Jesus Fills Us in Our Need

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Throughout all of human history we have struggled to meet God.  We may meet people in our lives who think that God, religion, Christianity, perhaps faith in general is for the weak-minded and simple among us.  There are many valid reasons that people feel that way.  Upon first glance, there are many “religious” people who have rigid beliefs of “it’s us versus them”.  At second and third glance; many terrible and destructive things have happened with “religious people” placing the Stamp of God upon hateful and destructive actions.  If I seem sympathetic – I’m not; if I seem understanding – I am!  I was one of “those people” who for so many years had a dismissive, hateful, negative attitude towards religious people for what I believed religion was all about.  And given where I live, it was directly towards the only religion I had much of an awareness of at the time – Christianity.  I could never imagine myself a Christian from all the “poor examples” I had met in my life.

But I will be the first to admit that I had only a vague understanding of what it meant to be a Christian then.  I did not want or feel I needed to understand anything more than I did to dismiss religious people altogether.  My ignorance was bliss for me then too, so I understand why it seems that this attitude and mentality doesn’t seem to move much.  I was so arrogant and proud that I could not be moved on the subject.  Then I met some real Christians; men and women who meekly and humbly tried their best and when I got to know them, I came to see they were ordinary folk trying to be the best people they could be.  I realized my preconceived ideas needed to be challenged and my understanding needed to be deepened.  While dedicated Christian Disciples showed me what a Christian really was and what we are meant to be, I am also aware that God gave me the grace of an open heart to see it in the first place.

It was through Jesus and His Disciples (these good Christians I came to know), that I really came to meet God through His Son, Jesus.  I didn’t realize I was hungry for the food that Jesus offered, but when I came to realize – Jesus gave me what I needed.  Jesus filled me in my need.

Throughout human history, so many of us haven’t been aware of the hunger and need we have and our hearts remained closed to what Jesus has to offer.  I speak about this from experience!  I was for a very long time one of those people.  Jesus reached me…He gave Himself for me…He brought me in love…to Him.  

I pray daily now, for those who were like me; who may see me and criticize me for being one of these weak-minded hypocrites.  I have my moments still where I am these things; the difference now is that each criticism that is made of me for this is an occasion I am reminded I need to draw closer once again to the Lord who loves me!

Friends, let us consider how Jesus fills us in our own need.  Let us consider how we come to the Lord for loving, healing, growth, guidance.  Let us consider what we are given when we do.

Lord, I’m Not Worthy to Have You Come to Me…

Healing Centurion's Servant

Honesty and humility are two of the most important ingredients in our growing in our faith.  In today’s Gospel, the centurion (who would not have been a likely follower of Jesus) asks for the Lord’s help.  When Jesus suggests He will come and heal his servant; the centurion responds with the words we remember in perpetuity: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed!”  A form of this statement has become our humble (and hopefully) honest confession before receiving Holy Communion – a recognition that we too are not worthy to have the Lord come to us as He does at Mass and as we receive Him whole and entire, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.

We need to try to be honest with ourselves; admit where and when and how we go wrong, but also where and when and how we are weak.  Honesty also means that we recognize that despite our sins and weaknesses, we are deeply loved by God and we cannot afford to get mired in any way in sin.  I have had many conversations with people who misunderstand Catholic Christians as “too focused on sin” and that may be because there are some of us who come across that way – all we talk about is what is wrong with the world and people.  That cannot be an honest assessment of the world we live in, because there are many people (I mean them every day) who are trying hard and trying their very best.  This is NOT Sodom & Gomorrah, where we were hard-pressed to find even a few good people; good people are everywhere!  If we have a hard time seeing that, we need to be honest about that.

We need to be humble as well; our faith, being Catholic Christians, is not about being part of an exclusive club.  It’s about recognizing a loving God who has given us all that we need to follow Him and then we need to spend our lives “humbly walking with the Lord”.  We humble ourselves when we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; we humble ourselves when we do our very best and don’t expect anything for it in return; we humble ourselves when we consider God and others always and everywhere before ourselves AND we humble ourselves when we profess the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the words and I shall be healed.”

Happy(Catholic Christian) New Year

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As Christians, we celebrate the New Year twice!  Of course, there’s the new year that we celebrate on January 1st, but TODAY, the First Sunday of Advent marks a new year for us as well.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably given up on making New Year’s Resolutions because so often we stop making them to avoid breaking them!  I also stopped making them on that one day of the year, because I found it was important to my life as a Christian to make resolutions all the time throughout my life.  IT IS important to capitalize  on occasions and events, especially those that beget reflection and contemplating life.  Maybe for some of us, like me – January 1st has lost that appeal.  For us Catholic Christians (and many other Christians who celebrate Advent too) we ought to take this very first day of the New Year in the liturgical year as an opportunity to make some Christian resolutions.  

