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.’



Sunday, November 12, 2023

32nd Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matt 25:1-13) Are you ready to die?



What would you do if you were told that you were going to die within 24 hours, or within the week? One thing for sure is that all our priorities would change. Worldly things would suddenly become irrelevant. I’m sure for many people family would become very important. Probably the concern of what will happen at death and after death would also come to the forefront of our thinking.


Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, He used many stories and parables to remind us that we always need to be ready to die, because we never know when this will happen.


Every day on the roads approximately 107 people die in car wrecks, just in this country. That means that yesterday, over 100 people left their homes to go to work, or shopping, or to drop off their kids somewhere and one moment later they were standing before Jesus. One second you are in your car, the next second you are before Jesus. It’s pretty shocking when you think of it that way and yet that happens to people every day of the week.


A few years ago I was driving somewhere in Ireland and I came across a man who need a ride. He was a musician and made a living by busking on the streets. Not an easy way of life. He had practically all his possessions with him. He told me he knew over 350 songs, which was impressive. When he realized that I was a priest, he began asking me about religion. I can’t remember much of what he said except for one thing. He said that he wasn’t very religious but that he preferred to stay out of it and sit on the fence. When I asked him about death and meeting God, he said that he would plead ignorance. That was the thing that struck me the most.  He said, “I’ll just plead ignorance.”


I suppose if God were just another human being, we might get away with pleading ignorance, but since God knows everything about us, including our motivations, all the things that have influenced us and how free or not we are to make choices, I don’t think that pleading ignorance will be much use! This is not to focus on the negative as if we should be afraid of God, but it is reality. On the contrary, the Lord loves us and wants to help us in every way possible. He knows our weaknesses and what we struggle with, but He also knows when we avoid responsibility. There is no pleading ignorance before God and this is what the Lord keeps reminding us.


In this Gospel passage, Jesus gives the parable of the wise and unwise virgins, also called bridesmaids in another version of the story. One of the traditions of the time was that after a man and a woman were betrothed to each other, when they were legally married, they remained apart for about another year, during which time they would both be able to make preparations for their wedding and new life together. The man would go and build an extension onto his father’s house, where they could live together. When the time was right, the father of the groom would announce to his son that it was time to go and collect his bride. This would happen in the middle of the night. They would then go to the bride’s house, where the bride and bridesmaids would be waiting. They would already be wearing their wedding garments, ready for when the groom would come, although they didn’t know exactly when that would happen. Since it was in the middle of the night, they would need to have lighted lamps. They would then leave the bride’s house and go for the wedding celebration. If you weren’t ready at that time, you would be left behind.


This is the analogy Jesus used. It makes more sense of the five wise and five foolish virgins. The wise ones kept enough extra oil, so that they would be ready for the groom when he came, even if it was later than they expected. They had taken the time to prepare. The foolish ones did not prepare properly and were caught off guard and left behind. I’m always struck by that line where it says, ‘Then the door was locked.’ And when the foolish bridesmaids arrive later and beg to be let in, the Lord says, ‘I do not know you.’ There was no relationship there. They did not know him and He did not know them.


This is a strong message for all of us. Leaving it until the last minute to prepare may be too late. In this parable Jesus says it was too late. Our life on earth is the time to prepare to be with the Lord. He gives us a whole lifetime to prepare, so we can’t say we didn’t have enough time. That is why we must not allow ourselves to become so immersed in the things of the world, that we forget the bigger picture. We have to be practical and provide for our families and attend to our work, but we also must not forget the things of God.


The Lord guides us in so many ways, especially through the Scriptures, which is why we read them at every mass. He is constantly teaching us what God expects of us and what is required of us. We cannot say I didn’t know what to do, as the Lord gives us very specific instructions as to how to live.


In the book of Exodus (40:16) when God had given Moses instructions as to how to build the tabernacle, it says ‘Moses did exactly what the Lord requested of him.’ Exactly as the Lord told him, not roughly. In Genesis (6:22), when God gave Noah instructions about the ark, it says that Noah did precisely as the Lord had told him.’ The Lord shows us exactly how to live in the way that will help us the most, so that we can enjoy our life on earth and so that we will be ready to meet him when our time comes.


