Friday, October 30, 2020

Feast of All Saints – (Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12) This is our feast day


"I believe that if God finds a person more useless than me, He will do even greater things through her, because it is his work." - St. Teresa of Calcutta

During the papacy of John Paul II, I heard a priest friend of mine saying that he thought it was crazy the way John Paul was making (or ‘canonizing’) so many saints. He was saying, ‘What is the point of it?’ But I told him that I disagreed with him, because I believed that one of the things that the pope was doing was showing us that holiness is something that all of us are called to and that many people reach. The great thing about what John Paul was doing was also the fact that he officially recognised (canonized) so many lay people as saints. In the past there was a misconception that one usually had to be in religious life to become a saint and generally those who were canonized were priests or religious. The truth is that there are many saints all around us, but most of them we will never know about until we reach heaven ourselves. Everyone who reaches God in heaven when they die, is a saint and that is our destiny. That is what we are called to. 

A common misunderstanding that many people have is that a saint is someone who never does anything wrong. That is unrealistic. If you read any reasonably accurate life of any of the saints, you will notice two things that all of them have in common. First of all, they were ordinary people who struggled with their humanity like any of us, but they also had a great love for God and they were open to God. Secondly, they all suffered quite a lot during their life and this struggle, which all of us are faced with, is part of what brought them close to God. The suffering they went through, and which all of us have to go through, was part of what formed them and drew them close to God.

Perhaps one of the differences is that in spite of the difficulties they were faced with, they kept coming back to God. They kept getting up again when they were knocked down. They didn’t give up. As you well know it is often very tempting when you are down to say, ‘Where’s the point in trying again? I’m not getting any better.’ It is not always easy to get up again, to admit you are wrong, or to have to try again. But that is what we are called to. That is what makes a person blossom. There is a proverb that says, ‘It doesn’t matter if you fall six times, so long as you get up seven times.’ 

God is calling all of us along the same path; that is the path that leads to him. It is not the easiest path, but it is the only path that is worthwhile. That is why Jesus taught us ‘What use is it for someone to gain the whole world, but to lose their soul?’ Everything here is passing and no matter how much we ‘achieve’ in the world’s eyes, that is not what counts before God. That is also why it doesn’t matter before God whether we have been ‘successful’ or not, as the world sees it. It is great if you have, but it is not what is important. That also means that the person who has become the head of a big company has no advantage over someone who is unemployed, or is even living on the street, because that is not what counts before God. We are not called to be ‘successful’, but to simply to do our best.  What we are called to above all else is to love God and to love the people around us and it is possible for everyone to do that.  

St. Therese of Lisieux

One saint who always inspires me is St. Therese of Lisieux, who died at the age of 24. She didn’t come across as anything special during her life, even in religious life. In fact, when she was dying, she overheard two sisters talking about her and one was saying to the other, “I wonder what will mother abbess say about her when she dies? She never really did anything.” It was only after her death, when her writings were discovered that people began to see the holiness of her life. But it didn’t consist in great things, only in very small things. She admitted herself that she wasn’t very good at doing any kinds of extraordinary penances or fasts, but she came to realize that the greatest thing she could do was to be love in the heart of the Church. That meant doing the smallest, most ordinary things each day, with love. It is encouraging, because it reminds us that it isn’t about doing extraordinary things, but just doing the ordinary everyday things with love.

The other side of the lives of the saints is the struggles that they went through, not just physically, but spiritually too. You could get the impression that the saints were constantly so aware of the presence of God and at peace, but that is not so.

St. Teresa of Calcutta

After her death many people were astonished to read in her letters how St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) spent much of her life in total spiritual darkness. Listen to this short passage from her writings.

Now Father—since 49 or 50 this terrible sense of loss—this untold darkness—this loneliness—this continual longing for God—which gives me that pain deep down in my heart.—Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason.—The place of God in my soul is blank.—There is no God in me.—When the pain of longing is so great—I just long and long for God—and then it is that I feel—He does not want me—He is not there.—God does not want me.—Sometimes—I just hear my own heart cry out—“My God” and nothing else comes.—The torture and pain I can’t explain.’


People were really astonished when they began to realize that this is what she was feeling inside, for years! Yet, on the outside she radiated God’s love everywhere she went. 

St. Therese of Lisieux also went through terrible interior darkness during the last year of her life when she was already dying physically and suffering a great deal. She says that she understood what it meant to be an atheist as her faith seemed to completely disappear. She said she was also tempted to suicide, because of the pain and she asked the sisters not to leave medication around her. Again, it’s not what you expect to hear. 

