Beautiful Churches, Beautiful People…Not An Either/Or…A Both/And

I know there are often two schools of thought within our parishes.  There are those among us who feel we shouldn’t spend our money on the “beautiful things” which remain inside our parish churches; the liturgical fineries, vestments, artwork, the building itself beyond the very basic elements.  Instead we should spend the money we offer in tithing on the poor, the marginalized and on social justice concerns.  I also know that there are among us those who feel we spend too much on people who won’t help themselves, and we as a faith community are taken advantage of so we should make the parish church appealing and attractive for those who’ve given much to the Lord to have a beautiful place to worship.

In fact, after years of being privy to these kinds of conversations and growing in my own faith and awareness of it, in light of today’s Gospel, I offer this: it’s not an either/or but rather a both/and.  That is, it’s of the greatest importance that our churches are made beautiful both for God and for the people who worship and pray to Him.  But it’s also of the greatest importance that we, God’s people don’t just remain enclosed in our sacred space but that we reach out with every resource we have and bring others to Him, to His sacred space where we profoundly encounter Him not only (but importantly) in each other but also in the mystery which is present divinely, sacramentally and really within our parish churches.

Jesus teaches us that our sacred places matter, but we they are not a place like any other.  Churches and chapels are not meant to be ordinary, because what takes place and what remains within them is extraordinary!  I am certainly speaking of the Blessed Sacrament, the very presence of our Lord and God but we receive Him fully and completely as a part of the living out of our faith, and in doing so, we too are extraordinary as the Lord wills it to be.  We bring that with us as we head out into the mission fields beyond these four walls, just as Jesus would.  And we bring them back.

This is a message which we share with the men discerning to be Shepherds of the Mystery, Mission and Message in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  This is the kind of men we want to be priests.  We want the women and men who give their lives to this mission in the religious life to appreciate and welcome both as well.  It was the beauty and Presence inside God’s House that was an important factor in our vocational discernment, but the actions of living out our vocations ought to reach out far beyond these walls, just as Jesus did.  Today, may we think about our beautiful churches and the beautiful people and give ourselves generously to both.  May God bless you.

What Do We Remember Today?

It’s easy to get caught up in the issues we face as a community of faith, and we can often set aside or relegate gratitude to second place in our lives of faith. Gratitude is perhaps one of the most important parts of prayer and no matter how we pray, if we’re not beginning and ending with gratitude we soon forget all the Lord has done for us and we lose perspective, focus and insight and we quickly become defensive and negative as Christians. Today is an especially opportune time to think about this. Jesus heals ten, only one is truly grateful – when the others get what they are looking for; off they go. The crowds that show up at the cenotaphs and war memorials today dwindle in number. Fewer and fewer of us show up to commemorate the fallen and those who sacrificed so much for all of us; for our freedom, including the freedom of religion and religious practice that many of us, myself included take for granted today. On this day when we celebrate Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day, instead of allowing it to pass unnoticed, may we take the time to really reflect in gratitude for what has been given to us by those who have gone before us. Many men and women made the sacrifice of their lives in the wars of the 20th century, others give themselves to this commitment today. This is not far from the sacrifice of men and women who have died martyr’s deaths for their faith. For God and others many have committed everything; their entire lives. When I was beginning my vocational discernment and living at Serra House I was in formation with a young man who was just nineteen at the time. He had a great and heroic spirit about him and loved the military. Often I find, especially among our younger men this desire to live for something greater than themselves and there can be among young men especially this heroic desire to “fight for God and Church” and this desire to “wear the uniform”. I understand this because when I was 18 and 19 I too desired this; not for faith because I was not a Catholic at that time, but to serve in the Canadian Forces. A mistake would be to think young men will grow out of that or to put them down for it. The right approach is to understand that Holy Mother Church is the embodiment of Jesus Christ and what many love – and should love about the Church is that She (we) stand for something powerful in the world! What’s different about us when we get older is that sometimes we realize that we stand for those things in many different ways, but the importance of the “uniform” we wear as a priests, the clerical garb is not insignificant, in fact it is more important than ever. It’s a visible sign that we stand firm in our beliefs. It is a source of true Christian values and I am proud of being a Christian, and trying to become a better one today and every day. As we wear our collar, we too should be reminded that every minute of every day we are given for something that is far more important than ourselves and that we give our lives for that; that is you! When a priest puts on his collar, he should be reminded that his life is given for others, for the people he serves day by day. And we remember. Today we remember. May God bless you.

