Friday, August 26, 2022

22nd Sunday Year A Gospel: Matthew: 18:21-35 Forgiveness: a decision of the will


There is an extraordinary true story about a woman called Corrie Ten Boom, a Protestant living in Holland during the Second World War. She lived with her sister and father and they used to read the bible every evening after dinner. During the war as Holland was occupied by the Nazis and Jewish people began disappearing, they ended up hiding people in their home, although they didn’t set out to do this. Eventually they were caught and sent to one of the concentration camps in Germany called Ravensbruck. Her sister and father both died there, but she survived and was eventually released. When she returned home she began working to help the many people who were so hurt by the war. She felt that God was calling her to speak about the need for forgiveness and so she did. She was invited to speak all over the country and in other countries.


While speaking in Germany one day, a man came up to her after her talk and thanked her for this message of forgiveness. He said, ‘It is good to know that Jesus forgives all our sins.’ She recognised him as one of the SS officers who had been in charge of their prison. As he extended his hand to her, she found herself freezing up and unable to respond, but she realised that if she did not forgive this man who was responsible for the death of her sister and father, all her preaching would be meaningless. So she found herself praying to God on the spot asking him to help her to forgive and she was finally able to put out her hand to him. The book is called The Hiding Place and it is an amazing story. She wrote: ‘And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.’


Probably the greatest obstacle to God’s helping and healing us, is our refusal to forgive. When we refuse to forgive someone, we shut the door to God’s grace, we prevent God from healing us, but there is an important thing to remember about forgiving someone. Many people think that in order to forgive someone I must feel like forgiving them. In other words, the hurt has to have gone and so now I can forgive. That is not how it works. Forgiveness is not just a question of how I feel, or whether I feel like forgiving someone or not. Most of us when we are hurt, are often hurt for a long time, sometimes for years, and of course we don’t feel like forgiving. Sometimes the injustice is not even resolved. People are betrayed by loved ones, or cheated out of money. The deeper the hurt, the longer it takes to heal, but forgiveness is a decision of our will. We have to choose to forgive, regardless of how we feel. It doesn’t depend on whether we physically feel like doing it or not. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to’. When we do this, it doesn’t mean that all the hurt will instantly disappear, or that we are saying what happened doesn’t matter, but if we are prepared to do this much, then we open the door to allow God’s Spirit to begin to heal us. If I refuse to forgive, I am preventing God’s Spirit from helping me to heal.


We may think that by refusing to forgive someone we inflict some kind of revenge on them. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt we carry. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us does not hurt them, it wounds us. The resentment becomes a poison within us, which festers. God wants to heal us and help us move on, but to do this we must be willing to forgive. It is not an easy thing to do, but we must try. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times in the Gospels and in very strong terms. If we expect to be forgiven, we must also be prepared to forgive. I doubt that there is anyone here who does not need to forgive someone. If you find yourself angry at someone, it usually means that you need to forgive them. Maybe a good question to ask yourself when you find yourself angry with someone is this: if I was in their position, would I hope that the person I had hurt would forgive me?


Jesus used the parable of the unjust servant in Matthew 18:


Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


Note the last line. If we refuse to forgive others, the Father will not forgive us!


As a priest I meet many people near the end of their life. Most of them are at peace, having come through all the trials of their lives, but sometimes I meet someone who is bitter and full of resentment, angry with everyone and everything. They had been hurt, but they have refused to forgive and you can see how it has consumed them, destroyed them. It is a sad sight. People will hurt us, but we always have a choice to forgive them or not.


I am sure that all of us here expect that the Lord will forgive us. It’s what all the Gospels are about, it’s what we believe in and yet in no uncertain terms the Lord says, if you expect God to forgive you, you must be prepared to forgive others too.  That’s how it works. Forgiveness is a decision of our will that we must make. Once we do this, then we open the door to begin to heal.


Forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.’


Friday, August 19, 2022

21st Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 13:22-30) “Try your best to enter by the narrow door”


It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” St. Pope John Paul II


All of us are looking for happiness and Jesus reminds us that we will only find that happiness and fulfillment in him. Things of earth will never fulfill us, but the path that leads us to him is not an easy one. Why is that?


Great athletes, or musicians, are not that way when they are born. They are born with gifts in those areas, but it is only after years of training and guidance that they reach their full potential, even extraordinary people like Mozart. He still had to learn how to play the piano and how to write music.


