Saturday, September 30, 2023

26th Sunday, Year A (Matthew 23:1-12) The priesthood



Perhaps one of the strangest things that Jesus did before he ascended to heaven at the end of his earthly life, was to entrust his Church to priests: ordinary, sinful, weak human beings. This is something that we do not understand, but we believe. Through the gift of the priesthood He gave us the most extraordinary gift of all, the gift of the Eucharist, which is the gift of Jesus himself, really and truly present in the form of bread and wine. There is no gift greater than this, but the fact that he made it depend on priests is what is so strange.


I am sure that one reason in particular why he did this was to make it obvious that it is God who is at work and that the Lord is in no way dependent on the gifts or skills of human beings alone, especially not us priests. Whenever I get together with other priests, it often strikes me what a strange collection of people we are, from all kinds of backgrounds. We used to joke in the seminary that it always seemed to be the holiest men who left.


There is a great story in the Old Testament which explains this; it is the story of Gideon. Gideon and his people were being wiped out by the Amorites and it was a time of great suffering for them. Then one day the angel of the Lord appears to this man Gideon and says, ‘Hail valiant warrior. The Lord is with you.’ In reply Gideon says, ‘If God is with us, why are we being wiped out?’ A fair question! The angel goes on to tell Gideon that God has specially chosen him to lead his people to freedom from their enemies. But then Gideon asks an interesting question. He says, ‘Why would God pick me, since I am the weakest member of my family and my family is the least important family in my tribe?’ In other words, why would God pick the weakest of the weak to lead his people to freedom? It doesn’t make any sense by our way of thinking, but the angel convinces him that God has chosen him and he will be alright.


Gideon is then told to raise an army and so he gets together 30,000 men, but then to his astonishment God tells him to reduce the number of men to only 300 and he tells him why, and this is the crucial bit: ‘Lest the people think that it is by their own strength that they have won victory over their enemies.’ God chooses the weakest man around, with only a handful of men to conquer the enemy, so that it will be totally obvious that it was the power of God that made this happen. 


If Gideon had been a great warrior and he conquered his enemies with a huge army, then no one would be surprised. But when the most unexpected person leads a handful of men and conquers a huge army, then everyone says ‘Look what God did! What a miracle!’


I believe that God picked various men to be priests for the same reason, so that it would be obvious that it is God who is at work. So He chooses ordinary, weak men, to make it all the more obvious that the Church is still here because of him and not because of priests.


St. Paul speaks about this in one of his letters. He writes,We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us’ (2 Cor 4:7). God uses ordinary cracked pots  (‘cracked-pots’) to carry his message, to make it obvious that it is his power at work.


When the priest says the words of consecration at each mass the Holy Spirit immediately and humbly obeys the priest and changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. God obeys a human being! I don’t understand it, but I believe it. And when the priest says 'I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,' the Holy Spirit immediately wipes away those sins.  God is so humble that He will act on the words of a human being.


What if the priest is not a very good or holy man? Is God any less present in the mass if it is not a holy priest? Of course not. God would never allow his power to depend on the goodness of a human being, because none of us are good enough or holy enough. Even if the priest is a terrible sinner, God is just as powerfully present in the mass, in confession, and wherever He calls the priest to work. It is a great help for our faith if the priest is a holy man, but either way God is just as much present, because God gives himself completely to all of us in this extraordinary way, through the priesthood and it doesn’t depend on the priest being good enough and thank God for that!


I think one of the greatest proofs that the Church is from God is simply the fact that it is still here, in spite of the fact that there have been centuries of bad example, bad preaching, scandals, etc, and yet it is still here. Think of all the great empires and dynasties that have come and gone and they were much better organised and impressive, but they are gone, and yet the Church is still here.


Why don’t we have women priests? We believe that Jesus established a male priesthood with the Apostles on Holy Thursday, at the last supper. Any teachings we believe are from God, we cannot change. If it was a man-made decision it could be changed, but we believe this is from God. It is a question of different roles within the Church. Different people are called to different roles, just like men cannot become Poor Clare nuns. Some people disagree with it, but that is the understanding behind it.


Why can’t priests be married? At some stage priests began to live celibate lives and eventually it became the rule. It is a rule that could be changed, because it is a man-made decision. Sometimes, celibacy is blamed for sexual abuse in the Church, but that is not true, as a far higher percentage of abuse happens by married men. What might surprise you is that most of the people who will argue for celibacy, are priests. It is just like monks or nuns, who dedicate their whole life to serving God in this way.


