Friday, September 23, 2022

26th Sunday Year C (Gospel Luke 16:19-31) You cannot serve both God and money


In 1929 in a particular part of New York city, several wealthy businessmen committed suicide, around the same time. Why? Because of what became known as ‘the Wall Street Crash.’ The New York stock exchange collapsed over night and as a result many people lost millions of dollars. Many of them could not handle this and sadly took their own lives. Money for them had become everything. It was their god and it had just proved itself to be a false god, an illusion. When their god collapsed, they were left with nothing, no money, no faith and apparently nothing to live for. It seems that many of them despaired.


Around the time when I was ordained, two women friends of mine, Marina Hayden and Maura Grealish, both professional accountans, took their final vows in the Poor Clare convent in my home town of Galway. They took four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. They will never own anything of their own, they will not get married, and they will spend the rest of their life enclosed in a convent, dedicating their time and energy to God and to praying for all of us and for many others. Some would consider this a useless waste; others see it as the gift of God which it is, the highest calling in the Church. Their lives lived in this way—as with any religious—is a sign that we believe in the life to come and that it is worth making sacrifices for it. If we didn’t believe in the life to come, then it would be a waste of time.


How are the two related? Well I suppose they are really the opposite of each other. Those in Wall Street and in the business world sometimes put everything into their money. Money can become the only thing that matters. They work for it, they live for it, they may even lie and cheat for it. On the other hand Sister Gabriel and Colette, have given up everything for God, and are depending totally on God for everything. 


Most of us are probably somewhere between the two. We may not be millionaires, but we have not given up everything for God either. We work and try and put bread on the table and provide for our families and loved ones. Most people are under a lot of pressure to pay their bills and mortgages, etc. 


Poor Clare Sisters, Galway, Ireland.

Money is an important tool. It would be very hard to live in our society without it, but it is only a tool. If we lost everything over night it would be very difficult, but we would still be alive. It happens to people every so often, but we do survive. But if God disappeared, what would we have left? When we died there would be nothing. Thankfully God does not disappear, regardless of whether we have more than we need, or barely enough to survive on. Either way God is waiting for us and when we have served our time on this earth then we will go to him.


In the Gospel Jesus gives us this parable of the rich man—traditionally known as Dives—and Lazarus. The rich man is condemned to hell, not because he is rich, but because he only focused on himself and ignored those who were in need. It says that Lazarus lay at his door. In other words, he couldn’t have missed him and said that he didn’t know he was there. It also says that he was covered in sores, which implies he was sick and so unable to help himself, but the rich man still ignored him.


God is reminding us that we have a moral obligation to help those who are less fortunate than we are and there are always plenty of people around us who are in need. We get several phone calls a day looking for help, with bills, food, housing. They are usually looking for St. Vincent de Paul Society, but it is a reminder of how many people are in need.


Why don’t they go out and get a job,’ you may ask? Many people who are in need are working, but are often barely surviving. Just this past week a man called me asking me if I could help an elderly lady find accommodation. He had found her lying on a bench. We did our best to help her, but in the course of the conversation, I realized that although this man was working and had stopped to help this other lady, he himself was living out of his truck. He had part of a deposit on an apartment and was working to try and make the rest of it, but wasn’t getting enough work to make it. He had been living out of his truck for weeks. He wasn’t asking me for help, but when I realized this we were able to help him out and he now has a place to live. And when I say ‘we’ I mean St. Vincent de Paul Church and thanks to donations you have made.

When we live in a world that places so much emphasis on having plenty of money, it’s hard not to be affected by it. There is nothing wrong with having money so long as we remember that it is only a tool to help us survive. It is not primarily what our life is about. We are body and spirit and that spirit will never be satisfied with material things alone.


You also have to be wise about how you use your money to help people. I’m sure I have been ripped off as many times as I have been able to help someone really in need, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we do our part to make good use of what God has given us.


