Saturday, 30 July 2016

Does wealth bring contentment?

Lk. 12:13-21

We can’t live on fresh air.  Money plays a large part in all our lives.  Most of us have to concern ourselves with earning a living.  That concern occupies a sizeable portion of our waking hours.  Making ends meet requires careful planning and hard work.  We also have to provide for the possibility of accidents and the probability of old age.  To ignore such matters is to invite disaster for ourselves and our family.  In this world no one can lead a responsible life without giving some time and attention to money.

Jesus realised this and so devoted much of His teaching to how we are to cope with money and possessions.  In today's Gospel He told the story of a farmer who had accumulated a fortune.  His wealth was measured not in money, but in produce.  His land had produced such a bountiful harvest that he had to build additional storage space.  He had enough to last him for the rest of his life.  He could live comfortably, even lavishly, without ever working another day.

The surprising part of this story is the way Jesus ended it.  We would have said the farmer was a tremendous success, a man to be admired and even envied.  We would hold him up as an example for young people to follow, but Jesus did the exact opposite.  He called that man a fool.  He labelled his life a failure and warned others not to repeat his mistake.

Why do we think differently from Jesus?  Here was a man who had made a good living, who had managed to save, provide for his old age and was able to take an early retirement.  What's his mistake?  According to Jesus the farmer had put all his efforts into accumulating wealth for the future, with no thought of his eternal salvation.  This was foolishness indeed.

Let us go back to the story in the Gospel.  What did the farmer do wrong?  He was not dishonest, nor did he cheat anyone of what was rightfully theirs.  But in his eagerness to acquire wealth he left no time for God.  There were not enough hours in the day.  He was up early in the morning and had no time to pray before starting work.  By the time he had finished his work in the evening he was too tired to pray.  As a result, all that mattered was his work.  God had gradually been pushed out of his life.

All this wealth and financial security had made the farmer complacent.  He began to think that he did not need God in his life.  He had made himself cosy and comfortable and he had protected himself from every danger that life could bring.  With all his money he had built his own heaven on earth.  That is why Jesus said, "How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Having amassed his wealth, the farmer became greedy.  He wanted to keep everything for himself, rather than share with anyone else.  This was what Jesus condemned not the fact that the farmer had become rich, but that he had stored up treasure for himself alone.  How richly God would have rewarded him, if only he had shown some generosity to those less fortunate.

Most of us may feel that the story of a rich farmer has very little relevance to our own lives.  We are not wealthy landowners; we are ordinary people struggling to make a living.  We have a mortgage to pay, children to feed and clothe.  It is wise to save money and make provision for our old age.  These responsibilities have to be faced we cannot evade them.  God knows all this, but despite all the pressures He wants us to put Him first in our lives.  In fact, if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness all these things will be catered for.

We may never be extraordinarily rich, like the farmer in the parable, but do we set our hearts on acquiring possessions?  Do we think we would be happier if only we had a bigger house and car, a faster computer, the latest music centre or a better three piece suite?  Hasn’t experience shown us that happiness is transitory, and it won't be very long before we are looking for more, bigger and better things?  If we really think that these things will make us happy and contented, are we making the same mistake as the farmer?

Whether we are rich or poor, there will always be demands made of us.  We are forever being confronted with collections for charities of one kind or another, and it can be very irritating and exasperating.  But let us not forget that in comparison with the Third World we are millionaires.  We can afford to share a little of our wealth, and in giving let us give cheerfully, because God loves a cheerful giver.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for all you have given us.  Let us learn to be content and not to forget those who are in need of our help.  Let us not make the same mistake as the farmer in Your story who thought there were pockets in shrouds. 

Friday, 29 July 2016

What do we learn from the Lazarus episode?

The story of the death of Lazarus and his bringing back to life by Jesus is strange indeed. It is not like any other story of Christ's miracles. There are at least two important lessons for us to learn here.

