Our Gospel today calls each one of us to task in what we believe; the Lord’s asking us to stand firm in our beliefs. As we approach Jerusalem and get ready for the Passion and the Way of the Cross, we know that many of those who were convinced are now second-guessing their belief in Christ Jesus. All the questions are asked in today’s Gospel and people go back and forth; challenged by their religious leaders. Many are swayed to turn away. Nicodemus calls upon the people to be logical and tries to appeal to their senses.
It’s important we think about this ourselves: rationalization is a dangerous thing and something that all of us can easily fall prey to. What I mean by this is that given the challenges of our religious and political leaders today, things are easily muddled, forgotten, challenged, rejected and so for us too we can be convinced that what we are doing when we follow as disciples of Jesus Christ is not necessary. I know that there are many compelling arguments given to suggest that our practices as Catholics are simple (devotions), barbaric at times (Lenten practices & sacrifices), unnecessary (confession), hurtful (standing firm in life issues), stifling (marriage for life and stand on contraception) just to name a few ways that the world we live in and people who don’t share our views of faith see us. I know that there are Christians who will accuse the Catholics with our religious practices as not being Christians. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s no way to stay it but we need to be firm in our belief. We need to know our faith intimately and remember that we don’t attack others just because we’re being attacked and remember that we can question, but we must allow our hearts to be open to the follow the Lord and allow Him to reveal for us answers which will help us in our faith and will help solidify our faith.
Rationalizing away what we don’t fully understand or what we struggle with is a dangerous thing. It leads us away from true devotion and true faith. When someone “loses” their vocation, often what begins to diminish is not a sense of calling, it’s their faith. When we figure out God is calling us to the married life when we thought we were called to priesthood; or like me priesthood when I thought it was the married life – this is different from what often happens is we begin to doubt or question the priesthood in the process of discerning it. This happens. We need to stay connected to the Lord in prayer; if we truly do we can be assured that He will help us stand firm in our faith. May God bless you.
Sometimes we are so set in our ways, that the truth and reality misses us. We all have a way we see things. The Christian is called to a new paradigm; to see things differently, not changing the reality, but changing our own attitude and disposition towards reality. To be able to see someone we know well and to discourage them or mock them because they consider a religious vocation [and we’ve known them to live a “whole different life”] can have a lasting and negative OR a lasting and positive impact on the people near and dear to us. I am one of those people. I was so convinced that my friends would think I was crazy when I became a Catholic at 32 in 2003 or when I entered seminary and was on the road to becoming a priest in 2005. My friends did find it confusing, but they didn’t say a whole lot to me, because they realized that this was the wrong thing to do. Instead, we eventually talked about it and many years later, there is more clarity for all of us (still much mystery as well) around what makes a man who never had God in his life, give his life over to God and know his life was meant to be lived as a priest. As I meet with so many others who are beginning to experience their vocational calling, the people who are closest to them can have the greatest impact on their vocational discernment. This is why it’s so important that families especially are open and support religious vocational discernment. It’s natural not to. Jesus’ own closest friends and perhaps his extended family members could not believe who He was or what He came to do. The reality was that He was the Son of God; those who believed were able to embrace the reality; those who didn’t could never be convinced. Likewise, if we doubt God’s enabling someone whom we’ve seen human frailty in – then we are not going to be convinced, because our family member or friend will always be a weak human instrument, even when God chooses to use him or her in a powerful way. Just ask Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI (these were his words) or Mother Teresa, or St. John Paul II. Just ask the man or woman the Lord is using now. What you see is not always what you get.
Even though in vocation work, we often invoke and ask the prayers of Mary, Mother of Vocations (and it’s important for so many reasons to do that); I think that St. Joseph is an important intercessor for vocations, especially for men. We know Brother André (St. André Bessette) turned to St. Joseph as his patron and through his vocation as a religious brother brought many, many people closer to Christ. St. Joseph was asked to give his life to something that made absolutely no sense to him, and he was meant to do that amid the hurt and betrayal he felt before the Angel appeared to him; thinking his beloved Mary had betrayed him. What we know of Joseph’s life is that he was a man of deep faith, a man who modelled what it meant to be a man for His foster Son, God’s Son. He loved God and others passionately and deeply, he put others first, He was the protector and guardian of the Lord’s greatest gifts; our Lord and our Lady. As I reflect upon St. Joseph, I hope to be a man like him, faithful, honest, loving and giving and this is why I think we ought to take him as the model for our manhood as well as our vocations.
