Saturday, February 24, 2024

2nd Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: Mark 9:2-10) God speaks in the cloud



I have often heard people say that the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son is so horrific that maybe it shouldn’t be read at all. It is meant to be horrific. The point is that God asks the unthinkable of Abraham, but more importantly Abraham trusts God even though it makes no sense to him. Child sacrifice was common at that time. Not only was it horrific that he should be asked to sacrifice his child, but it was also through this only child that God had promised him many offspring. So, nothing at all made sense. Not only that, but it was a three-day journey to where he was to make the sacrifice, so he had three days to think it over. It wasn’t a spontaneous response. Abraham suddenly finds himself in a situation of complete darkness, where nothing was right, nothing made sense, but Abraham trusts God and then everything changes at the last minute. God put Abraham ‘to the test’ not in the sense of seeing if he was good enough—God knew how much faith Abraham had to begin with—but because He wanted to stretch that faith to its full capacity. It also shows that human sacrifice is not acceptable to God.


An athlete won’t reach his or her full potential unless they are pushed to their limit. A good trainer should see the potential in them that they are probably unaware of themselves and if they are a good trainer, they will push them so that they will reach their full potential. Sometimes God does the same with us. He knows what we are capable of, more than we do ourselves and sometimes He stretches, or pushes us to the limit, because God wants us to reach our full potential as human beings. The more we remain open to God, the more He will draw us to himself, bringing us deeper and deeper in our faith, but that always happens through times of crisis.


Did you ever notice that sometimes when you pray for a situation to get better, it gets worse first? There is a temptation to panic and not pray any more, but if we believe that God is listening to us and helping us—and Jesus tells us that God always hears and always answer us (Matt 7:7-8)—then we persevere in prayer and we try to trust that the Lord will bring the best out of the situation, even though it often doesn’t make sense to us. That requires faith, and it’s not easy, but that is how faith grows.


Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, but in the end he didn’t have to go through with it. Because he was willing to do anything that God asked him and because he showed his remarkable trust in God, the Lord said that He would bless him greatly:

I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore.


2000 years later God sends his Son, who takes on human flesh and allows him to be sacrificed for the human race. The Father allowed his Son to be sacrificed. He did go through with it. It says in the second reading that because Jesus went through with it, the Father would not refuse him anything. That is why we can have such confidence when we pray to Jesus. It says in the second reading that Jesus now intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. If Jesus, the Son of God, is interceding for us before the Father, then what could we be afraid of as long as we remain open to God? Not only that, but we also have Our Lady interceding for us. Is Jesus going to refuse his mother anything? Is the Father going to refuse Jesus anything? And these are the ones who are interceding for us.


In the Gospel the three disciples Peter, James and John are granted this wonderful and terrifying vision of Jesus, the Son of God, in all his glory. Try and picture Jesus with his garments suddenly becoming bright as light and his face like the sun. You can’t even look at the sun, but this is what they saw. Moses and Elijah were also there. How did they know it was them? Because they were given infused knowledge at that moment. They symbolised everything in the Old Testament, as we know it. Moses represented the Law, the Ten Commandments and all the teachings that came with those Commandments and Elijah represented all the prophets and all they taught. It was showing that Jesus was the fulfilment of everything that had been taught/revealed up to that point.


Why were they given this privilege when none of the others were? This happened just before the Passion, when Jesus would be tortured and killed before their eyes. Peter, James and John were also the three who would be with him in the Garden of Gethsemane watching him fall apart with fear. They were going to need great strength not to despair themselves, but what is especially worth noting is that after the vision was over they suddenly found themselves in a cloud where they could not see anything. Only then did they hear the voice of the Father speaking to them: 

This is my Son the Beloved.  Listen to him.’


God spoke to them when they were in a cloud. Have you ever been on a mountain when a cloud suddenly descended? It’s quite frightening because you cannot see anything. You have to stop and wait. Sometimes it is only when we are in a ‘cloud’ or darkness/confusion that God will speak to us most powerfully. When we cannot see the way forward, and we cannot get any clarity on what to do, then God will show us what the next step is, but often He will only show us the next step, not the whole path ahead. This brings us back to the need to trust that God knows what God is doing when He leaves us in the dark. We are often left in the dark, especially with regard to our faith. That just seems to be how it works. Think of when someone dies. We are left with so many questions and so few answers. We don’t understand, but God asks us to trust. God asked Abraham to trust him, because God knew he would be able to, even though He seemed to be asking the impossible. We are only shown one step at a time, if even that.  If He doesn’t show us the path it is because we don’t need to see it, only the next step.


