Friday, December 29, 2023

Feast of the Holy Family (Gospel: Luke 2:22-40) Our imperfect families

My family lived in Dublin until I was six years old. One time when I was about five I was brought to a party of a school friend, but for some reason I decided that I didn’t like the party and that I wanted to go home. I figured that the best way to do this was secretly. So I told my friend that I would hide out in the garden and that he should come and try to find me after a few minutes. When I got outside I climbed over the wall, made my escape and headed home. The only problem was that I had no idea how to get home. So I headed off and asked a post-man how to get to ‘York Road’ in Dun Laoghaire, where we lived. He looked at me suspiciously but told me where to go. When I finally arrived home I found a big police motorbike in the front drive.  Maybe that’s where my love of motorcycles began! Everyone was out looking for me. My poor parents were not the better for this experience.  Family life is not easy.   

This is a feast day which I think can often make us feel disappointed with our own families, although we don’t admit it, because it seems to tell us that our families are not what they should be. Things go wrong and we drive each other crazy. Someone gets into trouble and lets the family down. Marriages don’t always work out. We are afraid what others will think of us. 

Then we are presented with the holy family, who we imagine were living in bliss all the time. That is not reality. They were poor. When Jesus was born they were homeless. Then with a new baby they had to flee to Egypt to escape an attempt on the child’s life and became refugees. When Jesus was brought to the temple, Simeon told them he was destined to be a sign that would be rejected. He would not be a ‘success’. Later they lost him for three days. Can you imagine the stress of losing one of your children for three days? So why are they presented to us as a model? because they had their priorities right. God was at the center of this family. It was the right environment for the person of Jesus to grow and mature. 

Jesus had to grow up as a person, just as all of us do. He had to learn to be responsible, learn the Jewish traditions and that takes a long time. It involves a lot of learning for each of us, and a lot of patience and sacrifice on the part of our parents, but how we are formed is vital. There is an African proverb which says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ We all have a part to play, even if that is just encouraging those who are struggling. If there are young families around you who are struggling financially, especially one parent families, look out for them. 

There is a couple I know who were telling me recently that at one stage, because one of their children was sick, they lost their home in order to pay hospital bills. The husband told me that for several months they lived on next to nothing, even though they both had jobs. We never know how people are struggling and we must look out for each other. 

We know almost nothing about the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, but no doubt it was very important for his growing and maturing as a person, and to help him be ready for the mission that He lived out for the last three years of his life, teaching people about God and sacrificing himself for us. 

The main role of our families is to provide a safe, loving environment for us to grow up in, so that we will blossom as people and learn how to deal with the world. None of us come from a perfect family, but that doesn’t matter. It is easy to become discouraged, thinking about how things might have been, or should be, but the bottom line is that we are the way we are. 

The path through our lives often takes unexpected turns and things can work out a lot worse than we had intended. Does it matter? Not in the eyes of the Lord. The Lord is not the one to say, ‘You should be different’. That is what people will say, but that is not what the Lord says. He is always the one who encourages us, reassures us and gives us new strength to keep going. Think of all the people that Jesus came across in the Gospels. He took them exactly as they were, including many people who were causing public scandal. It didn’t matter what faith or cultural background they came from. He always showed great sensitivity to their dignity. Satan discourages, but God always encourages. Jesus called Satan ‘the Accuser.’ He continually accuses us and tries to shame us and make us give up. But Jesus does the opposite. He is always the one to encourage us and reassure us of his presence. What is important is not how we should be, but that we remain open to God. If we are listening and open, then the Lord can lead us forward. All God needs is our openness. 

Everything that we go through plays a part in forming us as people. The only thing that is important is that we are willing to get up again, to begin again and turn to the Lord for help as often as is necessary.    

If God is not at the center of your family, maybe it’s time to bring him into your family. Is there a crucifix in your home? If not, why not? Are you ashamed or embarrassed to say who you belong to, who is Lord of your life? Apart from God our life is meaningless. Do you ever read the word of God with your family? If you think this seems a bit embarrassing, or over religious, think about how much time you spend watching TV, filling your mind with worldly and often sinful things. Why not read a chapter from one of the Gospels at the end of your main meal together? Pray grace together. 

There is a wedding tradition which I came across many years ago, from Croatia, if I’m not mistaken. When a couple get married, they have a crucifix blessed at the wedding ceremony and bring it to their home. They place it in a prominent place to remind them that God is with them in their marriage. When they are struggling, they are to come before the crucifix to ask God for his help. This is the balance that God invites us to have. God must be at the center. Only in God will we find the strength we need to keep going. Without God our life is meaningless. 

