Friday 24 February 2012

This Man

Imagine you’re a person of authority in a Court of Law.

The judge, the final arbiter, whatever you say happens.

And they bring to you a man. He is fairly ordinary looking and they accuse Him of saying He is the Son of God. And this is blasphemy according to the Law and He should be put to death.

Before you make such a momentous decision on the man’s life, you decide to do some investigations.

You check and you find that this man has been around for about three years or so. He has been travelling up and down the land, and He has indeed said several times that He is the Son of God. He preaches to people and He tells them to repent from their sins and to follow the Way of the Lord.

So you wonder about this and you think “Well, maybe if I can prove that this man is mad, I could let Him off. I could tell the people that He is insane, and they should let Him go, and I could warn Him not to repeat what He says because it would get Him into deep trouble”.

So you check on the man’s sanity and you find that indeed He is not mad at all. Many people can testify to the fact that he has preached in the temples, and He has debated with religious elders, and shows no sign of being mentally insane whatsoever. Indeed, He is very wise.

And you also find that this man seems to have some supernatural powers because He has healed many people up and down the country. The blind can see, the deaf can hear, the dumb can talk and the lame can walk. And there’s plenty of evidence for what He has done. There’s even a Roman Officer who can testify that He has healed. What better evidence do you want?

And also, you understand, that apparently He has raised people from the dead. Now that’s very strange. No one has ever done that before. But again there’s plenty of evidence of that. There’s the family of a man called Lazarus who apparently had died and had been entombed for a few days yet Jesus raised him from the dead and raised other people from the dead.

And when He preaches He says to people “Your Faith has saved you” whatever that means. And He heals them.

He doesn’t charge at all for what He is doing. He just wants people to repent and follow the Lord.

So you wonder whether He’s some sort of trickster, some sort of charlatan. So you order your soldiers to beat Him up and to rough Him a bit to see whether He admits to being a liar, a cheat.

Your soldiers torture Him, beat Him up, they put a crown of thorns on His head because He claims to being a King of some sort. But after all that the man still does not say anything in His defence.

So you give up. You think, “Well, He is one of their people. He is not one of us. So what’s it to do with me if they want to kill Him.”

So you give orders for Him to be put to death.

Your soldiers put a Cross on His back and ask Him to carry it all the way to the place where He is nailed to that Cross and left there to die.

And just before He dies He asks God in Heaven, to forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing.

What’s more strange is that three days later this very man is Himself raised from the dead.  And a lot of people see Him and can testify to his Resurrection.

Now I wonder. Is this enough evidence that this man is really the Son of God?

Because it is for me.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Father Ignatius visits purgatory

“Today my sermon will be about Purgatory …” said Father Ignatius to the congregation on Sunday, “but let me first explain why I chose this subject to talk about …

“As you know, I teach the Catechism class at our local school every Friday … and I don’t mind confessing that those children frighten me …

“They have that innocence which only people of their age have … and they don’t mind asking you any kind of question no matter how difficult it is to answer.

“This is what they asked me last week ... I have it written down on this piece of paper …”

The priest unfolded a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read.

“Ah … here’s the first thing they asked me …

“Jesus told us about Heaven and hell … but He never mentioned Purgatory … how do we know it really exists?

“What does Purgatory look like? Does it have a fire like hell? Is it hot or cold there? Or is it perhaps just warm so you feel uncomfortable but you don’t burn?

“Does it have devils looking after all the inmates; like in hell … or are they a little kinder perhaps?

“How long do we stay in Purgatory? Is it one day for every sin we have … or is it a week or more for every sin?

“Are we in pain when in Purgatory? Like the fire in hell?

“When we pray for people in Purgatory, how many days off do they get? Is it one Hail Mary and they have one day less there; or how does it work?”

Father Ignatius folded the piece of paper and put it in his pocket.

“Well …” he said, “how do you answer questions like these? After all, I’m only a priest not an Einstein!”

The congregation laughed.

“They are all valid questions which may have crossed our minds too at some time or other; if we do think about Purgatory that is … but then we dismissed them into our pending tray in our head. Our let’s not think about it right now tray …”

He paused for a while.

“Let me explain the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding Purgatory …” he continued.

“Our teaching is based on Revelations 21:27 where it says nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in Heaven.

“Given that very few of us will die with no sins whatsoever on our conscience, the Church teaches that there must exist a place, or a state of being, or a state of purification, where we are cleansed of our sins and we can enter Heaven. This place, or state of being, is known as Purgatory.

