Saturday, December 31, 2022

Mary the Mother of God (Luke 2:16-21)


 Any of the feasts of Our Lady always remind me of one thing: what God can do through any human being who has an open heart. God does not need greatness, just an open heart.


You could be given the impression that it would have been easier for Mary than for other people because she was without sin. However, the fact that she was without sin means that she would have been more sensitive to evil than others and would have suffered more because of it than anyone else. From what we know in the Scriptures, she suffered from the time that the Angel appeared to her and told her that God was asking her to be the mother of Jesus. She was already legally married to Joseph, but not living with him, as was the tradition with Jewish marriages. Now she was pregnant before she came to live with Joseph in a way that was impossible to explain or understand from a human point of view. So how would Mary explain this to Joseph? What embarrassment, fear and tension there must have been for her. You can imagine how people talked about her. And it wasn’t explained to Joseph until the last moment just as he was about to divorce her.


The birth of Jesus was in very difficult circumstances. They then had to flee in the middle of the night when they found out that Herod was going to try and kill the child.


Later on, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for three days. During his public ministry she watched as the tension was building up with people for and against Jesus. And finally the arrest, torture and death of Jesus. But Mary never gave up hope. She continued to believe that God would make sense of it. After the resurrection she stayed with and encouraged the Apostles as they waited for the gift of the Spirit before Pentecost.


If you take any of those situations that Mary found herself in, you can imagine from a human point of view how we could see many of them as her life ‘going wrong.’ Why would God allow all the misunderstanding over her pregnancy? Why didn’t He allow Joseph to understand it straight away? Why all the public humiliation? Remember that she was only fourteen or fifteen when she became pregnant. How could God allow a death threat against Jesus just after his birth? Why did He have to go through all the rejection during his public ministry? Why did such an innocent man have to be tortured and killed? Yet all of those events fitted together perfectly in God’s plan.


Star of the Sea

Now think of your own life. Think of all the things that you think of as having gone wrong. The unexpected changes, sicknesses, jobs unfairly lost, painful marriage breakups, the death of a child. How could God allow all these things to happen when He loves us so much? Yet if you look back at the life of Our Lady, it reminds us that there is a bigger picture, which doesn’t make any sense to us now. It will only make sense when we look back after we have gone to heaven. That’s one reason why the life of Our Lady is so important. We remember many of the events in her life when everything seemed to go wrong, but now we see played their part in God’s plan. Do you think there is any event in her life that she would now say to God would be better if it hadn’t happened?


Over the centuries Mary has appeared in many parts of the world, particularly over the last century. Many of those apparitions have been officially recognized, some not yet. What is significant in each place, is that what she says is nearly always the same. She tells us that we cannot exist without God, that we need to turn away from sin and obey the Commandments. We need to read Scripture, go to Mass and to pray and fast. She is always pointing us to Jesus. It is never about herself. She tells us that we need to confess our sins often, yet sadly very few people feel the need for this. I wonder who convinced them that it is not necessary? She also tells us that we cannot live without God. Our life makes no sense without God. We will only be on this earth for a short time, so we need to be careful how we use our time. It always makes me sad when I see or hear of people who get obsessed with money and material things, as if that was the answer to everything. It is also sad to see how people can become obsessed with power, which so often leads to the suffering of others. If God the Father sends Our Lady to us, then we need to listen to what she is telling us, because this is what God is telling us. If we try and live without God we will destroy ourselves, which is what we see happening around us. But what is also important is that the messages, just like the Gospel, are messages of hope, because God is merciful and God will always take us back if we sincerely repent. But our lives don’t make any sense apart from God. God must be at the center.

Think for a moment of all the time we spend preparing for our career on earth. Think of all the time an energy you put into preparing your children so that they will have a good life on earth. How much time do we spend preparing for what comes after this life. This life will soon be over. The world to come will never end.