God is well aware that family life is not easy, but that is also why He invites us to keep turning to him asking for his help. That is why the sacrament of marriage is so important, because it is inviting God to be part of that marriage, not just to bless the couple on their wedding day, but throughout the couple’s whole life. God wants to help us, but we must allow him to help us too. Our families may be far from perfect, but God can still work through them to help us come closer to him. 

'When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God was upon him.' (Luke 2:39-40)  

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas: The Promise of Happiness


Christmas is about what happens to us when we die. It is the feast of the greatest hope imaginable, because it tells us two things: First, that what all of us want—happiness—awaits us if we choose it. Second, that we have great worth and value in God’s eyes, regardless of how our life on earth turns out. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.


We tend to see Christmas just as the birth of Christ, which is part of it, but the birth of Christ is the beginning of a great event that took place over 33 years. It has three parts.

1.    The Son of God comes among us, to live as one of us and take on the human condition with all its difficulties.

2.    To teach us about God and why we are here.

3.    To sacrifice himself for us, so that we can reach the happiness that God originally created us for.


Hopefully we will have times of happiness in this life, but it will only be fulfilled in the world to come, but God has created us for happiness. God wants us to find happiness because that’s what He originally created us for. Why? Because God wanted us to share in his joy, just like you want others to share in your joy when you are celebrating something. Our instinct is to invite others to celebrate with us.


If God wants us to be happy, why don’t we have it now? It always seems to be just out of reach. We always think that if I could just get this house, car, job, or have this relationship, then I would find that fulfillment, but it always seems to be just out of reach.


God originally gave our first parents total fulfillment. The story of Adam and Eve is a way of explaining this. It says in the garden of Eden they had every delight. But God also warned them to respect their limits as human beings. Don’t touch the tree of good and evil. In other words, don’t play God, because you won’t be able for it. Don’t be the ones to decide what is good and evil, who lives and who dies, what male and female are. Only God can do this. But they were deceived into thinking they could.


Why did Satan want to deceive them? Because He hates God and He hates God’s creation and he tries to destroy us in order to get at God. We are nothing to him, except a way to get at God. And so he convinced them to take the fruit, to do what God told them not to do and as a result they lost the happiness they had been given. The problem was that they had no way of winning back that happiness. But because God loves us He would not allow things to remain that way. And so God the Son came among us, taking on human flesh and shed his blood to atone for our sins, so that when we die we could reach that original happiness that God intended for us. It is now waiting for us if we choose it. But it is not a given. We must choose it and we choose it by the way we live in this life.


It also tells us something that we find hard to grasp; that is, that we have an infinite value and worth in God’s eye’s, regardless of how our life turns out. It means that God will do anything to get us to heaven. In fact God has done everything to make it possible for us to get to heaven. We generally tend to think that if we really get our act together and if we become holy enough, then we will be acceptable to God. That is not what God teaches us. God teaches us that He loves us totally and completely, as we are right now. We may think of ourselves as failures, or disappointments in the world’s eyes, but that is not how God sees us. We are never failures in God’s eyes. Think of a little child. No matter how much that child makes a mess of things, you don’t love them any less. You love them just because they exist.


There is a Jesuit priest called Fr. Greg Boyle, who for over thirty years has worked in the toughest gang-land areas of LA. He wrote a book called, Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion. Up to the time he published the book in 2010, he had already buried 167 young people, from gangland shootings. In the book, he talks about the fact that most of the young people who end up in gangs, really have little else. Most of them have grown up in homes with no parents, or with parents so wrecked by addiction that they might as well not be there, or of such violence that they have left and lived on the streets. They end up in gangs because the gangs provide them with a sense of belonging; a family of sorts. He says that they don’t plan their futures; they plan their funerals, because they expect to die young. Young women often want to get pregnant early, so that they will have the experience of having a child before they get killed. Most of them don’t expect to make it past 20.


Fr. Greg helps them to see that they are valued, that they have worth and that they are not failures. He says that so many of them have come into his office and just cried, saying that they are total failures and they live in shame. But once he takes an interest in them, learns their name, helps them to see that he has an interest in them, they begin to change and many of them then leave the gangs and even get jobs. Once they begin to feel loved and valued, their life starts to turn around. He has now set up an organization called Homeboy Industries.


He spoke about one instance where he remembered the name of one young man and when he saw him on the street one time, he called out his name, ‘Hey Mike, how are you doing?’ He said the young man was astonished and kept turning back smiling. He couldn’t believe that someone noticed him.


