Tuesday of Holy Week: Vocations Beget Vocations (Even Those Different in Kind)

Today the priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto gather with the people at our Cathedral Church in Toronto for the Chrism Mass today.  In the Mass, the oils used throughout the year in confirmation (chrism), anointing the sick and oil of catechumens is made sacred by our archbishop Cardinal Collins.  The priests, many of us who are returning to the church where we were ordained priests renew our priestly promises and commitments.  For me, a priest almost three years now it is a very powerful day of unity with my brother priests and the people who gather with us for this event.  This Mass, my intention will be for many more men to join us at the altar to serve in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and to continue to sustain and nurture the Lord’s Church through the priesthood.  I also reflect upon how important the presence of the laity is at this Mass, because it’s not merely the church of the priests; we are all disciples if in different ways.  Vocations need to support vocations, and we can’t compare or work as silos unto ourselves.  One of the sad realities for us to address is that we don’t work as hard as we should at doing this. We need to work harder.  We need to be more respectful of each other’s purpose expressed through our vocation.  One of the points I try to stress with men discerning priesthood is that the “power and authority” given to priests is not meant to be abused and if anyone has felt made inferior or undervalued by a priest then we haven’t used the gifts and graces God has given us well.  We need to be more aware of how we respond to our vocation, of how we exercise priestly ministry.  Like our Lord Himself, we are meant always and everywhere to be servants of others, and even in the roles of leadership we exercise through our priestly office, we can’t lord this over others or devalue them.  Many of our successive popes; St. John XXIII, Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have placed many women and men, laity in high places and offices in the church because they understand well everyone living their particular and unique vocations has a part to play in supporting and encouraging one another in theirs; those who are married give witness to the priests; priests and consecrated must work in harmony in building up the Church.  In this Holy Week and especially on this day when we renew our priestly commitment with the people whom we are collaborators in the vineyard with; may we all think of the many ways in which we can support and encourage one another in our vocational discernment today and every day.

Monday of Holy Week: Freedom of Choice, A Gift of Faith

Freedom of choice is one of the most important parts of a well-lived and true faith in God.  I have often heard it argued that our Lady and St. Joseph, even St. John the Baptist didn’t have true freedom of faith, but that never sat very well with me.  Even though Mary was given a unique and special grace from conception (Immaculate Conception) so God knew she wouldn’t fall in sin; Mary had the freedom to choose to sin or not to sin.  Anything less than total freedom makes a human being a robot, controlled in action by God.  That’s not a loving action (if God were to choose to control us in this way).  As heart-breaking as it is that some, many even will choose to ignore or turn away from God; God can’t take away freedom for that would not be true love.  Today’s Gospel is one that allows to pause and reflect upon the gift of love.  Mary loves Jesus and anoints His feet.  She is faulted for this by Judas Iscariot who believes she should serve & give to the poor instead.  His love is false because as is pointed out, he neither cares for the poor or the Lord.  He is exercising freedom for himself and not for others.  Love does not motivate him in his actions.  What motivates us?  Is it love?  Is it a genuine love for God and for others?  Even if it’s not, we can turn to the Lord and ask that He increase our faith and help us to respond more generously to that gift.  Mary’s faith and love in the Lord grew.  It grew even deeper when the Lord in His loving action raised her brother Lazarus from the dead.   If we look around us, and we begin to see God’s presence in our daily actions and events, we will begin to see where the Lord is acting in a loving way in our lives.  As a priest I’ve experienced it with others (and also myself) even in the greatest challenges and difficulties of people’s lives.  It occurred to me when I began to see the Lord’s loving action in my life, both in the wonderful things and blessings of my life and any given day but also in the hardships, struggles, painful experiences too; I also began to understand freedom in a greater way.  The Lord our God was free to act when He created us and all things, and did so completely in love; what I can do in return is freely love the Lord and everyone else or at least keep trying for the rest of my life.

Palm Sunday: As Disciples, A Call to be Courageous in Faith

Today we enter with our Lord into Jerusalem.  Today, He begins His final earthly week, the culmination of everything He came and was sent He for.  So begins the most intense and focussed week of the Lord’s life, and we too devoted and dedicated followers must allow today to begin a most intense time of preparation for us.  As a priest in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. Michael in the heart of Toronto, I am deeply moved by what would seem to me to be thousands of Catholics who make their way to the Cathedral (and other churches too) for confession; to be reconciled with the Lord.  Holy Week, the Passion of our Lord and especially the powerful liturgies we will experience this week call all of this to mind.