In the parable, note how the rich man although now in hell, is still focused on himself. He asks that Lazarus come and comfort him. He is still arrogant. He hasn’t learnt.


In his riches man lacks wisdom. He is like the beasts that are destroyed.’ (Psalm 49)

Monday, September 19, 2022

25th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 16:1-13) The Triumph of the Cross



Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007), who was cardinal of Paris from 1981-2005, told the following story. Three teenage boys, around thirteen were hanging around with nothing to do. As you know, teenage boys with nothing to do is asking for trouble. They were near a Catholic church. So they decided to have some fun. They went into the church and each went to confession, telling the most outrageous sins they could think of. However, the priest realized what was going on. So to one of the boys, who was Jewish, he said, ‘For your penance, go before the altar, look up at the crucifix and say three times, ‘Jesus you died for my sins and I don’t give a damn.’’ So the boy went before the altar, looked up at the crucifix and said, ‘Jesus I know you died for my sins and I don’t give a damn.’ Then he said a second time, ‘Jesus, I know you died for my sins… and I… don’t… give a damn.’ Then the third time he started, ‘Jesus…’ and he couldn’t finish. The power of the cross and the realization of what he was saying had spoken to him and something was awoken within him. He later was baptized and confirmed and eventually became a priest. And Cardinal Lustiger finished by saying, ‘That boy, was me.’


Some missionaries went deep into the Amazon to bring the Gospel to some of the native tribes. They set up a small camp and made one of the tents into a chapel. The native tribesmen were observing them cautiously from a distance. Gradually they got closer until one day one of them had the courage to go into the camp when it was quiet. He went into the tent they had set up as a chapel. When he saw what was on the wall he ran out screaming. There was a crucifix on the wall.


Earlier this week we celebrated the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. To even say that a cross could be a triumph seems like a contradiction. A crucifixion is a total human failure in every way and a terrible miscarriage of justice, especially for Jesus. And yet we know that the event of the cross was not a failure, but a victory. A failure in human eyes, but a victory in God’s doing. It is something that is hard to understand. In many ways we have become so used to the image of the crucifixion that we don’t see the horror of it any more. We see it in so many places and wear a crucifix as jewelry.


If you came into the church one day and saw the image of a man hanging on a gallows, you would be horrified and it would be reported in the media and people would write to the bishop. The image of a man crucified is just as horrific, if not more so, but we are used to it.


When we are faced with terrible suffering, the death of someone young, or terrible injustice, the first thing we hear people say is, ‘Why would God allow this to happen?’ I’m sure it has been said tens of thousands of times by people who are in pain. I’m sure many people in prison camps and concentration camps and war zones have asked, ‘Where is God now? Why does God allow this?’


Then if you think of the event of the crucifixion, the three women who were there and St. John, watching the holiest, most innocent man, being tortured to death, they also could have asked, ‘Where is God now? How could God allow this to happen.’


When we are faced with the most painful suffering, trying to cope with the loss of a child, or a broken marriage, or sickness, a good thing to do is to take a crucifix in your hand and think about the crucifixion. Instead of saying, ‘God, how could you allow this?’ just think of the crucifixion and the fact that God was in the very heart of that suffering. We may cry out, ‘Where are you now?’ and God replies ‘I am here in this suffering with you.’


The crucifixion meant nothing but failure to those who witnessed it at the time, and yet it was the event that changed the course of history forever. The greatest apparent evil and human failure, won paradise for all who ask for it. That gives us the hope that even with the worst suffering that we face, God is still with us and also that God can and will bring good out of it, but we may never understand it until we get to heaven. So the next time you find yourself crying out to God in anger, take hold of a crucifix and kiss it and say, ‘Lord I do not understand this, but I unite my suffering to yours. Help me to know that you are here in the middle of my pain.’



Friday, September 9, 2022

24th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 15:1-32) Life on earth, versus eternity



(Visual homily with rope)

I want to show you something. (Long piece of rope, with about 12 inches colored in red at one end). Picture this rope going on for thousands of miles, several times around the earth and on to infinity. This is your existence, from the time you were conceived, to all eternity. See this short piece here (pointing to the 12 inches in red)? That is our time on earth.