“Jesus did describe Heaven at one time as a mansion with many rooms … so it follows, perhaps, that in our imagination we visualize Purgatory as a physical place too …

“The pertinent point, however, is that the Church teaches that there is a stage where souls destined for Heaven undergo a period of purification.

“As you well know, this belief has given rise to a lot of criticism of the Catholic Church over the years.  Criticism and ridicule even …

“Some have suggested that Purgatory is a Catholic invention … a way of raising money for the Church by encouraging the faithful to pay for prayers and Masses for the souls of loved ones who are in Purgatory.

“Others have said that once a person is dead their destination is in the hands of God … and it cannot be bought or influenced by prayers or money from the living on this side of the divide.

“The fact remains, however, that the existence of Purgatory is one of our fundamental beliefs as Catholics. And as Catholics we cannot pick and choose what we believe in … we have to follow what our Church teaches, do we not?”       

He stopped for a while, sensing that, like the children in his Catechism class, his congregation was now eager for answers to the many questions posed.

“Of course …” Father Ignatius continued, “I cannot answer all the questions asked by my pupils.

“I cannot tell you whether it is hot or cold in Purgatory, whether there are guards or wardens there checking on the inmates, or how long we have to stay there until our sins are cleansed and forgiven …

“I suspect that Purgatory is a state in which we find ourselves in, rather than a place as such … but this is pure speculation on my part.

“We can scratch our heads and fathom and think as long as we want … at the end of the day it is a matter of personal conscience what we believe. It is a matter of Faith.

“Some of you, no doubt, will choose to believe that Purgatory does not exist … and that our sins when we die are somehow …”

He waved his hand in the air.

“… dissipated … vanished … forgiven …”

He stopped again.

“As for praying for the souls in Purgatory and offering Masses for them,” he said, “… the way I see it … it is like putting in a good word on behalf of a relative or friend.

“How many of us applying for jobs, or applying to join a club or an institution, ask a friend to act as a referee?

“When we pray … we’re doing the same thing. We are putting in a good word on behalf of a loved one … we are acting as their referee …

“When someone is ill … or in some difficulty … we pray for them … we ask God to help them, to show them mercy and compassion … and often, I have seen it happen, God does answer our prayers.

“Jesus did, after all, teach us to ask our Father in Heaven … did He not?

“In the same way, when we pray for the souls in Purgatory we’re asking God to have mercy on them and to hasten their entry into Heaven … it’s as simple as that.

“Whether God is influenced by such prayers, as our critics would hasten to say … is another matter which we can debate for ever.

“At the end of the day it all boils down to a matter of belief.”

Father Ignatius stopped once again to punctuate his sermon.

“As your priest,” he continued gently in a calm and soothing voice, “I have always tried to be honest with you when asked about matters of Faith. I tell you what the Church teaches and … as best I can … help you in making your decisions on what to believe …

“Leaving aside the question of Purgatory for a moment …

“What is more important here is our relationship with God, our Creator, and our Father in Heaven.

“As humans we tend to envisage God with our limited human understanding.

“We measure Him by our own human yardstick and try to work out His thinking and His strategies and plans …

“This is wrong. He is God … and we are not. It’s as simple as that.

“It is not up to us to work out who will and who will not enter Heaven; and whether they go there via a direct route or through a temporary stay or detour in Purgatory or wherever.

“Let God be God … and let man be man. And let us have the humility to obey Him and trust Him to do the right thing!”

Friday 10 February 2012

Father Ignatius in London

Father Ignatius got out of the London Underground at Oxford Circus station. It took him a minute or two to find his bearings, and then he turned to his trusted A to Z of London Streets.

He consulted his book for a few minutes and then looked at his watch. As he had plenty of time before his appointment he decided to tour around for a while. It was such a long time since he last visited the Capital, and no doubt much had changed since, so he decided to enjoy the next hour or so. He headed for Regent Street, then Bond Street, and aimed in the general direction of Park Lane getting in and out of various connecting streets in the process.

“This is certainly the opulent part of London,” he thought, as he admired the luxurious shops, restaurants and caf├ęs. He did a bit of window shopping and was astounded at the prices they were asking for a variety of goods and gifts he’d never believed existed, never mind wanted or needed.

“Would anyone pay that much for a watch?” he asked himself outside a jeweler’s. He looked twice to make sure they had the decimal point in the right place. Yes … that’s the right price for sure. He shuddered at the thought of carrying a fortune on his wrist.

