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.’