Friday, April 28, 2023

4th Sunday of Easter Yr A (Jn 10:1-10) I am the good shepherd


Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem


Twice I have had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land. It was a wonderful experience to be able to visit all the places where Jesus lived and preached. I remember being struck at seeing shepherds leading their sheep, something which I had never seen in any other country, because they are a different kind of animal. At one stage we were about to celebrate mass in the place that is celebrated as ‘The Shepherd’s Field,’ where the shepherds who saw the angels were meant to have been. As we were getting ready for mass, two heads popped up over the hill and then two sheep came to us and walked right into the middle of everyone and began poking around. The only sheep I have ever seen would run away. In Palestine the shepherd walks in front and the sheep follow in a line behind. You can still see them doing this in the fields. It makes more sense of what we read in the Scriptures where Jesus says ‘I know my sheep and mine know me’ and ‘He leads me to green pastures.’


I also remember hearing a story of a tourist who was visiting one of these places and was looking at the sheep. To his horror he watched as the shepherd took one of the lambs and deliberately broke its leg. When he saw this he went over and began to chastise the shepherd, saying ‘I saw what you just did. How dare you hurt an animal,’ etc. The shepherd got angry and said ‘You know nothing about what is going on here.’  He then explained to the tourist what he was doing. He said that the lamb was constantly running away, because he was afraid of the shepherd and so he was constantly in danger of getting lost, or being eaten by a wild animal. When this happens the shepherd breaks the leg of the animal and immediately puts it into a splint to heal. During the time it is healing, he carries the animal on his shoulders. By the time it has healed the lamb is no longer afraid of the shepherd and stays close to him and is therefore no longer in danger of getting lost. They actually do this. Sometimes the Lord allows us to struggle which keeps us coming back to him for mercy. It says in Romans, ‘God made all people prisoners of disobedience, so that He might show mercy to them all.’ (Romans 11:32).


Today is vocations Sunday, also known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’; a day when we remember and pray for priests and priestly vocations. St. Thérèse of Lisieux said she could never understand why people were always saying that we should pray for priests, until she went on a pilgrimage to Rome with several priests. Then she understood! Priests are just men like any other men, with the same strengths and weaknesses. The priest is meant to be a shepherd, one who leads people to God, or points people in the direction of God. If I am to do that, my life as a priest must be completely centred on God to begin with, because I cannot give you what I do not have. Nothing I have of myself as a human being will be of any use to you. The only thing that I have which is of any use to you is what I receive from God. I am only a vessel or instrument of God; at least that is the idea.


We also know that we priests are not always as good as we should be. Sadly, we have often let people down in different ways and sometimes even led people away from God, which is something that we will be held accountable for.  In the book of Ezekiel God says to the prophet, ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves. Should not shepherds take care of the sheep?’ (Ex 34:2). I always find that line a bit frightening. God has given me the gift of the priesthood, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I will be answerable for how I have lived it.


So why does God keep on calling people who are weak? Why doesn’t He pick stronger people, or more reliable people? I have no doubt it is to make it all the more obvious that we are only instruments that He uses. Of ourselves we are nothing, but the message that we pass on to you from God is everything. It is like a glass of really good wine. Whether the glass itself is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, is irrelevant. What matters is the content. If you find yourself disappointed with a priest, or if he lets you down, try and remember that. Also, the priest is not the Church. He is one person and a certain amount of people will always cause scandal. One out of twelve of the Apostles betrayed Jesus.


The devil is clever and will jump on any bad experience you have had with a priest, in confession, or any conversation. I’m always amazed at how many people have walked away from the Church because of one bad experience with a priest. Would you never go shopping again if you had a bad experience with a cashier, or with a waiter in a restaurant? But the devil will say, ‘See, this is what the Church is like. Why would you want to be part of that?’


While it is a great help if the priest is a holy man, the only thing that is really important is the message that he is bringing. We are only messengers, or as St. Paul says, ‘But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us’ (2 Cor 4:7). We are only cracked-pots that carry this extraordinary treasure. What matters is the treasure that we bring to you and not the one who carries that treasure. That treasure is the teaching of Jesus Christ, that He has won eternal life for us through his death and resurrection; that He is Lord of all things and all things are subject to him; that He has given us the Scriptures, the Eucharist, the forgiveness of sins. That is the only thing that matters. Jesus is the one who offers us the fullness of life, and He is the only one who can offer it. We continue to turn to him for life and hopefully we priests will continue to be vessels, or instruments, helping people to rediscover these extraordinary treasures which God has given us, in spite of our weakness.