Lilly of the Valley

The life of Mary is a wonderful witness to us for several reasons. One, it is a reminder to us of what God can do through a human being. Mary is fully human and we should never worship her as that would be idolatry, but we give her great honor as Jesus did. We ask for her intercession as we continue on our journey to heaven. She has been through dreadful suffering, so we can ask for her help, knowing that she understands our suffering. When we find ourselves losing hope, remember that Mary never lost hope, in spite of that she had to go through. Much of her life didn’t make sense at the time. So we ask her to help us not to lose hope when our life doesn’t seem to make sense either, but to trust in God’s wisdom that it will make sense when we are shown the whole picture.


Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas. The great rescue



One year, just before Christmas, 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 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. They had lost paradise. 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 when we die 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 always 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 of separation 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 17, 2022

4th Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Matthew 1: 18-24) Who will save me from this wretched state?


Today I want to address a question that often comes up when people are talking to me in confession and it is related to what we celebrate at Christmas. Actually it is more of a fear than a question. Almost everyone talks about a particular weakness that they struggle with, whether it be anger, gossip, a sexual weakness, an addiction, or something else and it causes no end of suffering and humiliation. No matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be able to overcome it. In fact I’ve often heard people say to me that they don’t feel there is any point in going to confession anymore because they just end up confessing the same sin again and again and they don’t seem to be getting any better, so where’s the point? It can make us afraid that we won’t be able to go to heaven because of our weakness. ‘Since I can’t overcome this sin, why would God allow me to go to heaven?’ That is usually the thinking behind it. However, when we think like that I believe we are really missing the whole point of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The truth is that no matter how hard we try to be good enough and overcome our sins, our weaknesses, we continually fall short of the mark. That is our reality. When he wrote to the Christians in Rome, St. Paul put it like this:

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are redeemed by his grace as a gift… to be received by faith (Rom 3:23ff).


In plain English that is saying to us, since all of us have sinned and can never be good enough for God by our own strength, it is God himself who has made up the difference for us. God has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that we will always be sinners and will always struggle with various weaknesses is no longer a problem, because God has made us ‘good enough’ through what Jesus did. That is what being ‘redeemed’ means. We cannot get to heaven by our own strength, by our own efforts, because we are too weak and too sinful and no matter how hard we try, we keep falling short of the mark. But we don’t have to be afraid of that because Jesus himself has made up for us what we cannot do ourselves.


St. Paul also struggled with his own weaknesses which caused him great humiliation. You would imagine with all that God did through him, the amazing conversion experience he had and the many visions of Jesus that he had, Listen to what he says about it:

I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  ...the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf. Rom 7:14-24)


And finally he says, ‘Who will save me from this wretched state? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ That is the same fear that people keep telling me about in confession: ‘Who will save me from this wretched weakness? How can I ever come before God in heaven when this is what I’m like?’ This is where God calls us to realize what Jesus has done for us. He has made up for our weakness himself. That is why the coming of Jesus among us at Christmas is such an extraordinary event, because it is the beginning of God making up for our weakness, our sinfulness. We are not able to be good enough for God by our own strength, but it no longer matters because Jesus has made himself the bridge between God and humanity. Now we can come before God without fear, because Jesus has made it possible. Each time we celebrate the mass we are becoming present to that event—the sacrifice of Jesus—which made it possible for us to go to heaven. No other sacrifice or offering to God will ever be necessary for us, because the selfless act of Jesus dying for us has done everything necessary. All we have to do is to accept it. No wonder we celebrate the mass every day, in every church all over the world.


The mistake we continually make, which causes us to be afraid, is to think that we have to become ‘good enough’ for God by our own strength, but the problem is that that is impossible for us by our own strength. If we stop there, then we would have every reason to despair, but once we realize that it is Jesus who steps in and bridges the gap, then we have endless hope, because it no longer depends on us being good enough. All we have to do is accept this extraordinary gift from God and continue to try and do what is right.