Pope Francis, when he was a much younger priest was head of the Jesuits in Argentina. During the military dictatorship in Argentina he had to make some very difficult choices. One decision he made resulted in at least two Jesuit priests being arrested and tortured for several months. One forgave him the other did not and considered him a traitor up to his death. He made bad decisions with very serious consequences. Years later the Lord made him pope. Yes, I said the Lord made him pope. Why would God choose someone who had betrayed other priests, even if he didn’t intend to? Why would God choose a failure? Because he was not a failure in God’s eyes. He is a human being who made mistakes. Why did he choose St. Peter who also betrayed him? because he saw the greatness in him, just as He does in us. God sees the greatness in us. We are beautiful in his eyes, regardless of the mistakes we have made. We are never a failure in his eyes. And that is why He has made it possible for us to have eternal happiness when we die, because He wants us to be with him. And that is what we are celebrating at Christmas.


‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’


Friday, December 22, 2023

4th Sunday Advent Yr B (Gospel: Luke:1-26-38) God's Church



I want to address Pope Francis’ announcement that priests can now bless gay couples. The document called Fiducia Supplicans, has caused a lot of upset and confusion and I would just like to explain what it does and does not mean.


What most people heard, was that priests can now bless gay marriage, which is not what was said. In fact, in the same document the pope expressly states that under no circumstances can a priest bless a gay marriage, or union, since we believe that marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman, open to life. The Church’s teaching has not changed on that, but that is what many people are misunderstanding.


What it means is that if a couple spontaneously came to me and asked for a blessing, I am allowed to give it to them. The thinking is, that I shouldn’t have to know that their background is morally sound before I give a blessing. It is the same if it is a couple in an irregular union where they are waiting on annulments. However, I am not allowed to do it if it gives the impression that I am blessing a union, or marriage, so it would not be a formal blessing, or ritual.


If you think about what a blessing is. To ask for a blessing is to ask for God’s help, strength and mercy, to live the right way and do what is right before God. It makes sense that anyone should be able to receive such a blessing, so long as it doesn’t give the impression that it is condoning their union that we don’t believe as right.

Also someone mentioned that Pope Francis invited some transgender people to the Vatican. Jesus deliberately went to the homes of tax-collectors and prostitutes and all the religious leaders of the time complained and were scandalized. He was reaching out to them and that is what the pope is doing too.


Pope Francis is certainly a very different kind of pope from Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II, but that doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t working through him. Remember that it is the Lord’s Church.

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld shall never prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matt 16:18-19).


When Napoleon was taking over Europe, he met the cardinal of Paris. He told him that he was going to destroy the Vatican. The cardinal replied, ‘You won’t be able. We priests have been trying to destroy it for the last 1800 years and we haven’t been able.’


Think of all the scandals that have happened down through the centuries and there have been many and serious ones, especially in recent years. The Church would not have survived them if it were of human origin. It is still here because it is the Lord’s Church and the Lord is still guiding the Church. That doesn’t mean that people in the Church can’t make mistakes, but the Lord still works through weak human instruments. If I thought for a second that the Church was of human origin, I wouldn’t be part of it, but I am convinced that it is and that is why I am not afraid when we are presented with things that are confusing. We are going through turbulent times, but don’t be afraid of that. It never comes down to what one person says.


At one point, St. Paul publicly challenged St. Peter, because he was clearly in the wrong. He had been eating with the Gentiles, but then when some Jews turned up, he stopped and only ate with them. He was afraid of criticism, but what he did was wrong and Paul pointed this out. Peter then realized his mistake and corrected what he was doing. So human bishops and priests are not above reproach.

2:11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Gal 2:11-13)

It is easy to think of the Church as God’s Church, but that God is just observing it from a distance. We forget that the Lord is constantly working through his Church and will continue to. ‘The gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it.’ Throughout the world the Spirit continually inspires people to act. God doesn’t just wait until we decide it is the right time to do something. The Spirit acts when the time is right, not when we are ready. And so people continue to be inspired.

There is the story of a young man who was interested in becoming a priest. He was being guided by a local priest, but wanted to go Rome to see the Vatican before he started his studies for the priesthood. When he left for his trip, the priest said to himself that that was the end of his vocation once he saw the Vatican and the corruption. When the young man returned, he said ‘Now I am ready to start my studies.’ The priest asked him, ‘What did you think of the Vatican? He said there was so much corruption, but that just affirmed to him that the Church had to be from God.