I know many people of faith who have often told me that they long to meet the Lord. They are looking forward to that day more than anything else. If you have faith that makes total sense. If we are living in fear of this life coming to an end, then we are not hearing what the Lord is saying to us. It is not something to be afraid of. If we have made any effort to prepare for it, then it is something we can look forward to, but we don’t know when that day will come. It may be after 80 or more years, or it may be when we are young. ‘Therefore, stay awake, for you know not the day nor the hour.’


That is also why it is so important that we try and pass on our faith to the next generation. Think of all the things you do for your children to give them the best possible chance in the world. How much time do you take to teach them about the more important things: the reality of God, how God tells us to live, what is right and wrong and that we will all be held accountable? To ignore this is to do them a great disfavor. Being successful in a worldly career is good and we should develop our talents as the Lord has given them to us, but being prepared in the things of God is far more important.


As our relationship with God grows, we will become less and less afraid of death, because instead of seeing it as the end of our life, we will begin to see it as the beginning of the life we are called to. It will be a relief that our time of struggle is over. This is also what St. Paul is talking about in the second reading:

“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest who have no hope.”


The Lord wants us to have hope and not to be afraid, but we must listen to what He tells us, so that we are not caught off guard.

“Therefore I tell you, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”


Saturday, November 4, 2023

31st Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matt 23:1-12) The lives of the saints


On Wednesday we celebrated the feast of All Saints, which is really our feast, as it is what we are destined for. Everyone in heaven is a saint, which means that all of our loved ones who are now in heaven are saints, but we also focus on the canonized saints, as models of holiness for us to follow. The lives of the saints are also a wonderful reminder of what God can do through a human being. The saints became holy, not so much because they were extraordinary people—although some of them were—but because they were open to God and so God did extraordinary things through them. It was God’s work, not theirs.


There are two things that often come across from reading the lives of the saints. First, they were mostly very ordinary people and not the kind of people you would choose for an extraordinary mission. A bishop said about St. Theresa of Calcutta, that he wouldn’t have put her in charge of the sacristy! And yet look what God did through her. Second, all of them suffered a great deal. This shows us that this is part of the path to heaven.


I would like to talk about one saint in particular, whom I believe is really a saint for our times. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was a little-known woman until after her death at the age of 24, in 1897. She grew up in a large family with four older sisters, four younger ones having died, in the town of Lisieux, in northern France. Her parents were very devout Catholics and very protective of their children. Her older sister Pauline wasn’t allowed to read the papers, even at the age of eighteen. The whole family were very focused on God and their faith. Her four older sisters all went into religious life.


At the age of 15 Thérèse got special permission to enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, where three of her older sisters already were. The normal starting age was at least 16.


During her time there, she was not considered anything special and said the same in her own autobiography, Story of a Soul. When she was dying she accidentally overheard two of the other sisters talking about her. One was saying to the other, “I wonder what will mother Abbess say about Thérèse when she dies, as she never really did anything!” Even among her own religious sisters, she wasn’t considered anything special.


She wrote that she would love to have been a priest, or a martyr, a missionary, or apostle, but here she was in a small Carmelite convent in the north of France, hidden from the world. She also says that she was very much aware of her own limitations. She knew she was not capable of doing great fasts, or penances, just ordinary things. However God showed her something very profound.


Thérèse felt that she had a vocation within a vocation, which is common for many people. She read through the Scriptures searching for some guidance from the Lord. She came to the piece in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he talks about love and the necessity for love to be at the heart of everything. St. Paul concludes by saying, ‘In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.’ (1 Cor 13:13). When she read this she realized that love was the most important thing that had to be at the heart of the Church. Everything must come from love, if it is to be from God and pleasing to God. She felt that God was showing her that her mission was to be love at the heart of the Church. In practical terms this meant that she must live everything, down to the smallest of actions, out of love. She called it the Little Way. It is ‘little’ because it comes down to the very ordinary small things that everyone is faced with each day. The smallest annoyances and sacrifices, if done out of love, become a great force within the Church. She knew she wasn’t capable of doing great things, but she realized that she could do all the small things with great love.