He witnessed many chauffeur-driven posh cars and limousines drive by, or stop outside various buildings and bejeweled ladies and rich men walk out.

“This is so different from my poor little town,” he mused, “one bracelet or necklace could feed several poor old folks in my Parish for a month.”

And by coincidence his thoughts of poverty turned to reality when he noticed at a corner in a side street two men in dirty tattered clothes huddling together, sitting on the ground, near an air vent at the back of a building. They were trying to keep warm by absorbing whatever heat came out from the dirty black grille low on the wall.

By their state of unconsciousness it was obvious they had been drinking cheap hard cider mixed with methylated spirit; a favorite brew leading to quick oblivion for the down-and-outs, he had once been told by someone who’d come begging at St Vincent Church.

The sight of extreme poverty living side by side with such wealth reminded Him of Christ’s story of the rich man and Lazarus at his gate.

Eventually he reached his destination and asked the concierge at the door of a splendid building for Miss Strickland.

“You must be Father Ignatius,” said the man wearing an immaculate uniform.

Father Ignatius was impressed as he was led to the elevator and taken to the top floor. He was asked to wait in a palatial room with a large mahogany table and chairs in the middle, and decorated with genuine masterpieces hanging on the wall. Above him hung three large magnificent crystal chandeliers which would have required their own power station to keep them lit.

Minutes later a tall beautiful American woman came in.

“Ignatius dear …” she said softly as she hugged him tightly and kissed him on the cheek.

Still standing close beside him she held his hands gently in her hands and said nothing for a short while; she then raised his right hand to her lips and kissed it before letting go. It was then that the priest noticed her eyes welling up, yet she retained full control of her emotions. He said nothing. And those few moments of total silence spoke volumes to the two of them.

“Let’s sit down,” she said breaking the silence as she pulled a couple of chairs from the table, “it’s been a long time …”

It had been a long time indeed. Father Ignatius had first met Genevieve Strickland in London when they studied together at University. They had fallen in love and became very close friends.

They never told anyone of their feelings for each other because at the time Ignatius was fighting his own personal secret battle. He loved her dearly and yet somehow … deep inside within him, he knew that this love was not meant to be.

Eventually he summoned the courage to tell her that he’d decided to go to Rome and study for the priesthood.

It was literally a heart-breaking farewell when they parted. A farewell which shaped those two young lives all those years ago, and set them in totally different directions.

“It’s so nice to see you again Ignatius after all these years,” she said with a smile to ease the tension a little.

Father Ignatius smiled back gently and said nothing.

“Do you work here Genevieve?” he asked finally, wondering why she had written to him asking for an urgent meeting after such a long time.

He hadn’t seen her for a lifetime, yet she retained her youthful beauty just as he remembered her from their days as young students. Her lovely smile radiant as ever and her beautiful deep blue eyes reminiscent of holidays they’d spent together by the sea in Southern France.

“No, I don't work here … I own the whole company,” she replied timidly.

Father Ignatius said nothing, stunned as he was by that reply. Genevieve, his Genevieve from years gone by, now owns this well-known famous brand name. How could it be?

She told him that she had stayed in London after they parted all those years ago, and got a job in the City and then decided to work for herself. To cut a long story short, one success led to another and she was now worth a fortune.

“I am very happy for you,” said Father Ignatius.

“I have decided to stop working Ignatius,” she continued, “and to return home to America. I will leave the business in the hands of a good friend of mine who will manage it for me.

“You must be wondering why I asked you to meet me Ignee …” she went on with a laugh.

“Do you remember I used to call you Ignee? I believe you didn’t like it much …”

He smiled gently.

“Anyway … back to business,” she said pretending to be serious.

“First of all I wanted to meet you one more time before I move to the States. I did not want to leave Britain after all these years here and not see you one more time. I doubt that I’ll ever return here again.

“It’s so sweet and kind of you to agree to meet again.

“Second, I wanted to let you know that I have set up a Trust Fund for you Ignatius.

“It will pay you a nice sum every month for life rising every year in line with inflation … I have all the paperwork sorted out and my lawyers are waiting next door ready for you to sign.”

He was totally dumbfounded by what he had just heard. She smiled sweetly and said nothing.

