Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas. 'The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.'


 On Thursday (23rd Dec) I got a call from the diocese asking me if I would be willing to let WINK News interview me. They were doing a short report, interviewing different religious leaders about Christmas. The reporter asked me what message I would like to give people about Christmas. I was thinking, the message we have is the greatest and most hopeful message there has ever been, because it is the message that everyone wants to hear, that is, where to find happiness.


Everyone in the world is looking for happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but everyone wants happiness. And the wonderful thing is that God created us for happiness. That was God’s design for us and initially we had total happiness. That is presented to us through the story of Adam and Eve, who represent our first parents. God gave them everything they could ask for and they were completely happy. But God also warned them to respect their limitations and remember that they were humans and not God. That’s what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents.

You may eat freely from every tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For on the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:16-17).


Only God tells us what is ultimately good and evil. If they had listened to what God told them, they would have continued to enjoy that happiness.


But Satan tempted them with a lie. He told them that they would not die, that in fact they would be like God themselves. Why would Satan even bother with us, since he is such a powerful being? Because he hates God and he hates God’s creation, especially us because we are made in the image of God. If Satan isn’t real, then Jesus lied, because Jesus spoke about him many times. Jesus said he was a liar and a murdered from the beginning.


So instead of listening to God, Adam and Eve listened to Satan. They rejected the word of God, the guidance of God and as a result, they lost the happiness that God had given them. Chaos entered their world, because they did not listen to God. The biggest problem was that they had no way of undoing the damage they had done. But because God loves us He would not allow his creation to fall to ruin. And so God the Son took on human flesh and came among us in the person of Jesus, to rescue us and this is what we celebrate at Christmas, the beginning of the great rescue. God came to offer himself in atonement for our sin, so that we could once again have that happiness. This event began at Christmas and ended 33 years later at Easter with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus atoned for the sin of Adam and Eve, which affected all of us. So now, the possibility of eternal happiness is there once again and God offers it to us and we have the freedom to accept or reject it.


So Christmas is celebrating the beginning of the great rescue of humanity, so that we could have happiness, which is what everyone is looking for. No wonder there were extraordinary signs at the time of Christ’s birth. Angels appeared to shepherds and different people were led to where Jesus had been born. Even the name Jesus, means, ‘Who Saves’. That’s why the Angel Gabriel said to Joseph, ‘And you must name him Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins’ (Mt 1:21).


In practical terms it means that all of our loved ones who have gone before us, can be with God in eternal happiness, which is what God intended for us in the first place. But the amazing thing is that we can reject God, because has given us that freedom. God will not force anything on us, because He respects the free will that He has given us. You cannot force someone to love you and neither will God force us to love him. So we must choose for God and we do that by choosing to live as He asks and that comes down to how we live each day.


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 realized that we will not have full happiness in this life, but in the next, we would probably be much more at peace. But if we put all our energies into trying to find complete happiness here, we will be disappointed. We will hopefully find a certain amount of contentment and times of great happiness, but complete fulfillment is only for the world to come.


The chaos that is all around us in our world right now, is because people are doing exactly what Adam and Eve did. They have rejected God and refuse to listen to God’s word. And so what is happening is exactly what God told us would happen: chaos follows. The very answer that people are looking for, is the very thing people have turned their back on. God shows us exactly how to live, so that our lives and our world will flourish. All we have to do is follow what He commands us, but just like Adam and Eve, we are not convinced and we turn in the other direction. The answer for our world is to turn back to God once again.


In the second book of Chronicles 7:14, it says:

If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.”


Throughout history, people have done the same thing again and again, rejecting God and then watching their world fall apart. It is only when they turned back to God that everything begins to fit together again. This is what the Lord is calling us to do right now: to turn back to him and ask his forgiveness.


The wonderful thing is that God wants our happiness and has gone to the ends of the earth to make sure we can have eternal happiness. All we have to do is listen to what He tells us to do.


Think of someone you love who has died. We long to be with them again and the pain is often unbearable. What God offers us is the possibility of being with them again, where we will no longer suffer and we will only have joy. That is what God wanted for us in the first place and that now awaits us if we choose it, but we must choose it.


In 1917 in Fatima, Our Lady appeared to three young children: Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia, who were 7, 9 and 10. One of the things she said to them was, “If people knew what heaven was like, they would do everything to change their ways.” Why do you think Our Lady has continued to appear all over the world over the last century in particular? To tell us to wake up, so that we don’t lose this possibility, because we can lose it if we are not careful how we live. If we continually reject the ways of God we will lose it and then we will not be with our loved ones again. That is why our choices are so serious.


So, the message of Christmas is the most wonderful and hopeful one of all. This is the answer everyone is looking for and we have already come to know it.


The angel said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ the Lord.”

Saturday, December 18, 2021

4th Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Luke 1:39-45) Blessed is she who believed



In the Bible there are many characters who were called ‘blessed’ because of their faith.  Abraham was told that he would have a child when he was almost 100 years old and his wife Sarah was in her 90s. Scientifically it couldn’t have happened, but he believed and it did happen and God blessed him on account of his faith.


