Friday, February 25, 2022

8th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 6:39-45) 'Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye?'



The more scandals we hear about in our Church, the more disturbing it is. One thing I am glad of, is that people at the highest level in our Church have not been let off the hook. This is something that did not happen in the past. Thankfully we are getting beyond that. No one is above the law, or beyond conviction. Two cardinals have now been convicted of sexual abuse in the past and I’m glad they are being convicted, like anyone else. I have nothing against them personally, but no one should be above conviction, or just-punishment.

We are told not to judge. That has to be understood correctly. It is normal to judge a person’s actions. If someone murders another, it is morally wrong. If someone abuses another person, sexually, or in any other way, it is morally wrong and we can judge these things as right or wrong. The judgement we cannot make is the judgement of the heart. We cannot judge the heart of the person who did something like that, because only God can judge the heart. We don’t know what causes someone to act the way they do. I suspect that if we could see what goes on in the heart of each other, we would be a lot more merciful with one another.

Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.’ (Lk 6:37)

All of us are learning and hopefully will continue to learn until the day we die. This is God’s will for us, because the more we learn, the more we grow as people. The greatest learning we can do, is self-knowledge. The more we are able to look at ourselves honestly, the less likely we are to be over-critical of others. At the end of the day, if we are honest with ourselves, none of us is in a position to judge the heart of anyone else and yet we do it all the time. It is hard for us to distinguish between the actions of another and their heart. We tend to judge the person rather than their actions. If you turn it around, how would you feel if people only judged your heart, rather than by your actions. You know the way we do things and then are frustrated with ourselves, because we know we can do better, but our own weakness pulls us down.


In one of the parishes where I worked, an old lady went into a room for a meeting. In that room a carpenter was doing some work. She lost her temper with him and threatened to throw out his tools etc. Her reaction was completely out of proportion to what was going on. As it happened I turned up a few minutes later, but I realized she felt I was there to judge her. I knew that because the next time she came to me for Communion she had her head down; she wouldn’t look at me in the face. I felt the Lord saying to me, ‘You see the shame this woman feels because of her own weakness. Perhaps this is a temper she cannot control and it causes her great grief.’ It would be easy to write her off as a cantankerous old woman, without giving any consideration for the fact that maybe this is a weakness that she doesn’t have much control over and that causes her great humiliation. We cannot judge the heart.


Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?’ The more self-knowledge we gain, the less we are likely to judge others, because we realize we have nothing to boast about. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the only thing we can take credit for are our sins. Maybe that seems a bit extreme, but think about it. Everything we have comes from God: our gifts, talents, opportunities, health, ability, intelligence, chance for education etc. To realize that also helps to bring humility, because humility is not pretending you are stupid when you know you aren’t, rather knowing what we are like before God. We are small and we are sinners, but that’s ok, because the Lord loves us as we are. The more aware of this we are, the less likely we are to only see what is wrong with the people around us. Unconsciously we tend to think that if we could sort out the people around us, the world would be ok and our life would be better. But what the Lord tells us is to focus on ourselves and then the world will start to become a better place.


A woman once came with her son to the famous Gandhi, in India, who was revered as a wise and holy man. She asked him to tell her son to give up candy, as he was totally addicted to it. Gandhi told her to come back in three weeks. So she returned three weeks later. Then Gandhi said to her son, ‘You should give up all this candy, it is going to damage your health!’ The woman was puzzled and asked him why he hadn’t said that three weeks before. He told her that he was also addicted to candy, and so he had to give it up himself before he could tell her son to do it.


When I am in traffic and someone cuts me off, or does something that scares me, I usually react like most of us and get angry with the person, calling them all kinds of words that aren’t in the bible. But then I try to stop myself and ask myself if I have ever done anything similar? because of course I have. That usually gets me to calm down. The truth is that they are not the idiot that I just called them. They are someone who made an error in judgement. We all do it all the time. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any crashes on the road.


If I want the world to be a better place, I must start with myself, with my own repentance, acknowledging that I am as weak as anyone else, that I make mistakes like everyone else. Only then will the world begin to change. This is also where confession is a great help. When you go to confession regularly, you become more aware of your own faults and how you are before God, and that is how we grow in humility.


Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?’


