Connecting with the Holy Family through our “holy” families

Fr. Chris Lemieux’s Homily at St. Patrick’s Parish, Markham; the Feast of the Holy Family (December 29, 2013): If you’ve been following the homilies or talks that have been given by Pope Francis, you’ve probably already heard this story he shared; but I think it a good one to share again on the feast of the Holy Family. As a child the pope heard a story of another family.
A grandfather, suffering from Parkinson’s would drop food on the dining room table, and sometimes smear it on his face when he ate. His son considered this absolutely disgusting. And so, one day he bought a small table and set it off to the side of the dining room so the grandfather would eat, make his mess and not disturb the rest of the family.

Sometime later, as the Pope tells it, the son came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. “What are you making?” he asked his son. “A table,” the son replies. “Why?” the father asks. “It’s for you, Dad, when you get old like grandpa, I am going to give you a table.” Ever since that day, the grandpa was given a prominent seat at the dining table and all the help he needed in eating by his son and daughter-in-law.
The Pope admits that reflection upon this story has done him a lot of good in his own life; it has helped him to remember his own priorities. Pope Francis puts it this way: “Grandparents are a treasure; often old age isn’t pretty. There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance. A society or community that does not value, respect and care for its elderly members doesn’t have a future because it has no memory, it’s lost its memory.”

I think this story and the pope’s reflection on it illustrate well what’s expressed in our first reading today; that, the manner in which we treat our parents is the manner in which we too one day hope to be treated by our children. It speaks of the value we must place upon mutual respect and love between children and parents within a family. I think what strikes me, as strikes many people about our Holy Father is just how well he relates to the common person, to you and to me. This ideology, the concept of treating everyone with great dignity is one that the Church has always taught and espoused, but by using common stories; stories that many of us can completely relate to and have maybe even experienced within our families; we are able to deepen our commitment to the relationships which begin in our families.

Surely, it’s not a surprise to anyone that family is essential to our faith. We all need to be reminded of this from time to time and of course I mean myself too. Often times the greatest struggles that we have in our lives come from within our family, the relationships we have with various members of our family.
If we’re not talking with someone, or we feel betrayed by a member of our family, or we have been hurt or abused by a family member – no matter how strong-minded or independent we are – this deeply affects at our core; it affects who we are as people.

As you’ve heard me say before, and I say again; Scripture assures us that even the Holy Family had their problems, and although they might not be the same as our own; they are a model for us by how they stuck together, how they remain committed to each other in good times and bad times and how they gave of themselves totally for each other. They are models of self-giving love that often begins for us as part of a family.
The Church tells us that the domestic church, in other words, the family is a source of our sanctification, and again in other words, they are the instrument or means of how we become holy. This idea means a lot more to me than what it once did. It’s not as simple as mom or grandma teaching us how to pray the Rosary; although that’s a beautiful thing. It’s not simply praying or going to confession with dad, although another very excellent way we can grow in holiness. What’s more than this is how we must start with ourselves; mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister, son, daughter…we must start with ourselves and be generous and committed in the way we give love to others no matter what’s going on in our lives right now. We grow in holiness when we forgive generously – forgiving a family member who has hurt us, even hurt us deeply. My friends, they may not deserve that forgiveness but as Christians if we only forgive those who deserve it; I can assure God’s will for us or the world will never be done. It’s only when we are generous in our forgiveness that we are then able to be generous in love.

It’s not easy, and it’s certainly a challenge – but it’s the challenge of living and being a Christian that draws each and every one of us back here each week; needing to recharge and regenerate our faith; connecting with the Lord our God. The total and unlimited love we receive and know from God will sustain us in this challenge. How do I know? I know it because I lived it. As you’ve heard me say many times before I came from a family with lots of hurt, lots of bitterness, lots of people not talking to each other. I was a product of my environment, and I carried that bitterness, hurt and pain with me into my adult life. Faith in Jesus Christ, His Word, and a faith in the deep love God has for me, this gave me the strength to change my attitude towards my family members. Nothing else could be guaranteed to me; none of us are guaranteed that our family members or anyone else will accept our forgiveness or love – but that’s not why we do it.

I know this challenge can be hard; and for me it has taken a lot of confession, a lot of grace to be forgiven by God to be able to forgive and heal broken relationships. Sometimes we warm the hearts of others and healthy relationships begin and are nurtured within our families. But sometimes our love will be refused and all we can do is pray for them and keep an open mind and heart waiting for them; but my friends, if we wait around for others to forgive or love – nothing is likely to happen, we will not heal ourselves or the relationships we have with others either.