When you see it visually, it makes you think. We are conceived here (pointing to the beginning of the colored section), we have our childhood here, hopefully our education from here to here and then some kind of career for the longest part (of the red part). Then we retire and when our time on earth is complete, we go on to the eternal life we were created for. That is what we have been created for and to make sure we could get from here to here (red part to the rest), the death and resurrection of Christ took place.


Think for a moment of how much time and energy we put into trying to get everything right here. We want the best education, so that we can have a good career, raise a family, provide for our children and make sure they are as well prepared as possible… for this short piece here (red part).


How much time do we put into preparing for the rest of it? How much time do we spend preparing our children for the rest of it? Think of how much time we put into looking after our physical body. When we die it will disintegrate. Our soul is what will continue for all eternity. How much time do we prepare it for what is to come, to make sure it will continue to happiness and not darkness? What tends to happen right now, is that all the energy is put into getting everything right and comfortable just for our time on earth, but the decisions we make here, have consequences for all eternity. Our soul is immortal and will continue on after it leaves our body, but where it goes depends on what we choose.


Many people won’t even make it this length (the red part), but will jump unexpectedly to here (beginning of the rest of it), because of sickness, accidents and natural disasters, but sadly we talk about it as our life being ‘over’. So many times at funerals I hear people talking about the deceased as if that is it, there is nothing more. ‘Their memory lives on.’ So many people have lost a sense of eternity, of the world to come, of the existence of God. 2.4 million people die every year in the US alone. It’s simply part of the cycle. Their soul goes somewhere. The biggest mistake we can make is to get so distracted by our life on earth that we forget about what comes after, thinking that this (red part) is everything and at this time, many people are focused only on this earth.


The decisions we make during our life on earth have eternal consequences. How we live on earth is so important. If our life on earth works out well and we manage to have a good career and a happy retirement, it is a blessing. But even if our life on earth is disappointing, or even a failure in our own eyes, or in the world’s eyes, all that really matters is how we lived, because that is what will determine the rest of our existence. Is there even such a thing as a failure? Does it not just mean that it didn’t go the way we expected?


In the prophet Isaiah God says that He is guiding and helping us, even when we don’t realize it. ‘Thus says the Lord to his anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp… opening doors before him… I have called you by your name, though you knew me not.’ (Is 45:1, 4-6)


I remember talking to an elderly man in hospital, who was near the end of his life. He admitted that he wasn’t very religious, but as he told me about his life, it became so obvious how God had guided him, even though at the time he may not have seen it. I think most of us can see the hand of God in our life when we look back. At the time it is not usually so obvious. The truth is that God is guiding us all the time and this makes perfect sense if we are his children. What parent would not try to guide their children?


Just because people haven’t come to know God doesn’t mean that God is not guiding them. Who would not guide their children and this is exactly what this reading says.


Some will say that we are naïve to believe in God. I say that they are naïve not to believe in God. The Lord continually gives us so many signs and miracles to help us believe, but we can choose to ignore them, or dismiss them. There is indisputable evidence of hundreds of miracles around us, from the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to over 143 Eucharistic miracles, the Shroud of Turin and miraculous healings that have taken place with prayer, all of which have been scientifically studied, with no explanation. The Lord is constantly reminding us of his presence, so that we don’t get too distracted by this world and forget what is coming. Our soul is going to live on no matter what, but where it goes depends on what we choose.



Friday, September 2, 2022

23rd Sunday of Year C. Forgiveness and repentance. Gospel: Luke 14:25-33



Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind. It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood. It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’ That phrase ‘so that sins may be forgiven’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the whole of Jesus life was about: ‘So that sins may be forgiven.’


Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed. That fact alone should give us great courage, because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin. The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us. He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, to be happy and to reach our full potential. ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4). And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God and God is ultimately our happiness. If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.