Let's recap quickly (John Chapter 11).

Jesus was in a town not far from Bethany when He receives a message from Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus is ill. Jesus does not hurry to heal Lazarus but He stays put. He tells His disciples that this illness will not result in Lazarus' death. The disciples, as ever, do not understand. They think that Lazarus has fallen asleep because of his illness. Jesus spells it out "Lazarus is dead!" and then decides to go to him.

When He arrives at Bethany, followed by His disciples, Jesus is met by Martha.

She is full of grief at her brother's death. She sent a message to Jesus two days earlier and now He comes. When it's too late. She says to Jesus "If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died!"

She reprimands Jesus. In her grief, she does not know what to say.

Then she adds, "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask Him for". She still believes that God can do anything through Jesus.


When we are in great grief, or despair, we sometimes lash out at God. We blame Him for what has happened. This is only natural. It is our human nature speaking.

God knows that and He can take our anger. After all, He took all our anger and hatred when He hung there from the Cross.

Like in Martha's case, God forgives. We should in return hold on to our Faith and believe that everything is possible to God.

Mary joins her sister to meet Jesus and she too says "If you had been here Lazarus would not have died". The crowd murmur that Jesus healed many sick people why did He not come earlier to save Lazarus.

Jesus asks for the tomb to be opened. Martha tells Him that there will be a bad smell. Lazarus has been buried for four days. In a hot climate the body would have began to smell badly.

The tomb is opened and Jesus raises Lazarus.


Why did Jesus take so long to visit Lazarus? Why wait four days after his death and burial to turn up?

In the past, Jesus raised many people from the dead. So why did He wait so long this time?

In previous miracles, many sceptics and cynics would have said that the individual was probably not dead. He may have been in a deep sleep, or in a coma. Not much of a miracle.

This time Jesus waited for four days after death and burial to turn up and raise Lazarus. He wanted there to be no doubt that Lazarus is dead and that he has been raised back to life. No doubt that God's glory, through Him, will be seen by everyone.

He predicted from the very start, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, that he would not end up dead. The disciples did not understand, but Jesus explained that Lazarus was indeed dead; but will not end up dead.

His words "The final result of this illness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the son of God will receive glory."

Our lesson is to learn that when things go wrong ... very ... very wrong; we need only believe that the end result will be that God is glorified, as is His will.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

God's love


Sometimes we need glasses in order to see clearly. Without them our sight is blurred and we see what we think we see rather than what is out there to see.

Someone said to me the other day: God’s love is conditional. If you don’t love Him back He’ll send you to hell.

I suppose, without glasses, you can see it this way. Let’s look at it another way.

God's love is available to everyone. I say available - not forced upon. As our Creator, He loves us and invites us to love Him back. It is an invitation, not a request or an order.

Forgive me if I put it another way: It’s like you buying a dog and loving him and caring for him. The dog can return this affection or he can bite you. If he does bite you the chances are you’ll forgive him and continue to love him. Unless he does it again and again incorrigibly.

The decision to return God’s love by accepting Him and accepting His Son Jesus rests entirely with us. So, to that extent therefore - yes, His love is conditional. It is conditional on us loving Him back and obeying His commandments.

For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life. John 3:16.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Reminiscences of a priest

Father Ignatius put the phone down and settled in the armchair near the fireplace. It was a cold winter evening so he warmed his hands by the fire then picked up his cup of cocoa and took a sip or two. There was nothing to capture his interest on television, so after watching the usual dismal news he switched it off and turned his thoughts to the phone call.

It had been some months since he last spoke to his great friend Monsignor Thomas. They had trained together for the priesthood in Rome many years ago, and he hadn’t seen the Monsignor for some time now. As usual, Monsignor Thomas ended the telephone conversation by saying: “Dominus vobiscum” and Father Ignatius replied “Et cum spiritu tuo”.

The Latin words reverberated in his mind. It’s such a long time that he celebrated Mass in Latin he thought.