Love should always be at the centre of our relationships and most especially our family. Many parents I know become frustrated because their children distance themselves from their parents at a certain age; usually as teens. This is natural as young people struggle to find and seek their independence, which doesn’t mean they love their parents less, even if they don’t want to get kissed by mom in front of the school as they are being dropped off. At the same time, I strongly encourage young people whom I talk to, express love somehow, in some way to your parents, because parents want to know their children love them. It means so much to them to know this, even if they can’t express it well.

We all have our own idea of what the Holy Family looks like. Various movies portray them in different and interesting ways but there is no one who would convey the Holy Family as a family that didn’t love and express that love with each other. I’m sure Joseph knew Jesus and Mary loved him deeply. I’m sure Mary knew her Son and husband loved her and I’m most definitely sure that Jesus Christ knew His Holy Parents loved Him. My friends, on this Feast of the Holy Family; in honour of Jesus, Mary and Joseph; let’s all consider the relationships we have with others, most especially our family and let us consider how we can strengthen those relationships. If we need to forgive or seek forgiveness let us ask the Lord for strength to do that. If we need to be more expressive with our love in words or deed, let us ask the Lord for courage to do that.

As many of you know, this weekend is my last weekend here at St. Patrick’s as I will be leaving here to begin my work and ministry in the Vocations Office for the archdiocese. I’ve had a year and a half here at St. Pat’s which is really such a short time to spend as part of this community; this family. I will take a lot of love with me from here, and made many good and lasting friendships. This parish and this community will always have a very special place in my heart. Over the last six weeks since announcing my hastened departure, many of you have expressed your heart-warming sentiments to me, and of how much I will be missed here. You have made me feel very loved and welcomed from the very first time I stood at this ambo and altar. It’s a great blessing as a priest to find love from the people we serve, and I have received an abundance of this blessing. I want to thank you. I want to thank you for making this first assignment as a priest such a wonderful and amazing experience. I want to say thank you especially to our young people. Our young people have so much to offer us, our community, our faith community, the world we live in. I don’t see that our young people are lost or losing their faith or that they see God or faith is irrelevant to them; they take their lead from us and how we stay strong in our faith. But on the contrary, the faith is very much alive in our young people and I see that ever so much present in the schools and the parish here. My role in vocations work will allow me to help our young people on a larger scale, committing myself to assisting them to discern what the Lord is calling them to do with their lives. I’d like to offer some advice to our young people, but really every one of us can benefit from hearing this is this:

First of all, believe in God, in this world where many things are uncertain, that God loves you and wants you to love him and others that you are blessed to have in your life; that is certain.

Believe in yourself; seeing your own giftedness and the contribution you can and will make if you believe in yourself is the greatest gift you can or will receive and give in this life. Always fill your life with love, and as I mentioned throughout my homily here today; the way to greater love is through the courage and strength to forgive.

And always be confident that God has a great plan for you; a plan that He will reveal to you in many ways and never be afraid to let others help you; your family, your community of faith; the family you live with and the family you worship with will help you to see that glorious plan.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us give thanks for the gift of family that our faith gives us, modelled on the Holy Family and let us give thanks for the gift we are to each other. And know that God loves you all, and so do I. May God bless you.

We Are Heralds of the Good News in the World!

