Friday, October 27, 2023

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



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


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


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


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

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


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


Maria Simma (1915-2004)

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

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

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

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

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

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


That was her description of purgatory.


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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



Saturday, October 21, 2023

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Sunday, October 8, 2023

27th Sunday, Year A, (Gospel: Matt 21:33-43) The healing presence of Jesus in the Eucharist


I read a very interesting story about Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta. When her work was just beginning there were just a few of them. Before long they found that there were huge demands being made on them because there were so many people to be helped, so many dying in the streets, so many orphans. They were feeling overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. So they decided to ask the Lord, in prayer, what they should do. The answer they got surprised them. They felt the Lord telling them that He wanted them to give an extra hour of their time, on top of their ordinary prayer time, to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. That is, an extra hour to him and an hour less to work among the people. This didn’t make sense to them, but they really believed that this was what the Lord was asking them to do. So they did and soon they found that many more people began to join their work and then they were able to do more of the work than before. Mother Teresa attributed the success of her order to being faithful to this holy hour every day. She said it was an important lesson for them to learn, to always put God first, no matter what.


The more I thought about this, the more it made sense to me as well. If we give our time to the Lord, is He not going to use us all the more powerfully? God is never outdone in generosity and will always make up any time we give to him. We can run around on our own and do a certain amount of work, or we can spend more time with the Lord and let him do far more work than we could possibly imagine. I have found this in my own priesthood too. At different times I have felt the Lord asking me to give more time to prayer. That meant getting up earlier, which I wasn’t happy about(!), but I have to try and be obedient to the Lord. I have always found that the more time I give to prayer, the more happens around me and I don’t mean that I do more, or that I get new ideas. Rather, people come to me and offer to do work or start new ventures.


This doesn’t just apply to people in religious life, it applies to us all.  We are living in a very fast and very busy world. There is always so much to do and so many places to go. This is one of the tricks of the Devil too. He keeps us busy so that we seem to have no time to stop and listen to the Lord speaking to us in our hearts. And then we wonder why we seem to be so removed from God. Why isn’t He speaking to me and helping me? He is, but we are often blocking him out. If we don’t listen to him, how are we going to know what He is saying to us. We have to learn to listen to the Lord. Where could be a better place to do this than before the living presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In every tabernacle in every Catholic church in the world, Jesus is there in the sacred host, available to all of us to come and be with him.


There was a priests’ retreat a few years ago and they asked a Buddhist monk, a woman, to direct it and she agreed. The first day of the retreat she came in and went up to the place where she was to speak from. She sat down and remained in complete silence for half an hour. The priests weren’t too impressed, but since it was the first talk they said nothing.


The second day she came in and sat down and began to meditate again. After half an hour of silence, she got up and left again. Now the priests were a little more agitated, and a few of them complained to one another, but they decided to give her one more chance.


The third day she came in and sat down and remained in silence again. By the end of the talk several of the priests decided to approach her. So they did and they said that this was getting out of hand and why wasn’t she speaking etc. So she finally spoke to them and said, ‘So far all you have been doing is talking to each other and complaining about me and wondering why I am not speaking. Yet you say that you’re on retreat. How do you expect to listen to God if you can’t even learn to be silent.’


There is a lot we can learn from this. We pray that God will help us and sort out all kinds of situations and give us the answers to different problems, and yet we are slow to sit down and listen to him, adore him, love him, be healed by him. We expect him to sort everything out for us while we are running around doing things. We can be like spoilt children at times. Once we begin to learn to listen to the Lord, we will find that He is continually inviting us to spend time in his presence. This is where real healing takes place. This is where we learn to put things in the right order in our life.


All of us carry so much different psychological baggage, wounds from the past and prejudices, etc., we hurt each other. We don’t mean to, but we do.  Where do we look to for healing? Well, there’s the doctor and the psychologist, faith healers, places of pilgrimage, religious articles and relics. Strangely enough, often the last person that we turn to is the Master himself, the Creator of all that exists, the One who can create life out of nothing. He is here in the Blessed Sacrament, but He is often the very last one we go to.


All of us are in need of healing, whether physical or spiritual. Where could be a better place to receive it than at the feet of Jesus himself. There is no place in the whole world better than before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. 


Sometimes when people don’t receive physical cures, they get angry, or feel disappointed, or disillusioned and sometimes give up on the Lord, but spiritual healing is far more important than physical healing, because our soul is immortal, our body is not. Sooner or later our body will stop working, die and disintegrate. Only our soul will go on to the next world. If there is anything that needs healing, it’s our souls. The Lord knows this and I believe that far more spiritual healing takes place than physical, because the Lord knows where we need to be healed much better than we do.


In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘I am the living bread come down from heaven…Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you cannot have life within you, for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.’ (See John 6)


When we spend time before the Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, He is healing us from the moment we sit down. Not only that but He will be touching others through us. The more time we spend with him the more he helps us to become harmonized, wholesome, holy. We learn to focus on ourselves less and on Jesus more. That’s what Mother Teresa’s sisters did at the beginning. They focused less on their own problems and shortcomings and more on the Lord Jesus and look what happened, they developed into probably the most successful Order of our times, because they focused on Jesus.


If we spend our time worrying about our shortcomings and all the things that are wrong with us and our world, we may feel overwhelmed and depressed. If we focus on the Lord, He will help us overcome our shortcomings, He will teach us to be more patient and to see what is really important. No one else can heal us in this way. And if we are healed by another, it is only because the Lord is working through them. So why not go directly to the Lord and let him teach us his ways and heal us of our ills? Let us have Christ at the center and adore him as our God.


Often when we come to the Lord and pray for a resolution to a problem, the Lord will answer us by showing us what we need to do, rather than fixing the problem. But we must listen, or we won’t hear what the Lord is saying.


Remember, God is never outdone in generosity and will always bless us for the efforts we make to serve him. Whatever time we give to him, He will give back to us. Whatever money we give to him, He will give back to us.


Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’