Thursday, May 24, 2018

Feast of the Holy Trinity, Year B (Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20) Invited into the life of God

We believe that God was completely fulfilled, perfectly happy and content, not in need of anything, before God created the universe and the human race. Wouldn’t it make you wonder why God bothered to create us at all, since we have proved to be so much trouble?  And God knew about all the trouble that it was going to cause. So why did God create us?
Here is how it makes some sense to me. Think for a moment of some time when you were deeply happy about something: a wedding, a birthday, the birth of a child. Our instinct is to share it. We want others to be a part of that happiness and so we celebrate these times of happiness. That is one way to understand why God created us, simply because in his goodness He wanted others to share in his own happiness. And so he created the spirit world, that we understand as the angels and then He created the human race, in order that we could share in his happiness. The book of Genesis says that we were the last thing that God created, which is a biblical way of saying that we were the most important thing, the masterpiece of God’s creation. We are God’s greatest creation! God also created us to be like him, with the ability to love and reason and above all with free will.

However, there was one ‘catch’ as it were. In order for us to be able to love God we had to be free, so that we could freely choose to love God, otherwise it wouldn’t be real love at all. Real love has to be free, since you can never force someone to love you. You can encourage them, but you certainly can’t force them. Love has to be free or it isn’t love. So God made us free which meant that we would have the freedom to love God and gradually find our way to happiness, or to reject God which would ultimately mean we would lose the happiness that God had intended for us. It’s a strange paradox. God created us and gave us freedom, even though He knew that some of his own creatures would reject him.  

A friend of mine, a very devout Catholic, after he was married and had children, said to me one time that when he looks at his children he couldn’t believe that God who is so loving would let people go to hell, that God would create hell. How could any parent allow their children deliberately to suffer? But the paradox is that no matter how much we love our children, we cannot force them to love us back. You know the pain of falling in love with someone who doesn’t love you back, or pushes you away. Hell is the pain that people who reject God end up with, because they reject the only one who can give us total fulfillment. If you push away total happiness, you get total misery. If you reject all joy, then you end up with all pain. That’s what hell is: losing all that can fulfill us and bring us joy. God doesn’t send us to hell. We choose it if we reject God. If we have real freedom then hell must also be real. If heaven is guaranteed for everyone, then we are not truly free, because to be truly free means we have the choice to love or not to love.

The image of the above icon above, is a very famous one painted in the 15th century by Andrei Rublev. Icons are not just paintings, they are meant to be a window into the other world. There is a whole ritual of prayer that goes into creating one and everything in the icon has a meaning. I just want to mention a few things in this image which I think are beautiful. In the Old Testament there is the story of Abraham making his journey, when three men suddenly appear to him. They are angels and he realizes after talking to them that he is talking to God. They can be understood as representing the Trinity. The colors of the three figures tell us something. On the left is the image of the Father. He wears the color of gold, but it seems to be changing into different colors. No one can know the face of God. The Father is pointing to, or blessing, the Son who is in the center. He is wearing a dark cloak, the color of earth and a bright blue cloak the  color of heaven. Jesus unites heaven and earth by his death and resurrection. He is fully human and fully divine. Jesus is pointing to the Spirit on the right. He is wearing light blue of the sky and light green of the ocean. The Spirit is the who brings order to the Father’s creation of heaven and earth. Each is pointing to the right in a circle. But the most interesting part of the icon is the space at the front. That is the space that is kept for us. God invites us to be part of his life. Our ultimate goal is to be united with God in heaven and the house in the top left, is the symbol of the Father’s house where there is a place for us. We are invited to be part of the circle. The image is also telling us that God is with us on our journey, symbolized by the staffs they are holding which is long and tiring. So we rest with God and we also share the Eucharist to give us strength. The Eucharist is represented by the bowl in the center of the table, which contains the lamb. We are invited to be part of God’s life and God is with us every step of the way.