Zachariah was told his wife Elizabeth would have a baby, John the Baptist, even though she had been barren all her life and was now an old woman. When the angel Gabriel told Zachariah this, he found it hard to believe and he said so to the angel. ‘How can I know that this will happen?’ The angel Gabriel wasn’t too impressed and said, ‘I am Gabriel who stand before God. Since you have not believed me, here is a sign for you. You will be struck dumb until the time comes for this to happen.’ And he was struck dumb until after the baby was born. So even though he doubted, it still happened. So, if the angel Gabriel tells you something is going to happen, don’t doubt it or you may be struck dumb!


The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would have a child, but not by human means. She believed, even though she didn’t understand and it happened. The angel also reminded her that ‘nothing is impossible to God.’ 


All of these people and many others too, were told to believe, even though it didn’t make any sense to them. They believed even though they didn't understand. When Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth said to her, ‘Blessed is she who believed that the promises made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ I wonder would many of these things have happened if the people involved had refused to believe until they were sure, until they were able to know these things were true; until they were proven?


God asks us to believe what He reveals to us, because it is from him and God only speaks truth. God asks us to believe that the bread and wine really and truly become the body and blood of Jesus at the consecration of each mass and they do. They do because it was Jesus who said it and throughout the centuries Jesus continues to give us Eucharistic miracles to help us to believe; over one hundred to date.


God asks us to believe that our sins are forgiven in confession, when the priest says the words, ‘I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ He asks us to believe this because He is the one who tells us that this is what happens through his priests. We don’t understand these things, but we believe them and that is what faith is. I don’t understand, but I believe, because a it is God who has revealed these things to us and He asks us to believe them on his authority.


At times like these, when there is so much upheaval in our Church and in our world, it can be difficult to believe. God seems to have abandoned us, or we find ourselves asking, why are all these things happening? However, the Lord is with us and always will be. Earthly structures will change and even collapse, because they are only earthly structures. That is really what we are seeing: earthly and human structures changing. Even the earthly side of God’s Church will change and may even seem to collapse, but the Lord remains with us as always. ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it’ (Jn 1:5).


The mercy of God allows his Church to be purified and his world to be purified and this is part of what we see happening. Throughout history the same thing happened again and again, when people turned away from God. And sometimes it took the collapse of everything to make people turn back to God. The Scriptures show this same cycle again and again. When the people of Israel turned away from God, their society began to collapse and sooner or later their enemies overcame them. Eventually they began to see that they had brought about their own ruin and they repented. For some reason we never seem to learn from history and we do the same thing over and over.


The more chaotic our world is, the more important it is to focus on Jesus. Instead of being filled with the news—so much of which is untrue—we need to be filled with what God says. Read the Scriptures every day. Worldly news will not bring you peace, wisdom and guidance. The word of God will. Read at least one chapter of the Bible, especially the New Testament, every day. It takes about five minutes.


I think a good thing to focus on now right now is the mystery of Christmas in its simplicity. God visits his people in the form of a totally helpless newborn baby. Angels appear in the sky to announce this strange event, but they don’t announce it to the great people of the time, they announce it to the poorest of the poor who are looking after the animals in the fields. The king goes mad out of jealousy and fear and tries to have the baby killed. All these things may seem almost like a fairy-tale, from a human point of view, but they are real. They really happened. If it was just a story, it would never have changed the course of history. Christmas has become a semi-pagan feast. So many people celebrate having no sense of what it is about. It is just a feast where we exchange presents and are supposed to be kind to one another. We know it is about God coming among us, to rescue us and that is the thing to focus on. God comes to us in the chaos of our world.


The people of Israel represent the people of God everywhere. The name itself means, ‘Wrestles with God.’ It comes from a strange encounter Jacob (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) had with an angel who came to him and wrestled with him all night. By dawn the angel was not able to get the better of him and the angel said to him, ‘From now on your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you wrestled with God and have overcome.’ (Gen 22:24-28). That tells us something. Part of what faith entails is that we will struggle, wrestle, with God. We often won’t understand and we will at times get angry, but this is part of the journey of faith.


In this mass, in a few minutes, God will become present to us in a tiny piece of bread we call the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. How can this be? Many people consider such an idea ridiculous, even some Catholics. But we believe it because it is the Lord who has told us these things. There is so much that we don’t understand, but God has never asked us to understand, only to believe them, because He has made them known to us. The Lord has promised us that He will always be with us to guide us, and He has also promised us that the darkness cannot overcome the light. If we believe that, then there is nothing for us to be afraid of. What we need to be attentive to, is that we are focusing on the right thing; not the chaos of the world, but on Jesus.


Blessed is she who believed the promises made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’





Friday, December 10, 2021

3rd Sunday of Advent. Forgiveness and repentance (Gospel; Luke 3:10-18)



Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind. It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood. It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’ That phrase ‘so that sins may be forgiven’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the whole of Jesus life was about: ‘So that sins may be forgiven.’


Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed. That fact alone should give us great courage, because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin. The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us. He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, to be happy and to reach our full potential. ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4). And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God and God is ultimately our happiness. If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.


