Sunday, January 28, 2024

4th Sunday of Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:21-28) Power is made perfect in weakness.


If you were asked to choose someone for the priesthood or religious life, what kind of person would you look for? Someone enthusiastic about their faith and hopefully well grounded psychologically. Someone who had a good background, preferably not a scandalous background. Definitely not someone with extremist views. These are the kind of characteristics we would usually look for.


Then we turn to some of the people God chose and continues to choose. Very often they were the kind of people that would be turned away from priesthood, because they were not well grounded, or psychologically unstable, or extremists. I have often heard Franciscans joke that if St. Francis applied to the Franciscan order today, he would be refused, as he would be considered way too radical.


One person we read about all the time, who was a religious extremist, was St. Paul. He was a Jewish extremist, a Pharisee and an expert in the Law and bent on destroying the Christians. He had permits to imprison Christians and he oversaw the killing of at least one person, St. Stephen. It’s quite likely he approved of other killings too. He was the equivalent of one of the leaders of ISIS, or other extreme groups like them. He was a dangerous man for Christians.


Then out of the blue Jesus appeared to him. He did not know who Jesus was. When he had this vision and Jesus said, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He replied, ‘Who are you sir?’ He didn’t know who Jesus was. It is interesting that Jesus didn’t say, ‘I am Jesus and you are persecuting my followers.’ He said, ‘You are persecuting me.’ To persecute Christians is to persecute Jesus, because from our baptism we are intimately linked to him, as we receive the gift of God’s Spirit. We are part of his mystical body.


After this vision, Paul went into Damascus and stayed there for three days. He was completely blind after the vision. He remained there until a man named Ananias was sent to him. Jesus also appeared to Ananias and told him to go to Saul. But listen to his reaction to Jesus telling him to go to Saul (who becomes Paul).

I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to all your holy people. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ (Acts 9:13-14).


He was basically saying, ‘Are you crazy? Do you realize who this man is?!’ That was the human response. In other words, no one in their right mind would choose him. It says that some of the first times he went to preach to the Christians they were afraid of him, because they didn’t believe his conversion could be real. Who would blame them?


Another man was king David. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered, to cover his tracks. After he repented he eventually took Bathsheba as his wife, but later the child they conceived was the future king Solomon who brought peace to Israel and built the temple, one of the most important events for the Jewish people.


Moses also murdered a man when he was a young man. He then had to flee the country so that he would not be killed himself. But fifty or so years later God sent him to rescue the people of Israel.


What this tells us is that our past does not disqualify us from being pleasing to God, or even an instrument of God. I think we often have the impression that our past sins leave us displeasing to God, or inadequate in some way. But the Scriptures tell us the opposite. As long as we repent of our sins, then we can be at peace.


After Paul came to believe in Jesus, he went away for three years to Arabia and only then did he go to check with the other Apostles if what Jesus had revealed to him, was the same as what Jesus had taught the Apostles and it was. Everything he learnt, was directly from Jesus appearing to him. That is also a wonderful confirmation that what the Apostles taught was also from Jesus and not in any way made up.


After Paul was converted, many people are converted through his preaching and he worked many extraordinary miracles and Jesus appeared to him several other times as well. Now you would think that since he is now living a holy life and no longer struggling with his own weaknesses. But what he says about his own struggles is very comforting. He seems to have struggled with some weakness in particular, although he doesn’t say what it was, but this is what he writes about it:

Because of the abundance of these revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan to beat me, to keep me from becoming too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this that it might leave me, but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’’

 (2 Cor 12:7-9).


God is not put off by our weaknesses and in fact they serve a purpose. As long as we are struggling, we are aware of how much we need God’s help and mercy and so, frustrating as they are, the Lord allows us to have them, so that He can go on working through us. We are more effective instruments when we are aware of how weak we are. This should help us never to become discouraged. God’s power is not hindered by the fact that we are weak and in fact our struggles are the very things that can help us to stay close to God.


In regard to his struggling with sin, St. Paul also wrote this: ‘I do not understand what I do. What I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do.’ (Rom 7:14). You wouldn’t believe how many times I have heard people say that, word for word, in confession. It means that the struggle with sin, is also part of the journey and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. All that matters is that we keep trying.


The devil tries to discourage us and shame us. He accuses us: ‘You are a hypocrite, you are a fraud, you could never be pleasing to God. How can you even call yourself a Christian.’ Accusation after accusation. Jesus called him ‘The Accuser.’ He tries to discourage us and pull us away from God, but the Lord is always the one to encourage us. God confronts us when we sin, because He loves us, so that we might repent of sin. But God is always the one to encourage us.


So the next time you think that you could not be pleasing to God because you are weak, read what St. Paul struggled with and you will find we are in good company.


Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’’

(2 Cor 12:9).

