Sunday, December 27, 2020

Feast of the Holy Family (Gospel: Luke 2: 22-40) To love and to serve


My family lived in Dublin until I was six years old. One time when I was about five I was brought to a party of a school friend, but for some reason I decided that I didn’t like the party and that I wanted to go home. I figured that the best way to do this was secretly. So I told my friend that I would hide out in the garden and that he should come and try to find me after a few minutes. I then made my escape and headed home. The only problem was that I had no idea how to get home. So I headed off and asked a post-man how to get to ‘York Road’ in Dun Laoghaire, where we lived. He looked at me suspiciously but told me where to go. When I finally arrived home I found a big police motorbike in the front drive.  Maybe that’s where my love of motorcycles began! Everyone was out looking for me. My poor parents were not the better for this experience.  Family life is not easy.


This is a feast day which I think can often make us feel disappointed with our own families, although we don’t admit it, because it seems to tell us that our families are not what they should be. Things go wrong and we drive each other crazy. Someone gets into trouble and lets the family down. Marriages don’t always work out. We are afraid what others will think of us.


Then we are presented with the ‘holy family’, who we imagine were living in bliss all the time. That is not reality. They were poor. When Jesus was born they were homeless. Then with a new baby they had to flee to Egypt to escape an attempt on the child’s life and became refugees. When Jesus was brought to the temple, Simeon told them he was destined to be a sign that would be rejected. He would not be a ‘success’. Later they lost him for three days. Can you imagine the stress of losing one of your children for three days?


So why are they presented to us as a model? Perhaps because they had their priorities right. God was at the center of this family. It was the right environment for the person of Jesus to grow and mature. Jesus had to grow up as a person just as all of us do, learn to be responsible, learn the Jewish traditions and that takes a long time. It involves a lot of learning for each of us, and a lot of patience and sacrifice on the part of our parents, but how we are formed is vital. There is an African proverb which says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ We all have a part to play, even if that is just encouraging those who are struggling. If there are young families around you who are struggling financially, especially one parent families, look out for them. There is a couple I know who were telling me recently that at one stage, because one of their children was sick, they lost their home in order to pay hospital bills. The husband told me that for several months they lived on next to nothing. We never know how people are struggling and we must look out for each other.


We know almost nothing about the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, but no doubt it was very important for his growing and maturing as a person, and to help him be ready for the mission that He lived out for the last three years of his life, teaching people about God and sacrificing himself for us.


I met a man several years ago, who is now a friend of mine. He told me the story of his marriage which was so inspiring. When he was in high-school he was in a lustful relationship with a girl. He got her pregnant and she ended up graduating, six months pregnant. He decided to marry her for the child’s sake, but it was a loveless marriage for the first ten years. They just endured each other and spent any time they could, away from each other. Ten years into their marriage both of them were starting to take an interest in their faith. They decided to try and live their marriage exactly the way that the word of God directs. They started to live as faithfully to God’s word as they could. And he told me that it completely changed their marriage. They fell in love for the first time and their marriage has been wonderful ever since. They followed God’s directions and it worked. Why did it work, because God knows exactly what will work for us and He continually shows us. ‘Follow my directions and my commandments and your life will work.’ Who better to turn to when things aren’t working, than the One who designed us in the first place.


One very simple thing can make a huge difference as to how we live our life on earth and that is if we continually remind ourselves that our destiny is heaven. That is what we are created for. If we live with that in our mind, then we will live very differently on earth.


The word of God tells us that our time on earth is about service and sacrificing ourselves for others. That’s exactly how Jesus lived. He served others and completely sacrificed himself for others, ultimately with his life and He is the one we look to, to see how we should live. The world around us tells us the exact opposite. It tells us that our time on earth is about finding fulfillment and satisfaction in every way possible. It offers us every pleasure imaginable and tells us that we should have it all and if someone gets in our way, then we should move them aside so that we can find fulfillment. It is the opposite of the word of God. Who are you going to listen to?


The Holy Family were focused on God. They understood their role and their duties and that is how they lived. We are called to do the same.






Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas Day. We are of infinite value


Christmas is about what happens to us when we die. It is the feast of the greatest hope imaginable, because it tells us two things: First, that what all of us want—happiness—awaits us if we choose it. Second, that we have extraordinary worth and value in God’s eyes, regardless of how our life on earth turns out. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.


The birth of Christ is the beginning of a great event that really has three parts. The Son of God comes among us, to live as one of us and take on the human condition with all its difficulties; to teach us about God and why we are here; and ultimately to sacrifice himself for us, so that we can reach that happiness. Hopefully that happiness will begin in this life, but it will only be fulfilled in the world to come. Our Lady said that to St. Bernadette at Lourdes in Franc: ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this world but in the next.’ And in Fatima she said, ‘If people knew what heaven was, they would do everything to change their ways.’


This year alone we have buried 16 people from this parish and that doesn’t count all the people who died here and were buried elsewhere. If the Son of God hadn’t come among us and died for us, none of those people could be with God in heaven. That is our destiny, but it is only possible because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That means that Christmas is the feast of the greatest hope imaginable.


It also tells us something that we find hard to grasp; that is, that we have an infinite value and worth in God’s eye’s, regardless of how our life turns out. It means that God will do anything to get us to heaven. We generally tend to think that if we really get our act together and if we become holy enough, then we will be acceptable to God. That is not what God teaches us. God teaches us that He loves us totally and completely, as we are right now. We may think of ourselves as failures, or disappointments in the world’s eyes, but that is not how God sees us. Think of a little child. No matter how much that child makes a mess of things, you don’t love them any less. You love them just because they exist.

