Friday, May 28, 2021

Feast of the Holy Trinity (Gospel: Matt 28:16-20) We are created for happiness

 

Adrei Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

One thing that all of us have in common, is the search for happiness. Everyone wants to find happiness. We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but all of us are searching for it. God shows us exactly where to find it and how to get there, but we are not always convinced. One of the consequences of Original Sin, was that we were no longer in communion with God the way He intended for us. It says right after the Fall, that Adam and Eve hid from God. They had never done that before. They were suddenly afraid of him and this has passed on to us. We are not always convinced that what God teaches us is true, or good for us, or that He really has our best interests at heart. If we were, we would try and live his commandments as carefully as possible, since they are the path to our happiness.


If I asked how many of you here want to be rich, probably everyone would say yes, because we are convinced that we will have happiness if we have enough money. Our problems will go away. They won’t. In fact, Jesus says ‘How hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Why would it be harder to enter heaven if you are rich? Because our wealth can be a distraction. We can become immersed in material things, forgetting about what is truly important and it doesn’t have to be great wealth either. Being obsessed with getting enough money is just as bad, but Jesus taught the opposite. He said, ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Luke 18:25; John 3:3).  The ‘eye of a needle’ was a metaphor for a very narrow opening. The kingdom of heaven is where we will find happiness and ironically, wealth often becomes an obstacle to it, because it distracts us from what is really important. Instead of spending our life growing closer to God, we are focused on material wealth and forget about him. Just recently a man told me that he realized he had spent his whole life working hard to make enough money, but in the process he alienated himself from his family. He realized he would have been far better off to earn less and spend more time with his family.


Many times I have heard people who have worked in third world countries say, that it is always in the poorest countries that people have the greatest joy, even where there is terrible in justice. It is in first world countries where you will find the greatest anger, depression and despair. Why is that? Because in the poorest countries they are not distracted by wealth and they realize that they will only find happiness in God, beginning in this life and fulfilled in the next. They are looking for it in the right place.


When Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858, she said to her ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ If we understand this, we will begin to find peace, because we won’t be expecting to find complete happiness here. We will only have complete fulfillment in the world to come, because we will only find our fulfillment in God.



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


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

 In the book of Genesis, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God said,

I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. She will crush your head, and you will strike her heel (Gen 3:15).


And it says in the book of Revelation:

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




The woman is Our Lady, the Mother of all God’s children. At the crucifixion, Jesus said to saint John—who is the model disciple and represents all of us who follow God— ‘Behold your mother.’ And to Our Lady, ‘Behold your son.’ (John 19:25). He gave us his mother as our heavenly mother. That is why she has continued to appear many times throughout the world, because she cares about her children and wants to make sure we remain on the right path. The very fact that she has appeared at all means that we have strayed from the right path and we are putting ourselves in danger.


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


So we are in the middle of a war, a spiritual war, where Satan wants to take us away from God in any way possible. St. Paul puts it this way:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).


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


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


But as always, God gives us all the tools we need to fight back. He shows us that living the Commandments and the teachings of Christ is what keeps us safe. If we listen to what God says to us, then we will not get distracted from the path to our happiness. If we live by the word of God, then we will remember what is important and we will see through the lies that we are constantly being told: ‘Abortion and Euthanasia are good for society. You should be able to do whatever you want.’ That was the lie told to Adam and Eve, which they fell for. ‘You don’t need to listen to God.’ Notice in the Gospel where Jesus said to the Apostles, ‘Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.’




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


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

God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,

So that all who believe in him might not perish,

but might have eternal life (John 3:16).

 

 

 


Friday, May 21, 2021

Pentecost (Gospel: John 20:19-23) Transformed by the Holy Spirit

 



 

For the feast of Pentecost 1998, in preparation for the millennial celebrations, Pope John Paul II invited representatives from 54 different groups around the world to come to Rome. These groups were all started over the previous several decades by lay people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To give you an example, some of the groups were, the Focolare movement, Marriage Encounter, Cenacolo, Charismatic Renewal. All of these different movements within the Church are really about different ways of living out the Gospel in daily life. These movements have been so successful that most of them have spread all over the world. In Rome there were 400 000 people present representing these 54 different movements. This event was a real celebration of what God is doing all over the world. 