At this time we are also hearing more and more voices pulling us in different directions, even within the Church. It can be distressing and give you the impression that everything is falling apart. It isn’t. It is sad to see disunity, but we don’t need to listen to those arguments, we only need to listen to what Jesus taught. That’s why we keep going back to the Scriptures and the official teachings of Jesus which come to us through our Church.


This is my Son, the Beloved.  Listen to him.’


Sunday, February 18, 2024

1st Sunday of Lent. (Gospel: Mark 1:12-15) The temptations of Christ


Wilderness of Judea


Since I was ordained a priest almost 26 years ago, one of the temptations for me has been to wish that God would do more spectacular things through me, which would convince people of the presence of God. I believe that God does extraordinary things through the priesthood, most of all by becoming present in each mass when the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, but as you know it happens in a very humble and hidden way. It is not spectacular and if you don’t believe in it, then it just seems to be some kind of a strange religious ritual. So why doesn’t God do something more spectacular to help us believe?


The account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is an explanation as to why God doesn’t do more extraordinary signs and wonders to convince us of his presence. This is an extraordinary story because it must have come directly from Jesus himself, since no one was with him during this time of temptation. At some stage he must have told his apostles what happened there and what he had to go through. 


Jesus was about to embark on his public campaign to teach people about God and to win people over for God. For any campaign you must choose the weapons you are going to use. Jesus must have been aware that he had extraordinary powers, otherwise Satan wouldn’t have tempted him to use them. There would be no point in tempting any of us to turn stones into bread, because we know we couldn’t do it anyway. So this must have been a very real temptation for Jesus, to misuse his power.


The first thing Satan tempted him with, was to turn stones into bread. ‘If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread’ (Mat 4:3). Jesus was starving after having fasted for forty days. What harm would there be in doing this? He was being tempted to find satisfaction in material things. ‘Give people the material things that they want and they will love you.’ But Jesus said, ‘No. Man does not live on bread alone.’ The human being is not satisfied by material things alone. Jesus was saying, ‘I am not going to try and win people over by offering them just what they want.’ We are much deeper than that and we can only be fully satisfied by God because we are spiritual and not just physical.


The second temptation that Jesus was presented with, was to work signs and wonders for the people. Satan said to Jesus, ‘Throw yourself down from the temple since God will save you’ and he even quoted Scripture: ‘They will hold you upon their hands lest you hurt your foot against a stone’ (Mat 4:6). If Jesus started doing this then no doubt he would have thousands of followers in no time, as we are always intrigued by signs and wonders, but Jesus also rejected this, because he knew that the way he had to take was the way of service and the way of the cross, which would win people over heart by heart. You cannot buy love and that is why Jesus chose the humbler way, and left it open to us to see what God offers us and then to freely choose to follow him or not.


The third temptation was to compromise with evil: Satan said to Jesus, ‘Worship me and I will give you all this worldly power.’ This is a big temptation for most people. When you hear people say, ‘The Church needs to get with the times,’ they usually mean, the Church needs to ‘adapt’ (compromise) some of its teachings to meet the more difficult moral demands of our age. It is always a temptation for me as a priest to water down the teachings of God so that they are easier to hear. But that is not what we are asked to do and when Jesus was tempted this way, He rejected this too. He was being tempted to compromise with evil just a little bit, so that it would be easier for people to be convinced. But right is right and wrong is wrong. We must not compromise the ways of God. It is better to struggle with the truth, than to try and change it to suit ourselves. The teachings of God don’t need to change; we are the ones who need to change.


You can see at this time how groups within the Church are trying to compromise the Lord’s teaching, with accepting and blessing gay marriage and other ideas and incredibly the justification is that because of psychology and sociology ‘we know better now.’ To say we know better now, is saying that God’s word is wrong and that is a contradiction.


A lot of this started in Germany after many of the sexual abuse scandals, and they decided to look at what needed to change in the Church to win people back. Sadly, they started to do exactly what Jesus was tempted to do, that is, compromise with evil, change God’s teaching, so that it would be more appealing to people.  