God sees our full potential as human beings and He wants us to reach our full potential, because we will give him the greatest glory by becoming our greatest selves. But as with any great artist or musician, it takes years of training, in fact a lifetime of training and that is a big part of what our life on earth is about. The daily trials we go through are the main part of our training, of our being formed and that’s why it is a narrow winding path. Being faithful to God’s Commandments in the middle of things going wrong, family members becoming sick, or dying at a young age, marriage breakdown, being attacked or exploited by other people. Each time we are faced with difficulties we have a choice as to how to respond to them. We can seek revenge and turn to evil, or we can try and sort it out justly, with the least damage all round. We always have the choice to bless or to curse. Each time we are willing to keep going, without wishing evil, or seeking revenge, we grow another bit.


When we become demoralized by our own weaknesses, we have the choice to give up, or to get up again and again and again. That is the narrow winding path. Being faithful and persevering is one of the biggest challenges. Being faithful to God’s Commandments and teachings when the world around us calls us to take the easier way, that is the narrow winding path.


What we see as things going wrong in our life, are part of the narrow winding path. They play a part in how we are formed. We don’t see that at the time, but that is what is happening.


You may remember some time back I told you the story of Roy Shoeman, a Harvard professor and atheist who became a Catholic. We had him here to give his testimony. He grew up in a practicing Jewish family, but after going through college he lost his faith. At the age of 29 he had become a Harvard professor and reached the top of his career, but then he began to fall into a deep depression. He felt he had achieved all he could, but that he didn’t have any purpose. One day when he was out walking in nature, God granted him an extraordinary experience and pulled back the veil between heaven and earth, allowing him to see the whole spiritual world. He saw his whole life and how God had been with him through everything. He saw how every part of his life played its part, especially the most difficult times. He saw that God was with him through everything and that is purpose was to serve and worship God as it is for all of us. Needless to mention this experience brought about his conversion. But I thought it was interesting how he saw that the times of suffering he went through were some of the most important times in his journey. We tend to see them as failures, or things not working out. From God’s perspective they play a vital part in our journey. The most difficult experiences we go through, are the ones where we have the potential to grow the most. That was one of the things that God showed him.


Our relationship with Jesus, is what gives us the strength to keep going on the winding path that leads us to heaven. We often think that we are on our own, but we are not. That is why it is so important that we keep coming back to the mass to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, to listen to his guidance, to repent of our sins through confession. Every time we do that we are staying close to him, so that He can help us, which is all He wants to do.


Many people are afraid they won’t be good enough to get to heaven. The truth is none of us are good enough by ourselves, but God isn’t asking us to follow this narrow winding path by ourselves. God is with us and even though we don’t always feel his presence, that doesn’t mean He is not there. If God really wasn’t with us, we would cease to exist. The sad thing is seeing so many people turning to everything except Jesus, in order to find happiness. And of course they don’t find happiness.


I have no doubt that one of the reasons why the suicide rate is so high, is because so many people have lost faith and so they don’t see any purpose to their life, especially if they are going through times of struggle. If we have a sense of why we are here and what awaits us, that gives us the strength to follow the narrow winding path, which is the only one that leads to God.


In the Gospel Jesus says, ‘Not everyone is strong enough.’ The strength we need is the willingness to keep getting up each time we fall. And that strength itself comes from God if we ask him to help us. It doesn’t matter if you fall six times, so long as you get up seven times.


Jesus also says here that not everyone will go to heaven. There is a point where the door will be closed and waiting to the last minute to put things right, is too late. ‘But I love God and I’m a good person.’ This is something you hear a lot, and what it implies is that that is enough. But Jesus says that is not enough. ‘It is not those who say ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Mt 7:21). To say I know God, or believe in God is not enough. That is what Jesus is saying in this Gospel. We are called to do as God asks us, not just say that we know him. To love God is to keep his Commandments. ‘If you love me you will keep my commands’ (Jn 14:15).


The narrow winding path is not an easy one, but it is the only one worthwhile, because it is the one that leads to our happiness.


It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted.” St. Pope John Paul II.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

20th Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Lk 12:49-53) I have come to bring fire to the earth



There is a place near my hometown in Ireland (Killoran, Balinasloe) called ‘The Bishop’s Chair’. My father brought me there once (14th Jan 2000). It is a hard place to find as it really is in the middle of nowhere. This ‘chair’ which is in the middle of a field, was where at least two bishops, between 1679-1701, ordained many priests in secret. At the time it was illegal to be a Catholic priest and if they were caught they could have been executed, so they had to ordain priests in secret. It is very moving to visit it, even though there is not much to see today, but just to think of the sacrifice that so many men and women were prepared to make at that time, to pass on their faith. Priests were prepared to risk their lives so that the people could have the mass, because they had the faith to believe that the mass was everything, because in it we have the gift of Jesus himself. The people were prepared to risk their lives by going to mass. The mass had to be celebrated in secret, often on what were known as ‘mass rocks’ out in the countryside. A mass rock was a large rock used as an altar. Many priests did die for the mass because they were caught. But now all that sort of thing is in the past, right? 