 

In my hometown of Galway in 1988, a prayer group sprang up which was to bring many young people back to their faith, including me. Today there are 4 people in religious life from that group (two priests and two sisters in the Poor Clares) and many married couples who are really living the Gospel and teaching their children to do the same.  A friend of mine from that prayer group, who was one of the first people to welcome me to it, started a school of evangelisation for lay people in Knock in 2006. They had 17 students all eager to learn how to pass on the faith. While that prayer group is no longer there, two other groups came from it and the same thing is happening. 

 

All of these groups were started because God inspired people to act. The Holy Spirit moved people to act and they did. All of those groups were started by lay people.

 

We don’t often hear about these things, because they don’t make the headlines, but I think it is important for us to know that these things are going on all the time.  From what you read on the news you would be forgiven for thinking that the Church is on its way out, or that religion is no longer relevant. Nothing could be further from the truth and times of crisis, such as we are in now, often make people think about God and why we are here.

 



Although I never stopped believing in God, I stopped practicing my faith for a time, while I was in my teens. I found it harder and harder to relate to what was going on at mass. When I was 19 I found myself thinking that I wanted to be properly in or out, but not half way. That same year I came to the US and worked on Long Island for the summer as a student, in the A&P supermarket. It was a great adventure.

 

When I got home I came across a book which had been left in my bedroom called, Power for Living. I don’t know who put it there. This book was a series of testimonies of different well-known people, talking about their faith and how they came to know God. At the end of the book it said, ‘If you want to have God in your life, sit down now and ask him to come into your life.’ And so I did. I remember sitting on my bed and saying, ‘Lord, if you are really there, help me to know you.’ Little did I know what was coming next.

 

A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of mine by the name of Aidan. Aidan told me that he had met a mutual friend of ours called Louise when he was travelling on a bus. He said she had become ‘all religious and holy.’ She had been on pilgrimage to Medjugorje—the place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Our Lady had allegedly been appearing to six young people. While she was there she had had an awakening of her faith and was now filled with zeal and wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. I was intrigued by this, as I knew Louise, who was from a similar background to myself. So I called to her house and asked her what had happened. She was surprised that I asked her so directly, as she had been trying to find ways to bring this up in conversation, but I asked her before she could say anything. For the next hour and a half she told me all that had happened her and how God had revealed himself to her while she was there. At the end of it she asked me if I would like to come to a prayer meeting the next week. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but Louise was clever and she asked another girl whom I had a crush on, to invite me. Naturally I went. Now they are both married and I’m a priest!

 

When I went to the prayer meeting I found myself in the middle of about 50 young people, who sang hymns, prayed the rosary, shared some Scripture readings, praised God out loud and called on the Holy Spirit. I had never come across anything like this before, but I could see what these people had was real and I wanted it. So I began to attend this group each week and they taught me about the importance of spending some time each day in prayer and so I did.

 

A few weeks later they started what is called a ‘Life in the Spirit Seminar’. This is a series of teachings over eight weeks, which teaches people about the reality of the Holy Spirit and the power of God in your life, how it is real and not just a religious idea. On the fifth week they pray with everyone, laying on hands as the Apostles did, praying that people might receive an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. I was excited about what might happen, but when I was prayed with nothing in particular happened, except that I felt peaceful, though not unduly so.

 



However, over the following days and weeks I found that I had a burning desire to pray, such as I had never experienced before. I was in college at the time, studying marketing and I constantly wanted to go away by myself to pray. I also found that I began to hear the Scriptures as if I had never read them before and the words of the mass were suddenly alive as if I had never heard them before. Everything was different. The Holy Spirit had powered up my faith. From then on my faith was completely different, alive and on fire as it had never been before. That has stayed with me to this day.

