Friday, October 28, 2022

31st Sunday Yr C (Luke 19:1-10) Remembering the dead


What happens to us when we die? Where are our loved ones now? Will we know them when we go to heaven? In St. John’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be too’ (Jn 14:2-3).


I am going to prepare a place for you. It is a place and in that place God has a place specially for us. That’s what Jesus said. So when we die we don’t just disappear into nothing, or some semi-conscious place of rest, but to a place where we will be more alive than we are here. Jesus said, ‘I came that you may have life and have it to the full’ (Jn 10:10). In heaven all that Jesus wants for us will be completely fulfilled. We will no longer suffer, but only experience joy, because that’s what God originally created for us. We lost it, through what we call Original Sin, but Jesus won it back for us by shedding his blood. So that place which we call heaven, now awaits us if we choose it, but we must choose it.


Does everyone go to heaven? Not according to what Jesus taught. We have the choice to reject God and if we do, God will respect our decision, but if we do, we will also lose all that heaven is. So if heaven is complete fulfilment in God’s presence, joy, happiness, light, the joy of being with our loved ones again, then to lose that is to be left with the opposite, which is darkness, hatred, pain, isolation. If heaven is real and we have free will, then it must be possible not to go to heaven. If everyone automatically went to heaven, then we would not have free will. So heaven is real and so is hell. Unfortunately today many people do not take the idea of hell seriously and that is a big mistake. If it is not real, then Jesus lied. Jesus did not lie.


What about purgatory? That is another teaching that many people dismiss today. No sin can exist in God’s presence. If we die and we still have sin on our soul, or have not atoned for sin, we would not be able to bear God’s presence. It would be unbearable.


Imagine that you are out working in the back yard, fixing a broken sewage pipe. You are in your worst clothes, filthy and sweaty, with sewage on you. Someone comes rushing out to say that the Pope is here and wants to meet you. Would you run out as you are, or would you say, ‘Wait, give me a few minutes to get ready.’



Here is a more extreme example: imagine Hitler a few hours before he dies, suddenly realizes what he has done and the suffering that he has caused and he repents and begs for God mercy. God promises his mercy to anyone who repents and asks for it sincerely. Would it make sense that when he died a few hours later he would go to heaven right away? That would make a mockery of God’s justice and God is not mocked. It says in the book of Sirach (5:5): ‘Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.’ So it makes sense that those who are not ready to come into God’s presence in heaven, but who need to atone for sin, would have to go through some kind of purification. That’s what purgatory is: a purgation, a purifying.


When people die we tend to presume they are in heaven right away. But that is not always the case and many people do not die in such a state of holiness that they are able to come directly into God’s presence. That’s also why it is so important that we pray for the dead, as the Lord has taught us.


There was a lady called Maria Simma (1915-2004) who lived in Austria as a peasant for most of her life. She tried religious life but was unable to continue because she was too weak physically. She actually tried three different convents but had to leave each in turn. She ended up doing simple work and living on her own. She only received education to the age of 12. Her mother had great devotion to praying for the souls in Purgatory and she seems to have inherited this too. 


When she was 25 years old (1940) she woke up to find a man in her room pacing back and forth. She said, ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ and she tried to grab him, but there was just air. She says that she then went back to bed. The following night he appeared again. So the next day she told her priest what had happened and asked him what she should do. He told her that if it happened again, to ask the man what he wanted of her. The next night the man appeared again and she said, ‘What do you want from me’ and the man asked her to have mass offered for him. He was a soul from purgatory. For the following several years only two or three souls appeared to her, but then from 1954 onward they continually appeared to her. In reading about her I found it very interesting to learn what some of the souls said to her, because they often explained why they were in need of prayer. One case in particular struck me. She recalls how a young man appeared to her asking her to pray for him. He told her the circumstances of his death. He lived in mountain village in the Alps. He wasn’t a very religious man and in fact lived a pretty wild lifestyle.


