Tag Archives: Gospel

Love is the standard by which God will judge us – but it is love of a much higher standard than we realize

Jesus has taught us that there’s a definitive standard – love defined as love of God and love of neighbour – by which we will all be judged.

But don’t be complacent about God’s love… and be careful of presumption…

Because this love is of a much higher standard than most people realize. Remember Jesus’ teaching that his new standard is higher than the old; love your enemies.

Or the widow who put in one small coin. She put in more than all the others although the others put in much bigger amounts… because she gave everything she had.

He’s indicating different levels of love… which correspond to different levels in the next life, in the kingdom of God.

When Jesus speaks about love he really means all-consuming charity, charity that no longer experiences even a hint of self denial. He’s not really thinking about romantic love.

So be careful… sometimes people use Jesus emphasis on love to include stuff that may be contrary to Jesus intentions; may be contrary. Some TV personalities are quite adept at this!

Here’s a good illustration of the inner dynamics of judgement; suppose I’m buying a car. For many it’s an ordinary enough event and few would even relate it to God. But for others it’s far from an everyday event. I could splash out 20,000 or 50,000 or even 80,000. What we do not suspect is that we’ll relive that choice – and every other choice – from within the standard of God’s love at the moment of our judgement; how did I love God and how did I love my neighbour in these choices?

In our judgment we’ll see what we actually did with what we had, and what we could have done – and much of it will be stuff that we don’t even connect with God, stuff that we might call “business” or “the market” or some other name whereby we remove whole areas of our lives from God, as if God could be excluded, but seeing what we could have done, but didn’t do, at this level – in the presence of God – is actually pure punishment.

So while we might think that a man or woman has been successful, that same success may prove their downfall at the moment of their judgement.

The criteria of judgment will always be; how did I love God and love my neighbour in my everyday choices and no area of human life, endeavour or enterprise escapes God’s attention.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught that the poor are blessed? Partly, because they avoid this responsibility and thus they avoid this kind of judgement. But that’s only part of the reason.

The bigger part is how success, more often than not, deceives and empowers our small ego lives into choking our need for big life, for God.

But that’s another day’s work!

Can we make any sense of our uninvited suffering?

Try to receive your suffering as a privilege, or as the Medugorje visionary Vicka who suffers so much herself has said, as a gift from God.

Try. It’s easer said than done! But it doesn’t have to be something big, it might be nothing more than having to endure several failed attempts to insert a cannula. Or an everyday difficulty.

Don’t waste your suffering as Pope St. John Paul once said.

We struggle to understand this because we do not have a deep connection with the person of Jesus, his life and teaching, and with the true meaning of Christmas and Easter.

We pay more attention now to mindfulness and various other spiritual practices – good in themselves… as far as they go – but we do not have a deep connection with Jesus born of Mary, the son of the living God.

Jesus born of Mary is Heaven torn open, exposed… the mystery revealed, waiting for us to jump in, he is God who came down, lived among us, attempting – and still attempting – to reach us, leaving us a rather detailed understanding of eternity, how it works, what it’s like, what to expect…

We have been formed by divine teaching… but you’d hardly know it. He has revealed so much of the mystery.

He taught us there’s a definitive standard – love – by which we will be judged.

He taught us that within this love there is ultimate justice and judgement.

He taught us that what we do to others we do to him… ouch 😣. Imagine the joy and the sorrow of that! Everything that happens on earth arrives into the heart of God.

He taught us that mercy costs, that forgiving an offense and embracing an offender is painful 😓. On a universal scale he illustrated this on the Cross.

Every time God forgives, the struggle and the suffering of the Cross continues… until the end of time.

Every sin creates a piece of hell on earth.

Every time there’s love – true love – the resurrection continues to happen on earth.

How much sin – offensive hurt – can a person endure before he turns? How much could you endure? Now apply the question to God.

For example, abortion alone – executed as a human right and which the majority have now decided is our choice – is horrendous suffering in the heart of God, beyond all human imagining.

Still, God remains gracious. It is grace beyond all human comprehension – a love so merciful that it astonishes even the angels – that prevents God turning, that prevents the partial and even the complete destruction of the earth 🌍.

At times it is Our Lady who is holding the line which is why she’s repeatedly asking for prayer and sacrifice – help me here! Sacrifice has a similar value to suffering in Heaven – provided each is freely offered.