“Yet there was a time when all Masses were said in Latin,” thought the priest as he put down his cup of cocoa.

His mind wandered to his youth, as a young priest, and how different life was back then. In those days sermons were different too, he thought. “There was more meat to them,” he mumbled to himself.

“We were not afraid to say things the way they were; and still are now. We warned our flock of the dangers of sin, and an eternity in hell. We told them what was right and what was wrong …”

He remembered a particular sermon where he spoke against trying to contact spirits and visiting so-called mediums.

Now sermons seem to have been toned down for fear of up-setting the congregation.

“We have to be politically correct” he said to himself.

He realised that things change over the years, and change is sometimes inevitable. But it isn’t always for the better, he argued with himself.

“Back then,” he thought, “people used to fast for twelve hours before taking Holy Communion. They used to genuflect at the Altar rail and take the Host on the tongue. None of this queuing up the center aisle and holding the Host in your hand business as we do now.”

His sighed quietly as he recalled other changes which befell the Catholic Church over the years. People used to kneel as they entered the church or took their place in the pews. Women had their heads covered; either with a hat or a scarf.

He brought to mind an incident last summer when a young lady attempted to enter the church for Sunday Mass dressed in a bikini top and short pants. He happened to be at the entrance of the church and he stopped her.

“You must let me in,” she protested, “I have a perfect right!”

“Madam,” Father Ignatius replied in his stern voice, “you have a perfect left too, but you’re not coming in dressed like that!”

He smiled at the way he handled the situation and was awakened from his reveries by Father Donald entering the room.

“What’s on TV?” asked Father Donald in his broad Scottish accent.

“Only dust …” replied Ignatius still smiling.

“I like it,” said Father Donald laughing, “I’ll tell the housekeeper in the morning. I’m sure she’ll appreciate your joke!”

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

I'm running out of priests ...


Father Ignatius usually waited at the door of the church to greet the parishioners on Sunday as they left after Mass. He noticed that for the last few weeks there was a new face amongst his flock. A man in his mid-thirties, always alone, speaking to no one and leaving in a posh new car. Unlike the old rusty cars that normally frequent this church in a poor desolate town hit hard by the downturn of the economy.

One Sunday, the priest introduced himself to the newcomer as he was leaving church.

"You're new here," he said, "welcome to our parish. I am Father Ignatius!"

"Hello Father," replied the man, "how remiss of me not to introduce myself. Perhaps we can go somewhere to talk. After the congregation has all left, that is."

Minutes later, both men were sitting in Father Ignatius' office enjoying a cup of coffee and biscuits.

"I'm not from this town," explained the man, "although I have been visiting churches in this town, and others, for the last six months or so. I visit a church for a few Sundays and then move on to another one."

"I see," replied the priest with a smile, "you're not like one of those Michelin or Egon Ronay people who visit restaurants and publish guides giving each restaurant a number of stars depending on quality, are you?"

The man smiled. "No," he said, "not quite like that. But I am searching for a priest actually, rather than a church!"

"I don't understand," replied Father Ignatius,"what is this priest's name? Perhaps I know him."

"You see Father," continued the man, "I am running out of priests to confess to. I want, and need, to confess to a priest I can trust and respect. And sadly, there aren't many around these days!"

Father Ignatius was taken aback by the man's response but thought it prudent to say nothing. He picked up the pot of coffee and replenished the man's cup as well as his.

The man continued.

"Let me explain, in the first church I used to attend the priest there used to preach about the sanctity of marriage. How marriage is a Holy Sacrament and it is for ever; and how divorce is wrong.

"I was married at the time and we went to that church for some time, my wife and I.

"Then things went wrong and we divorced. The priest tried his best, to be fair, to get us to reconcile and to save the marriage. But it didn't work out and we divorced.