So don’t be put off by things like this document. It is still the Lord’s Church and always will be.

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it.’


You can also find the US Bishop’s official statement on the Pope’s decree here:

Doctrinal dicastery explains how, when gay couples can be blessed | USCCB






Saturday, December 16, 2023

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A (Gospel: John 1:6-8; 19-28) What does the coming of Jesus mean?


Why was the coming of John the Baptist so important? Why is the coming of Jesus at Christmas so important? What exactly does the coming of Jesus at Christmas mean? We always talk about it being the good news, a message of hope, but what exactly does that mean in practical terms?


Most of us have been taught that as we grow up we should try to live the right way, following God’s Commandments and hopefully when we die, if we are good enough, we will be allowed get into heaven. We even have all those jokes about meeting St. Peter at the gates and having to answer questions to see if we are good enough, if we pass the test. Would you agree with that? The second part of that statement is not correct. The part that says, ‘If we are good enough we will get into heaven.’ You might be surprised to know that that is not the message of Christianity at all.


The truth is that we can never be good enough, or holy enough, to come into God’s presence by our own strength. The reason we call it good news is that it is Jesus who makes it possible. The Lord knows that no matter how hard we try we cannot be good enough for God by our own strength and so God comes among us in the person of Jesus to make it possible. Through Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross, our going to heaven was made possible. We can get to heaven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is Jesus who makes it possible.


It says in Romans 3:23, ‘Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are redeemed by his grace… as a gift… to be received by faith.’


All fall short of the glory of God, but his grace makes it possible for us and this is offered to us as a gift and the way we receive that gift is through faith. We say, ‘Yes, I believe this and I accept it.’


Think of it this way. The holiness of the holiest people on earth, the Mother Theresas and others like that, might bring them 80% of the way to being good enough for God, but no one could ever be completely holy enough by themselves. How could any human be holy enough to be in God’s presence?


Think of what Jesus said about John the Baptist: ‘No one greater than John the Baptist has ever been born.’ That’s a pretty extraordinary thing to say about someone. But Jesus goes on to say, ‘Yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.’ John the Baptist is less than the least of those in heaven? So how are the rest of us supposed to get to heaven? The answer is, because of what God has done for us through Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus means that God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. God has made us holy enough to be in his presence if we accept it. Why do I say ‘if’? God shows us the path that we must follow, living according to his Commandments as best we can, but we have to choose to do that. We can choose not to and sadly some do. We will never be perfect by our own strength no matter how hard we try, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we do try and when we fall we come back and ask forgiveness and Jesus assures us of his forgiveness and mercy for anyone who asks. Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves by his death and resurrection.


In one of the Gospels a rich man comes to Jesus asking him what he must do to get to heaven and Jesus tells him to live the Commandments. But the rich man presses him saying, ‘I do that already, what else to I need to do?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, sell what you own and come after me’ (Matt 19:21). It says that the rich man went away sad because he knew he wouldn’t be able to do that. Jesus knew he wouldn’t be able to do that too. Remember he said to him ‘If you wish to be perfect’. None of us are perfect. Then Jesus pointed out to his disciples how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were shocked and said: ‘Then who can be saved?’ And Jesus’ answer is both shocking and wonderful. He said, ‘For people it is impossible, but not for God. Everything is possible for God.’ What we cannot do for ourselves, God does for us. That is why we need never be afraid of not being good enough for God when we die, so long as we keep trying.


It is easy to become discouraged by our own sinfulness and especially when we feel are not overcoming our weaknesses. And people ask, ‘How will I be able to go to heaven when I keep falling into sin? How could I be pleasing to God?’ Again, the answer is, by the grace of God. What is important is that we keep trying. The path to God is about getting up again, and again and again, each time we fall.


Does that mean that we can just relax and do whatever we want? No. St. Paul writes, ‘Go on working out your salvation in fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:2). It would be equally foolish to think that I can live any way I want, since God forgives everything. We must never be presumptuous about God’s grace, but if we are sincere, we have nothing to be afraid of. This also gives us a great freedom. It means there is nothing to be afraid of in regards to God, so long as we try. God does everything else.


Think also of when we are about to receive Holy Communion. We are unworthy to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, but it is God who makes this possible too. That is why we say this wonderful prayer: ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof… but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ ‘Only say the word!’ You can make it possible Lord!


That is why the coming of Christ among us is so important. That is why Christmas and Easter are such great feasts, because they are not just about Jesus, but they are also about us. God has won heaven for us. That is why it is called good news, because it gives us the greatest hope there is: the hope that heaven is there for us if we choose it.



