Friday, May 29, 2020

The Feast of Pentecost. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.

In 1999, in preparation for the second millennium, Pope John Paul II invited representatives from 54 different groups around the world to come to Rome. These groups were started over the last several decades and were all started by lay people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To give you an example, some of the groups were, the Focolare movement, Marriage Encounter, Cenacolo, Charismatic Renewal, Cursillo. All of these different movements within the Church have been started by lay people and are really about different ways of living out the Gospel in daily life. These movements have been so fruitful, that most of them have spread all over the world. For that meeting in Rome, there were 400,000 people present representing these 54 different movements. This event was a celebration of what God is doing all over the world. 
It is good to hear about these things every so often, because it would be easy to get the impression that the Church is dying, or that religion is on its way out. We won’t hear about this sort of thing on the TV, or in the papers, but it is happening all around us.

Just to give you an example closer to home of the power of God’s Spirit working among us. For many years I was part of a prayer group of young people in Galway, started by a young lay woman. From that group there are currently four people in religious life (two contemplative sisters and two priests), and there are about twenty married couples, but more importantly it has helped many people come back to their faith and grow in their faith. Most of the group are now in their 50s but they are people who are really trying to live out the Gospel in their daily lives. It was thanks to that group that I came back to my own faith, because I had also drifted away, and then later I became a priest. That is the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work, and praise God for it.

God doesn’t wait until we are ready. God acts when the time is right. He doesn’t wait for the hierarchy of his Church to decide what to do. I don’t mean that they are not important, but think of the times that Peter and Paul came to pray with people and before they had even started, the Holy Spirit came down on them. The Lord sends his Spirit to inspire and move people to step out in faith and live the Gospel, and they in turn move others, until soon the people are alive with faith again. In the Gospels Jesus says to the Pharisees, ‘The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit’ (Matthew 21:43). God doesn’t wait until we are ready. God inspires people to act when the time is right and that’s why new movements and religious orders keep springing up.

One time when I was working in a hospital in Ireland, I came into one area where I was going to visit patients who were newly admitted. One of the nurses told me that a man had been admitted who had taken an overdose of poison and was going to die. She said that he probably wouldn’t be too receptive to me. I decided to visit him anyway and prayed to God for guidance. When I got to the door of his room, which was open, I could see a young man by his bedside, who turned out to be his son. I stood at the door and I just said, ‘I heard what happened and I’m sorry. Do you regret it?’ The man said that he did regret it. As soon as he said that, I felt this strong prompting inside me saying, ‘That is a confession, so don’t ask for one.’ I really felt that was the Spirit speaking to me. I asked the man if he would like to talk, but he emphatically said that he did not want to make a confession. I told him that he didn’t have to. I spoke to him for a few minutes and he told me that on the spur of the moment he had taken a drink of a weed killer called Paraquot. The doctors told me that they could do nothing and that this would just burn through his insides and kill him. He now had to face his family. I asked him if he would like me to anoint him. Again he said that he didn’t want to make a confession. I told him that it wasn’t necessary and that the anointing included the forgiveness of his sins. And so I anointed him and left. He died a few days later.

Some weeks later a friend of mine was talking about a man in hospital who had taken an overdose of poison. He had refused to see two priests, but eventually he did see a priest, was anointed and died peacefully. It was the same man, but my friend didn’t realise I was the third priest. If I had known that he had refused to see two other priests, I probably would not have gone to him. But the Lord sent me to that man, he made his peace with God and died reconciled. That was the power of the Holy Spirit guiding me to him, just as we read of the Apostles being guided to different people.

Another time I was in one of the hospitals here in Fort Myers. While I was in the elevator a young woman asked me if I was a priest. Then she asked me how I could get a priest to come and visit her husband. I offered to go right way and we went to his room. He had fallen and broken his back and was still unconscious. I asked her if she would like me to give him the sacrament of the sick (anointing). She awkwardly told me that they were not married in the Church. I told her that this wasn’t the time to worry about that and I anointed him. She was in tears and then asked me to bless her and her children which I did. That showed her that God was with her and looking out for her. What a privilege it is for me to be that instrument that God uses and this happens to me all the time.

