Saturday, September 19, 2020

25th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 20:1-16) My ways are not your ways.

There is a book called Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, who ended up in one of the concentration camps during the Second World War. He noticed that the people who survived the longest were not necessarily those who were physically the strongest. It was the people who had a purpose, a reason to live, such as a wife, or husband they wanted to see again, or if they had faith. Those who lived the longest were the ones who had what you might call ‘spiritual purpose’.

As we go through the various struggles and trials that we are continually faced with, sickness and death of our loved ones, marriages breaking up, we often see them as things ‘going wrong.’ Sometimes people even see it as a punishment of some kind. So many times I have heard people say to me, ‘Why did this happen to me. I never did anything wrong?’ as though they were being punished. I think that when we die we will see that many of the things that we considered ‘things going wrong’, played a part in our journey. That doesn’t mean that when we are faced with evil, it is not evil. It is, but God still can and does use it to bring about good.

For the most part there is evil around us because of the actions of other people. We have free will and we can use it to do good or evil. Our actions have consequences and affect the people around us. When people choose to do evil, others suffer. That is why there is so much suffering in the world at this time, because people choose evil, through greed, or selfishness. If God kept stopping us from doing evil, we wouldn’t have free will. So God allows us to choose good or evil, but we will also be accountable for our actions and the suffering we cause others. But God can always bring good out of evil. The greatest disaster in history, what we call Original Sin, caused us to lose eternal life with God. What could be worse than that? But out of it came the greatest good in history, which is Jesus; God made man and also eternal life with him; eternal life, not just a temporary gift.

If you take faith out of the picture, everything changes. If there was no God, then why should we make sacrifices? We would have every excuse to just take care of ourselves and our loved ones and make ourselves as comfortable as possible. But our faith makes us see things completely differently. Because God is real and our destiny is to be with him for all eternity, then what we go through in this life takes on a different perspective, because it is only temporary and it all has a part in helping us to become holier people. You could describe holiness as being ‘the best version of ourselves, that we can be.’ Depending on how we face them, the trials that we go through can have a big part in forming us, in purifying us and helping us to grow in holiness. That is also why suicide, abortion and euthanasia are not only sinful, but such terrible tragedies as well. The temptation is to think that if my life ends, then all the suffering is over. In fact, that is what you hear people saying all the time, when they are referring to someone who has died. ‘At least they won’t suffer any more.’ But if deliberately cutting a life short, through suicide, or euthanasia, or abortion, is also cutting off some of the very trials that would have helped bring us closer to God, then we are missing out. That is why God tells us not to kill. Only God can decide when we are to die. It is normal that we don’t want to suffer, but we cannot avoid a certain amount of it and Jesus said that the path to heaven involves suffering: ‘Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple’ (Matt 16:24). ‘Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to heaven and few find it’ (Matt 7:14). We want the easy way and our world tells us we should be able to have the easy way, but that is not what the Lord tells us. Who will you listen to? 

When we get to heaven, please God, I think we will look back and see that everything that we went through played a part in getting us ready to be with God. You see it all the time, how suffering changes people. People mature and often begin to see what is most important in our life on earth. If we were not faced with those same trials/sufferings, would we see what is truly important? You know how the sickness, or death of a family member can change everything, especially if it is a young person. All our priorities change. The things of this world suddenly become almost irrelevant.

So many people at the end of their life go through sickness and pain, which often seems so unfair. But I am sure that it is often the final purification that God allows us to go through before we come into God’s presence. When people die, we tend to refer to them as immediately being in heaven, but probably not many people are ready to come directly into God’s presence. It is so important that we pray for them and sadly it is something that is greatly neglected. We keep reminders of them everywhere, but we don’t pray for them. I would rather that there be no reminders of me anywhere, but instead that people pray for me and have masses offered for me when I die.

Passing on our faith is probably one of the most important things we can do for the next generation, because our faith is what puts everything in perspective. If there was no world after this one, what a cruel world it would be for so many people, as most people suffer quite a lot.