One year there were a series of avalanches. One night while he was asleep there was another avalanche and he woke up to hear the screams of people nearby who were trapped. He jumped up and rushed out to help them. His mother tried to stop him screaming, ‘Don’t go out, you will be killed too!’ However, he went anyway and he was killed. But when he appeared to her, he explained to Maria Simma that God in his mercy had allowed him to die at a time when he was being most giving, most self-less. This action had redeemed so much of what he had done wrong in his life. Sacrificing himself had atoned for much of the sin he had committed.


When my Grandmother used to hear people using the expression, ‘rest in peace,’ she would sometimes say, ‘I don’t want to “rest in peace” I want to be alive and active!’ I think she had the right idea. What God has created us for in the world to come is something unimaginably wonderful and that is why God goes to such lengths to make sure we get there. The greatest thing God has done for us after giving us the gift of life, is making sure that we can reach that happiness and that is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God will do everything to make sure we reach that happiness, but God cannot force us because of the free will He has given us, so we must be careful to make the right choices ourselves.


November is the month where we traditionally remember those who have died and it is good that we do. Starting with the feast of All Saints on Nov 1st we celebrate all those who are in heaven; probably many if not all of our family members who are now saints. Anyone who is in heaven is a saint. Even though we officially recognise just a few of them, everyone there is a saint. Then on Nov 2nd we have the feast of All Souls where we pray for all who have died.


Purgatory is in fact a great gift from God and not something we should be afraid of. The Church also teaches us that we can help those who are still at that stage of Purgatory by praying for them. That is why we pray for the dead in every mass we offer throughout the whole year and we remember them especially during the month of November.


In St.Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth, he says the following: ‘If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are of all people the most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:19). In other words if we think that this life is what it’s all about, we have completely missed the point of our faith. What God teaches us is that we are all the time preparing for the world to come. This life is a kind of school or training ground, where we are free to love or not, to choose for God or not and the choices we make have consequences. If we keep in mind that something wonderful awaits us, which is what we will experience sooner or later, that helps us not to get too immersed in the world. We all get distracted and bogged down with the worries of this life, but we need to keep reminding ourselves of what our life is about, so that we don’t waste it. If we keep in mind the thought and hope of the world to come, where we will experience life in a way we can never experience it here, it helps us to keep the right focus. Death is not something for us to be afraid of; rather it will be the beginning of something unimaginably wonderful.


I leave you with this thought: Why do those who have died not come back to tell us what it is like? I’m sure it is because they know that it is not necessary for us to know. The ‘not knowing’ is part of the struggle of faith. For now we try to believe and trust in what the Lord has taught us: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there were not I would have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:1).


Eternal rest grant to them O Lord and may perpetual light shine upon them.  May they enjoy the happiness that awaits us all.


Friday, October 21, 2022

30th Sunday of Year C (Gospel: Luke 9:1-6) What is the mission of the Church?




In the last few years we have been hearing a lot about religious extremism. We have seen many examples of religion at its worst, when it is used as an excuse for violence, or corruption. One group decides that not only are they right and everyone else wrong, but that they can also force their views on others, or destroy them: religious extremism. It raises the question, what exactly is the purpose of the Church? Why did Jesus establish a Church?


The mission and purpose of the Church is to make God known to people and to make the work of Jesus Christ known to people. Jesus’ own life was about revealing God to us and shedding his blood for us in order to re-open the path to God, so that when we die we can reach the happiness that God created us for. It is not just about filling churches; it is about teaching people about God and helping people to discover God.  Sometimes it is said to me, ‘I wish such and such a person would just go back to mass.’ But just going back to mass is not enough. Faith has to come first. Once someone begins to know God and starts to grow in their faith, then they have a hunger for God and then they come to the church to pray with other people who also believe—like all of us here—to listen to God’s word, and to receive him in the Eucharist. That’s why we come here: to pray together and to be fed spiritually, because we are all trying to live the same way of life. 


None of us are strong enough to make it on our own.  We need the support of each other. So we listen to the teachings of Christ together and then we celebrate the last supper, where Jesus made himself present in the form of bread and wine, so that He could be with us always. That is what the mass is.


