32nd Sunday, Year B (Gospel: Mark 12:38-44) The Lord provides

Lake Dall, India.
I heard a story about an old Dominican by the name of Maurice Fearan. He was giving a retreat in Kashmir (India) in a place called Shrinagar, beside the Dall lake. It is 7000 feet above sea level and a big tourist attraction; very beautiful. So many people came to the retreat that they had to give him accommodation apart from where the retreat was being held; so they put him on one of the tourist boats. Each evening after the retreat he would go back to the tourist boat, have a light meal and sleep. 
One evening when he was eating, a young lady from Argentina joined him. While they were chatting, a storm began to blow up on the lake and it was coming towards them. Eventually there were flashes of lightening near them and they were both getting nervous, especially since they were on water. Then she leaned towards him and said, ‘Father, I’d like to go to confession, but before I go to confession I want to tell you something.’ And then she said, ‘Father I don’t believe in hell.’ Maurice said, ‘OK, but why don’t you?’ She said, ‘I am an only child and my father loves me completely and I know that no matter what I do, my father would never reject me. Sometimes he may do things which embarrass me, but I could never do anything which would embarrass him. No matter what I do he would never reject me. And so I don’t believe God would ever reject me either.’ Isn’t that powerful? And I think that is the approach we should take too.  I’m not suggesting that hell isn’t real, but I think that is a good way to see God.
I think we often pray ‘too small,’ so to say. We are afraid that we can’t have the very best, or that God might frown on us if we expect too much. And yet Jesus taught the very opposite. ‘How many of you would give your child a snake if he asked for a fish; or a stone if he asked for bread?’ And then he said, ‘If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father look after you?’ It is a wonderful teaching and probably one that we could reflect on more. The Father wants to give us everything. He wants the very best for us always.
In the first reading, God is showing us never to be afraid, because if we trust in his word He will never let us down. The woman had almost nothing left and the prophet Elijah asked her to share it. She was afraid, but Elijah said, ‘Trust in the word of God and you will be alright.’  So she did and she was alright.
God invites us to do the same. We are so often afraid that we won’t be able to manage and yet the Lord keeps telling us, ‘Trust in me and I will look after your every need.’ And He does.
Something that the Lord has taught me as a priest, is never to be afraid to give away money to people who need it. I don’t just mean people who come to the door asking for money, but people I come across who I know are in need of help. They are the ones who rarely ask, but the Lord often lets me see their need. People often give me money as a priest and I see it as part of my work to pass it on, whenever the Lord shows me such need. But I have always found that every time I have given away money, sometimes reluctantly as I feel maybe it’s too much or that I might be stuck, within 24 hours I will be given the money back by someone else and usually more. This has happened to me so many times that I always believe it is God’s way of teaching me to trust him. He looks after all our needs and He will never be outdone in generosity. 
In the Gospel today Jesus sees the poor woman putting in what seemed to be a very small amount. But he knew it was everything she had. God sees what we do and He constantly encourages us to be generous, especially with those who are in need. Remember, God will never be outdone in generosity. If we are generous, God will be far more generous. We forget that Our Father in heaven is the Lord of all the universe. God has lots of money. Any father will give his children whatever they need and with great generosity if he can. Our Father in heaven is never outdone in generosity, so let us never be afraid.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

18th Sunday Year B (Gospel: John 6:24-35) Do not work for food that cannot last; but work for food that endures to eternal life.

Some time ago, a priest friend of mine was telling me that he was just back from vacation where he had been mountain climbing with a German priest friend of his. They were somewhere in the mountains on the Austrian-German border. His friend had a map, but it was five years old and one of the paths they took turned out to be very dangerous. It was basically no longer usable. He said that for most of it there was a rope on one side for safety, although there was a sheer drop on the other side.  But then they came to a place about 15 feet long where there was no rope, so they just had to cling to the side of the cliff on this extremely narrow ledge until they got past it. He told me that it was terrifying and a matter of slowly taking one step at a time, then finding proper hand grip, then another step. By the time he got to the far side he was quite exhausted and traumatized, but what interested me was that his friend, who is an experienced mountaineer, then told him to sit down and that they should eat something. When you have been through an experience like that, eating changes your metabolism and calms you down. And he said that it did just that. Within a short time he was fine again.

