Thursday, April 18, 2024

4th Sunday of Easter, Year B (Gospel: John 10:11-18) 'Of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.'


Sr. Briege McKenna, who gave a mission here a few years ago, is a religious sister from the north of Ireland. She is based in Clearwater, Florida. As a young sister she had crippling arthritis and ended up being confined to a wheelchair. One day during mass she was miraculously healed. After this the Lord revealed to her that He was calling her to a ministry of healing. The Lord also gave her a profound insight into the ministry of the priesthood and a lot of her work is giving missions to priests. I have been at several of her retreats and she really is a wonderful instrument of the Lord. She continually travels all over the world and she often draws huge crowds. She is known to have the gift of healing and miracles frequently occur when she prays with people. She has written a book called Miracles Do Happen, which is well worth reading. It is a description of her calling and work and gives many examples of the miracles that God has worked through her.


Some years back she was invited to speak on the Oprah Winfrey show, which is one of the most popular chat shows in America. It has a weekly viewership of 48 million people. Sr. Briege was invited on the show to talk about her work and her ministry. Oprah was asking her about the healings and miracles which often take place and Sr. Briege was saying that it is through name of Jesus that these healings take place, just like it mentions in today’s first reading. And then Oprah said to her, ‘But Sr. Briege isn’t the name of Jesus just another name? There isn’t really anything special about it?’ Sister Briege said that in her head alarm bells started going off and she realized that what she would say next was really crucial. And she said, ‘No, it isn’t just another name. It is the only name under heaven by which we can be saved.’


In the first reading today, it says, ‘Of all the names in the world given to us, this is the only one by which we can be saved,’ because the name of Jesus isn’t just another name, just as Jesus isn’t just another person, and Christianity isn’t just another religion. Jesus is the Way to God. It is only in Jesus, that our lives make any sense. Without him we are just creatures with no purpose. 


God calls us to share in his own divine life. We are getting ready to be with God forever. God has created us in his image, meaning He has given us the gift of free will and the ability to love and create. That is why we have such dignity, such worth, as human beings. God has also called us to share in his life and that’s what makes us very different from any other creature that God has made.


Many people around us, many of the people we love, are living as if this life was the only one and so many have become selfish and greedy, because they are trying to find fulfillment in this world. It always makes me sad when after the death of a loved one, I hear people say, ‘We will never see them again. We will never be with them again.’ That is not what we believe at all. Even though death is so painful, it is only temporary. The point of our faith is that we will be with our loved ones again. That’s why it is such an extraordinary and hopeful message.


Nothing this world can offer us will ever make us completely happy, because God has made us in such a way that we will only be fulfilled in him. Jesus is the doorway, to God. Jesus says, ‘I am the Gate (Jn 10:7), I am the Way (Jn 14:6), I am the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11), who leads [us there].’ It is only because of what Jesus has done that we can go to heaven when we die and be with the ones we love again. You can picture the crucifix as a bridge between heaven and earth. That is what this Gospel reading is about. It is about Jesus bringing all people to himself, which He will do. ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself’ (Jn 12:32).


What about people of different religions who do not know Jesus? Can they also go to heaven. God leads different people by what they understand, but when they die everyone, regardless of their faith here on earth, will understand instantly who Jesus is and that it is only through him that we can go to heaven. Because it is not as if there are lots of doorways to heaven. It is only because of what Jesus has done that anyone can enter heaven. His death and resurrection are the doorway to heaven.


It says in the letter to the Philippians, ‘All creatures, in the heavens, on earth and under the earth will bend the knee at the name of Jesus, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord…’ One day, all people will recognize that Jesus Christ is the Lord.



What do we mean when we say that we are ‘saved’ by Jesus? ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.’ Saved from what? We are saved from separation with God, our only fulfillment; saved from the emptiness of what the world offers; saved from the destructive power of sin and of evil; saved from loneliness and saved from meaninglessness. Only in God does our life make any sense. The very name of Jesus means, ‘who saves.’


What does it mean when we say someone is lost? Being with God forever is a choice that God has given us. God respects our freewill and doesn’t force us to do anything, including going to heaven. People who reject God are lost. They have lost what God was offering them, by their own choice, just like you can’t force your children to love you, no matter how much you love them. A lot of people become afraid because they feel they may not be good enough for heaven. None of us are good enough to go to heaven. It is Jesus who has made it possible. As long as we are trying to live as God asks us to live, that is what matters. We can also say that people are ‘lost’ in this world, because they have already rejected God by the way they live and that’s why it is so important that we pray for others, especially those who have lost their way.


I love what has become known as the Fatima prayer, which Our Lady revealed to the three children in Fatima in 1917 and asked that it be included at the end of each decade of the rosary.

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need of your mercy.’


Every day I pray for those who are in most need of God’s mercy, so that they may not be lost. If you think about it, it is really the most important thing that we can pray for. So long as we are saved when we die, that is all that matters. Nothing else matters as much as this.


We are all destined to go to heaven. That is what we have been created for. That is what God has planned for us. If we reject God, then we get hell, which is the complete loss of God and all that that would mean. But it is one or the other, there is no where else. There is no neutral ground. And so we must choose for Jesus. He is the only way to God.


Of all the names in the world given to people, this is the only one by which we can be saved.’


Saturday, April 13, 2024

3rd Sunday of Easter (Gospel: Luke 24:35-48) ‘You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer...’