However, it would also be a mistake to think that since Jesus has opened the possibility of heaven for us, that we can do whatever we want. ‘It’s all the same, God loves everyone and so everyone goes to heaven.’ That is an error of our times and it’s not what the Scriptures say. St. Paul writes, ‘Go on working out your salvation in fear and trembling.’ Don’t take it for granted, because we also have to play our part, which is to do our best to do what is right and live by God’s Commandments.


Why does God allow us to go on struggling? God could take away these weaknesses from us if He chose. The reason is because the very weaknesses we struggle with, are often the very thing that keeps us close to God. They make us aware that we are weak and how much we are in need of God’s mercy. Again in his writings St. Paul talks about a particular weakness that he had—although he doesn’t say what it was—and how he begged God to take it away from him. And he said that God gave him this ‘thorn in the flesh’ as he calls it, because of the extraordinary visions and miracles that he was given. This weakness helped him to stay humble. And although he begged God to take it away from him, the Lord said no.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take this thing away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.’ (2 Cor 12:8).


No doubt he felt that he would serve God much better if he could overcome his weaknesses, but God doesn’t see it this way. We generally feel the same: ‘If only I could overcome my weaknesses/addictions, I would be more pleasing to God and I would serve him better.’


A man said to me in confession one time, ‘I have a terrible anger and I lose my temper so often. It causes me great shame. If I could just get rid of this anger I’d be perfect!’ I said to him, ‘You thank God for that anger!’ You can imagine how easily we could become arrogant if we thought we had overcome our weaknesses and we were ‘blameless’ before God, as a surprising number of people think they are. St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘The only thing that we can take credit for are our sins’. Everything we have is a gift from God, including our abilities, our education, our successes, our health. We have nothing to boast about before God and it is often our weaknesses that help us to see this.


So is Christmas relevant to us in a practical way in our day to day living? It certainly is, because the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus is what reassures us that no matter how weak or sinful we are, the path to heaven will always remain open to us as long as we ask God for it. All we have to do is accept from God this amazing gift which He is offering us. What is the best way for us to prepare for this wonderful feast? by doing what God asks us to do and that is to repent and confess our sins; to acknowledge our sinfulness before God and ask for his mercy.


Who will save me from this wretched state? 

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.’ (Rom 7:24)

Friday, December 9, 2022

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A (Matthew 11:2-11) The conversion of an atheist


Roe Shoeman

Today I would like to share with you the amazing conversion story of a man named Roy Shoeman, born 1951. If you can watch the video of his story I would highly recommend it, as it is one of the most inspiring stories I have heard in a long time.


Roy Shoeman was born and raised in a very Jewish family, the son of Jewish German holocaust refugees. He received a very Jewish upbringing and education. He then went to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), which is a very a technical and scientific institute. He says that in college he lost his faith and became an atheist. Having graduated from MIT, he went on to Harvard business school, and completed his degree in marketing. When he graduated at the age of 29, he was invited back to work on the faculty as professor of marketing. He was obviously a very clever man.


When he was a child he always believed there must be a God and purpose to life. When he made his Bar Mitzva, which is similar to Confirmation, he hoped that it would be the beginning of a personal relationship with God, but it was not. He said that in fact it was one of the saddest days of his life. He then got caught up with worldly living and went on through high school and college. But having become a Harvard professor at the age of 29 and more successful than he ever dreamed of, he fell into a terrible despair. He had everything, except meaning and purpose; in other words, he had nothing.


One day he was out walking in nature and he had the most extraordinary experience of his life. He said that suddenly the veil between earth and heaven disappeared and he could see the spiritual world. He was intensely aware that he was in the presence of God and he could also see back over his life. In an instant he saw most of what is taught in the Catholic faith—although he didn’t realize that at the time—that we live for all eternity, that every action has a moral content which is recorded for all eternity; that everything that had ever happened to him was perfect and in the hands of an all-knowing, all-loving God, not only including the things which had caused him the most suffering, but especially those things, that they all fitted together perfectly in God’s plan. In other words, the sufferings we go through serve a higher purpose, which we are not aware of now.