There is a powerful story in the Old Testament about King David.  It has all the ingredients of a modern movie. David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath. He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Because he is king and used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her. Some time later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant. Now he is afraid, because he knows he is going to be found out. So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away in battle, fighting for him. When Uriah comes David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc. Later he invites him to dinner with him and then he sends him away and says, ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’ But Uriah doesn’t go to his house. Perhaps he is suspicious. Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants. 


The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife, he invites him again to come and eat with him. This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace. So the following day, David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed. So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.


So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David. But because God loves David He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan to David, who tells him the following story.


Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city. He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc. There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb. And he loved the lamb like one of his own children. One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had it killed for the meal.’  When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’ And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’


Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next. When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him, he is also big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.


It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him. The Lord doesn’t want our downfall. On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to be at peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession and we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it. Sadly, many have come to see confession as a burden, or as something inflicted on us, but this is to see it completely backwards. Confession is an extraordinary gift that God has given us, so that we can be free and live in peace, because that is what God wants for us. God challenges us to confess, so that we can be healed. It is for our benefit.


The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said to Peter, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Mat 16:18ff.). And in St. John’s Gospel after the resurrection Jesus appears to the Apostles and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain are retained.’ (Jn 20:22). And now the Lord continues to offer us that forgiveness through the priesthood, which is a wonderful thing because it is a very concrete way of knowing, through another human being, that our sins are completely forgiven. We need that concreteness and God knows that.


As we watch the chaos of our own society around us and the evil that seems to continue to grow, the best way we can begin to bring about change is by repenting ourselves. We ask God’s forgiveness for our own sins. That is the way to get ready for the coming of Jesus.  There is no point in pointing out the sins of others if I am not willing to begin by acknowledging and confessing my own sins. That is the way to begin to improve life in our families, our workplaces and our world. We must begin with ourselves.


Why do I have to confess to a priest?

God in his wisdom, knows exactly what helps us most and He knows that we need to be held accountable. And so He gave us the priesthood, so that we can make ourselves accountable to one of his ministers and that also takes humility on our part. Who wants to acknowledge to another person that they have sinned? No one, because there is a certain humility needed. But God also knows that that is the only way we should come before him, in humility, acknowledging our own sinfulness. There is no other way we should come before God. And if you find yourself saying, ‘I don’t need to confess to a priest, I can tell God I am sorry myself,’ then you are telling God that you don’t need the gift that He gave us through the priesthood. ‘I don’t need your gift. I can do it my own way.’


In Matthew chapter 9, we have the account of a paralysed man being brought to Jesus on a stretcher, in the hope that Jesus would heal him. Jesus begins by saying, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ And the Pharisees say, ‘Who is this man to say he can forgive sins?’ And I’m sure the onlookers could care less about the forgiveness of the man’s sins. They were hoping for his healing. But then Jesus goes on to say, ‘“But to show you that the Son of man has the power to forgive sins,” He said to the paralytic, “Get up. Take up your mat and go home.”’ And the man was healed.


Why did Jesus start by saying, “Your sins are forgiven”? because He is showing us that there is a direct connection between our begin healed and the forgiveness of our sins. We tend to focus only on the physical, but we are body and spirit. The two are intimately linked. What happens to one affects the other.


Receiving God’s grace through confession, heals us. One of the privileges of being a priest is to hear confession and to see the change that takes place in people when they confess, especially when they confess serious sins they have been carrying for a long time. You can see the change in their face. A burden is lifted from them. They become more at peace. That doesn’t happen when you tell God you are sorry by yourself. That happens when you confess to a priest and I know because I see it constantly and it is a beautiful thing to see.


You often hear me talk about apparitions, because they are important and heaven speaks to us through them. One of the things that is always said by Our Lady, is that we need to confess our sins to a priest; not by ourselves, but to a priest, because this is what brings healing and because this is what God asks us to do.


This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’