Thursday, July 30, 2020

18th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21) The Need to Forgive

One of the things that seems to cause the most division that people so often tell me about in confession, is bitterness in families over things like wills, where land or money has been left to someone and others in the family feel hard done by; sometimes over children who won’t forgive parents for their mistakes, or parents who won’t forgive their children, but especially over wills. It is very sad, but it is amazing how much of it exists. We decide that we can’t forgive, or won’t forgive, because we have been hurt too deeply. Unforgiveness is probably the single biggest obstacle to God’s helping us in this life. If I refuse to forgive someone, I am preventing the Lord from helping me, because this is one thing that the Lord asks us to do. 

No doubt all of us here expect to be forgiven by God when we die. That’s what our faith teaches us, but I wonder do all of us feel that we also have to forgive those who have wronged us. This is exactly what the Lord tells us we must do, if we hope to be forgiven ourselves. We say it every time we pray the Our Father: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ There are also many parables that Jesus used to emphasize this. The landlord who forgave one of his debtors a large debt which he was unable to pay, when he asked for mercy. But then that same man went out and refused to forgive one of his debtors for a much smaller amount. The first landlord condemned him for his lack of mercy and threw him in jail. And Jesus finishes with the words, ‘And that is how my heavenly Father will treat you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart’ (Matthew 18:35).

There is also a common misunderstanding to do with forgiveness, and it is this: many people have the idea that in order to forgive someone who has hurt them, they must feel like forgiving; in other words, they must have already gotten over the hurt. Forgiveness is a decision of the will, rather than a feeling of the heart. If I was to wait until I felt like forgiving, it may take a very long time, if ever.

Lord I forgive John, please bless him and help me to heal.’ When we decide to forgive, we are not saying that what happened no longer matters, or that it wasn’t wrong, or that we no longer feel the pain. We are choosing to forgive the person, so that we can heal. We are letting go of the resentment. We may have to say those words many more times throughout our life, but as long as we do, then we will begin to heal. If I refuse to forgive someone, I become consumed with the hurt, the resentment and anger. It eats away at me like a cancer. I am the one who suffers. You may feel that by refusing to forgive, you are punishing the other person. The truth is they may not even be aware of the hurt. You are the one who is suffering and the key to healing is in your hands.

The deeper the hurt, the harder it is to forgive and the Lord knows that. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times. When the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gave them the Our Father. The Our Father is a way of praying, not just a prayer and two lines of it are to do with forgiveness. ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ If we expect to be forgiven, we too must forgive.

It is a terrible thing to meet someone in the later years of their life who has refused to forgive. You can see it in their face. They are angry and bitter and they are not at peace. That is not what the Lord wants for any of us and so He shows us the way out. The key is in our own hands. 

When you find yourself angry with someone, it usually means you need to forgive them. I doubt if there is anyone who doesn’t need to forgive someone and so many of the stories people tell me are about serious injustices. The bigger the wrong we have experienced the harder it is to forgive. But remind yourself, it is not about how you feel. It is a decision.

In 1902, at the age of 11, St. Maria Goretti was stabbed to death by a man called Alessandro Serenelli, who tried to rape her. She wouldn’t give in to him and in a rage he repeatedly stabbed her. Some years after he was imprisoned for her murder, she appeared to him in a dream and gave him 15 lilies. He realized that each one represented each of the times that he had stabbed her and that she had forgiven him. From then on, he became deeply repentant, so much so that he was eventually let out of jail early (after 27 years) because of his exemplary behaviour. After he was released he went to her mother to beg her forgiveness. His mother said to him, ‘If Maria can forgive you, then I must forgive you too.’ I can’t imagine the grief and anger that her mother must have gone through, but she forgave Alessandro and I have no doubt that will have brought her peace and set her free.