 

About three years later I began to feel a call to become a priest and so I began my studies to for the priesthood and then I was ordained when I was 29. People sometimes ask why I didn’t want to get married. I was drawn to get married and I knew giving that up wouldn’t be easy, but the calling to serve God as a priest was stronger and hard to resist. It has not been an easy journey, but the Lord said it wouldn’t be easy. ‘You will be hated by all men on account of my name,’ but I couldn’t imagine a greater privilege. It is a mind-blowing idea, that through my hands as a priest, a piece of bread is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and when I say the words of absolution, a person’s sins are taken away. I cannot imagine a greater privilege than this.

 

A few times I have gotten to the point where I didn’t think I could go on, not because I wanted to give up, but because I was really struggling and felt it was too much. But each time God has called me back and given me the grace to keep going. I know that is also because many people continually pray for me and other priests.

 

The first disciples had nothing to rely on except the power of God and that is why the Lord was able to do so much through them. They didn’t have any prestige, or titles. Nobody knew who they were. They had to rely completely on the power of God’s Spirit and they did.  Jesus had taught them to do this. He told them that they would receive the gift of the Spirit, which is what we celebrate this weekend and they were instantly changed from being frightened men in hiding, to unstoppable me to the point of giving up their lives. This is the same gift that I received, though I suspect they received it in a more intense way.

 


The power of the Holy Spirit is what makes our faith alive. Without the Holy Spirit our faith is nothing. The very desire we have to know God comes from the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures would be just ancient writings, except that the Spirit sets them on fire. The bread and wine at each mass would remain just bread and wine, except that the Spirit transforms them into the Body and Blood of Christ, not just symbolically, but really and truly into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The reason why the Church is still here after 2000 years, is because the Holy Spirit continues to move and inspire people to act. No one is excluded, but it requires an openness on our part, because God will never force anything on us.

 

If you find your faith is not terribly alive, or it doesn’t seem very interesting, it means that you need to pray for the gift of the Spirit. God wants to give us the gift of his Spirit and is just waiting for us to ask. So ask!

 

Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.’

 


Friday, May 14, 2021

The Ascension of the Lord (Gospel: Mark 16:15-20) Death, judgement, heaven and hell.

 



With the age we live in, we have more and more scientific knowledge, which is a wonderful thing; more understanding about our universe and how it evolved. But what often seems to accompany more advanced knowledge, is skepticism about religious, or supernatural things. The Lord knows this is difficult for us, which is why He continually gives us all kinds of signs to help us to believe.

 

The feast of the ascension addresses the question of life after death. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and others, many times, to convince them of the reality of what had happened. Then He deliberately allowed the Apostles to see him ascend to heaven, to help them to believe in the reality of heaven, but what He said to them before He ascended is also important. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Tell people what? That God is real, that our life has a purpose, that heaven and hell are real, that our actions have eternal consequences, that we can only go to heaven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. People need to know this so that they will have an understanding of what their life is about. And He also said this: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” In other words, there is a choice and we can also lose heaven if we reject God.

 

This past week we celebrated the anniversary of the events of Fatima, where Our Lady appeared six times to three young children: Lucia (10), Franciso (9) and Jacinta (7). One of the things that Our Lady showed the three young children was a terrifying vision of hell. Visions of heaven and hell have also been shown to many other saints and visionaries. You might wonder why Our Lady would show these children such a dreadful thing. Because it is reality. You don’t hide dangers from your children. You allow them to see the dangers and you teach them about the dangers, so that they can avoid them.

 

Fatima, Portugal, where Our Lady appeared to three children in 1917


Today, as you know, many people scoff at the idea of hell, as if it were some sort of medieval idea which we no longer need to believe; after all, everyone goes to heaven, right? That is not what Jesus taught.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and only a few find it’ (Matt 7:13-14).

 

And in Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus uses the parable of the sheep and the goats, who are divided on judgement day. ‘Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me… Whatever you did not do for the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life.’ Jesus is telling us that there is a choice and there is a judgement. The way we choose to live in this life has eternal consequences and we must take them seriously. Our time on earth is not a time about trying to find total fulfilment and pleasure for ourselves, it is a time of love and service to God. If our live is focused only on trying to make ourselves as comfortable and fulfilled as possible, then we will miss the point of our life. When we die will come before God with empty hands. By serving God, we will find fulfillment, but that is our primary role, not our secondary role.