The earth survives through the pure graciousness of God – but do not underestimate the cost.

When suffering comes our way we are given the opportunity to work intimately with God in the work of salvation, in sharing the burden of saving humankind.

When that suffering is borne or carried out of love for the Saviour – I want to help you Lord because I love you – we’re already well advanced in the communion of saints.

Sadly, for many it’s the deep connection with Jesus that’s missing when suffering comes our way and we’re left “like sheep without a shepherd…”

Death is not always the best possible outcome – but for those who die in God it doesn’t get any better!

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Mk 5:21-24,35-43

I couldn’t help but notice that they laughed at Jesus.

That hasn’t changed, they laugh at us too because we have faith. We’re ridiculed often.

And when Jesus had made his point no doubt they said, “she wasn’t really dead, we made a mistake!”

These things don’t change.

In last Sunday’s Gospel the disciples fear death by drowning Mk 4:35-41

So Jesus calms the storm, the disciples fear of death disappears to be replaced by “even the wind and the sea obey him”

They’re awestruck – their focus changes from the fear of death to his power over the the storm, over wind and rain…

So what happens next? Where does Jesus lead them?

To the encounter recorded in this Sunday’s Gospel… where Jesus leads his disciples back to confront death in the death of a little girl 👧

The loss of someone close to us always plunges us into grief, dark and heavy grief, horrible.

But who told us that death is the worse possible scenario for the deceased?

Jesus doesn’t fear death, he doesn’t consider it as the worse possible event – in last Sunday’s Gospel he’s asleep, in this Sunday’s Gospel he demonstrates his absolute authority even over death – on the contrary he fears sin, he fears offending his Father. According to Jesus there’s something much worse than death – offending God unto hell.

But for those who die in Christ death is the best possible scenario and anyone who dies in Christ is consumed by love; of which even the greatest human love is a dim – very dim – reflection. They have only one all consuming desire; to stay with God, and the desire to return is non-existent. They’re being totally consumed by loving fulfillment.

The best contemporary example I can give is Mirjana’s experience of Our Lady in Medugorje. It is important to grasp that when Mirjana sees Our Lady it’s not just a visionary experience, rather, Our Lady brings Heaven with her – after all she is of Heaven – and Mirjana is caught up in Heaven. The consequences are illuminating; Mirjana has only one desire, to stay with Our Lady which means to go with Our Lady (death). Mirjana says that when she’s with Our Lady not even the love she has for her daughters would bring her back, and when the experience ends Mirjana collapses into a deep darkness. It takes her weeks to recover… and she really struggles to go back to ordinary life, to ordinary love, to love that’s a very dim reflection of divine love.

It’s all consuming nature is like having a son or daughter in love with someone of whom you do not approve – try getting your point of view through to him or her! It’s all-consuming.

On the other hand those who do not die in Christ long to come back and un-do and re-do so much. This desire at that level, a burning desire incapable of being fulfilled, is more than enough punishment!

The future of the church and the world is hidden in plain sight – in the life and teaching of Jesus

Firstly, I want you to understand that the decline of the church is itself an example of Jesus own teaching, eg, Matt 5:13, “…if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.”

This is what has happened to the Catholic Church in our time. The fall of the Catholic Church in Ireland is this teaching of Jesus – and many similar teachings – made flesh in our time. This is intended to teach us, all of us, people inside and outside the church about the consequences of ignoring the teaching of Jesus.

I want you to grasp this – the teaching of Jesus is always made flesh, it becomes our lived experience.

This is not just true in the church but also in the world; any decline in the human-divine relationship – unchecked – will always result in a time of decline which in turn leads to a time of suffering for humanity through real historical events. This is the reason Jesus begins his ministry; repent! For example, according to the message of Fatima, World War II was one such event. Bear in mind the message of Fatima was saying this twenty years before the actual event. In our time Medugorje is flagging similar warnings concerning our future.

Secondly, I want you to understand that there will also be gracious acts of God that will reverse the decline.

I don’t know how far the decline will go before this begins to happen. For example, I do not know how many parishes will close, how many congregations will die out before it happens. But when it does happen, it’ll be dramatic and rapid, in a matter of days… quite suddenly there’ll be queues for Baptism and Confession.