It always grieves me when I hear parents saying that they are not going to teach their children about any faith, because they want them to choose when they grow up. First of all, if they are not given any grounding in some faith, it is very unlikely they will choose any faith when they get older. Secondly, their minds are going to be formed one way or the other. Would you rather that their minds be formed by the violence and evil that fills the internet and TV, or in the ways of God? We must do everything we can to teach the next generation about God. I know that many of you here are grandparents. Don’t underestimate the influence you have on your grandchildren. We have a different kind of respect for our grandparents. Don’t apologize for what you believe in. It may be the greatest favor you do for your grandchildren.

When we were in the seminary, they did a survey asking us various questions about our faith. One question was, who influenced us the most in our faith. The majority of people said it was their grandparents. When we are growing up we tend to rebel against our parents as we are finding our feet and our independence, but we listen to our grandparents in a different way. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you believe in.

We are living in a time of increasing Godlessness and we can see the results in our society: chaos and violence. Look at what happens in communist countries where God is denied and atheism is taught: the person loses all dignity. They are simply there to serve the state. Because of that, life becomes cheap. Having faith changes all that, because God shows us that every human being has equal value and will live for all eternity.

What can we do to pass on our faith? Live it as well as you can. When you really try and live your faith, you don’t have to say very much, because your actions and decisions say everything.

Jesus Christ is the only one who makes sense of what our life is about and why we are here. We are on our way to be with him in heaven and all the things that are happening to you, have a part to play in your journey towards God. Believing that helps us to accept the difficulties that come our way as part of our journey to heaven. That’s why we use the phrase ‘offer it up.’ Offer up to God everything that you go through, so that it may help to form you.

In the second reading St. Paul is talking about how he longs to be gone to God in heaven. He had already been allowed to experience heaven and now he wants nothing else, but he knows that he has an important role to play on earth, passing on the faith to others. Until our time comes to be with God, we must do our best to pass on this faith to those who come after us, so that they also may understand the purpose of their life.



Saturday, September 12, 2020

24th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew: 18:21-35) Forgiveness is a decision of the will


There is an extraordinary true story about a woman called Corrie Ten Boom, a Protestant living in Holland during the Second World War. She lived with her sister and father and they used to read the bible every evening after dinner. During the war as Holland was occupied by the Nazis and Jewish people began disappearing, they ended up hiding people in their home, although they didn’t set out to do this. Eventually they were caught and sent to one of the concentration camps in Germany called Ravensbruck. Her sister and father both died there, but she survived and was eventually released. When she returned home she began working to help the many people who were so hurt by the war. She felt that God was calling her to speak about the need for forgiveness and so she did. She was invited to speak all over the country and in other countries.

While speaking in Germany one day, a man came up to her after her talk and thanked her for this message of forgiveness. He said, ‘It is good to know that Jesus forgives all our sins.’ She recognised him as one of the SS officers who had been in charge of their prison. As he extended his hand to her, she found herself freezing up and unable to respond, but she realised that if she did not forgive this man who was responsible for the death of her sister and father, all her preaching would be meaningless. So she found herself praying to God on the spot asking him to help her to forgive and she was finally able to put out her hand to him. The book is called The Hiding Place and it is an amazing story. She wrote: ‘And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.’


Probably the greatest obstacle to God’s helping and healing us, is our refusal to forgive. When we refuse to forgive someone we shut the door to God’s grace, we prevent God from healing us, but there is an important thing to remember about forgiving someone. Many people think that in order to forgive someone I must feel like forgiving them. In other words, the hurt has to have gone and so now I can forgive. That is not how it works. 

Forgiveness is not just a question of how I feel, or whether I feel like forgiving someone or not. Most of us when we are hurt, are often hurt for a long time, sometimes for years, and of course we don’t feel like forgiving. The deeper the hurt the longer it takes to heal, but forgiveness is a decision of our will, it doesn’t depend on whether we physically feel like doing it or not. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to’. It doesn’t mean that all the hurt will instantly disappear, but if we are prepared to do this much, then we open the door to allow God’s Spirit to begin to heal us. If I refuse to forgive, I am preventing God’s Spirit from helping me to heal. We may think that by refusing to forgive someone we inflict some kind of revenge on the other person. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt we carry. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us does not hurt them, it wounds us. The resentment becomes a poison within us, which festers. 