Do you know what God’s Spirit is doing in the Church all over the world over the last few years? He is stripping it down so that it can become beautiful once again. Because of the scandals, He is removing all the prestige, power and respectability which we had come to depend on. We had become too powerful, too prestigious and it was causing us to wander away from what the Gospel is really about. The scandals have brought us to our knees and that is not a bad thing. God is, ironically, forcing us to turn back to depend on his Word and his Spirit and to get away from what we don’t need. God is rebuilding his Church because He loves us. When someone is sick with cancer, you remove the cancer so that the person becomes well again. When the Spirit’s work is finished the Church will be beautiful again. The Spirit is removing the cancer of sin and corruption, so that God’s Church can bear fruit again and God does this because He loves his Church.

Before he ascended into heaven Jesus told us that the Father would send us the ‘Helper’, who would be with us forever, and who would teach us everything. He knew that we would need help and so He sent us the best help that we could have, his own Spirit, to guide us and teach us. And He does teach us constantly, through the example of people He inspires, through the Word of God, through prayer when we are open to him, in fact, through many ways we will never even be aware of.  But the Spirit is very gentle and that is why we don’t notice him sometimes.

Think of this: in each mass, nothing would happen when the priest prays over the bread and wine, if the Spirit didn’t come down and transform them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Sins would not be forgiven through the priests if the Spirit didn’t act, because it is the Spirit to takes way the sin, through the instrument of the priest. Baptism and Confirmation would be meaningless if the Spirit didn’t anoint the person receiving the sacrament; marriage and ordination would mean nothing, if the Holy Spirit didn’t act. Because of the presence of the Spirit, when a couple get married in the Church, God becomes involved in that marriage. It is no longer just the couple, but the couple with God helping them and blessing what they do. We wouldn’t know how to pray, or even feel the desire to pray except that the Spirit is prompting us continually. Our preaching would have no effect if the Spirit did not anoint the words we speak.

Here is something that happens to me quite often. I preach a homily that I feel disappointed with, or that I thought I did not do well. Afterwards people come up and thank me for such a powerful message. That is the Holy Spirit and it is also God reminding me that it is his work, not mine. I do my part and prepare as best I can, but ultimately it is the power of God at work through me. That is also why it is so important for me to pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the words I speak. God will speak to your heart if you are open. I think it is always good to ask God to help us to hear what He wants us to hear, every time you read the Scriptures, or listen to them at mass. God has plenty to say to us if we are willing to listen.

The gift of God’s own Spirit is really the greatest thing God can give to us after life itself, because when we have the Holy Spirit we have everything. It is also good to remember that the anointing of the Spirit does not depend on how brilliant, or learned we are. It simply depends on us being open to the Spirit. If you look at so many of the characters God used in the Bible, most of them were very insignificant people. God seems to delight in using ordinary and indeed ‘useless’ people, according to the world’s thinking; the kind of people the world casts aside as being irrelevant.

In the first book of Samuel, it says that Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to anoint God’s chosen instrument who would be the next king of Israel. God tells Samuel He will show him whom to anoint. Samuel comes to Jesse’s house where there are seven sons. He looks at everyone in the household, starting with the eldest, but God did not choose any of them. Having seen all of the sons in the house, Samuel asks if there is anyone else. They tell him there is just the youngest who is out minding the sheep. He is the least important, who was not even considered, but he is the one God anoints and he turns out to be one of the greatest kings of Israel, king David. That tells us something. We don’t have to be great for God to use us, just open. The more we root ourselves in God’s life, through his Word and through the Eucharist, the more the Lord will use us.

Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful people,
send forth your Spirit and we will be created,
and you will renew the face of the earth.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Ascension of the Lord, Yr A (Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20) He continued to appear to them and tell them about the Kingdom

In my work as a priest, people often tell me about spiritual experiences they have had. Sometimes they are experiences of the Lord in some way, sometimes of someone who has died, asking for prayers, or something like that. A lot of people do in fact have spiritual experiences. However, often after a time, people begin to wonder whether they really did have these experiences, or was it all in their imagination. It is really impossible to know, and in one way it is not even important. Usually the experience will have helped them at that time and that is enough. It has achieved its purpose.

A man came to me early one Saturday morning. He seemed distressed. Initially I thought he was going to ask me for money, which is often the case, but in fact he wanted to go to confession. He told me that the previous night a friend of his who had died some time before, had appeared to him. He was obviously quite shaken by the experience and he realized that he needed to go to confession himself. It was a wake-up call for him.