When you are dying, will the injustices carried out against you still matter? Will you still refuse to forgive? We will not get into heaven until we forgive those who have wronged us and that is why it is so important. The key to healing is in our own hands, but it is a decision, not a feeling.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’


Friday, July 24, 2020

17th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 13:44-52) The Eucharist

Sometimes when I think of some of the different things that people of different faiths believe, and how strange they seem to me as a Catholic, it also makes me think of the Eucharist. For those who do not believe as we do, it must seem like the craziest notion of all; that God makes himself present through the hands of a priest, in a tiny piece of bread and some wine. What could be more bizarre than that? And we don’t just believe that it is a reminder of Jesus or a symbol of Jesus, but really and truly the body and blood of Christ. I also think that it is a teaching so extreme that only God could come up with it and get away with it, so to speak. What human being would try to convince others that Jesus is present in a piece of bread when a priest says certain prayers over it?

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor 11:23)—which is the oldest account of the mass in writing—St. Paul says, ‘This is what I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you…’ He doesn’t say that he received it from the other Apostles, but from the Lord himself. Jesus, as you probably remember, appeared to St. Paul and turned his life around. He appeared to him several other times as well. And Paul was so affected by what happened to him that he dedicated the rest of his life to preaching about this man Jesus. But the line that always strikes me is where he says, ‘This is what I received from the Lord…’  He is saying, ‘I didn’t make this up and neither did any other person. Jesus himself taught us this and taught us to do this in his memory.’ And so every time an ordained priest says the words of consecration at mass, Jesus becomes present in the form of bread and wine. How are we supposed to understand this? We aren’t! I do not understand it at all, but I believe it. That is why we are asked to fast for an hour before receiving Holy Communion and why we don’t eat, or drink, or smoke, in the church, to remind us that this is something unlike anything else we do in the world. It is also a beautiful sign of how close God is to us that He would continually come to us in the middle of our lives, each week, each day, to help and encourage us. He comes to us as we are; not as we should be, but as we are. And it is God himself who makes it possible to receive him, because we could never be ready or worthy enough to even come close to the divine presence, not to mention receive him. That is why we always say the prayer: ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’

There are two extremes that I often come across with regard to the Eucharist. One is where someone will say to me, ‘Father I don’t receive the Eucharist because I really am not worthy enough.’  That is correct! No one is worthy enough, nor ever could be, but since the Lord himself is happy to give himself to us this way, we should not be afraid to receive him. We try to confess regularly, but we should never be afraid to receive the Eucharist unless there is something really serious stopping us. Remember it is God who desires to come to us and He does not want us to be afraid of him.


The other extreme is where people feel they have a ‘right’ to receive the Eucharist without any kind of repentance, or need to go to confession. This is also wrong. There is no question of this being a ‘right’ on our part. The Eucharist is pure gift from God and for our part we must try to approach it as well as we can, especially by confessing every so often. St. Paul says,

“Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For 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 11:28-30).

We must be careful never to be casual about receiving the Eucharist, or we will bring condemnation on ourselves. But the most important thing to remember is that the Lord wants to give himself to us, and so we should not be afraid to come to him. Remember that ultimately it is God himself who makes it possible for us to receive him. ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’

The priesthood is also intimately connected to the Eucharist. The Lord Jesus wants to be available in the Eucharist to as many people as possible, but without the priesthood there is no Eucharist. To be able to celebrate the mass for God’s people is really the greatest thing that I can do as a priest. That is primarily what I was ordained for. It doesn’t mean that I am worthy enough, because no priest could ever be, but God delights in using ordinary sinful people, like me.

Why did Jesus give us the Eucharist at all? Very simply because He loves us and wants us to know that He is with us all the time in the most intimate way and that we can receive his body into our bodies, every day if we wish. It is an extraordinary gift of intimacy that the Lord gives to us. Jesus gives himself to us purely because He loves us and He knows that we are all struggling most of the time, but when we have the Eucharist we are reminded how close God is to us.

Over the centuries, many men and women have sacrificed themselves in order to receive the Eucharist and many priests have given their lives to be able to bring the Eucharist to people and in some countries that continues today.