Christian resolutions might include to find ways to be more committed to our Christian lives; a resolution to be a better Christian this year than we already are.  Maybe to try a new form of prayer that we live in faith and hope will deepen our relationship with Jesus.  Maybe to be cognizant of our time and finding a way to give ever so slightly more time (or a lot more time if we can) to helping others or being with loved ones and those in need.  Giving money and material things are very important of course, but in the world we all live in with lives seeming busier and busier – time is of the essence.  As a family, we might consider a way we could pray together in an engaging and meaningful way.  As a family, we might begin the “New Advent Year” by coming up with a way to put together a Christmas hamper to give to another family in need.  Our Advent Resolution might also be to really take time to consider how we might become more free to live and give ourselves as Christians in a world that like it or not, needs the strong and solid Christian witness now more than ever.

As you can see, I am only reaching the tip of the iceberg here.

I might also suggest that there is a big difference between worldly resolutions and Christian ones.  It’s been my own experience that when we fail, the world isn’t always friendly to these failures.  How many of us have made the New Year’s resolution to “get fit” and then find things get in the way of that and yet we’ve got this gym membership we’re paying dearly for all year?  Or we sign up to play a sport and then we find it impossible to make it?  The difference is that our Lord is a Lord of encouragement and love.  We celebrate the Son of God coming into the world when we, as a People of God got things so completely wrong, and He brought us back again.  And He keeps bringing us back.  Advent is a time that most of our parishes have Reconciliation Services (I spend a lot of time in Advent & Lent going to many of those parishes), with many priests hearing many confessions.  I often offer to people I meet in the confessional this thought or perspective: Jesus calls us to “be perfect as My Heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48)” but then in His deep love for us, gives us the “gift” of confession when we’ve fallen short.  Perfection is still and always our goal and the desired end for a Christian, but we have an understanding God who loves us despite our failings, falls, shortcomings, weakness – He loves us no matter what and encourages us to just pick ourselves up and keep trying.

Broken “resolutions” are just a sign we need to keep working at it; joyful and determined to be the best Christians we can be.  As we begin this season of Advent, let’s all make the commitment to make more of an effort to be the people our Lord and God created us to be; if each of us do that one more little thing: the world will be transformed by it.

A short reflection based on Fr. Chris’ homily given at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish on the First Sunday of Advent.

If You Were on Trial for Being Christian: Would You Be Convicted?

“If you were charged today with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

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I remember being struck by this question; the first time I heard it phrased this way was reading a brief biography of former US President Jimmy Carter and a question which guided the course of his life and the importance of his Christian faith in his life.  It’s a good and important question for us all to consider.  Would there be the evidence to convict us, if we were charged with being Christian? Sadly, there are many days that I think that there would not be the evidence to convict me of being Christian.  So, if you can answer this question as I do sometimes, “there’s not enough evidence…” then what are we doing about it?  The great thing about being Christian is that we are a reconciled people and we know by faith the Lord gives us each day as another chance to get it right – if we try!

We don’t wait for another time or another day to try.  When I was beginning to seriously discern my own vocation to the priesthood, I was really dragging my heels on making a decision.  I thought about continuing to just live my life with comfort and complacency, retiring at 52 from my career at Mississauga Transit and maybe then, the priesthood.  It was my mother, from her hospital bed who spoke to me as Jesus does in today’s Gospel.  “Yeah, you can wait, but should you?  Don’t live your life with regret for not having done what you’re meant to do.”  She was less than a week away from her own death at 52.  That was perhaps one of the greatest wake-up calls I’d ever be given, and something I think of to this very day.

I begin my own day in prayer, asking God to give me the courage, strength and insight to see where and how I can give witness to being a Christian today, each and every day and then I try.  While I convict myself of the times I’m not much of a Christian – every day, every moment of the day is a time to begin again.!

And there must be a sense of urgency and desire to want to begin again.  There must!  Failure to have been a Christian cannot be the cause for us not to try!  We cannot shrink away from trying our best always.  Today’s Gospel offers us this to reflect upon.  What are we doing with the gifts we’ve been given?  Are we storing them up and waiting for some future time?  Are we waiting for a “tomorrow” that may never come?  Are we waiting for things to get better, brighter, and more conducive to what we want of the world?  And if so, what would happen if today were our last day in this world?  Would we have done what we’ve been called to do…or would we regret that we hadn’t?

