Saturday, November 25, 2017

34th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25: 31-46) Solemnity of Christ the King

At this time of the year before Advent begins, the readings always focus on the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. We do this because it was one of the things that Jesus taught. Jesus taught that he would come again and that when he does come it will be for a time of judgement. All people will be judged. Each week we say in the Creed, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead’.

It can be tempting to discard what we don’t understand, especially if it sounds a little silly. The idea of Jesus appearing in glory and coming on the clouds to judge the world may seem hard to swallow. However, it would be a great mistake on our part if we began to just take the parts of Jesus’ teaching that ‘make sense’ and leave the other ones. Perhaps a better approach is to say we accept all his teachings, but we don’t understand many of them. ‘I don’t understand, but I believe.’ That’s what faith is.

If the Lord is to come to judge the living and the dead, it implies two things:  First, that there must be a heaven and a hell. Otherwise there would be no point in judging us if it were going to make no difference. Heaven is the total happiness that being in the presence of God will bring. This is something that we cannot understand, because we have no experience of it yet, but this will be the most complete happiness we could ever know and this is what God has planned for us; that is what He wants for us and God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject God.

Then there is the total loss of God for those who reject him, and this is hell, the loss of everything that can bring happiness. Jesus has taught us that this is real, otherwise it would make no sense that we have free will, the power to accept or reject God.

 The second thing that the Lord’s coming implies is that we will have to make an account of our lives to God. We will be held accountable for our actions. I often think that when we hear about so many of these tribunals which cost millions and show the wholesale corruption that goes on, it can be very frustrating, because the people who get away with the most never seem to have to pay, either because they are powerful enough, or because of the legal system. They always seem to get off the hook. It’s wrong and it happens every day. But if a young person steals something from the local supermarket, you can be sure he or she will be brought to court and they’ll pay for it with a fine or with jail time. Yet even the rich and powerful must remember that their power and wealth won’t be with them when they die.  They too will have to give an account of themselves to God and nothing is hidden from God. I find this consoling, not because I wish evil on anyone, but because at least I know that in the end there will be justice.

Is this a reason for us to be afraid? Of course not, unless we are deliberately trying to fool God. If we try to live as the Lord teaches us and make even the smallest effort, then we have nothing to fear. If we just get on with the day to day tasks that we are presented with and try to be honest before God, then we have nothing to worry about, because this is what Jesus teaches us. The fact is that we are all sinners, we all fall short of the mark and none of us ever get it exactly right, but God isn’t put off by this. God sees the heart. God knows when we are doing our best and trying to live as best we can.  He knows all the pressures that we are under. He knows how difficult it is to try and survive in the world. The Lord looks at each of our hearts and judges us by what is in our heart. So, there is no reason for us to be afraid if we make even the smallest effort. 

It is also important to remember that God is infinitely merciful and mercy is something which is not deserved. God’s justice and mercy go together.  Think of all the times that we see people in the paper convicted of some terrible crime, and we say, ‘I hope he gets life,’ or ‘I hope they kill him…’  It’s just as well for our sake that God is more merciful with us, than we are with each other, or none of us would stand a chance. 

Another reason why we can never judge someone else is because we don’t know what’s in their heart. We don’t know what has influenced another person’s actions, or what pressures they are under. That’s why Jesus teaches us, ‘Do not judge and you will not be judged’. Only God can judge, and only God will judge perfectly justly. We can judge the outward actions of a person, but we cannot judge the heart.

There is a story of a young man who was in Napoleon’s army.  He deserted because he was tired of war and afraid, but he was caught. The punishment for desertion was death and so he was to be executed. But his mother happened to work in Napoleon’s house. She managed to meet with him and she pleaded on her son’s behalf. She explained that this man was her only son and all that she had in the world. She asked Napoleon to show him some mercy. Napoleon replied, ‘He doesn’t deserve mercy.’ The woman said to him, ‘If he deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy.’ Mercy is not deserved, but it is given out of love and compassion. You can see this from the extraordinary compassion that Jesus showed to the various people he met during his life on earth. Even the ones whose lives were a total mess, he showed such respect and love.

