Thursday, August 30, 2018

22nd Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) We must love one another, but God first.

After mass one Sunday a young man said something interesting to me. He said, ‘Father, I think that at the mass you should be talking about loving each other and not just talking about things from the bible which people don’t understand.’ It is an interesting point and I agreed with him, partly. A few years ago at a wedding a man said almost the exact same thing to me.  He said, ‘You should just be telling us to be good to each other. There is no need for all these words from St. Paul to the Corinthians, etc.’ They are both absolutely right about the need to talk about loving each other, because that is one of the most important things that Jesus asked us to do, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That is how Jesus told us that people would recognize us as Christians, by the way we love each other. But there is another part to it which is easy to forget.

If we are to love one another, and that is what the Lord God asks us to do, where are we supposed to get the strength to do that? How are you supposed to love people who drive you crazy, or who are unjust to you, or who do you wrong, or steal from you, who have cheated you out of money, or offended your family? Since they are in the wrong, are we still expected to love them? Yes we are. ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who curse you.’ It seems to be a lot to ask.  In fact, it can seem quite unrealistic. This is where we have to go back to the Scriptures to see what God is saying to us, to try and make sense of this. And Jesus says, the two most important commandments are, first, ‘You must love the Lord your God above everything else’. Second, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ This may not seem very important, but this is where the answer lies.


What God is telling us is that if we are rooted in him, if he is at the center, and we become more and more filled with him and with his love, then and only then will we have the ability to love other people. We get the strength to love people, especially those we find more difficult to love, from the love we experience from God. The more our relationship with him grows, the more this is possible.

Let me give you one example. There is a woman called Sister Alvera, from Italy.  Several years ago she set up a community to help drug addicts recover. She believed that what these people were missing more than anything else in their lives, was the love of God, and that this was where their problem was really coming from. So she set up a center to help them recover, a place where they could experience the love of God first hand from other people. They live like a religious community. They have no TV, no radio and no newspapers. They do a lot of physical work and they pray a lot together. The interesting thing is that through this way of life (which is basically a monastic way of life – prayer and work) hundreds of men have overcome their drug addiction, but more importantly they have discovered faith, discovered the love of God for them and begun completely new lives. Sr. Alvera now has 36 different centers all over the world. They are known as the Cenacolo community.

There are hundreds of people like Sr. Alvera and not all religious either. The Missionaries of Charity, whom Mother Teresa founded, are another. How do they do this kind of work? It sounds very noble to work with the poor, but it can be really disgusting and dangerous too. Where do they get the strength to work with people who can be very difficult and sometimes ungrateful? The answer is simple. They are completely rooted in God. Their own personal relationship with God is where they get the strength and energy.

Our ability to love one another, to put up with and respect those we don’t like, or agree with, comes from our relationship with him. The more we come to know God, the more we can love the people around us, starting with our own families, our spouse, whoever is closest to us. As we come to know the Lord more, our ability to love others also grows. The key is in coming closer to God, nothing else.

How do we come closer to God? First, through reading his words in the bible. The Scriptures are like personal love letters to us from God. They are written for us personally. Also, through receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. We cannot get any closer to God than that. And also through repentance of sin, because God asks us to do that. To say that we don’t have any sins or that we don’t need to repent of them, is to call God a liar. We are sinners, we continually need to repent. We also deepen and live our relationship with God through prayer, which is simply communicating with God. 

All of these things help to bring about conversion of the heart, rediscovering God, coming closer to him. Only then will we be able to love the people around us and only then will our society begin to improve.

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. You must love your neighbor as yourself.’

Friday, August 24, 2018

21st Sunday Yr B (Gospel: John 6:60-69) Lord where else can we go, you have the message of eternal life

Do you ever wonder why it is that some people seem to be given the grace to believe and others don’t? I often wonder this myself; it is a strange thing. When I was nineteen I came back to my faith having stopped practicing it for a few years, as many teenagers do and as many of my friends did. Why did I come back? I don’t really know, but I believe that it was a grace that the Lord gave me. A friend of mine who had been to Medjugorje—a place in Bosnia where Our Lady is said to have been appearing—and had rediscovered her own faith through it, began to tell me about what had happened to her and how she had come to see how real God was. Her faith had come alive over there. After listening to her for an hour and a half, she invited me to go to a prayer meeting the following week. Now prayer meetings were not half cool enough for me at nineteen, but she was smart and she got a girl I had a crush on, to invite me and so of course I went. There I discovered something I had never seen before. A whole group of 30 or 40 young people, praying the rosary, singing hymns together, reading the Scriptures and sharing their experiences of faith. I found it both wonderful and strange, because I wasn’t aware that there were young people praying together anywhere, and I could see from them that they had a very real and sincere faith. They really believed in God. The scriptures really spoke to them and they took their faith very seriously. None of them had to be there and they were all very ordinary people from all kinds of back-grounds. I knew I wanted what they had and so I began to come back to the prayer meeting every week. 