There is a Jesuit priest called Fr. Greg Boyle, who for the last thirty years has worked in the toughest gang-land areas of LA. He wrote a book called, Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion. Up to the time he published the book in 2010, he had already buried 167 young people, from gangland shootings. In the book, he talks about the fact that most of the young people who end up in gangs, really have little else. Most of them have grown up in homes with no parents, or with parents so wrecked by addiction that they might as well not be there, or of such violence that they have left and lived on the streets. They end up in gangs because the gangs provide them with a sense of belonging; a family of sorts. He says that they don’t plan their futures; they plan their funerals. Young women often want to get pregnant early, so that they will have the experience of having a child before they get killed. Most of them don’t expect to make it past 20.


Fr. Greg helps them to see that they are valued, that they have worth and that they are not failures. He says that so many of them have come into his office and just cried, saying that they are total failures and they live in shame. But once he takes an interest in them, learns their name, helps them to see that he has an interest in them, they begin to change and many of them then leave the gangs and even get jobs. Once they begin to feel loved and valued, their life starts to turn around. He has now set up an organization called Homeboy Industries.


He spoke about one instance where he remembered the name of one young man and when he saw him on the street one time, he called out his name, ‘Hey Mike, How are you doing?’ He said the young man was astonished and kept turning back smiling. He couldn’t believe that someone noticed him.


Many of us are often afraid that we will not be good enough to get to heaven and that God might refuse us. We even joke about meeting St. Peter at the gates and him going through the log-book of our life, to see if we meet the grade, or testing us with questions. That is not the teaching of our faith. What the Lord tells us is that we are not capable of getting to heaven by our own strength, but He has made it possible for all of us to get to heaven by his life, death and resurrection. The only reason it won’t happen is if we reject God and we accept or reject God by the way we live.


Pope Francis, when he was a much younger priest was head of the Jesuits in Argentina.  During the military dictatorship in Argentina he had to make some very difficult choices, resulting in at least two Jesuit priests being arrested and tortured for several months. One forgave him the other did not and considered him a traitor up to his death. He made bad decisions with very serious consequences. Years later the Lord made him pope. Yes, I said the Lord made him pope. Why would God choose someone who had betrayed other priests, even if he didn’t intend to? Why would God choose a failure? Because he was not a failure. He is a human being who made mistakes. Why did he choose St. Peter who also betrayed him? because he saw the greatness in him, just as He does in us. God sees the greatness in us. We are beautiful in his eyes, regardless of the mistakes we have made. We are never a failure in his eyes. And that is why He has made it possible for us to have eternal happiness when we die. And that is what we are celebrating at Christmas.


‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’

Friday, December 18, 2020

4th Sunday of Advent, Year B (Gospel: Luke 1:26-38) Who will save me from this wretched state?


Today I want to address a question that often comes up when people are talking to me in confession and it is related to what we celebrate at Christmas. Actually it is more of a fear than a question. Almost everyone talks about a particular thing that they struggle with, whether it be anger, gossip, a sexual weakness, an addiction, or something else and it causes no end of suffering and humiliation. No matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be able to overcome it. In fact I’ve often heard people say to me that they don’t feel there is any point in going to confession anymore because they just end up confessing this same sin again and again and they don’t seem to be getting any better, so where’s the point? It can make us afraid that we won’t be able to go to heaven because of our weakness. ‘Since I can’t overcome this sin, why would God allow me to go to heaven?’ That is usually the thinking behind it. However, when we think like that I believe we are really missing the whole point of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The truth is that no matter how hard we try to be holy enough and overcome our sins, our weaknesses, we continually fall short of the mark. That is our reality. When he wrote to the Christians in Rome, St. Paul put it like this:

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are redeemed by his grace as a gift… to be received by faith (Rom 3:23ff).

In plain English that is saying to us, since all of us have sinned and can never be good enough for God by our own strength, it is God himself who has made up the difference for us. God has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that we will always be sinners and will always struggle with various weaknesses is no longer a problem, because God has made us ‘good enough’ through what Jesus did. That is what being ‘redeemed’ means. We cannot get to heaven by our own strength, by our own efforts, because we are too weak and too sinful and no matter how hard we try, we keep falling. But we don’t have to be afraid of that because Jesus has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves.

St. Paul also struggled with some kind of weakness that caused him great humiliation, in spite of the fact he had several visions of Jesus and of heaven and so many miracles that were worked through him. Listen to what he says about it:

I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  ...the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf. Rom 7:14-24)

And finally he says, ‘Who will save me from this wretched state? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ That is the same fear that people keep telling me about in confession: ‘Who will save me from this wretched weakness? How can I ever come before God in heaven when this is what I’m like?’ This is where God calls us to realize what Jesus has done for us. He has made up for our weakness himself. That is why the coming of Jesus among us at Christmas is such an extraordinary event, because it is the beginning of God making up for our weakness, our sinfulness. We are not able to be good enough for God by our own strength, but it no longer matters because Jesus has made himself the bridge between God and humanity. Now we can come before God without fear, because Jesus has made it possible. Each time we celebrate the mass we are becoming present to that event—the sacrifice of Jesus—which made it possible for us to go to heaven. No other sacrifice or offering to God will ever be necessary for us, because the selfless act of Jesus dying for us has done everything necessary. All we have to do is to accept it. No wonder we celebrate the mass every day, in every church all over the world.