Finally, if you find yourself becoming disheartened by the bad example of priests, or indeed anyone in the Church, remember these words of Jesus:

The priests occupy the chair of Moses, so you must listen to what they say but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach.’ (Matt 22:2-3)


In other words, we must try and listen to the teaching of Jesus passed on through the Church and through his priests, but don’t be put off when they don’t always live the way they should. What is important is the teaching of Christ and not the example of the priest. The teaching of Jesus is what we hold on to.


I have to confess that it always scares me a little when God warns his priests about the responsibility we have been given. The Scriptures are also full of very stern warnings to the priests to live as they should and not abuse their position. We will be accountable as God’s priests. It is a great gift, but it is also a great responsibility.


We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us (2 Cor 4:7).





Sunday, September 24, 2023

25th Sunday, Year A (Gospel: Matt 20:1-16) Seek the Lord while He is still to be found


Recently I was stopped at traffic lights and I saw a Scripture verse on the back of a car windshield. I didn't know the verse, so I looked it up when I got home. The verse was 2 Chronicles 7:14 and I think it is so apt for our times:

'If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways; then I shall hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.' (2 Chron 7:14).


Something that I have seen more and more of in recent months and years, is a surprising number of people coming back to the practice of their faith. Many people have come to confession who haven’t been in 30, 40, 50 years. I usually ask them what has prompted them to come back now and often people aren’t quite sure, but feel that they needed to put their life in order. That is the work of the Spirit, gently prompting us in the right direction. It is never too late to come back, but often our pride gets in the way.


God speaks to us in many different ways, ways that we wouldn’t even think were from him. When people we love become sick, or die, or when we go through times of suffering, when our life seems to go all wrong, we usually listen to God more during those times. Sometimes the chaos of the world around us also makes people think about what is really important. I often saw this while working as a hospital chaplain. People would be far more open to me as a priest in the hospital than they would be outside.


When we are faced with sickness and death, we begin to think differently. We start to see what is important. Think of a time in your live when someone close to you died, or became very ill, especially if it was unexpected. Suddenly all the things that were important up to that point become insignificant, even meaningless. The pain of what has happened makes us see everything differently. The writer C. S. Lewis says, ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’ (The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis). When we are in pain, we listen.

I remember visiting a man in hospital who was dying. I asked him if he would like to receive the sacrament of the sick, also known as anointing and last rites. He said it wouldn’t be right as he hadn’t practiced his faith in years. He felt he would be a hypocrite, although I knew he wanted to. I tried to convince him that the Lord didn’t care if he had been away for years, but his pride stopped him and he couldn’t.


There is a famous book called Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankyl, a psychiatrist, who ended up in one of the concentration camps during the Second World War. He noticed that the people who survived the longest were not necessarily those who were physically the strongest. It was the people who had a purpose, a reason to live, such as a wife, or husband they wanted to see again, or if they had faith. Those who survived were often the ones who had what you might call a spiritual purpose.


I think we often underestimate how important our faith is. It is the only thing that makes sense of why we exist. If you take God out of the picture, there is no apparent reason for us to be here. Without God we would be just like the animals, doing nothing except surviving for as along as we can and then gone. But once we realize God is at the center, then everything changes. We realize we were created deliberately and not by chance and that we have a specific purpose. We were created to be happy in God’s presence, to enjoy his happiness. That’s why He created us, for happiness. Initially we were given paradise, everything we could have asked for, but through our own arrogance we lost it, because we did not listen to God. All we had to do was listen. Today it is the same: we must listen to what the Lord is telling us. The main thing that God is telling us is that we cannot exist without him. We must listen to what He tells us if we want our world to blossom, if we want our lives to blossom. All of God’s Commandments and teachings are there to help us blossom and find happiness in this world.


People often ask what is their purpose in life. I want to know that my life has a purpose. It does have a purpose. We are created to worship God and to love and serve each other. One of the ways we give glory to God is by becoming the best version of ourselves that we can be, by developing the gifts and talents that we have. Your life may not seem to be very exciting, or to have a definite purpose, but it does. Your purpose is to blossom where you are planted; to love the people around you.


One of the early Christian writers called St. Irenaeus wrote: ‘The glory of God is man fully alive.’ The more we develop our gifts and talents as people, the more glory we give to God. If you think of an athlete. They give the greatest glory to God by reaching their full potential. It is the same for all of us. The more we develop our gifts and talents and use them for good, the more we give glory to God, since all those gifts have come from him in the first place.