Christians Need to Be Fighters!

Sunday Reflection on the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

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Christians need to be fighters.  A fighter is someone who despite hardships, difficulties and sometimes obstacles; someone who may suffer along the way – does not give up and stays the course – fights the fight.  Fighting is not always a bad word!  A bully is not a fighter, described in this way.  A risk-taker is not a fighter described in this way.  Christians need to be fighters and this is a value and character trait which is becoming more obsolete and unfortunately less a descriptive of the Christian – but as Christians, we need to ask for the grace; the courage and strength to restore the “fight” in us.  If we think of the early Christians, they were fighters though they may have been prisoners and may have ended up dying horrible and brutal deaths at the hand of oppressors and tyrants.  A characteristic which contributed to their greatness as Disciples was perseverance; perseverance is a characteristic important and admired in Christian Disciples.  And why persevere?  As Christians, we are people of hope: that no matter what seems to be taking place around us, God is with us, will deliver us and has the Final Word!

Perseverance is also a common thread and part of the account of each one of our readings, this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Moses and the people persevere; Moses interceding, the people depending on God.  St. Paul calls upon Timothy to persevere in his ministry and Jesus reiterates the importance of perseverance in the parable of the unjust judge; who grants what is asked because he is moved by the persistence of the one who asks.

We too, as the Christian Disciples of today are called to persevere.  We are called to know our faith; to take an  proactive role in learning and growing in what it means to be a Catholic Christian and to live by these principles.  We are called to understand why living by these principles are important, why they matter and this often grows stronger in things we struggle with and how we suffer, in what we endure and how we handle difficulties.  We even and often can learn a great deal from our personal failures and sometimes our colossal failures at being good Disciples.  From our sins, from our weaknesses, from where we fall short – if we begin to see why these things happen, we do what Christians do: pick ourselves up and continue to soldier on.  We fight.  We fight the good fight, as St. Paul says.  And let us consider St. Paul’s words, perhaps words remembered as prayer from 1 Timothy chapter 6: “But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.”

Lord, Show Us the Way…

I offer a reflection on a beautiful experience I had today, a blessing of my ministry as Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Toronto.  We held our first “Road to Emmaus Hiking Retreat” today.  It was a beautiful day where 23 men hiked the Bruce Trail, through the Cataract in Caledon; college and university men, men living out their vocation already, seminarians and men discerning.

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The Lord was with us as we began our Hiking Retreat early this Saturday morning.  Not only was the Lord with us as we prayed and asked for the Holy Spirit to be present throughout the day, but had blessed us with a gorgeous day for walking the Bruce Trail, by the Credit River, to the Cataract Falls amid the beauty of the autumn colours with the sun gleaming through the trees.  Just over twenty of us; men in college and university, men discerning God’s plan for them in their lives, seminarians, Fr. Ryan Alemão, Joe Di Fonzo and myself prepared ourselves ahead of time for this walk.

Joe Di Fonzo is the Program Coordinator at the Office of Vocations.  He has been instrumental for the past nearly ten years in the office in planning of retreats for young men.  He facilitated our high school retreats that helped young men in high school see God’s love for them and call them to service in Christ.  He is eminently qualified for this task, as a retired Catholic High School teacher of more than thirty years.

This is a new project.  A couple of years ago, Joe and I began discussing the decline we were seeing in those who were coming to the high school retreat and while we have run and will continue to host Discernment Retreats, we have been looking for new ideas to reach young men – an important part of the work we do at the Office of Vocations.  Happily, the decline in part is due to many good retreats and engagements for young people elsewhere; youth and young adult ministries and great ways Catholic Christians are being nourished.  The Office of Vocations never wants to compete with this – it’s not our mission.  The mission of our office isn’t simply to draw in more priests for the Church (that is my own priority) but to provide opportunities and encounters to help people desire holiness.  When we are on the road to living the universal call to holiness, it’s then that we will hear the Lord call us to our particular and unique vocation, whatever that may be.

Joe and I have both come to see the value in doing “guy things” with guys and Joe has run with this from there.

It was a great day of walking through the woods, encountering God in His created world, hearing inspiring reflections from Jeremy Zou, Sean Jacob and Cole Powers, three of our seminarians and having Marko Busic and Matthew Tulio share their own stories and experiences as seminarians, but more importantly as Christian men as they helped lead the retreat and journey the men who joined us.  Fr. Ryan and I concluded the day of reflection and retreat with Holy Mass.