[This is my homily for the Morning Mass, St. Michael’s Cathedral] One of the hardest things for any of us to do as Christians is to surrender. In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak of His total and complete surrender to the Father. His surrender is one grounded and founded in love. While the religious leaders look at this confession of surrender as an opportunity to kill Him, Jesus confesses His total and complete obedience, reliance and surrender to the Father. As Director of Vocations, I meet daily with men discerning priesthood here in the Archdiocese of Toronto and I spend a lot of my time in dialogue working with men who prepare themselves for their vocational discernment; and one of the hardest things to get them to do – is to surrender. Often times I share with them some of my own struggles; but what I tell them is the first step is often the hardest one; after that it doesn’t necessarily become easier – but once we begin to surrender, we know that we need to work throughout our lives to surrender in more and more ways. Don’t I know it; despite this role I have, I too have had a hard time surrendering my will to God the Father. I have had a hard time letting go of rationales and reasoning that has allowed me not to fully live my faith – I think many of us have. I begin by thinking of this Lent; Lent this year has taught me that I have a long way to go in basic tasks of surrender for me as a Catholic as I’ve struggled to stay committed to what I’ve given up for Lent. But my friends, we live in hope. I live in hope! I know that what Lent has taught me is that I must continue to work on this; we are all works in progress in this way. We all need to try harder, we need to pick up and keep going. Although as a Vocation Director, I truly appreciate today’s Gospel as one which speaks directly on the topic of religious vocational discernment; I think it speaks to all of our hearts, because our faith will grow and flourish when we commit ourselves to surrendering more and more to the will and love of the Father. My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pause for a moment and think of the ways and areas of our own lives where we have not yet surrendered to God and may we receive the grace that we might more fully give ourselves to the will of God. May God bless you.
A Most Blessed St. Patrick’s Day to our Irish readers (and those who want to be Irish today). As we get closer to Holy Week, where the hatred & rejection of Jesus intensifies, we come to see today that the scribes & Pharisees have become so rigid about the Law that they use it to trap & eventually to kill Jesus. Unfortunately, if we think that these kinds of things are past us and we are an evolved faith, we’ve missed the timelessness of the Gospel because these things are very much a part of the strife we experience in our Catholic Church today. We have groups within the Church that seem to attack anything and anyone who is not in accord with their “brand” of Catholicism. On the other hand, we have groups within the Church who use Gospel passages like this to assert a position that Catholic teaching, rules and precepts and Catholic traditions are old and archaic, not to be followed. This man was healed of his infirmity and told to sin no more. Eradicating sinfulness and helping each other do it, getting ourselves to heaven and bringing others with us, tirelessly healing souls; these are the things which we are called to do as Catholic Christians, and these are things which our vocation (whatever it may be) are meant to help us do. We must seek to be like our Lord in the Gospel today AND we are also meant to be watchful that we don’t fall into the trap that those who sought Jesus’ ruin fell into. It’s even more deadly for us; because it’s important that before we criticize anyone for what they do, that we ask ourselves if someone came to know Jesus Christ in a greater way through our brother or sister whom we’re ready to speak against.
Often we play small in the world and don’t respond to our vocation because we feel that we will be rejected or mocked for what we do. In fact, what I would say right up front, is that I admire and acknowledge the heroic amount of courage needed for a young man or woman to respond to the vocations especially of priesthood or religious life. A young man whom I know from my former parish assignment was known as “priest boy” by his friends and some of the kids at school, and I can assure you that this was not a term of endearment. Nonetheless, this young man was not going to be influenced in any decision he made in life about what he does. He quite maturely told me “if I’m meant to be a priest, I’m sure God will help me figure it out”. He also acknowledged (in Grade 12 when we last spoke) that he didn’t think God would mind that he was too young to decide.
When I think of today’s Gospel, I think of this young man and people like him. I sadly ponder how many young men and women decide not to become priests or religious sisters because of this kind of “outcast” stigma associated with it. I would begin by saying that we’re in good company here, because Jesus felt it. And although He proclaimed it, surely being rejected by the people closest to Him hurt. Courage is the only remedy, and then we live in hope that people will accept it. I was blessed that when I began my vocational discernment, I was in my 30’s, and my friends were perplexed they didn’t discourage me. I’m sure they probably thought that I was doing this because I couldn’t meet the right girl or that I had given up on marriage or something like that; but things changed when they saw that my life was fulfilled. They were very supportive when they came to the beautiful ordination liturgy and I am blessed to have good friends who keep me grounded. My family too, but I have family who rejected what I was doing and were very negative and hurtful in their senitments. I think it’s important that we remember that this is a part of the mission and that we can never convince others that a radical way of Christian life is going to be grace-filled and joy-filled; they will have to come to see that for themselves
Rejoice! For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, who didn’t come to condemn or destroy the world, but to save it! Today on Laetare Sunday we rejoice in a special way as we do every Sunday – the Lord gave Himself as a Sacrificial Offering and gave us all eternal life through His. God is madly in love with us, and He gave everything to prove it. I know that what limited awareness I have of this (which grows as I grow in my own relationship to God) is what motivates my life and vocation as a priest. God gave it all, I can give what little I do. One of the components of our Associates Program [the program for men in the Archdiocese of Toronto who are seriously discerning the priesthood] is to invite in priests from our archdiocese who share their vocation story and the joy of their priestly ministry. I know some of my confreres have criticized this, as perhaps unrealistic because there are struggles and challenges too. My thinking here is that we are all aware of that reality, but we sometimes spend too much time in the hardship and we forget to look at the gifts and live in gratitude; we forget the joy in the midst of the hardships life inevitably will offer us. We must be conscious and live in joy! We don’t overlook the other, but if we keep joy in our hearts, then we face the challenges with greater strength. My friends, rejoice, when God reveals your vocation whatever it may be, it will bring you great peace and joy!