Saturday, February 19, 2022

7th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 6:27-38) Love your enemies


Women YPG soldiers

 A few years ago I watched a BBC interview with some of the women fighters in Syria who fight with the YPG, or Kurdish coalition fighters. They are an all women group of soldiers fighting against ISIS in Northern Syria. The journalist was asking one of them how she felt about ISIS since they were killing her own people. Among other things that she mentioned, she said ‘We have to remember that they are people too.’ I was really surprised and impressed by this. This lady, although fighting this force of evil, was able to distinguish between the evil and the fact that they were also human beings. She had an inner sense of what is important and the value of each life. I’m sure those women didn’t want to be there, but they felt the need to be there to help protect their own people. ‘We have to remember that they are people too.’


Today’s readings address the very difficult teaching which says, ‘Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.’ I have never met anyone who wants to love their enemies. It doesn’t seem logical. But God doesn’t just ask us to be logical, but to see at a higher, or deeper level. That is where we remember that even those who attack us are also human beings, with their own problems. If we decide to hate them as they hate us, and to treat them as they are violent towards us, then we are no different from them. We are no better than them.


Does this mean that we are asked to let people walk all over us? Of course not. The challenge is to work for justice but not to give in to evil, rather, to resort to the inner strength that comes from our relationship with Jesus.


A few years back when I was travelling somewhere I ordered a car at the airport to bring me to my hotel as I thought it was a long distance. It turns out I didn’t need it, so I cancelled the car. Then to my annoyance I was charged for the car although I had been told I wouldn’t be. When I called the company to question the charge I was faced with a woman who was filled with venom and hatred like I have never met before. I came away from the phone call feeling quite shaken as she had been so vicious. The temptation for me was to just be angry with her and wish her a miserable day, but in the days that followed I felt the Lord saying to me that that woman needs prayer. So instead of remaining angry with her, I began to pray for her and have often prayed for her since. That was something the Lord taught me. It also made me think about the various situations I have been faced with—as we all have—where I have met real nastiness from people. Now I try to pray for them, after I have gotten over the initial reaction which is usually frustration and anger, often righteous anger, where I have been treated unfairly. But the Lord reminds me that maybe they are going through a hellish time in their own lives and that is what I am experiencing. If I didn’t believe in God I wouldn’t do that.


Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.’ That is an extremely hard thing to do, but we get the strength to at least attempt to respect others, from our relationship with the Lord. If we believe that God forgives us, in spite of our own failings, then we have an obligation to try and do the same. The strength we get to do that comes from the Eucharist. Every day, if we wish, we can receive the body and blood of Christ into our own bodies. We can listen to him speak to us. The more we come back to receive him and listen to him, the more we are given the inner strength to be different. That is one reason why the Lord gave us the Eucharist, so that we could rely on his strength to deal with every day difficulties. We are not being asked to rely purely on what we can do ourselves. This is what makes the difference between becoming filled with hatred ourselves, or remaining objective, seeking justice rather than revenge. We are living in a society which encourages us to take revenge, but that is not what God teaches us and we must decide who we are going to listen to.


One of the reasons why we are meant to be different as followers of Christ, is because we don’t believe in returning evil for evil, or seeking revenge for injustice. Instead we are called to remember that the people who hurt us are also human beings, with families and their own difficulties, even if individually they have turned to evil. We work for justice, but not for revenge. We strive for a better world, rather than one where we just wipe out our enemies. When we are on our death bed, which will be more important?


You probably remember the terrible attack in Paris in 2015, where gunmen went into a concert and opened fire, killing 129 people. Three days later the husband of one of the women murdered wrote this open letter, which really says everything. His name was Antoine Leiris. He had been married for 12 years.


Friday night, you took an exceptional life -- the love of my life, the mother of my son -- but you will not have my hatred I don't know who you are and I don't want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in His heart.

So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You're asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.

I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.

We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don't have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.


Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.’


Saturday, February 12, 2022

6th Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Luke: 6:17, 20-26) Male and female He created them


 I couldn’t help thinking that the first line of the first reading is so apt for today. ‘Cursed be the person who puts their trust in people, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’

Blessed is the one whose hope is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters... In the year of drought it shows no distress.’


Anywhere on earth where a government has decided to create a utopia, or heaven on earth, without God, they have ended up creating hell on earth, such as Nazi Germany and Communism. If we take God out of the picture, then our dignity disappears, since we get our dignity from being created in God’s image. ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image. In the image of God He created him. Male and female He created them.’ (Gen 1:26-27). If God is not part of the picture, then we are just servants of the state, as opposed to children of God. The wonder of our being created, is that God deliberately created us in his own image, with reason and free will and an immortal soul. Everyone in this building will live forever, either with God in heaven, or without God in hell. There is no in-between.