One question that comes to most of our minds at some stage, is what the next world will be like. Will we know each other? Is it similar to our life on earth, except without suffering? What will we do all day? My grandmother, who died at the age of 96, used to say that she didn’t like the expression ‘rest in peace,’ as it implied we would be in some kind of a sleep, or certainly not very active. She said, ‘I don’t want to rest in peace! I want to be alive!’ I think she had the right idea. All of us want to be as alive as possible, but without all the struggles we have to endure here.


Several times I’ve had the opportunity to go to Medjugorje (the place in Bosnia Herzegovina where Our Lady has allegedly been appearing since 1981) on pilgrimage.  Once when I was there, I heard the visionary named Ivanka describe an experience she had when Our Lady told her she would no longer be appearing to her on a daily basis, but only once a year. Before the vision finished she asked Ivanka if there was anything she would like her to do for her. Ivanka asked Our Lady if she could see her mother again. Her mother had died just a few months before the apparitions had begun. In Ivanka’s own words she says that just after she asked this of Our Lady, suddenly her mother was in front of her and she was able to talk to her and hug her. Her mother told her that she was very proud of her and that she should be obedient to her grandmother. At the end of this testimony Ivanka said, ‘I am living proof that heaven exists. I saw my mother and spoke with her several months after she died.’ To listen to Ivanka recall this experience in her own words was very moving and watching her tell this story it is certainly hard to doubt it.


In today’s Gospel we hear another account of Jesus suddenly appearing to the disciples after the resurrection. To help them believe that what they were seeing was real Jesus does a beautiful and very human thing. He eats something in front of them. He takes a piece of fish from them and puts it in his mouth, chews it and swallows it. He wanted them to be convinced that they weren’t dreaming. This helped them to believe that this was the same Jesus with real flesh and blood, that they had lived with for three years, a bit like Ivanka being allowed to speak with and hug her mother. The fact that Jesus took the food from them is important. If they just saw Jesus eating something in a vision, that wouldn’t have any particular significance, but the fact that they gave him a piece of food which He ate, shows that He was fully alive and they weren’t just seeing a vision. They interacted with him. This helped them to believe.

Another interesting thing that Jesus did this time was to help the disciples understand that everything that had taken place—his suffering, death and resurrection—made sense and was actually meant to happen. He showed them that the prophets had foretold it and that the Scriptures referred to it and then he said to them, ‘So you see how it was written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise again...’ In other words, that all the events that had taken place, which were so horrifying and disillusioning for them, had their place. They were meant to happen and they fitted perfectly into God’s plan for the world. That was something that took the disciples a while to understand, as suffering never makes sense to any of us. Jesus had to help them understand not only that he really was alive, but that all that had taken place was meant to happen.


All of us are continually faced with difficult situations of suffering. Sometimes it is suffering that we ourselves go through, such as sickness, or relationships breaking up, and sometimes it is watching people dear to us suffer, such as when someone we love dies. It never seems to make sense and it always seems unfair. We find ourselves crying out, ‘How can God do this to me? Why does God allow this?’ When I worked in a hospital as a chaplain, I remember often hearing people ask me, ‘Why has God done this to me?’ So often we cannot make sense of why we have to suffer and we may even see it as a punishment.


Even though we don’t have a direct answer to this question, what Jesus says to his disciples in this Gospel is a help, because it reminds us that everything that happens fits into God’s bigger plan. The struggles we go through don’t make sense to us and sometimes they may even be caused by the wrong-doing of others. How could this be part of God’s plan, we ask? The point is that God can bring good out of every situation, even situations of evil, but for the most part we cannot see that. We are just faced with each individual situation of suffering, which doesn’t make sense to us and that is hard. However, the Lord is telling us that there is a bigger picture which makes sense of everything that happens. When we die we will then see that picture and it will all make sense to us. 


When you find yourself asking, how can any good possibly come out of a situation? Ask this question, ‘How could any good possibly come out of an illegal and unjust torturing and killing of an innocent man? And yet it changed history forever. The crucifixion happened because of the evil choices of people. Greed for money, hatred and jealousy of Jesus. It wasn’t about justice, it was about hatred. And yet that event, brought about by human evil, played an infinitely important part in God’s plan for the world, so that we could have life after death and be with the people we love again.


St. Pius of Pietrelcina—better known as Padre Pio—used the analogy of a tapestry. He said that our life is like a tapestry in God’s hands. We are looking at it from the back, like a child looking up at it while her mother works at it. All the child can see is the various bits of string hanging out, but seen from the other side, the Creator’s side, it is a beautiful work of art. So much of what we go through makes no sense to us, but the Lord asks us to trust that He knows what He is doing. One day when we see the tapestry from the right side, we will see the beautiful picture that the Lord has created.



To help us through this time of trials on earth, Jesus has made himself present to us, especially in the Eucharist. We want to know that God is with us to help us and He is. God gives himself to us in the most intimate way possible, by giving us his very body and blood, which we can receive every day if we wish. God is not watching us ‘from a distance,’ but as close to us as we could ask for. That’s why receiving the Eucharist is so important and how blessed we are to recognize what God has given us. God also continually speaks to us through the Scriptures, helping us to make sense of all the crazy things that we are faced with. So we can never say that we are alone, even though it sometimes feels that way.


