Thursday, February 21, 2019

7th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 6:27-38) How do you love your enemies?

YPJ women soldiers against ISIS in Syria

A few years ago I watched a BBC interview with some of the women fighters in Syria who fight with the YPG, or Kurdish coalition fighters. They are an all women group of soldiers fighting against ISIS in Northern Syria. The journalist was asking one of them how she felt about ISIS since they were killing her own people. Among other things that she mentioned, she said ‘We have to remember that they are people too.’ I was really surprised and impressed by this. This lady, although fighting this force of evil, was able to distinguish between the evil and the fact that they were also human beings. She had an inner sense of what is important and the value of each life. I’m sure those women didn’t want to be there, but they felt the need to be there to help protect their own people. ‘We have to remember that they are people too.’

Today’s readings address the very difficult teaching which says, ‘Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.’ I have never met anyone who wants to love their enemies. It doesn’t seem logical. But God doesn’t just ask us to be logical, but to see at a higher, or deeper level. That is where we remember that even those who attack us are also human beings, with their own problems. If we decide to hate them as they hate us, and to treat them as they are violent towards us, then we are no different from them. We are no better than them.

Does this mean that we are asked to let people walk all over us? Of course not. The challenge is not to give in to evil, but to resort to the inner strength that comes from what we believe in and that comes from our relationship with Jesus.

A few years back when I was traveling somewhere, I ordered a car at the airport to bring me to my hotel as I thought it was a long distance. It turns out I didn’t need it, so I cancelled the car. Then to my annoyance I was charged for the car although I had been told I wouldn’t be. When I called the company to question the charge I was faced with a woman who was filled with venom and hatred like I have never met before. I came away from the phone call feeling quite shaken as she had been so vicious. The temptation for me was to just be angry with her and wish her a miserable day, but in the days that followed I felt the Lord saying to me that that woman needs prayer. So instead of remaining angry with her, I began to pray for her and have often prayed for her since. That was something the Lord taught me. It also made me think about the various situations I have been faced with—as we all have—where I have met real nastiness from people. Now I try to pray for them after I have gotten over the initial reaction which is usually frustration and anger, often righteous anger, where I have been treated unfairly. But the Lord reminds me that maybe they are going through a hellish time in their own lives and that is what I am experiencing. If I didn’t believe in God I wouldn’t do that.

‘Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.’ That is an extremely hard thing to do, but we get the strength to at least attempt to respect others, from what we believe. If we believe that God forgives, us in spite of our own failings, then we have a obligation to try and do the same. The greatest strength we get to do that is in the Eucharist. Every day, if we wish, we can receive the body and blood of Christ into our own bodies. We can listen to him speak to us. The more we come back to receive him and listen to him, the more we are given the inner strength to be different. That is one reason why the Lord gave us the Eucharist, so that we could rely on his strength to deal with every day difficulties. We are not being asked to rely purely on what we can do ourselves. This is what makes the difference between becoming filled with hatred ourselves, or remaining objective, seeking justice rather than revenge. We are living in a society which encourages us to take revenge, but that is not what God teaches us and we must decide who it is we are going to listen to.

One of the reasons why we are meant to be different as followers of Christ, is because we don’t believe in returning evil for evil, or seeking revenge for injustice. Instead we are called to remember that the people who hurt us are also human beings, with families and their own difficulties, even if individually they have turned to evil. We work for justice, but not for hatred. We strive for a better world, rather than one where we just wipe out our enemies. When we are on our death bed, which will be more important?

I want to finish with this prayer which I’m sure you have heard before, from one of Mother Teresa’s homes:

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
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.
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.

‘Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.’

Thursday, February 14, 2019

6th Sunday of Year C (Gospel: Lk 6:17, 20-26) The Mystery of Death

When I was nineteen a good friend of mine was killed in a car crash. It was my first real encounter of someone close to me dying and it was devastating. I remember fainting when I saw his body. It was so unreal and it took me a long time to accept it. When you are young you feel immortal and death is not usually part of your reality. The death of someone close comes as a terrible shock.