Friday, December 8, 2023

2nd Sunday of Advent (Mark 1:1-8) No Christmas without repentance



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


Our thoughts of you this Christmas are best expressed in the words of John the Baptist, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.”

Merry Christmas from Fr. Murchadh."


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


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


First image from the James Webb telescope

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


It's the same mentality when people say the mass is boring. It may be boring at times, but if it is it’s because I am looking to get something out of it. What’s in it for me? No one every says a funeral was boring, because they know why they are there: to honor the dead, to pay our respect. The mass is about me giving of myself, to worship God, to give him thanks and praise for all that we have. If I understand that then the mass won’t be boring, because I am no longer saying ‘What’s in it for me?’

Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born of woman, which is quite a statement. He was totally focused on God. He knew what was important and he passed on the message he was told to pass on and it cost him his life. When he said that what the king was doing was immoral, he was arrested and imprisoned. They shut down his ministry. Then he was beheaded by Herod for speaking the truth. We don’t always want to hear the truth, because it is often demanding and challenges us to change and sometimes it tells us we are wrong. No one likes to hear that.


If we are serious about celebrating Christmas as a Christian feast, then let us not forget the message of John the Baptist. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ The term ‘repent’ means turn away from sin, but it can also mean ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.’ That is a message many people need to hear. So many people are looking for happiness in the world, but when the things of the world collapse, they are left disappointed. Worldly things don’t fulfil us. However, the Lord is telling us to turn to him for happiness. It is only in God that we will find true happiness. The world will disappoint us; God will not. People will let us down, but God will not.


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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



Saturday, December 2, 2023

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B (Gospel: Mk 13:33-37) Hope


I always like the fact that we celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter when the evenings are short and it is usually cold (unless you live in Florida!). Then we begin to light candles and put up colored lights and decorations to remind us of the coming of our King. It is a time of great hope and hopefully also a time that will bring joy. ‘Advent’—which simply means ‘coming’—is meant to be a time of preparing for two things: we are preparing for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and we are also remembering that Christ will come again at the end of time. Each Sunday in the Creed we say that, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ We don’t know when that will be, but we believe that it will happen because He is the one who said it. The Lord asks us to ‘stay awake’ and not to forget him, because none of us know when we will die, but the important thing is that we do not forget the Lord, who loves us and who created us. And so each Christmas we remember that Jesus came among us, for us, to help us, to teach us about God, about the world to come and above all to die for us, so that we can join in the happiness of God when we die ourselves.

The best way that we can prepare ourselves is in the heart, by trying to give time to God and being open to what He wants to say to us. The Lord is constantly speaking to us but often we are not listening because we are too busy or distracted. People sometimes ask me if God speaks to me. Yes, God speaks to me all the time, but not through visions or voices. It's usually through other people or through the Scriptures. It took me a while to learn how to listen, so that I might hear what God is saying to me. Advent is a good time to try and listen again and hear what the Lord has to say to us. That is why the readings are about getting ready for the one who is coming, and not being so distracted by the world around us that we forget him.

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

One of the first hostages to be released from Gaza a few weeks ago, was an 85 year old woman from Israel. As she was being released by the Hamas fighters she turned to one of them and extended her hand and said, ‘shalom.’ Through the wisdom of her years, she was able to rise above the hatred and cruelty. That’s what changes the world.

Jesus reminds us that while we get on with the ordinary things of everyday life—eating, drinking, marrying, working—we must not forget the eternal things. It is a warning to us never to become so immersed in time and the things of the world, that we forget eternity. Even though worldly affairs are important, we must not let them distract us from the reality of God; the reality that we will die, that life and death are in his hands, and that whenever He does come for us, He must find us ready.


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


Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes, of two people doing the same thing, one will be taken the other left. What does this mean? It means that although both people were doing the same ordinary things that we all have to do, one of them had not forgotten about God and had been living for God and according to his will, but the other had not. The one who had forgotten got left behind. These are Jesus’ own teachings, not our speculation.


If we get totally immersed in the world, or in our families, or in our work, then we may miss what it is about, because there is much more to our life than this. It is not just about me and my family. Often it is when a loved one becomes seriously ill, or dies, that we suddenly start realizing how much we have become immersed in the world. Our priorities change instantly. We do have to get on with the day-to-day things of working and living, but we are being told to make sure that we also make time for God. 


Put God first in everything. We are called to love and serve each other, not to find our own fulfillment. Our fulfillment will be in the world to come. Listen to what the Word of God says.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil 2: 3-4)


If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.’ -St. Teresa of Calcutta.


