Friday, May 26, 2023

Pentecost Sunday (Gospel: 20:19-23 ) The renewal of the Church



In 1999, in preparation for the millennial celebrations, Pope John Paul II invited representatives from 54 different groups around the world to come to Rome. These groups were all started over the previous several decades by lay people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To give you an example, some of the groups were, the Focolare movement, Marriage Encounter, Cenacolo, Charismatic Renewal. All of these different movements within the Church are really about different ways of living out the Gospel in daily life. These movements have been so successful that most of them have spread all over the world. In Rome there were 400 000 people present representing these 54 different movements. This event was a real celebration of what God is doing all over the world. 


In my hometown of Galway in 1988, a prayer group sprang up which was to bring many young people back to their faith, including me. Today there are 4 people in religious life from that group (two priests and two sisters in the Poor Clares) and many married couples who are really living the Gospel and teaching their children to do the same.  A friend of mine from that prayer group, who was one of the first people to welcome me to it, started a school of evangelisation for lay people in Knock in 2006. They had 17 students all eager to learn how to pass on the faith. While that prayer group is no longer there, two other groups came from it and the same thing is happening. 


All of these groups were started because God inspired people to act. The Holy Spirit moved people to act and they did. All of those groups were started by lay people.


We don’t often hear about these things, because they don’t make the headlines, but I think it is important for us to know that these things are going on all the time.  From what you read on the news you would be forgiven for thinking that the Church is on its way out, or that religion is no longer relevant. Nothing could be further from the truth and times of crisis, such as we are in now, often make people think about God and why we are here.


Although I never stopped believing in God, I stopped practicing my faith for a time, while I was in my teens. I found it harder and harder to relate to what was going on at mass. When I was 19 I found myself thinking that I wanted to be properly in or out, but not half way. That same year I came to the US and worked on Long Island for the summer as a student, in the A&P supermarket. It was a great adventure.


When I got home I came across a book which had been left in my bedroom called, Power for Living. I don’t know who put it there. This book was a series of testimonies of different well-known people, talking about their faith and how they came to know God. At the end of the book it said, ‘If you want to have God in your life, sit down now and ask him to come into your life.’ And so I did. I remember sitting on my bed and saying, ‘Lord, if you are really there, help me to know you.’ Little did I know what was coming next.


A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of mine by the name of Aidan. Aidan told me that he had met a mutual friend of ours called Louise when he was travelling on a bus. He said she had become ‘all religious and holy.’ She had been on pilgrimage to Medjugorje—the place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Our Lady had allegedly been appearing to six young people. While she was there she had had an awakening of her faith and was now filled with zeal and wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. I was intrigued by this, as I knew Louise, who was from a similar background to myself. So I called to her house and asked her what had happened. She was surprised that I asked her so directly, as she had been trying to find ways to bring this up in conversation, but I asked her before she could say anything. For the next hour and a half she told me all that had happened her and how God had revealed himself to her while she was there. At the end of it she asked me if I would like to come to a prayer meeting the next week. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but Louise was clever and she asked another girl whom I had a crush on, to invite me. Naturally I went. Now they are both married and I’m a priest!


When I went to the prayer meeting I found myself in the middle of about 50 young people, who sang hymns, prayed the rosary, shared some Scripture readings, praised God out loud and called on the Holy Spirit. I had never come across anything like this before, but I could see what these people had was real and I wanted it. So I began to attend this group each week and they taught me about the importance of spending some time each day in prayer and so I did.


A few weeks later they started what is called a ‘Life in the Spirit Seminar’. This is a series of teachings over eight weeks, which teaches people about the reality of the Holy Spirit and the power of God in your life, how it is real and not just a religious idea. On the fifth week they pray with everyone, laying on hands as the Apostles did, praying that people might receive an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. I was excited about what might happen, but when I was prayed with nothing in particular happened, except that I felt peaceful, though not unduly so.


However, over the following days and weeks I found that I had a burning desire to pray, such as I had never experienced before. I was in college at the time, studying marketing and I constantly wanted to go away by myself to pray. I also found that I began to hear the Scriptures as if I had never read them before and the words of the mass were suddenly alive as if I had never heard them before. Everything was different. The Holy Spirit had powered up my faith. From then on my faith was completely different, alive and on fire as it had never been before. That has stayed with me to this day.