"He warned me about the Catholic Church's position regarding divorce, re-marriage or even co-habiting with another woman; and explained how difficult it would be to get an annulment of the marriage from the Church.

"Anyway ... I continued to go to that church for a year or so. Then we discovered that this very priest had an affair with a parishioner and that he was leaving the priesthood to marry her.

"I saw him a few months later in the street. I asked him how come marriage is for ever and he can leave the priesthood when he feels like it? He replied that circumstances change! What sort of answer is that?"

Father Ignatius said nothing. It was obvious that this man had a lot on his chest he wanted to get off; and that he was indeed very angry at what seemed to him to be double standards.

"In another church I moved to after that," the man went on, "in conversation, the priest there told me that he did not like the wine because it made him dizzy. I asked him what wine, and he said, the wine in church.

"I was amazed. I said hesitantly that this is not wine, it is the Blood of Christ.

"He smiled and said to me, yes ... some people like to believe so. It is all symbolism, really!

"How can a Catholic priest believe and say something like that openly, Father? It makes me so angry. How can the Catholic Church have priests who believe such a thing? Why don't they make them leave the Church rather than spread their personal beliefs? In another church the priest said he preferred to celebrate Mass in Latin, and with his back to the congregation; like in the old days. He said the current Catholic thinking is wrong."

Father Ignatius was about to speak when the man continued, somewhat irritated.

"I left that church too after a while. In another church the priest there preached from the pulpit that Catholics should be responsible and not breed like rabbits. His very words. When he was asked later whether he condoned contraceptives he said 'NO' and people should use the rythm method instead. What's that? Having a rythm and blues band in the bedroom with you?" asked the man in anger.

Father Ignatius remained silent.

"I'm sorry Father," the man continued after a moment's silence, "I shouldn't get angry with you. I hardly know you and here I am shouting at you.

"But as you can see, I am very upset with the Church and the priesthood. I am just running out of priests to confess to. How can I go to Confession to a priest whom I do not respect; or trust that in a few months time he will not leave the priesthood to get married.

"I can give you many other instances of bad priests I have met in my time. Like the one who was so interested in golf that he postponed a funeral arrangement so he does not miss out on a tournament he was playing at. Or another one, whom I asked to celebrate Mass for a dead relative, and I gave him a generous donation; yet he never celebrated that Mass for my dead parents. Despite two or three reminders.

"Is that Christ-like? Would Jesus have behaved like these priests?"

"I doubt very much that Jesus enjoyed a round of golf," replied Father Ignatius trying to lighten the mood a little.

The man laughed heartily.

"You see," continued Father Ignatius, "you're expecting too much from us priests. No one is perfect. Except God, and Christ, that is.

"Priests, like the original disciples, are ordinary men. With their own faults, weaknesses and foibles. Men, chosen by Christ, who are like the rest of us sinners, full of doubts and confusion.

"Now I am not either excusing or condoning the behaviour or utterences of the priests you have mentioned. I agree with you, there are some priests who perhaps do not meet the standard expected by society or indeed which they owe to our Lord.

"Priests are men who have chosen to follow our Lord by preaching His message to the world. As such, they have a special responsibility and duty to our Lord and they will be answerable to Him one day when they meet face to face.

"As shepherds, their duty is to care for the sheep and to lead them to Heaven. Not risk losing the flock by their behaviour or by what they say or believe.

"I am truly sorry that you seem to have met some priests who have disappointed you. I shall certainly pray for them as I will for you."

Father Ignatius stopped for a while. Something he often did when he wanted to get a point over forcibly.

The man smiled and said nothing. The priest continued.

"Your relationship should be a one-to-one relationship with God. With Jesus; with the help of the Holy Spirit.

"Your responsibility is to Him alone. To love Him and to love your fellow man as best you can.

"The priests and the Church, or Churches from other denominations, are there to set guidelines, road maps, blue prints as to how we can best follow God's message in our lives. These guidelines should be based on Bible teachings and where necessary supplemented by guidance from the priesthood.