A few weeks later they had what is known as a ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminar, where they teach about the reality of the power of God’s Spirit and about living the Christian life seriously. Then during the fifth week of the seminar they pray with each person that they will receive a fresh outpouring, or new experience of the Holy Spirit, and it is amazing what happens. Although nothing in particular happened when they prayed with me, within a few days I found that I had an extraordinary desire to pray. I found that the words of the bible began to speak to me in a way that they never had before. The mass came alive for me as it never had before. That is the power of God’s Spirit. After continuing to pray with these other young people for about three years I felt that God was calling me to be a priest and I answered that call, and then in 1998 I was ordained a priest. This was all in my home town of Galway. Some others in the group also went on for religious life, but most of the people in the group are now married. They were the ones who taught me how to pray, to read the bible, to love the mass.

I was very fortunate that God granted me the grace to discover him at that stage of my life. I was also very fortunate because my discovery of God was through people of faith and it was a very positive thing. They taught me how it was possible to have a personal relationship with God, with Jesus and that has remained with me to this day, 14 years later.

One of the difficulties that we have in our times, is that we often only hear about our faith through the media, who only present us with the controversial aspects. They zoom in on issues like married priests, women priests, abortion, scandals, etc.  And they do their job well, you’ve got to hand it to them. They are not interested in whether you believe or not, or in what you believe. They are only interested in selling newspapers and programs, that’s their job. And so they bring up arguments and get everyone worked up about it. But the problem is that they take all these arguments are often taken out of context. The controversial issues are really only secondary. What is important is our relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what our faith is about. When we develop this relationship with the Lord, then all the other things just begin to fit into place; they don’t seem so important. But if you begin with all the controversial stuff, you haven’t a chance. They are not what our faith is based on, and they are really not all that important. Believing that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is the way to the Father, and the way to heaven, that’s important; that because of him our sins can be forgiven, that he is present to us in the Eucharist, for our benefit, that’s important.

Anyone I know who has grown much in their faith, who has a real relationship with God, they rarely have a problem with the more controversial aspects of the Church’s teaching, because it just fits into place for them. Their relationship with God comes first and this is what enables them to live as a Christian and to love other people. It’s not because someone else told them that this is what they must do, but because they have a real relationship with God and they work at it.

During dark times such as we have at the moment, it is even more important that we ask ourselves what we believe in. Do I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, that the Church is from God, that the Scriptures are from God? If I do, then the one thing I need to focus on more than anything else, is Jesus and what He has revealed to us. I don’t mean that we don’t address the problems that we are facing, but from a faith point of view, keeping Jesus at the centre is more important than anything else.


Many people struggled with the teachings of Jesus when he gave them. In fact, it says in this Gospel, right after he had given the teaching on the Eucharist, that many people left him then, because they thought he was crazy. They couldn’t accept what He said. But He didn’t run after them and try to explain what He really meant. Instead He just let them go. They had to decide. He just turned to the disciples and said, ‘What are you going to do? It’s your decision.’ And Peter said, ‘Where else can we go, we believe that you are the holy One of God.’ It doesn’t mean that they didn’t struggle with the teaching, but that was what they decided.

The Lord does the exact same with us today. He is very definite. He gives us an invitation to follow him, to follow the way that leads to life, by following the teachings of Christ. He says, ‘Are you with me or not?’ It’s your choice, but he wants us to make a definite choice. No room for those who are indifferent. In the book of Revelations, referring to one community, Jesus says, ‘You are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were one or the other. But since you are neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.’ Very strong words. The Lord wants us to follow him, because it is the only way that will lead us to happiness, but we have to make the choice.
 Jesus said, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Peter said, ‘Lord where else can we go, you have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

20th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: John 6: 511-58) Light shines in the darkness


After all that we have heard in the last few days about the terrible abuse that happened in the state of Pennsylvania, it is hard to know what to say, and in truth it is not easy to stand here before you during a time of such terrible shame and pain. However, I want to share a few thoughts with you which I believe are important.