“Thank you …” he mumbled quietly after a pause which seemed to last an eternity, “that’s very generous Genevieve, but I can’t possibly accept ... I am a priest now, and I really lack nothing … I don’t want to sound ungrateful … I vowed long ago …”

She moved slightly forward in her chair and put her hand gently on his mouth to stop him talking. After a short pause she moved back …

“Listen Ignatius … please hear me out,” her lips trembled slightly, “I hope you’ll understand me …

“When you left me for Rome all those years ago it really broke my heart. I did let you go; to follow your calling as you said at the time. But I really never got over it.

“I cursed and hated God for taking you away from me. I understood your decision to become a priest, but I never accepted it. I stopped going to church and to put it bluntly God and I just parted company.

“Once you left I looked for a job here in London and concentrated all my energies on work. I’ve done well of course but after all these years and all my wealth my one regret is that you were never with me to share my success.

“I have more than I’ll ever need.

“My gift to you is perhaps my way of making peace with God. Please accept it Ignatius.

“You may not need the money for yourself, but please take it and use it for whatever good you think it can do. Do it for me as a special favor Ignatius.”

At this moment Father Ignatius saw those two tramps huddled together in the cold London street by the hotel grille.

He accepted her generous gift and signed the papers witnessed by her legal team. She took him by chauffeur driven limousine to one of London’s most famous restaurants for lunch and then to a tour of the Capital visiting many old places they used to frequent.

And now … years later, the poor folks in his Parish are still benefiting from her legacy to the kind old priest who kept the flame burning in her heart.

She lives in America and writes to him once a year to wish him a Merry Christmas.

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She's no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.


In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone


And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care


Wednesday 8 February 2012


 Father Francis Maple
Homily from Fr Francis for the 26th Sunday of the year.

Mark 9: 38-43, 47-48

I was once giving a parish Mission and I remember knocking on the door of one home. The moment I entered I sensed a very unhappy, cold atmosphere.Something wasn't right. If I spoke to the husband, the wife didn't exist. If I spoke to the wife, the husband didn't exist. You could sense that there was no communication between them. There was a coldness and hostility. After being with them for 15 minutes I decided to move on to the next Catholic home. The husband saw me to the door and said, "Father, do you ever preach on Hell?" I said, "I do." "Then whenever you preach on Hell in the future always use the example of my wife and I, because in this house there is no love. It is a living Hell. We live our separate lives under one roof. We just can't stand each other's company. We cook our own meals and eat on our own. I have my own living room and bedroom and she has hers. We decided to live like this for the last twelve years. We agreed that going through a divorce is too much trouble. I tell you, Father, living like this is like living in Hell. So when you next preach on Hell use us as an example because there is no love in our home. That is precisely what Hell is! There is a complete breakdown in our relationship."

That man went to the heart of the matter of Hell when he said it was a place where no love exists. I have heard some Catholics say there is no Hell. How can a loving God create such a place? We Catholics must believe that Hell exists. Jesus Himself refers to its existence when He says, "Fear Him, (meaning God,) who has power to cast body and soul into Hell." Hell is the home of Satan and his fallen angels. Is there anyone else in Hell? We just don't know, but Jesus in His parable of the Sheep and Goats warns us that wecould find ourselves in Hell if we don't love. He described the sending of those to Hell in these words, "Depart from Me into the fire of Hell prepared for the devil and His angels." Those words indicate that there has been a complete breakdown in people's relationship with God and their neighbour.

What is Hell like? No one knows exactly, because no one has ever come backfrom Hell to describe it for us. Jesus speaks of Hell in terms of everlasting fire. It is not the fire we see at a barbeque or a bonfire.That fire could not afflict the soul, which is a spirit. To be thrown into fire causes extreme pain and fire is mentioned to indicate the extreme suffering one will experience in Hell. The real excruciating suffering in Hell is the pain of loss. The pain of loss is the eternal separation from God, which constitutes the worst of Hell's suffering. The persons in Hell know that the only Person who can make them happy is God and yet they hate Him. Hell is being fully aware that God is waiting for us with open arms and we can never be with Him through our own fault because we have rejected him. It is similar to the ache in the heart of lovers who are separated. All they want is to be with each other, but this is impossible. That pain is nothing compared to the pain of never again being able to love and possess God.

There has to be a tremendous loneliness in Hell, hating God, hating everyone and hating yourself. It is no good thinking if your friend goes to Hell that you will be able to enjoy each other’s company and console each other. You will be hating each other, wishing you could just turn back the clock and be given another chance to love God and your neighbour. My Mum used to tell us, in Hell there is a clock, which ticks and says, "Forever and ever! Forever and ever!" No picture can paint the reality of Hell. May God forbid anyone of us going there!

