Monday of the Second Week of Easter: Living Faith with New Birth

For many of us, baptism happened quite a while ago: the time when we were given new life in Jesus Christ.  Most of us have got on with other things, we may practice our faith, but for many of us some days we simply go through the motions of living as Christians – it happens to the best of us.  Our Gospel today is radical, and because it’s radical it can be hard to fully grasp but we are meant to grasp it.  We are meant to remind ourselves over and over that we are a new creation, we are reborn each and every day by faith.

Sometimes, as a confessor I remind myself and my penitents that when the confession is done, and absolution is given we are reborn again and our life is ever new, full of hope and promise, but hope and promise which we must seek to live out day by day.  It may be the case we will sin again, but that should not discourage any of us from trying to be the most faith-filled, faithful, energetic, loving, best Catholic Christians that we can be.  And some of us reading this may have been away from our faith for a long time, or we may not be baptized or living a sacramental life.  That’s okay – this message is for you: Rejoice, this is a brand new day!  You can be born again through baptism, and once baptized through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, restored and renewed to live your life and faith to the fullest!

And friends, when you do this, or when you’re committed to doing it day by day then you’re ready to figure out what it is the Lord our God is calling you to do.  He is inviting you to “come and follow Him”.  Don’t hold back!  Go for it!  Your life will be richer for it, and the Lord who has given you the gift of this rebirth will help you with clarity and other to find your particular and unique vocation.  If you try to be faithful to this mission, then you will live out the primary vocation we all have, that is to be holy and to be a saint.

2nd Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday

A week’s rest from blogging and I offer a few thoughts on this Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday.  This beautiful Easter celebration takes me back to this time ten years ago.  I was two years a Catholic and had gone through the dark days of a heart-breaking journey with my mother through cancer and into death in August of 2004 and was still very much mourning her loss.  I followed with great attention the final weeks, days and hours of our late Holy Father, now St. John Paul II.  St. John Paul was part of my Christian journey and I became captivated by the fanfare as a non-Catholic bus driver during World Youth Day in Toronto, and watched with intrigue, the pope speak about faith in 2002.  As a bus driver, I spoke with many of the joyous pilgrims who rode my bus and I certainly might attribute some of this among many other powerful personal experiences to my own conversion in April of 2003.

But in 2005, this amazing man was dying.  I watched as he withdrew from the balcony in the Vatican unable to speak to the people at Easter and then we heard day by day of how Pope John Paul II became bed ridden.  I was discerning the priesthood then, and I was in Toronto on Saturday.  I went for Mass at the St. Michael’s Cathedral where we all were praying for his life and a peaceful death.  And then in the afternoon (but evening in Rome and on the Vigil of Divine Mercy) Pope John Paul II breathed his last.  It was a beautiful life, and a beautiful death.  Reports from his bedside were that the Holy Father was experience joy amid his suffering as he called out to God.  This helped me greatly in my own mourning that this holy man whom I believed knew God better than many of us (most certainly me) was actually rejoicing in his own demise.  That was faith!  I was finishing reading “Gift & Mystery” at the time, and had read “Rise, Let us Be on Our Way” (John Paul’s reflections upon his vocation) as part of my own spiritual reading as I discerned the priesthood.

I reflect upon all this today because the pope who promoted our celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday and who committed his life to it passed from this life to the next one.  Surely, his joy could only be expressed in the words I’m sure Pope John Paul (and so many of us) take upon our lips…Jesus, I trust in you!  Let us take these words upon our lips friends as we continue to discern or live out our holy vocation.  May God bless you.

Good Friday: What’s So Good about This Friday?

Today is Good Friday, but what is so good about it.  Jesus is nailed to the Cross and dies after three hours of agony.  His mother’s heart breaks at the foot of the Cross.  Of course, this is true and we mourn on this day when we enter our parishes and the altar is bare, our sacred images are covered, the holy water fonts (often implicitly the ‘sign of our faith’ we’re most familiar with) are empty; the Church of our Lord Jesus is stark, bare, the Tabernacle door is open and our Lord is not there.  What would life be like if not for our Lord and His Sacrifice?  How can any of this be good?  How can we look on this day as Good Friday?  But it is: blood and water poured forth from His side as the sword of the centurion pierced His side.  His Body and Blood became the salvation of the entire world; God Incarnate died on the Cross but the Church and humanity through Him is given salvation. God can make good from everything, and nowhere is this more predominate than from the Cross.  He works this out in our own individual lives; God can take us as sinners and do some of the greatest things through us, His weak instruments – AND HE WILL, if we let Him.  And we must, on this day think of the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Himself and as we seek to configure ourselves more closely to Him (and this is what our vocation will call us to do) we need to consider the ways we give our own lives away in love for others.

