Saturday, June 20, 2020

12th Sunday of Year A (Gospel: Matthew 10:26-33) Fear no one

Kinvara, Co. Galway, Ireland

The first line in today’s Gospel has only three words, but it says an awful lot: ‘Fear no one’. God never wants us to be afraid. Three hundred and sixty-six times in the Bible are the words ‘Do not be afraid.’ God is constantly reassuring us that He is there and He only has plans for our happiness.

At this time we are seeing many people living in fear for all kinds of reasons: the unrest in our country, the virus, plagues in different parts of the world. What is happening? For one thing, I think God is telling us to wake up. When people feel their life is in danger—such as with the virus—they begin to think in a different way. It is interesting to see in hospitals how open people are to me as a priest. Many people will talk to me there, who wouldn’t normally and the reason is because their focus has changed. They are suddenly seeing what is really important: themselves, or their loved ones, in danger of death. Times like that make us focus on eternal things and that is good. My life on earth may be suddenly about to end. What happens now?

Think of all the time and effort we put into training for a career, often tens of thousands of dollars and years of study and yet that career will probably end in forty or fifty years and then it’s over. Sooner or later our time on earth will be over and we will go into the next world, which is for all eternity. How much time do we spend preparing for that one, which is eternal?

It makes me sad when I hear young parents say that they aren’t going to teach their children about God, because they want them to be free to choose when they get older. So they won’t have their children’s minds formed in the ways of God, but they will be formed by the violence in video games and the immorality on tv, because one way or another, their children’s minds will be formed.

In this Gospel passage, Jesus says: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy body and soul in Gehenna.’ Don’t be afraid of what can happen to us while on earth. Be aware of what can happen to you after you die. Fear God and be aware that everything is in his hands. He is the One who has the ultimate say in everything. To ‘fear’ God in that sense, means to have respect and awe for who God is and to recognize that all things belong to him and are subject to him. If times of turmoil help people to wake up to God’s presence and how small we are, then that is a good thing.

God does not want us to be afraid and if we have a relationship with him, we know that we have nothing to be afraid of. If we are focused on God, then even when events around us are disturbing, or even frightening, we can have a quiet confidence. Whenever our own death comes, we will go to be with the God, whom we have hopefully made part of our lives on earth. People who have ignored God for years are the ones who will panic, because they have nothing to turn to. Even if they know they should turn to God, they don’t know who God is.

Jesus says, ‘It is not those who will say “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 7:21). People say they don’t need to go to church. They practice their faith in their own way. Each must decide, but are they just doing their will, or God’s will, because Jesus tells us we must do the will of the Father, not just our will, even if we speak of God.

During the Superbowl half-time show this year, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira put on a performance that they said was ‘empowering for women’. It caused quite a reaction, because anyone who saw it realized that it was completely degrading for women. But before they want on stage to do that performance, they gathered around to say a prayer to ask the Lord to bless them and keep them save. Their prayer may well have been sincere and it is not for me to judge, but if we are to love the Lord we must also do what He asks us to do. I know there are fortune tellers who will begin by praying the Our Father, or Hail Mary. Yet what they are doing is forbidden in the Scriptures. ‘It is not those who will say “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’. The Lord asks us to do his will, not just to use his name, because one without the other is meaningless.

Baptizing your children and making no effort to bring them up to know God is hypocrisy, because at Baptism you make a promise to God to raise them in the faith. If you’re children have had their children baptized, but are not teaching them about their faith, you can remind them of that. They made a promise to God. ‘Oh, God doesn’t mind.’ Jesus says that God does mind!

‘Fear no one’ (Matt 10:26). We will meet many situations in this world which may be frightening, but they are all short-lived. In the first reading Jeremiah knows that the people are plotting against him and he is afraid, but he also has confidence in God, that God will rescue him, whether in this life or the next. Jesus was terrified in the Garden of Gethsemane, because He knew what was about to happen. Yet He had total confidence in the Father and trusted all things to him. Human fear is a normal reaction to danger. But fear of God is something completely different. It is the fear, awe, or loving fright, that helps us to be in the right relationship with God. You can love God and still be in awe and reverence of who God is. That is part of what we learn when we come close to God. What we also have to be careful of is that we are never casual in our approach to God.

You hear me reminding you often of the respect and reverence we need to show when we receive the Eucharist. It is very easy to become casual and we need to be so careful of that. That is why I keep saying, ‘Don’t walk away with the Host, don’t reach out to take it. Put it in your mouth as soon as you receive it.’ Remind yourself who it is you are receiving. If I believe this is really the body of Christ in my hand, I am not going to walk anywhere with it. I will stop and place it in my mouth; not ‘flick’ it in my mouth, but place it in my mouth. In the same way, how we dress also says a lot about the reverence we have for God. The church is a holy place and we should dress appropriately. How would you dress if you were going to meet the pope? Well, here you are coming to meet and touch Jesus.