Fr Chris Lemieux’s Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent [Sunday December 15, 2013]; at St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham:  Where have
all the prophets gone?  Why are there no more prophets in the world?  This is one
of the questions I’ve been asked by the students, maybe some of the San Lorenzo or St. Julia students here with us today. How come we don’t have Isaiahs, Moseses, Jeremiahs running around among us anymore?  How come we don’t have John the Baptists here anymore?  Well, what I tell the young people when they ask this question is something that might be news to you too, because as I try to, I do a little research before I answer some of those questions.  We have prophets, but prophecy is assumed by Jesus Christ, and when we are baptized, and receive the sacraments, in the way we become intimately connected with Jesus, like Him we become prophets too.  It’s our job to proclaim the Gospel and evangelize, although that task may lay dormant in us; it is there.  Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, that
is, God’s very self, made man.  So what He has to say, what’s contained in this book is everything; prophecy could say no more.  But even if there was a John the Baptist in our midst, would we recognize him?  we are the prophets, the John the Baptist; we are supposed to be the ones who prepare the way for the Lord, and this is something that we celebrate and reflect on a little more deeply in the Advent season.  We are to be instruments of Christ, we are to be the precursors, the ones who prepare the way for others to draw closer to Christ as well.  One of the things though that all of us should ponder is how the times we live in, and the times recorded for us in Scripture, though different share important similarities.  In Isaiah, the people at the time were being oppressed by the Babylonians.  In the Gospel times only centuries later, the Romans were oppressing the people.  So another question is who oppresses us today?  Is it our careers and the hours that we have to work?  Is it our employers?  Is it consumerism?  Materialism?  Well, all of these things are certainly making a contribution to what oppress us, and perhaps this is more difficult to pinpoint for all of us because it might be different for each of us.  If our particular situation forces us to have to work a lot just to make ends meet, then we are often oppressed by capitalism and the employment structure.  But if we are a little better off, we can be oppressed by materialism and consumerism.  There is however a constant theme; that what was prophesied and made perfect in the Gospel was this; our faith and the trust we have in that faith; the extent in which we are willing to trust God is what will set us free; not the changing of our circumstances.  This is what Pope Francis implores us to do in his letter to us, his Exhortation.  In what he calls “the joy of the Gospel”, he calls us to be full of Christian joy, a joy that lasts.  He comments on how throughout his life he has seen the greatest joy in the people who have the least, people who by all accounts we might judge to be oppressed.  He illustrates how in fact it is those among us who seemed to be more oppressed, actually might have the greatest freedom and live in joy through their faith.  As I watched a biography just the other day on Nelson Mandela, this resonated with me once again.  Unjustly imprisoned, this man realized that he was oppressed by the conditions and elements of the world that he lived in, but he chose to allow his heart to be free, in this way, Nelson Mandela lived in full awareness of what God had given him; the freedom to love and to choose love.  And so he did, and so by doing so this man changed the course of history.  My brothers and sisters, we need to seek the greatest possible awareness of how we live, and in particular how we live our faith.  The Gospel never exists in a vacuum and just as John the Baptist teaches us by his seeking and striving to discover the truth about Jesus; we too must realize that it’s in continuing to
follow Christ and live by faith that we too will find the greatest joy; the joy of the Gospel; the Gospel message we rejoice in on this Gaudete Sunday.  And as we continue to work on finding that freedom for ourselves, and helping each other with this task – let us remember that we are the prophets, the heralds of the Good News for all the world.

A Brand New Day for Us!

Fr Chris Lemieux’s Homily for the First Sunday of Advent [Sunday December 1, 2013]; at St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham:   One of the many things I will miss when I leave parish ministry in four weeks are the questions which I was asked by the students at the schools. These questions kept me real in my faith as I had to think about faith from the perspective of the young people who asked these questions; often tough questions. And they deserved to have the answer to the questions so I spent some time seeking to answer their questions through the Youth Blog here at St. Pat’s [and now I begin another Blog experience].  I’ve learned as much as I’ve shared in doing that.

There are many things which we just take for granted, or glance over and I know that in their asking me questions I found my own faith challenged in many ways – and that’s a good thing!

Well, what does all of this have to do with Advent? What does that have to do with me?  In our Gospel today, Jesus mentions the Flood and brings it into the context of the people of the time; the people He reaches out to.  He does not want anyone to think the account of the Flood or Noah is irrelevant, an insignificant event in time; something that any of us should become indifferent to.

My friends, in the questions that were asked of me in the classroom, more often than you might imagine, young people ask about the Old Testament.  They also ask why should we have Advent if Jesus already came?  Or what does it mean to expect or await Jesus again this way?  Sometimes in our haste to move on, or to sooth and ease their minds, we tell them that God’s not like the God we experience or hear of in the Old Testament, or that the people of the Old Testament got it wrong, when nothing could be further from the truth.  Sometimes we make the mistake of categorizing God of the Old Testament as a vengeful, angry, jealous God and then a different God is revealed to us in the New Testament.

God is one for all time, always a God of love but we have been challenged throughout history to see that love for what it is and always was.  God reveals that love fully and completely through the Son, the Messiah, Jesus.  He has encouraged all of us throughout all of human history with the same message: Keep awake!  Be alert!

This is what Advent helps us with.  Advent is a new beginning.  Advent defined means a coming, an arrival.  Of course, in a visible, tangible way, in a way which enlivens our Christian faith; we await the coming and arrival of the Christ child, the holy infant in Bethlehem. Advent needs to be a time when we reflect on our faith and how we live that out.  It is for each one of us a time we are invited by God to “go deeper” in that faith. Going back to the flood for a moment, if we recall that account in Genesis, what many of us recall are the vivid concepts of the death, destruction, of God “wiping out most of the world” rather than how Noah and all creation remaining entered into a brand new experience, where evil and sin had been wiped away. Though Noah and his family remained part of humanity with original sin, still capable and likely to sin; they were given the chance to begin again.  We must begin Advent with a fresh new perspective; one that draws the greatest lessons from the Gospels and the Old Testament. A perspective that considers the saving and healing powers of the sacrament; baptism which was for all of us our first Advent; the Eucharist which is in itself an Advent celebration as we await the coming of the Lord with joyful expectation and Confession which prepares our hearts and minds for that joy.

