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.