It was so important that the disciples believed that Jesus really had risen from the dead, that death was not the end of his life, but a transformation. Up to that time people did not have as clear a picture of life after death as we have. It means that when we die, we can also step into the next world too and be with the people we love once more, where we will no longer suffer, but experience the fulfilment that all of us long for. That is what the Gospel is all about: life. That’s why Jesus told the Apostles to go out and tell everyone about what had happened and what it means. That is why the preaching of the Gospel is so important and that everyone should hear it. Noone has to believe or accept it, but we should know what has happened, what God has done for us and what awaits us if we choose it.


So you see how it was written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise again... You are witnesses to this.

Friday, April 5, 2024

2nd Sunday of Easter (Gospel: John 20:19-31) Peace be with you


The Irish Republican Army (IRA)

In December 2005 it was announced on the news that a man called Denis Donaldson, one of Sinn Féin’s top men (Sinn Féin was the political wing of the IRA), confessed to having been a British spy for the previous twenty years. People were shocked that this could have happened. It seems that he could not live with this secret any longer and so he went public and confessed what he had done. He then had to go into hiding, and sadly, though not surprisingly, he was murdered four months later. God be merciful to him. I remember thinking at the time that he must now be living in terrible fear. Fear of being hunted down and killed. He had betrayed many and now he would be afraid of what they would do to him. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.


2000 years earlier on Holy Thursday night, out of fear, the Apostles had all abandoned Jesus, who they believed was the Son of God. Judas had betrayed him for money. Peter tried to be faithful but ended up publicly swearing that he never knew Jesus. They all betrayed him. Now after Easter they are locked in the upper room, afraid. Why are they afraid? First because they could face the same punishment as Jesus since they were his close friends and disciples. If you remember in St. John’s Gospel, after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it says that some time later they had a dinner for him. Many people came, not only to see Jesus, but also to see Lazarus who had been raised from the dead. Wouldn’t you?! But it also says that the authorities decided it would be best to get rid of Lazarus as well as Jesus. Tie up any lose ends, as we would say. So, the Apostles had good reason to be afraid, from a human point of view.


Perhaps they were also afraid of what God might do to them. They had betrayed the Son of God. It is a very human response to be afraid of God when we feel we have betrayed him in some way, by the way we live, or by something we have done. Remember what Jesus said about Judas, whom he knew was going to betray him. ‘The Son of man indeed goes [to his fate] as it is written of him. But woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born’ (Matt 26:24). They are frightening words.


Then something beautiful happens. Jesus is suddenly standing with them in the room and he says: ‘Peace be with you.’ The first thing he does is to take away their fear. There are no words of condemnation for having abandoned him a few days before. There are no words of judgement, about how they were unable to be faithful. Instead: ‘Peace be with you.’ ‘It’s alright.’


I don’t know about you, but I can certainly say that I have often felt that I have betrayed Jesus and indeed sometimes wish I was not a priest, when my own sinfulness gets the better of me. And in case you think I am just trying to be pious by saying this, I am not. I am a sinner, just like anyone else. I struggle and get tempted, just like everyone else. That is one thing that God has left me under no illusions about. Sometimes I think it would be better for me not to be a priest as I would not have to deal with the sacred. It would be easier to run and hide, so to speak. Think of Peter when Jesus worked the miracle of the great catch of fish. Peter’s reaction was, ‘Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.’ He was afraid because he was aware of his sinfulness in the presence of someone holy and what was Jesus’ response? ‘Do not be afraid.’ Now, after the resurrection, after the betrayal, injustice, panic, when Jesus appears to the Apostles, the first thing He does is to put them at ease. ‘Peace be with you.’ 


Each time in the mass when we recall this wish of Jesus to give us his peace—which is not just a universal prayer for peace, but a reminder of what Jesus said to his followers—He is saying, ‘Do not be afraid, because I am not here to condemn you, even if you deserve to be condemned. Peace be with you.’ God only wants us to draw us closer to himself and to know that He is not going to act as we do to each other, with frowns, or giving out. He knows what we are like. He knows that we betray him, but He still tells us to be at peace, as long as we are willing to repent. I find that very comforting. Remember the good thief on the cross. In the last few moments of his life, he asks Jesus to remember him and Jesus promises him paradise that day. What a wonderful reminder of the mercy of God.


Think too of Thomas, who in his grief at the death of Jesus, would not allow the words of others to convince him that Jesus was alive. When you are grieving you don’t want someone else to give you false hope, because it is too painful. And then when Jesus did appear to him, He was so kind in helping him to believe. No giving out, but instead Jesus offered Thomas to put his finger into his wounds, so that he would believe. No condemnation for not believing; only encouragement. That is so characteristic of how Jesus dealt with people. Always with compassion, mercy, love and encouragement.


Today is also known as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday,’ a day when we focus on the infinite mercy of God. God is perfectly just, but God is infinitely merciful. God will not be mocked by those who presume on his mercy: ‘I can do what I want, so long as I repent at the last minute.’ That is presuming on God’s mercy and is a mockery of God and God will not be mocked. But God is infinitely merciful to anyone who sincerely asks for his mercy.


