The lives of the saints help us in so many different ways. In the case of St. Martha, it’s often her folley. I can relate to her more than I’d really like to admit because when I am given the choice to work or to spend quiet time in prayer with the Lord, I really have to force myself to pray. I would much rather stimulate myself with the work I do. So it’s hard to force myself to be quiet, to “be still and know” that I need to spend time with God. I force myself to do it because through my own spiritual growth and seven years of seminary I have learned what happens when I don’t. I have learned that I lose my focus, that I find myself “going through the motions”, I am less grateful for what the Lord gives me day by day. I’ve learned that my day isn’t all it can be and I am nowhere near my best and yet I still get consumed in my work. And I lose sight of the most important things; the people in my life, the Lord and all He continues to do, the movement of the Holy Spirit in the actions of the day. And I know that I am not alone.
I led a Catholic Women’s League retreat several years ago where I incorporated this Gospel passage, and there weren’t many women in the room who couldn’t relate. In fact I’m sure there are very few men who can’t relate to this either. And what makes it even harder for us all is that hard-work and busy people are considered the “winners” in this world we live in. And in some ways this isn’t a bad thing. Hard work is a good thing and laziness is a sin, but if we look at laziness as the opposite of busyness, then we are missing the point of this Gospel. Martha’s problem isn’t her busyness, it’s in her attitude. She’s mad at Mary for not helping her, rather than being happy that in her work she is an instrument to give Mary the opportunity to encounter their friend Jesus. If Martha kept in mind that her turn would come; that there was a time for “doing” and for “being” and that she was doing something now, and would be with her Lord later – she might not have been so quick to be harsh with her sister. It’s not work that gets in the way today, it’s too much work. And this can be often our challenge and what Martha’s folley teach us. Balance and perspective are important to Christians. We are meant to be busy building up the Church, but we are also meant to do that for something…for the Lord and so that we might be with Him. My friends, let us consider today what we do and why we do it. And let us ask St. Martha who surely learned her lesson to pray and intercede for us. May God bless you.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus elucidates a parable for us, speaking of the harvest and the various actions taking place there; the sifting of the weeds, the harvest of the fruits of the good seeds. My friends, we must look at the world as we live in in these earthen terms; we must all live our faith looking forward to the final harvest. We ask ourselves today, what will the harvest of our lives look like?
Choosing our vocation is a pretty good beginning to determining how we are going to find a plentiful harvest with the life the Lord has given to each one of us. When I say this, my presumption is that to each who “chooses” a vocation (in as much as the Lord is also doing the choosing) and seeks to live that vocation out to it’s fullest; you will come to discover the great meaning and purpose for your life! We can choose priesthood, religious life or marriage but we must earnestly dedicate our lives out to living it out to the best of our abilities and always placing God at the centre of our vocation. There are many men and women who are called but don’t answer the call because of fear, because of a misguided sense of what is required. Often our insecurities, our weaknesses, our fears and our personal challenges seem insurmountable. When we allow our own inadequacies in any area to be the reason we turn away from what the Lord is calling us to do – we face a life of feeling out of synch and often a life, even with blessings and graces in it (because God won’t punish us for this), that doesn’t seem to fulfilling.
Consideration of how we live our lives is important to a reflection for today. If we are going to do the Lord’s work to the very best of our ability we need to be all that He created us to be. Although there are many people God has called to the vocation of marriage, only recently has this become a vocation in crisis. Religious vocations on the other hand, have come in and out of crisis throughout the history of the Church. Whatever our vocation may be, though it and by it we will sow good seeds and reap an abundant and fruitful harvest. Let us consider today the part we play in the harvest at the end of time – it’s not work for others to do – it’s ours! If we do our part, we keep the unfortunate fate Jesus prepares us for from happening. May God bless you.
