Friday, July 28, 2023

17th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 15:44-52) The hidden treasure


Poor Clare Convent, Galway, Ireland.

There are two lady friends of mine, good friends whom I’ve known for many years: Maura and Marina. Both were accountants, with good jobs and a nice lifestyle; great party-goers and very popular. Then one day Marina announced to us all that she was going to leave everything and enter the Poor Clare convent, in my hometown. The Poor Clares are an order of contemplative sisters, which means they dedicate their lives to prayer. They never leave the convent, except for things like visits to the doctor, or to vote. Otherwise they spend the rest of their lives in the convent praying for all of us. See their website They also have a convent here in Fort Myers, which was on Fort Myers Beach, although I think they had to move because of the hurricane. People from all over the city and beyond continually go into them asking them to pray for different intentions. About two years after Marina entered, my friend Maura did the same thing. This meant that they would give up their job and salary, their independence and nice lifestyle and also the chance to get married and have children. Marina’s family were very upset when she decided to do this, even though they were a very religious family themselves. In spite of their faith they found it very hard to accept. It is an extraordinary calling and one of great sacrifice.


Six year after she entered, Marina made her final profession, taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Two years after that, my other friend Maura did the same thing. They will spend the rest of their lives in that convent praying and interceding for people, helping us by the sacrifice of their lives.


Every time a man is ordained to the priesthood, he also dedicates his life to God and to the service of his people. He gives up the chance to be married and have children. Giving up the possibility of getting married, is not because being celibate is better, rather it is making the sacrifice of something that is good, for a different calling.


It’s not only religious people who do this. Many other friends of mine who are married have also changed the direction of their lives and begun to live more closely to God, trying to give time each day to prayer and to living out the faith that they believe in. They continue to work just as before, but they have begun to make a conscious effort to live by the Gospel they believe in and this happens all the time.


Some of my classmates and I after ordination 

Why did my two friends decide to leave everything and spend the rest of their lives in a convent? The desire to get married and have children is a very strong one, which was also there for them and me and others who have done the same. But the best way to explain it is to say that the desire to dedicate their lives/my life to God was stronger. If God is calling someone to priesthood, or religious life, it is hard to resist. When I felt called initially at the age of 19 it was too much for me, so I put it off. But three years later it came back again. God is persistent. In St. John’s Gospel God says, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit’ (John 15:16).


Many people consider life in a contemplative convent or monastery, a total waste of a life, but the Church considers it the highest calling that God can give to anyone. I remember talking to a nurse about the Poor Clares and she said, ‘What they do is great, but if they would just come out and do something.’ She could not see any value in a life dedicated to faith and apart from faith, it does seem like a waste of time. But when you bring faith into it, it changes everything. They can do more through prayer than they could ever do in society. Jesus tells us that the power of faith can move mountains, suspend the laws of nature.


People sometimes see a priest as being a kind of religious social worker. Do-gooders, who believe in God. Part of our work is helping others, but the most important part of my work is celebrating the mass, bringing Jesus to people in the Eucharist, healing people through confession and helping people find spiritual purpose through explaining the Scriptures. There is no social work that I can do which is more important than this. It is often a temptation for a priest to get so busy with helping people in their practical needs, that we forget what we are really called to. Bringing Jesus to people is more important than anything else I could do and that is the main thing that I am called to.


What makes someone want to give up everything for God, or to become a priest, or to really try to live out their faith? The answer is that they have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price that Jesus talks about. They have recognized that what God offers us is worth everything and so they have given everything for it. It is what Jesus often calls ‘The kingdom of heaven’. In other words it is the discovery, or realization that God is real and that what Jesus has told us about God, is true. It is as if this suddenly clicks into place and they can see that it is more important than anything else, but also that God is calling them to give their lives to it completely. They realize that God isn’t just an optional extra, but that God is at the center and we are a part of his world. We are the optional extra. We are the ones who would not be here except that God created us. God is at the center of everything and our life only makes sense in relation to him and in relation to what Jesus told us about him. Apart from God, our life makes no sense. To come to know this is worth everything, because it is the truth and it is the meaning of our life.