At this point – on this July day 2021 – the Divine correction of the church is well advanced but the correction of the world is only in its very early stages. The church first because in the mind of God the church – the gathering of his disciples – should be the yeast in the dough that is the world, but when the yeast is off, well, then it has to be fixed – and fixed first. Then the dough. Again, the teaching of Jesus is being made flesh, it is becoming our lived experience.

Our actions will always harmonize with what’s inside us.

‘Spirit’ Confirmation Programme 2.

We’re asking you today to witness to the Spirit. Actually, that’s not right. You’ve chosen this, didn’t you? So you’re telling us that you’re going to witness to the Spirit.

'Spirit' Workshop No. 2. Candidates for Confirmation viewing video footage of how people witness to the Spirit.

‘Spirit’ Workshop No. 2. Candidates for Confirmation viewing video footage on an iPad of how people witness to the Spirit.

The visit of Annette McCarthy to the school on Friday together with the workshop this morning will have given you real examples of witnessing to the Spirit.

Here’s another way that you might witness. Sometimes as people get older they can become invisible. People don’t see them any more. So, here’s what I want you to do. You can make older people visible – all through your life – by just smiling and saying ‘hello’.

Still, I do not want you to get the idea that witnessing to the Spirit is just about being a ‘good’ person or a ‘nice’ person. Sometimes even our goodness is a witness to ourselves rather than God, my spirit rather than God’s Spirit, and merely carries the mask of witnessing to God. This – reducing Christianity to being a ‘nice’ person – is something we’ve been doing within Catholicism for most of my lifetime, and it’s directly related to the slow decline of Catholicism.

Catholicism is first and foremost a well-trodden path to a real and ongoing encounter with God. This ongoing encounter with God is what gives our lives joyful and lasting security. This is basic Jesus-speak! He never tires of telling us things like “…a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns even when he has more than he needs” and “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” (Luke 12:15, 12:20)

There’s a desperate human need portrayed in today’s First Reading (Job 7:1-4,6-7), the kind that must surely precede suicide. There’s similar human need portrayed in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-39) but in the Gospel the need encounters Jesus Christ and is transformed. I heard an elderly man say recently – a man who’d lost both his wife and his son – “Life? It’s nothing in the end!” He’s right. Without Jesus Christ, it comes down to nothing in the end. It’s the encounter with God that causes us to witness. Witness is not a dry demand!

This encounter with God is not imaginary. Its development is marked by clearly defined stages, every bend on the road to God, every junction, every cul-de-sac, every obstacle, and every contour is documented. Catholicism is first and foremost a ‘how to’ manual, how to encounter God, and for the purists it’s an experiential ‘how to’ manual produced by God. So, before you walk away from Catholicism, read the life of at least one saint. It’s an interesting question to ask those who’ve already abandoned Catholicism: Did you read the life of at least one saint before walking away?

So, I do not want to be asking you to witness to a Spirit that you do not know. That’s to do violence to you. We can only witness to God’s Spirit to the degree that he’s present within us.

When we try to witness to Gods Spirit when he’s not inside us – when he’s not a real living force in our lives or when he’s diminished to the bare minimum for human life – we get fed up, bored, we fall away, and worse, we may even resent this imposition. Religion without the Holy Spirit quickly becomes a burden and even tyranny!

Sooner rather than later, our actions will always harmonize with what’s inside us.

I’ll give you an example using one of the gifts of the Spirit: Piety, or as you’d call it; Reverence.

pope-francis_2541160kPiety (Reverence) is a gift of the Holy Spirit which means that it doesn’t belong naturally to human nature. It’s as it says on the tin – a gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s an instinctive-like affection for God that makes us desire to worship him. Pope Francis described it as indicating “our belonging to God and our profound bond with him, a bond that brings meaning to our lives.” He said this bond is not “a duty or an imposition” but “a living relationship with the heart… our friendship with God, given by Jesus.” (Catholic World News, June 04, 2014). Where it is present religion is never boring, where it’s absent everything about religion is boring!

So, the gift of Piety (Reverence) alone, or its absence, can explain so much about our behaviour around religion, about how we witness, or don’t witness!

 

Fifth Sunday, B.

Seventeenth Sunday Year A: Exposing the human heart

Parable of the hidden treasure Rembrandt

Rembrandt’s painting of the parable

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found…”

The treasure is Jesus.

