God Is Madly in Love with Us!

This Easter Sunday homily was given at St. John the Evangelist & St. Cornelius Parish in Caledon, where I served two summers as a seminarian.

Often our coming to Holy Mass the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, our being here is something we know is good for us, but for many of us, we are at a loss to explain why we come; which can also be a reason why (for some of us) we stop coming altogether.

It would seem that if we’re not able to convince someone else, anyone else, even our children – or to have our parents convince us of why we should be here – then eventually it might even stand to reason that we are ‘living a lie’ and we give up believing that coming to Mass is an important and connected part of our spiritual lives.

We may then, come to believe that we fit into a different category “I’m spiritual and not religious” and belong to a belief system that eventually will crumble away what we accept by faith; until it will be hard to have faith in anything at all(p).  Perhaps you think you’re going to hear a homily criticizing you if this is you – but guess what, you’re not!  You’re not because I too have been there most of my life, with little or no desire to be a religious man, a Christian man.  You’re not, because we’re glad you’re here with us tonight/today; we all have a past, but Jesus loves us in the present and forever! I’ve also made the mistake of believing that my faith had to be so sure and strong that I had to convince everyone else that I was right and they were not that it led me first to a sense of hopelessness, it led me to great doubt and drove a wedge between me & the Lord.  I don’t judge, because I struggled with faith even as a new Catholic, and continue to.  Faith wouldn’t mean anything if it came easily to us; it wouldn’t be faith in God if it left nothing to mystery and the imagination.  We struggle but so too did the disciples.   I think we can well imagine how each and every disciple questioned and doubted his faith until the tomb was found empty and even then until they encountered the Risen Lord.  Most of us have our periods between Good Friday and Easter Sunday where everything is mystery, where our faith is tested.  My hope and prayer for each one of us here is that as the Lord Rises Glorious and Immortal, our faith rises and is transformed to be stronger, deeper, tested and true.  We are all here because we have faith, or we want it.  We are invited today to a new or renewed faith in God, to a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ and then once again to the baptismal waters.  It began at baptism for us, ends with death and dying to self in life and our faith is raised again with Christ, new and transformed with Him in His Resurrection.  And we pause to reflect upon the greatest act of love (ending on the Cross on Good Friday) and the greatest sign of faith, hope and love (we celebrate today at Easter in the Resurrection).  Friends, we may not be able to explain why we are here – but we are here!  And that’s what so pleases God.  We may not have it all figured out, but that’s okay because it’s already figured out for us, all we have to do is stay committed to Jesus and to the Easter Promise, and things are never going to be the same.  Tonight/today, I want to share with you the words of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, retired Archbishop of Cincinnati.  He had the most beautiful way to look upon what our faith in Jesus Christ is all about; what the meaning and purpose of our life on earth and with God forever is all about.  Let us listen to these words –   these words express why we are all here:

The most important thing in the world is that God is madly in love with us.  There’s no reason for it.  God just loves us.  That’s why there is a world.  That’s why each of us is here.  God has loved us for a long time, ever since the beginning of human history.  And God has never stopped loving us, even when we human beings made a mess of things and we did our best to forget about God’s love for us.  But that’s not all.  God loves us so much that He wanted to be one of us.  In Jesus Christ, God became a human being not just to tell us who and what God is, but also to show us who and what we are supposed to be.  Jesus was faithful to that mission even when it cost Him His life.

But that’s not all.  Jesus is still alive because His heavenly Father wouldn’t let Him stay dead.  Jesus is with us still and has sent us the Spirit that unites Him and the Father to make us live God’s life in addition to our own.  To be part of that life we don’t have to earn it, we don’t have to deserve it.  All we have to do is accept what Jesus offers us and then act in accord with what He has made us to be.

But that’s not all.  Jesus has established a community of those who have accepted Him so that none of us ever has to be alone.  Jesus nourishes that community with Himself (Holy Communion we receive at Mass; with the Word of God we hear and the faith we unite ourselves in and profess) and He marks every major moment of the life of every member with His personal action in the sacraments.

But even that is not all.  God loves us so much that this life of Jesus that we have been given to share will never end.  God wants us with Him forever.  No matter how confusing and painful our life may be, we have God’s guarantee of final fulfillment.  In the most literal sense, God has promised us that everything is going to be all right.  God invites us to take constant joy in hope.

But there’s still more.  Because we share the life of Jesus, we share the mission of Jesus.  Each of us is called to extend the love and care of the Lord to those around us.  We may not seem to have much to offer, but what we do have is eternally important because it’s not just ourselves that we offer, but the Lord Jesus Himself.  The Lord has chosen to need each one of us to get His work done.  Nobody’s life is insignificant.

The long and the short of it is that God is crazy about us.  Once we accept that, everything else falls into place.