Today, I reflect upon my own priestly ministry and I know that this year’s Lent has shown me the ways and places that I can be more generous in love, giving more generously of the gifts given to me in priesthood.  There can be a temptation to believe that we are sacrificing enough, but in this Holy Week I know there are ways and places I can be more sacrificial for others and the key is to take this and run with it, not to drop the ball.

My hope for each of you is that this Lent has been a reflective and holy one for you.  This is what will make it good; the Lord desires good things for each one of us.  May this Good Friday be good for you.  May God bless you.

Thursday of Holy Week: Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Many who know me know that I often speak about St. Peter’s role in my life, faith and vocation.  He was the saint I chose to journey with me as I was received into the Catholic Church (my confirmation saint) because as a saint and in Scripture I could very much identify with his weaknesses.  They are ever so present right there in the Holy Gospels.  He gets it wrong more than he gets it right, but nonetheless Jesus chose Him to be the chief apostle, the Head of His Holy Church.  Once again in the Holy Week liturgies St. Peter is a prominent figure as he denies our Lord and in today’s Gospel as He gets it wrong once again and allows himself to be the example for a lesson from our Lord; as Jesus calls the Apostles and their descendants (us) to servant leadership.  As we will experience in tonight’s liturgy, the Mass of the Last Supper; Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles and we will experience that in our parishes where the washing of the feet takes place.  While I was a seminarian I was part of a group of seminarians who had my feet washed by Cardinal Collins.  As a priest in my parish in Markham, the six clergy (three priests and three deacons) washed the feet.  I was deeply moved by one of our deacons, himself a real man of service at the age of 90 getting down and washing the feet of the people.  It was powerful to witness that.

My hope is that every man or woman discerning a religious vocation takes the time that follows when we process our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament out of the church and into a chapel of repose to pray and to really reflect on the theme of service.  One of the most important qualities I seek to assess in a man who has an authentic calling is a heart of service.  If we are going to sustain the Church and encourage and call forth others to serve, we need to have that heart of service, to serve God but explicitly our brothers and sisters always and everywhere.  If you want a sign that you’re ready to respond in generosity to what the Lord’s calling you to do, serving others will compel your heart.

Wednesday of Holy Week: It’s Never Too Late & We’re Never Too Far from the Lord

Judas makes a “deal with the devil” today; actually with the Pharisees and the religious leaders who have firmed up their plan to get rid of Jesus.  Judas is as committed to his plan as the Lord Jesus is to His.  What is our plan and are we committed to what we are going to do with our lives?

One of the most challenging parts of a Vocation Director’s role is to work with men whom I see an authentic vocation in, who can’t see it for themselves and/or they feel (especially when it comes with a sensation on the part of the discerner) a great unworthiness because of past sins or a current struggle that they have with sin in their lives.  As a confessor, I never undermine a good confession by telling a penitent that they needn’t wrestle with their sins and always confess them, but I do tell penitents and discerners that if they become focussed on their sins and/or their struggles they will miss out on what the Lord has for them to do; really, the joy of their life in living their faith.  Often times, men and women make a “deal” which requires them to be perfect or near-perfect before they will give their lives to a religious vocation; if we wait for that we’ll not likely ever get there.  Back to Judas for a moment, Judas had choices right up until the very end of his life to turn away from sin, even betraying the Lord and giving himself back to God.  He didn’t, or at least we believe he didn’t (we don’t know what was in his heart in the final moments of his life and entrust that the mercy of God).

If our plan to date hasn’t been a plan to live for God and others; today is a brand new day and we need to see it as such.  It’s not too late.  If we’ve lived a life so far from God it might take time to get closer and closer to Him, but we need to begin or turn back.  We might have made poor choices and what might seem like life-altering decisions already, but the Lord has a plan for each one of us, and we are not doomed until we doom ourselves by not living for Him at all.