My hope is that everyone received what the Lord intended for them.  He certainly filled my heart with joy and re-energized me in my own life.  He gave me a sense of continuing on my own journey and to appreciate everything I am encountering along the way and to continue to be sensitive to the beauty around me and not just looking for what’s to come at the end of it all (although that’s an even greater glory).  Today I appreciated the time I had to be with others, to be with the Lord in all of His magnificent beauty.  The Lord revealed to me that I need to continue to be inspired, as I was, and am by the people I am blessed to work with – the seminarians, the priests, my staff, and the people who I meet each and every day.  I journeyed and continue to journey with each of the five seminarians who helped to lead this retreat and I received so much more from them then I can imagine they could receive from me.  I’m sure that I’ve been a help to them but they truly inspire me!

I hope and pray we all receive what the Lord wants for us to receive.  We were in the midst of so many people out enjoying the day.  As a priest and a Catholic Christian man, I was immensely proud of the group of men who witnessed to Jesus Christ amid the people and places we all share.  Each and every man who came and joined us today was an inspiration in a world that needs to be inspired!

Taking Up the Cross for Others

Taking Others' Crosses

We might be considering in our personal reflections of today’s Gospel – the personal crosses we bear and take the time to “configure” those crosses to the Cross of our Lord: a worthy exercise to be certain and most definitely a part of the Christian experience.  We might even be prepared at this point to “weather” the comments from people who ridicule us for this as the “absurdity” of Christianity that we create for ourselves a way to put on a happy face about suffering in this life, but delude ourselves.

Something worthy of consideration today might be to ask ourselves: “am I prepared to see today’s Gospel in light of the crosses I bear in serving others”?  Denying ourselves – taking up our cross – following Jesus.  These are all important parts of the Christian life of service too.  In serving others if we are truly servants, there will always be a growing commitment to self-denial.  True Christian service cannot be seen as a part-time desire, it requires a certain part of ourselves that will always bring about the tension of our own desires.  Of course we need to take care of ourselves too – this is important – but we need to be constantly seeking and searching for ways and places to serve others whom the Lord has put in the path of our Christian vocation.  This is going to require self-denial.  Sometimes putting the needs of others before our own needs.  Often being more generous with our time.  Often being more generous with our availability.  Often with a greater sense of awareness and focus on the needs others present to us.

The crosses we may bear might at first glance seem self-evident; but I would suggest that this might be the discomfort of self-denial.  It’s in helping others carry their crosses sometimes, or carrying the cross of being there for others that are the crosses we bear in service.  And it’s those crosses that we must consider – always knowing that as heavy as they may seem sometimes; our Lord is carrying the heaviest part (that person’s and your) Cross Himself.

Finally, we need to remember for every helping action we take, every moment we give, every kindness we extend, everything that we do – we do for the Glory of God and in the Name of Jesus Christ!  Always and without exception.  This may not be something that we talk about or even need to say.  “They will know we are Christians by our love…” was the title of a song I recall from my childhood.  This too often is the truth of today’s Gospel.

What Do You See When You Look in a Mirror?

Ash Wednesday

How many of us kept the ashes we received at Mass today on our forehead?  How many of us wiped them off after Mass and as we headed back home or work?  How many of us wore them as a source of pride?  Certainly if the Cross was pronounced or stark, it would be a talking point for some.

Now how many of us felt a little perplexed to ask what should we do, in light of today’s Gospel?  Jesus tells us not to make a spectacle of our faith and make a show of it – INSTEAD, we should “pray in our room and in secret”.  Have we got it all wrong in keeping our ashes?

I think it’s how we wear those ashes that matter, my friends.  If we wear them “as a source of pride” or ANYONE around us can see a contradiction between the ashes we carry and the person behind them…we’ve got work to do.  I think most of us humbly begin Lent recognizing that we have work to do anyway.  When we look in a mirror, are we reminded of what those ashes signify?  That we are mortal and that our lives, while they are of great value and matter greatly to the Lord our God and surely to many other people too – are more than the earthen vessel (our bodies) which contain our immortal souls.  Is what “moves” us to action a recognition of a need to be like Christ?  Or are we comfortable to be inactive; living for ourselves, for comfort, for today, for the lesser things in life – in which case, we do the world a disservice wearing ashes or calling ourselves God-loving, God-fearing people.

Friends, if and ONLY IF we are prepared to wear our ashes as a sign of a new beginning today, then we can wear them in the Joy of Christ who shall be ever closer to us through these forty days ahead.  May God bless you!

Are We Becoming the Best Christians We Can Be?