Friends, that’s pretty good news.  There’s no question that we all need a little good news right now.  There seems to be much hopelessness, bad news, uncertainty in the hearts of many.  It is here that we find sanctuary with the Lord; here in our community of believers.  We celebrate this most especially at Easter.  This is very, very good news!  Nothing happening in the world today has dominion over love in our hearts; over the joy and peace we can have faith and trust in.  The Lord died on Friday, everything seemed doomed and downcast with Jesus in the tomb.  But He has Risen, truly He has Risen!  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a promise of transformation; it ought not to lead us into doubt and confusion; but clarity, hope and promise.  A joyous Easter and may God bless you!

Bearing the Cross with Jesus

Yesterday we celebrated Passion Sunday, and in the liturgy and at Mass we journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem, beginning Holy Week; the final stretch of one of the hardest weeks of His life, and yet a week that led to the greatest act of love EVER – in human history.  Not only for those who accepted the Lord then and there, but for everyone who ever would come to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  Jesus’ Sacrifice will culminate on the Cross and we will celebrate and mourn Him there on Good Friday.

Throughout this week, we who know the journey of Christ and commemorate it in what we call “Holy Week”, we know what this entry into Jerusalem meant and means for our Lord Jesus.  In today’s Gospel Lazarus’ sister Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume.  Judas rebukes her, suggesting instead that the money could have been spent on feeding the poor.

It would be easy to villainize Judas for being the one who betrayed our Lord in Jerusalem but should we do that before we stop and think about how our faith and faith in general is lived out in the world today?  Christians must love and care for the poor; of that there is absolutely no doubt at all.  We must have a social conscience; the manner in which we give alms is important & the time we give to those in need; those who in any way are less fortunate than ourselves is absolutely important.

But that said, it is not the only way we are called to give generously in our faith.  If we are going to give generously to those in need (especially to exercise the Corporal Works of Mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy), we must accept generously the fullness of the gift of faith including the sacrifice offered (which we can never repay) and to joyfully accept the sacrifices we are called upon to offer in our Christian lives.

Mary’s action of anointing the feet of Jesus is a sign that she truly understands who Jesus is, and her action speaks of a heart open to acceptance of the Gift of the Cross.  She can never repay our Lord, nothing she does (or any of us do) can repay the gift of our salvation, but her action of praise & worship, of gratitude – it’s appreciated and the Lord knows that Mary will be one who spends her life in gratitude for what she has received.

That is why the small sacrifices we make during Lent are more than ‘token’ sacrifices; they prepare us for the greater sacrifices we will make and help us to see these sacrifices as faith-building and not damaging or lessening our faith.  When we struggle with illness, disease or even impending death; have we built up strength through sacrifice, allowed ourselves to be grateful in the midst of sorrow?  Have we begun to accept the Gift of the Cross?  Do we anoint the moments when we face challenges to our faith, trusting that the Lord journeys with us in those moments?

That He is close to us, because like us, He knows suffering intimately and personally?

Or do we turn to other things, other thoughts; thoughts of asking why?  Thoughts which don’t provide us with satisfactory answers or answers that help deepen our faith at all.  One of the most challenging experiences we undergo in our faith is to embrace the Cross of Christ however that looks for each one of us.  Whatever cross we bear is a piece of the Cross of Christ.  One of the greatest challenges we face with our crosses is distraction and being drawn to want other things.

Judas’ focus is on what should be instead of this anointing with perfume is a reminder to us of not wishing or wanting for different things even in the challenges we face in our lives.  We carry the Cross we are given. We even help others carry their crosses if we can; as Simon of Cyrene does for Jesus went His Cross seems too much for Him to bear.

I have learned a lot in these powerful moments of my life.  Not at first, I struggle with just as we all do.  It’s in the clarity of the moment, when I reflect upon those things I bear and endure.

As a priest, I have heard many bedside confessions and anointed many people close to death.  I have had people very close to me suffer and die and I held their hands too, bearing their cross (if even a little) with them.  In my own reflections later on, I came to discover the Gift of the Cross, in these moments, as they brought me a deeper faith through the whole lived experience.  My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we join Jesus on His final week on earth, may each of us be granted the Gift of the Cross especially in the challenges we experience in our lives. May God bless you.

Passion Sunday: It Gets Very Real This Week!

Passion of the Christ

If you’re anything like me, you struggled a bit with your Lenten commitment.  I find when I reflect upon my last many Lents, I very much value the experience of giving up something that makes me more aware of how much I need the Lord’s strength and courage in my daily life.  I also realize how like every other Christian, I have a vocation, a “call” to keep getting up and keep “fighting the good fight” in the battle God’s will versus my own.  It offers me consolation to know that the Merciful Lord is patient with me.  But in my own reflection, I am also aware and mindful of how serious things get when the Lord prepares Himself to enter Jerusalem as He does today.  We are going to hear and experience the worst of the greatest act of love in human history.  Things are going to be brutal, graphic, horrific and yet the Lord Himself will remain on course and committed to the love He came into the world that we might receive, that we often and in many ways TO THIS VERY DAY – reject!