I think a good recipe for a ‘happy’ Christmas, is to keep it simple and spend some time coming up to Christmas remembering what it is about. Even go to mass once a week, or spend a few minutes in a church every few days. That way we will remember what we are celebrating.

The Angel said to the shepherds: “do not be afraid. 

I bring you news of great joy.

Today in the town of David

a Savior has been born for you;

He is Christ the Lord.”


Saturday, November 25, 2023

34th Sunday, Feast of Christ the King (Gospel: Luke 23:35-43) Jesus Christ is Lord



You could sum up what I am about to say with four words: Jesus Christ is Lord. That is really all that matters. Jesus Christ is Lord.


Some time ago I was asked to visit a man in hospital. He was probably in his 70s. When he saw me he must have felt uncomfortable, as he began to tell me in so many words, how he didn’t really need me there, as he had a close relationship with God. He seemed to want to prove how tough he was. He then went on to talk about how he was on a first name basis with the Holy Trinity, describing how he related to the Father, Son and Spirit and the Virgin Mary, as if they were buddies at the bar. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but I remember finding myself being disgusted at the way he spoke, as it was so disrespectful. I don’t think he meant to be disrespectful, but it was.


The only way we should come before God, is on our knees with our face to the ground, in awe and reverence for who and what God is. Yes, Jesus is our brother, having taken on human flesh, but He is also the creator of the world, the one who will come to judge the living and dead, the one before whom everyone will bow down and tremble. It is so important that we don’t forget that. That is also why we begin every mass by acknowledging that we are sinners and asking for God’s mercy.


In the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah is given a vision of heaven, where he sees God on his throne. His reaction? He is terrified. Immediately he recognizes his sinfulness before God’s holiness and he is afraid it will kill him.

Woe is me, for I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips, who dwell among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ (Is 6:5)


Then it says that an angel came down and touched him on the lips with a hot coal, to purify him and reassure him he would not die.


The Prophet Ezekiel is also shown a vision of heaven:

I then saw what looked like a throne made of sapphire. And sitting on the throne was a figure in the shape of a human. From the waist up it was glowing like metal in a hot furnace and from the waist down it looked like the flames of a fire. I realized I was seeing the brightness of God’s glory, so I bowed my face to the ground.’ (Ezek 1:26-28)


In Revelations, St. John the Apostle had a similar vision of Jesus in his glory. He said his face was shining like the sun and a sword coming out of his mouth and his voice sounded like roaring waters (See Rev. 1:14-16). He says he was so frightened that he fainted, even though he had lived with Jesus for three years.


It is very easy for us to become casual about our faith, but it is so important that we don’t, that we remember who and what God is, who Jesus is. It is a wonderful thing that Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with him and he speaks to us as a friend, but we still have to be careful of how we approach God. He is the Lord and master of all things, the King of Kings, the judge of the living and the dead.


Think about when you receive the Eucharist. We are receiving the Body of Christ, not a thing, not holy bread, but Jesus. How do you dress? How do you hold it when it is put in your hand? Do you flick it back into your mouth, or walk away with it? When was the last time you confessed your sins, as the Lord asks us to, so that we are not receiving his Body and Blood unworthily? St. Paul writes:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord. Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick and some have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor 11: 27-30).


Does that mean we should be afraid? No. It is the Lord himself who wants us to receive him in the Eucharist. Pope Francis puts it beautifully. He says, ‘The Eucharist is food for sinners, not a reward for saints,’ but we must be careful how we go about it. We can never be casual, or we may bring condemnation on ourselves and that applies just as much to me. In fact, it is more serious for me, because the Lord comes into my hands as a priest in every mass. It is a great responsibility and one which often scares me, because I too will be accountable as his priest.


Often you hear people talking about God and religion as if it were something optional. You can take it or leave it, it’s up to you. God is not the optional extra. We are the optional extra. God exists, but we need not be here except that God created us and keeps us in existence. God also entrusted his world to our care, not to do what we like with it, but to look after it.


On the last three Sundays of the year, including today, we read Gospels that refer to God’s judgement of us. The parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were left outside, because they hadn’t bothered to prepare. There is also the parable of the talents, where the one who did nothing with what he was given, was condemned. He wasn’t condemned because he did something, but because he didn’t do anything. He was indifferent. Jesus mentioned so many times how there is no room for indifference. There is also today’s Gospel where we have the separation of sheep and goats.

