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.