One of my brothers in the seminary once said (jokingly), “I’m very proud of my humility”! In our Gospel today, Jesus matches the prideful against the humble person, and gives us a lesson that will serve us well in our lives. We must seek always humility. He cautions us that this is a danger as much for the person of faith as it is for the faithless. When we take our faith-life and prayer into our own hands (as we should) there is a very real temptation and possibility for us to become prideful of what we do. We may not always see this, but what we are in fact doing when this happens is distancing ourselves from God. I know I am guilty of this myself, and I usually fall in sin when I am proud of how well I am doing spiritually. Although I shall never like sinning, it humbles me, and I need to return to confession. As a confessor, what I can say is that I am deeply moved by the experience, because those who come before the Lord with me as their confessor are themselves humble. Confession is a Sacrament of Humility! If we are contrite and ready to amend our lives, we are humble as the tax collector who comes before the Lord in shame and sorrow.
Confession is also a necessary ingredient for a good and holy vocation. Prideful men are going to have a hard time being kind, compassionate, understanding and merciful priests. If we struggle greatly with pride, it doesn’t mean that we’re not called to priesthood and consecrated life, it just means we need to bring more humility (through confession) into our lives. The only thing which defeats pride as a vice is the virtue of humility. The greatest way to grow in this virtue is through contrite confessions with a firm and ongoing purpose to amend our ways.
Loving God, then others, then making time for ourselves; in this order. This is the “rule of life” for a Christian and this is why we stand opposed to the world and are so unappealing to the worldly. This is the answer given by Jesus to the question, “what is the most important rule in life”. We place God first, and to so many this seems contrary to what an intelligent person ought to do. Placing our unseen God before things seen? There are many who have felt the presence of God and would otherwise accept Him, but reject even the notion because of fear of being seen as lacking in intelligence or independence. But placing God first and seeking to live by His rule has brought peace, harmony, balance and a well-lived life to millions throughout human history. Intelligent people have peacefully died a martyr’s death for this “rule of life”. Loving others must follow. When we love God, we must love others, and again that can be so hard because people let us down, and we are often repelled by others, so causing us to resist this tenet. But if we are going to be truly Christian, Jesus tells us that we MUST see Him in other people, even when they act in ways that are opposed to our ways. Having to be kind in the face of unkindness, peaceful when under attack, positive in the face of negativity and to live without revenge or retribution in our hearts. This is radically opposed to how many people live in the world and so it’s often rejected. But it’s the Christian rule, a rule that has been given to us by God. We weren’t made for ourselves; we were made for God and for others and we’re not “hardwired” to be alone, so too are we not “hardwired” to be selfish. And finally ourselves; what do we owe ourselves? In order to grow closer to God, we must come to know and see ourselves in the manner in which God sees us. We might never complete this project, but as we grow in this self-awareness, we come to see the great gifts God has given each of us and the ways in which we can share those gifts with others. This leads to where our hearts are open to our vocation; whether it’s priesthood, consecrated religious life or marriage. Loving God first, loving others and a call to service and a deep respect and self-awareness are three necessary ingredients for a holy vocation.
One of the greatest tragedies which affects the Roman Catholic priesthood (and I’m sure most if not all consecrated & religious vocations) is false recognition of what is “required” of the man who is called to the priesthood, or of the man or woman called to consecrated religious life. For many of us, we’ve bought into the many things which we hear all around us of why men & women ought not to consider these vocations, and often times there is a sentiment that the men and women who do consider them are those who couldn’t find love in the world; that priesthood and religious life often is a “fall back plan” for those who haven’t found love in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. But as we hear Jesus “accused” of being a messenger of Satan, and He responds to the religious leader with logic and rational thinking – so too must this line of thinking be stopped with rational, logical thought when it comes to priesthood & religious life. When men present themselves in the Office of Vocations with this kind of thinking, I assure them that priesthood is not ever a fall-back plan, and if they view it that way – they view it incorrectly! It is every bit a loving, committed, life-giving, relational commitment as marriage; and if we view it as anything else, than we need to go deeper and we need to see the priesthood for what it really is, not what we think it to be. If we had any number of priests who viewed priesthood this way, then we would have a much less vibrant, divided, empty priesthood and by extension Church and faith. Priesthood is not for everyone, I know that’s true. There are challenges to the chaste & celibate life that not every man can live, and this is true too. The man who is called to be a priest or the woman or man called to a religious vocation must be able to see love on the deepest level and be fully and totally committed to loving with unbelievable intimacy; but not in one person alone; he or she must intimately love our Lord Himself and His people so deeply that he or she can commit His life in total gift of him or herself to loving. It’s a beautiful gift and a total gift we can give through our vocation in this way; to think of it as any less divides us and makes us all less than we can be. May God bless you.