When the Son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him… and all the nations will be assembled before him. And He will separate them one from another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’


One group was condemned. Why? because they didn’t do anything. They didn’t specifically carry out wrong actions, but they didn’t do anything. They had been entrusted with the world and the people around them and they ignored everything and did only what they wanted, ignoring God and ignoring God’s creation. The Lord is reminding us that it is his world, his creation and we have been entrusted with his creation to take care of it. It’s not just about us. It is about him. That is also why it is so sad when we get to the stage where we feel we can go completely against God’s Commandments and say that it is none of his business. We can do what we want. The Lord gave us specific Commandments to follow and we will be accountable.


If you think of something like the border situation, where there are so many people coming across illegally. Understandably it is upsetting and every country has a right to control its borders, but the very first thing is to take care of the human being in front of you. If they are starving, or suffering, we have an obligation to help them. The second thing is to deal with the legal side of things. If you find yourself saying, ‘Why should we help them? They are illegal.’ Remember this Gospel passage. To ignore the basic needs of any human being is to ignore the Lord. He didn’t say, ‘I was illegal and so it was ok not to help me.’ He said, ‘I was in need, but you failed to help me.’ It is easy to get caught up in the political, or legal side of it, forgetting the needs of each person.


A few years ago we had a man here by the name of Rami Qumsieh, selling religious artifacts to support the Christians in the Holy Land. He will be here again in February. Afterwards someone emailed me to say that we shouldn’t have to support them as the Church has lots of money. Think of this Gospel. If someone is in need, we have an obligation to try and help them, regardless of their background or legal status. We also have to be wise in trying to help people, as giving people money on the street is not always helping them, but we try and judge it as best we can.


For us to be faithful means we must make conscious decisions to follow God’s law, continually looking to see if we are living it. That’s why we keep reading the Scriptures, to remind ourselves what God is saying to us. Often what God teaches us make us uncomfortable, because He challenges us when we are going off track. The irony is that it is those very laws that will lead us to the greatest freedom and happiness, but we are free to follow them or not. We will be different and it will cost us, because we will meet resistance just as Jesus said we would. But what could be greater than following the very path that God points out to us, the only one that leads to happiness.


Much of our world has rejected the ways of God. In Ireland in 2018, there was a referendum to change the constitution, to allow abortion. It was passed and the night it was passed there was singing and dancing in the streets of Dublin, quite literally. There was a big gathering and a celebration with singing and dancing. Our culture has chosen the way of death, where we decide what we do with life and death. That is the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Evil. God said to Adam and Eve you must not touch the fruit from the tree of good and evil. In other words, don’t play God. Don’t be the ones to decide what is ultimately good and evil. Only God can do that.


If we say that we believe Jesus Christ is Lord, then we must also live as He tells us to live. ‘It is not those who say “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of God, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 7:21).


In the end all people of all nations, creeds and backgrounds, will recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and that it is only through him that heaven is made possible for us. Then we will also realize how blessed we were in this life to know and believe this same truth.


‘…At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father’ (Phil 2:10-11).




Sunday, November 19, 2023

33rd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 25: 14-30) The teaching office of the pope and bishops



An important part of my work as a priest, is to pass on the Lord’s teaching as faithfully as possible; not my opinion, but God’s teaching. My opinion is irrelevant, even if it might be interesting. What will help us more than anything is what comes from God, not human opinions. Part of the bishop’s job is to make sure that his priests are being faithful in passing on that same teaching. Sometimes people think of a priest as a kind of religious do-gooder. I dedicate myself to God and then try to help people. That is part of it, but bringing the Eucharist to people and passing on the Lord’s teaching is the most important thing.


When I was officially transferred (incardinated) to this diocese five years ago, I had to recite the whole creed in front of the bishop and a witness, promising to faithfully continue to uphold that teaching, even though I was already 20 years a priest. This really reminded me just how important it is. That is how important it is.


We believe that the teachings of the Church come from God and are not just human opinion. We believe that certain things were divinely revealed to the Apostles and have been passed on throughout the ages. These teachings come from Scripture (the Bible) and Tradition, which is the teaching of the Apostles. Our bishops are the successors of the Apostles. For me to be a validly ordained priest, it had to be by a bishop who was ordained by other bishops, going all the way back to the Apostles. That’s what we call Apostolic Succession.