I want to finish with this story: In the late 1500s there lived a woman named Margaret Clithero, in the town of York, in England. She was a convert to Catholicism at a time when it was against the law to be a Catholic. Priests used to come to her disguised as cloth penders, bringing her the Eucharist and she would hide them. She never saw mass in a public church or heard a Catholic hymn being sung even though she lived next to York Minster Cathedral. It was an Anglican (Protestant) church at the time. 

She was eventually found out and she was dragged from the butcher shop where she worked and brought before magistrates and ordered to plead guilty or not guilty, so that she could go on trial. She refused as she didn’t want her innocent blood to be on the head of twelve jurors. She said, ‘If you want to condemn me, condemn me yourself’. The judge said’ ‘Because you are a woman, I will let you go free, but you must promise never to hide these priests again.’

He handed her the bible and told her to swear on it. So she took the bible in open court and held it up in the air and said, ‘I swear by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if you let me go free, I will hide priests again, because they are the only ones who can bring us the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’

So, just over 400 years ago, she was brought to St. Michael’s bridge in York and given the punishment, worse than being hung, drawn and quartered. It was called in English law, ‘the punishment most severe’. She was pressed to death under heavy weights. It was to take three days and she was to receive only a little muddy water to drink to keep her alive. The executioner was bribed and he put a stone under her head so that she died within an hour as her neck was broken. She was the mother of eight children, and some of them were there when she was executed.

In the little chapel that is there to her memory in York today, there is an inscription over the door, which is a message for our times. It just says, ‘She died for the mass’.

So the next time that you find yourself bored with the mass, or just not too bothered to go because you’re tired, think of her and of the many priests and men and women who have been executed for carrying the Eucharist, or for celebrating the mass. God has given us an extraordinary treasure in the Eucharist may He give us new eyes to see what is here before us.

Friday, July 17, 2020

16th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43) The problem of evil

One of the most difficult questions in religion is about the problem of evil. If God is all good and all powerful, then why does evil exist? This is a big problem for most people and it is not easy to answer it. Many people will use it as an excuse to discard the argument for God. They will say that God could not exist if there is evil in the world. The answer to it comes down to two words: Free will.

A knife is a very useful tool. I can use it to cut bread or meat, but I can also use it to kill someone with. If I have free will then I can choose to do good or evil. I would not be free if God continually stepped in when I decided to do wrong. If God did this then I would not be free. We are free to do right or wrong, but our actions also have consequences, both in this world and the next, the next life being much more serious as they are eternal consequences.

What about so many innocent people suffering because of the evil choices of others? The example that is most in our minds today is the so-called Islamic State; religious extremists who believe they are doing a holy thing in wiping out those who see differently to them. They feel they have the right to do this, but all they are doing is causing immeasurable suffering. Why should children suffer because of the evil choices of others? Shouldn’t God step in? There is no easy answer to that and it angers just about everyone, because we know it’s wrong. The free choices of some people have consequences and sometimes those consequences do terrible things to others. Political leaders can make choices which are wrong and may cause immense suffering for people. Should God step in every time someone chooses to do wrong? If God did, then would we really have free will?

Another side of it is this: Evil was involved in the death of Jesus. Jesus was given up to the authorities because Judas chose to betray him, even though he regretted it afterwards. The religious authorities of the time had Jesus convicted through a trial which was illegal according to their own law. They chose to do what was wrong and yet the mysterious thing is that even though Jesus was betrayed, tried, tortured and killed by the deliberate choices of men who decided to do evil, yet look what God brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The course of history was turned around because of his death and resurrection. Eternal happiness was won for us. What does that tell us? One thing it tells us is that God can and will bring great good out of the worst evil imaginable. We often hear of people working so hard to correct injustice, where someone is falsely accused and imprisoned. People will fight for years to bring about justice and they also inspire others to do the same. Think of people like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They suffered greatly because of the evil choices of others and yet they brought about wonderful things and also inspired so many, because they were prepared to battle on, in spite of the evil brought about by other’s free will.