The account of the flood like every word of God and proclaimed so often in the Gospels speaks of an ever-patient God, a God of second and third and fourth chances. It’s of less importance to God that we sin, and more that we pick ourselves up and keep trying to become better people day by day.

And central to that is the Eucharist.  Next to the Eucharist is confession; the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In Advent, like Lent we see purple in our liturgy because we stress and emphasize confession; our need for forgiveness because we are only free to love when we are forgiven.  What’s given to us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation is what’s given to us in Advent – a new beginning. My friends, Advent is a time to change, to pause, to reflect on our lives and to amend our ways.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s anyone here who doesn’t need that – I know I sure do.  Our Gospel calls us to keep awake!  To be ready!  The Lord has been reaching out to each one of us, He has and He is!  Our readiness can only be found in our self-awareness; our ongoing desire to become more aware of who we are with our strengths and weaknesses.  It is who we are as Catholics; sinners who are aware and acknowledge we are sinners, but loved sinners all the same.  We should not be morbid or morose about that.  We should not ever beat ourselves up for our sins – but we should drop them off in confession, and allow the Lord’s absolution to free us so we can get on with the joyful and best part of being a Christian; rejoicing in the Lord; to go rejoicing in the house of the Lord as our psalm today says.  Let us be like the children of our faith community who ask questions, seeking answers, who want to know their faith by the questions they ask, and continue to grow as a community and as important members of this Christian community; approaching and embracing this Advent season as a season of new beginning.  The Lord comes deeper into our midst, the more we allow Him to.  Let us all unite ourselves today in our commitment to that for ourselves, in our families and to each other.  May God bless you.

An inquiring student asks: In the story of Moses, if God wants the slaves to be freed, why does he make the king stubborn?

There’s a couple of really good things this story makes us think about.  First, to answer your question; right from the beginning if we think of God like a puppet master controlling humans like puppets, controlling our actions – that would be a wrong way to look at God.  He gives each one of us personal freedom, and that is a gift.  We’ve always had it; that’s why some of us choose to do good and some of us don’t.  That’s why some of us choose to believe in God, and some of us don’t.  God doesn’t make us love Him.  Could He?  Yeah, He’s all powerful so I guess He could.  Just like He could make Pharaoh release the slaves – but that would be an abuse of His power because it would be taking away Pharaoh’s freedom.  Even if Pharaoh doesn’t know or love God, God still created Him and so God uses Moses as His instrument to show Pharaoh that Moses who could have been really powerful like Pharaoh with worldly power chose to give His life for God and God’s people.  Pharaoh hated Moses and was spiteful, but eventually He let go of the slaves but not really because read on in that story and see how it ends.

Another good thing to think about here is how we see God and how we pray.  If we pray for God to make us a better person, or make someone like us – these prayers aren’t going to help us a lot and really we’re going to get frustrated and think God isn’t helping us.  We have to work at being better people, and God will help us with many parts of that.  If we ask God to open our hearts to love more, He will.  If we ask God to show us the way to live a better life, He will.  But all the same, we shouldn’t pray that God should make someone like us, because He would have to take away the freedom of that person and control them like a robot.  God won’t do that because it’s an abuse of His power.  What we do, is we continue to love as much as we can, we continue to try to be the best people we can be, and then others will be drawn to us, and like us and others won’t.

When I became a Christian and then a priest, I changed my ways and had many, many more really good friends who would do a lot for me and me for them.  There were and are people who don’t bother with me too, because they feel I am going to judge them for not living a good and holy life.  The point I’m making is God gives us all freedom – it’s up to us what we do with it.  He gave Pharaoh freedom, he chose evil.  He gave Moses freedom, he chose good.

What We’re All About…

Ask Fr. Chris and My Answers, is something I began as a result of the hundreds of questions I received from the students at San Lorenzo Ruiz, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Julia Billiart Catholic elementary schools in Markham.  While I went evangelizing at the schools, I wanted the students’ questions to be a priority; little did I know how many good questions they had.  Now that my ministry focuses on vocations, I encourage all young people who follow this blog to ask the questions that concern God’s plan for you; but I am also committed to answering all questions.

My Sunday Homilies are of course the homilies I preach along the way.  There are many different ways to look at the Scriptures for the weekend, I try to give people something that will help them throughout the week.  My help comes from the prayer and time I spend reflecting in preparation of it.

Vocation Reflections are of course reflections I post every now and again to help encourage people to consider their own calling, and how God calls each of us in our own unique and special way.  I welcome dialogue here as with all areas of my blog.