In the second reading Paul talks about this. He longs to die and be with God. Remember, he was shown heaven, which is why he longed to be gone. But he also realized that God had work for him to do. His preference was to go, but he knew that God had entrusted him with a task. This is the same for us. We have a task, a mission with which we have been entrusted. When our task is complete then the Lord will bring us home, but until then we must do our best to fulfill that task and that task is to blossom wherever we find ourselves and to live for God.


When someone lives by God’s Commandments, it affects the world. Imagine if everyone in the world kept just these Commandments, ‘You shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery.’ The world would be changed instantly. It would become a totally different place. Whatever you do, where you are, will affect the world one way or the other.


In this Gospel parable the Lord is teaching us that even those who come back to him at the last moment, will still be rewarded. That may seem unfair. They have been able to do whatever they wanted and ignore God and now they will be rewarded. The truth is that not doing what God asks us doesn’t bring fulfillment. Living by God’s teachings is what brings more fulfillment than anything else. So while it might seem that those who have ignored God have had more fun, it is not so.


'If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways; then I shall hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.' (2 Chron 7:14).

Friday, September 15, 2023

24th Sunday Year A Gospel: Matthew: 18:21-35 Forgiveness is a decision of the will



There is an extraordinary true story about a woman called Corrie Ten Boom, a Protestant living in Holland during the Second World War. She lived with her sister and father and they used to read the bible every evening after dinner. During the war as Holland was occupied by the Nazis and Jewish people began disappearing, they ended up hiding people in their home, although they didn’t set out to do this. Eventually they were caught and sent to one of the Concentration camps in Germany called Ravensbruck. Her sister and father both died there, but she survived and was eventually released. When she returned home she began working to help the many people who were so hurt by the war. She felt that God was calling her to speak about the need for forgiveness and so she did. She was invited to speak all over the country and in other countries.


While speaking in Germany one day, a man came up to her after her talk and thanked her for this message of forgiveness. He said, ‘It is good to know that Jesus forgives all our sins.’ She recognised him as one of the SS officers who had been in charge of their prison. As he extended his hand to her, she found herself freezing up and unable to respond, but she realised that if she did not forgive this man who was responsible for the death of her sister and father, all her preaching would be meaningless. So she found herself praying to God on the spot asking him to help her to forgive and she was finally able to put out her hand to him. The book is called The Hiding Place and it is an amazing story. She wrote: ‘And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.’


Probably the greatest obstacle to God’s helping and healing us, is our refusal to forgive. When we refuse to forgive someone we shut the door to God’s grace, we prevent God from healing us, but there is an important thing to remember about forgiving someone. Many people think that in order to forgive someone I must feel like forgiving them. In other words, the hurt has to have gone and so now I can forgive. That is not how it works. Forgiveness is not just a question of how I feel, or whether I feel like forgiving someone or not. Most of us when we are hurt, are often hurt for a long time, sometimes for years, and of course we don’t feel like forgiving. The deeper the hurt the longer it takes to heal, but forgiveness is a decision of our will, it doesn’t depend on whether we physically feel like doing it or not. ‘Lord, I forgive this person because you ask me to. Please help me to heal.’ It doesn’t mean that all the hurt will instantly disappear, but if we are prepared to do this much, then we open the door to allow God’s Spirit to begin to heal us. If I refuse to forgive, I am preventing God’s Spirit from helping me to heal. We may think that by refusing to forgive someone we inflict some kind of revenge on the other person. The truth is that they may not even be aware of the hurt we carry. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us does not hurt them, it wounds us. The resentment becomes a poison within us, which festers. God wants to heal us and help us move on, but we must be willing to forgive. It is not an easy thing to do, but we must try. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times in the Gospels and in very strong terms. If we expect to be forgiven, we must also be prepared to forgive and I doubt that there is anyone who does not need to forgive someone. If you find yourself angry at someone, it usually means that you need to forgive them. Maybe a good question to ask yourself when you find yourself angry with someone is this: if I was in their position, would I hope that the person I had hurt would forgive me?


For a few years I worked as a hospital chaplain and I met many old people, most of whom were at peace, having come through all the trials of their lives, but sometimes I would meet someone who was bitter and full of resentment, refusing to forgive. They had been hurt, but they refused to forgive and you could see how it had consumed them. It was a sad sight. It had destroyed them. People will hurt us, but we always have a choice to forgive them or not.