One of the reasons why it is so important to keep reading Scripture each week, is to make sure we are not straying from the Lord’s teaching. God’s voice may seem to be quiet, but it is not, everything is spelt out for us in Scripture.


In St. John’s Gospel after Jesus worked the miracle of feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread, He then gave the teaching on the Eucharist and said, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have life within you’ (Jn 6:53-56). It says that when He said this, many people stopped following him (Jn 6:66). What is interesting is Jesus’ reaction to the people walking away. He didn’t do anything. He let them walk away. He didn’t change anything He had said, because this was truth. The only thing He did was to ask the disciples if they were going to leave as well. No doubt the disciples didn’t understand it either, but they believed He was speaking truth and so they remained, but Jesus did not change anything He said.


At this time in history, we see so much of our society turning away from God and as a result our morals are slipping fast. This is the time for us to double down on what we believe is right and not give in to the temptations of our time. God’s truth is eternal and never changes. It does not need to change to make it easier for us to accept. We need to change to accept his truth. There is no middle ground when it comes to truth. We either accept it or reject it. Again and again Jesus said you are either with me, or against me. ‘Choose today life or death, blessing or curse.’


Moses said to the people, ‘This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live’ (Deut 30:19).


Recently I came across an article about a lady by the name of Dennita Miskimen, a teacher in Virginnia. She was just about to retire in 2022, having worked as a public school teacher for 23 years, when she once again met a drag queen walking down the corridor of her school. That was the final straw. She quit her job, which meant losing her pension, took out a loan and with great difficulty set up what is called the Little Red (Barn) Schoolhouse. It is a private nondenominational school, where they teach reading, writing and math. They say the pledge of allegiance, pray and teach the constitution and there is no LGBTQ or Critical Race Theory taught. Already their reading and writing standards are way ahead of public schools and there is a waiting list to get in. She is hoping to make it a franchise throughout the country. She felt God calling her to do this and she listened. (See the link below)


It is people like her, who refuse to give in to the immoral standards of so much of the public system, who will rebuild this country. She is a woman of faith and took a stand at a great risk to herself, just like all the people the Lord has called throughout the centuries. I wrote to her to thank her and sent her a donation.


The Lord is calling us to do the same. We must not compromise what we believe, or water down what God has taught us. What God teaches us is truth  and it is what works and we have to choose for or against it, just as Jesus taught.


Once again the devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their magnificence. “Everything there I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

“Away with you Satan,” replied Jesus. “The scripture says, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve.’” (Mat 4:8-10).



Teacher Opens Own Schoolhouse, Teaches Bible, Reading, Math on Seeing Drag Queen in Public School | The Epoch Times


Thursday, February 8, 2024

6th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:40-45) Beethoven and the mystery of suffering


One of the most difficult things that all of us have to face is the mystery of suffering. Why do people suffer? Why do good people, or children suffer? If God is all good and all powerful, then there shouldn’t be suffering. This is one of the most common arguments that people use to dismiss the existence of God. It is a mysterious thing and there is no simple answer, but there are different ways of looking at it.


Suffering was not God’s original intention for us, but because of the Fall, the initial rejection of God, suffering came into the world. But God in his goodness also uses it to help us grow. It seems to be one of the most powerful ways that we are purified, brought closer to God, grow in our spirit. It was the path that Jesus took to win heaven for us again, which means that it must have a value that we don’t understand. Padre Pio used to say that if we understood the value of suffering we would pray for it. Jesus says ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me’ (Matt 16:24).


We ask, ‘What good could possibly come from suffering?’ What good could possibly come from a man being illegally sentenced to death and crucified? And yet the suffering He went through changed the course of history forever.


The spiritual power that is in suffering is something that we can constantly offer to God, in atonement for our sins, for the conversion of others, for all the people we are praying for. Instead of complaining, offer it to God and I think we will be astonished what God did through the generosity of us offering our suffering.



Today we are given one of the many encounters of Jesus healing someone who had the terrible disease of leprosy. Apart from the fact that leprosy was physically so horrible, with a person’s flesh literally rotting on their body, it also had the added pain of excluding them from the community because of the fear of contamination. Anyone who had leprosy had to live outside the community. Notice how it says in the Gospel that when Jesus heals this man he ‘sternly warned him not to tell anyone,’ but in the man’s enthusiasm he couldn’t help himself and began talking about it everywhere.  Because of this people realised that Jesus had been in contact with a leper and so he could now be infected himself. It says that then Jesus had to stay outside the towns ‘in places where nobody lived.’ It’s possible this was because of the fear of infection, but probably also because so many people were coming to him.


