Jesus Loves His Family: All of Us, His Mother & Brothers…

An Excerpt from my Homily for the Seminarians at Serra House today: I think many of us wrestle with what seems to be Jesus denying His family as we hear it proclaimed in today’s Gospel. But today’s Gospel takes me to the Cross where Jesus “gives” His Mother to us all; where He says to John and to the whole Church, “Behold, Your Mother”. And then in His selfless generosity as He prepares to depart from this world, He gives the woman He loves to us, holding nothing back. In love, Jesus does not want His Mother to be alone, just as He wants none of us whom He loves to be alone either. When we love others we share everything with them, and as Christians we are called to love in a complete and perfect way. In doing this we do the Will of the Father. And here we all are, more than 2,000 years later, disciples in succession from those very first days and we look to Mary as Our Mother. Of course we know that she is Jesus’ Mother, the Mother of God but when we turn to her and ask for her help, her intercession we call out to Our Mother. And so she is. As Christians we give and receive love; it’s important that we do. We are family. We understand family in a different way, a radically different way. Not only do we refer to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, we mean it, or we must seek to integrate this into our own life. Brothers, I’ve experienced this in my life. I certainly loved my own family, but my best friend’s family were like my own. From the time I was a boy I experienced love from another family and in turn throughout the years my love and the bond with them grew stronger and stronger. I learned and accepted many different things, and in fact faith was introduced to me by my best friend’s sister when I was in my 20’s. My capacity for loving others and giving and receiving love from many people drew me into a deeper relationship with God and I give thanks for that gift in my life. I can’t say that even throughout my life as a Christian I always put this together with today’s Gospel, but I am coming to see how generous Jesus is in sharing His life and family with others, and although His Words today may not speak the entire story, we know that He did not in fact deny His family, but simply indicated that His family was much larger than the nuclear family He had been given by birth and blood. Our capacity for love grows as we grow in Christian virtue and practice; and so our houses should not contain all that we can give. We too are call to push past borders and boundaries to embrace more than just our close-knit group we were blessed to be given. It does not diminish those relationships but brings greater love to a world that very much needs it. My brothers & sisters in Christ, let us consider who we have embraced as family, and in living our lives as dedicated Christians may that family grow today and every day, as it did for our Lord Himself. May God bless you.

Monday’s Thought: Sinners Changing the World in the name of Jesus

Matthew's Call

It really wouldn’t and doesn’t take too much for any of us to be the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, even if there seems to be an innate Christian instinct within us to be repulsed by the behaviour of the Pharisees in this or any Gospel encounter.  If any of us were ever to think that the Pharisees are to be isolated out and we are not like them; if any of us were to think we are going to be the true and devoted followers of our Lord and Saviour, we will have missed a very key and important dimension of the oral and written tradition of our faith; we will miss why we have Sacred Scripture in the first place.

We can be judgmental, negative and pessimistic about the world we live in and the people we live with, the Church we minister within.  We remember today St. Matthew, whom many felt was by far so unworthy of becoming a disciple then Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ that they were repulsed by Jesus’ invitation to Him.  In fact, their repulsion caused them to question Jesus Himself.  It was as if in their own paradigm of thinking, Jesus calling notorious sinners made Jesus lower in their eyes.

Isn’t it possible for us to do the same?

Isn’t it possible for us to question our bishops and teachers when they present us with something that goes against our own paradigms of thinking about the Church?  About how Catholics and Christians should live, and when we begin to see the wounds, the blemishes, the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters.

As a Vocation Director, I look for broken men (and I know them well being one myself).  Broken men who can accept their brokenness and yet at the same time see that they are a gift from God to the world and to others; they make the best priests: and if that’s you, give me a call.

We heard yesterday and we will hear again this week of the disciples focussing their thoughts on who among them is the greatest.  We must see ourselves as a gift but not with blinders on; we must see each other as the amazing gift and blessing to the world and to each other as God sees us all.  I mention this too because to feel the weight of our sinfulness is not to focus on it.  If we focus on our sinfulness, we will never be doing God’s work.  Priests are men of the Eucharist, but should also be men of Confession, knowing and seeking God’s mercy.