In times of war we don’t always hear about the many heroic acts of justice and kindness that people do in order to help those who are suffering. Two years ago I remember hearing the account of a BBC journalist called Fergal Keane, who has covered areas of conflict for years. He told one story about two women in their seventies he came across in the Ukraine living in a conflict zone. They had lost everything, including their pension and they were now living in a basement. They didn’t know how they were going to survive. Sometime later many people wrote to Fergal asking him if he knew what had happened to them. So he went back to try and find them. He discovered that they were now living in another tiny room together, but they were also cooking food for many people fleeing the war. They were using what little they had to bring about relief for others, even though they had hardly anything themselves. When Fergal was asked how he was able to keep working in the midst of so much suffering, he said it was because of stories like that which inspired him so much. People can also choose to do good in spite of the suffering caused by others.

Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was asked about the problem of corruption and scandal within the Church. In his response he pointed to today’s Gospel and the parable about the wheat and the darnel, or weed. He said that Jesus is teaching us that there will always be a certain amount of evil in the world. We try and deal with as much of it as possible, but there will always be a certain amount we can do nothing about and we have to learn to live with this. But Jesus also teaches us that it will ultimately be dealt with, because all of us will have to give an account of our actions. There will be justice when we come before God. Does that mean we should be afraid? Of course not. Jesus reassures us of his infinite mercy if we make even the smallest effort to ask for forgiveness, but we must not take it for granted either. I actually find it reassuring to know that all of us will be accountable for our actions, because when you think of people who choose to do terrible evil and cause so much suffering for others. It often seems that they are not brought to justice in this world. I find it comforting to know that they will not escape God’s justice. No one gets away.

Does God ever intervene? It seems that sometimes God does intervene and people are miraculously cured or saved. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit continually whispers to us to help us make good choices, but we are free to listen or ignore those suggestions, just as we are free to listen to the whisperings of temptations.  

Jesus also uses the two parable of the yeast and the mustard seed. A tiny mustard seed can turn into something bit and wonderful. Yeast will cause a whole loaf of bread to rise. What we do has an effect on the world around us. The smallest acts of goodness and kindness affects other people, who in turn affect other people. Our actions have a ripple effect. At times like these, people need inspiration and hope more than ever. How we live can change the world. The choices I make every day will affect each person I meet, for good or for evil.
Our faith gives us the greatest hope there is: the promise of eternal happiness. If we believe that and live in a way that reflects that belief, it will affect the people we meet. They will recognize our hope and question what gives us this hope.

In 2015 we saw the dreadful image of 21 Coptic Christians about to be executed on a beach in Libya, because they would not deny Christ. What was amazing was the calm and dignity of those men. Right after their execution, the head of their Church, Archbishop Angaelos, was interviewed by many media groups. What most of the interviews picked up on was the fact that he finished his first message about the killings with the words, ‘Father forgive.’ The reaction of one person which affected so many who were listening to him.

We are called to be like this: to remain calm, focused on the Lord, so that we can quietly continue on our path, but with hope and joy, the hope that changes the world, because it is the hope that the world is looking for.

The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. 
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. 
Then the righteous will shine like the sun 
in the kingdom of their Father. 
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Saturday, July 11, 2020

15th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23) A sower went out to sow

Do you ever wonder why it is that some people believe in God and take the practice of their faith seriously and others don’t? How is it that some people are converted and others are not? Why did I come back to my faith at 19 and many of my friends did not? Why did so many people listen to Jesus when he preached? Nobody knew who he was and he had no education to boast about and yet he gathered a huge following of people wherever he went. I am sure it was because he was preaching the truth and people’s spirits recognized this.

In 1917 at Fatima, 70,000 people saw the miracle of the sun, where it appeared to come crashing towards the earth. It was also lashing rain all morning, but after the miracle everyone and everything was bone dry. Yet people dismiss that as just being a strange event in the past. In Medjugorje today, many people have seen all kinds of miracles and yet so many people are skeptical and dismissive. Think of the miraculous image of Guadalupe, which is literally a living miracle, the many Eucharistic miracles and yet those who accept these things always seem to be in the minority.