There is a story told of a young soldier in Napoleon’s army who was tired of war and wanted to go home. He decided to desert the army, but he was caught. The punishment for desertion was death. Now this man was the only son of his mother, who was now widowed. His mother happened to work in Napoleon’s house and the day before his execution she managed to get to see Napoleon in person. She pleaded for her son and told him that he was the last thing she had in this world. The mother begged Napoleon to have mercy on the man. Napoleon said in reply, ‘He doesn’t deserve mercy’. But the mother replied to Napoleon, ‘If he did deserve it, it wouldn’t be mercy.’


Mercy is a gift. God’s mercy is a gift. We don’t deserve it, but God longs to show us his mercy and that is one of the reasons He appeared to St. Faustina and asked her to spread this devotion to his mercy, because God does not want us to live in fear, but to be assured that any effort on our part to live as He asks, is enough. We will never manage to live perfectly, but as long as we are striving to grow closer to God, that is enough. God has created us to be with him and God has done everything to make that possible. There is nothing we can do which God will not forgive if we ask him. That is God’s promise to us. All we have to do is reach out to him.


Peace be with you. It is I. Do not be afraid.’



Saturday, March 30, 2024

Easter Sunday. The choice for God


 The greatest desire that everyone has, is to find happiness/fulfillment and to be with the ones we love again. This is what Easter is all about.


We believe that God created everything we know: the visible universe and the invisible world of the spirit that we cannot see yet, which was created before the material world. We will see it when we die. Some people get glimpses of it in this life.


We also believe that God’s greatest creation was the human being, because we were made in the image of God, with the gift of free will, the ability to love and the ability to suffer. God created us because He wanted us to share in his happiness. When you have a time of celebration, such as a wedding, the birth of a child, a graduation, or something like that, our natural instinct is to reach out to others that they may share our happiness. It is the same reason why God created us, to share in his happiness. When God originally created us, He gave our first parents that happiness, which is explained through the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of paradise. It says that they had everything they could ask for.


God gave them one restriction: they were not to eat of the tree of good and evil. In other words, they must not play God, deciding what is right and wrong, good and evil. Only God is to determine that. They needed to recognize their limitations as human beings. But Satan deceived them and talked them into playing God and going against what God told them. He said, ‘If you eat of the tree of good and evil, you will be like God. You can play God, deciding what is good and evil.’ And they gave into that temptation and stepped across that boundary that God had forbidden them to cross. The reason why God had commanded them not to do this, was because they were not able to play God. It was too much for them. God had told them this for their own good. He showed them their limitations as human beings. If they tried to go beyond their limitations, it would only bring suffering.


Why would Satan, who is a being far more powerful than any of us, want to deceive us? Because he hates God and what God created, especially the human being. So, to get at God, he tries to destroy what is precious to God, that is, us. Satan has no interest in us and in fact despises us.


The problem with that sin of our first parents, was that there was no way that they could undo the damage. They could not reverse it. They had opened the door to sin and suffering in our world. It says that after the Fall, sin began to happen, beginning with the murder of Abel, by Cain. And then it spread and spread, because our first parents did not listen to God and respect what God had told them.


However, because God loves his creation, He would not let it remain in that way. And so, God the Son, took on human nature in the person of Jesus and atoned for that sin. His sacrifice atoned for that sin and undid the damage, thereby reopening the possibility of happiness once more. But because God respects our free will, He doesn’t force that on us. Rather, God offers it to us: ‘I have done this for you and this happiness awaits you if you want it, but you must choose it.’ It is a free choice and a very real choice and we must make that choice.


Baptism is the most important way of making that choice. When we are baptized we are saying, ‘Yes, I believe this, I accept what God has done for me and is offering me. Let me have it all. Let me be soaked in it, baptized in it.’ But this is a choice that all of us have to make. That’s why as part of baptism the person is asked, ‘Do you reject Satan and do you believe in God the Father almighty creator of heaven and earth,’ etc.


Then you might ask, ‘Why baptize an infant, since an infant doesn’t know what is happening?’ We baptize an infant, because we want the grace of baptism, the possibility of heaven for them, from the beginning of their life. But an infant is baptized on condition that the parents promise to teach them the faith as they grow up. Otherwise it is hypocrisy. So if you have had your child baptized, remember that you made a promise to God to teach that child all about God and God will hold you accountable for that promise.


Easter is all about the choice of baptism, because the death and resurrection of Jesus was what reopened the possibility of heaven for us and we must accept that or not, but it is a real choice. God will not force anything on us, because He has given us free will. We must choose.


If we look around at our world, we can see what happens when we try and play God. There is chaos. We are not able for it. Today we are deciding what is good and evil, who lives and who dies. If we listen to God, then we do not do that, because we know that only God can do that. When we live by what God teaches us, commands us, then our life works, our society flourishes in the right way. When we ignore those Commandments, we end up with chaos, which is what we are seeing right now.


So it keeps going back to what Easter celebrates, not just the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also the choice to accept that or not. To accept it, is to recognize what God is offering us, the possibility of happiness and being with the ones we love once more. Jesus continually spoke about this choice in all that He taught. It is a real choice and all of us are free to make it. We either accept or reject God. We must take it seriously, because God takes us seriously and when we die, we will be given what we have chosen: life with God, which is what we call heaven, or without God, which is what we call hell.