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Gospel: Mark 1:14-20) The Eucharist and skepticism


An ‘In Pew’ survey in 2019 said that of all Catholics who go to mass regularly, only 63% believe that the bread and wine really and truly become the body and blood of Christ. That means that 33% of practicing Catholics don’t believe in the real presence, which is very disturbing. It also said that 43% aren’t even aware that the Church’s teaching is that during each mass, at the consecration, when the priest says ‘This is my Body which will be given up for you’… and ‘This is the chalice of my Blood…’ the bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church’s teaching is that in each mass, when the priest says the words of consecration, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and it comes from what Christ said himself. But from the beginning many people didn’t believe it and wouldn’t accept it.


In St. John’s Gospel after working the miracle of multiplying the loaves and feeding 5000 people, Jesus began to say something which many people found impossible to accept. He said,

‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The bread I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’ (Jn 6:51)


‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you cannot have life within you. (Jn 6:53). For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’ (Jn 6:55).


After Jesus gave this teaching it says, ‘After this, many disciples withdrew and no longer followed him’ (Jn 6:66). It is interesting that Jesus didn’t try to explain what he meant. He just let them walk away. The only thing he did was to turn to the Apostles and say, ‘What about you? Are you going to leave too.’ (John 6:67)


A 'Mass Rock' where mass was celebrated in secret during times of persecution

In Matthew’s account of the last supper Jesus says, ‘This is my body which will be given up for you. Do this in memory of me.’.. ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be given for you.’ (Matthew 26:26-27)


In Mark’s Gospel: ‘Take it; this is my body which will be given for you… This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.’ (Mark 14:22-24)


In Luke’s Gospel, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, which is poured our for you.’ (Luke 22:19-20).


The Eucharist isn’t just a symbol, but really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ.


A priest friend of mine, who was also an exorcist, had to meet a lady one time who was practicing witchcraft. He met her in a hotel lobby. As soon as she approached him, she stopped and said, ‘There is something in your pocket I don’t like.’ He was carrying the Eucharist and she wouldn’t go near him until he left it in his car. Another lady who was also practicing witchcraft was able to identify one host which was consecrated, out of a pile of unconsecrated hosts. It is also interesting that people who practice satanic worship, will try to steal a consecrated host from a Catholic church. They know it is real, even though many Catholics don’t believe it.


Carlo Acutis

To date there have been over 140 confirmed Eucharistic miracles. A young Italian man named Carlo Acutis put together a whole website just about this. MIRACOLI EUCARISTICI - Mostra Internazionale Ideata e Realizzata da Carlo Acutis e Nicola Gori

Many continue to be skeptical, but this is the Lord’s teaching.


I want to tell you about one eucharistic miracle which happened to a lady called Marthe Robin.


Marthe Robin (1902-81)


Marthe Robin was born into a peasant farming family, the youngest of six, on 13 March 1902 in Châteauneuf-de-Galaure (Drôme, in SE France).  ­Interestingly her parents were non-practicing Catholics, but from an early age she had a great desire to pray. She only had elementary school education and after that worked on the farm.


In 1903 Marthe and her older sister Clemence, both contracted typhoid fever, from which her sister died. Marthe came close to death but recovered, however this left her very weak for the rest of her life.


Marthe Robin who often experienced the passion on Fridays

In 1918 she became very ill again and went into a coma for four days. She eventually recovered from this, but in 1928 after developing encephalitis, she became completely paralyzed from the waist down. It also left her partly blind and unable to tolerate light, so she ended up living bedridden in a dark room. The encephalitis also made it almost impossible for her to swallow.


From the age of twenty on, she began to experience visitations from the Virgin Mary and also from Jesus.


From 1925 onwards she began to have mystical experiences, giving her a great desire for the Eucharist. From 1930 onwards, no longer being able to swallow, she ate no food except the Eucharist until the end of her life 51 years later. During this time she also began to experience the passion of Christ every Friday. It is believed that over 100,000 people visited her during her lifetime.


For 51 years she lived on nothing but the Eucharist. This was witnessed by many priests and bishops and believed to be genuine. When people questioned her about this, she pointed to St. John’s Gospel where Jesus said,


‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The bread I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’ (Jn 6:51)

‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you cannot have life within you. (Jn 6:53). For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’ (Jn 6:55).


I think it’s good to read up on some of these miracles as they are very inspiring and the Lord has given them to us to help us believe. Also, ask God to help you believe if you struggle with this teaching.


‘This is my Body which will be given up for you.’