He’s hidden. But God is hidden only to the degree of our spiritual progress.

The field is the Church.

So, Jesus is hidden in the Church.

The “someone” in the field is every single man and woman on the planet.

Finding the treasure is encountering Jesus.

Selling everything you own to buy the field has several meanings.

You must buy the field, you can’t steal the treasure. Cheating doesn’t work!

The treasure doesn’t come without the field. Jesus doesn’t come without the Church. You don’t just buy-in to the Church, you buy it! You give your life.

It’s a cost you’ll pay willingly, voluntarily, gladly, joyfully and expectantly, you’ll jump at it provided you can see the treasure… not unlike a business man selling so that he can buy to make a killing!

Using the parable what can we work out about those who’ve left the Church?

They were in the field but left it… perhaps they didn’t like something in the field, or someone, perhaps they couldn’t see anything but a bog…

However, according to the parable the real reason people leave the field is that they didn’t find the treasure. Perhaps they didn’t even know there was treasure in it – perhaps they still don’t know!

Simple. The whole God question is very simple, mysterious, but very simple.

The Holy Trinity: Everything we need to know about the future of the world can be found in the figure of Christ crucified.

Holy Trinity Icon

“The three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are pictured at a table with a space vacant at the front for the believer; for you and me.” Fr. Billy Swan

Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-18) moves from the personal and the private to the public… from the salvation of the person to the salvation of the world, and back again to the personal and the private.

In our day there is a determined effort to confine religion and therefore the person of Jesus Christ to the private.

The wisdom of the day suggests that there should be no place for religion and therefore no place for the person of Jesus Christ in education, in health systems… anywhere in public life.

It’s absolutely impossible to reconcile this privatization of religion and the message of today’s Gospel which clearly states that the person of Jesus Christ is the key to personal salvation but also to the salvation of the world.

Now, I need to explain the meaning of salvation precisely because when we think about salvation we’ve already privatized it and we never think of salvation as having anything to do with the future of the world – here and now.

So what does salvation mean? It means nothing more than human well-being individually and collectively. Happiness. It means the well-being of the world – the old missioners would have said the temporal and eternal well-being of humankind.

This means that we can have all the economic policies we want, all the education policies, all the health policies… but if they’re not founded on God they’ll eventually turn and bite us!

The world is set on a path that says we don’t need God; we’ll do it our way, yet “God sent his son into the world… so that through him the world might be saved.” I trust you can see the contradiction?

So what’ll happen? This is what I think will happen; the world will persist on this path, the world is not for turning (there are very good reasons for that; historical reasons) and only from a point of collapse will the world return to God.

That’s what a generation will see and experience; a collapse. But let’s go deeper; spiritually it’ll look like the Evil One has taken everything from God and when it looks like Evil has triumphed God will act.

Go deeper again; in other words it’ll look like the period of time between Christ’s death and resurrection when even the disciples thought everything was lost.

Go deeper still; in other words what happened to Christ (what we celebrate every Easter) is what’ll happen to humanity.

The rejection of God always leads to the figure of a crucified humanity, to the point where everything seems lost. But God will not abandon his creation.

The future of the world is there before us in the figure of Christ crucified. Everything we need to know about the future can be found there.

God’s unconditional love; don’t confuse it with salvation.

Prayer is the condition attached to getting to know Jesus better.

Prayer is the condition attached to getting to know Jesus better.

I don’t like using ‘unconditional’ to describe God’s love – if I use it I always qualify it. Of course that sounds like a condition, doesn’t it?

Here’s the problem:

If God’s love is unconditional then there was no need for Christ’s work of salvation. There was no need for the incarnation, no need for the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. No need for Pentecost or the Church. Everything is flat-lined and Jesus becomes not the Christ, but a nice guy!

Don’t confuse the message of Christ with psycho-babble!

“God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” John 3:16

The condition is belief in him.

“If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23

The condition is keeping his word because we love him.

“As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

There’s a condition attached to bearing fruit.

If God’s love is unconditional it doesn’t matter how we live, not a jot! There’s no need for prayer, repentance, conversion – nothing! Ultimately it means there is no such ‘state’ as hell – there can’t be, certainly not if God’s love is unconditional. That’s not basic Bible theology, that’s psycho-babble!