He was also shown the two greatest regrets he would have when he died. The first was all the time he had spent thinking he was not loved, when in fact he was held in perfect love, all his life by God. The second regret was all the time he had wasted doing things of no value in the eyes of heaven. While he felt that life had no meaning, he was shown that in fact life has an infinitely deep meaning and value. He was also shown that every moment of our life has the possibility of doing something of value in the eyes of heaven and that each valued action we do, will be rewarded for all eternity.


He says that the most transformative part of this experience was being shown that not only was God with him all throughout his life and held him in the deepest love, but that God was with him through every joy and sorrow he ever experienced. What made him happy, made God happy and what made him sad, made God sad. He realized that we are created to worship and serve God for all eternity. He says he began praying and asking God what his name was. He didn’t care if it was the Buddha and he had to become Buddhist, or Krishna and he had to become Hindu, just so long as it wasn’t Christ and he would have to become Christian. He says he felt that way because coming from a Jewish background he felt that if he became Christian he would be being unfaithful to his Jewish heritage. However, God respected this and did not reveal any name to him.


He then went home, happier than he had ever been in his life and began looking into various mystical ideas to try and find out who God was. Initially he tried New Age ideas, but he soon realized this was going in the wrong direction. He prayed every night that God might show him who He is.


A year to the day after this experience, he went asleep and was awakened and led to a room where he found himself in the presence of the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. Without being told, he knew immediately that this was Our Lady. She spoke to him and said, ‘Are there any questions you would like me to answer for you?’ He says that he wished he knew the Hail Mary so as to show her honor and respect, but he didn’t. So, hoping to learn the Hail Mary, but being too embarrassed to admit he didn’t know it, he asked her what her favorite prayer was. She recited a prayer in Portuguese, which he didn’t understand, but he remembered it phonetically and later asked a Portuguese Catholic woman what it meant. She said it was the prayer ‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’ In the dream he found himself asking her how it was that she was so profoundly glorious and majestic. In response, she looked at him with pity and said, ‘Oh no. You don’t understand. I am nothing. I am only a creature. He is everything.’ When he woke the next morning he knew immediately that the God who had revealed himself to him was Christ and that he wanted to become Christian.


Straight away he found himself going to a phone book, looking up the nearest Christian Church. He knew nothing about Christianity and the difference between Protestants and Catholics, but he found himself talking to a Protestant pastor. When he shyly asked him about Our Lady, the pastor was not respectful in how he referred to her and this made him realize that he was in the wrong place. In the days and weeks that followed he found himself visiting Marian shrines and realizing that they were all part of the Catholic Church. He also found himself going to mass at times. When he did this, he felt a profound desire, almost lust, to receive the Eucharist, even though he had no idea what the Eucharist was. Within a short time, this led him to becoming a Catholic.


He says that not only did he not find himself being unfaithful to Judaism, but in fact he realized he was more Jewish than ever, because he was a Jew who had recognized the Messiah and was now following him. That’s exactly what the Apostles did. As Jews, they recognized Jesus as the Messiah and followed him. One leads directly to the other, which is what we believe.


After he became a Catholic, he says he still struggled with some of the teachings of the Church and it was about 18 months before he fully realized that all the teachings of the Church were true, because they are from God. The one he struggled with most was the teaching that people could be condemned to hell for all eternity. Talking to a priest that was guiding him, he expressed his doubt about this teaching. But the priest said to him, 'But it is a dogma (official teaching) of our faith.' In other words, we are obliged to accept and believe it as part of our faith, because it comes from God. He realized that he had been deciding what he should and should not believe, as opposed to accepting the teachings of the Church, because we believe they come from God. Who was he to decide what should be believed and what should not be believed. If God had revealed them, then they must be true. From then on he was able to accept what was taught by the Church as coming from God, even when he found it difficult to understand. This can be a challenge for all of us. It is a temptation to think that if a teaching doesn’t make sense to me then I need not believe or accept it. But if we really believe that what the Church teaches is God's teaching, then who are we to decide whether we will believe certain parts of it or not?