This may not seem like a particularly extraordinary insight, but it is one that many people miss. We tend to focus on the big achievements that everyone looks at with admiration. But the smallest actions done with love are just as important, if not more so. The fact that they are hidden makes them more pleasing to God. And what is especially important is that everyone is capable of doing small things with great love, regardless of their life circumstances. The leader of a country and the man living on the street, are both as capable of doing this and this is what is truly pleasing to God.


Thérèse also suffered greatly both physically and spiritually. During the last eighteen months of her life, she became very sick having contracted tuberculosis. For the most part it was misdiagnosed and she wasn’t treated for it properly. As a result she went through various treatments which only caused her more suffering. To add to her misery, she got little sympathy from the other sisters as several of them thought she was faking it, in order to avoid work. Inside, the TB was gradually eating away at her body until she was finally reduced to half of one lung. She wrote that she never realized that physical suffering could be so bad. She asked the sisters not to leave any medication near her, as she was afraid she might try and take her own life, as the pain was so bad.


Around the same time as she became very ill, she also began to suffer spiritually as her faith seemed to disappear. She wrote that she had never believed that atheists were being sincere when they said they didn’t believe in God, but now she had the same experience herself. She clung on to what she believed intellectually, which feeling nothing inside. God seemed to disappear.


Why would God do this to someone who had had such a lively faith, especially when she was suffering so much physically? She was going through what is often called the dark night of the soul. This is a time of purification, where God helps a person to grow in their faith to a much higher degree. It is easy to be faithful when we experience consolations and the Scriptures are alive and speaking to us. It is much harder to believe and be faithful when we feel nothing. But persevering during times of dryness is when our faith really grows. It is the same in a relationship. It is easy to be faithful to your spouse when things are sweet and you feel great love for each other. It is much harder when you are going through times of dryness and tension, but this is when love really grows. It is also one of the reasons why we take marriage vows and religious vows. The vows we take help us to keep going during the more difficult times.


God knows the potential that each of us have and He wants us to reach our full potential. That is why we go through so many trials of one kind or another. Each time we are struggling we have the choice to persevere, or to give up; to love God, or to curse God. Hopefully we will continually choose the good and in turn we will grow as people, both spiritually and emotionally.


Looking back at the lives of the saints, we see this happening to all of them. The trials they went through were what helped them to grow in their faith. God kept bringing them forward as long as they remained open. God doesn’t need our greatness, rather an open heart.

Friday, October 27, 2023

30th Sunday Yr A (Gospel: Matt 22: 32-40) Heaven, Hell and Purgatory



At this time of the year we focus on the dead and we pray especially for them. The feast of All Saints reminds us of all our loved ones who are in heaven. Everyone in heaven is a saint. We celebrate particular saints, canonised saints, because of their witness and holiness of life, but everyone in heaven is a saint. The day after All Saints, is The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls day, when we remember those who have died, but are not yet in heaven. I like this time of praying for the dead, because for me it is a kind of healthy focus on reality.


The one thing all of us are sure of is that we will die and it is good to be reminded of that every so often. Since we believe that we are destined for heaven, then we have nothing to be afraid of if we try to do what is right, but it is important not to take it for granted. Jesus tells us many times in the Gospels that we can lose heaven, if we are foolish. We must never take it for granted.