When I was studying philosophy early in my seminary formation, I remember reflecting on the words of a great philosophy professor, the Venerable Fulton Sheen: “we never win converts by a didactic presentation of syllogisms”. Since I struggled with my philosophy course in logic, this eased my mind a little bit. What Archbishop Sheen is communicating is that even though education and good communication are essential, we are never going to call people to Life in Christ with eloquent and convincing argumentation and logic alone. We convince people by witness, by the dedicated lives we live. Sheen, the Great Communicator who was so eloquent, poetic, charismatic, charming may have opened the hearts and minds of people with his beautiful expressions and apologetic arguments, but what helped so many was his personal witness of life, his humble admission of his own challenges and weaknesses, but his serious commitment to being a true and humble servant of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Sheen died when I was only 8 years old, and long before I was a Catholic but his life and witness, even his personal admission of some of his struggles with pride among other things deepen my own commitment as a Catholic. His book “A Priest is Not His Own”, which very beautifully expresses the theological and earthly expression of the identity of priesthood is an important book to me in helping to understand what a priest is meant to be. But it’s just words unless I live it, and it would only have been words if I didn’t have means to know Archbishop Sheen truly sought to live by these words himself. Our Gospel today offers us yet more parables, ways and means of understanding our faith and seeking to live it in deeper and more meaningful ways. As we seek to give witness to Christ in our own particular and unique way, I pray that we find the words that express our own vocation in ways we can comprehend and understand, but I also pray that we find living proof by others fine examples of how to put these words to action in the lives we live. May God bless you.
Pope Francis in one of his Angelus addresses last year spoke of the multiplication of the loaves and really gave me something to think about. His message and reflection was from the perspective of sharing, that in fact the miracle was in sharing. I have never thought of this in this way. I think the easy way to reflect upon the multiplication of the loaves is it’s obvious connection to the Holy Eucharist, but I have come to see that the Holy Father has something amazing to share with us. In today’s Gospel, the disciples look at the problem from a truly human perspective, whereas Jesus shows us that sharing from what little we have is a truly a Divine solution. I have never considered sharing to be divine, but as I consider our global community, the abundance in some locales, including our own and the absolute necessity in other vast areas of the world, it makes sense to me that God has created a world in which sharing really is a Divine action. Sharing of our wealth, our personal resources, sharing of our gifts and talents, and even the sharing of our time which seems to be such an arduous task for many of us who are so busy these days isn’t just an obligation, it’s the way we configure ourselves to Christ and offer discipleship. On this 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, may we all remember that an important part of our call as Christians and an important part of our vocation is to share; without this sacred action, we can’t live our lives for God and for others. Let us then consider the ways large and small that we can share and remember that the multiplication of the loaves was a truly inspiration sharing of the Lord’s abundance with those whom He loves, perpetually He offers us this at Holy Mass; a gift of love.
It’s easy as a priest to begin to buy into your own press. What I mean by that, is that as we’re preparing for ordination, so many people come and tell us how great we are and how proud they are of us for our decision to be ordained and our life-commitment to priesthood. Then many people will often tell us how good we are in one way or another. The temptation is there to begin to believe that we are great, that we are so gifted, that we do have and deserve a chosen place at table. I’m starting off my blog reflection here this way because I know that this is a reality in the lives of many priests and religious, many of my friends. We look for and desire the credit for what is God’s, and like the Apostle James and his brother John, there can be a temptation even among those of us who otherwise strive for holiness, to want a chosen place. It’s a very human desire to want to be liked, loved, appreciated, respected, honoured, valued – and in many ways there’s nothing wrong with this; as long as we don’t lose perspective. As men and women discerning our religious vocations; priesthood and religious life; we get all these things from God alone; what our brothers and sisters offer us is “gravy”, and what I mean by that is that we should be able to be joyful without it, just as roast beef is good even without the gravy, and even though we might think it better with it, it isn’t any healthier! Although I’ve succumbed at times to self-pity for feeling unappreciated, I try to tell myself that what we celebrate in the man ordained and the priests and religious sisters and brothers who serve us is that God gives dedicated people to His Church. Although I admittedly am not perfect at living this out, and I try to remind myself that the Apostles struggled to, I try my best to remind myself that we celebrate the office and not the man or woman.
Building upon yesterday’s post, there are in our midst so many very blessed people whom the Lord reveals Himself to in very profound ways. Although not excluded from this revelation, the Lord isn’t speaking merely to the theologians, the bishops and priests, the learned among us, but often the pious person with a great and deep faith and prayer life. Blessed are those whose faith in God is strong especially in the midst of adversity and trial. Blessed are those who have little of what the world informs us we should have, who we should be and what we should do: often these are the people with the greatest faith. Obviously there are many days when I feel close to the Lord, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have discovered God calling me to the Roman Catholic priesthood. But there are many days when I busy myself with work I believe to be for the Lord and know that it’s just for me.