I encouraged our Associates (men in serious discernment) to reflect upon courage this week, because what this week was for our Lord was a test of strength and courage.  We know that this was not an easy week for Him especially.  I encouraged these men (and reflected and prayed on this myself) to enter Jerusalem with our Lord today: think of the areas in their own lives, and especially in their vocational discernment where they needed greater strength and courage.  We all need these things: is it to have the courage to tell our family or friends that we’re thinking of a religious vocation?  Is it to live our faith more extrinsically, not to show off but to give consistent witness to our faith in our lives?  Is it to simply discern in a more serious way our vocation?  Whatever it may be, the grace this week offers us is a more deliberate and serious examination of our faith and a firm purpose to live it.  May we all allow our entry with our Lord into Jerusalem be for each of us a reflection on the meaning and purpose of our faith; in this most beautiful and passionate week for Christ and for the Christian.  May God bless you.

5th Saturday of Lent: Are We Ready to Make the Sacrifice?

Political philosophers have been working for centuries on coming up with a perfect society, a perfect world, a utopia and in their passionate writings have been trying to convince the educated and thinkers that this is possible; but yet here we are, centuries later without our utopia, without the perfect world in which to live, raise our families and co-exist peacefully.  We do not live in a perfect world.  We are without a world where we needn’t make heroic and complete personal sacrifices: this ought not be a reflection that is dour or down-trodden.  This is the world in which Jesus Christ came into, and was ordained for all time to make the ultimate sacrifice of His life for others.  There is little point in reflecting on what if He didn’t have to.  The state of humanity being what it is didn’t allow for that possibility.

In today’s Gospel Caiaphas says “is it not better that one man be sacrificed…” and of course we know it shouldn’t be.  Caiaphas and the religious leaders we obviously know they got it wrong, and they were motivated by selfish reasons – but they set in motion the greatest sacrifice ever [in magnitude and in love]!  We have to be prepared to do the same (even though what will be asked of us won’t likely ever equal that).  I think of priesthood today.  My experience, and the shared experience of many men discerning is to be fearful of what will be asked of us; and if we give in to the temptation to avoid that possibility and/or the answer and outcome – we will never discover our real vocation.  We have to be ready to make sacrifices, there is not a vocation out there that won’t require them, and even though our hearts might be filled with trepidation we need the strength & courage to persevere.

One man sacrificed; He did that in love.  Others avoid sacrifice or hope that others will make the sacrifice instead of them.  This is not the Christian way of life.  As we prepare now to enter Jerusalem with our Lord let us think about the sacrifices we are prepared to make in order to live the life God has in store for us; may we come to know in greater ways today and everyday what that (our vocation) may be.

5th Friday of Lent: What Claim Do we Have on God

In the Gospel today, Jesus is accused of blasphemy for claiming to be God’s Son, equal with God.  Of course, we accept this as an important part of our faith.  For us as Christians, we might ask ourselves how often or in what ways are we attacking each other for blasphemy?  Is it when someone differs in ideology, ecclesiastical sensibility, personal devotions?  In my relatively short Catholic life, I have come to see that one of the greatest issues Catholic Christians have with each other is differing viewpoints.  We may not call the attacks we level against one another blasphemy – we have other words for it; but we do not see what others do as “of God” and we level judgment against our brothers and sisters for it.  Of course, I’m not talking here of dissension from Church teaching, but of a person’s way or practice of worship.  Unfortunately, just as the attacks of the religious leaders of the time really did take away from the ministry which Jesus was doing – we have the words of the Gospel now and so the Lord “made good” from these vicious attacks by reminding us through the Gospel that we need to see God in our brothers and sisters in Christ!  If by baptism (a baptism we share with Him) we are baptized into the one faith, whether it was as a part of a liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional community – it is of the Lord!  And for this reason, we are not doing the Lord’s work when we simply can’t try to recognize that in our brothers and sisters.

5th Thursday of Lent: A Way to Cheat Death

Age-defying crèmes, surgeries to make us look younger, so many gimmicks are out there because there is a market for them; the market exists because we think of death and few of us welcome it.  We don’t want to die, and so we spend some of our life consumed with not dying and death.  In some senses, we need to think about our mortality and have an “eternal” plan, but we’re fools if we’re consumed by it; we can spend more time mired in thoughts of death (or avoiding it) than we spend living life.

There is only way I know to cheat death: Jesus Christ!  In our Gospel today, we hear a lot of talk of death, but very little listening to the answers.  This isn’t just happening in the Gospel, it’s happening in the world all around us.  Have we not heard of Jesus Christ, life in Christ and living by faith and trusting in the Lord?  I know that this is something that people reading this blog reflection will already have well underway, but we cannot then tire from sharing the message – Jesus didn’t.  Obviously some will say that this is absurd: Christians don’t cheat death!  Well, we experience death, but we move right through it.  It is an experience of our lives [that is our life eternal].  My brothers and sisters in Christ: live life, love life, embrace death!  The only way to get to heaven is through death itself, an experience of life.