I am sure that all of us here expect that the Lord will forgive us. It’s what all the Gospels are about, it’s what we believe in and yet in no uncertain terms the Lord says, if you expect God to forgive you, you must be prepared to forgive others too. If you refuse to forgive others, then the heavenly Father will not forgive us either. That’s how it works. Forgiveness is a decision of our will that we must make. Once we do this, then we open the door to begin to heal.


When I choose to forgive someone, it doesn’t mean I am saying that the injustice no longer matters. The injustice may even be still going on. Choosing to forgive them is saying that I refuse to hate them, to resent them and to seek revenge on them.


If I refuse to forgive them, I am the one who is going to lose out. If I want to be healed and set free, then I must choose to forgive. Remember, choosing to forgive them is  not about whether I feel like it or not. It is a conscious choice I make. I may need to say it another thousand times throughout my life. St. Paul writes, ‘Do not let resentment lead you into sin. The sunset must not go down on your anger. Do not give the devil his opportunity’ (Eph 4:26).


The devil is waiting for any and every chance to lead us to sin and separate us from God. Our anger is a key doorway for him to gain access. He will work on our anger and resentment, trying to convince us that it would not be right to forgive this person. They should suffer for what they have done. You should take revenge while you have the chance. Then there is justice. But Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. He constantly lies to us to lead us away from God. He lied to Adam and Eve to get them to turn away from God. He continually lies to us too. This has also become part of the thinking of our society. We have become a vengeful society. We don’t just seek justice, we seek revenge and yet that is exactly what the Lord tells us not to do, because all it does is destroy us. Taking vengeance on someone does not bring peace. In fact it fuels anger.


Paris attacks, 2015

I want to share with you an extraordinary example of this kind of heroic virtue, where someone refuses to hate.

In 2015, on Friday, November 13, gunmen broke into a concert hall and shot 129 dead.

Antoine Leiris, a French journalist, posted the letter  entitled, “You Will Not Have My Hatred,” to Facebook, less than three days after his 35-year-old wife of 12 years, Helen Muyal-Leiris, was shot dead. Muyal-Leiris was one of 129 individuals murdered during the series of attacks in Paris on Friday night, Nov 13, 2015.

Friday night, you took an exceptional life -- the love of my life, the mother of my son -- but you will not have my hatred. I don't know who you are and I don't want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in His heart.

So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You're asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.

I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.

We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don't have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.


We have heard it several times here in the States too. Remember the young man who entered a prayer gathering in Charleston, North Carolina, in 2015 and shot almost everyone there. The following day their families came out and publicly said they forgave that young man. Extraordinary courage and strength. There is great goodness in most people.


When someone has hurt us, or hurt people we love, our reaction is usually one of anger and there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It is a God-given emotion, like joy, or sorrow. It is what you do with that anger that is key. I have the choice to seek revenge, or justice. I also have the choice to forgive or not. We may not feel able to forgive initially, but the key to being set free of the hurt and the injustice, is to forgive. Where can we find the strength to do that? In God. The ability to love our enemies and forgive those who have wronged us, comes from God. The closer we come to God, the more that will be possible.


Think of this parable that Jesus spoke about the unforgiving servant. The servant had been completely forgiven a great debt, but he was unwilling to forgive. And Jesus finishes by saying, ‘This is how my heavenly Father will deal with you, unless you each forgive each other from your heart.’ Why should God forgive us, if we are not willing to forgive those who have wronged us?


Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’


Friday, September 8, 2023

23rd Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matt 18:15-20) Medjugorje



Fifteen times I have had the privilege of going to the place of alleged apparitions called Medjugorje, which is in Bosnia Herzegovina, formerly Yugoslavia and I just want to tell you a bit about this place. There is also a connection with today’s readings. I have read enough about the events there to convince me either that is true and that it is false. I have often been slated by other priests for going there, or having anything to do with it. So why have I gone back so many times? Very simply because there is no other place I know of which continues to have such an extraordinary effect on people’s faith. In one sense I think it is almost irrelevant what might or might not be happening there, except that it continues to bring many people back to their faith. For me, that is enough. However, as a priest I have to be careful to respect the Church’s position on it, which I totally do. We are not obligated to believe in private revelation, but I believe that the Lord continually speaks to us in different ways to help us.