Saturday, January 13, 2024

2nd Sunday of Year B (Gospel: John 1:35-42) The body is not meant for immorality


Marino Restrepo

There is a man named Marino Restrepo who was born in 1950 in Columbia. His family owned a large coffee planation and were quite well off. Although he was brought up Catholic, he stopped practicing at the age of fourteen. During his teens in the 60s he met up with two different American girls from California, who introduced him to the idea of ‘free love’, helping him to be sexually ‘liberated’ and to drugs. He eventually married the second girl when she became pregnant. They moved to Germany and later to the US. He became a successful producer, actor and song-writer in Hollywood. Gradually he got into every kind of New Age and pagan practice and an increasingly hedonistic lifestyle; a life of pleasure and drugs. Being promiscuous was just part of his life-style and he said that this was the world of Hollywood.


In December 1997, at the age of 47, he visited home for Christmas. After partying with his family, he left to visit one of his uncles. When he got to his house he found the gates locked, which was unusual. Just then he was surrounded by armed, masked men. He was kidnapped and after a couple of days found himself deep in one of the jungles not far from where he grew up. He had been kidnapped by FARC rebels, who were hoping to get ransom money from his family.


He spent the following six months bound, with a cover over his face, lying in a cave. He almost died from malnutrition and the psychological torture that he was put through. They were not able to get the money they had hoped for from his family and he was sure they were going to kill him.


One night during this ordeal, he had a spiritual experience which lasted about eight hours. He was given an illumination of conscience, where God showed him his whole life up to that point and how far he had separated himself from God. God allowed him to see the state of his soul before God. He was able to see the exact moment when he rejected God during his teens and began to live a sinful life. In the world’s eyes he was becoming liberated and very successful in his career, even though he was living a more and more sinful life. God showed him that if he had died at that time, he would have gone to hell, because of his total rejection of God by the way he was living. He had been living in mortal sin for thirty-three years.


As you can imagine this experience brought about his conversion. After six months he was unexpectedly released and after a time of readjustment from being so traumatized, he went to confession and poured his heart out. Since then he gave up his career in Hollywood and has spent the last 27 years of his life travelling around the world giving his testimony.


During his illumination of conscience God also revealed to him in great depth, the nature and seriousness of sin, which he wrote about in a book called From Darkness into the Light. One thing that God showed him was especially how damaging sexual sin is. The ‘free-love’ movement of the sixties, which seemed to be progress and liberation in the eyes of our world, was in fact demonic, as it began to lead more and more people into serious sin and farther from God. What was once considered sinful, sleeping with someone outside of marriage—fornication—gradually came to be seen as normal. Sin was normalized. But God showed him that sexual intimacy is only meant for marriage, something that would almost be considered naïve today.


God made marriage a sacred bond between a man and a woman, which is meant to support them both and give them the security for new life in the right environment. When a child is conceived outside of marriage, it is usually seen as a problem. When a child is conceived within marriage it is usually seen as a gift. Marriage provides the right loving environment into which children can enter the world. Marriage also has God’s blessing and grace to help the couple. I know it does not always work out this way, but this is God’s plan for us.


Artificial contraception also encouraged fornication, which in turn lead to more and more abortion. I have no doubt that abortion is probably one of, if not the greatest sin against God, because it is the destruction of life which comes from God, at its very beginning. If sexual relations were kept within marriage, abortion would drop drastically, as would sexually transmitted diseases. God in his wisdom knows what works and keeps showing us what works, but we must listen.

The first step to ending abortion is to help our young people to understand that it is not ok to sleep around before they are married; that in fact this is serious sin in God’s eyes and every time it happens we separate ourselves more and more from God.


Why is sexual sin more serious than other sin? God made us in his image and God’s Spirit dwells within us from baptism, which means our body is a sacred thing. When a child is conceived God also creates a soul for that new life, which is immortal. The love between a man and a woman has the potential to become another life, which is imitating God. The love between the Father and the Son, is another life, the Spirit. Human sexuality mirrors God, which is why it is so sacred. That is also why Satan attacks it so much. Satan does everything to try and lead us away from God, simply because he hates God and hates God’s creation.


The Lord also showed this to the Apostles, which is why they wrote about it. The second reading today is addressing exactly this:

“Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body. But the immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Cor 6:18)


“Do you not know that neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who practice homosexual acts… will inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

(1 Cor 6:9)


The Apostles didn’t just decide this. The Lord showed them this, just as He showed Marino Restrepo the exact same thing in his experience. It is easy to get the impression that these teachings just applied to cultures centuries ago and that they are no longer relevant, but that’s why the Lord continues to give people different experiences, like Marino Restrepo and many others, so that we will realize it is just the same today. What was sinful remains sinful. What used to separate us from God will still separate us from God and it is only in God we will find our happiness, which means that anything sinful we need to take seriously.


Marino Restrepo was not a bad person, but the life he was living was extremely sinful before God and would have cost him losing heaven forever if he had died then. The Lord does not want that for any of us, but we must listen.