There is a powerful story in the Old Testament about King David.  It has all the ingredients of a modern movie. David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath. He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Because he is king and used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her. Some time later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant. Now he is afraid, because he knows he is going to be found out. So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away in battle, fighting for him. When Uriah comes David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc. Later he invites him to dinner with him and then he sends him away and says, ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’ But Uriah doesn’t go to his house. Perhaps he is suspicious. Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants. 

The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife, he invites him again to come and eat with him. This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace. So the following day, David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed. So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.


So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder; quite a list of evil, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David. But because God loves David He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan to David, who tells him the following story:


Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city. He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc. There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb. And he loved the lamb like one of his own children. One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had it killed for the meal.’  When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’ And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’


Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next. When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him he is also big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.


It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him. The Lord doesn’t want our downfall. On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to be at peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession and we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it. Sadly, many have come to see confession as a burden, or as something inflicted on us, but this is to see it completely backwards. Confession is an extraordinary gift that God has given us, so that we can be free and live in peace, because that is what God wants for us. God challenges us to confess, so that we can be healed. It is for our benefit.


The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... Whoever’s sins you forgive they are forgiven; whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.’ And now the Lord continues to offer us that forgiveness through the priesthood, which is a wonderful thing because it is a very concrete way of knowing, through another human being, that our sins are completely forgiven. We need that concreteness and God knows that.


As we watch the chaos of our own society around us and the evil that seems to continue to grow, the best way we can begin to bring about change is by repenting ourselves. We ask God’s forgiveness for our own sins. That is the way to get ready for the coming of Jesus.  That is the way to begin to improve life in our families, our workplaces and our world. We must begin with ourselves.


There is one sin that almost everyone struggles with and that is forgiveness. Jesus spoke about it so many times because He knows that we all struggle to forgive people who have hurt us. And Jesus says in no uncertain terms, that if we expect to be forgiven, we must be willing to forgive, but here is where most people get stuck. We tend to think that in order to forgive someone who has hurt us, we must feel like forgiving them. In other words, we must have gotten over the hurt, before we can forgive. That is not how it works. Forgiveness is not based on how I feel. Forgiveness is a choice, a decision of my will, regardless of how I feel. If I was to wait until I felt able to forgive someone, it may never happen. Hurts run deep and everyone of us have people we need to forgive. The deeper the hurt or betrayal, the harder it is to forgive. But Jesus continually tells us that the key for us to heal, is for us to forgive. In forgiving the person I am not saying that what they did no longer matters, or that I am no longer hurting. Choosing to forgive someone is what opens the door for me to heal. If you turn it the other way around: If I refuse to forgive someone, I am building a wall between me and God. I am preventing God from helping me to heal, because I am refusing to do exactly what He has told us we must do.


Lord, I forgive Mary for what she did to me. Please help me to heal.’ That is what God asks us to do and Jesus also tells us that we will not be forgiven if we refuse to forgive. There are so many parables in the Gospels about the need to forgive. It is two whole lines of the Our Father.


The Lord is well aware of how hard we find it. That is why Jesus spoke about it so much. We may feel that by not forgiving someone, we are making them suffer. The truth is that may not even be aware of our hurt. The key to being healed is in our hands.


This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’


Saturday, November 27, 2021

1st Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Lk 21:25-28, 34-36) The word became flesh and lived among us



I always like the fact that we celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter when the evenings are short and it is usually cold (unless you live in Florida!). Then we begin to light candles and put up coloured lights and decorations to remind us of the coming of our King. It is a time of great hope and hopefully also a time that will bring joy. ‘Advent’—which simply means ‘coming’—is meant to be a time of preparing for two things: we are preparing for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and we are also remembering that Christ will come again at the end of time. 


Each Sunday in the Creed we say that, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ We don’t know when that will be, but we know that it will happen, because it is Jesus himself who said so. The Lord tells us to ‘stay awake’ and not to forget him, because none of us know when we will die. We generally presume we will have a long life and then die, but none of us know. The important thing is that we do not forget the Lord, who loves us and who created us. And so each Christmas we remember that Jesus came among us, for us, to help us, to teach us about God, about the world to come and above all to die for us, so that we can join in the happiness of God when we die ourselves.


Normally we think of Advent as preparing for the event of Christmas, but that is just part of it. Christmas and Easter are two halves of the same event and they cannot be separated. So we are really preparing for the event that began at Christmas and finished at Easter 33 years later. It was what you might call a rescue mission.

God created us for happiness and gave our first parents, who we call Adam and Eve, every delight they could ask for. He told them exactly what to do in order for them to be able to continue to enjoy that freedom and happiness. He also told them to respect their limits and remember that they are humans and not God. This is symbolized by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the story of creation. ‘Don’t eat of this fruit, don’t think that you are God and do what only God can do,’ but they didn’t listen. Instead they believed the lie that they could be like God and they rejected what God told them. As a result sin entered the world and because of sin, suffering.