We are not worthy of this call to be a Priest of God, but none of us are, not me, no priest, no Cardinal or even the Pope – none of us are.  We are sinners, get over it, with God’s grace and some effort on your part (but much more God’s grace) we will get better; and God chose to build a Church and through His Son bring each of us the opportunity for salvation through sinners, often very notorious sinners!

If that’s hard to believe, look at St. Paul, and remember His words: in dialogue with Jesus in 1st Corinthians: Jesus says “my grace is sufficient, it’s enough for you: power is made perfect in weakness”.  St. Paul tells us that he has come to “boast of his own weakness, because he comes to see strength in it”.  The more we have been forgiven for, the more we are aware of how much we have needed God for that, how much we have to be thankful for.

How much is God and how little is us!  We must simply know we can’t live without Jesus Christ and my brothers in Christ, as we prepare for this Year of Mercy; let us consider what has been given to each one of us, so that we can extend that mercy and forgiveness to others; may we all remember that though we are sinners – we are loved sinners, loved back from any weakness or darkness into the light of Christ. May God bless you.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Loving Ourselves & Others Means Accepting We’re All Chosen

Look in the mirror. You were created to be all that you can be, a wonderful and amazing creation by God Himself (in cooperation with your parents of course) complete with all your gifts, talents, abilities and should you choose to take your giftedness and put it to use in the Lord’s vineyard, you will receive even more and often supernatural gifts and abilities that will help lead many, many others closer to Christ, closer to heaven as you seek to get there yourself. Sometimes a lifetime of others putting us down can cause us not to believe this to be true, but when we enter a deeper and more personal relationship with the Lord, part of that relationship is to see ourselves as God sees us. For some of us it takes a lot of hard work and reflecting in order to get there, but it’s a huge breakthrough when we do. Looking into the mirror you should see what God sees, and give yourself to God you should see that you are created in his image and likeness. Now look in the mirror again, this time look behind what you first see; there are others there. There are many, many others and they are not insignificant to the greater, deeper picture. They too are all that you are. Although different from you perhaps they are wonderful, amazing, chosen, created in the image and likeness of God. Just as it took a lot of hard work and reflection to see yourself, at least in part measure as God sees you, it might take even more work, harder reflection to see the others as God sees them – but we must try. We must try because otherwise we will fall into the trap that our Gospel in part speaks about today. We will want higher place, we will demand ourselves as priority, and we will see ourselves as better than other people. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need both perspectives here: humility is not thinking we’re crappy or no good; it’s having a healthy perspective that includes a necessary sense of self worth and a great sense of the worthiness of others. We will allow the Lord to choose who takes the higher seat, and we will rejoice then when He does.   May God bless you.

Our Lady, Mary the Good Sower

What kind of evangelizer do you want to be? Our Gospel today, and the essence of our Gospel calls each of us to think about this; I start with myself. The easy part is to “proclaim” the Word of God, the harder part is to live it – the two MUST go together, otherwise those who hear will know the words to be empty words. We celebrate today Our Lady’s Saturday, so it’s a most apt opportunity to reflect upon today’s Gospel and consider how Mary lives the Gospel out well; she embodies it perfectly. Jesus calls us to be sowers of good seed, to spread well the Word of God. Our Lord went to temple and spent time with the learned men of Galilee and Jerusalem, but we ought to never overlook the example and learning given to Him by His Holy Parents. They may not have had the “learned” understanding of the Sacred Scriptures, but we not from every mention of them in the Gospels they lived it well.

We hear throughout the Gospel of the many times Jesus’ mother “pondered (the many profound encounters with God through their Son) these things in her heart”. What a tremendous example she was, and what a great point of departure to continue “spreading seeds” as a devout Christian as she was. How many of us full of zeal and ready for action become less committed in our discipleship because we lose sight of how the Lord is working through us. Mary surely must have had days of confusion, days where clarity was lacking, days where it seemed like nothing was going right, and then something happens and Mary is deepened in her faith, a depth that carried her through her trials in life that led her to charity; giving generously and selflessly when she easily could have taken time for self-pity or to withdraw. Did Mary teach her own Divine Son to give beyond what was normal, what was the norm?

Certainly we could make the argument that she had “perfect faith”, but this makes her less than human. Her faith is strong because Mary held on to the great moments of grace given to her and allowed those moments to transform her, and the transformation was manifested in giving always to others; to her Son, but to others like Elizabeth, like the Apostles, to the Church after her Son gave her to us all.