Different spiritual experiences help us to be aware of just how real the spiritual world is, which we can become very cynical about. We will say, ‘Yes, I believe in God, but don’t expect me to believe in angels, or the devil, or hell.’ Why are these any more extraordinary to believe in. If God is real, then the spiritual world is real. That means there is an awful lot we haven’t seen and don’t understand, but the Lord tells us that these things are real and so we should believe in them. Jesus often spoke about the reality of heaven, hell, Satan, angels, sin and so many other things and yet we doubt. It’s amazing how many people doubt the existence of hell or Satan and yet Jesus often spoke about both. If they are not real, then the crucifixion was meaningless, because the whole point of the death and resurrection was to make it possible for us to be able to go to heaven, which means we could lose it, which means hell must be real. If we lose heaven, we are left with the opposite, which is hell.

In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles—or the ‘adventures’ of the Apostles, as you might call them—Luke tells us how after Jesus rose from the dead, He continued to appear to the Apostles. Not just once, but many times. Why? No doubt to convince them that they had not imagined it. One thing that He did on at least two occasions was to eat something with them. The first time when he appeared to them in the room, they were all standing there speechless, and He said, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave him a piece of fish and He ate it in front of them. Then they knew it was not just a vision, but a real person, the same real person they had known before. It was not even food that He had brought with him, which could also have been part of a vision, but it was something they gave him and then they watched him chew it and swallow it. This was a beautiful and very human thing to do; something that we could completely relate to.  

Luke also says that he not only appeared to them, but He continued to tell them about ‘the Kingdom.’ What is ‘the Kingdom?’ What was he telling them about? I have no doubt that He was telling them about the reality of heaven: life with God, which He has created us for; that it is real and that we could also lose it if we are foolish. There we will be reunited with the people we love and we will experience happiness there, in a way that we can not even begin to imagine now. He was probably also explaining to them what the purpose of his life on earth was, why He had to suffer and die the way He did, what all this meant for the human race; God’s plan for his people. Also He probably told them that He had a lot of work for them to do and that they must remember that their life here on earth was a time of service and not to worry if things were not easy, because when their work here was done he would bring them home to be with him again.

Notice too, how they still didn’t understand about the kingdom of God even though Jesus had risen from the dead. It says that they asked Jesus, ‘Now are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ It was only after they received the gift of the Holy Spirit that they began to see the bigger picture. Until then they were still thinking in earthly terms, political power, Israel being dominant.

Why were they suddenly able to go out and start preaching to everyone about a man that most people had never heard of and not only preach about him for a while, but for the rest of their lives with passion? I think all of them ended up being martyred, but they didn’t care, because they knew that the only thing that was important was to be faithful to the Lord Jesus as best they could.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the same thing exactly applies to us. The Apostles were real people and these are real experiences that we are reading about. Our life on earth is just as short as theirs was and it is also a time of service, just as theirs was. For most of you it will be serving by looking after your families. For single people and also for priests and religious it will be in a different way, but that is why we are here, to learn to love, to serve, to freely choose for or against God. However, I think it is also worth remembering that we are living in a time when people are very cynical and skeptical about religion and they point to the scandals as being ‘proof’ of just how hypocritical the whole thing is. We must not let that put us off. It has always been difficult to believe and probably always will be, but we ask the Lord himself to help us to persevere and not become negative, or cynical. If this Gospel it says that when Jesus appeared to them and was about to ascend to heaven, they worshiped, ‘but some doubted.’ Even with all they had seen, some of them still had doubts. It is normal to have doubts, but that is why we try and keep feeding ourselves with the things that will keep us close to God. If we fill our minds with only earthly things—think of all that you watch on TV—then the things of heaven can seem to be unreal. I have often noticed in Hollywood movies, if the hero or heroine is asked if they believe in God, they will nearly always say no. What does that tell you about Hollywood? It is saying that only foolish people believe in God.

If we truly believe that what awaits us is worth the sacrifice of anything, then it doesn’t really matter what happens to us in this life. It is only temporary. And when our time here is complete God will come and bring us home. I have no doubt that this is probably what Jesus was telling the Apostles about for those forty days. He wanted them to have no doubt about why they were here, so that we also could have a good understanding of our purpose here, through their teaching.

God has given us every possible help that we could ask for. If it seems too difficult it is only because we are not using the help that He has given us. What help? Above all, the Eucharist; the word of God; confession, etc. It is all there waiting for us. The clearer a picture we have in our own head as to what our life is about, the easier it is to keep going. That is also why we needn’t be afraid of anything in this world. If we offer ourselves to God, then why should we be afraid? All things are in his hands.