The Lord knows how difficult it can be for us to make the right choices and so He gives us people to guide us, the commandments, the teaching of his Church, his own Word in the bible and many other things to help us along the way, so that we won’t be short of the direction and encouragement that we need.  He also sends us holy people every so often, like Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio, Therese of Lisieux, Mother Theresa, Pope Francis and many others, often people we know, because they radiate God and they are a real sign to us of the Lord’s presence among us. These people seem to radiate God and so many people are drawn to them because they sense that presence. That is why God sends us particular chosen souls every so often, to inspire us and remind us that we are not alone. I know of several people who worked with Mother Theresa and it completely changed their life, because they met God through her.

The feast of the Holy Trinity is a celebration of love; the Trinity is a community of Persons who share total love and joy between them, and this Holy Trinity reaches out to us with that same love and invites us to join them. If we respond to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, then we are gradually drawn more and more into that love. It starts in this world and it will be fulfilled in the next. The greatest way that we imitate God is by loving the people around us, sacrificing ourselves for others. That is what God did for us and that is what God invites us to do for each other.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
So that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pentecost Sunday: The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything

There is a priest friend of mine—one of my classmates actually—who does a lot of work with the Legion of Mary calling from door to door, speaking to people about faith. He was a quantity surveyor before he became a priest and he is the most amazing organizer. He often said to me that the hardest places he found to work in were usually the wealthier areas. When people felt they had all they needed they were generally not as open to hearing about God. The poorer areas were usually much more open to what he had to say, which doesn’t surprise me.

From all the various crises that are happening at the moment, one of the good things that is coming from them is that they are helping us to ask a lot of questions and to search for God in a new way. Economic crisis helps us to realise that we are much more vulnerable than we might have thought. Religious crisis and terrorism—such as we are seeing at the moment—help us to remember that while religion can be a great help, it is absolutely deadly if it is misused. Any religion is simply a way to help us live out what we believe in, but unless it is completely focused on God and unless God is at the centre, it can become an end in itself and a very dangerous one at that.

There is one crucial thing that is needed for faith to be alive and healthy and that is the gift of God’s Spirit. For me the best way of explaining it is to compare the Spirit to electricity. In any building like this one, you can have all kinds of useful equipment, such as microphones, lights, projectors, but none of these things would be of any use to us if we didn’t have electricity. They would just sit there uselessly. The power that goes into them is what transforms them into something wonderful. In a sense the Holy Spirit is the electricity that makes us alive. Without God’s Spirit we are dead, the Scriptures are just words in a book; the mass is just an empty ritual; marriage is just a legal way of being together, but with the Holy Spirit our faith suddenly lights up. With the Holy Spirit the Scriptures become the living word of God which speaks to our hearts and challenges us to grow; the mass becomes the living presence of Jesus among us in the Eucharist, where we can have the most intimate encounter possible with Jesus. With the Holy Spirit marriage involves a third person, present to support, strengthen and encourage every couple as they try and live out their married life together. Any way of life worth living is difficult, but God offers us the help we need through the gift of his Spirit.

 The truth is that we are nothing without the gift of God’s Spirit. We would not be able to believe, or pray or even know God. I could stand at the altar and pray all day long, but nothing would happen if the Holy Spirit didn’t transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The same is true with confession. It is the Spirit who forgives people. The priest is just an instrument, an important instrument, but only an instrument. And isn’t it an extraordinary thought that the Holy Spirit obeys a human being?! When a priest says the words of consecration at the mass, ‘This is my Body which will be given up for you,’ the Holy Spirit immediately transforms the bread into the body of Christ. And when the priest says the words, ‘I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ the Spirit of God blots out the sins of that person. Such is the amazing generosity and humility of God.

When we see scandals coming to light in the Church, that is also the work of the Holy Spirit, purifying and renewing his people. That is happening because the Lord loves us and won’t allow his people to be overcome with disease. All the poison is being taken away and this is painful, but absolutely essential. We are always better off because of the purifying work which God is bringing about. God is forcing us to rely much more on the power of his Word and of his Spirit, something which we should have been doing all along. And perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that God’s work is always beautiful and God will make things beautiful again, because God is the master craftsman.

The Lord doesn’t wait until we are ready either. God acts when the time is right. He doesn’t just wait for the hierarchy of his Church to decide what to do, He sends his Spirit who inspires people and moves people to act. That’s not to say that God doesn’t care about his bishops and priests; of course He does, but God knows how best to act and so He sends his Spirit to inspire and move people to step out in faith and live the Gospel, and they in turn move others, until soon the people are alive with faith again.