About three years later I began to feel a call to become a priest and so I began my studies to for the priesthood and then I was ordained when I was 29. People sometimes ask why I didn’t want to get married. I was drawn to get married and I knew giving that up wouldn’t be easy, but the calling to serve God as a priest was stronger and hard to resist. It has not been an easy journey, but the Lord said it wouldn’t be easy. ‘You will be hated by all men on account of my name,’ but I couldn’t imagine a greater privilege. It is a mind-blowing idea, that through my hands as a priest, a piece of bread is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and when I say the words of absolution, a person’s sins are taken away. I cannot imagine a greater privilege than this.


A few times I have gotten to the point where I didn’t think I could go on, not because I wanted to give up, but because I was really struggling and felt it was too much. But each time God has called me back and given me the grace to keep going. I know that is also because many people continually pray for me and other priests.


The first disciples had nothing to rely on except the power of God and that is why the Lord was able to do so much through them. They didn’t have any prestige, or titles. Nobody knew who they were. They had to rely completely on the power of God’s Spirit and they did.  Jesus had taught them to do this. He told them that they would receive the gift of the Spirit, which is what we celebrate this weekend and they were instantly changed from being frightened men in hiding, to unstoppable men, to the point of giving up their lives. This is the same gift that I received, though I suspect they received it in a more intense way.


The power of the Holy Spirit is what makes our faith alive. Without the Holy Spirit our faith is nothing. The very desire we have to know God comes from the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures would be just ancient writings, except that the Spirit sets them on fire. The bread and wine at each mass would remain just bread and wine, except that the Spirit transforms them into the Body and Blood of Christ, not just symbolically, but really and truly into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The reason why the Church is still here after 2000 years, is because the Holy Spirit continues to move and inspire people to act. No one is excluded, but it requires an openness on our part, because God will never force anything on us.


If you find your faith is not terribly alive, or it doesn’t seem very interesting, it means that you need to pray for the gift of the Spirit. God wants to give us the gift of his Spirit and is just waiting for us to ask. So ask!


Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.’


Friday, May 12, 2023

6th Sunday Yr A (Gospel: John 14:15-21) If you love me you will keep my commandments



Something I often come across as a priest is this: when someone has died, or someone has become very ill, it often makes people angry, because they feel that God has let them down, or even betrayed them. Working in a hospital for a few years I would often hear people say: ‘I never hurt anyone. Why has God done this to me?’ ‘God owes me.’ It is as if there was a legal contract and if we keep our side of it, then God is obligated to keep his side of it, by looking after us and making sure that nothing happens to us. This is also one of the effects of Original Sin. We are suspicious of God and not convinced that He is good. We are quick to blame God when things go wrong and only to thank and praise him for the things that suit us.


The problem is that there is no love in this way of thinking. There is no love in a legal contract. It is just a contract, on paper, or by word of mouth. However, there is one big difference with the way God works. God relates to us on the basis of love alone. Everything that we have is a gift from God, out of love. We do not deserve any of it and we have not earned any of it. God does not owe us anything and will never owe us anything. If I manage to be faithful to my priesthood and to all that the Lord Jesus asks me to do as a Christian, then when I die, I cannot demand eternal happiness from him. He does not owe me anything. It is his undeserved gift, for no reason except that He wants to give it to me, just as we gifts to people we love, for no other reason than that we love them. That is why whatever we do on this earth for the Lord, is supposed to be done out of love for him and because he asks us to do it. Our relationship with God is meant to be one of love.


Look at the first words of the Gospel: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ ‘If you love me…’ What would you do for someone you love? Would you keep their wishes? Would you respect them? Would you keep their commandments, God’s Commandments?


It is interesting how many people have the idea that you should follow all the demands of your faith ‘in so far as they suit you’. If it doesn’t suit you then obviously you don’t do it. That is the mentality of our world and it is a selfish mentality. We are constantly told that we don’t owe anything to anyone and we shouldn’t have to do anything unless it suits us. What do I get out of it?


When you hear someone say that mass is boring, it really means they feel that they should get something out of it. It is about their satisfaction. But it’s not. Coming to mass each Sunday is about us making a sacrifice of our time to worship and acknowledge God, because He is God. No other reason is needed.