I find the accounts of both of their lives and many others, comforting, because they show us that they journey that brings us closer to God is not an easy one and that is normal. So when you find yourself struggling to believe and wondering where God is, think of these saints and so many others. It is part of the journey, but it is the greatest journey we will ever undertake.

"I believe that if God finds a person more useless than me, He will do even greater things through her, because it is his work." - St. Teresa of Calcutta



Sunday, October 25, 2020

30th Sunday of Year A (Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40) What it means to be a Catholic


As you know at this time, our country is heading toward what could be a dramatic turning point in our history. What happens in this election will determine what direction the country takes. Between the virus and all the upheaval, it has been and continues to be a very stressful time for everyone.

As Catholics, we try and live by the Commandments of God, which supersede all civil laws, which are man-made and not always just. We try and live those commandments in following God. To ignore them, or to go against them and call yourself a Catholic is a contradiction. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul. That means living what He commands us to do.

As a priest, it is my job to pass on the Church’s teachings, which are the Lord’s teachings. If I didn’t believe it was the Lord’s teaching, I wouldn’t be a priest. St. Paul says, ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel’ (1 Cor 9:16). I have a moral responsibility to faithfully pass on this teaching, which is not always an easy thing to do. You may agree with it or not, but it is my responsibility to pass it on to you.

In one of the main documents of the Second Vatican Council, called Gaudium et Spes (Hope and Joy), the bishops wrote:

"At all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance and to pass moral judgements, even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental right of man, or the salvation of souls require it."

Jesus was tested constantly. How did he deal with it? He kept going back to the word of God. I wonder if he was here, what would he be encouraging us to do? 

I want to address some points regarding the election. As I prepared for this I wanted to be careful not to take sides, so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I want you to be absolutely clear, that in no way am I telling anyone how they should vote. You must decide in your conscience how you should vote. That is your right and freedom, but it is very important that we understand not just who we are voting for, but the implications of what we are voting for, which could have a big impact on us as Catholics, in regard to what God teaches. Everything I want to mention is in relation to our faith.

In every election there are all kinds of issues to be addressed: healthcare, education, emigration, the environment, etc. But there are also some issues for us, which are non-negotiable. For Christians they are not up for debate.

Three of the most basic and non-negotiable moral principles of our faith are:

1.    The sanctity of life at all its stages.

2.    Religious liberty.

3.    The sanctity of marriage as a life-long commitment between a man and a woman.

We have a duty as Catholics to do everything we can to uphold these principles, because we believe they are God-given.

Of all the sins against God, I have no doubt that the most serious one is abortion, because it is the sin against God’s greatest creation, the human being, from its earliest stages. Currently, there are 61 million abortions per year, worldwide. I don’t know how God hasn’t already wiped us out. What is behind abortion is demonic. In the book of Revelation it says, ‘And the Dragon was enraged at the woman and went away to wage war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus.’ (Rev 12:17). Satan wants to destroy God’s creation and one of the ways he works is by causing confusion. Look how much confusion is around us at the moment, even in the Church.

I also know how so many women have been traumatized and hurt by abortion, often carrying the scars with them for the rest of their lives. I hear it all the time in confessions. I have never met a woman who didn't regret it.

I'm sure if I met Joe Biden I would like him, but it is confusing when someone says they are Catholic, but promotes values which go completely against our faith. He is for abortion and promotes it. He is entitled to believe what he wants, but because he is in such a prominent position, it is misleading to say you are Catholic, as it can give the impression that it is ok to be totally for abortion while being Catholic. It is not. It is a contradiction. He is also in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which, if passed, would force all tax-payers to fund abortion, euthanasia and stem-cell research. It is not for me to judge him, but it is so important to remember the implications of who we vote for. We are not just voting for an individual person, but a whole way of thinking.

There is currently in place an act called the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’. This protects healthcare workers from having to take part in abortions, or procedures which go against their religious beliefs. Depending on who is voted in, that could be overturned, which would mean that healthcare workers would be forced to take part in abortions, or similar procedures, or they could lose their jobs. That also goes to show you how our religious freedom is being undermined.

Neither side is ideal, of course, but we have to decide what would best help the country, especially in regard to what we believe. It would be great to be able to keep our religious beliefs completely separate from politics, but you can’t, because one affects the other, whether you want it to or not. One politician has, on record, stated that the Knights of Columbus, which are here in our parish and most parishes, are an ‘all-male extremist group’, because of their work in upholding Catholic teaching and values. That goes to show you all the extremes we are dealing with. I am a member of the Knights of Columbus, so is the bishop and many other priests. No matter which party you support, we should be free to practice our faith.