God gives us the experiences of people like Roy Shoeman, to help us believe. We all need help and encouragement, but testimonies like his are ongoing reminders of God’s wonderful providence among us, guiding us and encouraging us. He is constantly pointing us in the right direction, but always giving us the freedom to accept or reject him.


I want to finish with this quotation from the book of Joshua which I love and which expresses how I feel and hopefully what more and more people will embrace.


Joshua said to the people, “If you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve… As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”’ (Joshua 24:15)


Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’


Saturday, December 3, 2022

2nd Sunday of Advent (Matt 3:1-12) No Christmas Without Repentance

How would you feel if you got a Christmas card that read like this:

Our thoughts of you this Christmas are best expressed in the words of John the Baptist,

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.”

Merry Christmas from Fr. Murchadh."


I suppose we would add Fr. Murchadh, or whoever sent it, to our list of x-friends!


Advent has really become the time of getting ready for Christmas in the sense of buying the gifts we want to give, going to office parties, etc, but this is quite different from the original message. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus and his message was very strong. ‘Repent, confess your sins, change your lives and look for happiness in God.’ This is the part of preparing for Christmas that is easy to overlook. We want the celebration of Christmas, but we don’t necessarily want to have to repent. Just leave us alone and let us celebrate. We want absolution, but without having to confess. We want the love and blessing of God without having to follow the commandments. We want faith on our terms. That is called ‘cheap grace’. It is empty and it is not the message of God.


The message of God is a wonderful one, but is also a very demanding one. We can not come and pick what we like. Instead we come and ask what is required of us? That is what the people who came to John asked: ‘What must we do?’ To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower. We are not used to thinking this way, because our world encourages us to make sure things are as we would like them. If you’re not happy, move on; but this is not the message of the Gospels. In the Gospel we listen to what it is that God asks of us. We follow God on God’s terms and not our terms. 


Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born of woman. He was totally focused on God. He knew what was important and he passed on the message he was told to pass on and it cost him his life. He was beheaded by Herod for speaking the truth. We don’t always want to hear the truth because it is often demanding and challenges us to change.


If we are serious about celebrating Christmas as a Christian feast, then let us not forget the message of John the Baptist. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ The term ‘repent’ can also mean ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.’ That is a particularly powerful message at this time in history. So many people are looking for happiness in the world, but now so much has collapsed and many have been bitterly disappointed and left with a feeling that all is gone. However, the Lord is telling us to turn to him for happiness. It is only in God that we will find true happiness. The world will disappoint us; God will not. People will let us down, but God will not.


The sin of Adam and Eve was a very similar sin to what we see going on today. It involved three things: (1) rejecting the idea that they had to serve God, or listen to his commands; (2) that they could have everything they wanted on their terms, (3) that they could be like God themselves. That is very similar to what we see going on in our world right now and it is a real temptation. Why should we have to obey commandments? We don’t like being told we have to obey anyone and yet the word obey literally means ‘to listen intently’ (from the Latin, ‘ob audire’). And if you think about it, it says that Jesus was obedient to the Father. Jesus was equal to the Father, but Jesus was also obedient to him. We are being called to listen intently to what God tells us, to acknowledge that we are God’s creation and that we must obey—listen intently—to what He tells us if we are to find the path to happiness.


The most important preparation we can make for Christmas is the interior preparation, the change of heart, the confession of sins. And yes, most of us don’t want to have to confess our sins. We think we shouldn’t have to, but this is what God asks us to do and if God asks us to do it, it is for our benefit. Deciding that I don’t need to confess is saying, ‘God, I don’t need your gift and I don’t need to listen to what you ask of me.’ God has given us the gift of confession, through his priests, in order to help us and heal us. It is one of the sacraments of healing.