The more our love for God grows, the more reverence we will have for him. One naturally follows the other. Remember the words of John the Baptist referring to Jesus: ‘He must grow greater. I must grow smaller.’ Before God there is nothing to do but bow down and worship, with love and awe.

‘Fear no one… Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy body and soul in Gehenna.’

Friday, June 12, 2020

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Today the bishop has asked us to speak about the problem of racism. So, I would like to share some thoughts with you.
 Moses said to the people: I charged your judges at the time, “Listen to complaints among your kinsmen and administer true justice to both parties even if one of them is an alien. In rendering judgment, do not consider who a person is; give ear to the lowly and to the great alike, fearing no man, for judgment is God’s” (Deut 1:16-17)

Recently we have seen the ugly head of racism again, with the appalling death of George Floyd. Sadly, it never seems to be far away. In the outrage and protests that followed, it was good to see that there were people of all color protesting. People recognize how wrong it is. Even though there will probably always be a certain amount of it, the more people are made aware of it the better. Children are not racist or prejudiced. They learn it from their parents and others.

During ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland, where there was so much hatred between Catholics and Protestants, there were also many people who worked hard for peace and reconciliation. I remember several times after someone had been shot dead because they were Catholic or Protestant, family members saying that they wanted no retaliation and even that they forgave the killers. How were they able to do that? Because they had faith in God. Faith changes everything.

A priest friend of mine from the North of Ireland told me that sometimes he was invited into Protestant schools to help build bridges and for them to see that he was just a normal human being. He said that when he went into the classes of the young children, he had to take off his shoes and socks to show them that he didn’t have hooves. Their parents had told them that priests were the devil and that they had hooves. They were being taught to hate.

Jesus teaches us the opposite. ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt 5:43). We try to acknowledge the dignity of each person, whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not. It is striking how Jesus treated all the different people he met from different faith and cultural backgrounds: the Samaritan woman (Jews despised the Samaritans); Roman soldiers (the occupying force; equally hated), and several others who were not Jewish.

The death of George Floyd was truly shocking and it is good that it caused such a reaction, but racism and discrimination can be much more subtle than that. How do I treat people from any country? Maybe I think they shouldn’t be here. Maybe I feel threatened by them and yet all of our ancestors came from other countries and were probably discriminated against when they got here first. I think of that infamous sign from the early 1900s which said, ‘Irish need not apply.’ They were despised at the time. If your children went to live in another country, how would you want them to be treated?
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

There is an English author and historian called Tom Holland, who is also an atheist. He says that in studying the ancient world he realized how cruel it was. The Spartans routinely murdered ‘imperfect’ children. Slaves were often used as things of pleasure. Monogamy was common and the poor and weak had no rights. What changed all that? Christianity. Christ helped us to see that each person has unique value and each person has the same dignity. No one life is of more value than another. I always cringe when I hear that expression ‘saving American lives,’ because it seems to imply that people who are not American are less important, or of less value. Is my life of less value because I am a foreigner?

All of us grow up with a certain amount of prejudice, though we don’t see most of it. What we think of as normal, is often prejudiced. That is why we have to keep going back to the teachings of Christ, to help us to see as He sees. What does He tell us? What does his life tell us? His death was for all people, regardless of what they believe, or where they come from. If we are followers of Christ, we must try and see others as human beings before anything else. If we were able to take away all categories from everyone we meet, we would just see another person like ourselves. That is what the Lord did and that is what He is asking us to do too.

We may not like certain cultures, or religions, but that is irrelevant. We all have things we do and don’t like. That doesn’t matter. Every one of us has the same value and will come before God in the same way when we die. When we mistreat or disrespect another person, we are disrespecting Jesus. We are offending God. Remember what Jesus said to St. Paul when He appeared to him? ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (Acts 9:4). Saul was persecuting the Christians, but by persecuting them, he was persecuting Jesus. 'Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me' (Mat 25:40).

After the Resurrection of Jesus, it took the Apostles a while to realize that they were being sent to all people, not just the Jewish people and this surprised them at first. God doesn’t discriminate.

To be able to remain neutral is not easy, but staying close to the Lord is the key to doing that. I often think of Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta. Most of the people she brought in off the street were Hindu and Muslim. She didn’t try to convert them. She just cleaned them up and allowed them to die with dignity. That told people more about God than anything else. She was able to do that because of her faith in God. It helped her to move beyond cultures and faiths. She just saw human beings.

Moses said to the people: I charged your judges at the time, “Listen to complaints among your kinsmen and administer true justice to both parties even if one of them is an alien. In rendering judgment, do not consider who a person is; give ear to the lowly and to the great alike, fearing no man, for judgment is God’s” (Deut 1:16-17).