Probably the hardest thing for any of us to face is the mystery of death, especially the death of a young person, or child. Often at funerals you hear people talking about the person who has died as though their existence was now finished. ‘He lives on in our memories’, as though that was the only way they live on. For us Christians, nothing could be further from the truth. Believing what we believe can make all the difference in the world, because it gives us a totally different picture.

A person’s death comes as a shock to us, but remember it is not a shock to God. The Lord has been expecting them and knew the exact moment when they would leave this earth, but their life is just as real now as it was on earth. In fact they are now alive more intensely than we are, because they are no longer restricted as we are. They no longer carry all the emotional baggage and physical restrictions that we have. They have full knowledge and no longer need faith, because they experience God face to face. Everything now makes sense to them. All the questions they had throughout their lives are now answered. That is what we believe and that is what awaits us, if we make the right choices.


There is a beautiful sculpture I came across by a man called Jerry Anderson. It shows an old woman standing at a doorway with one hand on the door, about to go through. She is looking over her shoulder at what lay behind. On the other side of the door you see the same person coming through as a young woman and she is meeting Jesus. This is a beautiful depiction of how we understand death. That is what will happen, but we are not always convinced of this. The shock of death leaves us with many questions and very few answers and these kinds of ideas can just seem like pious ideas, but we believe that is exactly what will happen.


'Come to Me,' by Jerry Anderson

 In Fatima in 1917, our Lady said to the three children, ‘If people knew what heaven was like, they would do everything to change their ways.’ It is real and we must take our actions seriously, as all our actions have consequences.


In the second reading today are the words, ‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.’ If we think that this life is everything, then we have completely missed the point. Our life here on earth is only a preparation for what is to come and it is so important that we remember this, because that will have a profound effect on how we live. If this life were everything, it is a pretty cruel joke for many people, as so many people suffer greatly here on earth. But if it is only a preparation for what lies ahead, then that changes everything.


If the world to come wasn’t real, then the death and resurrection of Jesus was pointless, which would mean the mass is meaningless. It would also mean we would not see our loved ones when we die. Believing this or not, makes a big difference to how we will live. If the next life is what we are preparing for, then we can make sacrifices and put up with difficulties because of what lies ahead. It is a long-term investment.


Why has Our Lady appeared in many different parts of the world over the last few centuries? to make us wake up, because we often forget about the reality of God and the consequences of our life here on earth. Her message is always the same: ‘You are living as though God does not exist and you cannot live without God.’ She is saying, ‘Wake up! Your actions have consequences and you must take your life seriously, so that you don’t lose what God has waiting for you.’ We can lose what God has waiting for us if we are not careful and that’s why it is so important that we remind ourselves often of the reality of God and the after life.


Why don’t our loved ones come back to tell us what it is like? They don’t need to, as they know that the ‘not-knowing’ of this world, is part of the journey of faith. That is why we keep coming back to Church each week, to remind ourselves of what is important, of the reality of God and how He tells us to live. That is also why Our Lady has appeared in many places, lest we forget.



We are also told to pray for the dead. When people die we give thanks to God for their life, but don’t forget to pray for them as well, because that is what the Lord has taught us to do. If they are not in heaven immediately when they die, then our prayers can help them on the last part of their journey. But the tragedy of someone’s death, especially when they are young, is not for them, it is for us. Would you rather remain here on earth, or be in a place where you no longer suffer? Personally, if given the choice, I would rather be there and I look forward to when my time on earth will be complete. Then we will be able to live without any fear of violence, or sickness, or injustice. We will experience total fulfillment in a way that we can only imagine now. So the next time your are about to take revenge on someone, or sue someone, try and remember that your life here on earth is short.

Every time we receive the Eucharist, we are being reminded of that reality. It is Jesus telling us that He is with us until our earthly journey is over and it will be so worthwhile.