What a shame it would be to die and come before God and then realize that He had given us this gift of his forgiveness and we ignored it, telling ourselves we knew better. When we die we will be shown the good and bad we have done, except for the sins we have confessed, which are blotted out by the power of the Holy Spirit in confession. It is his gift to us.


The celebration of Christmas is meaningless if we skip the kind of preparation that God asks us to make and sadly for many people it has become meaningless. It doesn’t have to be meaningless, because it is the celebration of something very wonderful, the coming of God among us in the person of Jesus—the second person of the Holy Trinity—taking on human flesh, in order to sacrifice himself in atonement for our sins, so that we could go to heaven when we die. God created us for paradise. We lost it, by rejecting God’s word, but God won it back for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. No wonder the celebration of Christmas is such a great event.


As always, the Lord invites us to listen to him and follow him. He will never force us:

I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in and sit down to eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20) 


Those words are from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible and this message is repeated all through the Bible in different ways. The Lord wants to be at the centre of what we do, but we are the only ones who can allow that to happen.

Repent, for the kingdom of God is close at hand.’



Saturday, November 26, 2022

1st Sunday of Advent (Gospel: Mt 24:37-44) Faith and Hope


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 colored 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. 

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, which happened over 33 years and they cannot be separated. That event changed history forever and opened for us the possibility of heaven when we die. What could be more wonderful than that and that is the hope that our faith gives us.

It is also a reminder that Jesus will come again in glory at the end of time. Each Sunday in the Creed we say, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ We don’t know when that will be, but we believe that it will happen, because Jesus has told us so. The Lord tells us to ‘stay awake’ and not to forget him, because none of us know when we will die, but 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.

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's 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 try 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.

One thing that is characteristic of the Gospels is that they are full of hope. The message of God to us—the Good News—is always one of hope and it is certainly something we need in a world where we are constantly hearing of so many terrible things happening around us. We don't hear of all the wonderful things that are constantly happening around us: the many acts of kindness that people continually do for each other, looking out for each other especially when we are struggling. This is the Spirit at work in us and this is what makes the world bearable, in spite of the awful things that happen. Just a few years ago (Nov 2016), several serious fires were started in different parts of Israel, just to cause suffering. Then, to everyone’s amazement one group that came to help out, were firefighters from Palestine. As you know there is a lot of tension and hatred between these two countries at the best of times, but there is more goodness in people than evil. We just don’t usually hear about it. The generosity of people reaching out after the hurricane is another example of this.

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 worldly affairs are important, we must not let them distract us from the reality of God; the reality that we will die, that life and death are in his hands, and that whenever He does come for us, He must find us ready.


In one sense we can never be ready enough for God. How do you prepare to meet God? And yet this is what God has created us for and we believe it will be wonderful beyond our wildest dreams, if we have made any effort to be ready.


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. 


Sometimes it is when someone becomes seriously ill, or dies, that we suddenly start realizing how much we have become immersed in the world. In an instant everything changes and the things of the world become insignificant. Naturally we have to get on with the day-to-day things of working and living, but we are being told to make sure that we also make time for God. Every day thousands of people die who were not expecting it; people going to work, dropping the kids off to school, or shopping. Then there is an accident, or someone has a heart attack and in the next instant they are leaving their bodies and coming before God. It happens to thousands of people every day of the week.


I also want to say something about suicide and all these terrible mass killings. I have no doubt that a big factor is that people have lost faith and lost hope. If you believe there is nothing after this life and you are struggling to cope with everything, then ‘ending it all’ might seem like a good option, because it seems to suggest bringing the pain to an end. But if you believe in God, in heaven and hell, that will give a very different perspective, because then we have something to hope for, especially when we are struggling. At times of terrible crisis, when a loved one dies, especially if it’s a young person, or people lose everything they worked hard for, having faith makes all the difference in the world. It doesn’t resolve the problem, but it does remind us that we are not here for long and what awaits us is worth persevering for. Our struggles are painful, sometimes unbearable, but they are temporary. We lose people we love, but we have the hope of being with them again. That is the difference that faith makes, and that’s also why it is so important that we do everything to pass on the faith to the next generation.