In St. Matthew’s Gospel we have one of the accounts where Jesus gave his authority to St. Peter to lead his Church and pass on this teaching. When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, Peter was the one to say, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt 16:17). And Jesus’ response to him was to say, ‘Simon son of John, you are blessed, because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ In other words, you didn’t come to this conclusion by yourself. The Father in heaven revealed this to you. Then Jesus goes on to say, 

You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld will never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ (Matt 16:18-19).


This is why we believe the teachings of the Church are revealed by God and are not human teachings. That is also why we can’t change them. Our understanding of them continually deepens as the Holy Spirit teaches us, but the teachings themselves do not change.


Every so often the Pope may come out with an official statement which is then considered Church teaching, but this isn’t done lightly, or by himself. It is teaching that will normally have been discussed and then decided by the whole College of Bishops throughout the world. In other words, the Pope doesn’t just decide on a new teaching whenever he feels like it. He may give his opinion on topics, but that doesn’t mean it is Church teaching.


At one stage Pope Francis made the comment that he believed homosexual unions should be protected by law, so that they are not open to being exploited, which seems wise and fair. However, in no way does that take from, or change, the teaching that we believe marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman. We believe that teaching comes from God. That doesn’t disrespect anyone who is homosexual, it just says that this is the teaching we believe comes from God. I have many dear friends who are gay and I love them as I love all my friends and see them no differently, but that doesn’t mean I think God’s teaching should change. I suppose it keeps coming back to the question we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do I believe the Church’s teaching is from God or not?’ For me, I totally believe that it is from God. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a priest. Sometimes it may be hard to understand, but who am I to say I know better? The temptation is to change the teaching to accommodate people, but it is the other way around. We are called to change and repent, to live in accordance with what the Lord reveals to us. In St. Matthew’s Gospel (7:21), Jesus says,

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.’


Just saying that we believe in God and love him, is not enough. We must try and do what He tells us to do.


In St. Matthew’s Gospel Jesus speaks these words:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”


Our faith has to be built on a solid foundation, not on opinions. There is no more solid teaching than what comes from God. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Everyone who hears my words and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.’ His house was secure and could not be knocked down. Jesus is telling us to build our faith on his teaching, not on opinions. The house built on sand is very typical of ‘feel good religion’. ‘I like this teaching so I will hold on to it, but I disagree with that so I will ignore it.’ That kind of faith will collapse, because it has no foundation.


The devil will try to convince us that we know better. ‘It’s the modern world. You need to get with the times, don’t be taken in by these old and out of date teachings by some old men in the Vatican.’ Remember, the devil quoted scripture to Jesus in the wilderness and twisted it. Jesus called him the liar and the deceiver. He is the one who causes confusion. He will twist the truth and try to convince us of what is not from God.


Remember in the creation story in Genesis, Satan asks Adam and Eve, ‘Did God really say that you were not to touch any of the trees in the garden?’ (Gen 3:1). That is not what God said. He lied to them and confused and deceived them. He twisted God’s words, just like at times the media will take words out of context and twist the meaning.


What about what we call papal infallibility? Can there really be such a thing? Yes, we believe it is real, but it is not what people think. When the Pope makes an official declaration about a Church teaching about faith, or morals, in agreement with the bishops throughout the world, we believe it is without error, because we believe it comes from God. However, it is extremely rare. So far it has only been used twice in history: once to define the dogma (teaching) of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and also to define the teaching of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven in 1950. These were made official teachings because they had already been believed in from the beginning. They were set in stone, as it were. How could any teaching be infallible? Because we believe it has been revealed by God.

Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’


Again, we must ask, ‘Do I believe the teachings of the Church are from God or not?’


Popes can also give opinions which are wrong. I am not referring to what Pope Francis said about homosexual unions, but in general. In the letter to the Galatians, it says that St. Paul challenged St. Peter publicly, because he was obviously in the wrong (Gal 2:11-14). Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, until the Jewish people turned up and then he felt that he shouldn’t. Paul challenged him on this and Peter realized he was wrong. There is nothing wrong with that. The Pope is human too, but because the Pope is such an important figure, people often think that pretty much anything he says must be Church teaching. He has opinions like anyone else and they are often important opinions, but it doesn’t mean that everything he says is official Church teaching.


We are living in a time when our faith is being challenged more and more. There is a lot of confusion within the Church at this time, which is sad, so hold on tight to your faith. If you are uncertain of something you hear, then look it up in the Catechism and above all, come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in the silence, ask him to help you see and understand what comes from him. God wants us to know his teachings, because they are there to help us. If our faith is to survive it has to be built on solid rock, that is, on the Lord’s teachings. When it is built on God’s teachings, then it will survive, even in the midst of confusion.


You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’