A few years ago in 2007, a priest friend of mine, who was my next-door neighbour in the Irish College in Rome for a year and a half, was shot dead after celebrating mass in Mosul, northern Iraq.  He was just 35 years old.  He had been threatened several times, but he remained on in his parish in order to celebrate mass for the people, even though he knew the danger. On the Sunday after Pentecost in 2007 after celebrating mass in the parish church, Ragheed and three deacons were ambushed by several gunmen. They forced them out of the cars they were driving and shot all four of them. Persecution for our faith is never far away.


At this time we don’t live with that kind of persecution in this country, thank God, but we are living with a different kind of persecution, where our faith and our Church is constantly being undermined, mocked and lied about. Maybe it seems strange that something like the Christian faith, which preaches peace and justice, love of neighbour and respect for all people, should face such ongoing persecution? And it still does in many parts of the world. In China there is the official Catholic Church, controlled by the Communist party and then there is the underground Catholic Church. Then we have this line in today’s Gospel:

‘I have come to bring fire to the earth... Do you suppose I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division


This line seems to be a contradiction to what we usually associate with what Jesus spoke about. ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ What about peace and tolerance and all that? Preaching the message of Jesus Christ, which is about peace and justice, etc, brings persecution with it. Why, because not everyone wants to hear it. The teaching of Christ is a very challenging teaching at the best of times. It shows us up when we are not living according to God’s will and that often makes people angry, because we don’t like to be shown up. It says in John’s Gospel: ‘People have preferred darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil’ (Jn 3:19). There is a tendency in us which draws us to what is wrong, which we call concupiscence. We often know what is ‘the right thing to do’, but we find it hard to choose it. St. Paul writes: ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. What I hate, I do’ (Rom 7:15). This is the struggle within us. Even extraordinary people like St. Paul also struggled with the same temptations, which is good to know. No one is exempt.


If we have done what is wrong, or are living in a way that is against what God teaches us, then we are not going to be happy with the teaching of Christ, because it will show us up. That is why the message of Jesus always brings persecution with it, because it challenges us to choose one path or another. There is no middle ground. But perhaps what is most important to remember is that the Lord’s teaching, difficult though it often is, is there to help us, because the Lord knows what will help us to become the best version of ourselves.


I always find it comforting when I read about the calling of any of the prophets in the Bible. Nearly all of them resisted. And even if they didn’t resist initially, they usually asked God after a while if they could quit, because it was so difficult. They suffered for speaking the truth about God. The prophet Jeremiah said: ‘You have seduced me Lord and I have let myself be seduced... For me the Lord’s word has meant insult and derision all day long’ (Jer 20:7, 8b). The prophet Elijah, who is considered the greatest of the prophets, after working one of the most extraordinary miracles then finds himself on the run because the Queen is trying to kill him and he says: ‘Lord, I have had enough. Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’ (1 Kg 19:4-5), or as we would say, ‘I wish I was dead.’ Who would blame them?


If you want to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus it will cost you. Not everyone in your family is going to like it. Sometimes it makes people feel guilty about their own life and they will take it out on you. Many people have shared with me about children in their own families who mock them, or sometimes spouses. It is always cruel when it comes from those closest to us, but that’s exactly what Jesus said would happen: ‘From now on a household of five will be divided; three against two and two against three.’ Many of the people you work with won’t like it. But that is no reason for us to be afraid, because the Lord assures us that He is with us and that He will help us. ‘In the world you will have trouble. But do not be afraid. I have conquered the world.’


I think it is also worth remembering that we don’t have to defend the Church. The Church can defend itself. ‘The Catholic Church is full of corruption and hypocrisy’ Yes that’s true, but that doesn’t take from the teachings of the Church and that’s the only thing that matters. Show me any Church, or organization that doesn’t have corruption and hypocrisy. I got an angry email from someone once, pointing out more hypocrisy and corruption in the Church. I replied by saying, ‘If you want to find scandal in the Church, you have two thousand years of corruption to choose from.’ The corruption doesn’t take from the fact that it is God’s teaching coming through his Church. There has always been hypocrisy and corruption and there always will be, because the Church is the people of God and the people of God are sinful people.