Just after Thanksgiving we had our convocation, which is when all of the priests of the diocese get together for a few days, to pray, socialize and for further education. I always enjoy being able to spend a bit of time with the other priests, as it is really the only time of the year we get together for more than an hour. I think the other priests feel the same as there is always a very good turnout.


The diocese also gets one or two speakers to give talks each day. This year the whole convocation was addressing the LGBTQ and transgender issues and how best to address it. I have to say it was the most intense and disturbing conference I was ever at. I was quite exhausted by the end of it.


We had two speakers. The first was a lady by the name of Mary Hasson, an attorney specializing in ethics, who has represented the Vatican to the UN. The other speaker was a deacon and plastic surgeon by the name of Patrick Lappert, both very high-powered people with extraordinary careers.


It was much too long to go into any details, but there are one or two issues that I think it is really important that you are aware of, especially parents with teen and pre-adolescent children.


In the last few years there has been a 5000% increase in transgender diagnosis among females. Historically it was almost exclusively males and at that only 0.02%. So why is this?


The reason is not that we have suddenly become enlightened, which every generation seems to believe it is. The reason is largely because these ideas are being suggested to children, pre-adolescents and teens and are also being encouraged and groomed. This is happening in high-schools all over the country at this time and it is being done without parents knowledge. Discussions in classrooms are taking the form of bringing up questions about your gender and whether you feel at home in your own male/female body. IF you don’t feel comfortable, maybe you are not meant to be a boy/girl. So maybe you should starting looking at why you aren’t a girl and how you can become one. For boys, if your best friends are only other boys, then maybe you are gay and you should embrace that. The biggest difficulty is that this is being done without parents knowing. They are told that this is a matter of privacy which is not parents’ business and then parents often begin to discover what is going on when a lot of damage has already been done. The news is full of articles about these cases right now. You may well have read some of them.


Here is one example which I read this week. On Jan 24th, in Clay County, Florida, a lawsuit was filed against a school where a 12 year old girl had attempted suicide, twice in two days. Only after the second attempt were the parents called into the school. When they asked what was going on, they were told that this had happened because of their daughter’s gender identity crisis. For months the child had been having private meetings with the school counsellor about her gender identity crisis, which she had never had up to that point. The counsellor and staff had gone so far as to give the girl a boys name and refer to her publicly by this name. This had led to a lot of bullying and the child had become so distressed she ended up trying to take her own life. All of this was done without the parents knowledge, because they believed the parents would not be in agreement on account of their Christian beliefs.


If an adult decides that they want to change their sexual identity, that is their own business. But to be suggesting this to children and encouraging them, is evil, because they are at a very impressionable age. Does it bring peace and joy to the child? No. For the most part it causes great anxiety and distress. It is evil. If something is good and of God, it will bring peace and joy. This is the exact opposite.


The Child and Parental Rights Campaign, which is a non-profit law firm set up to defend parents’ rights to shield their children from the impact of gender identity ideology, say that they are being completely overwhelmed with phone calls for help, from parents all over the country.


The reason I wanted to talk about this is because all of you parents who have teen and pre-adolescent children, need to be aware that this is going on and it will be done without your knowledge, so talk to your children and make sure that if this does come up, they talk to you about it.


God’s creation has an order to it and that order works. One of the first things it shows in the creation account in Genesis, is that the Spirit put order on the chaos that was there. God created man and woman in his image. Male and female He created them. God knew what He was doing and as long as we continue to listen to God’s word and live by the order that He shows us, we will have the right foundation to get through all the craziness that is going on around us. But we must stand by our beliefs. The teachings of Scripture either come from God or they don’t. If they are from God, then we need to listen. If they are not from God then why are we here?


The foundations of our faith are under attack at the moment. We shouldn’t be afraid of that, because the Lord always helps those who try and be faithful to him, but we must be faithful to him and not give in to teachings which go directly against the word of God.


Blessed is the one whose hope is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters... In the year of drought it shows no distress.’


Saturday, February 5, 2022

5th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 5:1-11) Put out into deep water



Today I would like to share a personal experience with you which is connected to this Gospel. Ten years ago (2012) I had reached a crisis point in my priesthood. I had been finding it more and more difficult to work as a priest in Ireland, as it had become very anti-Catholic. Some priests weathered this better than others, but it was having a very negative effect on me. I wasn’t sure I could continue, even though I wanted to.