The feast of Christmas is the beginning of the greatest hope that exists: the hope that we are created for a purpose and that something wonderful awaits us when we die unless we reject it. If you can make yourself stop a couple of times during Advent and reflect on that and give thanks, that is one of the best ways that we can prepare for Christmas.


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 18, 2022

34th Sunday, Feast of Christ the King (Gospel: Luke 23:35-43) 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 waist 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 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 didn’t do anything. 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 only 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.


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.


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.


Now let me say a few things about our Church at this time. People keep coming to me distressed about what is happening in the Church, how there doesn’t seem to be much leadership and teachings seem to be changing. First of all, no Church teaching has changed. Church teaching doesn’t change easily. Our Pope often gives opinions which can be confusing because he doesn’t clarify what he means. But they are opinions not Church teaching and there is a world of a difference. Some groups within the Church, such as in Germany, are rebelling against Church teaching, but that doesn’t mean that Church teaching is changing, it just means one group is rebelling. That’s what happened at the Reformation with Martin Luther and maybe it will happen again, but the Church will keep going, because it is the Lord’s Church.


We have the Eucharist and the Scriptures here and that’s all that matters. We have the current mass and we have the Latin mass, which inspires many people and even though there are restrictions on it, it is still there and I have no doubt it will remain here too.


When you find yourself concerned about our Church, remember this: When Jesus established his Church He said to Peter—who was the first Pope—‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld cannot prevail against it’ (Matt 16:18). The powers of hell cannot stop it because it is from God. Despite all the odds, the Church continues to grow, not just survive, but grow. There has always been bad example and corruption and there always will be as long as there are human beings in the Church. But it is the power of God which keeps it going and growing. So don’t have any concerns about the Church. Right now it is going through a turbulent time and it is unnerving and distressing, but remember those words of Jesus. ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld cannot prevail against it.’


Remember the account of Jesus walking on the water. The disciples saw him and were terrified, as you would expect. But Jesus reassured them it was indeed him. So Peter said, ‘Lord if it is you, let me come to you across the water,’ and Jesus said, ‘Come.’ And Peter started walking on the water. He actually walked on water, but then he started thinking of the wind and waves and how this couldn’t be possible and he began to sink. As long as he was focused on Jesus, he was fine. As soon as he got distracted by the chaos around him he began to sink.


We can learn a lot from that. If we focus on the chaos around us, we can become overwhelmed by it. If we remain focused on Jesus, we remember who is in charge. It is his Church and it is his world.


‘…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).




Monday, November 14, 2022

33rd Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 21: 5-19) The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass


The greatest thing I can do as a priest, is to bring the Eucharist to you in each mass and offer the forgiveness of sins through confession. There is nothing greater than this for any priest and this is basically what a priest’s life is about. Naturally it will involve a lot of other things too, such as visiting the sick, praying with people, hopefully being a ‘sign-post’ to God in some way, but above all it is to bring the Eucharist to people.


But why do we need to have the mass? Couldn’t we just celebrate mass once a month and then receive Holy Communion every week without a priest? Well we could if we didn’t have enough priests to celebrate the mass, but it is not the same thing for different reasons. It is not just about receiving Holy Communion, although this clearly is the most important part for us.


Every time a priest celebrates the mass, it is Jesus who is working through him on the altar. We say that the priest is alter Christus, ‘another Christ’. I am still a human being and a sinner, but Jesus acts through me as a priest in a unique way, especially when I celebrate the mass. That is why the priest always reads the Gospel, because they are the words of Christ, so it is Jesus himself speaking his own words to us, through the person of the priest.