St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests

What if the priest is not a very holy man and even living a bad life? Is God less present in the mass or anywhere else, because the priest is not a good man? Of course not. God would never let his presence depend on the holiness of a priest. Even if the priest does not give good example, the bread and wine still become the Body and Blood of Christ; sins are still forgiven through confession, the sick receive the same grace when they are anointed.


I know a lot of priests and most of them are good men and many of them are holy men, but we also need prayer, because we are human beings and we are subject to the same temptations as everyone else. We need your support and that is how it is meant to work. The shepherd guides the flock and the flock take care of their shepherd. That has also been my experience and I thank you for that. We all try to play our part.


God has given us the priesthood so that we can have the Eucharist, the gift of Jesus himself. The two are intimately linked and are a great gift to us. Everything God gives us is to help us and because He loves us.


I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’






Thursday, April 27, 2023

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A (Gospel: Luke 24:13-35) "The truth will make you free"



One of the hardest things for any of us to face and understand is suffering. The question that always comes up is, ‘If God is good and all-powerful, why is there suffering in the world?’ Why doesn’t God stop it? No good ever seems to come from suffering, so why does God allow it? There is no easy answer, but a big part of it is free will. God gave us free will, but with freedom comes responsibility.


Today there is a lot of talk about freedom, protecting our freedom at all costs. What is freedom? Real freedom is living in God’s kingdom, living by the teachings of God. Doing whatever you want, regardless of the consequences, does not lead to freedom, it leads to chaos and evil, which lead to suffering. Go back to the story of Adam and Eve. God told them they could eat of any tree in the garden, except for the tree of good and evil. He was telling them not to step beyond their limitations—the tree of good and evil. Recognize and respect your limitations as human beings. They experienced fulfillment and happiness because they were living in the realm of God, as He asked them to. As long as they didn’t ‘play God’ they were fine. But they were tempted to disobey God and they gave in to the temptation. They didn’t listen to what God told them. They gave in to the temptation that ‘they could be like gods’, in other words, to do whatever they wanted, respecting no limitations and look at what happened. They brought chaos into the world. Sin.


In documentaries on drug smuggling, I have often heard the journalist ask the dealers or smugglers, ‘Are you not concerned about all the deaths that these drugs cause?’ and they nearly always give the same answer: ‘I just bring the drug, it’s up to the people to do whatever they want with it.’ In other words, I take no responsibility for my actions. We tell our young women that they can dress whatever way want, no matter how provocative and if it causes men to sin, that is their problem. I take no responsibility for my actions. Our society tells us that it is ok to sleep around and you don’t have to take responsibility for the consequences. If a young woman gets pregnant, we tell her that she can have an abortion. I take no responsibility for my actions. That was what Adam and Eve did. They were told by the devil that it was freedom not to listen to God but to do whatever they wanted, but it wasn’t. God showed them what true freedom was, but they rejected it. Living by God’s Commandments is what brings true freedom.


Look at what is happening in our world today. So many people have abandoned the ways of God, refuse to listen to God, even deny God and sin continues to multiply. We see more and more evil. What is good is often called evil—‘everyone should be able to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences’—and evil is called good: abortion, euthanasia, telling children to choose their own gender. It is against God’s commandments, and they lead to destruction and death. And if you criticize what God tells us is evil, then you are called evil and hateful. People are being accused of hate speech, just for quoting Scripture.


It says in the prophet Isaiah, ‘Woe to those who call evil good evil and good evil… Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.’ (Is 5:20a-21)


Recently you heard me talk about the Church in Germany, where many of the bishops have decided they now know better [than God’s word] and so can go away from Church teaching. They have now decided that it is ok to bless gay marriage, even though this goes against Church teaching. ‘Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes.’


Throughout history God continually offered the Jewish people the chance to enjoy true freedom, by living his Commandments, but they continually rejected it. Moses said to the people:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. (Deut 30:15-16)


True freedom is to live under God’s commandments, but it comes with responsibility. We have free will, but we are also responsible for our actions. So God points out specifically what we need to do, by giving us the Commandments. This is the path for us to find freedom.