There is also an interesting story in the Old Testament where the prophet Elijah is on the run having just worked an extraordinary miracle, but now Queen Jezebel is out to kill him. So he escapes into the desert, but at one point he sits down feeling fed up and prays to God, ‘Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’, or in modern English, ‘I wish I was dead; I’ve had enough’. Then he lies down and goes to sleep.  But then he is woken by an angel who tells him to get up and eat, so that he will have enough strength for the journey. There he finds food beside him. The right kind of nourishment is essential.


In this Gospel passage Jesus is just after working the miracle of feeding five thousand people with the five loaves and two fish and the people come after him to see more of his wonder-worker. However, as is often the case, the miracle Jesus worked was pointing to something deeper and he says to them, ‘You are only looking for me because you got free food, but you didn’t see the “sign.”  What ‘sign’? What was he talking about? And then he says, ‘Don’t be worrying about temporary food, but look for the food that endures forever.’ The miracle of multiplying the loaves, was a sign of something much deeper. Jesus then begins to teach them that there is another kind of food that we need for our whole life; not just material food that you eat, but food which brings meaning/purpose/direction. And then He tells them that He is this food that lasts forever, and the kind of food we need for the journey which is our whole life. Jesus is the one who gives us strength and meaning to help us keep going.  He is the one who makes sense of what our whole life is about. If you don’t have the right kind of meaning or purpose for being here, then it is very hard to keep going especially when things don’t make sense, as they so often don’t.

In the second reading (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24) St. Paul says, ‘Don’t live the kind of aimless life that Pagans live.’ That is exactly what can happen to us if we lose sight of our faith, or get too caught up in the world and worldly worries. We forget what the real purpose of our life is about. You see this happening all the time, especially when the economic boom was here. Many people got completely carried away with money and forgot themselves. When times are harder it’s a lot easier for us to focus on what is really important. 

God is showing us that to have the right kind of strength for the journey, we need the right kind of food, and Jesus is this food. ‘I am the bread of life’. That is why Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist and speaks to us through his word, so that we have all the nourishment that we need for the journey. If we know what our life is about, it is much easier to keep going even if we are struggling physically. That is why prayer is so important, so that we are continually connected to that source of food that gives us the deepest strength we need.

Now I know that there are also real worries such as how am I going to provide for my family when I have no work. But what God is telling us is that if we focus on him first we will find that He will look after all of these needs as well. Jesus must be at the center, everything else comes second.

I am the bread of life. 

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry;

Whoever believes in me will never thirst.

Feast of the Holy Trinity, Year B (Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20) Invited into the life of God

We believe that God was completely fulfilled, perfectly happy and content, not in need of anything, before God created the universe and the human race. Wouldn’t it make you wonder why God bothered to create us at all, since we have proved to be so much trouble?  And God knew about all the trouble that it was going to cause. So why did God create us?

Here is how it makes some sense to me. Think for a moment of some time when you were deeply happy about something: a wedding, a birthday, the birth of a child. Our instinct is to share it. We want others to be a part of that happiness and so we celebrate these times of happiness. That is one way to understand why God created us, simply because in his goodness He wanted others to share in his own happiness. And so he created the spirit world, that we understand as the angels and then He created the human race, in order that we could share in his happiness. The book of Genesis says that we were the last thing that God created, which is a biblical way of saying that we were the most important thing, the masterpiece of God’s creation. We are God’s greatest creation! God also created us to be like him, with the ability to love and reason and above all with free will.

However, there was one ‘catch’ as it were. In order for us to be able to love God we had to be free, so that we could freely choose to love God, otherwise it wouldn’t be real love at all. Real love has to be free, since you can never force someone to love you. You can encourage them, but you certainly can’t force them. Love has to be free or it isn’t love. So God made us free which meant that we would have the freedom to love God and gradually find our way to happiness, or to reject God which would ultimately mean we would lose the happiness that God had intended for us. It’s a strange paradox. God created us and gave us freedom, even though He knew that some of his own creatures would reject him.  