And those moments which might have made her weak otherwise give Mary what she needs to be strong for others. To be a rock of faith for others. She is a model for us all, and she is most definitely a model for me. As I celebrate Our Lady’s Saturday today, I am asking Mary to be rock and model of faith for me, but also for us all.

Monday’s Thought: We Exalt the Cross When We Joyfully Carry It

 We Adore You O Christ and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

exaltation of the cross

Today we celebrate in the Church the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Christ and truly for each one of us as Christians, we exalt the Cross when we freely take it up. I am strengthened in my faith when I meet people (and I have met many) who joyfully embrace the crosses in their life. Surely it’s easy to rationalize this kind of attitude and disposition as the “power of positive thinking”. Positive thinking may help us in the short term, but what I am talking about is actually so much deeper and very life-giving. Fr. Paschal, my mentor and very close friend was certainly a joyful priest and a great model and guide for me. He was joyful in life as he told stories and jokes, and reflected in a positive manner on his many years of service to the Church (40 as a religious brother, 26 as a priest…most of those years spent as a Vocation Director). The Lord gave me the grace to be with my friend near the very end of his life. Fr. Paschal never lost his joy in the midst of his sufferings and even on that very last day as we sat and had a most pleasant and joy-filled conversations, I asked Fr. Paschal if he was okay and needed anything, I remember his words: “I’m going to miss our chats, but I’m really excited to meet the Lord”. When I had a chance later to reflect, I also remember Fr. Paschal telling me he wasn’t afraid of death, the crown of our faith comes after that. And then in his last moment of earthly consciousness, barely able to speak and unable to do it for himself, Fr. Paschal asked me to help him make the sign of the cross. He stepped out of this world having embraced his cross and was joy-filled to meet the Lord at His.

This story I share with you is one of a multitude of stories of very beautiful experiences which may not seem so in the moment, but when we take time to reflect upon them after the storm we see the beauty and powerful witness they provide us with afterwards, and they help us. Although, if I am going to be honest, I am not looking forward to my own sufferings and ‘crosses’, when I see the strength of faith in those who do and how they draw ever so much closer to the Lord in the midst of these experiences – it gives me some peace. We know that Jesus’ own suffering on the cross was so horrible, graphic, brutal and unimaginable that very few remained with them. We know for many it was a weak moment of their faith, but thanks be to God we had the two Marys and John there to offer us something to ponder, because when these strong Christian witnesses share their experience (just as our brothers and sisters who suffer too do) we are made ever stronger in how we are commit to exalt the Cross in our own lives. May God bless you.

Thursday’s Thought: Let Us Look to the Lord as our Model & Guide

Today’s Gospel makes for a very good homily or talk to the men who are discerning priesthood for the Archdiocese of Toronto.  It’s a message we all need to hear, but espercially men who are trying to discern how and why God has “set them apart” from others – and yet He hasn’t!  What I mean by that is that they are indeed set apart, because even though many men think about the priesthood, many do not choose to follow this path, or it’s not for them.  Priesthood is never going to be the “norm” and men who become priests will always be few in number.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  That’s the way God ordained it.  Now, that said, even this “setting apart” does not set men, seminarians, priests apart from the rest of the world.  We are still sinners just like everyone else.  We are no better, and as we’ve seen in our times, can be worse if that’s what we choose to be.  The reason today’s Gospel ought to strike a chord is because as we discern our vocation, we also ought to discern how we plan to live our vocation out; will it be with privilege, entitlement, higher expectations OR will it be in the midst of our people; humble, with humility, WITH LOVE?

Today’s Gospel calls us all to put ourselves and our pride in check.  I say pride, because personal pride is what leads us to want revenge on others, to retaliate against them and what they do to us.  I know that most of us have some understanding that people who mistreat us are so often in a world of hurt, pain, insecurity, anger – they are not able to be reconciled.  If we were to empathize (and I think very few of us should be incapable of that because most of us have been there) with people who hurt others or hate others, it doesn’t make life a very pleasant and enjoyable thing.  The only thing that can change that, the only way we can do anything about that is with love, is by meeting hatred with love, understanding & goodness.