People often think that God’s unconditional love and salvation are the same thing, indistinguishable. That’s what I’ve been doing here, confusing the two! So, let’s get it right. 

To say that God’s love is unconditional is to say that God always holds out the possibility of salvation – his mercy – to every man and woman even though they may be living in the depths of depravity.

In other words God’s unconditional love is the very possibility of salvation, it offers humankind the opportunity to be saved but God’s love doesn’t save us without our co-operation. God’s unconditional love requires our free response if it is to fulfill its purpose.

God can’t save me without me and I can’t save me without God!

This seems to be the only reasonable sense in which God’s love can be considered unconditional.

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Jesus Christ, the joy of Catholicism

 

"When we pray properly sorrows disappear like snow before the sun"

St. John Vianney: When we pray properly sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.

It’s sometime before his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.

Thus when he says he’s going away he’s talking about a future event.

It’s most interesting though to observe the meaning he gives to his going away. His going away is not his death, but his death, resurrection and ascension, and in going away he’s not abandoning us.

Thus in the teaching of Jesus Christ death is not the final end event, but part of something much greater. We need to begin to think in this way. For the believer life opens upwardly to the splendour of God. For the unbeliever life (ultimately) must narrow downwardly to the grave!

He is going away (death, resurrection and ascension) “to prepare a place for you…” This is personal.

Have you ever noticed that you can’t really walk in another person’s shoes, that no matter how close you might be to another person, that person is always separate, uniquely other? There’s a sense in which in the end there’s only God and you in the universe!

Jesus promises that after he’s gone (death, resurrection and ascension) he’ll come back to take you with him. It’s so personal.

We tend to think of this returning as death but that misses so much of the picture – most of all it misses the joy at the heart of our religion.

The returning to take us with him is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) through whom God enters into our lives, not in the future, but now. We’re taken up into the Divine life. We’re given a “place” in the Divine life. This is what Jesus means when he speaks of “rooms in my Father’s house” – it’s a share in God’s life. Try to imagine what happens when the Divine life begins to enter our lives; a transformation begins. Thus we find the Saints saying things like; “When we pray properlysorrows disappear like snow before the sun.” St. John Vianney. The all powerful God mingles his life with ours – pure joy! 

This is what makes the Catholic. Without Him religion falls flat. In fact, I’ll go much further and say; this is the joy of life, never mind Catholicism!

We don’t inherit the kingdom because we’re good people. We inherit the kingdom because God has given us a place (or room) in his Divine life and God by his very nature can’t be held captive by death.

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good shepherds or hired hands?

He says he’s the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands.

What is this sheepfold and who are these thieves and brigands?

IMG_1352The very idea of a sheepfold suggests that we do not follow Jesus as individuals in isolation – there’s always Jesus Christ (the shepherd) and the Church (the sheepfold).

The sheepfold is the Church but it’s the Church merging into the kingdom of God. The Church is the gathering of those who’ve entered into the life of God through Jesus – it’s this passing through Jesus that produces the Church.

Jesus describes people who enter in this way as “safe” going “freely in and out” (of the life of God), “sure of finding pasture” – powerfully descriptive words.

There are other people who’ve entered the Church but without entering the life of God. They’re just going through the motions. These are the thieves and brigands – an accusation that’s directed in the first place at the religious leaders of his day.

Catholics, but particularly bishops and priests who maintain the mere external practice of religion without true conversion of heart are thieves and brigands. They usurp the things of God becoming obstacles rather than stepping stones to God. Pope Francis repeatedly warns about the threat such people pose within the Church.

But this problem is not confined to priests and bishops. Few are immune to the trappings of religion without the appropriate conversion of heart. 

Such ‘Catholics’ find life in the Church boring. They’re highly visible at the one-off events, First Communions, Confirmations, there’s an obvious disconnect which manifests itself in distraction. There’s little sense of the sacred, little sense of the presence of the Totally Other. In their distraction they “steal and kill and destroy” the sacred.

Finally, allow me to present you with the ultimate test of the Christian; are you a goodIMG_1356 shepherd prepared to lay down your life for the flock (the Church, God’s people) or are you a hired hand who runs away when the wolf attacks?

The difference, I think, is the gate we’ve used to enter the sheepfold. Have we really come in through Jesus?