"Sadly, as you have found out, not all priests meet the standard expected of them. But this does not take away your responsibility to build a one-to-one relationship with God and to seek His help and guidance when in doubts or in difficulties.

"I hope and pray that you will find a church, or a priest, whom you can respect and trust; as you say. A priest you can discuss matters with, or even go to Confession to.

"My request to you, is that you do not judge us too harshly. Indeed, we are all sinners; some of us perhaps deserving more forgiveness than others."

The man smiled and thanked Father Ignatius for his time listening to him. As he departed, the priest said a silent prayer for all priests who fail to set the good example expected of them.



Friday, 8 July 2016

Suffering ...

I was day dreaming the other day and I wondered; what if I came face to face with a genie? You know, the one out of a bottle or an old oil lamp. And what if he gave me one wish.

Just one wish. What would it be?

Happiness for myself and my family? Riches? Good health? That’s three wishes for a start; and I only have one wish to make.

As I sobered up and considered this carefully I thought I’d ask the genie to end all suffering in the world.

Now wouldn’t that be wonderful? No more suffering from hunger and poverty. No more suffering from illness and old age. No more suffering from violence and bullying. No more suffering of any kind anywhere in the world.

I wonder what that would be like.

Then I thought about suffering. It comes our way from time to time and stays with us for varying periods, sometimes for ever, and hurts us to varying degrees.

Why, and what should we do about it?

I believe that God allows suffering to come our way for reasons best known to Himself.

But I also believe that He takes no great delight in seeing us suffer. It isn’t for Him a means by which He somehow “purifies” us from our sins, or an essential condition which we should accept gladly as a badge of honour, or some sort of sacrifice to repay Him for what He has done for us.

Let’s face it; there is NOTHING we can do which will ever repay what God did for us. And He does not, and never has, asked for repayment by means of suffering and donning sackcloth and ashes.

In fact the New Testament is full of evidence that God is against our suffering.

Christ acted against suffering when He saw the sick and the poor, the blind, the deaf, the dumb and the lame, as well as those possessed by the devil. On every occasion He stopped suffering by healing those brought to Him. Even when suffering was the result of death itself, as for instance when His friend Lazarus died and his family were distraught; Christ acted against the suffering of death and raised Lazarus once again.

I suppose it can be said that Jesus took upon Him all the suffering of the world when He hung dying on the Cross.

And even today, Christ is fighting against suffering. For He is alive and with us now as He was after the Resurrection.

His Holy Spirit fights against suffering through the hands of many who can heal through prayers and the miracles performed in His name. His Holy Spirit is at work fighting suffering through the miracles in Lourdes and elsewhere. His Holy Spirit is fighting suffering through the miracles and intercessions of the Saints. And His Holy Spirit is fighting suffering through us; yes … you and me.

When suffering befalls us God does not want us to accept it as a sacrifice and suffer in silence. To do so is tantamount to saying that He wills it and delights in it and we should accept it.

God does not ask the sick man to suffer in joy and not seek any medical advice, not to pray for healing and to do nothing about it; anymore than He asks anyone to accept suffering willingly and do nothing about it.

Only Christ accepted suffering willingly and He did so for a Divine purpose to redeem us all from our sins.

That God wills our suffering is in no doubt. But I repeat, He does not delight in it and He does not wish us just to accept it without any attempt to confront it and fight it. He would wish us to act against the evil of suffering just as Christ did when He walked this earth. Jesus welcomed the sick and the dying and He had pity on them and healed them. He did not tell them to go suffer in silence, or in joy, because He was too busy preaching about God's Kingdom. He acted against suffering on evry occasion and never turned anyone down.

Through prayers we act and seek help for the ending or easing of our suffering. Through the intercession of the Saints, the Archangel Rafael known as The Healer, or through the help of those blessed with the power of healing. We can and should act to ease or end our suffering whatever it may be.