I remember seeing one of those programs called Super-nanny, where they bring a psychologist into a family where they are having a lot of problems with their kids. In this particular case, two young children were becoming wilder and wilder and the parents didn’t know what to do. The psychologist pointed out that they needed definite rules and guidelines as to what they could and could not do. As soon as the parents began to do this, the children began to settle down. The parents initially had been afraid to enforce any rules, or guidelines, but in fact that is exactly what was needed. The children were happier once they knew their boundaries.


The Lord does the same with us. He gives us the guidelines that we need to follow and as long as we follow them, we will find inner peace. It might seem like a contradiction to say that we will be free once we submit ourselves to a set of Commandments, but that is exactly what happens. It brings inner freedom.


In the Gospel today when the two disciples are downcast and can only see what has gone wrong, it says that Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Only in God everything makes sense. He showed them that despite the human evil that led to the betrayal and death of an innocent man, God brought the greatest good imaginable out of it; not only a man rising from the dead, but opening the way for us to return to the original happiness we had lost through disobedience. Even though we sin and cause suffering, God can still bring great good out of any situation, but we will only recognize that in God. That is why it is so important that we keep going back to listen to what God is saying to us in the Scriptures, so that we can see things from God’s perspectives and not just from human perspectives. Our life on earth, only makes sense in God.


The two disciples were thinking only in human terms and could only see what had gone wrong and that it hadn’t turned out as they had hoped. ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to free Israel…’ ‘We are so disappointed.’ But Jesus helped them to see that God has a much higher purpose that goes beyond what we can see. His plan for us is happiness and freedom, but not in the way we think. He shows us what we need to do—follow his teaching; be responsible for our actions—and that will lead to the greatest freedom, but we must listen to what He says.


If you live in my word, you will be my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.’ (John 8:31-32)

Friday, April 14, 2023

2nd Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday (Gospel: John 20:19-31) 11 hours in heaven. The story of Jim Woodford.


Today I would like to share with you an amazing story  I came across recently about a man named Jim Woodford, now in his seventies, I think. Jim was born in Newfoundland and became one of the youngest qualified pilots in the world at age 19 and spent his career as a commercial pilot flying all over the world. He was a very successful pilot and business man and did very well for himself financially.


Jim was never a religious man. He believed in God, but just didn’t pay any attention to God or church practice, although his wife was a devout Christian.


Some time after he retired, he contracted a rare disease called Guillain-Barré, which attacks the nerves and causes severe pain and can leave you very debilitated, which it did. He ended up living in constant severe pain and very limited in what he could do. So he began to take strong pain killers.


One day when he was out on an errand in his pickup truck, he stopped on the crest of a hill to watch the sunset. Waiting for another burst of pain he noticed that he had some pain killers in the car. He reasoned that because he had built up quite a tolerance to the pain medication, he could take a few more than normal and so he did. He did not intend to overdose, but that is essentially what he did. He then found himself about to pass out and as he was fading away, he said the words, ‘God forgive me.’


Jim Woodford

After some time he woke up and all the pain was gone. He got out of his truck, walked several yards and was amazed at how well he felt; no pain whatsoever. Then as he looked back at his truck he noticed that someone was in his truck. He was both surprised and angry. He started walking towards his truck and as he got closer and looked to see who was in his truck, he saw his own body there, slumped over the steering wheel, bleeding from his mouth. His soul had left his body, but he still had all his faculties, except no pain. He then found himself beginning to rise and going through a tunnel of light at great speed and finally coming to rest in a place of incredible beauty, the likes of which he had never seen before. He realized it must be heaven.

He also noticed what seemed to be a dividing line in front of him. To his right, this place of incredible beauty, but to his left a downward slope to a huge opening of darkness and swirling clouds, with a terrible stench. He knew this was hell. Then he began to see demons coming up for him, calling his name. At that moment he cried out three words, ‘God, save me!’


Suddenly he noticed from heaven, three bright lights coming towards him at great speed. They turned out to be angels who took him away from the precipice of hell and brought him into heaven. They then began to show him heaven in great detail. I won’t share with you his description of what he saw, because I wouldn’t do it justice and it is too long, but it is worth reading. The only thing I will add, is that he finally came to meet Jesus who was in blinding glory. And Jesus said to him, ‘James. What have you done with the life my Master gave you?’ He had no answer, as he realized that his life had been totally selfish. It wasn’t that he had done evil things, but everything he did was focused on himself and his own fulfillment.


Finally Jesus said to him, ‘James, my Son, this is not your time yet. Go back and tell your brothers and sisters of the wonders we have shown you.’