If people knew what heaven was like,

they would do everything to change their lives. – Our Lady at Fatima

Thursday, February 7, 2019

5th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 5:1-11) Put out into deep water

Today I would like to share a personal experience with you, which is connected to this Gospel. Seven years ago (2012) I had reached a crisis point in my priesthood. I had been finding it more and more difficult to work as a priest in Ireland, as it had become very anti-Catholic, very hostile. Some priests weathered this better than others, but it was having a very negative effect on me. I wasn’t sure I could continue, even though I wanted to.

I asked my bishop if I could spend some time with the Dominican Fathers, and the he agreed. Their charism is more about preaching and teaching, which I have always felt called to. But after a year with them I still did not feel at home. I was praying a lot asking the Lord to guide me. I wasn’t sure if I had reached the end of the line, although I was convinced I had been called to be a priest.

It was around that time that I had an opportunity to visit a friend of mine in Naples, Florida, named Kelly Curry. He had been a Baptist minister and I had gotten to know him when I was working in Ireland, where he had a ministry. He had always been a tremendous support to me as a Catholic priest, which is not what you might expect. While I was there and in distress, we prayed together and he was also convinced that God was calling me to continue working as a priest.

One weekend I decided to go to the Saturday evening mass in the local church and then on Sunday to a Baptist service with him, more out of respect for him than anything else. Up to that point he had often come to mass with me.

The Gospel that day was today’s Gospel: ‘Put out into the deep for a catch.’ When the minister began to preach, what he said really spoke to my heart and Kelly said the same thing afterwards. The gist of what he said was this: “The disciples were professional fishermen. They knew their trade. Then this charismatic preacher, having finished speaking to the people, asks them to ‘put out into the deep’ and cast their nets again. As professionals they knew there were no fish that day. They had fished all night and the day was not the best time to fish. But so as not to offend the preacher, they reluctantly cast the nets. You can hear the hesitation in Peter’s voice, ‘We worked hard all night…but if you say so…’ Then the miracle takes place. They cast the nets and suddenly all the lines go tight and they literally catch a miraculous amount of fish. When Peter realizes what has happened he is afraid, because he realizes he is in the presence of someone great, or other-worldly. He reacts by saying, ‘Leave me Lord I am a sinful man’. Let me hide from you because I am just an ordinary sinner. But Jesus’ words are words of reassurance. ‘Do not be afraid.’”

The minister went on to say, “What the Lord was showing them was that He is in charge. He is master of the land and sky, the earth and the sea. He controls everything. They felt their work had been fruitless, a waste of time, but then Jesus shows them that He can bear fruit out of apparent failure. When everything seems to have come to an end, He can open new doors, totally unexpected doors. The miraculous catch was probably more than they had ever caught in their lives. What was Jesus saying to them except that He is the one who can make any work or situation bear fruit, even when it appears to be a failure. It doesn’t depend on our ability, rather on us being open to him.”

I really felt the Lord was saying to me, “Murchadh, you think your work has been fruitless, that you have come to the end of the line. Now you must trust me because I will make things happen that you could not have foreseen.”

Kelly and I were both amazed at what the preacher had said, as it seemed to be speaking specifically to me. I was greatly encouraged by these words. Shortly after that I began to wonder could I work in Florida, as the Church there seemed to be so much more up-beat and positive. As it happened Kelly knew one of the priests of the diocese. So I made an appointment to see him and I explained my predicament to him. He suggested I apply to the bishop and so I did. Long story short, both bishops agreed and here I am. When I thought everything was coming to an end, the Lord opened new doors that I did not even know were there. This also reminded me of the fact that the work I do is the Lord’s work, not mine. If it bears fruit—the miraculous catch—then it is because of him. My job is to try and be faithful and continue to listen to him. Why does God keep it all hidden from us until the last moment, because it strengthens our faith.

Now apply this to your own experience, to your own life. How many times have you come to what seems to be the end of the line. Things haven’t worked out and there seems to be no way forward? This is where the Lord asks us to pray and trust. He can do anything and open doors where we didn’t even think there were doors. With God there are always new possibilities and when we feel afraid of God because of our inadequacies, remember Peter’s reaction to Jesus: ‘Leave me Lord I am a sinful man.’ We want to run and hide, but remember Jesus’ response to him: ‘Do not be afraid.’