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.

Friday, May 15, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A (Gospel: John 14:15-21) If you love me you will keep my commandments

Something that I come across quite a lot as a priest is this: when someone has died, or someone has become very ill, it often makes people angry, because they feel that God has let them down, or even betrayed them. Working in a hospital for a few years I would often hear people say: ‘I never hurt anyone. Why has God done this to me?’ They are basically thinking, ‘God owes me.’ It is as if there was a legal contract and if we keep our side of it, then God is obliged to keep his side of it, by looking after us and making sure that nothing happens to us. This is also one of the effects of Original Sin. We are suspicious of God and not convinced that He is good. We are quick to blame God when things go wrong and only to thank and praise him for the things that suit us.

The problem is that there is no love in this way of thinking. There is no love in a legal contract. It is a contract, on paper, or by word of mouth, and it is as cold as ice, just as the law is. However, there is one big difference with the way God works. God deals with us on the basis of love alone. Everything that we have is a gift from God. We do not deserve any of it and we have not earned any of it. God does not owe us anything and will never owe us anything. If I manage to be faithful to my priesthood and to all that the Lord Jesus asks me to do as a Christian, then when I die, I cannot demand eternal happiness from him. He does not owe me anything, but God does offer it to me as a free gift. That is why whatever we do on this earth for the Lord, is supposed to be done out of love for him and because he asks us to do it. Our relationship with God is meant to be one of love.

Look at the first words of the Gospel: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’  ‘If you love me…’ What would you do for someone you love? Would you keep their wishes? Would you respect them? Would you keep their commandments, God’s commandments?

It is interesting how many people have the idea that you should follow all the demands of your faith ‘in so far as it suits you’. If it doesn’t suit you then obviously you don’t do it. That is the mentality of the modern world and it is a selfish mentality. We are constantly told that we don’t owe anything to anyone and we shouldn’t have to do anything unless it suits us. The idea of sacrifice is not part of the thinking of our world. The difficulty is this: Jesus does not tell us to follow him on our own terms, but on his terms. In other words, we must try to live as He asks. They are commandments and not suggestions. ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’

However, we must also remember that anything God tells us to do, is for our benefit. God knows exactly how we work and also what will help us to grow and blossom. He knows the path we need to follow, which will lead us to happiness. So, He points out the way and tells us the way we need to live. ‘If you live as I command you, you will be alright.’ Unfortunately we do not always trust God and we often think that we know better. That is also why they are commandments and not suggestions. God is well aware that we often think we know better, so He tells us which path is the one to take. For our part we must trust him, even when it does not seem to make sense to us.

Our faith can certainly be demanding, but any way of life worth living is demanding.  If I wish to be a Catholic, and to follow the way of Jesus Christ, then this is what is expected of me. These are the demands of our faith. But while it is demanding, it is not beyond us, because God gives us the strength we need to live it. He gives us ‘The Advocate’ or Holy Spirit, to give us both strength and understanding. The Spirit empowers us to live as God asks us to. Think of the Apostles when they received the Spirit. They were completely transformed and the Spirit took away all their fear. From then on they were able to preach with power and authority, because God had given them the strength they needed.

It says in the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostles continually prayed with people so that they would receive the gifts of the Spirit, what we call Confirmation. The Lord gives us everything we need to live as He asks, so we can never say that it was too much for us.

That is why we need to keep coming back to be renewed by the strength which God gives us through prayer, fasting and especially through the Eucharist. God shows us what we need to do and He also gives us the strength to do it. Above all, remember that it is all given to us for our benefit, purely out of love.

‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’

Thursday, May 7, 2020

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A (Gospel: John 14:1-12) God's teachings through his Church


There is some confusion in our Church at the moment with regards to our pope and Church teaching. Some more conservative groups within the Church have even started saying that Pope Benedict is the true pope and that they won’t accept Pope Francis as their pope. That might seem hard to believe, but it has happened in some quarters. So I would like to try and clear up a few ideas.

First of all, Pope Francis has not changed any Church teaching and if you ever have any doubt about what exactly the Church’s teaching is in regards to something, just look up the Catechism. That is where you will find exactly what we believe. What is great about having such a resource is that it gives us the sure guidelines about what we do and don’t believe God has revealed to us, so that you don’t have to depend on the opinions of individual people.  