 Despite our best efforts we continually need to be helped back on the right track, no matter what we are doing. This is why Jesus told us before he ascended into heaven, that the Father would send us this ‘Helper’, who would be with us forever, and who would teach us everything. The Lord knew well that we would need help and so He sent us the best help that we could have, his own Spirit, to guide us and teach us and God does teach us constantly through the example of people He inspires, through the Word of God, through prayer when we are open to him and in many other ways we will never even be aware of. The Spirit is very gentle and that is why we don’t notice him sometimes.
The gift of God’s own Spirit is really the greatest thing God can give us after life itself, because when we have the Holy Spirit we have everything. Keep praying to the Holy Spirit asking him to set us on fire with his gift of faith.

Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful people,
Send forth your Spirit and we will be created,
And you will renew the face of the earth.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Ascension of the Lord into heaven (Gospel: Matthew 16:15-20)

Let me tell you about two experiences I had recently, which are a reminder to me of how God is constantly at work around us. I often experience things like this. The first one happened this past week. A friend of mine from home, let's call her Mary, whom I have known for over 30 years, kept coming to my mind during the week. When that happens I always believe it is the Lord telling me to pray for that person. She was instrumental in helping me come back to Church. I haven’t seen her in about a year. So after a few days I sent her a text just saying that she had been on my mind, I was praying for her and I hoped all was ok. The next day I got an email from here which said,
I’m blown away.... I’m stunned by your text... I’ve had a big meltdown with The Lord over the past few days... My spirit has been So irritated... I’m even questioning who I’m praying to. I told Him last night, that I wanted Him to Reveal Himself to me...
Getting your text is helping me to believe that there must be A God, who knows all about me...!

The other experience was in Lee Memorial hospital recently when I was going to visit someone. I was in the elevator with a few people and there was a young mother there with a baby in a push chair. She asked me if I was a priest and I said yes. She asked me how she could get a priest to come to bless her husband who had been in an accident. I told her I would go with her right away if she wished. So we went to her husband who was in intensive care. He had fallen and broken his back and they didn’t know if he would be able to walk again. I asked her if she would like me to give him the sacrament of the sick (also called ‘Anointing of the Sick’). She said that they weren’t married in the Church. I told her this wasn’t the time to worry about that and so I prayed with them and anointed him.  She was so grateful and there were tears streaming down her face. She asked me to bless her children too, one of whom was sick and naturally, I did. That’s called God’s providence and it happens all the time. I think it is good to be reminded of these kinds of happenings, where the Spirit is obviously at work. It is very easy to become cynical, but God is there. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences.

Why do you come here each week? Why do you give up an hour or so of your time to come to a church, listen to readings that were written thousands of years ago and watch a strange ritual? I’m sure it’s not just to listen to me. It is because God draws us here.


After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the word began to spread about what had happened and that Jesus had begun to appear to the Apostles and others. He was alive and He was speaking to people. Anywhere there have been rumors of Jesus, or Mary appearing in different parts of the world, people come in their thousands to find out more. Why? because we always want to know about the other world and what it is like. We need reassurance that what we believe is real. Despite people who will mock the idea of the spiritual world and some of the attempts to disprove it, the majority of people still believe in God and seek God and that is the power of God’s Spirit at work.

In last week’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘You did not choose me. I chose you.’ God is the one who seeks us out and continually whispers to us to seek him and it was the same back then. So after the resurrection people began to come together and listen to the stories of the Apostles about what had happened and what it meant. The Apostles began to explain to them what Jesus had taught them, what the point of his life and death was and that He now became present to them in the breaking of the bread, that is, the mass. People were eager to hear about this, especially when they saw that the Apostles were on fire with this message that they were willing to sacrifice the rest of their lives to pass on this message and even be killed for it, which most of them were.

What exactly was it that the Apostles were teaching the people? They were fitting all the pieces together going back to the earlier writings of the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and telling the people what Jesus had taught them. Jesus’ teaching was what made sense of their lives, of our lives, of why we are here and where we are going when we die; that heaven is real and that we have to be careful how we live this life and about the choices we make.