This is what we want of our men in the Archdiocese of Toronto; this is what we want of our priests.  Priests who love the people unconditionally, even when the people don’t love us, who serve even when we don’t feel like it; when we’re tired, when we feel like some people don’t care – because it’s in this way we pattern ourselves on God.  Men and women who discover God calling them to a religious vocation must really get this Gospel.  We don’t do what we do for credit, a pat on the back, for what it get’s us…we do it for God.  And if we stop and think about the Lord our God, He has patiently waited throughout all of human history for our generous response of love.  He has waited for us, His people to build upon the goodness of the world He created; now it’s up to us. Let us consider today how God has been the one who has bore the brunt of our misguided anger, frustration and resentment and met that with love.  I appeal to all Christians, who know that love to emulate the Lord in the way we deal with each one of our neighbours today.  May God bless you.

23rd Tuesday: Celebrating the Birth of Mary & Mothers: They Do So Much For Us.

Birth of Mary

Reflecting upon today’s Gospel, it occurs to me as the genealogy of Jesus is proclaimed that one of the things which this points out for us is that everyone’s life has meaning and purpose.  Little did Sts. Anne & Joachim know what was in store for their little girl when they gave birth to her, but aren’t we all glad that they did?  Even though Mary didn’t sin in her lifetime, and was given a very special grace which she responded to day by day throughout her life, not always easily we can well imagine and remained pure, holy, without sin, totally and completely devoted to God and to His plan as He revealed it to her throughout her life – a plan which included dedicating her life to her Son (as mothers often do for their children).  A plan which included the joys and triumphs of knowing her people would be saved by Him, but also that a sword of pain and suffering would pierce her heart too.  Mary saw the meaning of her life, because I’ll bet there were days when it was hard to see why she was born when Jesus was attacked publicly.  Knowing it was God’s plan, that it was all for a reason, a faith which was deep and pierced the same heart too I truly believe must have been one of Mary’s great gifts.

I think today of my own mother, who was young (19) when I was born.  I know in my adulthood she told me she felt unready and not mature enough to be a mother when I was born.  She lived in a time, culture and society where very young motherhood was no longer the norm.  But she did the best she could, she was a dedicated mother for my sister and I and I think of the great blessing I’ve received (but others too) of her life.  She is gone now, but her memory and all she has done to make a good life for me lives on.  I know that my own mother’s life had so much meaning and purpose, so much of that was evident in the people’s whose hearts she touched and the difference she made in the world.  But part of that meaning and purpose, she passed on by giving birth to my sister and I – and I thank God today that she did.  I think for each of us, no matter who we are, we ought to give thanks to our moms (with our dads of course) for bringing us into the world, as our Lord Jesus rejoices on this feast day the Birth of His Mother Mary!

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: We Must Go Deeper Than We See

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives a miracle healing to a deaf man with a speech impediment.  But then he tells this man and all who are there “not to go talking about this.”  This has always perplexed me; why when Jesus acts in such a way does He not want it to be known what He has done?  I truly believe that the reason for this, is our Lord wants us to find the deeper message before we share the Good News.  Miracles are an important expression of our faith, but they are only one expression, they are only one (and not the most important) way our Lord acts in the world, and in our own lives.  Jesus is so often moved with compassion that He acts to help the one He heals, but then through this goodwill act, it is surely His hope as it ought to be ours; that the one having been healed will see the deeper meaning, go deeper in their own commitment of faith and will foster and develop a deeper relationship with Jesus in the process.  Pre-existing this, a miracle doesn’t on it’s own bring a person into a deeper relationship with God.

In our presence, the Miracle of Miracles takes place day after day, week after week as ordinary bread and ordinary wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord Himself; truly, really, physically it is Jesus and yet there are in our midst many who do not believe.  How many believed so whole-heartedly in the miracles of Jesus and professed He was the Son of God and stood by Him at the foot of the Cross?

So what to do?  My friends, we are called to go deeper.  We are called to see to what the Lord does for the man in today’s Gospel.  He opens his heart, mind and soul and hopes that this man through his healing will respond generously to the invitation of a deeper commitment to his faith and relationship with Jesus; that he will follow Him because he has healed his life.  Time will tell, but without time Jesus knows that for this man as for us, we need time to pause and reflect upon these things, in time and with time we will come to see the depth of relationship God is calling each of us to.