To date the Church’s official position on it is to say that ‘the supernatural character of Medjugorje cannot be established.’ That doesn’t mean it is false, but that they are not officially saying that it is true. However, it is now recognized as an official place of pilgrimage, where priests are allowed to bring pilgrims. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI established another commission which was to investigate just the first seven days of apparitions and they voted 13 to 1 in favor, but the Church has yet to make an official declaration on it. The Church is always very slow to authenticate anything like that, which is wise.


In 1981 on the feast of John the Baptist, Our Lady is said to have appeared to six children there. The fact that it was on the feast of St. John the Baptist is significant. John the Baptist’s role was to announce the coming of Christ and to get people ready for him. What did he do? He preached about the need to repent and turn back to God. Our Lady has been doing the same thing. Since that time up to now, it is estimated that over 40 million people have visited Medjugorje. 


For the fifty years prior to when the events there started, Medjugorje had been part of communist Yugoslavia and this particular area was greatly persecuted because it was very Catholic. Communism worked hard to try and wipe out Christianity in any form. The government continued to tell the people that there is no God and that their faith was an illusion. When Our Lady began appearing there, one of the first things she said to the children was: ‘I have come to tell you that God exists’. It was a kind of reassurance from heaven to encourage the people to continue to believe. Later when one of the children asked her why she came to that particular place, she said it was because she found many true believers there.


Our Lady’s message there, is really the same message in any of the places where she has appeared throughout the world. It is the message of the Gospel. She asks us for personal conversion, to read the bible every day, for daily mass, to go to confession and to fast and pray, especially the rosary. What is important is that the apparitions are not all about her. She is acting as a sign-post to Jesus. She is saying that we must turn back to Jesus and realise that we cannot live without God. God must be in the first place. Too much of our world lives as though God does not exist and we are seeing first-hand what happens when the world tries to live without God. What has always impressed me when I have gone there, is that the main focus of the place is not on apparitions, it is on the mass, adoration and confession. And this is how it should be.


Over 30 years ago I began to go to a prayer group in my hometown of Galway which was started directly because of Medjugorje. That prayer group brought me back to my faith and I ended up becoming a priest. Three other vocations came from it as well. Many priests I know say that their vocations came directly from Medjugorje and a huge number of people whom I know personally have come back to their faith as a result of visiting this place.


Today it is said that Our Lady continues to appear to 3 of the six children every day.  One of the criticisms of this place is that it seems ridiculous that Our Lady would appear so many times and for so long. Yet we don’t find it ridiculous that Jesus continues to come to us every day in the mass. Perhaps the apparitions are still going on because people are so slow to respond.


There is one occurrence in particular which stayed with me. One of the visionaries called Mirjana had an experience which I think is worth mentioning. About a month and a half before Our Lady began to appear to the children, Mirjana’s mother died. When Our Lady began to appear to the children Mirjana asked her about her mother. Our Lady told her that she was in heaven and was very happy. Before Our Lady stopped appearing to Mirjana eighteen months later, she asked her if there was anything she would like her to do for her. Mirjana asked if she could see her mother again. She recalls that Our Lady then disappeared and her own mother then appeared before her. She was able to talk to her, to hug and kiss her. Her mother told her that she was very proud of her and that she should be obedient to her grandmother who was now looking after her. Mirjana now says, ‘I am living proof that there is life after death.’ It is very moving to hear her tell this story.


In the readings today, the Lord tells us about the need to correct people when they are going astray, to warn them for their own good. That’s what the role of the prophets was. That’s what John the Baptist did and that’s also what Our Lady has been doing in this place and many other places all over the world. The more research I have done the more amazed I have been at how many places throughout the world she has been appearing.


When Jesus was dying on the cross, He said to Mary, ‘Woman, behold your son. Son behold your mother’ (John 19:26). The son he was referring to was St. John the Apostle who was also there. St. John is considered the model disciple, who is a symbol of all Christians. We understand these words as Jesus entrusting us to Our Lady’s care. She is our heavenly mother and truly our mother. Mary has been sent to warn us that we are in great danger and we need to turn back to God. We cannot live without God.


When any mother sees her children in trouble, she will go to any length to help them.  The Lord knows that our world is in trouble and He has sent Our Lady to put us back on the right track. God must be at the center. We need to read the Bible, to pray, fast, to confess our sins and go to the Holy Mass where we encounter God in the most extraordinary way.

'If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you.'



Saturday, September 2, 2023

22nd Sunday Year A (Matthew 16:21-27) Unless you pick up your cross and follow me, you cannot be a follower of mine.