Look, I am coming soon. My reward is with me and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.’ (Rev 22:12)


Friday, March 22, 2024

Palm Sunday. On the need to forgive



One of the things that seems to cause the most division that people so often tell me about in confession, is bitterness in families over things like wills, where land or money has been left to someone and others in the family feel hard done by; sometimes over children who won’t forgive parents for their mistakes, or parents who won’t forgive their children, but especially over wills. It is very sad, but it is amazing how much of it exists. We decide that we can’t forgive, or won’t forgive, because we have been hurt too deeply. Unforgiveness is probably the single biggest obstacle to God’s helping us in this life. If I refuse to forgive someone, I am preventing the Lord from helping me, because this is one thing that the Lord asks us to do. 


No doubt all of us here expect to be forgiven by God when we die. That’s what our faith teaches us, but I wonder do all of us feel that we also have to forgive those who have wronged us. This is exactly what the Lord tells us we must do, if we hope to be forgiven ourselves. We say it every time we pray the Our Father: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus used many parables to emphasize this. The landlord who forgave one of his debtors a large debt which he was unable to pay, when he asked for mercy. But then that same man went out and refused to forgive one of his debtors for a much smaller amount. The first landlord condemned him for his lack of mercy and threw him in jail. And Jesus finishes with the words, ‘And that is how my heavenly Father will treat you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart’ (Matthew 18:35).


There is also a common misunderstanding about forgiveness, and it is this: many people have the idea that in order to forgive someone who has hurt me, I must feel like forgiving them. In other words I must have got to the stage where I no longer feel the hurt, and so therefore I can forgive. That is not how it works. If most of us were to wait until we actually felt like forgiving someone who has hurt us, we would probably never forgive? This is where people get stuck: forgiveness is not based on how you feel, but is a decision of our will. I decide to forgive someone, because the Lord asks me to and by doing that I then open the door to allow the Lord to begin to help me get over the hurt. Or to put it the other way around: if I refuse to forgive someone, I am preventing God from helping me to be healed of the hurt. I will not begin to heal as long as the unforgiveness remains.


Lord I forgive John, please bless him and help me to heal.’ When we decide to forgive, we are not saying that what happened no longer matters, or that it wasn’t wrong, or that we no longer feel the pain. We are choosing to forgive the person, so that we can heal. We are letting go of the resentment. We may have to say those words many more times throughout our life, but as long as we do, then we will begin to heal. If I refuse to forgive someone, I become consumed with the hurt, the resentment and anger. It eats away at me like a cancer. I am the one who suffers. You may feel that by refusing to forgive, you are punishing the other person. The truth is they may not even be aware of the hurt they have caused. You are the one who is suffering and the key to healing is in your hands.


The deeper the hurt, the harder it is to forgive and the Lord knows that. That is why Jesus spoke about it so many times. When the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gave them the Our Father. The Our Father is a way of praying, not just a prayer and two whole lines of it are to do with forgiveness. ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ If we expect to be forgiven, we too must forgive.


It is a terrible thing to meet someone in the later years of their life who has refused to forgive. You can see it in their face. They are angry and bitter and they are not at peace. That is not what the Lord wants for any of us and so He shows us the way out. The key is in our own hands.


When you find yourself angry with someone, it usually means you need to forgive them. I doubt if there is anyone who doesn’t need to forgive someone and so many of the stories people tell me are about serious injustices. The bigger the wrong we have experienced the harder it is to forgive. But remind yourself, it is not about how you feel. It is a decision.


St. Maria Goretti died just before her 12th birthday, in 1902. She was stabbed to death by a man called Alessandro Serenelli, who tried to rape her. She wouldn’t give in to him and in a rage he repeatedly stabbed her. Some years after he was imprisoned for her murder, she appeared to him in a dream and gave him 15 lilies. He realized that each one represented each of the times that he had stabbed her and that she had forgiven him. From then on, he became deeply repentant, so much so that he was eventually let out of jail early (after 27 years) because of his exemplary behaviour. After he was released he went to her mother to beg her forgiveness. His mother said to him, ‘If Maria can forgive you, then I must forgive you too.’ I can’t imagine the grief and anger that her mother must have gone through, but she forgave Alessandro and I have no doubt that will have brought her peace and set her free.


When you are dying, will the injustices carried out against you still matter? Will you still refuse to forgive? We will not get into heaven until we forgive those who have wronged us and that is why it is so important. The key to healing is in our own hands, but it is a decision, not a feeling.


Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’


Sunday, March 17, 2024

5th Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: John 12:20-33) Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies it remains just a single grain


Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.’


A survey was done in America a few years ago to see who were the happiest people and why. The survey found that the happiest people were old African-American women. The second happiest people were old Hispanic women. The third happiest group of people were old women in general. Why? Because they had suffered so much throughout their lives. They had grown so much through what they had suffered and now they were generally quite content and very little would put them out. And I notice the same thing with many of the older people in my work. Most of them are quite happy and patient, much more patient that young people. 


We always wonder when we see people suffering, why they have to suffer so much, especially at the end of their life. We feel they have had enough suffering and they should be able to relax a bit now. Today, euthanasia is presented to us as a way to avoid suffering, but that goes against what God teaches us. Only God can give and take life. Also, the suffering that people go through can be transformative. Sometimes you can see how it changes people and families. If we deliberately cut that out through euthanasia, we may be depriving someone of a really important step in their journey, only we can’t see it.


If you think of times of suffering that you have been through and people go through the most horrendous ordeals. But when you look back, you can often see that it helped us to grow, mature, become wiser, more compassionate, even though we would rather not go through it.