When we die, probably not many people are ready to come directly into the intense holiness of God’s presence. It would be too much for us. Think of when you wake up in the morning and you turn on the bed-side light. You turn away your eyes because you are not used to the light yet. Imagine getting the direct light of the sun? It would be unbearable for us. We have to gradually get used to it. Purgatory is something like this. It is the last stage of being made ready, before we can come into God’s presence; a purgation, or purification. It is also when we may have to atone for sins from our lives. People often scoff at this idea, but think of it this way: imagine someone who has lived a life of terrible evil, like Hitler, or Stalin. Millions of people died because of their evil choices. Suppose that shortly before they died, they looked back at their life and realized how much evil they had done and repented of it. They begged God for mercy. God promises his mercy to anyone who sincerely repents. So if they died the following day, would they go straight to heaven? That doesn’t make any sense. They would need to atone for their sin. That is what purgatory is. It is a final stage of purification.  


The Lord has also taught us that we can help those who have died by praying for them. That’s why we dedicate a whole month to remembering them.

There was a lady from Austria by the name of Maria Simma (1915-2004). For many years of her life she experienced a very unusual gift, that is, she was visited by the Holy Souls (souls in purgatory), who asked her for prayers. God granted her this gift of interceding for them, no doubt also to help us to believe in the reality of what happens after death. There is a short book about her called, ‘The Amazing Secret of the Souls in Purgatory: An Interview with Maria Simma.’ I think it is worth reading.


The first time it happened she was in her twenties. One night she woke to find a man in her bedroom slowly pacing up and down. She said, ‘How did you get in here? Go away!’ but he ignored her. She tried to grab him, but there was only air. The following day she went to her priest and told him what had happened and asked what she should do. He told her that if it happened again she should ask him what he wanted from her. It happened again the following night and when she asked, What do you want from me?’ he said, ‘Have three masses offered for me and I will be delivered.’


Maria Simma (1915-2004)

When the souls came to ask her for prayers, many of them would tell her why they were in purgatory. What comes across more than anything else is the mercy of God.

One of the encounters that she had really struck me. She recalls that one night a young man of 20 appeared to her, asking her to pray for him. He told her why he was in purgatory. He had been quite a wild young man, with a bad reputation. He lived in the Alps and one winter his village was hit by a series of avalanches and many people were killed. One night when another avalanche struck, he heard the screams of people nearby for help and he ran down stairs to help them. His mother tried to stop him from going outside, knowing there was a good chance that he would be killed. When he went out he was in fact killed, but God allowed him to die at this time, because he was in the middle of doing something so good. In other words, God took him when he was at his best. I think that this is a wonderful way to understand what happens when people die. God does everything He can to help us. Such is the mercy of God. God will always give us the benefit of the doubt.

When she was asked to explain her understanding of purgatory, she said:

Suppose one day a splendid being appears, extremely beautiful, of a beauty that has never been seen on earth. You are fascinated, overwhelmed by this being of light and beauty, even more so that this being shows that he is madly in love with you—you have never dreamed of being loved so much. You sense too that he has a great desire to draw you to him, to be one with you. And the fire of love which burns in your heart impels you to throw yourself into his arms.

But wait—you realize at this moment that you haven’t washed for months and months, that you smell bad; your nose is running, your hair is greasy and matted, there are big dirty stains on your clothes, etc. So you say to yourself, “No, I just can’t present myself in this state. First I must go and wash: a good shower, then straight away I’ll come back.”

But the love which has been born in your heart is so intense, so burning, so strong, that this delay for the shower is absolutely unbearable. And the pain of the absence, even if it only lasts for a couple of minutes, is an atrocious wound in the heart, proportional to the intensity of the revelation of the love – it is a “love wound.”


That was her description of purgatory.


St. Pius of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio, also experienced the same gift and he said that more people came to him from Purgatory asking for prayers, than pilgrims on earth. While it is natural to shed tears for them, it is more important to pray for them. We can help them by praying for them and offering the mass for them, which is the most powerful prayer there is.


How do we atone for sins? First we must ask for forgiveness: confession. Then we need to pray and perhaps to do penance of some kind. Also, almsgiving atones for sins.