To end this with a thought on vocations, I can see why there is a time and a place for men and women to share with those around them a sense of what God is calling them to do with their lives; especially for those who have felt a profound and powerful encounter with Jesus.  It takes time to build and grow a relationship with Jesus, to return to Him in prayer and gratitude, and when the time is right with reflection and meditation; then and only then are we ready to profess the miracles the Lord has performed in our lives; the miracles of faith that have led to the discovery of our own vocation.

Thursday’s Thought: Don’t Let Unworthiness Get in the Way of Your Vocation

Men and women who discern a religious vocation often have one thing in common: they feel a sense of unworthiness that slows them down or stops them in their tracks of vocational discernment when the thought occurs to them that they might be called to priesthood or religious life. I remember I felt very much this way; aware of all that I had done in my life not to warrant the Lord calling me to the priesthood, as people were telling me they thought I might be. I was beginning (in my mind) to dismiss this, rationalizing that these people who thought this: “really don’t know who I am”. I went on a discernment retreat and the retreat master said right away, “Some of you are sitting here right now, thinking ‘I’m not worthy’ and to you I have good news, you’re not! Get over it, none of us are. And to the others who thought you were, you’re not either. And it concerns me right now you think you’re worthy!” I have always been drawn into today’s Gospel, where Peter feels so unworthy, He wants the Lord to forget about Him and move on. But Jesus does quite the opposite. He doesn’t condemn, He doesn’t say “darn right!” He tells Peter that He has great things in store for Him. And He does for each one of us. This is an amazing Gospel for us sinners! Jesus calls us despite ourselves, which tells me of His majesty and power that He can take what is weak and deficient in us and make it good. He can take our sinfulness and make it strength. Many (sinners) are called but only a few will answer.

As a Vocation Director, it is very hard when a man walks away from what seems to me to be an authentic calling because he struggles with sin, and he can’t reconcile that the Lord could be calling him to Holy Priesthood while still being a sinner. Now obviously, he needs to try to work on his own sinfulness – we all do, and his sins can’t be ongoing, public and scandalous, but if any of us waits for perfection – we’ll never truly follow the Lord. If any of us waits “until we’re better”, we’re not likely to follow the Lord. We must allow ourselves to become more and more aware that we are sinners, but loved sinners. The best remedy for holiness and a deeper sense of calling for us is through the Sacrament of Confession, and each man who meets with me is encouraged to make confession a regular practice in their lives. Most priests know that they are only as good at giving Christ’s mercy and love as confessors, as they are regular penitents themselves.

Let’s today take time to think about our own unworthiness, and remember now and always that the Lord is really the one who will worthy us (and He will), we don’t do it on our own. May God bless you.

22nd Wednesday in Ordinary Time: A Day in the Life

Job shadowing is a very effective tool in most jobs or careers we have available to our young people out there; and although it’s not a “job”, I believe a tool which may be effective in developing a deepening sense of vocation awareness in our young people today. I think of “a day in the life” of a priest. In my year and a half of parish ministry the thought occurred to me that if young men knew what we did all day, this life would be far more attractive than it seems, because many young people I talked with at the schools were shocked that priests’ lives are very full, very rewarding and very demanding. There is a current of thought that we must present only the best of what we do to young people, not the hard or mentally and emotionally demanding portions, and they should not grasp that we have very demanding schedules. On the contrary, I do believe that young people look forward to a challenging and rewarding life. I believe that more young men will consider priesthood when they realize that this is a very purposeful, meaningful life; demanding, yes but also very, very rewarding. This thought occurred to me today in light of the Gospel; where we find Jesus Himself healing St. Peter’s mother-in-law, then going on to exorcizing demons, and working hard as He faces the demands placed upon Him. A day in the life of Jesus included preaching, bringing people together, touching their hearts and souls, freeing them from sin, being there for them in their own personal needs – when I think about all of this, it strengthens me as a priest to know that many of the daily demands of Jesus are similarly the demands placed upon our priests on a daily basis. To those who are unaware, and think we rest from Sunday to Sunday; today’s Gospel ought to offer a clearer picture of what the day in the life of a priest, through Jesus Christ is like. May God bless you.