 





I have no doubt that one of the reasons why Our Lady showed the children this vision—and it has happened in many other places of apparition too—was to make us realize that hell is real and we should not be na├»ve to the idea. If this is the case, should we be afraid? I think the answer is both yes and no.

 

If heaven is real and we have free will, then it is completely logical that hell must be real too. To lose all that God wants to give us, God’s destiny for us, is to be left with the opposite, which is hell. We believe from what Jesus has taught us, that heaven is total fulfillment in God, light, beauty, happiness, peace, joy, the love of God and those who have gone before us. We will never be in want of anything again, totally fulfilled in every way. Since we have never experienced this, it is hard for us to grasp that such a place could exist. To lose that, or reject that, would mean to be left with the opposite: the loss of God, darkness, hatred, isolation and the eternal pain of knowing we have rejected the one thing that could bring us happiness. Images of fire are often used for hell, as this is an image we can easily understand, but the reality is that the eternal loss of God would be far worse, as it is the only thing that would fulfill us. If we have the free will to accept God and all that He offers us, then we must also have the free will to reject it, or otherwise it would not be free will. The vision of hell that Our Lady granted the children, is a reminder to us that hell is real and we should not presume that all of us will go to heaven regardless of how we live. Our actions have consequences and we must take them seriously.

 

Does that mean that those who do not go to church will go to hell? Of course not. Those who do not go to church have just as much hope of eternal life as we do, depending on how they live. Many people who do not go to church cannot understand or relate to formal religion. If I grew up in a family that never practiced religion, or where I was constantly told that the Church is corrupt and evil, then I cannot be blamed for not going to church. What is important is that I do my best to live a life where I continue to choose what is right. God guides us through our conscience, so that even those who have never heard of God still have the chance to live as God calls us to. We have an instinctive understanding of what is good and what is evil, through our conscience.

 

Just because we do go to church doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed to go to heaven either. It depends completely on how we live from day to day. I have two good friends who are in the Poor Clares convent in my home town. They dedicate their lives to God through prayer. People often say to me that they must be so holy and they probably are, but just because they are in a convent, any more than me being a priest, is no guarantee of being holy. It depends completely on how they live and on how I live.

 

So is there any advantage to being a Catholic? Of course there is! We are privileged to have been shown the way that God himself has revealed to us through Jesus. Jesus is the path to heaven and God has made this known to us. He has given us the gift of his Body and Blood in each mass and the Scriptures to guide us. This is a great blessing for us, which helps us to be faithful to the path that leads to God as we have already been shown it. So we are truly blessed, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance than anyone else, because it still depends on how we live from day to day. Going to mass each Sunday will not help me if I spend the rest of my week cheating, stealing and exploiting other people. Jesus says, ‘It is not those who say, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 7:21).

 



Should we be afraid? No, but we should be realistic. We have a healthy respect for fire, because it is dangerous, but we need not be afraid of it if we are wise and be careful to avoid it. It is the same for how we live. God gives us every possible help we could ask for and assures us of his mercy if we are sincere and repent when we fall into sin. But it would also be a mistake to presume on God’s mercy. ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. God will forgive everyone in the end.’ That is not Jesus’ teaching. God will not be mocked.

 

God offers us a wonderful life, if we listen to how we are meant to live it. The world tells us to do everything to find personal fulfillment and comfort. The Lord tells us to stay focused on him and serve the people around us. Our complete happiness and fulfillment is in the world to come. If we understand just that much, it can help us to live quite differently.

 

God has created us all to be with him in heaven. That is what God wants for us and God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject God, by the way we live. God will not force us to love him and if we reject God’s love, then there is nothing that God can do for us, because He has given us free will.