The mistake we continually make, which causes us to be afraid, is to think that we have to become ‘good enough’ for God, but the problem is that that is impossible for us by our own strength. If we stop there, then we would have every reason to despair, but once we realize that it is Jesus who steps in and bridges the gap, then we have endless hope, because it no longer depends on us being good enough. All we have to do is accept this extraordinary gift from God.

Why does God allow us to go on struggling? God could take away these weaknesses from us if He chose. The reason is because the very weaknesses we struggle with, are often the very thing that keeps us close to God. They make us aware that we are weak and we need God’s mercy. Again in his writings St. Paul talks about his weakness—although he doesn’t say what it was—and how he begged God to take it away from him.

‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take this thing away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.’ (2 Cor 12:8).

No doubt he felt that he would serve God much better if he could overcome his weaknesses, but God doesn’t see it this way. We generally feel the same: ‘If only I could overcome my weaknesses/addictions, I would be more pleasing to God and I would serve him better.

A man said to me in confession one time, ‘I have a terrible anger and I lose my temper so often. It causes me great shame. If I could just get rid of this anger I’d be perfect!’ I said to him, ‘You thank God for that anger!’ You can imagine how easily we could become arrogant if we thought we had overcome our weaknesses and we were ‘blameless’ before God, as a surprising number of people think they are. St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘The only thing that we can take credit for are our sins’. Everything we have is a gift from God, including our abilities, our education, our successes, our health. We have nothing to boast about before God and it is often our weaknesses that help us to see this.

So is Christmas relevant to us in a practical way in our day to day living? It certainly is, because the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus is what reassures us that no matter how weak or sinful we are, the path to heaven will always remain open to us as long as we ask God for it. All we have to do is accept from God this amazing gift which He is offering us. What is the best way for us to prepare for this wonderful feast? by doing what God asks us to do and that is to repent and confess our sins; to acknowledge our sinfulness before God and ask for his mercy.

 ‘Who will save me from this wretched state? 

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ (Rom 7:24)




3rd Sunday of Advent Year B (Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28). Jesus is the only one to follow


If you think for a moment of some of the modern-day people in our world who were considered holy during their life-time: people like Gandhi, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul II, and there are many others. Why did people flock to see them? Mother Teresa was just a small, very wrinkly old lady and yet everywhere she went to speak, she drew thousands of people. Why? We have plenty of little elderly ladies here, so why did they go to her?  Because she was close to God, someone who was in tune with the ways of the Lord and who lived by them. People who met her said it had a profound effect on them. The same with Padre Pio and many others. They radiated God because they were close to God.


We are attracted by holiness because it gives us a sense of the presence of God. There is a difference between holiness and piety. Piety is when people can be very devout and into all kinds of devotions etc. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s not the same as holiness. Just because someone is pious doesn’t necessarily mean they are holy. Holiness is really about being close to God and becoming more like him. 


We are attracted to holiness because God is attractive. Where does beauty, joy, happiness, fulfillment, come from? From God. If God wasn’t attractive we wouldn’t keep coming to mass, we wouldn’t continually seek him out in different places. You may feel that you come to mass because you are obliged to, or because it’s the thing to do, but that’s not really the reason. You come here because God draws you here. God continually draws us to him, but gently. He will never force us and so we can resist if we wish.


A few years ago, I remember hearing that the biggest area of interest in bookshops was occult and spiritual books. That is another indication of people’s search for God. They are searching for spiritual meaning, but unfortunately looking in the wrong place.


God has created us in such a way that there is what you might call a ‘God shaped hole’ within us that only He can fill. Nothing else will fully satisfy us.  Material things that we can buy will satisfy for a very short time only. People will satisfy us for longer, but never completely. Only the Lord himself will fulfil us completely, because God has created us in such a way that we have a capacity for the infinite. Only what is infinite will fill us completely. So when we meet people who seem to be close to God, we are drawn to them, because we want to get closer to God. We can’t help it.


Sometimes when people get married, they are disappointed after a while, because they don’t feel completely fulfilled by their partner. No other person is going to completely fulfil us, because we would be asking them to do what only God can do. If we realise this then it can help us a great deal, but if we expect another mere human being to fill this God shaped hole within us, then we’re going to be disappointed. People will let us down, but God will never let us down.


In today’s Gospel we are again presented with John the Baptist; this strange man that so many people wanted to listen to. People were also drawn to him. Jesus said that he was the greatest man ever born of a woman, which is quite a thing to say about someone.  He was a prophet, but also much more than a prophet. He was the one that God sent to announce the coming of Jesus.


So what did John say? When he saw Jesus, he said to the people with him, ‘There is the lamb of God… follow him, not me. He’s the one you want, I’m not.’ Those words should sound familiar. When the priest holds up the host at communion he says, ‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ It’s the same thing that John the Baptist said. John said, ‘Follow him.’ Mother Teresa said, ‘Follow him’. Padre Pio said, ‘Follow him.’ Our Pope says, ‘Follow him.’ He is the one we are looking for, but we often don’t realise it. Jesus is the only one who can fulfil us, the only one we need to keep our sights on. The world around us keeps changing, but God doesn’t. The world around us will disappoint us, but God won’t.