Vocation Story: St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo was born with all the advantages in life.  He had everything, came from nobility and was given a good education and even his vocation seemed to have been handed to him in a manner of speaking. He was made a Cardinal before he was ordained (at the age of 22) then ordained a priest at 24 and made a bishop a couple of months later. St. Charles held high positions in the Catholic Church and was the Archbishop of Milan.  He could have taken full advantage of the privilege and position which had been handed to him, but instead he chose to be holy and to allow God to guide Him along the path of life and he is not remembered for the great wealth or power or influence he had in this world, that which he had been given by his bloodline.  St. Charles is remembered for what he did to make the Church better to the Glory of God!

He worked hard to build better seminaries, holier places for new priests to be trained. He worked hard to help keep people on the right path and was a major player with St. Ignatius Loyola and others in what was known as the Counter-Reformation.  I can well imagine his life was an important part of this.  The Reformation saw many wanting to leave the Church and form another community, often because they saw the corruption of its members, especially its leaders.  We see that in our time too, because many people have given up on the Church because all they can see is the smudge that entitled clergy and the mistakes and bad example on the part of Christians.  But St. Charles showed the people, as we have to be open to see past all of that, to the Church Jesus founded and used frail, weak human beings to lead.  God chooses weak humanity to help each other find the salvation Jesus offered, and we have to see past that.  St. Charles among other people have helped us in great ways.

Excuses for Not Answering Jesus’ Call Won’t Get Us Ahead in Life

It’s easy enough for any of us to put off until tomorrow what we are feeling called to today.  Call it procrastination, lack of motivation, avoidance (especially in vocation discernment); whatever we might call it – this is exactly what Jesus cautions us against today.  He cautions the Jewish faithful first. Those in His hearing accepted the Covenant but were not able to go the extra step in accepting salvation through Jesus Christ. Accepting faith is an important beginning, aspiring for holiness through a prayerful and contemplative life, a generous life in Christ is important and should never be diminished in any way. What happens next can often be where we too begin to find excuses in our lives.  I know it well, because I did it and I have met many along the way who have also held back from answering the call the Lord has made.

When I had attended a vocation discernment retreat that had helped me to believe that the Lord might be calling me to consider priesthood, I remember convincing myself that I should wait on it, the Lord won’t mind so long as I keep living a good life.  I was in my early 30’s at the time, and could retire from my job when I was 52 – I could answer the call then.  It was my mother, dying and having just turned 52 who told me not to live life with regrets of what I could have done and didn’t who motivated me to move forward in discernment and face the fears I had.  She spoke for Jesus in my life.  We all need to consider these words as we consider what the Lord might be calling us to.  There are many men and women for whom vocation directors work closely with and see strong attributes of the vocations they are discerning who decide to take a step back.  This can be a great disappointment.  This would not be everyone; some men I work with decide to finish college or university, some who are finishing high school work and feel they need to experience the world a little bit and have good and sound reasons for this – these are different cases.  These are men and women who are continuing to answer their vocational calls but are being formed so as to relate to people – an important attribute in a religious vocation.  But there are others who will hardly or never feel ready, and there are some whom I have worked with that it is disappointing because you know they have a lot to offer, but can’t bring themselves to ‘just do it’.

But the Good News is there is a simple solution, to hear the Gospel with fresh ears and a fresh perspective, to hear it and respond to it.  To examine ourselves and see what we aren’t doing and begin to turn things around knowing that God’s grace will bring us the rest of the way. And that goes for me too.  There are even things as a priest which in my own examination of conscience, I know I avoid and could deal with and grow close to God – this Gospel is for all of us we must do what the Lord is calling us to now, and we must not put off until tomorrow, because tomorrow might very well be too late.