In the book of Tobit, the angel Rafael is sent by God to heal Tobit who has gone blind, and to his son Tobias’ new wife who has been tormented by a demon. At the end of the book Rafael reveals himself to Tobit and Tobias. They had just thought he was a stranger who helped them. This is what Rafael said to them:

Bless God, return thanks to him, proclaim his glory and render him thanks before all the living for all he has done for you. It is good to praise God and exalt his name… Do not be slow in giving him thanks… It is a good thing to accompany prayer with fasting, almsgiving and justice… Almsgiving preserves from death. It purifies from all sin. (Tobit 12:6 ff).


When we die there can only be three things: heaven, hell, or purgatory. We are created for heaven. The death and resurrection of Jesus happened so that we could go to heaven when we die. If heaven is real and we have free will, then we must be able to lose heaven too. If we had no option but to go there, then we wouldn’t have free will. If heaven is the total fulfilment of being in God’s presence, light, beauty, happiness and the company of other people we love, then to lose it would be to be left with the opposite, that is, darkness, pain, isolation, hatred and the knowledge of knowing that we have lost the possibility of eternal happiness. God does not send people to hell. People choose hell by the way they live, rejecting God and everything to do with God. God respects the choices we make. Many places where Our Lady has appeared, she has shown the visionaries heaven, hell and purgatory, to remind us they are real. It is not something we should take lightly.


What about people who no longer go to Church, or no longer practice their faith? Just because they don’t practice, doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God or try to live the right way. It may mean that they cannot relate to organised religion as we do, but we should pray for them, because having a framework is a great help. Continually going to church is going to help us stay tuned in to what is important, to what God is asking us to do and reminding us of what is right and wrong. It is not so easy to do this by yourself.


What about people who have never known Jesus? People primarily accept or reject God by the way they live. Just because they don’t understand God as we do, doesn’t mean they don’t believe, or that they reject God. Only God can judge us. Our job is to pray for those who don’t know God and hopefully to help them come to know him, by they way we live. Most of the people Mother Teresa’s sisters take in off the streets in places like Calcutta, are not Christian, but they don’t try to convert them. They simply love them and allow them to die with dignity. They say more about what they believe by those actions than by anything you could say.


If we make even the smallest effort to live for God, to live as God asks us, then we have nothing to be afraid of. The Lord continually assures us of his love and mercy for all who seek him. The important thing is that we remember that our choices have consequences.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (Jn 14:



Saturday, October 21, 2023

29th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Mat 22:15-21) Confession and repentance



There is a great story in the Old Testament about King David. David was considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel. He conquered all around him and gave the appropriate honor to God, but that is not just why he was considered great. One day, when he was at the height of his power, David was taking a walk on the roof of his palace when he noticed a beautiful woman taking a bath in a nearby garden. He enquired who she was and his servants told him, ‘She is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ David already had many wives, but he decided that even though she was the wife of another, he wanted her. So he ordered her to be brought to him and he slept with her.


Some time later she sent him a note to say that she was expecting. Now David realised that he would be found out. So he had her husband Uriah sent for. Uriah was away fighting for David at the time. When Uriah turned up David asked him how the battle was going and how the men were faring, etc. Then he told him to go home and rest that night and that he would send him back to the battle the next day. But Uriah did not go to his wife, but slept at the door of the palace with the servants. Maybe he smelt a rat.


The next day, realising that Uriah had not spent the night with his wife, David invited him to have dinner with him in the evening and made sure that he had plenty to drink. Again he told him to go and spend the night in his house and that he could return to battle the next day. However, even though he had plenty to drink, he did not spend the night with his wife.


The following day, having realised that he did not go home, David is beginning to panic. So he wrote a letter to Uriah’s commanding officer and asked Uriah to take it back with him to the battle. In the letter King David told his commanding officer to place Uriah at the worst of the fighting and then to pull back, so that Uriah would be killed. So Uriah took the letter—his own death warrant—and returned to the battle and was killed. King David then took Bathsheba as his own wife.