That is when my brothers and sisters whom I meet at Holy Mass, who though also busy take the time to pray and spend time with the Lord first and foremost. I remember a good and holy priest told me that one of the blessings about celebrating Mass for the people and with the people is that if we pause and think about it, they model holiness for us. While we as priests sometimes have to make little effort to show up for Holy Mass, they have to make their way to the church, sometimes rising very early and they don’t always have control over the conditions of their day as we so often do. His words have always remained with me and have helped me to always appreciate the people that I serve as a priest. I share them now as Director of Vocations with the men I discern with because these are important things for these men to hear. We should never presume that while our vocational call might be to shepherd the flock in the name of the Lord, with a certain authority and sacramental powers to do so; that we are somehow expert at living the true way Christ calls us to live. If we don’t seek to take a high position of belief about ourselves, the result is a humble sense of ourselves – and this will allow us to be truly what the Lord in today’s Gospel is calling us to be.
I remember when I was on my pastoral internship as a seminarian, while serving at Mass one day and looking out into the congregation to see a woman who was a very well-known and active member of the parish weeping during the Mass. As any of us would, I was concerned that maybe something was wrong and my heart went out to her. After Mass, as I was saying goodbye to people, I asked her if anything was wrong and she assured me that nothing was wrong. So I left it at that, I assumed that perhaps she didn’t want to tell me whatever it was that was bothering her and I didn’t want to pry. I continued to say goodbye, and this lady came back to me a few minutes later and asked to speak to me. She told me that from the time she was a little girl from the time the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament began in the Mass, she often would weep with tears of joy. She didn’t know why, she just did. This story deeply moved me, for as I reflected upon the Mass just celebrated, I was thinking about more logistical things; was everything ready and there, I hope Father’s homily isn’t too long today, I’ve got to go to the schools, many other unnecessary things. Here in our midst, was a woman who so loved the Holy Eucharist that she is moved to tears as our Lord enters the ordinary gifts.
As I reflect upon today’s Gospel, I think of Mary Magdalene, a devoted servant (much like this woman was as a member of the Catholic Women’s League and other ways in the parish) who taught the Apostles a thing or two as she finds the empty tomb, and encounters the Risen Lord. This lady will never know the magnitude of what she did for my faith that day and each and every time I reflect upon that experience. As a seminarian and now as a priest, I look to the people whom I serve and try my best to allow them to lead me to the Lord with a sometimes simple faith. I try to be more attentive to the Lord speaking to me through them. Obviously, I know I have my role, just as the Apostles have theirs, and our Holy Scriptures are given to us by them; but they have accounted here Mary’s role in her encounter with the Lord just as I know I must be attentive to who and how I encounter God through others. This holy woman in my life brought me into a deeper experience of our Lord in the Holy Mass, an encounter that I meditate upon to this very day. Who will lead you to a deeper encounter with the Lord?
Excerpted from my Homily at the Freedom & Joy Retreat (Sisters of Life) for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Sunday July 19, 2015).
I remember reading a story once where a very ardent and prolific atheist indicated that the decisive moment for him, when he realized there was no God was looking at a magazine cover, of a woman looking up to heaven with her dead child in her arms. She cried out to God, “Why?” In this moment, he walked away from a faith in an irrelevant God. The author went on to make a very significant counter-argument; was it an irrelevant or distant God who made the decision not to intervene in the life of this child? Or was it a world with more than enough, leaders, governments and decision-makers who in their own comfort care little for people in different regions of the world? Is it bureaucratic red-tape that contributes to starvation and famine; indifference in the heart of many?