The problem was that they had no way of undoing the damage they had done. But because God loves his creation, He would not let it remain damaged in this way. And so, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God reopened that possibility of eternal happiness with him, which is what God originally intended for us. God now offers us that possibility once again and we can choose it or reject it. We choose it by being baptized and we also choose it by the way we live.


Christmas is the beginning of that whole event, or rescue mission, when the Son of God took on human flesh and walked among us. The culmination of that rescue mission is what happened at Easter. Through his death Jesus atoned for the sin of our first parents, thereby regaining what God originally created for us. So what we are preparing for at Christmas is the beginning of that whole event of our being rescued from eternal death. No wonder it is such a huge celebration.


The best way that we can prepare ourselves is in the heart, by trying to give time to God and being open to what He wants to say to us. The Lord is constantly speaking to us, but often we are not listening because we are too busy or distracted. People sometimes ask me if God speaks to me. Yes, God speaks to me all the time, but not through visions or voices. It is usually through other people, or through the Scriptures. It took me a while to learn how to listen, so that I might hear what God is saying to me. Advent is a good time to stop and listen again and hear what the Lord has to say to us. That is why the readings are about getting ready for the one who is coming, and not being so distracted by the world around us that we forget him.


Jesus reminds us that while we get on with the ordinary things of everyday life—eating, drinking, marrying, working—we must not forget the eternal things. It is a warning to us never to become so immersed in time and the things of the world, that we forget eternity. Even though the worldly affairs have their place, we must not let them distract us from the reality of God, the reality that we will die, maybe much sooner than we expect and that life and death are in his hands. So many times in the Gospels Jesus tells us to make sure we are not caught off guard. Whenever He does come for us, He must find us ready.


If you found out today that you had only one more week to live, would you continue as before, or would your priorities change? Of course they would. Worldly things would become totally insignificant. Jesus keeps reminding us that we do not know when our time on earth will be over. ‘So stay awake, for you do not know the day or the hour’ (Mat 25:13). I often think of that when we have the death of a young person. It shocks everyone into thinking differently. What was important suddenly changes.

In one sense we can never be ready enough for God. How do you prepare to come before the living God? And yet this is what God has created us for and we believe it will be wonderful beyond our wildest dreams. As long as we have make some effort to be ready, we have nothing to be afraid of. Jesus keeps telling us not to be afraid. If God went to that much trouble to rescue us, why would we be afraid of him?


Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes, of two people doing the same thing, one will be taken the other left. What does this mean? It means that although both people were doing the same ordinary things that we all have to do, one of them had not forgotten about God, but the other had; the one who had forgotten got left behind.


If we get totally immersed in the world, or in our families, or in our work, then we have missed what it is about, because there is much more to our life than this. 

Imagine a great event in your life that was coming up: a wedding, or the return of a loved one who had been gone for years. We want everything to be exactly right, but then we start getting distracted with our phone and other things. We end up so distracted that we completely miss the event. How foolish would we feel? That is what Jesus keeps telling us. Don’t get so distracted with things that aren’t important that you completely miss why you are here on earth, because sooner or later it will come to an end.

I think one of the best ways to prepare for Christmas, is to keep it simple and spend some time remembering what it is about. Go to mass once a week, or spend a few minutes in a church every few days. Read an account of the events of Christmas in the Gospels. When you come into the church, leave your phone in the car, so that you are not going to be distracted. That way we will remember what we are celebrating.

The Angel said to the shepherds: 'Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born for you; He is Christ the Lord.'

Friday, November 19, 2021

34th Sunday, Feast of Christ the King (Gospel: Matt 25:31-46) Jesus Christ is Lord


You could sum up what I am about to say with four words: Jesus Christ is Lord. That is really all that matters. Jesus Christ is Lord.


Some time ago I was asked to visit a man in hospital. He was probably in his 70s. When he saw me he must have felt uncomfortable, as he began to tell me in so many words, how he didn’t really need me there, as he had a close relationship with God. He seemed to want to prove how tough he was. He then went on to talk about how he was on a first name basis with the Holy Trinity, describing how he related to the Father, Son and Spirit and the Virgin Mary, as if they were buddies at the bar. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but I remember finding myself being disgusted at the way he spoke, as it was so disrespectful. I don’t think he meant to be disrespectful, but it was.


The only way we should come before God, is on our knees with our face to the ground, in awe and reverence for who and what God is. Yes, Jesus is our brother, having taken on human flesh, but He is also the creator of the world, the one who will come to judge the living and dead, the one before whom everyone will bow down and tremble. It is so important that we don’t forget that. That is also why we begin every mass by acknowledging that we are sinners and asking for God’s mercy.


In the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah is given a vision of heaven, where he sees God on his throne. His reaction? He is terrified. He recognizes his sinfulness before God’s holiness and he is afraid it will kill him.

‘Woe is me, for I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips, who dwell among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ (Is 6:5) Then it says that an angel came down and touched him on the lips with a hot coal, to purify him and reassure him he would not die.