We look at death as the end of the life we know and to us this life is everything, because it is the only thing we know. When we are dying we are coming to the end of all that we see as good and worthwhile. But if you imagine what it would be like if we could step over that threshold into the next life and look back. Then we wouldn’t see death as the end of everything, rather as the final and most important step of the journey to heaven. Then we would probably realize how important it is to be ready for that very important step. We would realize that this life is only a preparation for the next life. You could call it a training ground, to learn the ways of God and to choose to love him and follow in his steps, or not.


If the next life is forever, then the preparation that we make for it in this life is extremely important. God knows this better than we do, so He helps us to learn in the most effective way possible, which is often through suffering. It’s not that God makes us suffer. Suffering is part of this life, but God uses it to help us to learn what is really important. And you can see in the hospitals, the effect that suffering often has on people. People who sometimes come in arrogant and full of themselves, are soon humbled and realize that they are no better than anyone else, and that they too have to wait their turn.


I remember visiting a man who had just been admitted to hospital. He was there with his wife. His wife told me that he was a movie producer and obviously wanted me to realize how important he was. She kept emphasizing how important he was. A few days later he was still there, but was just like all the other patients, having to wait his turn. His earthly importance didn’t make him any more special when it came to his mortality.


It says in the second reading, ‘Although he was Son, Christ learnt to obey through suffering’ and that ‘He was made perfect through suffering.’ Christ didn’t want to suffer any more than we do, but he trusted in the Father’s will. If you think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He begged the Father if there was any way that he could avoid going through what was facing him. ‘Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will, but yours’ (Mt 26:39). We don’t want to suffer either, but we must also learn to trust that God knows what He is doing. One of the hardest parts of suffering is that we can’t see any point to it, or any good outcome from it. If we knew that it would have a good outcome, that would help us endure, but we can’t see anything.


The society that we live in tells us continually that we should have everything as we want it and that we shouldn’t have to suffer. Everything is for our pleasure and our fulfillment, but that’s not what Jesus taught us. He said, ‘Try to enter by the narrow door’ (Lk 13.24). And he said, ‘Anyone who loves his life loses it’. In other words, if you want to follow the ways of God, which lead to heaven, then it will require change, humility and God will teach you how to grow in your spirit, so that when we die, we will be more ready to meet him. That means we won’t always be able to have everything as we want it. We are called to sacrifice, rather than seek self-fulfillment. This generally happens through the ongoing challenges that we face through our life. You who have children know how much sacrifice is involved in raising a family and in being married and in religious life and in any way of life where we try to follow the Lord.


It is no wonder Satan offers us so much pleasure and temptation, because he doesn’t want us to get to heaven and this world is the only one in which he can destroy us, by trying to make us choose against God. Jesus called him ‘The prince of this world, a liar and deceiver,’ because he tempts us through this world. He tells us, ‘God doesn’t love you. See how He makes you suffer. God is unjust. If God were really good, He would make your life happy.’ We are in the middle of a spiritual battle and that’s why we need to arm ourselves with the spiritual strength that God gives us.


St. Paul writes, ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12). How did he know this? Because God revealed it to him. But if we live as though none of this is real, as so many people do, then we leave ourselves wide open to the workings of Satan and his minions, who are constantly trying to lead us away from God, with worldly temptations and what seems to be the easier way.  


How do we fight the dark spiritual powers? Through prayer, reading God’s word, receiving the Eucharist at mass, going to confession and living as the Lord shows us how to live. The Scriptures keep reminding us of what is true and acceptable to God. They are usually the opposite of worldly values and this is why we need to keep hearing them, so that we are not deceived.


So I must ask myself, do I want to live what God shows me? It is the narrow winding path, but it is also the path that leads to God. If we allow him to, God will transform us through all that we go through here on earth, the good and bad.

Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it produces much fruit.’


Saturday, March 9, 2024

4th Sunday of Lent Yr B (Gospel: John 3:14-21) Forgiveness and repentance



Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind. It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood. It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’ That phrase, ‘so that sins may be forgiven,’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the whole of Jesus life was about: ‘So that sins may be forgiven.’


Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed. That fact alone should give us great courage, because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin. The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us. He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, to be happy and to reach our full potential. ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4). And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God and God is ultimately our happiness. If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.


There is a great story in the Old Testament about King David. It would make a great movie. David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath. He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. She is married. Because he is king and used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her. Some time later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant. Now he is afraid, because he knows he is going to be found out. So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away in battle, fighting for him. When Uriah comes, David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc. Later he invites him to dine with him and then he sends him away and says, ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’ But Uriah doesn’t go to his house. Perhaps he is suspicious. Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants. 


The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife, he invites him again to come and eat with him. This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace. Now David is getting desperate, so the following day, David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed. So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.


So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David. But because God loves David, He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan to David, who tells him the following story.


Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city. He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc. There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb. And he loved the lamb like one of his own children. One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock for the meal, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had it killed instead.’  When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’ And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’


Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next. When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him, he is also big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.


It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him. The Lord doesn’t want our downfall. On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to be at peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession and we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it. Sadly, many have come to see confession as a burden, or as something inflicted on us, a duty, an obligation; but this is to see it completely backwards. Confession is a gift of healing that God has given us, so that we can be free and live in peace, because that is what God wants for us. God challenges us to confess, so that we can be healed. It is for our benefit.