Why is Church teaching so important? Because we believe that it is the teaching of Christ, of God. They are God’s teachings, not human teachings. Our understanding of those teachings deepens all the time, but the basic teachings of our faith don’t change. We often talk about Church teaching and it would be easy to get the impression that we are talking about the teachings of some men in Rome, but that is not true. We mean what God has taught us and that is why they are so important to us.

Pope Francis is a radical and he is not afraid to step outside the box and reach out to people in the messiness of our lives. That is also what Jesus did, which is why He drew down so much criticism from the religious authorities of the time. He made them very uncomfortable, because He wasn’t afraid to reach out to people and bring them to a deeper level of understanding. The religious authorities wanted everything in a clear, black and white box. This is the Law as handed on to us by Moses, anything outside of that is wrong. Jesus was helping them to have a deeper understanding of that Law. He did things that ‘holy men’ were not supposed to do.

Think of the story of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the very act of committing adultery. According to the Law (of Moses, which came from the Ten Commandments), she could be stoned to death. Jesus helped them to see that it was not that simple, that God was not there to condemn us, but to help us find him and grow beyond our sins. ‘Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.’ They wanted it black and white, but they had to admit that Jesus was right. Pope Francis is doing something very similar, not being afraid to reach out to people and reminding us that not everything is black and white. Remember, he has not changed any Church teaching, but people’s lives are not black and white. Let me give you another example: the sin of adultery.

A man who is happily married, notices a young attractive woman at work, begins to fantasize about her and decides he wants to seduce her. He does and sleeps with her, cheating on his wife. That is adultery.

Another man is trying to be faithful in a very difficult marriage, with a lot of pressure at work and under financial strain in his family. He is very stressed and just about coping. He gets to know a woman at work who is very supportive and encouraging. They talk a lot and one day in a moment of weakness, ends up sleeping with her. He is wrecked with guilt and determined that it won’t happen again. It is also the sin of adultery, but the circumstances are very different. Not everything is black and white and that is what Pope Francis is showing us, demonstrating that the mercy of God is greater than the sinfulness of our lives, but he has not changed any Church teaching. It is interesting that many of the criticisms of Pope Francis are the same criticisms the Pharisees made against Jesus.

One thing that is not helpful is that in certain circumstances Pope Francis has not clarified some things which have caused confusion. For example, during the Amazon Synod recently, Pope Francis allowed a statue, which represents what is important to the Amazonian people, to be brought into the Vatican. Candles were lit in front of it and this upset a lot of people saying that is was worship of a pagan god. I don’t believe that is true, but I think it would have been helpful if the Vatican had clarified this, but they didn’t. I think that was a mistake. Just because a mistake was made doesn’t mean the Church’s teaching was compromised.

Recently a book was published by a priest in the Vatican saying that it was ok for Catholics to be Free Masons. The Church has issued 38 documents over 300 years, condemning Free Masonry, because it is anti-Church, anti-priesthood, anti-Eucharist, although they don’t say that publicly. In spite of that book being published, saying that it is ok for a Catholic to be a Free Mason, the Vatican so far have not said anything. I think that is not helpful as it causes confusion.

Jesus said to Peter, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. and the powers of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be considered bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be considered loosed in heaven’ (Matt 16:18-19). He also said, ‘Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Who rejects you rejects me’ (Luke 10:16). In saying this, Jesus was giving his authority to the Apostles to teach in his name. But Jesus also gave them the gift of the Spirit who would guide them and continues to guide them.

If our Church wasn’t from God, it would have disappeared centuries ago, but it is still here and it continues to grow. The Spirit continues to speak to people and to move people to seek God. And God continues to teach us through his Church. 366 times in the Bible and in today’s Gospel, are the words, ‘Do not be afraid.’ ‘You have faith in God, have faith also in me.’ The Church is in the God’s hands and we just do our best to be faithful to his teaching.

Remember, if you have any doubt about something being correct Church teaching, just read the Catechism.