The Prophet Ezekiel is also shown a vision of heaven:

‘I then saw what looked like a throne made of sapphire. And sitting on the throne was a figure in the shape of a human. From the waste up it was glowing like metal in a hot furnace and from the waist down it looked like the flames of a fire. I realized I was seeing the brightness of God’s glory, so I bowed my face to the ground.’ (Ezek 1:26-28)

In Revelations, St. John the Apostle saw a similar vision of Jesus in his glory, except that Jesus comes towards him. He says he was so frightened that he fainted, even though he had lived with Jesus for three years.


It is very easy for us to become casual about our faith, but it is so important that we don’t, that we remember who and what God is, who Jesus is. It is a wonderful thing that Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with him and he speaks to us as a friend, but we still have to be careful of how we approach God. He is the Lord and master of all things, the King of Kings, the judge of the living and the dead.


Think about when you receive the Eucharist. We are receiving the Body of Christ, not a thing, not holy bread, but Jesus. How do you dress? How do you hold it when it is put in your hand? Do you flick it back into your mouth, or walk away with it? When was the last time you confessed your sins, as the Lord asks us to, so that we are not receiving his Body and Blood unworthily? St. Paul writes:

‘Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord. Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 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: 27-30).


Does that mean we should be afraid? No. It is the Lord himself who wants us to receive the him in the Eucharist. Pope Francis puts it beautifully. He says, ‘The Eucharist is food for sinners, not a reward for saints,’ but we must be careful how we go about it. We can never be casual, or we bring condemnation on ourselves and that applies just as much to me. In fact, it is more serious for me, because the Lord comes into my hands as a priest in every mass. It is a great responsibility and one which often scares me, because I too will be accountable as his priest.


Often you hear people talking about God and religion as if it were something optional. You can take it or leave it, it’s up to you. God is not the optional extra. We are. God exists, but we need not be here except that God created us and keeps us in existence. God also entrusted his world to our care, not to do what we like with it, but to look after it.

On the last three Sundays of the year, including today, we read Gospels that refer to God’s judgement on us. The parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were left outside, because they hadn’t bothered to prepare. There is also the parable of the talents, where the one who did nothing with what he was given, was condemned. He wasn’t condemned because he did something, but because he didn’t do anything. He was indifferent. There is also the Gospel where we have the separation of sheep and goats.

‘When the Son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him… and all the nations will be assembled before him. And He will separate them one from another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’


One group was condemned. Why? because they did nothing. They didn’t specifically carry out wrong actions, but they didn’t do anything. They had been entrusted with the world and the people around them and they ignored everything and did what they wanted, ignoring God. The Lord is reminding us that it is his world, his creation and we have been entrusted with his creation to take care of it. It’s not just about us. It is about him. That is also why it is so sad when we get to the stage where we feel we can go completely against God’s commandments and say that it is none of his business. We can do what we want. The Lord gave us specific commandments to follow and we will be accountable.


Much of our world has rejected the ways of God. In Ireland in 2018, there was a referendum to change the constitution, to allow abortion. It was passed and the night it was passed there was singing and dancing in the streets of Dublin, quite literally. There was a big gathering and a celebration with singing and dancing. Our culture has chosen the way of death, where we can decide what we do with life and death. That is the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Evil. God said to Adam and Eve you must not touch the fruit from the tree of good and evil. In other words, don’t play God. Don’t be the ones to decide what is ultimately good and evil. Only God can do that.


For us to be faithful means we must make conscious decisions to follow God’s law, continually looking to see if we are living it. That’s why we keep reading the Scriptures. Often God’s laws make us uncomfortable, because it will challenge us when we are going off track. The irony is that it is God’s very laws that will lead us to the greatest freedom and happiness, but we must choose. We will be different and it will cost us, because we will meet resistance just as Jesus said we would. But what could be greater than following the very path that God points out to us, the only one that leads to happiness.


‘…At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil 2:10-11).

Saturday, November 13, 2021

33rd Sunday, Year B (Gospel: Mark 13: 24-32) "If you only knew what God was offering you"


Recently I came across two young people, both of whom were wearing pentagrams around their neck. One was also wearing the Satanic symbol of the goat. I silently blessed them, but also I couldn't help thinking, "If these people knew whose side they were taking by wearing those symbols, they would run away screaming." No human is a friend of Satan. He will just use them and then cast them aside with the same hatred he shows for every person made in God's image. It is another deception.

Any time I go into schools, or get to talk to young people, someone nearly always asks me if I have ever seen an exorcism. When I tell them I have and it is real and something to be very careful of, they are usually a bit shocked. I suppose we tend to associate these things with Hollywood, but they are real.

All around us we see signs for Tarot card reading, fortune telling, psychics, all kinds of alternative healing and other practices that come under the general heading of Occult. We are told to stay away from these things that so many people find fascinating. Why is this? What is so wrong with it? Are we over-reacting because we do not understand it?