I’m sure there were many thousands of people in Jesus’ time who also needed healing, but who didn’t ever get to meet Jesus.  Jesus healed those people who came to him and asked for help, but that would have been relatively few. Do you ever wonder why the Lord allowed so many others to remain sick, or why He allows us to be sick?  Is it possible that any good can come out of the sicknesses we have to go through?


There is a beautiful story about the composer Ludvig Von Beethoven (1770-1827). Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany and he had quite a sad life. He suffered from a great lack of affection, because his mother died when he was very young and his father was an alcoholic who used to beat him. His father eventually died as a drunk on the streets. His biological brother never helped him either and on top of it all, symptoms of deafness started to disturb him, leaving him nervous and irritable. There was however, a German prince who became his benefactor and was like a second father to him, but then the prince died and between his deafness and loneliness, he went into a terrible depression and eventually began to wonder whether there was any point in him going on living.


At that stage Beethoven could only hear using a kind of horn-shaped trumpet in his ear. He always carried with him a notebook, so that he could write and communicate with others, but many didn’t have the patience for this and so he began to feel more isolated and alone. Feeling that nobody understood him or wanted to help him, Beethoven withdrew more and more into himself and avoided people. He became so depressed that he prepared his will, saying that maybe it was better for him to commit suicide, but then God’s providence intervened. 


A young blind woman who lived in the same boarding house where Beethoven had moved to, told him one night, shouting into his ears: “I would give everything to see the moonlight.” Listening to her, Beethoven was moved to tears because he realised that he could see and he could compose music and write it on paper! A strong will to live came back to him and led him to compose one of his most beautiful pieces: “Mondscheinsonate” – “Moonlight Sonata”.


In its main theme, the melody imitates and resembles the slow steps of people, possibly of Beethoven himself and others, carrying the coffin of the German prince, his friend, patron and benefactor. Some music scholars say that the notes that repeat themselves, insistently, in the main theme of the 1st movement of the Sonata, might be the syllables of the words “Warum? Warum”? (Why? Why?) or another similar word. Years later, having overcome his sorrow, Beethoven wrote the incomparable “Ode to Joy” from his “Ninth Symphony”, Beethoven’s magnum opus, which crowned the life work of this remarkable composer.


He conducted the first performance himself in 1824. By then because he was totally deaf and he failed to hear the applause. One of the soloists gently turned him around to see the hall full of a wildly cheering crowd. It is said the “Ode to Joy” expresses Beethoven’s gratitude to life and to God for not having committed suicide.  All this was thanks to that blind young woman, who inspired in him the desire to translate into musical notes, a moonlit night. Using his skill, Beethoven, the composer, who could not hear, portrayed through this beautiful melody, the beauty of a night bathed by the moonlight, for a girl who could not see it with her physical eyes.


We do not know why we have to suffer, but I have no doubt that more good comes out of it than we realise. No doubt the blind girl who inspired Beethoven could never have imagined that any good could have come from her being blind and yet look what happened. She inspired Beethoven not to give up and to go on to right some of his most beautiful music. 


I am sure that when we get to heaven we will be amazed at how many parts of our life that don’t seem to make any sense now, will all fit together. 



Sunday, February 4, 2024

5th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:29-39) Teaching before healing



It is interesting that 2500 years ago when the first reading from Job (7:1-4, 6-7) was written, they were asking the same questions that we still ask today? ‘Why do we have to work so hard? What is the point of it all? Why is our life often so difficult? Why is it that good people often suffer so much for no apparent reason?’ Throughout the centuries people continually ask the same questions. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event like a tsunami or an earthquake, where thousands are killed in an instant, to make people ask themselves these questions. One minute all those people were just getting on with their daily lives, the next minute the tsunami struck and they were gone. If we can suddenly be snatched away like that, then what is the purpose of our being here?  Is there any purpose, or is it all chance? The Lord teaches us that there most certainly is a purpose to our being here and nothing is by chance.