A friend of mine, a very devout Catholic, after he was married and had children, said to me one time that when he looks at his children he couldn’t believe that God who is so loving would let people go to hell, that God would create hell. How could any parent allow their children deliberately to suffer? But the paradox is that no matter how much we love our children, we cannot force them to love us back. You know the pain of falling in love with someone who doesn’t love you back, or pushes you away. Hell is the pain that people who reject God end up with, because they reject the only one who can give us total fulfillment. If you push away total happiness, you get total misery. If you reject all joy, then you end up with all pain. That’s what hell is: losing all that can fulfill us and bring us joy. God doesn’t send us to hell. We choose it if we reject God. If we have real freedom then hell must also be real. If heaven is guaranteed for everyone, then we are not truly free, because to be truly free means we have the choice to love or not to love.

The image of the above icon above, is a very famous one painted in the 15thcentury by Andrei Rublev. Icons are not just paintings, they are meant to be a window into the other world. There is a whole ritual of prayer that goes into creating one and everything in the icon has a meaning. I just want to mention a few things in this image which I think are beautiful. In the Old Testament there is the story of Abraham making his journey, when three men suddenly appear to him. They are angels and he realizes after talking to them that he is talking to God. They can be understood as representing the Trinity. The colors of the three figures tell us something. On the left is the image of the Father. He wears the color of gold, but it seems to be changing into different colors. No one can know the face of God. The Father is pointing to, or blessing, the Son who is in the center. He is wearing a dark cloak, the color of earth and a bright blue cloak the  color of heaven. Jesus unites heaven and earth by his death and resurrection. He is fully human and fully divine. Jesus is pointing to the Spirit on the right. He is wearing light blue of the sky and light green of the ocean. The Spirit is the who brings order to the Father’s creation of heaven and earth. Each is pointing to the right in a circle. But the most interesting part of the icon is the space at the front. That is the space that is kept for us. God invites us to be part of his life. Our ultimate goal is to be united with God in heaven and the house in the top left, is the symbol of the Father’s house where there is a place for us. We are invited to be part of the circle. The image is also telling us that God is with us on our journey, symbolized by the staffs they are holding which is long and tiring. So we rest with God and we also share the Eucharist to give us strength. The Eucharist is represented by the bowl in the center of the table, which contains the lamb. We are invited to be part of God’s life and God is with us every step of the way.

The Lord knows how difficult it can be for us to make the right choices and so He gives us people to guide us, the commandments, the teaching of his Church, his own Word in the bible and many other things to help us along the way, so that we won’t be short of the direction and encouragement that we need.  He also sends us holy people every so often, like Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio, Therese of Lisieux, Mother Theresa, Pope Francis and many others, often people we know, because they radiate God and they are a real sign to us of the Lord’s presence among us. These people seem to radiate God and so many people are drawn to them because they sense that presence. That is why God sends us particular chosen souls every so often, to inspire us and remind us that we are not alone. I know of several people who worked with Mother Theresa and it completely changed their life, because they met God through her.

The feast of the Holy Trinity is a celebration of love; the Trinity is a community of Persons who share total love and joy between them, and this Holy Trinity reaches out to us with that same love and invites us to join them. If we respond to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, then we are gradually drawn more and more into that love. It starts in this world and it will be fulfilled in the next. The greatest way that we imitate God is by loving the people around us, sacrificing ourselves for others. That is what God did for us and that is what God invites us to do for each other.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

So that everyone who believes in him might not perish

but might have eternal life.


Pentecost Sunday: The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything

There is a priest friend of mine—one of my classmates actually—who does a lot of work with the Legion of Mary calling from door to door, speaking to people about faith. He was a quantity surveyor before he became a priest and he is the most amazing organizer. He often said to me that the hardest places he found to work in were usually the wealthier areas. When people felt they had all they needed they were generally not as open to hearing about God. The poorer areas were usually much more open to what he had to say, which doesn’t surprise me.