If God tells us to stay away from something, there is a good reason for it. God does not give us rules just for the sake of rules. There is a reason for everything. In the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy it says:
You must not have in your midst anyone who... practices divination, or anyone who consults the stars, who is a sorcerer, or one who practices magic, or who consults the spirits, no diviner, or one who asks questions of the dead. For the Lord abhors those who do these things. (Deut 18:10-11)

So what is the problem with these things? Anything that is occult is generally an attempt to gain knowledge or power of the future. One of the greatest things that God has given us is the gift of free will. All through this life we have the freedom to choose to do what we want, even to reject God, which is quite amazing. God does not reveal the future to us because if He did it would influence our free will. If I thought there was going to be an earthquake in the city center tomorrow, the chances are I would avoid the city center. If I think I know what is going to happen, I am most likely to make decisions based on that information, but the problem is that then I am not totally free to choose, because my free will has been influenced. That is the main problem with things such as fortune telling, tarot card reading, etc. We think we are gaining knowledge of the future, but this influences our freedom to choose and God wants us to be free.

However, we have no way of knowing whether the information we are given is true or not and perhaps more importantly, where is it coming from? If God deliberately does not reveal the future to us, then the information is not coming from God. So where is it coming from and how can we trust that it is reliable? Exorcists will be the first ones to tell you that the Occult and New Age practices are a doorway to the world of darkness. They are a deception of Satan. We are dabbling in the world of the spirit, without knowing what we are dealing with and make no mistake about it, Satan is very cunning in how he deceives us. He hates God’s creation and wants to lead us away from God wherever possible. Jesus called him ‘The father of lies, and the deceiver.’ And don’t be fooled by the fact that a fortune teller starts of with a Christian prayer, as some of them do. If the Lord tells us that these things are detestable to him, then we would be wise to stay away from them. If what the Lord teaches us is true, then the Occult is a deception and a lie. If Occult practices are true, then Christianity is a lie. Who do you want to believe?

I know of a woman who was given the initials of someone she was told she would marry. And she met a man with those initials and she married him, and it was a disaster.

The former exorcist of this diocese was telling me about a house he was called to, where footsteps kept appearing across their couch. When he asked them a little about themselves, he learned that the woman practiced witchcraft, her daughter practiced witchcraft and she was living with a man who was not her husband. There was nothing he could do unless they were prepared to change their lifestyle and start following the ways of God. One is against the other.

If you have dabbled in any of these things it is important to confess them to break any kind of influence they have over you, spiritual or otherwise.

In St. John's Gospel, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he said:
"If you only knew what God was offering you and who it was that was asking you for a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water." (Jn 4:10)

What is this ‘living water’? First of all it is the life of faith, the path to God, the truth about God, as given to us by Jesus who is the Son of God. He is telling us that what He is offering us is the path to follow, because it is the only path that leads to happiness. The only path. He guides and teaches us through the Scriptures and through the teachings of his Church—his Church. Jesus is either telling us the truth or he is not. If he is, then we need to listen.

For two thousand years the teachings of Christ have been guiding people on the path to God. The fact that it has lasted this long is itself a sign that it must be from God, especially when you look at the history of the Church, which is nothing to boast about. Yet in spite of that, the message of God is still passed on, through sinful people like me, but passed on none the less. It is there for anyone who wants it. Many things are continually offered to us, but not all of them are good and not all of them will help us. What we believe is that what God offers us—the waters of life—is what will lead us to total happiness, beginning now and fulfilled in the world to come. This is what the Lord is teaching us. Do you believe that? 

Sometimes I think it comes back to something as basic as asking ourselves, ‘Do I believe the Scriptures are from God?’ ‘Do I believe that Jesus teaches us through his Church?’ If we believe that, then we need to listen to it. If we don’t believe that, we shouldn’t be here in the first place. God offers us his word to guide us, his Body and Blood to feed us, his forgiveness to heal us, but if we want to follow the path that He is showing us, then we must listen to what he teaches us and act on it.

"If you only knew what God was offering you and who it was that was asking you for a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water."

Thursday, November 4, 2021

32nd Sunday, Year B (Gospel: Mark 12: 38-44) The Lord provides


Lake Dall, Kashmir, India


I heard a story about an old Dominican priest by the name of Maurice Fearan. He was giving a retreat in Kashmir (India) in a place called Shrinagar beside the Dall lake. It is 7000 feet above sea level and a big tourist attraction; very beautiful. So many people came to the retreat that they had to give him accommodation where the retreat was being held, so they put him on one of the tourist boats. Each evening after the retreat he would go back to the tourist boat, have a light meal and sleep. 


One evening when he was eating, a young lady from Argentina joined him. While they were chatting a storm began to blow up on the lake and it was coming towards them. Eventually there were flashes of lightning near them and they were both getting nervous, especially since they were on the water. She leaned towards him and said, ‘Father, I’d like to go to confession, but before I go to confession I want to tell you something.’ And then she said, ‘Father  I don’t believe in hell.’ Maurice said, ‘Why don’t you believe in hell?’ She said, ‘I am an only child and my father loves me completely and I know that no matter what I do, my father would never reject me. Sometimes he may do things which embarrass me, but I could never do anything which would embarrass him. No matter what I do he would never reject me and so I don’t believe God would ever reject me either.’ I think that is such a wonderful approach. God will never reject us, though we may reject him and God wants to take care of our needs, just as any parent will with their children. 