God wants to heal us and help us move on, but we must be willing to forgive. It is not an easy thing to do, but we must try. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times in the Gospels and in very strong terms. If we expect to be forgiven, we must also be prepared to forgive and I doubt that there is anyone who does not need to forgive someone. If you find yourself angry at someone, it usually means that you need to forgive them. Maybe a good question to ask yourself when you find yourself angry with someone is this: if I was in their position, would I hope that the person I had hurt would forgive me?


For a few years I worked as a hospital chaplain and I met many old people, most of whom were at peace, having come through all the trials of their lives, but sometimes I would meet someone who was bitter and full of resentment, refusing to forgive. They had been hurt, but they refused to forgive and you could see how it had consumed them. It was a sad sight. Their refusal to forgive had destroyed them. People will hurt us, but we always have a choice to forgive them or not.

I am sure that all of us here expect that the Lord will forgive us. It’s what all the Gospels are about, it’s what we believe in and yet in no uncertain terms the Lord says, if we expect God to forgive us, we must be prepared to forgive others too.  That’s how it works. Forgiveness is a decision of our will that we must make. Once we do this, then we open the door to begin to heal.

'And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart.'

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’


Friday, September 4, 2020

23rd Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew: 18:15-20) Salvation in Christ

What do we mean by the words ‘salvation’ or ‘redemption’? These are religious terms that we use all the time, but I’m sure that most people would find it difficult to explain what exactly they mean. To try and make sense of them we need to go back to the beginning.

We believe that God created everything: the invisible world and the visible world. We also believe that God’s greatest creation was the human being. It says in the creation account of Genesis that the human being was the last thing that God created, which is a biblical way of saying that we are God’s most important creation; God’s masterpiece, because we resemble God. No animal could be found for Adam as a help-mate. So it says that God took a rib from Adam’s side and created woman. This is a way of saying that we are made of the same stuff and we are completely different from any of the animals.

How are we made in his image? Above all with our free will. We can choose to love and serve or not. We can choose to accept or reject God. We also mirror God in procreation. The love between a man and a woman can become another human being, which is the same as the Holy Trinity. The love between the Father and the Son is another being, the Holy Spirit.

We also understand that somewhere back at the beginning we lost our harmony with God. Something happened that we call Original Sin. There was some kind of rebellion, or rejection of God’s word. The Genesis account of creation says that Adam and Eve, who represent our first parents, rejected the word of God. God told them what they needed to do, but they gave in to temptation and they did not listen to God. Because of this, we lost paradise, the possibility of eternal life with God; we describe it as going to heaven when we die. Now here is the real problem: how could we win this back? How could any human being make anything up to God, since we owe everything to God in the first place? To make up for a human sin, a human being would have to make that offering. But the only offering that could ever be acceptable to God would have to be a divine offering, since only the divine would be worthy of God. So God the Son takes on human flesh and joins divine nature to human nature. Jesus comes among us to sacrifice himself and it will be the perfect offering because it is both divine, which is acceptable to God and human, making up for a human sin. That is the Incarnation. The name ‘Jesus’ means, ‘Who saves.’ So when we say we are ‘saved’ by the death and resurrection of Jesus, this is what we mean. It is now possible and only possible, for us to go to heaven because of the death and resurrection of Christ. What could possibly be more important than this? What could be more amazing than this?


Since all have sinned...

Now here is something that many Christians don’t get and this is really at the heart of our faith. Most of us believe that if we work hard enough at being good and doing the right things, we will be pleasing to God and we will become holy and so God will allow us to go to heaven. Right? The truth is that we cannot become holy enough by our own strength. We will always be sinners, but it is God who makes us holy, if we are open to it.

Secondly, no matter how hard we try we will never be ‘good enough’ to go to heaven by our own strength. It is simply impossible because of the way we continually sin. So what are we to do? Think of it this way: it is as if we can get 80% of the way to coming close to God. But no matter how hard we try we will never be able to make up that other 20%. So what do we do? We don’t have to do anything because God makes up the difference for us. That’s what the death and resurrection means. Jesus makes up for us what we cannot do for ourselves. What do we have to do? We just have to accept that on faith. Listen to this quotation from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith (Rom 3:23-25).

God has made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that He might show mercy to them all (Rom 11:32).

This may seem a bit simple, but this is where so many people struggle so much and get so disheartened by their own sins and weaknesses, addictions, inadequacies. We think that because we keep on struggling we will never be good enough. That is correct! We will never be good enough by our own strength, but that doesn’t matter, because Jesus has made us ‘good enough’ by his death and resurrection. All we have to do is accept that and how do we accept it? By faith.