Just because someone finds this treasure doesn’t mean that they have to become a priest or Religious. Most people are not called to Religious life, but to continue as normal in society, working, having families and giving witness to the reality of God by the way they live. That’s what most of us are called to, but the fact that some people are prepared to live a life dedicated to God, shows the value of what they believe in, of what we believe in. It testifies to the fact that what we believe in has a greater and more lasting value than anything we can know in this world. It’s a sign that we believe there is more to come after this life and that it’s worth waiting for, suffering for and making sacrifices for.


That is also one of the ideas of celibacy, or the vow of chastity. People decide to give up the possibility of marriage, because they believe in the world to come and that is how we will be in the next world. Jesus said, ‘In the resurrection, people will neither marry, nor be given in marriage. Rather, they will be like the angels’ (Matt 22:30).


Sometimes people have told me that they find the idea that they will not be married in heaven, sad. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be with your spouse, it just means that it will be different. Love in heaven is totally pure and we can be with all the people we love, but the primary purpose of marriage is to have children. That no longer happens in heaven.


God created us so that the most natural thing for us is to get married and what could be greater than what God has designed? But God has also called some to live in a particular way, to encourage and remind others that there is more to this life than meets the eye.


Often when I’m finding it tough going and wondering why I’m a priest or what it’s all about, I think of my two friends in the Poor Clares and their witness helps me to keep going. It is worth the effort.


The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,

which a person finds and hides again,

and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Friday, July 21, 2023

16th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43) The problem of evil



One of the most difficult questions in religion is to do with the problem of evil. If God is all good and all powerful, then why does evil exist? Why is there evil and sickness in the world? Many people will use this argument as a way to say that God cannot exist. They will say that if God were really good and all powerful, then evil would not exist, as God would not allow people to suffer. The answer to the problem of evil comes down to two things: free will and the devil.


A knife is a useful tool. I can use it to cut bread or meat, but I can also use it to kill someone. If I have free will then I can choose to do good or evil. I would not be free if God continually stepped in when I decided to do wrong. We are free to do right or wrong, but our actions also have consequences, both in this world and the next, the next life being much more serious, as they are eternal consequences. If I choose evil, people will suffer. The more people choose evil, the more suffering is brought into the world. A typical example is religious extremism. People of a certain faith, be they Muslim, Christian, or any faith, decide that they are right, others are wrong and they are entitled to kill anyone who stands in their way. It happens in all faiths. The one we see the most of at this time is Islamic extremism. But don’t confuse Muslims with Muslim extremists, any more than Christians with Christian extremists. The two are very different.


Satan also causes evil and entices people to do evil acts, but we are always free to do evil or not.


There is also another side to it. God can bring good out of anything, even evil. Evil was involved in the death of Jesus. Jesus was given up to the authorities because Judas chose to betray him, even though he regretted it afterwards. The religious authorities of the time had Jesus convicted through a trial which was illegal according to their own law. They chose to do what was wrong and yet the mysterious thing is that even though Jesus was betrayed, tried, tortured and killed by the deliberate choices of men who decided to do evil, yet look what God brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The course of history was changed forever because of his death and resurrection. Eternal happiness was won for us. What does that tell us? One thing it tells us is that God can and will bring about good even out of the worst of evil. We often hear of people working hard to correct injustice, where someone is falsely accused and imprisoned. People will fight for years to bring about justice and they also inspire others to do the same. Think of people like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They suffered greatly because of the evil choices of others and yet they brought about wonderful things and also inspired so many others, because they were prepared to battle on, in spite of the evil brought about by other’s free will.


In times of war we don’t usually hear about the many heroic acts of justice and kindness that people do in order to help those who are suffering. A few years ago I remember hearing the account of a BBC journalist called Fergal Keane, who has covered areas of conflict for years. He told one story about two women in their seventies he came across in the Ukraine. They had lost everything, including their pension and they were now living in a basement. They didn’t know how they were going to survive. Sometime later many people wrote to Fergal asking him if he knew what had happened to them. So he went back to try and find them. He discovered that they were now living in another tiny room together, but they were also cooking food for people fleeing the war. They were using what little they had to bring about relief for others, even though they had hardly anything themselves. When Fergal was asked how he was able to keep working in the midst of so much suffering, he said it was because of stories like this one, which inspired him so much. People can also choose to do good, in spite of the suffering caused by others.


Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was asked about the problem of corruption and scandal within the Church, which has been there from the beginning and will be there until the end. In his response he pointed to today’s Gospel and the parable about the wheat and the darnel, or weed. He said that Jesus is teaching that there will always be evil in the world. We deal with as much of it as possible, but there will always be a certain amount we can do nothing about and we have to learn to live with this. But Jesus also teaches us that it will ultimately be dealt with, because all of us will have to give an account of our actions. There will be justice when we come before God. Does that mean we should be afraid? Of course not. Jesus reassures us of his infinite mercy if we make even the smallest effort to ask for forgiveness, but we must not take it for granted either. I actually find it reassuring to know that all of us will be accountable for our actions, because when you think of people who choose to do terrible evil and cause so much suffering for others. It often seems that they are not brought to justice in this world. I find it comforting to know that they will not escape God’s justice. Everyone will face God's perfect justice.


There is also the question, perhaps more difficult, of sickness. Why do good people suffer? Why do children get sick? Again, there is no easy answer to this, except that it is part of the human condition. However, God also allows things to happen which serve a higher purpose. I have often seen situations where someone in a family has gone through a lot of sickness, but it has brought the family together, or helped people to mature, or get their priorities right. We can’t see any good in it, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t bring good out of it. We tend to blame God for the bad things that happen, but we don’t see the bigger picture.

Does God ever intervene? Yes, sometimes God does intervene and people are miraculously cured, or saved from an accident.

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit continually whispers to us to help us make good choices, but we are free to listen or ignore those suggestions, just as we are free to listen to the whisperings of temptations.  

The Son of Man will send his angels,

and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”




Sunday, July 16, 2023

15th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23) A sower went out to sow



Do you ever wonder why it is that some people believe in God and take the practice of their faith seriously and others don’t? How is it that some people are converted and others aren’t?  Why did I come back to my faith at 19 and many of my friends did not?


Why did so many people listen to Jesus when he preached? Nobody knew who he was and he had no education to boast about. Yet he gathered a huge following of people wherever he went. You could say, it was because he is the Son of God. Yes, but nobody knew he was at the time. I’m sure part of the reason was because he was preaching the truth and peoples’ spirits recognized this, because all of us are searching for the truth; the truth about God and the truth about life. The truth is attractive to us and it pierces right to the heart, so that when we hear it we want to hear more of it, even though it may be difficult or painful for us to hear. Our faith is about a search for this truth, which has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. That’s why we keep striving to understand it, even though it can be difficult at times. I heard it said that even those who were critical of John Paul II still listened to him, because they knew what he was preaching was truth. The more Jesus preached the truth the more resistance he met.


What is this truth? It is the truth about why we exist, where we came from, what our destiny is and what is right and wrong. If something is offensive to God, it is damaging to us and so God shows us exactly how we are to live and what will help and harm us the most. It’s strange how throughout the centuries people continue to try and live without God and always with the same results.


When John the Baptist was imprisoned, it says that Herod liked to listen to him, although he was afraid of him at the same time. He knew that John spoke the truth and this drew him to John. John had publicly said, ‘What you are doing is wrong. It is immoral and it breaks the divine law.’ Herod knew he was right. The same with all the other people who were drawn to John.


When Mother Teresa was invited to speak at the prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. in 1994, she spoke about abortion. She did the same when she spoke to Congress. I’m sure that made a lot of people uncomfortable, but she spoke truth and people listened, even if they didn’t agree. She said,

The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?’


She didn’t say that it is a complicated problem and we must be open to all sides so as not to offend. She said it is murder. People listened to her, because they knew she was authentic. Our spirits recognize the truth, because the truth is from God.