 

So going back to the question of whether we should be afraid of hell or not. We should be aware that it is real and that we could lose heaven if we reject God. At the same time we need never be afraid that we will not be able to reach heaven, because it is God himself who makes it possible. We do our best to stay focused on God, to live by his commandments and to repent when we sin. That is enough.

 

And the angels said: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking into the sky. This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will return in the same way you have seen him going into heaven.”

 

 

 


Friday, May 7, 2021

6th Sunday of Easter Yr B (Gospel: “If you love me you will keep my commandments”

 


 

All of us continually make prayers of petition. We ask God’s help with our everyday needs: relationships, money worries, work, health, whatever it is; we ask God for help and expect to be answered and rightly so, since God has told us that we should ask him for what we need. Jesus says it in this Gospel reading: “…the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.” But if you go back a few lines he says something else: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love… and then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.” God asks us to keep his commandments first, because that’s how it is in any relationship. You ask someone you love for something and you know that they will do their best to give it to you, or do it for you, because of your love for each other, but the love for each other is there first. You don’t ask favors from complete strangers, at least not often. You ask people you love.

 

Love brings with it obedience and faithfulness. A couple who love each other try to obey each other and try to be faithful to each other and as their love grows they know they can rely on each other for what they need. Our love for God is the same. The more we come to know God, the more we know that we can rely on him for what we need, because it is based on a loving relationship, with a real person, the person of Jesus. Our faith is not just about belief in a ‘thing’, or an idea, but in a person, the person of Jesus. We cannot expect God to answer our prayers if we are not willing to do as God asks. What kind of a relationship would that be? It would be just one person using the other, or treating them as a servant. If our relationship with someone we love was only about asking for what we need, it wouldn’t be a relationship at all.

 

Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” In other words, this is how we show God that we love him, by trying to be obedient to him. What are his commandments? Love God before all else, respect his name, keep Sunday holy, honor you parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, or lie. If we aren’t prepared to try to keep these commandments of God, can we still expect him to give us what we ask? Would you expect your husband or wife, or someone you love, to do things for you, if you refused to do what they asked you? Of course not.

 




God loves us first and that is where we get the strength to do as he asks us. ‘You did not choose me. I chose you.’ What we have to do, is be open in our hearts. You may find yourself saying “It is very hard to keep the commandments. It is very hard to try and love your neighbor as yourself. It is very hard to keep Sunday as a holy day.” You’re right, it is very difficult to live as God asks, if you rely only on your own strength, but we are not expected to. We rely on God’s strength for these things. It’s called grace and that’s what makes the difference. I could not live as a celibate man by my own strength. I rely on God’s help every day. I ask for God’s help, every day. We cannot say it’s too hard, because we have God’s strength to help us. But how do we get this help, this grace? We get it from prayer. There are 24 hours in a day, no one can say they can’t spare 20 minutes for God. If you do, it just means you have no interest, no love for God. We get this strength through prayer, fasting and making sacrifices. Lent isn’t the only time to fast. One day a week we can eat less, or don’t watch TV, or give up something you like, until it hurts. We get this strength especially from the Eucharist. Receive Jesus often if you want to grow in the spirit. We get it from reading the Scriptures, where God speaks to us. We get it through spending time with Jesus in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We get it through confession, when we are healed of our sins. 

 

God constantly offers us this strength, but we have to open our hearts to him. Then you will find a strength that you didn’t know existed; strength to love God, strength to keep his commandments, strength to love other people. We turn to God first to receive from him, then we can live as he asks.

 

Jesus also says, ‘I am telling you these things… so that your joy may be complete.’ God wants our happiness and shows us exactly what we need to do to reach this happiness. If we do as God asks, we will find joy and happiness. Everything God tells us to do is to help us, so that we may find fulfillment, but we are not always convinced it is the best thing for us. This is one of the consequences of Original Sin: we no longer fully trust God. We are not always convinced He has our best interests at heart. But the Lord continually assures us that He has our best interests at heart. ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.’ ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.’ ‘I no longer call you slaves… but friends.’ ‘I did not come to condemn the world, but to redeem the world.’

 

If you love me you will keep my commandments.’