Jesus Being Baptized

Today’s Gospel gave me occasion to reflect once again upon two contrasting periods of my own life; my youth and young adulthood and my middle adulthood and conversion.  As a boy, a teen and a young man I was lost and without a “compass” in my life.  Surely now I know the constant anger I carried with me was one born of this sense of loss without hope.  In that period of life, I most definitely did not “know” or have Jesus Christ in my life, and while much of the reason for that was my own anger, ignorance and stubbornness (walls the Lord tore down and continues to in my life); it was also due to the very bad example of Christians in my life at those times.  I had them, and while it might at times seem “just” to name names, I know the Lord who brought me to conversion can do so with those who “in the name of Christ” gave me the sense I never wanted to be a Christian.

The other period was my slow-moving and wonderful conversion of heart.  Still skeptical, resistant, hard-headed in many ways – I was open enough to let the Lord in!  It was also very much the amazing example of generous and devout Christians who showed me the joy my life could be about, not living for myself but for the Lord and for others.  They didn’t merely talk about it, they lived it.  They admitted their imperfections but didn’t live in sin.  They knew they were sinners, but well aware of God’s love for them.  They made Jesus Christ and His Church attractive and I was captivated for several years before I actually “made the plunge” and asked to become a Catholic Christian myself.  That was 16 years ago now, and while I struggle to be a better Christian day by day; it’s a joyful struggle.  It’s joyful because I am filled with hope now.  Hope that God truly does deliver on His Promise.  Joyful because I too know that despite my sins and weaknesses (and I have many) I am a loved sinner.

Today’s Gospel highlights for me the importance of being a good Christian!  It gave me cause to reflect (from my own life experience) on what could happen to a person when we aren’t a good witness and while bad examples contributed to keeping me away from God for many years; I am not resenting or unforgiving towards those people.  Instead I pray for them.  I pray that if they’re alive or if they are gone, that Jesus won them back.  In my own conversion story, they gave me cause to forgive and the grace when I did so.

The other part of this story is that I don’t reflect back on that time of my life now and point a finger at those people without accepting that it is very possible there are people in my life now who did not see the best example of a Christian in me.  There’s a possibility that I have been that bad example too, and while I might not even be aware of who those people are; I pray they have found Jesus sadly, without my help and I pray that if I were to come to know them I would have the courage and strength to ask forgiveness.  This morning, as we consider God’s love and mercy expressed in the readings, most especially the Gospel – can we have the strength to commit ourselves today and each day to being the best Christians we can be?

Are We Reaching Out to the Scattered?

Jesus Gets the Lost Sheep

I really love today’s Gospel, because I often reflect upon being one of those sheep who went astray and the Lord in His Great Love (with better things to do and better people to save) chose to come and get me.  I also know He did so through some really great people!  While I think about this often (as you probably notice if you’ve read a few of my reflections) I also know I’ve got a long way to go in being one of those people who is a true Instrument of the Lord in bringing others back.

It’s hard to let go of the security we have and find in our faith.  As a priest, I am called upon by the Lord to emulate Him as Shepherd.  It is my role and duty to leave the 99 and go find the one and yet it’s very easy to preach to the choir.  We priests can find ourselves so busy that we stay in our churches, among the gathered and don’t find the time to reach out to the scattered.  This is where we are not doing our jobs unless we empower others to take care of the gathered, as they themselves are gathered and then empower even more to come and help us reach the scattered.

I think of my first parish assignment, at St. Patrick’s in Markham.  I remember being told by some of my mentors and priest friends that I should not spend an inordinate amount of time in the schools, that what I had a passion for as a seminarian was not my job as a priest.  I took it to heart that too much time in the schools might be self-serving and that I should consider my place in celebrating the Sacraments inside the parish.  I took this to prayer and really felt that the Lord showed me it was not selfish or self-serving and I don’t recall a time I neglected to show up for the parish sacraments, and I did more in our feeder schools than I did as a seminarian.  I don’t share this to make a point about me, but rather to say that we need to rely on the Lord in this way.  For the many (many) things the Lord needs to continue to reveal to me, one thing He has already shown me is the importance of going out in search of the “scattered”.  I spent a lot of time in the schools as a parish priest, and I know as many of us do that there are a large number of students, just as their parents have stopped coming to Church – have very limited ways of knowing the love and mercy of God and I saw in the questions of these kids a thirst for something that was not mine to decide to give or not give.  The Word of God, the Good News of Jesus Christ is not meant for who we decide it should be for – only the worthy.  It is for all.  I am a recipient of that, when I was far-scattered, I am truly thankful the Lord came to me!