Jesus frequently taught in parables. The fact that he did this tells us how much he respects our intelligence and our free will. The meaning of a parable isn’t always obvious. You have to think about it. In other words, we are invited to search for the truth. If we are open to it, we will hear it, but if we are not open to it, we won’t. Jesus explained that this was the very reason he spoke in parables. The Pharisees were closed to what he said and Jesus said, ‘So that they may listen, but not understand…’


Many of the stories in the bible are similar. They are teaching us truth in different ways, but you have to reflect on them to see the truth.


In this parable Jesus is teaching us two things about religion. First of all that it is a part of life that some people will hear about God and ignore him, or become preoccupied with something else, or not like the idea that it means you might have to suffer for it. Only a few will actually hear it and really grow because of it, as God intended. Those who do are generally in the minority.


The journey that leads us to God and to the truth of God’s teaching is not the easiest, but it is the only one worthwhile. In the second reading St. Paul writes, ‘I consider the sufferings of this present time are as nothing, compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ What awaits us is worth every sacrifice. Being faithful to God and to his law goes against the tide, but it has always been that way.


That means it is worth putting up with every struggle and difficult to reach God. Only in God does our life make sense. We cannot exist without God and the more we listen to God’s teaching in the Scriptures, the more our life and our world will make sense. God spells out what we need to know in the Scriptures. The word of God always brings clarity. There is no situation that we will face that the Scriptures don’t address. It may not be directly, but it will be there in some form and that is God’s gift to us, to guide us. At this time we are faced with so much confusion in our society. Confusion does not come from God. God brings clarity and peace. The farther we stray from God’s law, the more chaos follows, which is what we see happening all around us. The more we try to be faithful to the divine law, the more peace we will find.


The parable of the sower also talks about the rich soil which bears fruit. For soil to remain rich it takes continuous work. That work, pruning, weeding, is about our continuing to listen to what God teaches. It is not just fate whether we will be open to believe or not, we have a part to play in it. If the word of God is to grow in us, we have to make some effort to be ready for it and to help it to grow. We are not going to grow in faith just by watching television.


Jesus says, ‘Try to enter by the narrow gate. For the road that leads to hell is wide and spacious and many take it, but the road that leads to life is narrow and only a few find it.’ The world’s version of that is, ‘All roads lead to heaven because God forgives everyone.’ That’s not what Jesus said. It is not the easy road, but it is the most worthwhile one.


If we want our relationship with God to grow, we must make it happen, by taking time to develop our faith, through prayer, reading the scriptures, listening to God. It won’t happen without giving time to it. Would you expect a relationship with someone to grow without giving it any time? Of course not, and faith is no different.


God has given us intelligence and free will, and he wants us to use it. Our future is not already set out for us, we have a major part to play in it. That is why God does not reveal the future to us and that is also why it is wrong to go to fortune tellers, or psychics, or ways to try and find out the future. It is only for God to know the future. God doesn’t want us to know the future. He wants us to trust in his providence and listen to his guidance. Everything we need to know has been given to us through the Scriptures. So the next time you find yourself getting anxious or confused about what we are being told, turn to God’s word. It always brings truth and peace.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

14th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30) Knowledge, humility and faith


Several years ago an old school friend of mine asked me if I would officiate at his wedding. I said I’d be happy to. We were in school together through high-school, although we hadn’t been in touch for some years. We made our first Holy Communion together. The only memory I have of my First Communion is that I got a new suit and we both pretended we were detectives from Hawaii 5-0. ‘Book him Danno. Murder one.’ I didn’t know what that meant either, but I said it anyway. He became a doctor and pathologist. They are the doctors who perform autopsies.


Before we got to the wedding, which was going to have mass, I asked him if he would be receiving Holy Communion. Although he was brought up Catholic like me, I didn’t know if he still was practicing. He said he would like to receive, but he added, ‘I have to tell you that as a scientist, I don’t believe in the resurrection.’ He wasn’t trying to be rude, in fact quite the opposite and I admired him for his honesty. If you think of the work he did, studying dead bodies every other day, you can imagine what a leap of faith it would be for him to believe that any of those dead bodies could come back to life.