Friday, June 5, 2020

Feast of the Holy Trinity (Gospel: John 3:16-18) Created for happiness

One thing that all of us have in common, is the search for happiness. Everyone wants to find happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but all of us are searching for it. God shows us exactly where to find it and how to get there, but we are not always convinced. If I asked how many of you here want to be rich, probably everyone would say yes, because we have become convinced that we will have happiness if we have enough money. Our problems will go away. They won’t. In fact, Jesus says ‘How hard it is for the rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ The kingdom of heaven is where we will find happiness and ironically wealth, often becomes an obstacle to it, because it distracts us and holds us back.

Many times I have heard people who have worked in third world countries say, that it is always in the poorest countries that people have the greatest joy, even where there is terrible in justice. It is in first world countries where you will find the greatest anger, depression and despair. Why is that? Because in the poorest countries they don’t get distracted by wealth and they realize that they will only find happiness in God, beginning in this life and fulfilled in the next. We will only find happiness in God. When Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858, she said to her ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ If we understand this, we will begin to find peace, because we won’t be expecting to find complete happiness here. We will only have complete fulfillment in the world to come.

The wonderful thing is that God has created us for happiness. God created us to be happy. The Holy Trinity was perfectly fulfilled in every way before He created us, but God wanted to share that happiness with us. So, God created us to be able to enjoy that happiness and total fulfillment, which we will, if we remain open to God. Think of times in your life when you were happy: birthdays, weddings, the birth of a child, graduations. Our instinct is to share it, to celebrate it with others. So we invite others to share in our happiness and we have a party. That is why God created us, because He wanted us to share in his happiness. And that is what awaits us unless we reject it. Why would someone reject it? Because we think we know better and refuse to listen to what God teaches us and commands us to do. The death and resurrection of Jesus was so that we could reach that happiness. He reopened the possibility of heaven for us, after we had lost it through Original Sin. Now it is offered to us, but we still have to choose it.

How is it that nearly all of us want peace and happiness, but our world is full of war and hatred? We want equality, but we are continually faced with discrimination. The reason is because there is a war going on that we can’t see, but it is mentioned in Scripture many times. Satan rejected God and hates God’s creation us. He wants to take everything away from God, especially us, his children.

In the book of Genesis, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God said,
I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. She will crush your head, and you will strike her heel (Gen 3:15).

And it says in the book of Revelation:
And the dragon was enraged at the woman and went to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.’ (Rev 12:17).

The woman is Our Lady, the Mother of all God’s children. At the crucifixion, Jesus said to saint John—who is the model disciple and represents all of us who follow God— ‘Behold your mother.’ And to Mary, ‘Behold your son’ (John 19:25). He gave us his mother as our spiritual and heavenly mother.

If you think of evil people in the world. If they want to cause pain to someone, they will try and harm their children, the ones they hold dearest in the world. What is abortion, except that? Satan destroys God’s children from its beginning. That is what is behind abortion. Satan has convinced us that it is a good thing, so that we needn’t be inconvenienced. But think of the words of consecration at the mass: ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.’ Think of what abortion says: ‘This is my body and it will not be given up for you.’ It is the opposite of the mass. That’s how you know what is behind it. There is no species on the planet that kills its own young.

So we are in the middle of a war, a spiritual war, where Satan wants to take us away from God in any way possible. St. Paul puts it this way:
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).

How did he know that? Because Jesus taught them all these things. I have no doubt that between the time of the resurrection and the ascension into heaven, these were some of the things that God was teaching the Apostles and later for St. Paul. Jesus was piecing it all together for them. That is why God inspired them to write it down and why we have it in the Scriptures, the word of God.

What is the casting out of demons, except taking back God’s children? How do you destroy an enemy: turn them against each other? Look at what is happening in our world right now. We are turned against each other and killing each other, often for no particular reason. It is because we are in the middle of a much bigger war than we can see. When people turn their back on God and on God’s teachings, they lose their way and are open to every kind of suggestion. That is what we see happening.

But as always, God gives us all the tools we need to fight back. He shows us that living the Commandments and the teachings of Christ is what keeps us safe. If we listen to what God says to us, then we will not get distracted from the path to our happiness. If we live by the word of God, then we will remember what is important and we will see through the lies that we are constantly being told: ‘Abortion and Euthanasia are good for society. You don't need to listen to God. You should be able to do whatever you want.’ That was the lie told to Adam and Eve, which they fell for. 

God has created us to share in his happiness, but He will not force us to accept it. I’m often amazed at the amount of parents who tell me in great distress about one of their children who has rejected them. They cannot understand why. They did everything they could for their children and then their children turned their back on them. Sadly, it happens quite often. We also do this with God. God offers us everything and gives us everything, but we can still reject him and people do.

I think one of the most difficult sufferings in the life of Jesus must have been knowing that some people would still reject him in spite of the terrible sufferings he was going to go through for them. His death and resurrection re-opened the way to heaven for us, but we can still reject it.

We are created for happiness and that’s what awaits us unless we reject it.

God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,
So that all who believe in him might not perish,
but might have eternal life (John 3:16).