Jesus continually spoke to the people in parables and one of the things that tells us is just how much God respects our intelligence and free will. You will only understand a parable if you are looking for the truth in it. God doesn’t just shove information down our throat, so to speak, rather, He invites us to search for the truth. If you are looking for it, you will find it, but it is up to each of us whether we choose to look for it or not and continue to look for it. A man said to me one time, “That whole story in Genesis about Adam and Eve taking an apple is ridiculous. Why would you believe that?” It is ridiculous if you take it literally and don’t search for the truth in it. In fact there are many profound truths there if you are willing to search and pray and ask God to show you.

The Word of God, the Scriptures, are filled with hidden treasures; all kinds of teachings to help and guide us, but we will only discover them if we are willing to search. God respects our free will and intelligence. God wants to show us so many things, but we will never see them unless we are interested and open. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus said to the Apostles, ‘I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will teach you everything’ (Jn 16:12). There were many things Jesus would have liked to show the Apostles, but the knowledge would have been too much for them. ‘But when the Spirit of truth comes…’ The Holy Spirit is now with us and will continue to show us things if we remain open. Keep asking the Lord to show you and teach you and you will be amazed what you will begin to see.

It makes me sad when I see so many people dismissive of religion, or they just don’t have time for it, but ‘they are good people in themselves.’ They may well be good people, but they are saying that God doesn’t matter, as if God were an optional extra. God is not an optional extra; we are. We would not be here except that God created us and holds us in existence. We ignore God at our own peril.

For some, opening themselves up to God may not be convenient, because there are so many other things to be doing: the seed that fell on the path. They see it at a distance, but are dismissive of it. Unfortunately there are a lot of people in that category in our world right now.

Religion can be interesting too, until it becomes an inconvenience to our lifestyle, or we are asked to make sacrifices, as the Lord asks us to: that is the seed that fell on rocky ground with little soil. It has no roots. You won’t survive without roots.

Our faith offers us great hope and helps us to understand not only what our life is about, but that God is also among us and interested in us in the most ordinary things. But if you remain focused on the world instead of God, then you will get choked by the worries and glamour of the world. If our main source of information is the news, the tv and the internet, then we can easily be swamped by the things of the world and overcome by fear of the things we see going on: the seed that fell among thorns.

But if we are open to seeing what God wants to show us, we will see it, because God wants to show us so many things. ‘Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you’ (Matt 7:7).

Rich soil only comes about with hard work and a lot of care; preparing the ground, getting rid of the weeds and stones. If the word of God is to grow in us, we have to make some effort to be ready for it and help it to grow. We are not going to grow in faith just by watching television. Jesus says, ‘Try to enter by the narrow gate. For the road that leads to hell is wide and spacious, but the road that leads to life is narrow.’ It may not be the most attractive road, but it is the most worthwhile one. If we want our relationship with God to grow, we must make it happen, by taking time to develop our faith, through prayer, reading the Scriptures, listening to God. It won’t happen without giving it time, a certain amount of time every day and there is always time, because we always give time to what is important to us. Would you expect a relationship with someone to grow without giving it any time? Of course not, and faith is no different.

I think we also have to be careful that we don’t come to the church with the mindset of ‘What will they have on for us today?’ Our coming to the mass each week is a combination of worshipping God, as God commands us to and trying to hear what God is saying to us. Ultimately, we get to receive the Body and Blood of Christ reminding us of how close the Lord wants to be to us.

Every so often when I want to go to confession I have found myself before a priest who I don’t particularly like, but I have no other option unless I want to put it off for another time. But that is when I try to remind myself that it is God’s grace and mercy I am seeking, even if the particular priest I find myself with is not who I would choose. I think that is also a good approach to the mass. It is important that we find ourselves a church which helps us to grow, but we also need to remind ourselves what it is we come for. It is not a form of religious entertainment, but our coming before God. It is better to go to a church that helps you to grow, even if it is not your own parish.