Friday, May 1, 2020

4th Sunday of Easter Yr A (Jn 10:1-10) I am the gate


Twice I have had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land. It was a wonderful experience to be able to visit all the places where Jesus lived and preached. I remember being struck at seeing shepherds leading their sheep, something which I had never seen in any other country, because they are a different kind of animal. At one stage we were about to celebrate mass in what is celebrated as ‘The Shepherd’s Field’ where the shepherd’s who saw the angels were meant to have been. As we were getting ready for mass, two heads popped up over the hill and then two sheep came to us and walked right into the middle of everyone and began poking around. The only sheep I have ever seen would run away. In Palestine the shepherd walks in front and the sheep follow in a line behind. You can still see them doing this in the fields. It makes more sense of what we read in the Scriptures where Jesus says ‘I know my sheep and mine know me’ and ‘He leads me to green pastures.’

I also remember hearing a story of a tourist who was visiting one of these places and was looking at the sheep. To his horror he watched as the shepherd took one of the lambs and deliberately broke its leg. When he saw this he went over and began to give out to the shepherd, saying ‘I saw what you just did.’ The shepherd got angry and said ‘You know nothing about what is going on here’.  He then explained to the tourist what he was doing. He said that the lamb was constantly running away, because he was afraid of the shepherd. Therefore he was constantly in danger of getting lost or being eaten by a wild animal. When this happens the shepherd breaks the leg of the animal and immediately puts it into a splint to heal. During the time it is healing, he carries the animal on his shoulders. By the time it has healed the lamb is no longer afraid of the shepherd and stays close to him and is therefore no longer in danger of getting lost. They actually do this. 

Today is vocations Sunday, also known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’; a day when we remember and pray for priests. St. Thérèse of Lisieux said she could never understand why people were always saying that we should pray for priests until she went on a pilgrimage to Rome with several priests. Then she understood! Priests are just men like any other men, with the same strengths and weaknesses. The priest is meant to be a shepherd, one who leads people to God, or points people in the direction of God. If I am to do that, my life as a priest must be completely centred on God to begin with, because I cannot give you what I do not have. Nothing I have of myself will be of any use to you. The only thing that I have which is of any use to you is what I receive from God. I am only a vessel or instrument of God; at least that is the idea.

We also know that we priests are not always as good as we should be. Sadly we have often let people down in different ways and even led people away from God, which is something that we will be answerable to God for.  In the book of Ezekiel God says to the prophet, ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves. Should not shepherds take care of the sheep?’ (Ex 34:2). I always find that line a bit frightening. God has given me the gift of the priesthood, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I will be answerable for how I have lived it.

So why does God keep on calling people who are weak? Why doesn’t He pick stronger people, or more reliable people? I have no doubt it is to make it all the more obvious that we are only instruments that He uses. Of ourselves we are nothing, but the message that we pass on to you from God is everything. It is like a glass of really good wine. Whether the glass itself is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, is irrelevant. What matters is the content. If you find yourself disappointed with a priest, or if he lets you down, try and remember that. A priest is not the Church. He is one person and a certain amount of people will always cause scandal. One out of twelve of the Apostles betrayed Jesus.

While it is a great help if the priest is a holy man, the only thing that is really important is the message that he is bringing. We are only messengers, or as St. Paul says, ‘But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us’ (2 Cor 4:7). We are only cracked pots that carry this extraordinary treasure. What matters is the treasure that we bring to you and not the one who carries that treasure. That treasure is the teaching of Jesus Christ, that He has won eternal life for us through his death and resurrection; that He is Lord of all things and all things are subject to him; that He has given us the Scriptures, the Eucharist, the forgiveness of sins. That is the only thing that matters. Jesus is the one who offers us the fullness of life, and He is the only one who can offer it. We continue to turn to him for life and hopefully we priests will continue to be vessels, or instruments, helping people to rediscover these extraordinary treasures which God has given us, in spite of our weakness.

What if the priest is not a very holy man and even living a bad life? Is God less present in the mass or anywhere else, because the priest is not a good man? Of course not. God would never let his presence depend on the holiness of a priest. Even if the priest is living a bad life, the bread and wine still become the Body and Blood of Christ; sins are still forgiven through confession, the sick receive the same grace when they are anointed.

I know a lot of priests and most of them are good men and many of them are holy men, but we also need prayer, because we are human beings and we are subject to the same temptations as everyone else. We need your support and that is how it is meant to work. The shepherd guides the flock and the flock take care of their shepherd. That has also been my experience and I thank you for that. We all try to play our part.

God has given us the priesthood so that we can have the Eucharist, the gift of Jesus himself. The two are intimately linked and are a great gift to us. Everything God gives us is to help us and because He loves us.

‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’