The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... Whoever’s sins you forgive they are forgiven; whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained’ (Mat 16:18ff.). And in St. John’s Gospel after the resurrection Jesus appears to the Apostles and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain are retained.’ (Jn 20:22). And now the Lord continues to offer us that forgiveness through the priesthood, which is a wonderful thing because it is a very concrete way of knowing, through another human being, that our sins are completely forgiven. We need that concreteness and God knows that.


As we watch the chaos of our own society around us and the evil that seems to continue to grow, the best way we can begin to bring about change is by repenting ourselves. We ask God’s forgiveness for our own sins. That is the way to get ready for the coming of Jesus.  There is no point in pointing out the sins of others if I am not willing to begin by acknowledging and confessing my own sins. That is the way to begin to improve life in our families, our workplaces and our world. We must begin with ourselves.


Why do I have to confess to a priest?

God in his wisdom, knows exactly what helps us most and He knows that we need to be held accountable. And so He gave us the priesthood, so that we can make ourselves accountable to one of his ministers and that also takes humility on our part. Who wants to acknowledge to another person that they have sinned? No one, because there is a certain humility needed. But God also knows that that is the only way we should come before him, in humility, acknowledging our own sinfulness. There is no other way we should come before God. And if you find yourself saying, ‘I don’t need to confess to a priest, I can tell God I am sorry myself,’ then you are telling God that you don’t need the gift that He gave us through the priesthood. ‘I don’t need your gift. I can do it my own way.’


In Matthew chapter 9, we have the account of a paralysed man being brought to Jesus on a stretcher, in the hope that Jesus would heal him. Jesus begins by saying, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ And the Pharisees say, ‘Who is this man to say he can forgive sins?’ And I’m sure the onlookers could care less about the forgiveness of the man’s sins. They were hoping for his healing. But then Jesus goes on to say, ‘“But to show you that the Son of man has the power to forgive sins,” He said to the paralytic, “Get up. Take up your mat and go home.”’ And the man was healed.


Why did Jesus start by saying, “Your sins are forgiven”? because He is showing us that there is a direct connection between our begin healed and the forgiveness of our sins. We tend to focus only on the physical, but we are body and spirit. The two are intimately linked. What happens to one affects the other.




Receiving God’s grace through confession, heals us. One of the privileges of being a priest is to hear confession and to see the change that takes place in people when they confess, especially when they confess serious sins they have been carrying for a long time. You can see the change in their face. A burden is lifted from them. They become more at peace. That doesn’t happen when you tell God you are sorry by yourself. That happens when you confess to a priest and I know because I see it constantly and it is a beautiful thing to see.


So often I hear someone confessing a serious sin from their past, which they have been too ashamed to confess up to that point. When they confess it, they often cry and you can see the burden that has been lifted from them. That is the grace of confession, the healing that comes from confession. I’m sure they told God they were sorry for that sin hundreds of times, but it is not the same. They weren’t healed when they did, because they didn’t do it the way God asks us to. God wants to heal us, but we need to listen to what God tells us to do. In the letter of St. James (5:16) he says, ‘Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.’


You often hear me talk about apparitions, because they are important and heaven speaks to us through them. One of the things that is always said by Our Lady, is that we need to confess our sins to a priest; not by ourselves, but to a priest, because this is what brings healing and because this is what God asks us to do.


We have a psychological need to tell someone about our sins. When you listen to these chat shows on TV or the radio, when people tell the whole world about their infidelities, that is confession. Confessing our sins is part of what sets us free. When we confess to a priest in confession we also receive God’s grace, which you could call divine strength, because God wants to heal us. It is his gift to us. So if you can do one important thing this Lent, go to confession and don’t let the devil tell you that you don’t need to. Satan does not want you to confess, because he knows how powerful it is.


This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’



Sunday, March 3, 2024

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B (John 2:13-25) The commandments are our freedom


I grew up in a large family, with three brothers and three sisters. It was a strict enough family and of course most of the time I resented the various rules we were given. I wanted to have things my way, but I wasn’t allowed to have them my way all the time, or there would have been chaos. Now that I am older, I can see the wisdom of a lot of the rules that we were given, but at the time they often seemed unfair, or annoying at the very least. What we were taught served its purpose and helped to form us as children. It helped us to learn that there are basic guidelines that we all must adhere to if a family is to work.


A few years ago a friend of mine was at a business conference in Dublin and one of the speakers was saying that as a society we have forgotten some of the basic principles of living, such as honesty and integrity, respect for the human being. He was saying it was largely because of that neglect that we ended up in the last financial crisis we found ourselves in. Honesty and respect for the human being should be the norm and not the exception. If these are the principles out of which we operate, our society will be a lot healthier. 


A young man asked me was it wrong to lie? He was an intelligent man too. One of the commandments tells us ‘You must not bear false witness’, that also means, ‘You must not lie.’ That gives you an idea of the kind of confusion that is around us.


I know that in the past many people have had bad experiences of an over-demanding Church, which for a while seemed to focus too much on sin and everything that was wrong. I heard an old priest in Ireland joking that in the Church in Ireland of the 1950s, almost everything was a mortal sin and everything else was forbidden! That is not healthy. God wants us to be alive and to enjoy our life on earth. If religion just becomes a series of laws, then something is wrong. The teachings of our faith are meant to help us grow in our relationship with God and grow as people. God’s teachings are there to help us. The most basic of these are the Commandments and the 613 laws that God taught Moses to govern our whole society.