I have rarely heard people say they were bored at a funeral. That’s because they know why they are there.


The idea of sacrifice is not part of the thinking of our world. Jesus does not tell us to follow him on our own terms, but on his terms. In other words, we must try to live as He asks. They are commandments and not suggestions. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’


However, we must also remember that anything God tells us to do, is for our benefit. God knows exactly how we work and also what will help us to grow and blossom. He knows the path we need to follow, which will lead us to happiness. So, He points out the way and tells us how we need to live. ‘If you live as I command you, you will be alright.’ Unfortunately we do not always trust God and we often think that we know better. That is also why they are commandments and not suggestions. God is well aware that we often think we know better, so He tells us which path is the one to take. For our part we must trust him, even when it does not seem to make sense to us.


Our faith can certainly be demanding, but any way of life worth living is demanding.  If I wish to be a Catholic and to follow the way of Jesus Christ, then this is what is expected of me. These are the demands of our faith, but while it is demanding, it is not beyond us, because God gives us the strength we need to live it. He gives us ‘The Advocate,’ the Holy Spirit, to give us both strength and understanding. The Spirit empowers us to live as God asks us to. Think of the Apostles when they received the Spirit. They were completely transformed and the Spirit took away all their fear. From then on they were able to preach with power and authority, because God had given them the strength they needed.


It says in the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostles continually prayed with people so that they would receive the gifts of the Spirit, what we call Confirmation. The Lord gives us everything we need to live as He asks, so we can never say that it was too much for us. Not only that, but the Lord comes to us himself in the Eucharist, to accompany us every step of the way. So we are not walking this journey on our own. Jesus is with us for as much as we allow him to be.


Jesus also says that the Spirit is ‘The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept.’ At this time in particular we need that truth, because it has become so distorted. How do we know what really is true? Ask the Spirit. Pray to the Spirit. God speaks to us through his Spirit, through his words and through his Church. If you are confused about what really is right and wrong regarding all the crazy teachings we are hearing about, read the Scriptures and pray to the Spirit. Jesus says, ‘He will teach you everything.’


The farther people stray from God, the more confused they get, until they no longer know what is right and wrong. But we are blessed, because all we have to do is read the Scriptures and listen to the Spirit teaching us through his Church. That way we are not dependent on any one person, or their interpretation of Scripture. ‘The Spirit of truth will teach you everything.’


Something I’m also asked a lot is how we are supposed to pass on our faith to the next generation. The second reading addresses this perfectly. ‘Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence.’ The best way to pass on our faith is to live it as well as we can. The crazier our world gets, the more people are trying to find meaning. When we live our faith seriously, it makes us different and people notice that. They may not say it to you, but people l do notice. One thing that people notice is that we have a sense of purpose and that we are not overcome by the craziness of our world at this time, because we know where to keep our focus and that is on the Lord. We are already seeing signs of this happening. I have noticed more younger people coming to Church, because they are searching. If people ask you why you believe what you do, or why you are not overwhelmed by what is happening, then you have the chance to ‘Give a reason for the hope you have.’ But for the most part, we just live this relationship with God.


In the early Church, people were drawn to the Christians because of the values and purpose they had. They were also living in a time of craziness, but they bore witness by the faith they had.


Remember too that God is as interested in your children’s faith and wellbeing as you are. You created their bodies. God created their souls. Don’t underestimate how much God is working in their lives, even though you may not see it. Just keep praying for them and doing penance for them and offer all that you suffer, for them.



Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence.’


If you love me you will keep my commandments.’


Saturday, May 6, 2023

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A (Gospel: John 14:1-12) Life after death


This Gospel passage is one that I nearly always read at funerals. To me it perfectly sums up so much of what we believe happens at death. So often we think of this life as being everything and when it’s over, we go to some kind of spiritual retirement home, where we ‘rest in peace’. In some ways that is to see it the backwards. Our society tells us that this life is everything, so enjoy it all you can and try and gain as much pleasure and satisfaction as you can, before it’s over. The Lord tells us that this life is a time of getting ready for the world to come, which is what we are created for. This is our time of learning about love and service and about God. It is also our time of free will when we must choose to accept or reject God. When our time on earth is complete, the Lord will take us to be with him forever, unless we have rejected him.