From all the various crises that are happening at the moment, one of the good things that is coming from them is that they are helping us to ask a lot of questions and to search for God in a new way. Economic crisis helps us to realise that we are much more vulnerable than we might have thought. Religious crisis and terrorism—such as we are seeing at the moment—help us to remember that while religion can be a great help, it is absolutely deadly if it is misused. Any religion is simply a way to help us live out what we believe in, but unless it is completely focused on God and unless God is at the centre, it can become an end in itself and a very dangerous one at that.

There is one crucial thing that is needed for faith to be alive and healthy and that is the gift of God’s Spirit. For me the best way of explaining it is to compare the Spirit to electricity. In any building like this one, you can have all kinds of useful equipment, such as microphones, lights, projectors, but none of these things would be of any use to us if we didn’t have electricity. They would just sit there uselessly. The power that goes into them is what transforms them into something wonderful. In a sense the Holy Spirit is the electricity that makes us alive. Without God’s Spirit we are dead, the Scriptures are just words in a book; the mass is just an empty ritual; marriage is just a legal way of being together, but with the Holy Spirit our faith suddenly lights up. With the Holy Spirit the Scriptures become the living word of God which speaks to our hearts and challenges us to grow; the mass becomes the living presence of Jesus among us in the Eucharist, where we can have the most intimate encounter possible with Jesus. With the Holy Spirit marriage involves a third person, present to support, strengthen and encourage every couple as they try and live out their married life together. Any way of life worth living is difficult, but God offers us the help we need through the gift of his Spirit.

 The truth is that we are nothing without the gift of God’s Spirit. We would not be able to believe, or pray or even know God. I could stand at the altar and pray all day long, but nothing would happen if the Holy Spirit didn’t transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The same is true with confession. It is the Spirit who forgives people. The priest is just an instrument, an important instrument, but only an instrument. And isn’t it an extraordinary thought that the Holy Spirit obeys a human being?! When a priest says the words of consecration at the mass, ‘This is my Body which will be given up for you,’ the Holy Spirit immediately transforms the bread into the body of Christ. And when the priest says the words, ‘I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ the Spirit of God blots out the sins of that person. Such is the amazing generosity and humility of God.

When we see scandals coming to light in the Church, that is also the work of the Holy Spirit, purifying and renewing his people. That is happening because the Lord loves us and won’t allow his people to be overcome with disease. All the poison is being taken away and this is painful, but absolutely essential. We are always better off because of the purifying work which God is bringing about. God is forcing us to rely much more on the power of his Word and of his Spirit, something which we should have been doing all along. And perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that God’s work is always beautiful and God will make things beautiful again, because God is the master craftsman.

The Lord doesn’t wait until we are ready either. God acts when the time is right. He doesn’t just wait for the hierarchy of his Church to decide what to do, He sends his Spirit who inspires people and moves people to act. That’s not to say that God doesn’t care about his bishops and priests; of course He does, but God knows how best to act and so He sends his Spirit to inspire and move people to step out in faith and live the Gospel, and they in turn move others, until soon the people are alive with faith again.

 Despite our best efforts we continually need to be helped back on the right track, no matter what we are doing. This is why Jesus told us before he ascended into heaven, that the Father would send us this ‘Helper’, who would be with us forever, and who would teach us everything. The Lord knew well that we would need help and so He sent us the best help that we could have, his own Spirit, to guide us and teach us and God does teach us constantly through the example of people He inspires, through the Word of God, through prayer when we are open to him and in many other ways we will never even be aware of. The Spirit is very gentle and that is why we don’t notice him sometimes.

The gift of God’s own Spirit is really the greatest thing God can give us after life itself, because when we have the Holy Spirit we have everything. Keep praying to the Holy Spirit asking him to set us on fire with his gift of faith.

Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful people,

Send forth your Spirit and we will be created,

And you will renew the face of the earth.