During his life on earth Jesus continually worked extraordinary miracles—just as we read in today’s Gospel—and as a result thousands of people were drawn to him looking for healing, just like we do today when we hear of someone who has been given a gift of healing, but this was not the main purpose of Jesus’ being here. Jesus was happy to heal people because he had great compassion for people, but primarily he wanted to teach people, to teach us about God and about the reason why we are here. When you think about it, all the people he healed and even brought back to life from the dead, they all eventually got sick again and died. So he wanted to teach us that we are loved by God and we are not here by accident; that our life has a purpose and is going somewhere; that it is worth keeping going even when we are suffering, and above all the mission of his life was to die for us so that we could get to heaven when we die.


When the disciples found him alone, praying, the first thing they told him was that everyone was looking for him. There was so much work to do, so many people to heal. But look how he responded: ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ That is why I came: to preach and teach. But why is it so important to teach us? Wouldn’t it be much better just to heal us? Physical healing is important and Jesus knew that, but he also knew that if we have meaning, if we have purpose, that is much more valuable to us. 


What is also interesting is the way that He taught. He mostly used parables. The reason why that is different is that a parable does not always give you a obvious explanation. It points you in a particular direction, but you must go on searching for the truth if you are to discover the meaning. Why is that important? Because it engages us in the work of searching for and discovering the truth. It makes us think and also use our imagination. In other words, he didn’t just shove a set of teachings down our throat and say ‘that’s it.’ He invites us to search for the truth.


When I began my ministry as a priest I worked as a hospital chaplain, I remember meeting a man who had been suffering for most of his life. He had had operation after operation and he was in pain most of the time. But when I met him he was smiling and he said, ‘Father I have so much to be grateful for.’ It was very humbling to hear this. Why was he grateful? Because he had faith and he had purpose. He understood that his life had meaning and that it was going somewhere. He believed that this life was not everything and that it was worth persevering, despite his difficulties. Having that purpose is what makes all the difference and that is what our faith gives us. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it helps to make sense of why we are here. It reminds us that God does want us to be happy, that that is what He created us for. It also reminds us that it is worth putting up with the various struggles we have to go through, because they are often what make us into better people. The suffering will not last forever. Sooner or later we will cross over to the next world where our happiness will be complete, unless we have rejected God. Having that hope is what makes all the difference and that is why Jesus kept moving around and teaching people, so that they would have the strength to keep going especially when times were more difficult.


The rate of suicide is increasing at a frightening rate at this time. The reasons for it are often complicated, but I have no doubt that one of the reasons is that people have lost faith. If you have no faith, no sense of purpose, then where do you turn to when you are suffering, or when everything seems to have gone wrong? When we do have faith, it changes everything. We know that there is a reason why we were created and there is a purpose to us being here. We have the strength to keep going, even when we are struggling, because we know that no matter how bad it gets, it is temporary. We also know from our faith that suffering is part of the journey. We look to Jesus. His path was the path of suffering. The struggles we go through have the potential to make us into better people, depending on how we respond to it.


Why were we created? Just as our natural instinct is to share our joy with other people—think of weddings, birthdays, the birth of a child—in the same way God created us to share in his happiness. But He also gave us this time on earth to learn to love or not, to choose for God or not. We have the freedom to accept or reject God, just as children have the freedom to love or reject their parents. It is heartbreaking when they do, but sadly it happens quite often. You cannot force someone to love you.


To understand that we were created out of love and have a purpose, gives us an inner strength that nothing else can replace. Our greatest mission is to serve God and love the people around us, wherever we are planted. Earthly honors are great and we should strive to use our talents to the best of our ability, but loving people is more important than anything else, because in doing that we imitate God. Jesus’ life was a life of love, service and self-sacrifice. We are called to the same.


It also says that Jesus continually went off to lonely places to pray. He kept turning to the Father to receive the strength and direction that He needed for his mission. It also says that before He chose the Apostles, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer. That tells us that that is where we need to turn too, that is, to God in prayer. Our life may not be easy, but God offers us the strength and direction we need to face it. And we can never say that we are on our own on this journey. Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist which we can receive every day if we wish. All the guidance we could ask for is handed to us in the Scriptures.


Meanwhile we will continue to pray and look for healing and it is right that we do, but it is also good to remember that the hope we have in God is worth more than any physical healing, because that is what will keep us going. 


Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place where He prayed.’ (Mark 1:39)