I asked my bishop to be allowed to spend some time with the Dominican Fathers and he agreed. Their charism is more about preaching and teaching, which I have always felt called to. But after a year with them I still did not feel at home. I was praying a lot asking the Lord to guide me. I wasn’t sure if I had reached the end of the line, although I was convinced I had been called to be a priest and certainly wanted to continue.


It was around that time that I had an opportunity to visit a friend of mine in Naples, Florida, by the name of Kelly Curry. He is a Baptist and had been a Baptist minister when I got to know him. I came to know him when I was working in Ireland, where he had a ministry. He had always been a tremendous support to me as a Catholic priest, which is not that common among Baptists from my experience. While I was here and in distress, we prayed together. He was also convinced that I was called to continue working as a priest.


One weekend I decided to go to the Saturday evening mass in the local church and then to a Baptist service on Sunday with him, more out of respect for him than anything else. Up to that point he had often come to mass with me.


The Gospel that day was today’s Gospel: ‘Put out into the deep for a catch.’ When the minister began to preach he really seemed to be speaking to my heart and Kelly said the same thing afterwards. The gist of what he said was this: “The disciples were professional fishermen. They knew their trade. Then this charismatic preacher, having finished speaking to the people, asks them to ‘put out into the deep’ and cast their nets again. As professionals they knew there were no fish that day. They had fished all night and the daytime was not the best time to fish. But so as not to offend the preacher, they reluctantly cast the nets. You can hear the hesitation in Peter’s words, ‘We worked hard all night…but if you say so…’ Then the miracle takes place. They cast the nets and suddenly all the lines go tight and they literally catch a miraculous amount of fish. When Peter realizes what has happened he is afraid, because he realizes he is in the presence of someone extraordinary, or other-worldly. He reacts by saying, ‘Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man’. Let me hide. He is suddenly aware of his sinfulness in the presence of this man’s holiness. But Jesus’ words are words of reassurance. ‘Do not be afraid.’


The first reading is similar. The prophet Isaiah is given a vision of heaven and what is his reaction? He is also afraid, because he realizes he is a sinner in the presence of God’s holiness, but the Lord reassures him by sending an angel to touch his lips with a hot coal, a symbol of being purified and then God calls him to follow him.


Back to the Baptist service. The minister went on to say, “What the Lord was showing Peter and the others, was that He is in charge. He is master of the land and sky, the earth and the sea. He controls everything. They felt their work had been fruitless, a waste of time, but then Jesus shows them that He can produce fruit out of apparent failure. When everything seems to have come to an end, He can open new doors, totally unexpected doors. The miraculous catch was probably more than they had ever caught in their lives. What was Jesus saying to them except that He is the one who can make any work or situation bear fruit, even when it appears to be a failure. It doesn’t depend on our ability, rather on us being open to God.


I really felt the Lord was saying to me, “Murchadh, you think your work has been fruitless, that you have come to the end of the line. Now you must trust me because I will make things happen that you could not have foreseen.”


Kelly and I were both amazed at what the preacher had said, as it seemed to be specifically speaking to me. I was greatly encouraged by these words. Shortly after that I began to wonder if I could work in Florida, as the Church here seemed to be so much more up-beat and positive. As it happened Kelly knew one of the priests in the diocese. So I made an appointment to see him and I explained my situation to him. He suggested I apply to the bishop and so I did. Long story short, both bishops agreed to let me come here and try working here and here I am almost nine years later.


When I thought everything was coming to an end, the Lord opened new doors that I did not even know were there. This also reminded me of the fact that the work I do is the Lord’s work, not mine. If it bears fruit—the miraculous catch—then it is because of him, not because of me and He continually shows me this. My job is to try and be faithful and continue to listen to him. Why does He keep things hidden from us until the last minute? because it strengthens our faith. We realize it doesn’t just depend on our ability, our skills, our holiness. It depends on God’s power at work. 


Now apply this to your own experience. How many times have you come to what seems to be the end of the line. Things haven’t worked out and there seems to be no way forward? This is where the Lord asks us to pray and trust. He can do anything and open doors where we didn’t even think there were doors. With God there are always new possibilities and when we feel afraid of God because of our inadequacies, remember Peter’s reaction to Jesus: ‘Leave me Lord I am a sinful man.’ We want to run and hide, remember Jesus’ response to him: ‘Do not be afraid.’ God is not put off by our sinfulness.


Think also of your sinfulness before God’s holiness. Does it make you afraid? It does for many people, including me. But that is where we go back to what God shows us in the Scriptures. Every time someone becomes aware of their sinfulness before God, God’s response is always the same: ‘Do not be afraid.’