I think we often ‘pray too small’ as you might say. We are afraid that we can’t have the very best, or that God might frown on us if we ask too much and yet Jesus taught the very opposite. ‘How many of you would give your child a snake if he asked for a fish; or a stone if he asked for bread?’ And then he said, ‘If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father look after you?’ (Matt 7: 9-11). It is a wonderful teaching and probably one that we should reflect on more. The Father wants to give us everything.  He wants the very best for us always, but He will wait for us to ask.


Ancient Israelite Olive Jug

In the first reading, God is showing us never to be afraid, because if we trust in his word He will never let us down. The woman had almost nothing left and the prophet Elijah asked her to share it.  She was afraid, but Elijah said, ‘Trust in the word of God and you will be alright.’  So she did trust him and she was alright.


God invites us to do the same. We are so often afraid that we won’t be able to manage and yet the Lord keeps telling us, ‘Trust in me and I will look after your every need’ and He does.


Something that the Lord has taught me as a priest is to never be afraid to give away money to people who need it. I don’t just mean people who come to the door asking for money, but people I come across who I know are in need of help. They are usually the ones who don’t ask, but the Lord often lets me see their need. People regularly give me money as a priest and it is part of my work to pass it on whenever the Lord shows me such need. But I have always found that every time I have given away money, sometimes reluctantly as I feel maybe it’s too much or that I might be short, within 24 hours I will be given the money back by someone else and usually more. This has happened to me so many times that I always believe it is God’s way of teaching me to trust him. He looks after all our needs and He will never be outdone in generosity. 


In the Gospel today Jesus sees the poor woman putting in what seemed to be a very small amount. But He knew it was everything she had. God sees what we do and He constantly encourages us to be generous, especially with those who are in need. Remember God will never be outdone in generosity. If we are generous, God will be far more generous. We forget that Our Father in heaven is the Lord of all the universe. God has lots of money. Any father will give his children whatever they need and with great generosity if he can. Think of the wedding at Cana, where the couple ran out of wine. Jesus didn’t just replace what was missing, He practically created a river of wine. Our Father in heaven is never outdone in generosity.


This also holds true with the time we give the Lord. The more time we give to God in prayer, the more time He will give back to you.


When Mother Teresa began her work in India among the poorest people, she only had a few other sisters with her at the beginning. Very quickly they became overwhelmed with work. So many people were coming to them and there were so many people on the streets who needed their help. They didn’t know how to cope. So, they decided to bring it to God in prayer and ask what they needed to do. All of them felt that the Lord was telling them to give an extra hour to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. That meant an hour extra in prayer and an hour less to work. This didn’t seem to make sense, but they believed this was what the Lord was asking them to do, so they began to spend an extra hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament each day.


Within a short time other women started to come and help them with their work. Soon they were able to do far more than before. Mother Teresa said this was a very important lesson for them. God must be first in all things. If we give him our time and money, He will give it back to us, but more generously than we can give him. I have found the same thing in my work. The more time I give to prayer, the more happens around me.


To our mind, it doesn’t make sense. How could giving more time to prayer make it possible to do more things, but it does. God is reminding us who is in charge.


During my years of study, I always tried to make a point of not studying on Sundays, to respect Sunday as a holy day. I was never less productive because of it. God will never be outdone in generosity.


If you want to see more things happening in your family and in your life, give more time to prayer. Come to adoration once a week, and rest in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s what God taught Mother Teresa and her sisters to do. Jesus is saying to us, ‘Come and spend time with me and I will take care of your needs.’ Do you really think that you will get less done when you give God an extra hour of your time? His is the Lord and master of the universe. There is nothing He cannot do. And it’s not so much what we do during that time, as the fact that we are giving our time to him. He will take care of everything else.


People often ask me what they can do to help their children who no longer practice, or how they should do to resolve a difficult situation, or how they can help our parish. The first answer is to give extra time to prayer, but people are not usually convinced of that. We tend to think of prayer as the last resort, rather than the first, when we have tried everything else. No. Give your needs to God by giving him your time and see how He will take care of your needs.


We have adoration everyone morning for an hour before mass and until 1pm on Fridays. What could be more wonderful than to come into the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He continually shows us that his presence is real, through so many different Eucharistic miracles. He is there for us all day every day.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

31st Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 12: 28b-34) Love God and do what you like



Most of us were brought up being taught that we must love our neighbour. That is very much part of what it means to be Christian. That means we are to respect the people around us, even if we don’t like them. We respect them because we believe that we are all children of God, created by the one God, no matter what our race, colour or religion. We try to see them as human beings before anything else.


I often think of the accounts we have of how Jesus dealt with the various people he met of other faiths and nationalities. He healed the Roman soldier’s dying slave. The Jews would have hated and feared the Romans, as they were the occupying force of Palestine and a particularly brutal force at that. He healed the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter. She was a pagan. He spoke to and encouraged the Samaritan woman at the well. The Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people. We are also invited to try and see people through the eyes of Jesus, that is, to see people as people, before anything else.