Did you ever think that Jesus would have called the first Pope, Satan? It seems extreme. In the context that Jesus used it, it doesn’t just mean Satan, but also ‘enemy’. But why was he calling St. Peter an enemy, when he was entrusting his Church to him? Jesus was teaching the disciples that they must learn to think in a different way.


The way of Christianity and the way of the world are radically different and always have been. If you want to be a Christian and follow the way of Jesus, it will cost you. What our society tells us to do is mostly the opposite of what the Lord teaches us to do. The Lord says, ‘Do not be afraid of suffering, because it is part of the path to heaven,’ while our world says, ‘You shouldn’t have to suffer.’ The Lord teaches us that this life is only the preparation for what is to come and it is a time of sacrifice. Our world tells us that this life is everything, so work hard to have all the comfort and happiness you can find, because then it is over.


Sometimes I hear someone who is elderly and sick saying, ‘At least I am still alive.’ But to me that says they are still seeing this life as everything. Why would you want to cling to this life when you are suffering and where there is so much injustice and sorrow, when a world of unimaginable beauty, joy and peace awaits us? If we really believe that is what awaits us, then it is something to look forward to. Every time someone I know dies, I envy them in one way, as they have now completed their time on earth and have made it to the place we are created for, presuming they have tried to live a good life.


The world tells us that we should be able to have everything we want. ‘If you want something, take it.’ ‘Have everything your way.’ ‘My world, my way.’ My body, my choice.’ That is the teaching of the world. Many people listen to the world which is why there is so much corruption and evil around us, because they are thinking only of themselves. Jesus says, ‘What use is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’ What happens to our soul is infinitely more important than what happens to our body, because only the soul will live on. Our bodies will die and decay.


Jesus also says, ‘Whoever loses his life will find it.’ What does that mean? It means that if we are focused on what God teaches us and not just on our own satisfaction, it will lead us to true life, eternal life, eternal fulfillment. Whoever (loses) lets go of being satisfied in an earthly way and recognizes that our true fulfillment is in God, will find their true life, the only life where they will be fulfilled.


Does that mean that we can’t enjoy earthly things, material things? Of course not. God has given us this beautiful world to enjoy. God wants us to be happy and to enjoy our life, but our true happiness will not be found in earthly things. Once we recognize that, we will actually be able to enjoy the things of this world even more, because we won’t be attached to them and we won’t be expecting them to fulfill us. It gives us an inner freedom.


It is ironic that many people leave the Catholic Church to follow more demanding forms of religion, because they feel that our faith is too easy. That’s why many young people follow eastern religions. They haven’t understood what our faith is about.


God teaches us that if we want to follow him, we must do what he asks us. We’re not going to have it all our own way. Peter was thinking in an earthly way when he said to Jesus, ‘Heaven preserve you Lord, this must not happen to you.’ Things had been going very nicely up to this point. Jesus was working miracles and becoming very popular and more and more people were following him. So, the Apostles held privileged positions as well. But now if Jesus was going to be tortured and put to death, that would ruin all that. ‘…this must not happen to you,’ we like it the way things are, we don’t want pain and suffering and to be unpopular. But Jesus points out that he is thinking in an earthly way, the way which does not lead to fulfillment.


In some ways we have become spoilt Christians. What do I mean? We do the things that we like and when it suits us. We are happy to shop on Sundays because it suits us, even though it is directly breaking one of God’s commandments to us. Many people don’t bother fasting for an hour before they receive Holy Communion, because it’s too much trouble. We use the name of Jesus as a swear word, even though this is breaking one of God’s commandments as well. And then people say that they haven’t sinned, even though this is why Jesus died, because we do sin. 


If we were following our version of Christianity, then priests would be married, there would be women priests, we wouldn’t have to fast, we could teach divorce, abortion and contraception as the obvious solution to difficult problems, because these things suit us.  But that’s not what our faith is about. Being a Catholic involves a certain way of life, sacrifices and doing things that don’t always suit us. Going to mass on Sundays when we would rather be asleep or having coffee. Confessing our sins to God regularly through confession, as God asks us to. Following his teaching as passed on by the Church.


I believe that one of the greatest things that our faith shows us is that our complete fulfillment awaits us in the world to come. To know that gives us an inner freedom. We can enjoy the things of this world, while not depending on them. It also reminds us that no matter how much we suffer while we are on earth, it is only temporary. And even though we lose the people we love through death, that is also temporary. Sooner or later we will catch up with them.


In the second reading St. Paul writes:


Do not model yourselves on the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.’