A few years ago I was listening to the news reporting similar abuse in Ireland and I noticed at one stage the news anchor, Sharon Ní Bheoláin, said to the reporter Joe Little, ‘So is there any hope at all for the Church...?’ I can’t remember exactly what he said in reply, but he began by saying, ‘Well there is very little [hope], but...’ When I heard this question and response it struck me that the question they had just asked, and the response given were both very human. From a human point of view there is little or no hope. It seems to be the end of the Church as we know it. How could a Church survive with this kind of thing going on? Why would any of us want to be part of it? However, it also reminded me that the Church is not a human organisation, it is from God. If it were a human organisation it would have disappeared centuries ago.

Our life-time is not the first time that the Church has been battered by scandals, and no doubt it won’t be the last either. To me the very fact that the Church is still here at all is the strongest indication that it is from God. What else could survive centuries of scandals, bad practice, corruption, etc? Another thing for sure is that I would not want to be a part of this Church, or continue to be a priest, if I believed that it was merely of human origin. At times like this it makes me question why I am a priest, but then I am reminded that it is God I am trying to serve and it is the message of Jesus Christ that I am trying to pass on, and so why should I be afraid?  

The more I continue to try and work as a priest, the more I am absolutely convinced of the power of God at work because there are far too many odds against us being able to survive, and yet we do. In spite of all the terrible things that have happened people continue to believe; men and women continue to dedicate their lives to God and people put up with all kinds of difficulties. Another thing that continues to amaze me is what in religious terms we call ‘grace.’ In other words, the power of God at work in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times. When all hope seems to be gone, doors open, things happen, people respond. That is the power of God and I have seen it enough times to be convinced beyond doubt that God is working in and through this too. 

The truth is that it is the mercy of God that allows all these scandals to come out, because God could not allow us to continue with all this poison under the surface.  How could there be any fruit in the Church with all this sickness? God is getting rid of the sickness and it is painful, but it is absolutely essential that it happens. You can’t leave diseased flesh in a person’s body. It has to be removed.

Benedictine monastery in Subiaco, Italy
There is a small town north of Rome called Subiaco, where St. Benedict lived for three years in a cave. When I visited the monastery there I saw a quotation on the wall which read: ‘Why do you sit in the darkness seeking the light? But persevere, because the stars can only be seen when it is dark.’ Sometimes it is necessary to go through times of darkness to be able to find the light again properly. Let us remember too that it is God whom we believe in and God in whom we put our trust. And even though we will hear of scandals and other terrible things, God continues to work in and through his Church, because it is His Church and that is what we must stay focused on. One out of the twelve apostles betrayed Jesus—that’s 8.5%—but Jesus didn’t give up on the Apostles, because most of them were good. I was also heartened to read that since 2002, when the Church began to change its policies regarding abuse, there have been almost no abuse scandals. That is encouraging.

The message of Jesus Christ is one of hope. ‘I am the Light of the world.’ That is the light we focus on, not the messages of darkness, but the light that comes from God. 

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’

Saturday, August 11, 2018

19th Sunday of Year B (Gospel: John 6:41-51) The meaning of baptism

If you stepped outside into one of our summer showers here in Florida, you would be baptized/soaked/drenched! That is what baptism means: to be immersed, or soaked in something. I have to confess that for years I never fully understood what priests meant when they would talk about taking our baptismal promises seriously and so I would like to try and make sense to you of why we baptize a child or adult. Is it just because we are Catholic and we have to? Hopefully there is more to it than that. To make sense of baptism we have to go way back to the beginning.

We believe that God created everything: the visible world that we can see and the invisible world of the spirit. It says in the Bible that the last thing that God created was the human being. That is a biblical way of saying that we are God’s greatest creation; his masterpiece. And God created us to enjoy life with him. It says that God walked among them in the Garden of Eden. God was with them and close to them. We also believe that somewhere way back at the beginning, something went wrong. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we call this Original Sin. It was a rejection of God’s word and what God offered us. Because of this we lost the possibility of eternal life with God in heaven. But because God loves us so much, He did not leave us in this situation and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He won back that possibility for us. Jesus became the bridge between heaven and earth. That is why the symbol of the crucifix is so important. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we are now offered eternal life with God, which will be our ultimate happiness.

However, God also gave us free will and so He does not force anything on us. Instead He offers eternal happiness to us, but we have to choose it. It is a gift freely offered to us. When we are baptized we are saying, ‘Yes. I believe this and I want this. I believe that God is real and that God offers me eternal happiness. I believe that God has made it possible for me to have eternal life with him and I want that. I want all that God is offering me, which has been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus. I want it all. Let me be drenched in it, soaked in it.’

Why do we baptize a child, since a child is too small to know what is going on? Shouldn’t we wait until they are old enough to make that decision themselves? The reason we baptize a child, is because we want the very best of everything for our children and especially God’s grace. We want this promise of eternal happiness to be theirs from the start. We baptize a child on condition that we will teach them their faith as they grow up. If we don’t, then it is hypocrisy.