During this whole experience Jim had been clinically dead for eleven hours. The doctors kept his body alive so that his family could come to say a last goodbye to him, but he was clinically dead. Then, to everyone’s astonishment he started to wake up. Although there were tubes in his throat he immediately began trying to speak about Jesus and what he had seen, although it was hard to understand him. He remained in hospital for some time and eventually made a full recovery. He was also completely healed of all pain, although the evidence of the disease was still in his body. As you can imagine, from that time on, his life was completely different and he began to give his testimony, sharing his experience with people.


I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago, whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, only God knows, such a man was caught up to the third heaven… and heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak.’ (2 Cor 12:2-4).


In the Scriptures there are also several places where people have been shown parts of heaven and they always find it hard to put words on what they have described. ‘I saw what seemed to be like a human being…’


Why am I sharing this with you? We are not obliged to believe any of this, as it is just one individual’s experience. But God gives people experiences like this, to encourage us. Many people live in fear of death and what lies beyond. Will we know each other, will it just be some kind of semi-conscious state? Reading testimonies like Jim Woodward’s are inspiring and that is why God allows some people to have them, because we need encouragement and reassurance.


There is also something else worth pointing out. Although he was not a religious man and had lived a very self-centered life, just six words saved him: ‘God forgive me,’ when he was passing out, and ‘God save me,’ when he was about to go to hell. That is a reminder of the infinite mercy of God. The Lord promises his mercy to anyone who sincerely turns to him.


Think of the good thief dying beside Jesus on the cross. ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus replied, ‘I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.’


God has created us to be with him in heaven and God has already gone to the ends of the earth, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, so that that can happen. If this is what God wants for us, then that is where we will go if we make any effort to live as God asks us to live. it is not about living a perfect life, because there is no such thing, but about trying. The path to heaven is not an easy one.


Enter through the narrow gate. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many go enter it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to live and only a few find it.’ (Matt 7:13-14)


I believe one of the biggest challenges on our journey to God is just being faithful, keeping at it, getting up again each time we fall. That’s why it’s a narrow winding road, because trying to live as God asks us is demanding, but it is the road that leads to God!


Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23: 42-43)

Jim Woodford's testimony is available through his website: and his book: Heaven: An Unexpected Journey.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Easter Sunday


A friend of mine whom I grew up with asked if I would do his wedding. I was happy to. Not presuming he is a practicing Catholic I asked him if would be receiving Holy Communion. He said he would like to, but he said, ‘As a scientist, I do not believe in the resurrection.’ He is a pathologist, the doctors who perform autopsies. Every day he is looking at dead bodies and for him, the idea of a body being raised from the dead is preposterous. From a scientific point of view it is impossible and irrational, but what does impossible mean for God.


An empty tomb proves nothing and it was only after Jesus began to appear to the Apostles that they gradually were convinced in the truth of the resurrection. In fact in one account it says that Jesus admonished the Apostles for their lack of faith. He gave out to them for refusing to believe! (See Mark 16:14-20)


There is an amazing line in St. Matthew’s account of the passion. During the trial of Jesus, because there is conflicting evidence against him, which is of no use to them, the High Priest eventually puts it to Jesus directly: I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

And Jesus answered:

 “The words are your own. Moreover, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:63-64).

In other words, Jesus says “Yes I am the Son of God.” For Jesus to make a claim like that he must have been either a liar, insane, or he was telling the truth, because it is an extraordinary thing to say. We believe it was the truth and that is exactly who Jesus is, not just a holy man, or a prophet, but the Son of God.


In the book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, St. John the disciple of Jesus who stood at the cross, recalls a vision he had where a man appeared to him. He says that he saw what seemed to be a man. His hair was white as wool, or snow. His eyes were like fire. His skin was like shining bronze and out of his mouth came a double-edged sword. He says that he was so afraid when he saw this that he fell down as if dead. Then this person or being that he saw touched him and said 

Do not be afraid.  I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld” (Rev 1:17b-18).


Who was this person? It was of course Jesus, risen from death. Not just the Jesus whose name we so often use carelessly as a swear word, but Jesus who is the Son of God. Now John, who had this vision, had known and lived with Jesus for at least three years, so why would Jesus appear to him in such a terrifying way? Perhaps to remind him and us of who Jesus really is, that is, the Son of God. He is not just Jesus our brother, though He is that too. But He is also Jesus the Son of God, before whom the whole of creation will bow down, who will judge the living and the dead and who will come again in glory. I think it’s important that we remember that.