Feast of the Annunciation: Mary Is Open to Her Vocation

We celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation.  For us as faithful Christians, the Annunciation is an important feast integrally tied to Christmas; to the celebration of the Birth of Christ.  Nine months before the birth of our Lord, young Mary said ‘yes’ to God’s invitation to give her life as His mother.  We are mindful that this great act is so powerful a vocational witness that we give thanks and we look to our Lady as a model for our own vocational openness and response.  Mary did not have all the answers, or at this point many of them in fact.  She did not know what this ‘yes’ was to mean for her, her life, the world in fact.  She surely was more in the dark than in the light (so to speak) except for the fact that she was the bearer of light; the light of Christ. She had her faith, she had her love and devotion to God, she had a rock-solid trust in His love and mercy that she was able to say “be it done unto me according to Your Word!”  Last week we celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph, a model for men discerning their vocation and how we might live that out.  This week it’s a great day for us to reflect upon the Annunciation and Mary’s faith-based ‘yes’ to her vocation.  We know now how her yes impacted human history and our own lives, how will our yes impact the future, is yet to be seen.

5th Tuesday of Lent: Who Are You?

How do you see yourself?  Do you see yourself as a loved child of God?  Do you see yourself as a self-made man or woman?  The question “who are you”, asked by those whom we know will not understand the answer Jesus gives them – is nonetheless a question which is important to ask.  It’s an important discernment question [not only for our personal vocational discernment, but also in discerning who speaks to us, that is, figuring out whether the advice or guidance we are given is from the Holy Spirit or from a purely human way of thinking] for us in our faith.  Jesus refers to Himself as I AM in today’s Gospel.  He speaks from the heart, and is received in the hearts of many, but He returns to the I AM (Exodus 3:14) when God reveals Himself as “I AM” to the people of Israel. The religious leaders who are supposed to be the ones who truly understand God don’t get Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy, they don’t get His radical love and embrace and in His signs, so He gives them the answer that will ultimately lead to His demise.

When we ask “who are we”, we must seek to discover the answer with the utmost humility.  If we see ourselves as self-made (and taking action to make ourselves the best people we can be IS OF GOD) and don’t acknowledge God as an essential part of that; we will never really get to the heart of the answer for ourselves.

What I tell people who are discerning their vocation is that through vocational discernment we ask this question, with a two-part but integrally connected question: first to discover who Jesus Christ is, but then who we are: discernment and formation lead us to discovery of the answer to both questions, if we are open to it.  And we must be.  In seeking to discover who Jesus is, and who we are: we will hopefully come to see ourselves as loved children of God, but self-made in the way and manner in which the Lord who is at the centre of our lives desires us to be.

5th Monday of Lent: Compassion Must Always be First

It happens that as we grow in faith and seek to live a good and moral life, that we become more and more bothered by the things that others who are not on the same journey do.  When we wrestle with our own concupiscence and passions and we see others joyfully or boldly flaunting immorality or living almost free of any care of concern for their souls.  While on one hand, we know that we are not to judge; and on the other hand we know what true freedom is (living according to our meaning and purpose) – but we still fight a strong urge to judge, condemn maybe even those around us who live for themselves, are immoral, or hurt themselves or others by their actions.  On one hand, we can’t merely accept things without discerning; I know one of the greatest scourges in our world today, in our society, in our families and communities – is indifference!  We can’t be indifferent and we can’t look at sin or wrongdoing as acceptable.  Possibly the most often misused quotation (often taken out of context) is Pope Francis’ “who am I to judge”.  I have been in many conversations where people have assumed that the pope meant we should turn a blind eye to things that go on around us, and that if someone is a good person, “it’s not my problem”.  Unfortunately that’s not care and concern for another person’s well-being, and so just because we don’t judge or even pay attention to an action doesn’t mean we’ve fulfilled our Christian duty.

But what our Lord Jesus demonstrates in today’s Gospel (with the woman caught in adultery) and what the pope’s comment put into context demonstrates for us is this: we must see always with the eyes of compassion.  Jesus does not tell the woman that everything is okay, neither does He condemn her to death.  He tells her “go and sin no more”.  Those people whom we encounter who don’t seem to be living a good and moral life often have reasons; deep hurts, betrayals, unresolved anger with God, ignorance, they’ve never been given the right model for goodness and morality and the list goes on.  They are never going to find their way without a great deal of love, understanding, compassion and Christians like ourselves trying to help them by knowing them first.  Often in the brief encounters we have with people we are not going to get to the depths of their lives – so we are first and deeply compassionate.  You never know when the opportunity will come from love and compassion to enter into the depths of a person’s heart.  I know I do – because that is how I came to my faith was through compassion given to me.  The Lord knows, and He will use each one of us for that purpose if we let Him and we give Him the material to work with.