So now you have lust, jealousy, adultery, deceit and murder, what you will find in a lot of modern movies, all committed by the so called ‘great’ King David. However, God in his goodness was not going to allow David to get away with this, so he sends the prophet Nathan to David who tells him a story. Nathan tells David that there was once a very rich man in a town who had many sheep, cattle and all the wealth he could want. There was also a poor man who had just one little lamb. He and his family loved the lamb as one of their own family.  One day a visitor came to the rich man, but rather than taking one of his own animals, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it for a meal. When King David heard this he sprang to his feet and said, ‘Whoever has done this deserves to die for such a crime.’ And then the prophet Nathan says to David, ‘You are the man.’


Now here is the thing. What makes David such a great king is what happened next. When Nathan points the finger at David and says, ‘you are the man,’ instead of having Nathan killed for accusing him as other kings might have done, David says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord,’ and he repents. He confesses and he repents. That is why David was considered a great king. He was big enough to repent and acknowledge that he had done wrong. In his mercy, God confronted David with his sin. When you love your children, you don’t let them away with it, if they have done something wrong. Out of love for them, you challenge them and discipline them, so that they will learn right from wrong and that there are consequences for our actions.


Jesus did the same thing with St. Peter after denying Jesus three times during his passion. After the resurrection and out of love for him, He said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ And Jesus asked him this three times, addressing the three denials. He did this out of love for Peter, to make Peter address his sin. He did this to help Peter. Jesus does the same thing with us. He challenges us when we sin and asks us to have the humility to confess our sins.


One of the most beautiful gifts the Lord has given us is confession, where through one of his priests, the Lord takes away our sins and sets us free. He gives us this gift because He loves us. He asks us to confess our sins, because He loves us and He wants to heal us. Every time we sin, we do damage to ourselves and Jesus wants us to be healed of that. So, through the sacrament of confession, whenever we confess our sins, the Holy Spirit of God absolves us of our sins, so that we can walk away in peace.


Satan knows how powerful confession is and he does everything to convince us that we don’t need it. He tells us that we don’t need to go to a priest. We can tell God we are sorry ourselves. Look at how sinful the priests are. Why would you confess to them? And yet this is what God asks us to do.


After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the Apostles in the upper room, He said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven. Whose sins you retain they are retained’ (Jn 20:23). If Jesus didn’t intend to give us the forgiveness of sins through the priesthood, why would He say that?


Many people will say that they can just tell God they are sorry for their sins themselves. You can, but it is not the same. It doesn’t take any humility to tell God you are sorry for your own sins. It does take humility to come before another human being. And yes priests are sinners too, but God has made this gift available through the priesthood. If it is just the same to tell God you are sorry on your own, then why is it that people often weep in confession after they have confessed something serious like adultery, or abortion? Because they have been healed. You can be sure they have already told God a hundred times they are sorry, but it doesn’t have the same effect. The power of the sacrament heals us and sets us free. That is why the Lord gave it to us. Also, if the Lord asks us to do it this way, who are we to tell him we don’t need to? That is Satan trying to stop us, because he knows that every time we repent of sin, he has less power over us.


We have a psychological need to tell someone when we have done something wrong. God in his wisdom knows that and has made it possible for us to do that in total secrecy through confession.


Going back to king David. What God did to David after his repentance is interesting. You might imagine that God would have struck David down, or removed him as King, but no.  David is punished, yes, and the child that Bathsheba conceives dies. But in time Bathsheba has another child by David and that child turns out to be Solomon, the king who brings a reign of peace and also builds the temple. So God is saying a lot to us through this story.  First, the importance of acknowledging our own wrongdoing.  Second, that even when we have done wrong, God can and does still work through us, bringing good even out of the worst of mistakes we make. The important thing is that we do acknowledge and confess our sins.


Do you want to change the terrible things going on in the world? Start by going to confession. The less we go to confession, the less we have a sense of sin. The more we go to confession, the more we become aware of what sin is and we are filled with God's grace. God's grace is what is needed in the world more than anything else. The greatest healing gift in the Church is the forgiveness of sins.