Then at the consecration, when the priest says ‘This is my body which will be given up for you,’ we are present to Jesus being offered to God the Father on the cross.  We are there. Time stands still and we are present at the event of Calvary and the Last Supper. All we can see is a man holding up a small white piece of unleavened bread, but this is what is taking place. So why doesn’t God clearly show this to us? At least then everyone would believe. Perhaps it is because God wants us to believe, even though we do not understand. That’s what faith is. He wants us to come here and pray, even though we don’t have to. He wants us to freely choose for him and to make the effort to give him some of our time each week. God asks us to acknowledge and worship him, which is why we take the time to come together. It is often an inconvenience, but in a way it should be. God asks us to give of ourselves to him, since He has given us everything in the first place.


The mass is also the most perfect prayer there is, the one offering that cannot be refused, since God the Father could not refuse the offering of his Son, which is why we offer up so many things in each mass. We pray for the whole Church, the pope, bishops all of us here, those who are sick and have different needs, those who have died and we often mention someone in particular by name as well.


Like anything else we become familiar with it and take it for granted, but can you imagine if you weren’t familiar with what it was and someone said to you, ‘You have to come down to this place where the Christians have this extraordinary meeting each week. Jesus comes among them in what they call the Eucharist and He speaks to them through the Scriptures and then they actually receive the Body and Blood of Jesus!’ That is what the mass is. That’s what happens every time we come together. As soon as we say that we ‘have’ to go to mass, we are turning it backwards. We are looking at it as an obligation, a burden, instead of the most incredible encounter with God where we actually listen to him speak to us and are then united with him in the most intimate way possible.


In the year 170AD a man called Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Emperor describing what the Christians were about and what happened at each mass, as people were very suspicious about them especially when they heard about eating the body and blood of a man. But in his account of the mass back then, 1800 years ago, he describes almost exactly what we still do today, including the collection! It hasn’t changed because it came from Jesus and not from us.


At this time of the year we focus especially on the dead and we pray for them with the greatest prayer that we know: the holy sacrifice of the mass. We always come back to it because we don’t know of anything greater. If we had something greater, we would do that instead and even though if is only Catholics who believe that, it doesn’t matter. It is enough. God has given us this gift of faith and shown us this treasure in his world, and He invites us to come together and pray for his people, and for all the needs of the world, and to remember what He has done for us.


Here is something that probably never occurred to you. Each of us is a master piece carefully designed by God from all eternity. We think of our life as beginning at conception, which it does physically, where we are also given an immortal soul. But long before this God has carefully designed each of us, how we would look, the color of our skin, eyes, hair; the gifts we would have, the families we would be born into. Then at conception that masterpiece begins to take form.


When an artist creates a masterpiece, he doesn’t begin with a canvass putting on paint to see what will happen. He has an idea/picture in his mind as to what he wants to create. Then he begins to put together that creation and finishes with a masterpiece. And like any masterpiece, he takes great pride in it and great care of it.


The gift of the Eucharist is a reminder to us that we are that masterpiece and God is so interested in us that He remains intimately close to us and interested in us, guiding and teaching us every step of the way. He is not observing from a distance, but so close to us that we can actually receive him into our bodies. What could be more intimate than this? Through the Scriptures He continually guides, teaches, warns and admonishes us, because He is so interested in each of us, his masterpieces.


None of us is worthy of the Eucharist, and could ever be worthy, but it is God who makes it possible. That’s also why we always begin by acknowledging that we are sinners and we also acknowledge our unworthiness, ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ Jesus wants us to receive him and that’s why He gives himself to us.


So the next time you find yourself saying ‘I have to go to mass,’ stop yourself and remind yourself what it is: an extraordinary encounter with God, where God speaks to us and where Jesus comes among us and where we can touch and receive him.


This is my Body, which will be given up for you.

Do this in memory of me.’