I am going to prepare a place for you…’ There is a place waiting for us.

I will come and take you to myself, so that where I am, you also may be.’


When our time on earth is complete, the Lord will come for us. Even just to put it that way, as opposed to saying, ‘when our life is over,’ makes a big difference. Our life isn’t over, just our time on earth. Our mortal bodies will die, but then we will have glorified or spiritual bodies and we will no longer be bound by time and space and where we will live more intensely than we do here on earth. We will experience everything just as we do now, but at a higher level of intensity than we do now.


The most difficult thing anyone can face is the death of a child, or someone dying much younger that we feel they should die, through violence, or cancer, or anything else. Why does God allow this to happen? We don’t know. But if we can go back to seeing our time on earth as the time of preparation for the world to come, then it means that those we have lost have gone ahead of us sooner than we expected. Their time on earth was completed sooner than we expected, but sooner or later we will catch up with them again. That is the hope that our faith gives us and there is really no greater hope than this.


If our life on earth was everything, then the death of those we love is the worst disaster imaginable. But if our time on earth is only temporary and leading to something else, then that changes everything. Sooner or later we will catch up with those who have gone before us.


St. Paul writes, ‘If our faith in Christ has been for this life only, then of all people we are the most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:19). The whole point of our faith is what it is leading us to.


So what is the purpose of our time on earth? We were created to share in God’s happiness. When we are very happy about something, our instinct is to share it with people. We have a party to celebrate happy events, because we want others to share in our joy. God created us to share in his happiness. After giving our first parents this happiness, which is explained through the story of the Garden of Eden, we lost it, which was not what God wanted for us. So God won it back for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now it is offered to us again, but we must consciously choose it.


Our time on earth is that time of choosing for God or against God; choosing to love or not to love. We are created to love and serve God and to share in his happiness. Our time on earth is meant to be a time of service, to God and the people around us. It is meant to be a time of giving of ourselves, sacrificing ourselves, for the people around us, just as Jesus did.


In St. John’s Gospel, at the last supper, it says that Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles and then He said to them: ‘You call me Teacher and Lord and rightly, for so I am. If I your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.’ (John 13:13-14)


In other words, we are meant to serve and sacrifice of ourselves. It is easy to forget that when we are constantly being told that everything is about our own fulfillment. It is not just about our own fulfilment, although in fact the more we give of ourselves, the more we will be satisfied.


Does it really matter what we do, since God loves everyone and everyone goes to heaven? That is not what Jesus taught. Many times Jesus taught that we must be careful how we live, because it will determine what happens to us after death. We choose for or against God by the way we live. God has created us to be with him in heaven, but it is not a given. It depends on how we live and what we choose.


In Matthew 25, Jesus gives the parable of the sheep and the goats, explaining this:

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”


Many people scoff at the idea of hell, or say that a loving God would never create hell. But if heaven is real and we have free will, then it must be possible to not go to heaven. Otherwise we would be forced to go to heaven, which contradicts the idea of free will. So if heaven is beauty, joy, peace, light, happiness, love and the total fulfillment we all long for, then to reject that would be to be left with the opposite: ugliness, hatred, darkness, pain, isolation and the eternal frustration of never having the fulfillment we long for. It is not that God sends people to hell, rather that people choose hell by rejecting God.


It is interesting that any place where apparitions of Jesus or Mary have occurred, the visionaries have nearly always been shown heaven, hell and purgatory, to remind us that these are real.


The various trials that we continually go through are also part of this journey to heaven. Every trial we go through gives us the opportunity to grow. When things go wrong we can curse God, or ask God to help us. Every struggle we go through helps to form us as people, one way or the other. When you think you are going crazy and can’t take any more, try and remember that no matter how bad things get here, it is temporary. Sooner or later our time here will be complete and then, God willing, we will go to be with our loved ones once again, where we will experience the fulfillment that we all long for.


I want to finish with the following quotation from a famous Protestant minister called John Owen. When he was dying he was dictating some letters. He said, ‘Write, “I am still in the land of the living”, and then he said, “No, change that. Write, “I am still in the land of those who die. Soon I hope to be in the land of the living.”’