It is interesting how the liberal media praise Joe Biden for his Catholic views, while calling Judge Amy Coney Barrett ‘dangerous’ in her views.

If I am to be a Catholic, then it means I have to try and live the teachings of the Church, which are God’s teachings. They are certainly demanding, but Jesus was crucified because he preached the truth. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, is to live by his commandments. You can’t compromise God’s commandments. They are what they are.

It is not for me to judge any politician, only God can judge them, but it is important to be clear about what is Catholic and what is not.

Thankfully, all of you are completely free to vote as you see fit and please God it will always be that way. So ask the Lord to guide you and He will, but know what you are voting for, because you are not just voting for a person, but a party that will take the country in a particular direction. 

Finally, remember that no matter what happens, the Lord is with us and will guide us as He always has. The Lord’s message is always one of hope, even in the worst of situations.

Jesus said, "This is the first and greatest commandment. You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul."





Friday, October 16, 2020

29th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 22:15-21) Life on earth, versus eternity


(Visual homily with rope)

I want to show you something. (Long piece of rope, with about 12 inches colored in blue at one end). Picture this rope going on for thousands of miles, several times around the earth and on to infinity. This is your existence, from the time you were conceived, to all eternity. See this short piece here (pointing to the 12 inches in blue)? That is our time on earth.

When you see it visually, it makes you think. We are conceived here (pointing to the beginning of the colored section), we have our childhood here, hopefully our education from here to here and then some kind of career for the longest part (of the blue part). Then we retire and when our time on earth is complete, we go on to the eternal life we were created for. That is what we have been created for and to make sure we could get from here to here (blue part to the rest), the death and resurrection of Christ took place.

Think for a moment of how much time and energy we put into trying to get everything right here. We want the best education, so that we can have a good career, raise a family, provide for our children and make sure they are as well prepared as possible… for this short piece here (blue part).

How much time do we put into preparing for the rest of it? How much time do we spend preparing our children for the rest of it? Think of how much time we put into looking after our physical body. When we die it will disintegrate. Our soul is what will continue for all eternity. How much time do we prepare it for what is to come, to make sure it will continue to happiness and not darkness? What tends to happen right now, is that all the energy is put into getting everything right and comfortable just for our time on earth, but the decisions we make here, have consequences for all eternity. Our soul is immortal and will continue on after it leaves our body, but where it goes depends on what we choose.


Many people won’t even make it this length (the blue part), but will jump unexpectedly to here (beginning of the rest of it), because of sickness, accidents and natural disasters, but sadly we talk about it as our life being ‘over’. So many times at funerals I hear people talking about the deceased as if that is it, there is nothing more. ‘Their memory lives on.’ So many people have lost a sense of eternity, of the world to come, of the existence of God. 2.4 million people die every year in the US alone. It’s simply part of the cycle. Their soul goes somewhere. The biggest mistake we can make is to get so distracted by our life on earth that we forget about what comes after, thinking that this (red part) is everything and at this time, many people are focused only on this earth.

The decisions we make during our life on earth have eternal consequences. How we live on earth is so important. If our life on earth works out well and we manage to have a good career and a happy retirement, it is a blessing. But even if our life on earth is disappointing, or even a failure in our own eyes, or in the world’s eyes, all that really matters is how we lived, because that is what will determine the rest of our existence. Is there even such a thing as a failure? Does it not just mean that it didn’t go the way we expected? 

The first reading from Isaiah is saying that God is guiding and helping us, even when we don’t realize it. ‘Thus says the Lord to his anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp… opening doors before him… I have called you by your name, though you knew me not.’ (Is 45:1, 4-6)

I remember talking to an elderly man in hospital, who was near the end of his life. He admitted that he wasn’t very religious, but as he told me about his life, it became so obvious how God had guided him, even though at the time he may not have seen it. I think most of us can see the hand of God in our life when we look back. At the time it is not usually so obvious. The truth is that God is guiding us all the time and this makes perfect sense if we are his children. What parent would not try to guide their children?

Just because people haven’t come to know God doesn’t mean that God is not guiding them. Who would not guide their children and this is exactly what this reading says. 