"Whoever has ears ought to hear."

Friday, July 3, 2020

14th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30) Come to me all you who are overburdened

Kennedy's Art Shop, Dublin
My grandfather, Kenneth Kennedy, used to have a brush-factory in Dublin, which later turned into an art shop and gallery, which is still going. At one stage he employed a man as a kind of messenger boy and general dog’s body (gofer). He was a very simple man and was probably more of a burden from a business point of view, than anything else. Once, another friend of my grandfather’s was visiting the shop and he said to him, ‘Kenneth, why are you still holding on to that guy?’ And my grandfather just said, ‘Ah, shur I can’t throw him out. He has nowhere else to go.’ The other guy said, ‘Kenneth, you’ll never make a good business man’ and he was probably right.

Most people I know have to work pretty hard to make a living and most businesses I know—and I worked for several before I became a priest—can be quite ruthless when it comes to letting people go if they feel they could make more money without them. Recently the CEO of one of the big pharmaceutical companies said, ‘We are not in the business of helping people. We are in the business of making money for our shareholders.’ And a few years ago a director who had been hired to make one of the big auto companies in France more efficient said that those they didn’t need would either leave through the door or the window, referring to suicide. In order to force people to quit many employees had been given humiliating tasks in the company. The result of all this is that it causes a lot of stress at work. Financial pressure is one of the biggest burdens people carry. It is also one of the biggest causes of marriage problems.

Where do you turn to when you feel that you can not keep going?  Who do you turn to for compassion and support? In the readings today Jesus is telling us to turn to him, because He knows the pressures we are under. God is well aware of how difficult it can be and He offers to help us. We find our strength and peace in him.

Jesus used the image of the ‘yoke’. The yoke was the wooden brace that linked two animals together around the neck, in order to split the load between them. The Lord is telling us that He wants to help us carry the load, to take some of the burden, but we also have to allow him to do this. It can be tempting to leave God to Sundays, or to ‘religious things’, but from all that God teaches us through the Bible, one thing that is very clear is that He is very interested in everything we do, down to the most ordinary things. God is well aware of the burdens we carry and He is telling us that we need to keep coming back to him to replenish our strength regularly, just like you have to do with your car. He is saying, ‘Let me give you the peace and hope that you need, so that you are able to get up and go on a bit farther,’ but we must keep coming back to him regularly to receive that strength and peace.

One of the great tragedies of our time is the high number of suicides, especially among our young people. Like everything else there are probably many reasons for it, but I have no doubt that one of the biggest reasons is because people have lost faith and they don’t know what to turn to. How do you keep going when everything seems impossible? We need a source of strength, something, or someone we can continually turn to, in order to give us renewed strength and purpose. If we believe that this life is just passing and that there is something wonderful waiting for us in the next life, then this gives us strength to keep going during difficult times. What we suffer here is only temporary, so we are prepared to put up with a lot, but if you don’t have any faith, what do you turn to?

Jesus says, ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ If you have faith in God—and being here would suggest you do—it is because Jesus has chosen to reveal the Father to you. Jesus decided to make the Father known to you, which is why you are drawn here. You didn’t just stumble upon God, Jesus revealed himself specifically to you. Even if you were brought up Catholic, just because you learnt about the faith, doesn’t mean that you have faith. It still has to be revealed to you in some way. Otherwise it is just another subject.

Remember when Jesus asked the Apostles who people thought He was and Peter said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus then said to Peter, ‘You are blessed, because you didn’t come to this conclusion by yourself. God the Father revealed it to you’ (Matt 16:17). Jesus chose to reveal the Father to you and He will continue to reveal more and more of himself to you if you remain open. The more our faith grows, the more we will make sense of what our life on earth is about. Then as our faith grows, we pass it on to others by bearing witness to what we believe in, by the way we live.