Where do you look for happiness, for fulfilment, because there is only one place we will find it and that is in God. And the way to find it is by listening to what He tells us to do. The more we try and be faithful to everything God tells us, everything, the more we will be fulfilled and the more we will find inner peace. We will also be able to be at peace in the middle of the chaos that is around us.


In Jesus’ public ministry, He was continually faced with opposition, with hatred and there were several attempts on his life. People took offense at what He said, because it showed them where they were in error and that they needed to change if they were to be faithful to God’s word. And yet Jesus was at peace in the middle of all these shouting voices, because He was completely united to the Father. Notice too how many times it says that Jesus went off by himself to pray, often sending the Apostles away, so that He could be by himself in communion with the Father. It says that before He chose the twelve Apostles from all the people who were following him, He spent the whole night in prayer.


If we want to be at peace in the middle of our chaotic world, we need to draw closer and closer to the Father. When a child is afraid or distressed, where do they go? They go to their parents, for strength, comfort and reassurance. In the Scriptures, God is often portrayed as a mother and as a father. For me the most helpful image of God is the image of a parent with their child. No matter how much that child messes up, his parents don’t love him any less, they just help him and love him, even if he has to be disciplined. It is always out of love and concern for the child. God continually gives us the same image.

Can a mother forget her baby at the breast, and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you’ (Is 49:15).




Friday, December 4, 2020

2nd Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Luke 3:1-6) Prepare a way for the Lord


Advent has really become the time of getting ready for Christmas in the sense of buying the gifts we want to give, going to office parties, etc, but this is quite different from the original message. Advent used to be a much more penitential season, like Lent, preparing us spiritually for the extraordinary event of Christmas. This is why we wear purple, the colour of repentance. Although I love to see all the houses around me beautifully decorated and lit up, it makes me sad to see how few of them have any reference to the birth of Christ. Without the birth of Christ and the death and resurrection, we could not go to heaven when we die. No wonder it is such an extraordinary event. But now, so many people remove any reference to Christ, in case someone is offended. We must stand up for our faith and never apologize for it. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘Whoever confesses me before others, I will confess before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father’ (Matt 10:32-33). We proudly display our flag, but what could be more important than saying we belong to God.

John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus and his message was very strong. ‘Repent, confess your sins, change your lives and turn back to God.’ This is the part of preparing for Christmas that is easy to overlook. We want the celebration of Christmas, but we don’t necessarily want to have to repent. Just leave us alone and let us celebrate. We want absolution, but without having to confess. We want the love and blessing of God without having to follow the commandments. We want faith on our terms. That is called ‘cheap grace’. It is empty and it is not the message of God.

The message of God is a wonderful one, but is also a very demanding one. We can not come and pick what we like. Instead we come and ask what is required of us? That is what the people who came to John asked: ‘What must we do?’ To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower. We are not used to thinking this way, because our world encourages us to make sure things are as we would like them to be. If you’re not happy, move on; but this is not the message of the Gospels. In the Gospel we listen to what it is that God asks of us. We follow God on God’s terms and not our terms. 

Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born of woman. What an extraordinary thing to say. He was totally focused on God. He knew what was important and he passed on the message he was told to pass on and it cost him his life. He spoke out publicly against the King Herod, saying that the way he was living with his brother’s wife was immoral. ‘What you are doing is wrong!’ Out of anger Herod had him arrested, taking away his public ministry and then out of hatred, his wife found a way to kill him. People don’t like it when you point out that they are not living as God tells us to. John was beheaded by Herod for speaking the truth. We don’t always want to hear the truth, because it often tells us that we need to change.


When John saw the religious leaders of the time, this is what he said:

Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown on the fire.' (Luke 3:7)

f we are serious about celebrating Christmas as a Christian feast, then let us not forget the message of John the Baptist. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ The term ‘repent’ can also mean ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.’ That is a particularly powerful message at this time in history. So many people are looking for happiness in the world and are disappointed because they cannot find happiness there. The Lord is telling us to turn to him for happiness. It is only in God that we will find true happiness. The world will disappoint us; God will not. People will let us down, but God will not.

The sin of Adam and Eve was a very similar sin to what we see going on today. It involved three things: (1) rejecting the idea that they had to serve God or listen to his commands; (2) that they could have everything they wanted on their terms, (3) that they were like God themselves. That is very similar to what we see going on in our world right now and it is a real temptation. Why should we have to obey commandments? We don’t like being told we have to obey anyone and yet the word obey literally means ‘to listen intently’ (from the Latin, ‘ob audire’). And if you think about it, it says that Jesus was obedient to the Father. Jesus was equal to the Father, but Jesus was also obedient to him. We are being called to listen intently to what God tells us, to acknowledge that we are God’s creation and that we must obey—listen intently—what He tells us, if we are to find the path to happiness.

The most important preparation we can make for Christmas is the interior preparation, the change of heart, the confession of sins. And yes, most of us don’t like to have to confess our sins, we think we shouldn’t have to, but this is what God asks us to do and if God asks us to do it, it is for our benefit. Do you want to experience God’s blessing in your life, God’s healing? Then confess your sins. This is what God asks us to do. 

The celebration of Christmas is meaningless if we skip the kind of preparation that God asks us to make and sadly for many people it has become meaningless. It doesn’t have to be meaningless, because it is the celebration of something very wonderful, the coming of God among us in the person of Jesus.

