Friday, June 29, 2018

13th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 5:21-43) God created us for life

Not long after I was ordained, I was working as a hospital chaplain. I remember coming across a young girl of about 12 who was very sick. She was in the hospital several times and she eventually died. I can still see her pale dead body in the intensive care room and her poor parents who were completely devastated. I remember feeling so helpless as a chaplain. I have often prayed for them since. Every time I read today's Gospel I think of that little girl and her parents. 

An event like that always brings up the most difficult questions. Why does God allow these things to happen? Why didn’t God heal her? The readings today give us some interesting things to think about in regard to this. First of all death was not something that God wanted for us. And although it is now a part of our earthly existence, it is only a stage of transformation, a doorway to another stage of our life with God. 

The way that Jesus dealt with sickness and death also has a lot to teach us. Since Jesus was able to heal people and even bring people back from the dead, as he did on a few occasions, why did he always want people to be quiet about it? In this Gospel he only brought three of his disciples with him and when he got to the house he made as if the girl was not dead at all. Then he asked the family to keep the whole event quiet. Why? You would think that it would be in his favour if people knew and that He would have more respect and that people would listen to him. Perhaps it was because his primary role was not about healing people physically, even though he had great compassion for people who were sick. However, his main role involved three things: To sacrifice himself for us for the forgiveness of sins, so that we might have eternal life with God when we die. Second, to show us that God is with us in our sufferings. Jesus freely accepting death on a cross showed us this.Third, to teach us about God and what our life is all about. 

Jesus wanted to teach us that God is not interested in condemning us, or ‘catching us out,’ rather that God has made us to be with him and that God will make that happen if we allow him to. During our time on earth God is gradually transforming us and helping us to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. The teachings that Jesus left us with are the path which leads us through this gradual transformation, so that we become more like God all the time. Jesus is saying, ‘If you want to be transformed inside, then live the way that I am showing you. Spend your life loving and serving the people around you. Don’t always put yourself first and don’t spend your whole life trying to store up a wealth that will disappear the day you die.’ If we get too focused on the world around us, we will miss what our life is really about.

It is tempting to think that that kind of life is only for a few people and that our own life is too difficult or too demanding to be like that; but that is not true. If it was not possible to live this way of life, then Jesus would not have taught us about it. The truth is that all of us are given endless opportunities to live the way Jesus taught us, because we are all the time being faced with difficult situations where we continually have to make a choice for good or evil. All of these choices are shaping us and making us into better or worse people. The good thing is that even if we have made a mess of many of the choices we’ve been given, God keeps giving us more, because God wants us to grow into the kind of people that He knows we can become. It is the ordinary struggles that we are faced with every day which are shaping us.

Often at funerals I hear people speaking about the person who has died as if they are gone forever, their existence extinguished, nothing else. But to see it that way is to completely miss the point of what our faith teaches us. What Jesus has taught us is that while we are on earth we are all the time preparing for the world to come, something which is unimaginably wonderful. If we really believe that then we can quietly be happy for those who have gone before us, because they have already reached it, at least if they have chosen it by the way they live. We too have to choose it by the way we live. However, knowing that something wonderful awaits us should give us both a comfort and a hope for those who have died. Sooner or later we will also be there. For now we do our best to try and live as best we can, to continually choose good over evil and to live as God asks us to.

He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Feast of John the Baptist (Gospel: Luke 1: 57-66, 80) Standing up for what is right

On Father’s Day (June 17), the First Lady, Melania Trump, said the following: ‘We need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.’ I give her great credit for coming out so strongly in the face of all the politicians. Several of the other former First Ladies came out too. It is very easy to get so fixed on the law, that we forget what the laws are for, which is ultimately to serve the people. It takes courage to stand up like that, but sometimes that is exactly what is needed. ‘We need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.’

In the Gospels there is an account of Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees who were obsessed with living the Law perfectly. They complained to him that his disciples were breaking the Law by eating grain as they walked through fields, on the Sabbath. Their intention of keeping the Law exactly was good, but they had also begun to lose sight of humanity. There was no room for the human being. Jesus responded by saying, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mk 2:27). The laws are there to help us, not enslave us.

It is the same with our faith. If the laws of our faith begin to enslave us, then they are no longer serving their purpose. Jesus also said about the Pharisees, ‘They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other peoples shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them’ (Matthew 23:4). I think in many cases we (the Church) can still be accused of this. It is easy to make moral demands of people, but we must also help people to live these demands and it is always a fine balance.