5th Sunday of Lent: [Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Slovenian Church, Etobicoke]

Jesus speaks of His impending death in today’s Gospel; He prepares them and Himself for what is inevitable.  It’s only a matter of time, limited time before the Son of Man will suffer and die in Jerusalem.   When I was in parish ministry, this was the Gospel which I usually selected for funeral liturgies.   The imagery our Lord uses of the grain is a most powerful way to express life and death.  We have to remember that if we didn’t have death, we wouldn’t get to meet the Lord face to face in the halls of heaven.

With an awareness of our limited time in this world, we often aspire to be better people, but it’s in what we take away from a reflection upon our own mortality that we begin to see emerge a sense that we are leaving a legacy.  Jesus’ words to us today are to let His disciples and each of us know that they [we] are His legacy.  We come together each week and celebrate being disciples of Jesus.

We come together with different backgrounds & different life experiences to the same Lord; followers of disciples through disciples through disciples who taught & evangelized in a lineage of disciples so long, so hard to trace, so complex now – but still a reality of our faith.   The point is this, Jesus, this single grain died, and as He told us in today’s Gospel, by the death of that single grain – much fruit has been produced!

We might not all have the time to stop, reflect and ponder this in our otherwise busy lives, but it’s important for us to take the time to do this: this faith we share, this faith in God and the manner in which we live it out is not something that is merely family tradition:  Jesus Christ came & remains with us in body & blood, soul & divinity through the sacraments but also through us, through our faith & our sharing of it. This is something that we all need to consider!

This is something that needs our attention, because we share faith with each other BUT we need to share our faith through the sacraments, and the only way our Lord has given us to do this is through the priesthood.   As Director of Vocations, I know the role the Lord has given me is to help foster & promote, nurture & cherish all vocations, especially those to the priesthood here in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  For my part, I encourage the people I meet no matter who you are to help in that.

I can’t beam into any parish, not yours or anyone else’s and expect that I will be the one to encourage men to consider the priesthood and women religious life.  That’s our job together, your role in that is to be open and encourage one another for this task.  The most important vocation work is done in families; families at home, families of faith; and the Sacrament of Marriage which many of you have already committed your lives to – is the sacrament which begets all other sacraments!

The Sacrament of Holy Orders comes from this family of faith, and our own families encouraging it!

Not always in the most conventional or straightforward way either.  Priesthood is every bit as beautiful a vocation as to be a married man & husband, but it took me a lot of years; even many years into the seminary to come to realize that.  All of our vocations will have challenges, struggles, hardships, difficulties but they will bring us unbelievable joy if we give everything to them.  I love being a priest; I have good friends who love being husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.  I know many women, young and older who love being religious sisters.

These vocations are not dying, it might be a life less often chosen than in the past, but the men & women who do – many of them are satisfied.   Forbes magazine, which appeals to the rich & entrepreneurial segment of society several years ago, reported that clergy were among the happiest people in society.   I would tell you that there are many joyful men & women who are living a religious vocation – and I am one of them.

As Director of Vocations, you will never hear me say that we need to have our seminaries full because that’s simply not true.  The Lord’s calling to us is not to fill seminaries; it is to have loving, giving, faithful, devoted, holy priests and religious, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.  The Lord does not call all of us to these religious vocations; but what I would tell you is that He is calling many more than who respond.  For a variety of reasons, men stop considering the priesthood in society today maybe because they don’t want to disappoint their family & friends, or because they don’t feel worthy of the calling.  As a man with these obstacles who overcame them – I appeal to all of you to help each other take away these obstacles.  And as for our unworthiness; we are all unworthy of what the Lord calls us to do, but He calls us anyway!  Think of the Apostles – they knew they were unworthy but Jesus didn’t affirm that in them.  He continued to call.  Jesus doesn’t call the worthy; He worthies the called!  In order to discover that we need to pray deeply and reflect often on our lives; and appeal to the Lord to lead us to the way of life that will lead us to the greatest joy.

If it’s priesthood or religious life; be not afraid to respond to that.  Together, each of us is continuing to build the greatest bastion against the things we see going wrong in the world we live in – that is, the Church.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, together we are strengthening the family in here, so we can meet the world out there.  We do this through our vocation.

What will our life be about?  What will be our legacy, the fruit of our harvest?  Will it be our family & the strong faith we leave behind?  Will it be as a priest, having faithfully provided the sacraments day by day?  Will it be as a religious priest, sister or brother following the charism of our Lord & the saints?  We must found & ground ourselves in prayer.   Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send more labourers into the harvest.  May God bless you.