I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in and sit down to eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20)  

Those words are from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible and this message is repeated all through the Bible in different ways. The Lord wants to be at the centre of what we do, but we are the only ones who can allow that to happen.

Repent, for the kingdom of God is close at hand.’



Saturday, November 28, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B (Gospel: Mark 13: 33-37) Be prepared


I always like the fact that we celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter when the evenings are short and it is usually cold (unless you live in Florida!). Then we begin to light candles and put up coloured lights and decorations to remind us of the coming of our King. It is a time of great hope and hopefully also a time that will bring joy. ‘Advent’—which simply means ‘coming’—is meant to be a time of preparing for two things: we are preparing for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and we are also remembering that Christ will come again at the end of time. Each Sunday in the Creed we say, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ We don’t know when that will be, but we believe that it will happen, because he is the one who said it. The Lord asks us to ‘stay awake’ and not to forget him, because none of us know when we will die, but the important thing is that we do not forget the Lord, who loves us and who created us. And so each Christmas we remember that Jesus came among us, for us, to help us, to teach us about God, about the world to come and above all to die for us, so that we can join in the happiness of God when we die ourselves.

The best way that we can prepare ourselves is in the heart, by trying to give time to God and being open to what He wants to say to us. The Lord is constantly speaking to us but often we are not listening because we are too busy or distracted. People sometimes ask me if God speaks to me. Yes, God speaks to me all the time, but not through visions or voices. It's usually through other people or through the Scriptures. It took me a while to learn how to listen, so that I might hear what God is saying to me. Advent is a good time to try and listen again and hear what the Lord has to say to us. That is why the readings are about getting ready for the one who is coming, and not being so distracted by the world around us that we forget him.

One thing that is characteristic of the Gospels is that they are full of hope. The message of God to us—the Good News—is always one of hope and it is certainly something we need in a world where we are constantly hearing of so many terrible things happening around us. We don't hear of all the wonderful things that are constantly happening around us: the many acts of kindness that people continually do for each other, looking out for each other especially when we are struggling. This is the Spirit at work in us and this is what makes the world bearable, in spite of the awful things that happen. A few years ago (Nov 2016) several serious fires were deliberately started in different parts of Israel, just to cause suffering. Then, to everyone’s amazement one group that came to help out, were firefighters from Palestine. As you know, there is a lot of tension and hatred between these two countries at the best of times, but there is more goodness in people than evil. We just don’t usually hear about it.

Jesus reminds us that while we get on with the ordinary things of everyday life—eating, drinking, marrying, working—we must not forget the eternal things. It is a warning to us never to become so immersed in time and the things of the world, that we forget eternity. Even though the worldly affairs are important, we must not let them distract us from the reality of God; the reality that we will die, that life and death are in his hands, and that whenever He does come for us, He must find us ready.


In one sense we can never be ready enough for God. How do you prepare to meet God? And yet this is what God has created us for and we believe it will be wonderful beyond our wildest dreams, if we have made any effort to be ready.

Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes, of two people doing the same thing, one will be taken the other left. What does this mean? It means that although both people were doing the same ordinary things that we all have to do, one of them had not forgotten about God and had been living for God and according to his will, but the other had; the one who had forgotten got left behind. These are Jesus’ own teachings, not our speculation.

If we get totally immersed in the world, or in our families, or in our work, then we have missed what it is about, because there is much more to our life than this. It is not just about me and my family. Often it is when a loved one becomes seriously ill, or dies, that we suddenly start realizing how much we have become immersed in the world. When faced with serious suffering, our priorities change instantly. We have to get on with the day to day things of working and living, but we are being told to make sure that we also make time for God. 

Put God first in everything. We are called to love and serve each other, not to find our own fulfillment. Our fulfillment will be in the world to come. Listen to what the Word of God says.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil 2: 3-4) 

If we put others before ourselves, if we live to serve rather than to be fulfilled, then we will begin to change the world. ‘If you want to change the world, go home and love your family’. -St. Teresa of Calcutta.

I think a good approach in preparing for a ‘happy’ Christmas, is to keep it simple and spend some time coming up to Christmas remembering what it is about. Even go to mass once a week, or spend a few minutes in a church every few days. That way we will remember what we are celebrating.

The Angel said to the shepherds: do not be afraid.
I bring you news of great joy.
Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born for you;
He is Christ the Lord.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Feast of Christ the King (Gospel: Matt 25:31-46) Jesus Christ is Lord


Some time back I visited a man in hospital. He was probably in his 70s. When he saw me he must have felt intimidated, as began to tell me in so many words, how he didn’t really need me as he had a close relationship with God. He seemed to want to prove how tough he was. He then went on to talk about how he was on a first name basis with the Holy Trinity, describing how he related to the Father, Son and Spirit and the Virgin Mary, as if they were buddies at the bar. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but I remember finding myself being disgusted at the way he spoke, as it was so disrespectful. I don’t think he meant to be disrespectful, but it was. 

The only way we can come before God, is on our knees with our face to the ground, in awe and reverence for who and what God is. Yes, Jesus is our brother, having taken on human flesh, but He is also the judge of the living and dead, the creator of the world, the one before whom everyone will tremble. It is so important that we don’t forget that.

That is also why we begin every mass by acknowledging that we are sinners and asking for God’s mercy.