One of the lines in Scripture which I believe we need to hear often, is this:

[Jesus said] “It is not those who say, “Lord, Lord…” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)


Everything that God shows us is to help us. God’s design works, which is why He gave us the Scriptures, to show us in black and white what to do and what to avoid.

“For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) All peoples of all religions will recognise Jesus as God



The great 20th century theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84) wrote, ‘The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, or will not exist at all.’ We are called to be mystics, that is, to continually seek and be open to what is mysterious. Sometimes I think we can be too inclined to ‘explain away’ everything in our faith, when in fact it is very mysterious and should be. The truth is that God continues to speak to us in unexpected and mystical ways. And God will continue to draw us closer to himself, as long as we remain open to that journey. St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a 16th century mystic, said that the Lord will bring us to the greatest union with him in this life, as long as we remain open to it. She said that the only thing that prevents us from reaching the deepest union with God, is our own fear and unwillingness to go any farther. God wants us to be as united with him as is possible in this life. Why doesn’t that happen to more people? Because we become afraid and want to put the brakes on. It is easier to settle for a basic understanding and practice of our faith and not go any farther.


The feast of the Epiphany is the feast of Christ being revealed to the world. The three wise men, or astrologers, were led to this place where Christ was. They are supposed to have come from different countries, pagan countries, who did not know the true God. They were astrologers (those who study horoscopes!), which is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures.

10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the

 fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in

witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. (Deut 18:10-14)


The Magi (possibly ZoroAstrian priests) represent all the peoples of the world since they were not Jewish, but came from pagan nations who did not know the true God. It is a way of saying that Jesus’ coming is for all peoples of all religions and race. All people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. God guided them through what they were involved in, astrology, which was how they were searching for God. It is a reminder to us that God can and does use all and every means to speak to us and draw us closer to himself.


The three gifts are symbolic. Gold is the symbol of a king. Jesus is a king, King of kings and the master of the whole universe. The use of frankincense is a sign of recognising a divinity, or God. Jesus is Son of God, the second person of the Godhead. And myrrh is a perfume that represents the suffering He will go through to win eternal life for the human race. 


If you think of most of the figures in the Bible to do with Christmas, they all had mystical experiences which led them closer to God. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary; he also appeared to Joseph. Angels appeared to the shepherds and a star guided the, or Magi.


Different events and experiences often open people’s hearts to God. Sometimes it is through a crisis, such as sickness, or the death of a loved one, that gets us thinking differently. Many times I have seen people deciding to come back to Church after the death of someone close to them, because it has got them thinking about the more important things and that is always good. The Spirit keeps calling us to search for God. What is important is that we keep searching and remain open. It is good that we ask questions about what we believe in. I believe and accept that the Scriptures and the teachings of our Church are from God and I submit to them, but I will continue to ask questions. The more searching I do, the more my faith grows.


Each week when we come to the mass, we come to an encounter with God which Jesus revealed to us, which is why we never change it. That’s also why the time before mass is not just the time for a social gathering, but the time for us to prepare for this wonderful encounter with God through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. God wants us to meet him and hear him and this is one of the most wonderful ways that He helps us to do that.


It might seem a bit arrogant of us to say that all people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. That seems to imply that we are right and that everyone else is wrong, but that is not the case. People of different religions have very different understandings of God and God speaks to all people through different religions. Even for those who never come to know Jesus in this lifetime, they still have eternal life won for them by the death and resurrection of Christ and eternal life is still offered to them through him, just as it is to us. When they die they will see this at once. They will know immediately who Jesus is and what He has done for us.


Although we lost the possibility of eternal life with God through what we call Original Sin, God regained the possibility of eternal life for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can accept or reject this gift individually and we do this through our faith. All people are offered this possibility regardless of whether they come to know of God in this life or not, but it is not as if there is a kind of neutral ground for those who do not believe. We accept life with God when we die which will be our total fulfilment, or we lose it forever and that is the choice we must make.  


This is also where our conscience is so important, because even if we never hear of God during our life, God speaks to us through our conscience, giving us a basic understanding of what is right and wrong. Our faith and the teachings of Jesus through the Church, give us a better understanding of what is right or wrong. All of the decisions that we make throughout our life are bringing us closer to, or driving us farther away, from God.


We Christians are the people who recognise that Jesus is the Son of God and has done all these things for us. We consider ourselves blessed that God has made himself known to us in this way, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance of going to heaven than anyone else. That depends completely on how we live our life. When we die we will realise that all this is really true. And when other people of different religions die, they will also recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord. What is important for them is to live their faith as well as they can just as it is for us. If they do this, God will also draw them closer to him and bring them to holiness, just as He will with us if we remain open. 


Meanwhile we pray that all peoples will begin to recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord even in this life, because this is the truth which God has revealed to us Either way we try to respect people who believe differently to us and remember that they are also children of God.


Every knee shall bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)