Everything God gives us and asks of us, is to help us. God tells us that if we want to do well as a society, if we want to flourish, then we need to stick to these principles: It is wrong to murder, to commit adultery, to steal, to lie, to cheat. We must honour God and keep God at the center of all that we do. And that includes keeping Sunday as a holy day, a day when God is worshiped because God deserves to be worshiped.


When the Jewish people remained faithful to God, their society flourished. The Commandments gave them the direction they needed, so that things would work for them as individuals and as a society and that included all kinds of laws for day-to-day living (613 laws), even down to laws as to how to conduct business fairly, so that everyone would benefit. The wisdom in the Old Testament—especially the first five books of the Old Testament which make up the Torah, or Law—is amazing, so amazing that it could only have come from God.


The Commandments are essentially a blueprint for living. If we follow these commandments and do our best to live them, we will do well as individuals and flourish as a society. God’s teachings help us to grow closer to him and to become 'the best version of ourselves’ that we can be. That is basically what God told the people through Moses, some 4000 years ago and those principles have not changed. 


Throughout the centuries the people continually strayed away from the Commandments and worshipped false gods and when they did this their society began to fall apart and their enemies began to gain the upper hand, like what we see happening around us. Then they realised what they had done and they asked forgiveness from God and tried to be faithful again. The Bible is essentially a collection of stories showing this. The people continually strayed away from God, get into trouble, then realise their mistake and ask forgiveness and God always helps them back on their feet, helping them that God must be at the center.


Another thing that has not changed is that we are still very good at coming up with reasons why we don’t have to keep God’s Commandments. People have always been good at coming up with excuses, but ultimately we are going against the very thing that will help us. 


We talk a lot about freedom in our country and all the people who have fought and laid down their lives so that we can be free and thank God we do enjoy great freedom. But true freedom comes about when we choose what is good. Doing anything we want sounds like freedom, but if it is without God given laws to guide us, then it usually means we lean towards what is sinful. Living by the principles God gives us is what leads us to true freedom. Choosing to live a life of sin may seem like freedom, but in fact it is a kind of slavery, because what is sinful will ultimately destroy us and it does not bring happiness. Saying that we must abide by laws may sound like we are not free, but in fact that is what leads us to the greatest interior freedom. No laws lead to chaos, both in our society and as individuals.


God’s creation has an order to it. We can see in nature that there are certain natural laws that make everything work. The planets must follow a particular order or they will crash into each other. Traffic has to follow a particular order, or there is chaos. As human beings, we also have to follow a particular order, or there is chaos. God is the one who shows us exactly what that order is. When our society decides that we no longer need God or the order that He gives us, it leads to chaos.


If God is pushed out, something else will take its place. Communism is a perfect example. Communism denies God and the state takes God’s place. Everything must obey the state and the human being has no worth or value, so it can be disposed of at will.


Adolph Hitler based his new world order on replacing the Ten Commandments, with a ‘higher order,’ his order, a man-made order.

This is what we are fighting against… the curse of so-called morals… against the so-called ten commandments.’[i]


This was why he wanted to destroy the Jewish people, because the Ten Commandments were given to the world through them. As long as they existed, they were a threat to him, because they brought the Ten Commandments.


Jesus spoke about this in the parable about a demon being cast out:

When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it roams through arid regions searching for rest, but on finding none, it says, ‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning it finds it swept and clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself, who move in and dwell there and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. (Luke 11: 24-26)


Notice how it says when the spirit returns it finds things have been put in order. What Jesus is saying is that if God is not there, there is a void and something will fill that void.


In an actual exorcism, if a person who has been freed of any kind of evil does not replace that evil—whether it is actually something demonic, or just destructive behavior like an addiction—the evil will just return. The various twelve-step programs show this. If someone is to overcome an addiction, they have to replace that addiction with a healthier behavior, or they will just relapse. The same thing happens on the bigger scale too. If God is taken out of society, evil will take its place. There won’t just remain a void.


This will mean that I can’t have everything my way, but we must choose who it is we wish to serve. If God asks us to keep Sunday holy, what takes priority, worshipping God, or something else? If we live by the Commandments it will make us different from many others, but it has always been that way and that is where we must decide who it is we wish to follow. 


It is tempting to say, ‘I’m sure God doesn’t mind,’ or ‘God will understand.’ But if God doesn’t mind, then why did He give us the commandments in the first place? Why did Jesus get angry when he saw how the temple was being turned into a business instead of a place of prayer? There is nowhere in Scripture where it says God doesn’t mind and all that Jesus taught shows us that God certainly does mind.


God revealed himself to the Jewish people as a moral God, who will hold us accountable for our actions. That was unique in ancient Israel. Before this there was never an understanding of God being moral, or interested in our well-being. 


It keeps going back to the same thing. God created us to share in his happiness. God shows us how to live so that we will enjoy that happiness, but we still have to choose who we will serve.


I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange gods before me.’ 


[i] Herman Rauschning, "Preface," The Ten Commandments: Ten Short Novels of Hitler's War Against the Moral Code, ed. Armin L. Robinson (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943), xiii.