Sometimes it can be very difficult to love, or respect, the people around us. It is often easier to give to charities supporting people in other countries, than to show respect to the people living next door, or in our workplace, especially when people have done us wrong.


It is interesting that when Jesus is asked which is the first Commandment, He mentions two. We are to love God above all else, with all our heart and soul, with all our strength and then love your neighbour as yourself. The two are connected, which is why He mentions them together. It is our relationship with God, that gives us the strength to love others. The more we are filled with the love of God, the more sensitive we become to the needs of the world around us. It is then we begin to notice people in trouble and people in need. God’s Spirit within us shows us these things and helps us to see others as people with needs, rather than just Christians, or Muslims, Mexicans, or Irish. First, they are people; human beings with the same needs and desires as anyone else. As our love of God grows, we begin to see the world around us in a different way. We start to see it through God’s eyes and it develops a desire to make the world as God wants it to be.


How do I love God? By keeping his Commandments. If you love anyone you show your love by trying to please them and by trying to do what they ask. It is the exact same with God. There is no point in saying that I love God if I’m not prepared to keep his Commandments. There is no point in sleeping with your boyfriend, or girlfriend, or promoting abortion and then saying that I love God, when God tells us not to do these things. Who am I kidding? We cannot justify stealing, or not paying taxes and then praying to God to help us. If we hope for God’s blessing and help, or to grow in our spirit, we must try to live his Commandments. They are commandments, not suggestions and this means sacrifices. It means that we will be different from others who don’t believe in God, but this is how it has been throughout the centuries. Christians have always been different. If I want to call myself a Christian I have to try to live as a Christian, otherwise, it means nothing.


All of us will all have to give an account of ourselves before God when we die. And we will be on your own then. We won’t have friends, or politicians, or attorneys standing behind us, to argue on our behalf. We will not have any earthly status either. It will just be each of us before God. Does that mean we need to be afraid? Not if we try. If we sin, or fall, or do what is wrong, we should never be afraid to ask forgiveness. God promises forgiveness, if we turn to him and repent. There is a difference in falling into sin sometimes, versus persisting in some way of life that is contrary to the laws of God. The Lord teaches us what is sinful, so that we cannot say we didn’t know. We must be careful that we’re not rewriting the Commandments for ourselves. God doesn’t ask for 100% success, only effort. 


St. Augustine has a great saying which sums it up. He says, ‘Love God and do what you like.’ If we really love God, we will try and do what He asks. While trying to live as God asks can seem like a burden initially, the reality is the opposite. Living by the teachings of Christ brings a great freedom and happiness, because your spirit knows that you’re on the right track and that takes away fear. Once we begin to come closer to God this way, then we begin to be filled with a love for him that gives us the strength to look out for the people around us.


There are many people I know whom I would call ‘people of faith’, who really try to live what they believe, and they are always keen to help people around them who are in need. It comes quite naturally to them, because of their love of God and I’m sure there are many of you here too. If we focus on growing closer to God, looking after our neighbour comes quite naturally. The same goes for a lot of the moral teachings of the Church, which people love to argue about so much. If we start arguing about these problems before we have faith, they will just remain an obstacle between us and God. But if we grow in faith first, these things naturally fall into place.



In 1994 in Rwanda, an horrific genocide took place. In Rwanda there were two main tribal groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu. As often happens, one group despised the other and under a new Hutu president, the Hutus decided to rid the country of the Tutsi. In just over three months, approximately one million Tutsi were murdered. One Tutsi woman, by the name of ImaculĂ©e Llibagiza, survived the holocaust. At the time it occurred she was 24. She came from a family of six and by local standards they were well-off. During the massacre, all but one of her brothers were slaughtered. She survived by hiding in a restroom, which was 3’x 4’, along with five other women, for three months. A sympathetic pastor hid them, risking his own life. His house was searched regularly, but they had pushed a wardrobe across the door of the restroom and it wasn’t noticed. They eventually escaped and managed to get to a French UN camp, where they were safe, although by then they were half starved.


While in hiding, they were in constant danger of being discovered. She describes her ordeal in a book called Left to Tell. During her time in hiding she found herself praying the rosary for hours on end. As she continued to hear about the slaughter of her loved ones and friends, she found herself wanting to inflict the same pain and torture on their killers, but she also found through prayer that God kept calling her back from that hatred. It was a battle within herself.


When the war was over and the Hutus had been overrun, she came to know one man in power who had arrested and interrogated many of the killers. Because of this she was given a chance to go to the prison to face the man who had murdered her family. When he was dragged before her, she recognised him immediately. His name was Felicien and he had been a close friend of the family. Felicien was too ashamed to even look at her. The prison warden said to her, ‘What do you want to say to him?’ She replied, ‘I forgive you.’ When he had been taken away again, the warden said to her in astonishment, ‘What was all that about? How could you forgive him? Why did you do that?’ She said, ‘Forgiveness is all I have to offer.’ Her relationship with God was what brought her to that place, where she could see more than just a killer. She now lives in the US and works for the United Nations.


Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart

and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”