The purpose of Christ coming to us was two-fold. First, to make God known to us, to teach us about him and show us what God is like and how God sees us. Anything we want to know about God we will discover in Jesus. It says in the letter to the Colossians, ‘[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God’. 


If I painted a picture of myself, it would just be a picture, but it wouldn’t move or speak. If God painted a picture of himself it would be the person of Jesus. Not just a picture, but a real person. That’s who Jesus is: the image of God. At one stage Philip said to Jesus, ‘Just show us the Father and then we shall be satisfied’. And Jesus said, ‘Do you not understand that to have seen me is to have seen the Father?’ They are one and the same. So, by looking to Jesus and learning about him, we are learning about who God is, what God is like and how God sees us. When you want to know how God sees you, when you are struggling or have fallen into sin, read what Jesus said and how he treated all the people He met. That is how God sees us and relates to us. The story of the prodigal son, where the son insults his family and squanders all their hard-earned money. When he finally comes back, the father just celebrates. All the father wanted was for him to come back. Jesus came not to condemn us, but to redeem us. We tend to think that God is only happy with us, when we are living holy lives. Jesus, who is God, taught that the Father loves us no matter what. He only wants our happiness. He will do everything to help us reach the complete fulfilment that awaits us in heaven, except force us. God will never force us, because He has given us free will. God respects the choices we make, even to rejecting him.


I remember a very devout friend of mine, when thinking about his young kids, said to me, ‘I can’t believe that God would send someone to hell.’ God doesn’t send anyone to hell. People reject God and God respects that choice. Sometimes children reject their parents and cut off communication with them and there is nothing you can do. It is very sad, but it happens all the time. God is the same with us. Love cannot be forced.


The second purpose of Christ coming to us was to free us from the power of Satan, from the power of sin. By dying for us, Jesus reopened the way to God for us. It is now open to us if we turn to him, but that is a choice that each of us must make. The mission of the Church is to let people know about this, what God has done for us and what is there for us all, by turning to Jesus Christ. He is what makes sense of what our whole life is about. It doesn’t make any sense apart from God.


All people have a right to hear about God and to know about him. And it is our mission to make this known to people, because God has told us to. It should never be forced on people, but if this is the truth about God, which we believe it is, then people have a right to know that truth. It is up to them whether they decide to believe it or not.


Sometimes it is argued that we should just be helping the poor, but not talking about God. However, poverty is not just about having enough to eat. Knowing that my life has a purpose is equally important. Helping people to come to know that they have been created out of love and that their lives have a purpose, is just as important as making sure people have enough to eat. So we are called to do both.


I remember hearing about a priest who went on the missions in South America. He was a worker priest and he zealously set about building schools, orphanages, medical centers and better facilities for the people their who had nothing. As time passed he began to notice that fewer and fewer people were coming to his church and they were going to one of the other evangelical churches. After mass one day he said this to one of the elderly parishioners and how he couldn’t understand it. The old man said, ‘Fr. we love you here and I don’t want to hurt you, but what the people need is for you to bring us Jesus.’ He realized that he had spent all his energy making their material lives better, but he wasn’t feeding them spiritually.


We are body and spirit. The spirit is just as real as the body and our spirits need to be fed just as much as the body. If we focus only on the body and the needs of our body, we will starve our spirits, which need nourishment. So much of our society has turned away from God and is spiritually starving. What is the result? Anger, rage, hatred, greed, depression, despair. We can never be fulfilled without God. We need spiritual nourishment and the Lord knows that, which is why He has given us the Eucharist, the gift of his own body and blood and the Scriptures, through which He guides, teaches and encourages us. He has also given us his Church, which passes on his teaching. We come together every week—and for many, every day—to be with like-minded people, because we need the support of each other. That’s what the first Christians did in their homes, until Christianity finally got legal recognition and they were able to build churches. We need the support of like-minded people. In the second reading St. Paul, who is now near the end of his life, writes: ‘I have competed well. I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.’ One of the biggest challenges for most of us is to do just that: to be faithful and persevere.