God is infinitely merciful and so if we try to do what is right we have nothing to be afraid of.

Jesus Christ is Lord and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday of Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30) Consecration to Jesus through Mary

Bishop Dewane has asked all parishes to make a consecration of the parish and the whole diocese, to Mary. This will be done on Christmas Eve and there is a 33-day preparation for this, which will involve prayers each day to be said in each parish. I would like to try and explain what this means and why we would be asked to do this.

A consecration of something, or someone, means a dedication to something sacred. When a new church is built, it is consecrated, or ‘dedicated’ to God as a place of worship. When I was ordained a priest, I was consecrated to God’s service. To consecrate our parish and our world to Our Lady is to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary. But why not just consecrate our diocese to Jesus directly? Why do we need to bring Mary into it?

God the Father chose to give his Son Jesus to us, through Mary, because He wants us to be part of his work in the world. God could fix everything in the world instantly, but God wants us human beings to be involved in his creation and his work and this is a reminder to us of how much God respects us and loves us. So, God gave us Jesus, through Mary. Mary was his instrument to bring us Jesus. He allowed his work to depend on the cooperation of a human being. This woman, Mary, who was just a teenager at the time, was invited to play this extraordinary role in history. Through her ‘yes’ to God’s invitation, Jesus, the One who would free us from eternal death, came into the world. So the most ideal way for us to come to Jesus, is also through Mary. Who is closer to God than Mary? No one. What request of Mary would be refused by Jesus? Nothing. She is the ideal vessel to bring us to Jesus. To consecrate our parishes and diocese to Jesus through her, is the ideal way to give ourselves to Jesus.

Why do we need to make this consecration at all? Don’t we already belong to Jesus? Of course we do, but in the words of John Paul II, we are living in a time of ‘unprecedented evil’, in a ‘culture of death.’ However, God’s word in the Bible also tells us that ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (Rom 5:20). This means that even where there is terrible evil, God’s help will be there even more, which means that right now, God is offering us more help than ever, to overcome what is happening around us.

When Our Lady appeared in Fatima, she warned the children that the world must turn back to God to prevent further wars and catastrophes. She said that many people had turned away from God and that the sins of the world were greatly offending God. Those apparitions took place during World War 1. Our Lady also said that if people turned back to God with prayer and penance the war (WW1) would end and a second greater war could be prevented. She said to the children:

“To prevent this [Second World War] I shall come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and Communions of reparation on the first Saturdays. If my requests are heard, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, fomenting wars and persecution of the Church.”

Right now we need all the help we can get and to rededicate ourselves to Jesus through Mary, is exactly what we need to do in order to help us reduce and overcome the evil in the world.

We don’t know that much about the life of Mary, but we do know that everywhere in the Bible that mentions Mary, she was always pointing people to Jesus, bringing people to Jesus. At the wedding of Cana when the couple ran out of wine, she asked Jesus to fix the situation. Jesus said that this wasn’t his time to start working miracles, but he did it anyway because Mary asked him to. Anywhere that Mary has appeared in the world, and there have been quite a few places, it has always been about her pointing us back to Jesus. So a consecration to Mary is really about Jesus.

At the end of his life on earth, while dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted John the Apostle to Mary. ‘Son, behold your mother’ (John 19:26). Now St. John also represents the model disciple, in other words, this is what we are also called to be like. St. John was always the one who did the right thing and was faithful to Jesus to the end. He was the only one of the Apostles beside Jesus at the foot of the cross. He represents all disciples, which is us. Jesus entrusted all of us to the care of Our Lady, because she is the perfect instrument to bring us to Jesus. That is why she has continually appeared in different places, pointing us to Jesus, asking us to come back to Jesus, for our own sake.

At this time, our world has gone crazy. Just think about this country alone: all the killings for no particular reason. This wasn’t happening up to quite recently. Why is it happening now? Because there is so much evil in the world and because so many people have turned away from God. We need all the help we can get to prevent it from getting any worse. Therefore, we rededicate ourselves, our parishes and our diocese, to Our Lady, to help refocus on Jesus, rededicate ourselves to Jesus, in order to put things right again.