Knowledge and learning are great gifts, but they can become obstacles too, when it comes to faith. The more we learn, the more we get a sense that everything can be explained. It’s just a matter of time. But questions of faith are completely different.


I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.’


I have been blessed to study theology for many years, but that doesn’t mean I will have more faith because of what I have learnt. Sometimes the opposite can happen. Faith requires a certain humility. I have been blessed to learn much, but there is so much that is completely beyond my understanding. That was one area where the religious professionals at the time of Jesus were getting stuck. They felt they had the knowledge and therefore things must go as they understood. As a result they failed to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for, for centuries. If they had been more humble and open minded, they probably would have recognized it. But they had a set picture of how the Messiah must be and because Jesus didn’t fit into their understanding, therefore it couldn’t be him.


I am always amazed at how dismissive people can be of religion, offering science as ‘proof’ that religion cannot be real. The truth is that there are incredible miracles all around us and continue to happen all the time. And I’m not talking about the miracle of a new born child, but miracles that are super-natural (above nature), which cannot be explained by science. Just take the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which appeared on the apron of Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego outside Mexico city and told him to go to the bishop and request that a church be built there in her honor. He went to the bishop, but the bishop needed proof. After a second apparition, Our Lady told him to come again to the same place and she would give him a sign. When he returned he found lots of roses in full bloom, even though it was the middle of winter. He collected the roses in his tilma (apron) and brought them to the bishop. But when he was allowed to see the bishop and emptied out the roses on the floor, he didn’t know that the image of Mary had been imprinted on his apron. When they saw this the bishop and others with him believed. But the miracle wasn’t just that there was an image on his apron. The image itself is a living miracle. It has been studied by science and they don’t know what it is made from. It is not made from any earthly elements. Also the image is a codex, which the local people of the time would have been able to ‘read’. In other words, everything on the image would have explained something to the local people. That image itself is worth reading about.


Science doesn’t contradict religion, it simply comes from different angle. It asks different questions. Science asks what something is made of and how did it come about. Religion asks what does it mean and what is God saying to us through different signs.


There is a movie called Nefarious, which came out in April, which I would highly recommend. It is about a man on death row, who is possessed, although no one believes he is possessed. They just think he is very intelligent and manipulative. He has to be assessed by a psychiatrist, so that it can be shown that he is sane enough to be executed. The movie is basically a dialogue between the prisoner and the psychiatrist interviewing him. The inmate explains to the psychiatrist that he is a demon, possessing this man’s body. The psychiatrist says that there is no such thing as demons. But as the interview progresses and the demon starts to reveal more and more things to the psychiatrist, he gradually begins to think differently.


The demon shows the psychiatrist how he is blinded by his own arrogance. He believes that demons can’t be real, etc. But the demon shows him that it is because of his arrogance and our arrogance, that Satan has managed to deceive the human race so much. The psychiatrist starts to brag about how liberated humanity now is: people can choose their gender; they can marry whomever they wish; women are liberated by abortion. But the demon shows him how all of these things are a deception, because all of them go against the divine law. By ignoring God’s law, God’s Commandments, we have allowed ourselves to be completely deceived and convinced that what is evil is actually what is good for us. Again, it comes down to human arrogance. If we were more humble and accepting of God’s teachings, there wouldn’t be so much evil in the world. But because we think we know better, Satan has managed to deceive us.


I am often amazed and in awe at people I meet who have little education and yet have some profound insights into our faith. That is because they are humble enough and open enough that God can more easily speak to their heart. Intelligence and knowledge are great things, but they are not essential for growing in faith. What is essential is openness to what God wants to show us and the humility to recognize that no matter how much we know and learn, the ways of God are completely beyond us. But just because we cannot understand them, doesn’t mean they cannot be.


Instead of saying, ‘That doesn’t make any sense to me, therefore it cannot be,’ it might be better to say, ‘That is completely beyond my understanding, but I believe because it is what the Lord has said.’


I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.’