Is this mission still being fulfilled today? Yes it is.  Here am I speaking to you about it two thousand years later. How much faith we do or don’t have is not really important. The fact that we are here at all is what is important. So the mission of the Church is to pass on this truth about God, which God has made known to us. It is the message which makes sense of our whole life and all people have a right to hear this message.


What is the best way we can pass on this message? By living it as well as we can ourselves. The best way we can teach others about what we believe in is by the witness of how we live, rather than by anything we say. When it comes to your own family, someone else will have to help bring them to faith. It is very unlikely that you will be able to convert your brothers or sisters. They won’t listen to you and if you bring up the subject, their defenses will go up. Especially the ‘You should be…’ argument. It doesn’t work and it usually makes things worse, because people close to us will resent it.


I never talk religion to my family, unless they bring it up. Some of them practice, some don’t, but I won’t be able to convert them. God will have to send someone else to do that. My job is to live my faith as well as I can. That is how I preach to those close to me, by keeping my mouth shut.


When you take your faith seriously, people notice. We carry the hope of our faith which shines from within. People notice that you have hope and joy. St. Peter writes, 'Always be ready to give people an explanation for the hope you have. But do so with curtesy and respect.' (1 Peter 3:15). If people ask you about your faith, then tell them. Otherwise, live it from your heart and you will change the world around you.


I will finish with the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Let us go and preach the gospel; and if necessary, use words.’



Thursday, October 13, 2022

29th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 18:1-8) Deception of the Occult


There is a lot of confusion these days as to what comes from God and what does not. I am talking in particular about things like going to fortune tellers, Tarot card readers, psychics, playing the Ouija board, or going to mediums, and many other practices that come under the general term of Occult. A lot of people just consider them harmless fun; besides what could possibly be wrong with them?


God expressly warns us in the Scriptures to stay away from such things. In the book of Deuteronomy it says:

You must not have in your midst anyone... who practices divination, or anyone who consults the stars, who is a sorcerer, or one who practices enchantments or who consults the spirits, no diviner, or one who asks questions of the dead. For the Lord abhors those who do these things (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).


In another book it says, ‘Do not have recourse to the spirits of the dead or to magicians; they will defile you. I, the Lord, am your God’ (Leviticus 19:31).


I would like to try and explain why these things are a problem for us, because the Lord God doesn’t just give us rules for the sake of rules. If God tells us to stay away from something there is a good reason, just like you will tell your children to stay away from the fire or they’ll get burned. God does the same for us, telling us what to avoid if we want to stay healthy.


So why are these things, which are now available everywhere, a problem? The first and most important reason is that they interfere with our free will. Our free will is an extraordinary gift which the Lord has given us, because it means that we have the freedom to do anything we choose, be it good or evil, although real freedom is the freedom to choose what is good. We can even reject God if we choose. It is an extraordinary thing that the Lord who has created us respects us enough even to giving us the freedom to reject him, and sadly some people do this by the way they live.


Going to fortune tellers, or any of these other things that I mentioned, is basically an attempt to gain knowledge, or control, of the future. The problem is that if we think we have any kind of knowledge of the future it is going to influence our freedom to choose, because we will probably start acting out of fear or what we think might be going to happen. The Lord does not want us to be afraid, but to be at peace. That is why God does not reveal the future to us. We don’t need to know it. If we did, He would show us, because He wants the very best for us.


The second reason why these things are a problem for us, is that by dabbling in them we are going directly against something God has asked us, which is a way of creating an obstacle between us and God. We sin when we do this. From a spiritual point of view they can also have a hold or influence over us. If God does not reveal the future to us, then where is this information coming from? It is not coming from the Lord, even if the fortune teller starts off by praying the Hail Mary or Our Father, which I know some of them do. 


I worked with an exorcist priest friend of mine for a while and saw first-hand the mess that some people get themselves into by dabbling in these things that the Lord tells us specifically to keep away from. They are very real. Satan is cunning and will do anything to lead us away from God, because he hates us as God’s creation. Satan is real. If Satan is not real then Jesus is a liar, because Jesus frequently mentioned him in his teaching.