In the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah is given a vision of heaven, where he sees God on his throne. His reaction? He is terrified. He recognizes his sinfulness before God’s holiness and he is afraid it will kill him.

Woe is me, for I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips, who dwell among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ (Is 6:5) Then it says that an angel came down and touched him on the lips with a hot coal, to purify him and reassure him he would not die. 

The Prophet Ezekiel is also shown a vision of heaven:

I then saw what looked like a throne made of sapphire. And sitting on the throne was a figure in the shape of a human. From the waste up it was glowing like metal in a hot furnace and from the waist down it looked like the flames of a fire. I realized I was seeing the brightness of God’s glory, so I bowed my face to the ground.’ (Ezek 1:26-28)

In Revelations, St. John the Apostle saw a similar vision of Jesus in his glory, except that Jesus comes towards him. He says he was so frightened that he fainted, even though he had lived with Jesus for three years. 

It is very easy for us to become casual about our faith, but it is so important that we don’t, that we remember who and what God is, who Jesus is. It is a wonderful thing that Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with him and he speaks to us as a friend, but we still have to be careful of how we approach God. He is the Lord and master of all things, the King of Kings, the judge of the living and the dead.

Think about when you receive the Eucharist. We are receiving the Body of Christ, not a thing, not holy bread, but Jesus. How do you dress? How do you hold it when it is put in your hand? Do you flick it back into your mouth, or walk away with it? When was the last time you confessed your sins, as the Lord asks us to, so that we are not receiving his Body and Blood unworthily? St. Paul writes:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord. Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick and some have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor 11: 27-30). 

Does that mean we should be afraid? Of course not. It is the Lord himself who wants us to receive the Eucharist, but we must be careful how we go about it. We can never be casual, or we bring condemnation on ourselves and that applies just as much to me. In fact, it is more serious for me, because the Lord comes into my hands as a priest in every mass. It is a great responsibility and one which often scares me, because I too will be accountable as his priest.

Often you hear people talking about God and religion as if it were something optional. You can take it or leave it, it’s up to you. God is not the optional extra. We are. God exists, but we need not be here except that God created us and keeps us in existence. God also entrusted his world to our care, not to do what we like with it, but to look after it.

The last three Sundays of the year, including today, we read Gospels that refer to God’s judgment on us. The parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were left outside, because they hadn’t bothered to prepare. Last week, we had the parable of the talents, where the one who did nothing with it was condemned. He wasn’t condemned because he did something, but because he didn’t do anything. He was indifferent. Then in today’s Gospel we have the separation of sheep and goats.

When the Son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him… and all the nations will be assembled before him. And He will separate them one from another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’ 

One group was condemned. Why? because they did nothing. They didn’t specifically carry out wrong actions, but they didn’t do anything. They had been entrusted with the world and the people around them and they ignored everything and did what they wanted, ignoring God. The Lord is reminding us that it is his world, his creation and we have been entrusted with his creation to take care of it. It’s not just about us. It is about him. That is also why it is so sad when we get to the stage where we feel we can go completely against God’s commandments and say that it is none of his business. We can do what we want. The Lord says, no, I gave you specific commandments to follow and we will be accountable.

Much of our world has rejected the ways of God. In Ireland in 2018, there was a referendum to change the constitution, to allow abortion. It was passed and the night it was passed there was dancing in the streets of Dublin, quite literally. There was a big gathering and a celebration with singing and dancing. Our culture has chosen the way of death, where we can decide what we do with life and death. That is the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Evil. God said to Adam and Eve you must not touch the fruit from the tree of good and evil. In other words, don’t play God. Don’t be the ones to decide what is ultimately good and evil. Only God can do that.

For us to be faithful means we must make conscious decisions to follow God’s law, continually looking to see if we are living it. That’s why we keep reading the Scriptures. Often God’s laws make us uncomfortable, because it will challenge us when we are going off track. The irony is that it is God’s very laws that will lead us to the greatest freedom and happiness, but we must choose. We will be different and it will cost us, because we will meet resistance just as Jesus said we would. But what could be greater than following the very path that God points out to us, the only one that leads to happiness.

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father’ (Phil 2:10-11).

Thursday, November 12, 2020

33rd Sunday, Year A, (Gospel: 25: 14-30). The teaching office of the pope and bishops

The 'Chair' of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.

An important part of my work as a priest, is to pass on the Lord’s teaching as faithfully as possible; not my opinion, but his teaching. My opinion is irrelevant, even if it might be interesting. What will help us more than anything is what comes from God, not human opinions. The bishop’s job is to make sure that his priests are being faithful in passing on that same teaching.

When I was officially transferred (incardinated) to this diocese two years ago, I had to recite the whole creed in front of the bishop and a witness, promising to faithfully continue to uphold that teaching, even though I was already 20 years a priest. That is how important it is.

We believe that the teachings of the Church come from God and are not just human opinion. We believe that certain things were divinely revealed to the Apostles and have been passed on throughout the ages. These teachings come from Scripture (the Bible) and Tradition, which is the teaching of the Apostles. Our bishops are the successors of the Apostles. For me to be a validly ordained priest, it has to be by a bishop who was ordained by other bishops, going all the way back to the Apostles.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel we have one of the accounts where Jesus gave his authority to St. Peter to lead his Church and pass on his teaching. When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, Peter was the one to say, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt 16:17). And Jesus’ response to him was to say, ‘You are blessed, because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ In other words, you didn’t come to this conclusion by yourself. The Father in heaven revealed this to you. Then Jesus goes on to say, 

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld will never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ (Matt 16:18-19).