When we are in trouble, God always shows us what we need to do. This is what God is showing us right now.

This 33-day preparation will involve prayers during each mass starting this Tuesday. If you would like to do this in a more in-depth way, there is also a book available for private use called 33 Days to Morning Glory. 

Whether you decide to do the indepth version of this 33-day preparation, or just join us at whatever mass you find yourself at, take this seriously. Each day make a private prayer for yourself and your family or loved ones, so that we all may be drawn closer to Jesus, through Mary. We really need God’s help at this time and God is offering it to us through this consecration to Our Lady.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Friday, November 10, 2017

32nd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13) Those who were ready went in to the wedding hall and the door was closed

November is a time when we pray especially for those who have died. We pray for them because we know it’s important to pray for the dead, that they will have their sins forgiven. When we die most people are not holy enough that they can come straight into the presence of God’s pure holiness, so they go through a state or ‘purification’, or ‘being made ready’ for God. This is what we call Purgatory and we know that we can help the souls of those who are there, by praying for them and making sacrifices for them. I often think of it this way: when we wake up in the morning and turn on the bed-side light, we have to shield our eyes because it is too bright. We have to adjust. Can you imagine if we had the full light of the sun at that moment? It would be unbearable. So a time of adjustment is needed. We may also need to atone for sins that we have committed but have not atoned for. How do we know this is true? Many of the saints have been shown Purgatory and this has been explained to them. One of the most extraordinary mystics of all time, St. Pius of Pietrelcina (better known as Padre Pio), said that more souls came to him from Purgatory asking for prayers, than people on earth did. And so we pray for those who have died and not just mourn for them. When I die, I’m sure people will mourn for me as is normal when anyone dies. I would rather that they pray for me.

Is it foolish for us to ever think that hell and purgatory are real? If it were impossible for anyone to go there, then Jesus would hardly have warned people so often to be careful as there would have been no need. But Jesus frequently warned us to be careful and to be ready and not just to presume that everything will be alright. We can always have great confidence in God’s mercy and never be afraid, but I think what Jesus is warning us of, is presumption. It would be a mistake to presume that everything will be fine, even if we have completely ignored God all our life. The attitude that you meet quite often which says, ‘I’ll be alright on the day. I’ll sort things out with God myself’, as though we were equal to God, or could manipulate God. God will of course forgive those who repent and are sincere. That is what Jesus continually assured us of. But it would be foolish of us to think that we can take advantage of his mercy. God is merciful, but God is not a fool.

But how could hell exist at all, you say? How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  It’s a good question. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. We choose it for ourselves by the way we live. Think of it this way: if God is all goodness, beauty, light, love, joy and total fulfillment in a way that we never experience on this earth. Then hell is the opposite of this; evil, ugliness, darkness, hatred, isolation and the terrible pain of knowing that we have lost the chance of total fulfillment and happiness. To reject God is to reject all that God is. By rejecting God, we choose the opposite. Our life on earth is the time we have to make the choice for God or against God and we do that by the way we live.

God does not want anyone to be cut off from him. That is not what He created us for. And God continually gives each of us every opportunity to come back to him, all through our life, no matter how far we may have strayed. Think of the ‘good thief’ dying on the cross beside Jesus. When he asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus replies, ‘Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). God will never give up on us, as long as we are alive, but we also have to decide for God and if we don’t, we have to face the consequences. We have free will, but our choices also have consequences.

Look at what it says in the Gospel reading about the bridesmaids who were left outside.  When they said ‘Lord, Lord, let us in.’ He said, ‘I do not know you’. They had never concerned themselves with God and so they did not know God, and so God did not know them.  ‘I do not know you’.

We need not let ourselves be preoccupied with this, as God assures of his infinite mercy to anyone who reaches out to him, but just as the world is full of dangers, such as drugs, violence and people with evil intentions and we always try to warn our children what they need to be careful of, so God is doing the same with us, warning us that we need to be careful. 

The Lord is telling us to be wise and realise that we have to be responsible.  If you say you believe in God, then do, and live as He asks you to live, and don’t be afraid.  We all want to reach the happiness of heaven and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, but we also must be wise and not take it for granted.