Throughout all of human history, God has been sending forth leaders to “shepherd” His people, and throughout that history, many a shepherd have put themselves and their own interests or the interests of a few before the care of the entire flock. This continues to this very day. So God sent His Son, the Good Shepherd, who gave absolutely everything of Himself for the sake of the sheep. He worked tirelessly as today’s Gospel offers us, even putting the care and love of His people before His own rest and recuperation. The Good Shepherd has throughout history since His Incarnation and through His Apostles and disciples, “shepherds after His own heart”, left the 99 safely and gone after the “one lost sheep”. I am one of those sheep, I am one of those sheep who was found. Active discipleship, lived out in every earnest vocation, requires that we be shepherd to people, we are all sheep following the voice of the Good Shepherd, but we will all shepherd others – that is the work of a disciple! Let us consider our role as shepherd and accept the awesome responsibility of it all; let us work tirelessly for a world with more sheep with a shepherd.
I’ve been around for a couple of conversations in my life where this Gospel passage was used to refute the “ridiculous” practice of fasting and abstinence especially the tradition for us as Catholics of abstaining from meat on Fridays. I’m quite sure that Jesus would be appalled to know that this is the way His Gospel was being interpreted at all. We live in a Catholic culture where many things have remained unresolved for quite some time. A classic misinterpretation of Church teaching is that somehow the Church “did away” with these laws on fasting and abstinence when nothing of the sort happened along the way, neither did the Law become more relaxed. The Church implored us all to consider our attitudes towards fasting and abstinence. What the Church reasserted was Jesus’ directive, the directive He gives us here today. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis early in his writing talks about Christians “whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”. However Fridays remain throughout all of the year, and more focussed and intensely penitential days – days when we abstain and fast at times to remind ourselves of all our faith is about. We sacrifice at time, we live always in gratitude and for the glory of God; we are called to live the Gospel in joy. We respect, adhere and follow the rules because with ardent faith, with hope and trust we recognize that our rules help us grow closer day by day to God – not because they are an end unto themselves. When we strictly and harshly point out others shortcomings and are highly critical of “rule-breakers” how little mercy we show. When we do that, we are reminded that the Lord requires mercy and mercy ought to always trump sacrifice. This is how we live as joyful Christians, but joyful Christians live and love their brothers and sisters, holding a very high standard for themselves with a deeper understanding of the “sacrifice” that itself gives way to joy; and through their loving kindness and well-lived life rather than harsh criticism set an example for their brothers and sisters. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” says the Lord.
We are reminded in today’s Gospel that Jesus blesses us. Often this Gospel can be a little perplexing, but I believe this Gospel gets to the heart & soul of what a blessing from God is all about. It’s not something that takes away our pains, sufferings, hardships, and challenges in life. No, but in fact what we can be confident and assured of is that the Lord shares those burdens with us. He takes much of it upon Himself in His great love for us. When people come to us and ask for our prayers and blessings, and I especially think of the many people who would come to me as a parish priest and ask for a blessing before surgery or to bless their new car or to bless them in something that was weighing on their mind, it occurs to me “what if…” What if something happens to that person after the blessing that doesn’t help them grow in faith?
The thought also occurred to me at times that we ask blessings because we might superstitiously believe that the Lord will keep us from something we don’t want to have to face – I know that I’ve thought this way about blessings too. But as I’ve reflected upon today’s Gospel, it has allowed me to go deeper into why we ask for blessings in the first place. We ask for blessings because we want to consecrate every part of our lives to God. We know that God loves us so completely, generously, unconditionally that He gave His Son to save us, and so we ask Him to bless us in every moment and event of our lives. We ask that He carry some of the burdens we experience in our lives, and He gladly accepts. We ask a blessing upon ourselves as we have a major event in our lives, or go for surgery or have to deal with a heavy burden, because as Christians with the Lord carrying some of the weight we can deal with more. We know that many things can happen out on the road, so we ask God’s blessing upon our vehicle so that it too may be a place where the Lord is present with us, blesses us and we grow in sanctification and holiness. We ask for a blessing on a Rosary or Crucifix because that object although just a material thing on its own can be a powerful instrument to remind us that we carry the Lord with us at all times and He is there for us always. He eases our burdens by His very presence, a friend who will walk with us on the journey of life. Friends, as a priest, reflecting upon the powerful message of today’s Gospel in this way has helped me to grow in my faith but also to help me understand why we ask for God’s blessings on the things which help us remember His sacred and deeply personal presence in all of our lives.