Statue of St. Peter, St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

This is why we believe the teachings of the Church are revealed by God and are not human teachings. That is also why we can’t change them. Our understanding of them continually deepens as the Holy Spirit continues to teach us, but the basic teachings do not change.

Every so often the Pope may come out with an official statement which is then considered Church teaching, but this isn’t done lightly, or by himself. It is teaching that will normally have been discussed and then decided by the whole College of Bishops throughout the world. In other words, the Pope doesn’t just decide on a new teaching whenever he feels like it. He may give his opinion on topics, but that doesn’t mean it is Church teaching.

Recently Pope Francis made the comment that he believed homosexual unions should be protected by law, so that they are not open to being exploited, which seems wise and fair. In no way does that take from, or change, the teaching that we believe marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman. We believe that teaching comes from God. That doesn’t disrespect anyone who is homosexual, it just says that this is the teaching we believe comes from God. I have many dear friends who are gay and I love them as I love all my friends and see them no differently, but that doesn’t mean I think God’s teaching should change. I suppose it keeps coming back to the question you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I believe the Church’s teaching is from God or not?’ For me, I totally believe that it is from God. I wouldn’t be a priest if I didn’t. Sometimes it may be hard to understand, but who am I to say I know better?

In St. Matthew’s Gospel Jesus speaks these words:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Our faith has to be built on a solid foundation, not on opinions. There is no more solid teaching than what comes from God. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Everyone who hears my words and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.’ His house was secure and could not be knocked down. Jesus is telling us to build our faith on his teaching, not on opinions. The house built on sand is very typical of ‘feel good religion’. ‘I like this teaching so I will hold on to it, but I disagree with that so I will ignore it.’ That kind of faith will collapse, because it is built on opinions.

The devil will try to convince us that we know better. ‘It’s the modern world. You need to get with the times, don’t be taken in by these old and out of date teachings by some old men in the Vatican.’ Remember, the devil quoted scripture to Jesus in the wilderness and twisted it. Jesus called him the liar and the deceiver. He is the one who causes confusion. He will twist the truth and try to convince you of what is not from God.

Remember in the creation story in Genesis, Satan asks Adam and Eve, ‘Did God really say that you were not to touch any of the trees in the garden?’ (Gen 3:1). That is not what God said. He lied to them and confused and deceived them. He twisted God’s words, just like the media will often take words out of context and twist the meaning.

What about what we call papal infallibility? Can there really be such a thing? Yes, we believe it is real, when the Pope makes an official proclamation about a Church teaching, in agreement with the bishops, but it is extremely rare. So far it has only been used twice in history: once to define the dogma (teaching) of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and also to define the teaching of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven in 1950. These were made official teachings because they had already been believed in from the beginning. They were set in stone, as it were. How could any teaching be infallible? Because we believe it has been revealed by God. ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Again, we must ask, ‘Do I believe the teachings of the Church are from God or not?’

Popes can also give opinions which are wrong. I am not referring to what Pope Francis said about homosexual unions, but in general. In the Acts of the Apostles it says that St. Paul challenged St. Peter publicly, because he was obviously in the wrong (Gal 2:11-14). Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, until the Jewish people turned up and then he felt that he shouldn’t. Paul challenged him on this and he realized he was wrong. There is nothing wrong with that.

I believe we are coming into a time when our faith is going to be challenged more and more. There is already a lot of confusion within the Church, which is sad. Hold on tight to your faith. If you are uncertain of something you hear, then look it up in the Catechism and above all, come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in the silence ask him to guide you and help you be clear on what comes from him. God wants us to know his teachings, because they are there to help us.  If our faith is to survive it has to be built on solid rock, that is, on the Lord’s teachings. When it is built on God’s teachings then it will survive, even in the midst of confusion.

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’



Friday, November 6, 2020

32nd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13) Those who were ready went in to the wedding hall and the door was closed


November is a time when we pray especially for those who have died. We pray for them because we know it’s important to pray for the dead, that they will have their sins forgiven and come into God’s presence in heaven. Most people when they die, are not so holy that they can come directly into the presence of God’s pure holiness, so they go through a state or ‘purification’, or ‘being made ready’ so that they can come into God’s presence. This is what we call purgatory and it is a mercy of God, because otherwise we would not be able to take in God’s incredible presence.

We know that we can help the souls of those who are there, by praying for them and making sacrifices for them. Think of it this way: when we wake up in the morning and turn on the bed-side light, we have to shield our eyes because it is too bright. It takes a few seconds for our eyes to adjust. Can you imagine if we had the full light of the sun at that moment? It would be unbearable and so a time of adjustment is needed. We may also need to atone for sins that we have committed, even if we have confessed them. If someone has lived a sinful life, but at the end of their life sees this and asks God for mercy, God promises his mercy. Would it make sense that that person would instantly be in heaven, if they had only just asked forgiveness before they died? That would be unjust. They would have to atone for their sins and that is what purgatory is; a time of ‘purgation’ or purification.