Some will say that we are naïve to believe in God. I say that they are naïve not to believe in God. The Lord continually gives us so many signs and miracles to help us believe, but we can choose to ignore them, or dismiss them. There is indisputable evidence of hundreds of miracles around us, from the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to Eucharistic miracles, the Shroud of Turin and  miraculous healings that have taken place with prayer, all of which have been scientifically studied, with no explanation. The Lord is constantly reminding us of his presence, so that we don’t get too distracted by this world and forget what is coming. Our soul is going to live on no matter what, but where it goes depends on what we choose.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

28th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14) In God we always have hope


Not long after I was ordained there was a program on TV, a chat show, which had four young priests talking about their experience of priesthood and the Church today. I was one of the priests. If I had known more about the program I probably wouldn’t have gone on, as it was the kind of program where they would address all the most controversial issues and could really throw you to the lions. However, we spent an afternoon with a professional communications man before-hand, and that made all the difference. As a result, it turned out to be a very positive presentation of the Church.

After the program was aired, I was really struck by the response that I got from people. Many of those who wrote to me or phoned me, were priests and they nearly all had the same thing to say: they were delighted to hear people being so positive about the Church. They were greatly encouraged. It gave them hope. It made me realize just how much people are looking for hope, how much we need hope. We need a reason to get up in the morning. We need a reason to keep going when we are suffering and our reason is that we believe in God and in what God has promised us. We seem to live in a world of despair, where all we hear is bad news, how many people have been killed, where the latest war is…  Is it any wonder so many young people have committed suicide? They have no hope, they think there is nothing to live for and they despair.

Looking around us at this time, it would be easy to think that God has lost the battle and that Satan has won. Evil has been victorious and God has been defeated. Could this be possible? Of course not. God cannot be defeated, ever and we must realize this is true. Even if we can’t understand why there is so much evil around us at this time, be sure of this, God is still very much in control. 


One way that we can be sure of this is through the Scriptures, the Bible. The Word of God is truth, not just nice ideas, because it comes from God. It is God speaking directly to us, in our present day situation. In many places in the Bible, it says that God will not be defeated. In the beginning of St. John’s Gospel it says, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not/cannot overcome it.’ (John 1:6)

The first reading of the mass today is a reading of great hope. It is a reading that is often read  at funerals. It is God’s promise to us his people, that He has great things in store for us, beginning in this life, but fulfilled in the next and that is what gives us hope. ‘The Lord will prepare a banquet for his people’, party, a feast. That is God’s promise to us. So even if we don’t see that in this life, it still awaits us, which gives us the strength to keep going.

You might say that it’s fine to quote the Bible, but how does that apply to us in the ordinary things that we do each day? We don’t seem to see any of these promises. It doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly alright, and all our problems are gone, but it does help us to see things differently. I’m sure that during the First World War and the second, that people asked where God was. The same is true of every war for those who are caught up in it.


The Apostles were unstoppable because they had learned to rely completely on God and not on their own strength. If they continually focused on the world around them, which had just as many problems, they probably wouldn’t have gotten very far. But their focus was completely on God and that is why their work was so fruitful. They didn’t dwell on the chaos around them. We are being invited to do the same. There was only twelve of them to start with and yet look what happened.

Our hope is in God and that’s why even if someone is suffering terribly, or sick and even if they die, we don’t despair, because we know that God has not abandoned us. We believe that we will see them again, because this is God’s promise to us. We have hope because we believe.

In the Gospel we are presented with another parable. God is inviting everyone to his kingdom, worthy or not. Although everyone was invited, regardless of their social background, one man gets in without a wedding garment. The wedding garment would have been provided, so it means that he was casual, indifferent. He made no effort. That is also a reminder that we cannot be casual about being accepted into God’s kingdom, presuming that it doesn’t make any difference how we live.

In the book of Revelation (Apocalypse), the Spirit says to the Church in Loadicea: 'I know your works; you are neither cold nor not. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth' (Rev 3:15-16). The is no room for indifference when it comes to the things of God. We can never be casual. We are either with Jesus or not.

A few days ago I read something that one of the big music celebrities said, which was blasphemous. She said that she could do whatever she wants (and she was talking about sexual immorality), because Jesus would forgive her anyway. She was boasting about it and it was blasphemy. It is not what the word of God says. In the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says, ‘Woe to the obstinate children, says the Lord, to those who carry out plans that are not mine… adding sin to sin…’ (Is 30:1). God will not be mocked. He knows our hearts and there is nothing we need be afraid of, so long as we are trying to live as He asks, but God will not be mocked. Think of the man who came into the wedding feast with indifference, not bothering to make an effort. He was thrown out.

During times of chaos, such as the times we are in right now, it is all the more important to focus on God, not on the storm going on around us. Otherwise it is easy to be over-come with fear. The Lord is with us no matter what happens and that is our hope.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:6)