The former exorcist of this diocese told me about one encounter he had. He was called to a house where footsteps kept appearing across the couch! When he got there he asked the family about themselves. It turned out that the woman was living with a man who was not her husband. She was practicing witchcraft and so was her daughter. So they had left themselves wide open to evil and the demonic. The priest told them that unless they were willing to change their ways, there was nothing he could do for them.


I was called to a house one time where radios and lights kept turning on during the night. When I asked the people who lived there if they had been involved in any kind of Occult practice, they said no, but the lady who had lived in the house before them was a medium. She now lived next door. So that was the origin of that. What we think of as harmless fun, is not harmless if God forbids us to do it. Getting involved in any kind of magic, witchcraft, or fortune telling, etc, is also opening up doors to what is not of God. Hence the cases I mentioned where things were happening in those houses. If we do what God forbids us to do, we can expect consequences.


We have to ask ourselves do I believe what Jesus said is true or not?  Either the Bible (the Scriptures) is the word of God or it isn’t. If it is, we have good cause to listen to it. If it’s not true, then what are we doing here?


The Lord wants the very best for us and will continually guide us along the right path, the path that will help us to reach our full potential as human beings, but sometimes we get misled and go astray. That’s not a problem so long as we recognise it and come back again. I’m sure you want God’s blessing for your lives and for your families, just as I do, but if we mess with what God expressly tells us to stay away from, we will be blocking God’s help from us. 


If you have dabbled in any of these things at any stage, confess it, which is also what the Lord asks us to do. By confessing it you break any spiritual hold that it can have over you. By repenting of it you also open the door to God’s grace as well.


In the readings today the Lord is assuring us that He does and will answer our prayers. We have to trust that the Lord in this. God only speaks truth. If God has assured us of his help, then we would be foolish to look for any spiritual help from any other source, especially a source which God expressly tells us to stay away from. We know that God wants the very best for us and if we believe that then we must also listen to what He tells us to do and what He tells us to avoid.

I am the Lord your God... You shall not have strange gods before me.’ (Deut 5:6-7)





Saturday, October 8, 2022

28th Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Luke 17:11-19) Putting God first in all things



I read a very interesting story about Mother Teresa. When her work was only just beginning, there were just a few of them and they found that there were huge demands being made on them because there were so many people who needed help. There were so many old people dying, so many sick and so many abandoned children. What were they to do?  They were feeling overwhelmed. So they decided to ask the Lord, in prayer, what they should do. The answer they got surprised them. The Lord told them that he wanted them to give an extra hour of their time, on top of their ordinary prayer time, to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. That is, an extra hour to him and an hour less to work. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but they believed that this was what the Lord was telling them, so they began to do this and soon they found that many more people began to join their order and then they were able to do much more of the work even than before. Mother Teresa attributed the success of her order to being faithful to this holy hour every day and she realized that this was an important lesson that God was teaching them. Put him first and everything else will follow. God will never be outdone in generosity. If we give him our time first, everything else will fall into place.


This doesn’t just apply to people in religious life. It applies to us all. We are living in a very fast and very busy world. There is always so much to do and so many places to go. This is also one of the tricks of the Devil. He keeps us very busy so that we have no time to stop and listen to the Lord speaking to us in our hearts. And then we wonder why we seem to be so removed from God. Why isn’t He speaking to us and helping us? He is, but we are often not listening. If we don’t listen to him, how are we going to know what He is saying to us.


There was a priests’ retreat a few years ago and they asked a Buddhist monk, a woman, to direct it. So she agreed. The first day of the retreat she came in and went up to the place where she was to speak from. She sat down and remained in complete silence for half an hour. The priests weren’t too impressed, but since it was the first talk they said nothing.


The second day she came in and sat down and began to meditate again. After half an hour of silence, she got up and left again. Now the priests were a little more agitated, and a few of them complained to one another, but they decided to give her one more chance.


The third day she came in and sat down and remained in silence again. By the end of the session, several of the priests decided to approach her. So they did and they said that this was getting out of hand and why wasn’t she speaking etc. So she finally spoke to them and said, ‘So far all you have been doing is talking to each other and complaining about me and wondering why I am not speaking. Yet you say that you’re on retreat. How do you expect to listen to God if you can’t even learn to be silent.’