Today we celebrate the feast of John the Baptist. Jesus said an extraordinary thing about him. He said, ‘I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he’ (Luke 7:28). That’s a pretty powerful thing to say about anyone. John challenged king Herod directly, because Herod had married his brother’s wife. He said, ‘What you are doing is wrong’ and guess what, he was arrested and later out of jealousy, beheaded. It is never easy to stand up for the truth. Martin Luther King did it. Gandhi did it and so many others throughout the ages.

If John were here today, I wonder what he would say to us? ‘Why do you keep suing each other? Have compassion for those who are struggling. Show mercy. Be content with what you have.’ I would almost be afraid of what he might say to me as a priest!

There is always a balance to be found. It is much easier to make hard laws and then tell people to figure it out. But God challenges us not to take the easy way out, because we are better than that. Making good laws is often a lot more difficult, but it is always important, because the laws are there to help us and to serve us as human beings.

I want to finish with this prayer which you have probably heard me read before. At the moment it is so easy to despair of all the evil that is around us in the world. When I find myself starting to lose hope, or build a wall around myself, I think of this prayer:


From a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan,
the children’s home in Calcutta.

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good people will accuse you, of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do, will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spent years building, may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help, but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

We need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.’ – Melania Trump

Saturday, June 16, 2018

11th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 4:26-34) Those who dedicated their lives to God

Remains of Clonmacnoise monastery (544-1552)
For the last two weeks I was in Ireland catching up with family and friends. For the second week, three dear friends of mine, a couple and their 13-year-old son, came over and we travelled around the country. I always enjoy people visiting because it makes me go to places that otherwise I usually wouldn’t bother to go to. Two places in particular which we visited, are worth mentioning. The first was the remains of a monastery called Clonmacnoise on the River Shannon. This monastery was active for over 1,000 years! It was eventually wiped out during a time of religious persecution, but the idea that there were monks there for over 1,000 years is amazing. It became a very important center of culture and learning.

Another place we visited is called Skellig Michael. It has recently become famous because they filmed much of the last Star Wars movie there. Skellig Michael is a small island, or large rock, 7 miles into the Atlantic off the south west coast of Ireland. Over 1,200 years ago monks built a small monastery on the top of this rock. It is hard to imagine what the conditions there must have been like in winter. Today, unless the weather is very good, they cannot land the boats there, because of the swell from the Atlantic. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to live there.

Skellig Michael on the right

Part of the monastery
Why do I mention these places? It’s not just to tell you about my vacation. I always find it very inspiring to visit monasteries like these, because they are a reminder to me of the thousands of men and women throughout the ages who have dedicated their lives to God. The fact that people would do that tells us that God’s Spirit is and has been at work always, inspiring people, giving people extraordinary courage to dedicate their whole lives to him. Whenever I find myself in places like that I always try to say a prayer to the people who lived and prayed there, asking for their intercession. They too struggled as we do, had questions about their faith, as we do and probably wondered sometimes if they were crazy, just as we do. But God inspired them enough that they were willing to sacrifice everything, in order to live for him. They understood that there is nothing more important than our life in God. Apart from God our lives are meaningless.

But all that kind of thing is all in the past, right? Certainly not. Two other places we visited were active monasteries. One is a Benedictine monastery where my brother is now a monk. They have about 30 monks there, of all ages. We also visited two good friends of mine in the Poor Clare convent in Galway. They are enclosed sisters, dedicating their whole lives to prayer for all of us. They are both about 5 years older than me. God continues to inspire people to follow him in many different ways and it is good to be reminded of that. God is as alive and active in the world now as ever.

Poor Clares, Galway.
Most people are not called to Religious life. In fact, only a tiny percentage of people are. But all of us are called by God, inspired by God and spoken to by God, all the time. Our response to God is just as important as the monks and nuns throughout the ages. We live out that same calling in different ways. For most people it will be in married or single life. You will not be able to give the same amount of time to prayer and studying the Scriptures as those of us in Religious life, but then you are not supposed to. Each of us lives out our relationship with the Lord according to our circumstances, but it is always possible and can be just as alive for parents trying to raise a family as it is for a monk in a monastery 7 miles out to sea off the west coast of Ireland. Our relationship with the Lord is real, but like any relationship we also have to work at it, or it ceases to exist. No relationship with someone you love will grow if you completely ignore, or hardly acknowledge them. A relationship needs our time and energy if it is to be alive. Our relationship with God is exactly the same.

When we die, so many of the earthly things we give so much time to, will disappear into insignificance. The only thing that will matter then, is how we loved and served the people around us. If we try to keep our relationship with God alive, it helps us not to forget what is truly important.

All the monks who were in those ruined monasteries I visited, are now gone to God. They struggled just as we do. Now it is our turn, until we too are called home to be with God.