Three things in particular that God has given us to help us are the Word of God, to guide and direct us; confession, so that we can get up again as often as we fall; and above all, the Eucharist where we can receive Jesus himself, every day if we wish. Do you want to know what God has to say to you? Read the Scriptures, because that is one of the primary ways that God speaks to us. Think of all the information you take in each day: advertising, news programs, chat shows, social media. What could possibly be more important than to listen to what God has to say to us. What do you fill your mind with? Think also of the opportunity Jesus gives us to receive him each day. What could possibly be more important than this? What greater strength could we receive than Jesus himself in the Eucharist.

The burdens that we are faced with each day, can be difficult, but the Lord assures us that He is with us and wants to share the load with us, if only we will allow him to. They are his words in Scripture.

Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.’

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

13th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 10: 37-42) Focus on Jesus, not on the storm

At this time we continue to see disturbing things happening in our country. During the week one celebrity said that crucifixes should be taken down, because they portray Jesus as a white man, which is a form of white supremacy. Evil, twisted thinking and make no mistake about it, what is behind this is evil. During the week in Los Angeles, a statue of St. Junipero Serra was torn down, because he was associated with colonization, even though he dedicated his life to helping and protecting indigenous people. When people get into a mindset of rebellion, they lash out in all directions and that is what is happening.

These things are upsetting, but don’t be surprised at it. For the first 300 years of Christianity there was open persecution against the Christians and it is never far away. During the Mexican revolution of 1910, many priests were killed. That’s only a hundred years ago and not far from here.

Because of the scandals in the Church caused by a minority of priests, we all got blamed and hated for it. It is the same with the police right now. Because of a few who are corrupt, they are all getting blamed, which is wrong and we must support our police. It is a frightening time for them, and they have a dangerous enough job as it is. Remember that one out of twelve of the Apostles betrayed Jesus to death. That is a very high percentage.

I always find myself getting angry when I meet hostility towards me as a priest. It is upsetting and yet Jesus told us this is exactly what would happen. ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’… ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ (John 15: 18, 20), so I shouldn’t be surprised.

How should we respond to these things? We look to the master. How did Jesus respond to the persecution and resistance that he met? He gave himself completely to the Father. He prayed continually and trusted in the Father’s providence and in his justice. Before he was arrested, Jesus was afraid and in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed to the Father for courage and strength. He was full of human fear, just as anyone would be. In situations of danger, it is normal to feel fear, but we trust in God because we belong completely to him.

Now is the time to stay close to the Lord and completely focused on him. That’s what the Apostles did for the rest of their lives. Nearly all of them were killed, but they were able to keep going because they entrusted themselves completely to God. They weren’t afraid of what happened around them. They remained focused on God. Wherever they went and met other Christians, they celebrated the Eucharist together. That is what we do too. The Eucharist is not just a nice reminder of Jesus, it really is Jesus. It is the greatest treasure that we have and no one will ever take it away from us.

In Ireland, during what were called the Penal Times, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, which was a time of open persecution against Catholics, they had to celebrate the mass in secret. So they had mass out in the fields, with people on guard. Hopefully we will never have to do that, but no matter what happens, the greatest treasure we have is the mass, because in the mass we receive Jesus himself. I was very inspired to see so many people coming to receive the Eucharist when we had to close the doors of the church. Nothing will stop us from having the mass, even if we have to do it in secret.

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and branches. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches… Cut off from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). In difficult times we must come closer to Jesus more than ever, because He is our life and our strength. Only in him does our life mean anything.

Our churches, crucifixes and other symbols are important to us, but remember they are not the church. We, God’s people, are the Church and the Lord is with us no matter what happens. Please God things will settle down and we will be able to continue practicing our faith as normal, but we must also remember what is truly important; that we stay close to the Lord.

With regard to what is happening around us, remember how St. Paul described it, because it is the exact same:
For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil authorities and rulers of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).

Real evil is behind what we are seeing. Evil turns people against people and that is what is happening. How do we fight that kind of evil, with the weapons that the Lord has given us: prayer, the Eucharist, the Scriptures and the support of other like-minded people. In other words, by remaining close to Jesus at all times, because our strength and life is only in him. ‘Do not be afraid.’