If an adult came to me and asked to be baptized, first they would have to undergo several months of instruction, so that they fully understood what they were taking on. Only then would they be baptized. When we baptize a child, we do it the other way around. That is why the parents promise to pass on their faith as the child grows and it is a serious promise, because it is a promise made to God. We are saying, ‘I will be responsible for teaching my child about all that God has done for them.
The baptism in the Jordan
 In the Gospels there is an account of Jesus being baptized. It says that when it happens there was a vision of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and resting on Jesus. This is showing us that when we are baptized we receive the gift of God’s Spirit, which enables us to live the Christian life. The oil we use is a symbol of the gift of God’s Spirit.

Most of us were probably baptized as infants, when someone else spoke on our behalf. Now that we are adults, we must speak for ourselves. In a moment we will renew our promises of baptism, which is another way of praying the creed that we say each week, but we do it in the form of questions and answers. Now you are adults, listen to these questions and answer them if you believe them. Each of us must claim this for ourselves. No one else can do it for us.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

18th Sunday Year B (Gospel: John 6:24-35) Do not work for food that cannot last; but work for food that endures to eternal life.

Some time ago, a priest friend of mine was telling me that he was just back from vacation where he had been mountain climbing with a German priest friend of his. They were somewhere in the mountains on the Austrian-German border. His friend had a map, but it was five years old and one of the paths they took turned out to be very dangerous. It was basically no longer usable. He said that for most of it there was a rope on one side for safety, although there was a sheer drop on the other side.  But then they came to a place about 15 feet long where there was no rope, so they just had to cling to the side of the cliff on this extremely narrow ledge until they got past it. He told me that it was terrifying and a matter of slowly taking one step at a time, then finding proper hand grip, then another step. By the time he got to the far side he was quite exhausted and traumatized, but what interested me was that his friend, who is an experienced mountaineer, then told him to sit down and that they should eat something. When you have been through an experience like that, eating changes your metabolism and calms you down. And he said that it did just that. Within a short time he was fine again.

There is also an interesting story in the Old Testament where the prophet Elijah is on the run having just worked an extraordinary miracle, but now Queen Jezebel is out to kill him. So he escapes into the desert, but at one point he sits down feeling fed up and prays to God, ‘Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’, or in modern English, ‘I wish I was dead; I’ve had enough’. Then he lies down and goes to sleep.  But then he is woken by an angel who tells him to get up and eat, so that he will have enough strength for the journey. There he finds food beside him. The right kind of nourishment is essential.

In this Gospel passage Jesus is just after working the miracle of feeding five thousand people with the five loaves and two fish and the people come after him to see more of his wonder-worker. However, as is often the case, the miracle Jesus worked was pointing to something deeper and he says to them, ‘You are only looking for me because you got free food, but you didn’t see the “sign.”  What ‘sign’? What was he talking about? And then he says, ‘Don’t be worrying about temporary food, but look for the food that endures forever.’ The miracle of multiplying the loaves, was a sign of something much deeper. Jesus then begins to teach them that there is another kind of food that we need for our whole life; not just material food that you eat, but food which brings meaning/purpose/direction. And then He tells them that He is this food that lasts forever, and the kind of food we need for the journey which is our whole life. Jesus is the one who gives us strength and meaning to help us keep going.  He is the one who makes sense of what our whole life is about. If you don’t have the right kind of meaning or purpose for being here, then it is very hard to keep going especially when things don’t make sense, as they so often don’t.

In the second reading (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24) St. Paul says, ‘Don’t live the kind of aimless life that Pagans live.’ That is exactly what can happen to us if we lose sight of our faith, or get too caught up in the world and worldly worries. We forget what the real purpose of our life is about. You see this happening all the time, especially when the economic boom was here. Many people got completely carried away with money and forgot themselves. When times are harder it’s a lot easier for us to focus on what is really important. 

God is showing us that to have the right kind of strength for the journey, we need the right kind of food, and Jesus is this food. ‘I am the bread of life’. That is why Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist and speaks to us through his word, so that we have all the nourishment that we need for the journey. If we know what our life is about, it is much easier to keep going even if we are struggling physically. That is why prayer is so important, so that we are continually connected to that source of food that gives us the deepest strength we need.

Now I know that there are also real worries such as how am I going to provide for my family when I have no work. But what God is telling us is that if we focus on him first we will find that He will look after all of these needs as well. Jesus must be at the center, everything else comes second.
I am the bread of life. 
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry;
Whoever believes in me will never thirst.