I also think it’s good to demand respect, when others are being disrespectful to you. ‘I respect what you believe, or don’t believe and you should have respect for what I believe, whether you accept it or not.’


For our part we just try to be faithful and live our faith as best we can. We follow this path because we believe it is the most worthwhile path, because it is the path that leads to God. Not everyone understands us, but that’s ok. That’s how the Lord said it would be.


‘I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.’

Sunday, August 7, 2022

19th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 12:32-48) The Passover and the Mass


The last line in today’s Gospel makes me smile. One year when I was in the seminary and it was just before the exams were about to start, a friend of mine with a sense of humour asked the professor who was teaching us Scripture, if he would give us a hint as to what might be coming up in the exam.  He just grinned and said Luke 12:48. So we looked up this line of Scripture excitedly and this is what it said: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,

and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” 


Any time I find myself in a situation of stress or suffering, I always hope that God will show me a way out, or send someone to show me a way out. I think most of us do that. The Passover feast for the Jewish people, which is mentioned in the first reading, is a reminder for the Jewish people of the time when God gave them a way out. They were enslaved in Egypt and suffering greatly. They didn’t know what to do but they had been praying to God to help them. Then out of the blue, God sent this man Moses who was now old, to lead them to freedom. It is a bit like a lot of the Middle Eastern countries at the moment which are living under dictators. Not only was Pharaoh a dictator, but he considered himself a god. The feast of Passover celebrates the night when God gave them a way out of a desperate situation. Initially when God sends Moses to confront Pharaoh, he denies God’s existence and power: ‘Who is this Lord whom I am supposed to obey by letting Israel go. I don’t know this Lord…’ (Ex 5:2)


God begins sending the different plagues and Pharoah begins to acknowledge God’s existence, but still refuses to obey him. As time passes he begins to realize that God is real and starts to fear him. By the last plague, Pharaoh not only acknowledges God’s existence and supremacy, but asks Moses to intercede for him too.’


The final event that enabled them to go free is a very interesting one because it is so like the mass and in fact the mass was the celebration of the Passover. What happened was this:


Moses told the people, to take a goat or lamb and to kill it and have it for a feast on the night they were being freed. They were also told to put the blood of the lamb on the door posts of their homes as a sign that they belonged to God, because what was going to happen that night was something terrifying. That night God sent the angel of death to go throughout the land and kill all the first-born as a final warning to Pharaoh, but when the angel saw the blood of the lamb on the doors he would ‘pass over’ that house; hence the name Pass-over. The people were saved by the blood of the lamb. This would once and for all make Pharaoh realize that God was all-powerful and to be feared and respected. When he saw this sign he would let the people of Israel go free and that’s exactly what happened. 


To our thinking it probably seems terrible that God would send an ‘angel of death’ to strike down the first born in any household, even if they were not the people of God. But this is also a Biblical way of telling us that if we are not following the true God it will only lead us to death. Following the path the Lord shows us is the path that leads to life, the path that leads to him.


Now if you jump forward to the time of Jesus a few thousand years later, remember what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus: ‘There is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ When Jesus was killed on Calvary it was just after they had celebrated the Passover meal, which was the last supper.  Jesus was the Lamb who was being sacrificed on behalf of his people. And just like in the Passover meal, the people ate the flesh of the Lamb and marked their houses with its blood, so we eat the body of the Lamb of God when we receive the Eucharist. We are saved by the blood of the Lamb.


Before we receive the Eucharist, the priest holds up the host and in the words of John the Baptist says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.’


But what are we being set free from? From eternal death, from losing God when we die, from meaninglessness. Each time we receive Holy Communion we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, who is the Lamb. We are being united to Jesus in an extraordinary way by taking his Body into our Body. We are saying that we belong to God. He is giving us the chance of life with him in heaven.


God does not want anyone to be ‘lost’, that is, to lose heaven and so God shows us the path to follow. That path is in and through Jesus. ‘No one comes to the Father, except through me’ (Jn 14:6). And to help us, God allows us to be completely united to his Son each day, by receiving his body and blood.


It says in the first reading that the people knew the Passover and this gave them courage, because they knew that God was with them helping them. The holy sacrifice of the Mass is for us an even stronger reminder that God is with us, showing us the way forward, the way that gives us hope and most importantly the way that leads to God. For us it is not just a symbolic reminder, but we believe it is really and truly the Body and Blood of Jesus that we receive in each mass.


Behold the Lamb of God; Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.’