because this is the teaching that comes from God, the most important choice that we can ever make.

            ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’

Friday, January 6, 2017

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

The feast of the Epiphany is an interesting one. In the Eastern Catholic Churches (the ones with all the icons), it is the main feast of Christmas, sometimes called the Feast of the Three Kings. They give their gifts on today’s feast just as the kings gave the gifts to the child Jesus. Here we celebrate it as the feast of Christ being recognised by the world. The three wise men, or astrologers, were led to this place where Christ was. They are supposed to have come from different countries. They represent all the peoples of the world since they were not Jewish. It is a way of saying that Jesus’ coming is for all peoples of all religions and race. All people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. 

The three gifts they bring are symbolic. Gold is the symbol of a king. Jesus is a king, King of kings and the master of the whole universe. The use of frankincense is a sign of recognising a divinity or God. Jesus is Son of God, the second person of the God-head. And myrrh is a perfume that represents the suffering He will go through to win eternal life for the human race. The symbolism of the three pagan kings is that all peoples of all religions and nations will recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord and that we only have eternal life through him. 

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile we pray that all peoples will begin to recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord even in this life, because this is the truth which God has revealed to us. But either way we try to respect people who believe differently to us, and remember that they are also children of God.

Every knee shall bow
in heaven, on earth and under the earth
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)