Why is the resurrection so important? To understand that we have to go back to the beginning. God created us to be happy. The story of Adam and Eve helps us to explain that. God gave them paradise and every delight they could ask for. But He also warned them to recognise and respect their limitations. ‘Do not touch the tree of good and evil.’ In other words, don’t play God. Don’t be the ones who decide what only God can decide. But they became arrogant and they listened to a lie, the lie which said, ‘You can be like God, knowing good from evil…’ Satan tempted them and they gave in to the temptation. But as soon as they had done this, chaos followed, because we cannot live without God and without God’s guidance.


This is the same sin that we see happening all around us at this time. Much of our society has decided it doesn’t need God and that we will decide who lives and who dies (abortion and euthanasia), what is male and female, what is good and evil. But the same thing happens. When we try to play God, chaos follows and that is exactly what we see happening all around us.


The worst problem of the Original Sin, was that they had no way of undoing the damage. They had lost the happiness God had given them and they could not get it back. But because God loves us, He wouldn’t leave us in that state and so through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He won it back for us and now offers it to us. He says, ‘I have done this for you and I offer it to you when you die (heaven), but you must choose it.’ Because God respects our free will, He allows us to accept or reject it. For Christians, baptism is how we choose it. Being baptized is to say, ‘Yes, I believe this. I want this and I choose this.’ That’s why we state what it is we believe at every Sunday mass in the Creed.


What does this mean for us in concrete terms? It means that what all of us long for—happiness and being reunited with the people we love—is waiting for us if we choose it. There is no greater hope than this. All of us want to be happy and all of us want to be with the people we love. And now that is waiting for us if we choose it. That’s why Easter is so important and is the greatest hope there is.


Do not be afraid.  I am the first and the last, the living one.  I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld.”


Sunday, April 2, 2023

Palm Sunday Year A (Matthew 26:14-27:66) God in the midst of chaos


The account of the passion really speaks for itself, but I would like to share a few thoughts with you.

I don’t know about you, but something I find very disturbing in our modern world, is the amount of corruption everywhere. Lying and cheating seem to be accepted as normal practice by many. We read about corruption in just about every government and every organisation, including the Church. Struggles for power, people being tortured. It is horrible to read about these things, and we often seem to be so helpless. Where is the loving God we speak about, who brings justice?


The readings today paint a similar picture. The only man who was completely innocent and who only did good throughout his life, is betrayed by a close friend, arrested, tortured, given an illegal trial—it was illegal according to their own law—and on the basis of false evidence is put to death. Where is the justice in that? Where is our just and loving God? How could God allow such a terrible miscarriage of justice?


And yet out of all this chaos and terrible injustice, God brings about the most extraordinary good for the whole human race, something no one could ever have foreseen, but it happens by means of his suffering. Jesus makes it possible for us to go to heaven when we die. Because of this terrible evil, brought about by human hands, God does something unimaginably wonderful.


There is a line in the Exultet—the hymn sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil—which says, ‘Oh necessary sin of Adam, which won for us so great a redeemer.’  ‘Oh necessary sin.’ If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, there would have been no need for the Incarnation and so we wouldn’t have Jesus. This event changed the whole course of history. Everything was different after this, but what was really going on at that time was not obvious. In fact no one knew what was really happening. It was only afterwards, when Jesus himself began to reveal it to the disciples, only then did they begin to understand what it all meant and even then it took a while for them to grasp it.


So is there a message in all of this for us today, apart from remembering what happened? Can these events still speak to us now? In many ways our modern, so called ‘civilised’ society sounds remarkably like the one Jesus lived in. There was great corruption then and there still is. But there is above all else, a message of hope in all this, that even though there is a lot of evil around us and there always has been, it doesn’t stop God from being present to us, and guiding us through the chaos, as it were. Not only that, but the very difficult events that we come up against, God can and does bring extraordinary good out of, even the worst of situations, but we don’t always see that good. All these events took place for our benefit and that is a reminder that God is just as much with us now as He was then. That is why we go over all these events each year, to remind ourselves what has happened, what God has done for us and that God is still with us, even in the midst of chaos.


Having the hope that our faith gives us, makes all the difference in the world. You can see in the faces of so many people, fear and anxiety, because they have nothing to put their hope in except other human beings. That is a sad way to live your life, because people will let us down. God is the only one who will not let us down, even though we may not see that until afterwards.


Oh necessary sin of Adam, which won for us so great a redeemer.’