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. 

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.



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