Like the woman who dared to touch Christ’s garment we too should dare to ask for His help; rather than accept suffering as if it were our duty to just grin and bear it.

To suffer in silence and do nothing about it is a great disservice to the Lord as it portrays a certain lack of Faith and Trust in Him and His love and mercy.

Many people struggle under suffering for years and then miraculously they are healed. Miraculously whatever their reason for their suffering, whether ill health or something else, their suffering is eased or ended.

On every occasion those people have done something in great Faith to end their situation and condition. They may have visited a Faith healer, they may have visited a shrine like Lourdes, they may have asked a Saint’s or Archangel’s help. But they did something, rather than accept their suffering and not confront it.

Just like all those people who asked Christ to end their suffering. They dared to believe that God is but a prayer away and He wills the end of their suffering.

And we too, you and me, can perform our little miracles and end suffering when we see it in others.

When we see Lazarus starving at our doorstep, when we see the old neighbour needing help with the shopping or the housekeeping, when we see our colleague at work struggling under the bullying of an oppressive boss … we too can reach out our hand and help in some way to ease and end that suffering.

Maybe that is why God allows suffering to happen in the world. Not for us to accept it and suffer in silence. But to give an opportunity to others who see our conditions to help in any way they can to end or ease our suffering.

When I think about it, we don’t need a genie to end the suffering of the world. We have the power of that genie within us. We just don’t want to use it.

And that makes God sad.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Going to church with Rain Man

I recently went to church with a young autistic lady aged about twenty and her mother.

The young girl behaves and acts very much like Rain Man (Raymond Babbitt) in the Dustin Hoffman film of that name.

We were not at Mass. This was an evening meeting where we had a visiting speaker going on for hours on end discussing missionary work in various countries around the world.

The young lady’s mother left her with me and went to the kitchen just by the Sacristy to help prepare the teas and coffees and other refreshments for after the talk is over.

The talk started and the young lady’s mother had not returned, so we sat down and listened to the visiting speaker relating stories from various far off lands.

It was a very hot summer’s evening; and after a few minutes of sitting there, the hardness of the wooden church pews combined with the humid stickiness of the atmosphere to create a very uncomfortable feeling in the Southern regions of the human anatomy.

To be fair, my companion stayed quiet throughout the long ordeal although it was obvious she was getting a little uncomfortable and tired with the monotony of it all.

Eventually the visiting speaker stopped and the priest asked us to stand up for final prayers.

As we stood up I noticed that the woman in the pew just in front of me must have been wearing a thong. Either that, or she was not wearing any underwear at all. The reason I say this, apart from its obviousness, is that as she stood up her delicate flowing skirt got caught or wedged within the crack of her voluptuous derriere revealing its ample contours and curvatures.

Now normally one would tend to ignore such a distraction and look the other way; and believe me I tried; even though she was standing only inches in front of me. But what was an unexpected distraction for me became something completely different to my young lady friend. For her this was not right at all.

To my horror, she lent forward and carefully pulled out the skirt from whence it was caught.

Surprisingly, the woman in front of me did not feel a thing and did not react whatsoever.

I shook my head violently and whispered to my friend to leave it as it is.

To my double horror and near heart-attack she proceeded to lean forward once again and replace the skirt in its previously wedged position.

This time the woman felt someone touching her particular sunset; she turned round suddenly to see me standing right behind her and my companion busily reading the hymn book she’d picked up.

She was about to slap my face when she suddenly remembered where she was.

She sat down promptly and said nothing.

We waited until prayers were over and everyone was leaving. I asked my young friend to go and help her mother in the kitchen, and then I tried to explain to the unfortunate woman what had happened and that it was not really me who tried to do what I did not do.

I doubt she believed me and she left without saying another word.

And that’s another confession I’ll have to explain to my priest. He said once he looks forward to my confessions as he’s never laughed so much in his life.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The temptations of Jesus