How do we know this is true? Many of the saints have been shown purgatory and this has been explained to them. One of the most extraordinary mystics of all time, St. Pius of Pietrelcina (better known as Padre Pio), who died in 1968, said that more souls came to him from Purgatory asking for prayers, than people on earth. Another lady called Maria Simma, who died in 2004, also had the gift of the Holy Souls coming to her to ask for prayers. She was born in Austria and in an interview this is how she describes the first encounter she had:

Maria Simma (1915-2004)
Maria Simma (1915-2004)

Well, I saw a complete stranger. He walked back and forth slowly. I said to him severely: “How did you get in here? Go away!” But he continued to walk impatiently around the bedroom, as if he hadn’t heard. So I asked him again; “What are you doing?” but as he still didn’t answer, I jumped out of the bed and tried to grab him, but I grasped only air. There was nothing there, So I went back to bed, but again I heard him pacing back and forth. I wondered how I could see this man, but I couldn’t grab him. I rose again to hold onto him and stop him walking around; again, I grasped only emptiness. Puzzled, I went back to bed. He didn’t come back, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. The next day, after Mass, I went to see my spiritual director and told him everything. He told me that if this should happen, I shouldn’t ask, “Who are you?: but “What do you want from me?” The following night, the man returned, definitely the same man. I asked him, “What do you want from me?” He replied: “Have three Masses celebrated for me and I will be delivered.” So I understood that it was a soul in Purgatory. My spiritual father confirmed this. He also advised me never to turn away the poor souls, but to accept with generosity whatever they asked of me.

After this, more and more souls began to appear to her asking for prayer. She described purgatory this way:

Suppose that one day a door opens, and a splendid being appears, extremely beautiful, of a beauty that has never been seen on earth. You are fascinated, overwhelmed by this being of light and beauty, even more so that this being shows that he is madly in love with you — you have never dreamed of being loved so much. You sense too that he has a great desire to draw you to him, to be one with you. And the fire of love which burns in your heart impels you to throw yourself into his arms. But wait — you realize at this moment that you haven’t washed for months and months, that you smell bad; you nose is running, your hair is greasy and matted, there are big dirty stains on your clothes, etc. So you say to yourself, “No, I just can’t present myself in this state. First I must go and wash: a good shower, then straight away I’ll come back.”

But the love which has been born in your heart is so intense, so burning, so strong, that this delay for the shower is absolutely unbearable. And the pain of the absence, even if it only lasts for a couple of minutes, is an atrocious wound in the heart, proportional to the intensity of the revelation of the love — it is a “love-wound”.

Purgatory is exactly this. It’s a delay imposed by our impurity, a delay before God’s embrace, a wound of love which causes intense suffering, a waiting, if you like, a nostalgia for love. It is precisely this burning, this longing which cleanses us of whatever is still impure in us. Purgatory is a place of desire, a mad desire for God, desire for this God whom we already know, for we have seen him, but with whom we are not yet united.

That is why we pray for those who have died and not just mourn for them. When I die, I’m sure people will mourn for me as is normal when anyone dies. I would rather that they pray for me.

Is it foolish for us to think that hell and purgatory are real? If it were impossible for anyone to go there, then Jesus would hardly have warned people so often to be careful, as there would have been no need. But Jesus frequently warned us to be careful and to be ready and not just to presume that everything will be alright. We can always have great confidence in God’s mercy and never be afraid, but I think what Jesus is warning us of, is presumption. It would be a mistake to presume that everything will be fine, even if we have completely ignored God all our life. The attitude that you meet quite often which says, ‘I’ll be alright on the day. I’ll sort things out with God myself’, as though we were equal to God, or could manipulate God. God will of course forgive those who repent and are sincere. God is merciful, but God is not a fool and God will not be mocked.

But how could hell exist at all, you say? How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  It’s a good question. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. We choose it for ourselves by the way we live on earth and God respects that choice. If we reject God by the way we live, then we will get the fruits of that choice. Think of it this way: if God is all goodness, beauty, light, love, joy and total fulfillment in a way that we never experience on this earth. Then hell is the opposite of this. It is to lose all this and therefore we are left with the opposite: evil, ugliness, darkness, hatred, isolation and the terrible pain of knowing that we have lost the chance of total fulfillment and happiness. To reject God is to reject all that God is. By rejecting God, we choose the opposite. Our life on earth is the time we have to make the choice for, or against God and we do that by the way we live.

God does not want anyone to be cut off from him. He has created us to be with him and God continually gives each of us every opportunity to come back to him, all through our life, no matter how far we may have strayed. Think of the ‘good thief’ dying on the cross beside Jesus. When he asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus replies, ‘Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). God will never give up on us, as long as we are alive, but we also have to decide for God and if we don’t, we have to face the consequences. We have free will, but our choices also have consequences.

Look at what it says in the Gospel reading about the bridesmaids who were left outside.  When they said ‘Lord, Lord, let us in.’ He said, ‘I do not know you’. They had never concerned themselves with God and so they did not know God, and so God did not know them.  When they found themselves locked out, they cried out to God, but He answered them, ‘I do not know you’.

We need not let ourselves be preoccupied with this, as God assures us of his infinite mercy to anyone who reaches out to him, but just as the world is full of dangers, such as drugs, violence and people with evil intentions and we always try to warn our children what they need to be careful of, so God is doing the same with us, warning us that we need to be careful. 

The Lord is telling us to be wise and realize that we have to be responsible. If you say you believe in God, then do, and live as He asks you to live and don’t be afraid. We all want to reach the happiness of heaven and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, but we also must be wise and not take it for granted.