There is a lot we can learn from this. We demand that God help us and sort out all kinds of situations and give us the answers to different problems and yet we are slow to sit down and listen to him, to adore him, to love him and be healed by him. We expect him to sort everything out for us while we are running around enjoying ourselves. We can be like a crowd of spoilt children. Once we begin to learn to listen to the Lord, we will find that He is continually inviting us to spend time in his presence. This is where real healing takes place. This is where we learn to put things in the right order in our life.


Everywhere that Jesus went He healed people. Yet He didn’t seek people out to heal them. His primary mission was to sacrifice himself for us, but also to teach us about God and about our life and why we are here. In various places where the people wanted him to stay longer and heal more people, He said that He must move on to preach in other towns, because ‘That is why I came.’ (Mk 1:38). Physically healing people was secondary. Feeding people spiritually was primary. Spiritual healing is far more important than physical healing, because with spiritual healing we have inner strength and purpose, which will help us through times of physical sickness and struggle. When people don’t have spiritual strength, they don’t know where to turn to and they often lose hope, something that we are seeing at lot at this time.


Should we pray to God for physical healing? Of course. The Lord wants us to be healed and the place to start is with Jesus. Everyone who was brought to Jesus for healing was healed, as far as we know. So what does this tell us? It tells us that if we want to be healed, physically and spiritually, Jesus is the one to go to. But how can we get to Jesus? Jesus is here in the Holy Eucharist. We can come and rest in his presence and we can receive him every day if we choose.


People often ask me what is the best way they can help the parish and I always tell them to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. People are not usually convinced that that is the best way that they can help the parish. We want to ‘do’ something. But if we want things to be done, we must start by turning to the One who does all things. The more of my time I give to him, the more things He will do through me. This is something the Lord keeps teaching me, to give him my primary time each day. The more time I give to prayer, the more things happen in the parish. Not because I do more things, but the Lord just makes things happen. He is constantly reminding me to put him first and He will take care of everything else.


If we depend on ourselves only to get things done, we are depending on one limited human being. But if we give ourselves to the Lord, then we are depending on the One who created everything. That’s a big difference.


Every morning we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from about 7.15 to the 9am mass. On Fridays we have adoration until 1pm. Yet it always disappoints me how few people come to spend time at Jesus’ feet, worshipping and adoring him. If you are praying for physical healing, start by coming to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. If you need direction and inner strength, start by coming to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. If you were allowed to come before the throne of God in heaven to ask for your needs, would you hesitate? Of course not. We would all jump at the chance. And yet God gives us that opportunity every day. We don’t have to go up to heaven to reach him. He is here with us and He wants us to come to him and to receive him often. What an extraordinary thing that Jesus makes himself available to us every day. Not only can we come into his presence, but we can receive him into our bodies.


When you are praying for healing, start by coming to Jesus in the Eucharist. If you are praying for guidance, start by coming to Jesus in the Eucharist. If you are overwhelmed by work, or family situations, start by coming before Jesus in the Eucharist. Remember Mother Theresa’s experience. They gave an extra hour of their day to God and things started to happen. If you are praying for inner strength and you turn to the Lord, He is guiding you. Jesus tells us again and again that He always answers our prayers; always. ‘Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks, always receives.’ (Mat 7:7-8). We don’t always recognize the answer we are being given, or it may not be the answer we want to hear, but we are always answered.


Often when we ask the Lord to help us in a difficult situation, we want Him to fix it. But often what the Lord shows us is what we need to do, which is not always what we want to face. Sometimes God will show us that we need to confront someone, or change our life situation, but God always answers us.


So often when I am busy, I am tempted to skip part of my prayer time in order to get more done. Yet the Lord keeps showing me, if I give him my time first, then those things always get done and more besides. The temptation is to turn to prayer once we have time, but the Lord tells us to put him first and then He will make sure everything gets done.


The one who asks, always receives. The one who seeks always finds and the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him’ (Mt 7:8).