All of us struggle. I always find St. Paul’s own testimony of his weakness so encouraging. Listen to what he says:

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

Remember that this was St. Paul to whom Jesus appeared several times. Jesus worked many miracles through him and converted half the Roman world through him and yet this is what he writes about his own struggles. Here he is again:

Wherefore, so that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself. About this, I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me; but he has answered me, ‘My grace is enough for you; for power is at full stretch in weakness... What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is infected by death? Thank God through Jesus the Messiah (2 Cor 12:7, 24). 

Paul struggled with sin and his own weaknesses, so did Peter, so did Mother Theresa and everyone else in history, but the key to it is to realise that God makes us good enough through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is what salvation is.

So should we do anything?

And so, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I am absent, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

We do our best to live holy lives, to follow the path that Jesus sets out for us, because this is the path that helps us to find the greatest fulfilment. It is not an easy path, but it is the most important one because it leads to God. God knows that the only way we will reach full happiness is in him. God points us in the right direction and calls us to follow this path, but it is up to us whether we do or not. Our struggles help us to grow in virtue, to become the best version of ourselves that we can be and we are called to this. The more we grow the more we resemble God and that is what God wants for us.

You will notice that people who are very holy are usually very much at home in their own skin. Is this because they have it all together and no longer sin? No. It is because they have come to realize that they must rely totally on God for everything and that everything is done for them in Jesus. This allows them to be at peace and they know that. It is Jesus who makes all things possible. He makes eternal life with God possible and they know that. So they rely totally on God and they submit everything to God’s mercy. The closer we get to God, the more it grieves us to offend him, not out of fear of punishment, but because we are hurting someone we love. Padre Pio has this beautiful saying: ‘My past O Lord to thy mercy; my present O Lord to thy love; my future O Lord to thy providence.’

In the early Church the main thing that the Apostles preached was very simple. It was known as the Kerygma, which means to cry or announce: ‘Christ died for our sins so that we would be acceptable to God and that Jesus Christ is Lord’. We are created out of love and we are created for love; to be in the love of God for all eternity. All the writings in the Bible (the Scriptures) point to this.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

This is why the Apostles and so many others went crazy with this message and were happy to sacrifice the rest of their lives to pass it on. This is why the martyrs died for what they believed in, because there is nothing greater than this message. This is what our whole life is about.

What about all those who are not Christian or never come to hear of Christ? Can they go to heaven too? Of course they can if they live the right way. No matter what religion they are part of, when they die they will know straight away what Jesus has done for us by dying for us and then they must choose. Primarily they choose for or against God by the way they live their life.

So is there any advantage to being a Christian?
Of course there is. It is an enormous privilege because it means that we already know what God has done for us through Jesus and we have the gift of that knowledge to help us all through our life. This is why Jesus told the apostles to go and preach this message to everyone, because everyone should know about this. This is what makes sense of our life and gives us more hope than anything else.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11)


Where does the Holy Spirit come in?

The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us this conviction. When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit we become convinced of this in the deepest way and that gives us a new energy for our life. Then we realize that everything is worth living for Jesus and suffering for Jesus because there is nothing more important in the world than knowing and loving the Lord.

Because of Christ I have come to see all the advantages I had as disadvantages. Not only that, but I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him (Phil 3:7-8).


Think of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. John immediately recognized who Jesus was and even though John tried to refuse, Jesus convinced him that it was necessary. When Jesus was baptized it says that there was a vision of heaven opened and the Spirit coming down on him in the form of a dove. The Spirit was empowering Jesus for the mission he was about to start. It says that the Spirit then drove/led him into the wilderness for a time of testing. He went through a time of fasting and prayer to prepare him for the work ahead. I think we can forget that Jesus was tempted just as we are, but he did not sin.


We are given the gift of the Spirit for the same reason, to empower us to live the Christian life, to follow the path of Jesus. So we are baptized and confirmed to give us the strength we need. The beautiful thing is that God gives us everything we need to help us in every way possible. God continually guides us through the Scriptures and through his priests He gives us the Eucharist. However, we also have to be open to it, as nothing is forced on us.