All that, the reading of the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, the breaking of bread, is what we now call the mass which we continue to do each week. It may not always seem that interesting and often we are distracted, but we keep coming back because we also want to try and make sense of our lives and what is going on around us. Why is there so much suffering in our world? It wasn’t a whole lot different in Jesus’ time either. There was also much killing, injustice, wars, disease and famine, just as there is now.

Jesus ascending into heaven was the time when he told the Apostles to start spreading this message, so that we would know and understand the purpose of our life. When we understand why we are here we live differently.

It also says that when Jesus appeared to them just before He ascended into heaven that they worshiped him, but some doubted. Some doubted, even though Jesus had appeared to them and they had witnessed many miracles. It is normal that we doubt and have questions, because we have not seen what the other world is like. Are we imagining it, is this just a way of comforting ourselves. Karl Marx called religion, ‘The opium of the people’, a drug to comfort us. But the Lord has taught us otherwise and continues to speak to us in many different ways.

For now we will continue to come together, to listen to the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We don’t understand, but we believe.

So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

Friday, May 4, 2018

6th Sunday of Easter Yr B "If you love me you will keep my commandments”

All of us continually make prayers of petition. We ask for what we need: exams, relationships, money worries, work, whatever it is; we ask God for help and expect to be answered and rightly so, since God has told us that we should ask him for what we need. Jesus even says it in this Gospel reading: “…the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.” But if you go back a few lines he says something else. The Lord says, “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love… and then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.” God asks us to keep his commandments first, because that’s how it is in any relationship. You ask someone you love for something and you know that they will do their best to give it to you, or do it for you, because of your love for each other, but the love for each other is there first. You don’t ask favors from complete strangers, at least not often. You ask people you love.

Love brings with it obedience and faithfulness. A couple who love each other try to obey each other and try to be faithful to each other and then their love grows and as the love grows they know they can rely on each other for what they need. Our love for God is the same. The more we come to know God, the more we know that we can rely on him for what we need, because it is based on a loving relationship, with a real person, the person of Jesus. Our faith is not just about believe in a ‘thing’, or an idea, but in a person, the person of Jesus. We cannot expect God to answer our prayers if we are not willing to do as God asks. What kind of a relationship would that be? It would be just one person using the other. If our relationship with someone we love was only about asking for what we need, what kind of a relationship would that be? It wouldn’t be a relationship at all, rather, the abuse of another person.

Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” In other words, this is how we show God that we love him, by trying to be obedient to him. What are his commandments? Love God, respect his name, keep Sunday holy, honor you parents, don’t kill, steal, don’t commit adultery or lie. If we aren’t prepared to try to keep these commandments of God, can we still expect him to give us what we ask? Would you expect your husband or wife, or someone you love, to do things for you, if you refused to do what they asked you?  Of course not.

The important thing to remember is this: God loves us first and that is where we get the strength to do as he asks us. ‘You did not choose me. I chose you.’ What we have to do, is be open in our hearts. You may find yourself saying “It’s very hard to keep the commandments. It’s very hard to try and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s very hard to keep Sunday as a holy day. It is not realistic.” You’re right, it is practically impossible to live as God asks, if you rely on your own strength, but we are not expected to. We rely on God’s strength for these things. It’s called grace and that’s what makes the difference. I could not live as a celibate man by my own strength. I rely on God’s help every day. I ask for God’s help, every day. We cannot say it’s too hard, because we have God’s strength to help us. But how do we get this help, this grace? We get it from prayer. There are 24 hours in a day, no one can say they can’t spare 20 minutes for God. If you do, it just means you have no interest, no love for God. We get it from fasting, making sacrifices. Lent isn’t the only time to fast. One day a week we can eat less, or don’t watch TV, or give up something you like, until it hurts. We get this strength especially from the Eucharist. Receive Jesus often if you want to grow in the spirit. We get it from reading the Scriptures, where God speaks to us. We get it through spending time with Jesus in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We get it through confession, when we are healed of our sins. 

God constantly offers us this strength, but we have to open our hearts to him. Then you will find a strength that you didn’t know existed; strength to love God, strength to keep his commandments, strength to love other people. We turn to God first to receive from him, then we can live as he asks.
If you love me you will keep my commandments.’