The Ascension of the Lord into heaven (Gospel: Matthew 16:15-20)

Let me tell you about two experiences I had recently, which are a reminder to me of how God is constantly at work around us. I often experience things like this. The first one happened this past week. A friend of mine from home, let’s call her Mary, whom I have known for over 30 years, kept coming to my mind during the week. When that happens I always believe it is the Lord telling me to pray for that person. She was instrumental in helping me come back to Church. I haven’t seen her in about a year. So after a few days I sent her a text just saying that she had been on my mind, I was praying for her and I hoped all was ok. The next day I got an email from here which said,
I’m blown away…. I’m stunned by your text… I’ve had a big meltdown with The Lord over the past few days… My spirit has been So irritated… I’m even questioning who I’m praying to. I told Him last night, that I wanted Him to Reveal Himself to me…
Getting your text is helping me to believe that there must be A God, who knows all about me…!
The other experience was in Lee Memorial hospital recently when I was going to visit someone. I was in the elevator with a few people and there was a young mother there with a baby in a push chair. She asked me if I was a priest and I said yes. She asked me how she could get a priest to come to bless her husband who had been in an accident. I told her I would go with her right away if she wished. So we went to her husband who was in intensive care. He had fallen and broken his back and they didn’t know if he would be able to walk again. I asked her if she would like me to give him the sacrament of the sick (also called ‘Anointing of the Sick’). She said that they weren’t married in the Church. I told her this wasn’t the time to worry about that and so I prayed with them and anointed him.  She was so grateful and there were tears streaming down her face. She asked me to bless her children too, one of whom was sick and naturally, I did. That’s called God’s providence and it happens all the time. I think it is good to be reminded of these kinds of happenings, where the Spirit is obviously at work. It is very easy to become cynical, but God is there. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences.
Why do you come here each week? Why do you give up an hour or so of your time to come to a church, listen to readings that were written thousands of years ago and watch a strange ritual? I’m sure it’s not just to listen to me. It is because God draws us here.
After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the word began to spread about what had happened and that Jesus had begun to appear to the Apostles and others. He was alive and He was speaking to people. Anywhere there have been rumors of Jesus, or Mary appearing in different parts of the world, people come in their thousands to find out more. Why? because we always want to know about the other world and what it is like. We need reassurance that what we believe is real. Despite people who will mock the idea of the spiritual world and some of the attempts to disprove it, the majority of people still believe in God and seek God and that is the power of God’s Spirit at work.
In last week’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘You did not choose me. I chose you.’ God is the one who seeks us out and continually whispers to us to seek him and it was the same back then. So after the resurrection people began to come together and listen to the stories of the Apostles about what had happened and what it meant. The Apostles began to explain to them what Jesus had taught them, what the point of his life and death was and that He now became present to them in the breaking of the bread, that is, the mass. People were eager to hear about this, especially when they saw that the Apostles were on fire with this message that they were willing to sacrifice the rest of their lives to pass on this message and even be killed for it, which most of them were.
What exactly was it that the Apostles were teaching the people? They were fitting all the pieces together going back to the earlier writings of the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and telling the people what Jesus had taught them. Jesus’ teaching was what made sense of their lives, of our lives, of why we are here and where we are going when we die; that heaven is real and that we have to be careful how we live this life and about the choices we make.
All that, the reading of the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, the breaking of bread, is what we now call the mass which we continue to do each week. It may not always seem that interesting and often we are distracted, but we keep coming back because we also want to try and make sense of our lives and what is going on around us. Why is there so much suffering in our world? It wasn’t a whole lot different in Jesus’ time either. There was also much killing, injustice, wars, disease and famine, just as there is now.
Jesus ascending into heaven was the time when he told the Apostles to start spreading this message, so that we would know and understand the purpose of our life. When we understand why we are here we live differently.
It also says that when Jesus appeared to them just before He ascended into heaven that they worshiped him, but some doubted. Some doubted, even though Jesus had appeared to them and they had witnessed many miracles. It is normal that we doubt and have questions, because we have not seen what the other world is like. Are we imagining it, is this just a way of comforting ourselves. Karl Marx called religion, ‘The opium of the people’, a drug to comfort us. But the Lord has taught us otherwise and continues to speak to us in many different ways.
For now we will continue to come together, to listen to the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We don’t understand, but we believe.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.