I love this illustration of the difference between Heaven and Hell. A man dies and was first shown Hell. He saw everyone sitting at a sumptuous banquet with the finest food and drink, but was surprised to see that everyone was starving. Then he noticed a weak man trying to feed himself. He couldn't, for the forks, spoons and knives were all six foot long and he couldn't get the food to his mouth. Next he was shown Heaven and there he saw exactly the same scene, a sumptuous banquet. But here no one was starving. He noticed when anyone was hungry the person opposite just picked up their spoon and fed them. In Hell there is only hate and selfishness, but in Heaven there is only love and thoughtfulness.

To deserve to go to Hell, we must have broken our relationship completely with God. Let us take an example. The Church, knowing the tremendous worth and God's wish to be adored by all Catholics through Sunday Mass, teaches that deliberately, and without good reason, to miss Mass on Sunday (or on the Saturday evening instead) is a mortal sin, and you can't go to Holy Communion again unless you first confess that sin in Confession and receive absolution. To commit any mortal sin requires three conditions to be present. These are, one, that the sin must be of grave matter. The Church considers that missing Mass on Sundays is a grave sin breaking one of God's Ten Commandments - “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day”- and turning down God's invitation to worship Him with His children as He wants. The second condition is that you know it is a serious offence against God, and the third condition is you deliberately commit the sin.

Supposing you were to die the next day after missing Mass and without repenting, then according to moral theologians, those whodie in mortal sin will go to Hell for all eternity. But my own personal thought is that this would be unlikely to happen because to be condemned to Hell for one failing seems too harsh a punishment! For missing Mass once on Sunday does not necessarily entail a complete breakdown in our relationship with God. However, the danger is that having missed Mass without good reason once, it will be easier to miss again and again, and then again…until not going to Mass becomes a “normal” part of life as God’s Commandments are forgotten which, in time is likely to lead to a complete breakdown in the relationship. That is why it is not okay to miss Mass even on the odd occasion. I repeat it is a mortal sin, a great offence against God's love, and you cannot receive Our Lord in Holy Communion until you have confessed that sin with sorrow in your next Confession, which you should make as soon as is practicable.

I think of a life as a tree. If a tree leans in one direction when it dies it will fall in that direction. It is not going to fall in the opposite direction. So, too, with our lives. If all the time we are leaning towards God, very likely, with God's grace we shall fall into His arms when we die. But if our lives never point to God, it is very likely that when we die we shall die in enmity with God.

In fact I would advocate that you try to attend daily Mass as the best way of expressing love for God. If you want to avoid Hell make sure you have in your heart love for God and your neighbour. Remember that each of us is one of God's children. He never wants to lose any and would never send anyone to Hell. If someone goes there it will be because of the life which that person has chosen to live. Should we go to Hell it must break His heart. Knowing this a prayer I like to say very often is, "Heavenly Father, do not consider what we truly deserve, but forgive us our sins and lead us all to Heaven to be happy with You forever."

Tuesday 7 February 2012

In the stillness of the night

Oh Lord
In the stillness of the night
I feel Your presence Lord
I feel Your love
I feel Your peace
And Your nearness to me.
And I am at rest
In perfect peace
Hopeful knowledge
And thankful trust.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Father Ignatius and the painter

Once upon a time there was an unscrupulous painter who was very interested in making extra money if he could. He often thinned down his paint with turpentine to make it go a bit further. Sadly, he got away with this for some time.

One day Father Ignatius decided to paint the outside of the Parish Hall white. He asked for several quotations and this painter’s was the lowest price quoted. As the priest was short of funds the painter in question got the job.

So he set about erecting the scaffolding and setting up the planks, and buying the paint and, yes, I am sorry to say, thinning it down with turpentine.

As the painter was up on the scaffolding, painting away, the job nearly completed, there was suddenly a horrendous clap of thunder, the sky opened, and the rain poured down washing the thinned paint from all over the Parish Hall walls, and knocking the painter clear off the scaffold to land on the lawn among the gravestones, surrounded by telltale puddles of the thinned and useless paint.

The painter realised that this was a judgement from above …

He got on his knees and cried:

“Oh God … oh God … help me … what should I do?”

And just then a thunderous voice replied:

“Repaint !!! Repaint !!! And thin no more !!!”