One of the blessings I very much appreciate as a priest (one available for us all) is that my week can be a very intense week of prayer and journey with the Lord.  I plan to savour every moment of the week in the liturgies, especially at Mass this week.  It is my own desire to really commit myself to being with Jesus this week, because I know that I need a very vivid reminder of the Gift and Mystery of the Cross which I know will also nourish the Gift and Mystery of the Priesthood and my hope is that it will strengthen me in my own vocation.  As a matter of fact, I have every hope and complete faith that it will.

I hope and pray this for others too.  This powerful week of commitment, sacrifice, of surrender to the Will of God ought to be a journey of deep reflection upon our own vocation too.  For myself as a priest, I always look forward to the Chrism Mass; the Mass where the Archbishop blesses the oils used for anointing throughout the year, but also where the Diocesan Priest renews his priestly promises he made at ordination.  I inevitably spent time reflecting upon my own priestly ministry, on the commitments I made, on the ways I have been strong and even reflecting upon the areas I have been week.  This year, we are inviting some of our men discerning in the archdiocese to share in that experience.  It’s a great time for the seminarians to be present too, as they pray the Lord guides them along the right path.

On Passion Sunday, the rubber meets the road, so to speak.  Jesus enters into the part of His earthly journey He came into the world for.  This is where we must seek to enter more deeply into our faith and prepare ourselves in our own commitment to our Catholic Christian faith.  If we are going to be true disciples of Christ, we have to really embrace this week and allow it to transform us.  If we do, we have our passion too, but this week we find strength and courage in the Lord’s Passion.  May God bless you.

St. Joseph, Model of Vocations

St. Joseph

This is part of a vocations homily published in audio format on EWTN’s Vocation Boom program:

It’s always a great gift to be able to preach on vocations on the feast day of St. Joseph for a variety of reasons. St. Joseph presents for us a role model in discernment. Secondly, he is also an example of someone who dedicated His life to the living out of His vocation to the fullest. What we know of Him in both Holy Scripture and through tradition reveal for us two of the most essential elements of any generous vocational response; humility and obedience. Finally, St. Joseph is the patron saint for us here in Canada, so I have no doubt He will intercede for us here praying to the Lord of the harvest here in the Canadian Catholic Church, that there will be more labourers entering into the harvest.

St. Joseph for obvious reasons couldn’t have been as open and receptive to the Annunciation, as his betrothed, the Blessed Virgin was. He wasn’t there!  Our Lady was open to God’s grace, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and even presuming she told St. Joseph (which I think we can be sure she did), logic and reason would have led him to be skeptical and in doubt until the angel appeared to him in a dream as well. But Joseph did not rush to judgment or immediately act upon his hurt, disappointment, feelings, or even what seemed to be logical but instead surely took these things with him to prayer. We are not given a sense of how immediate the response was, but it certainly wasn’t instant. In discernment, people are encouraged to act in the same manner. We all reason and we all apply logic, but while these factors are a very important part of the natural human condition, we often must think and pray outside or beyond these things. In the end, reason and logic are expanded not eroded and we too will encounter God who will set our mind at ease.

Once God has spoken to our heart and our questions are answered, we need to begin to respond to Him and His call for us as Joseph did. He took Mary and departed, He moved quickly to protect His family. He settled in Nazareth for the safety of his child. We too need to answer our call. If we are called to priesthood and we have a sense of that, we too must respond and not create for ourselves more obstacles than the ones that exist, the ones which we must seek to allow grace to begin to break down.

St. Joseph, husband, father and faithful man answered his call in obedience and humility. He listened for the Will of God and did not presume it. He brought the Child Jesus to the temple, for the rituals, knowing His Son was special and Divine, He did not circumvent the Will of God. He also did all he did in a spirit of humility and although he could have certainly acted with pride, he didn’t. In this way, he is a model for priests who give their life in obedience to their bishop, and their future bishops whom they don’t know on the day that they are ordained. They must strive for humility as pride is one of the most deadly vices for anyone in any vocation’ but most especially for the priest and in the priesthood.

And finally, and joyfully I ask St. Joseph to intercede for all of us in Canada and the United States, but especially for us here in Canada and for our Church. St. Andre Bessette, a great saint of blessed memory here had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and his vocation as a Holy Cross brother is a great vocation story for everyone.  Our country is under his patronage. In many ways, many of the Vocation Directors here in Canada learn a lot from the good things that are happening in the United States; we pray for an increase of vocations to priesthood and religious life and ask St. Joseph to petition that for us.



Who Do We Speak For?

Food for thought today given Jesus’ public statement – who do we speak for?  As we near Passion Sunday and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to His suffering, the Cross and His death, we also know that His public statements about His Divine Purpose & Mission are not winning Him more friends at this point, and inciting more hostility towards Him.  But He stays on point and speaks up!  The Father depends upon the Son.

Who do we speak for?  This question for reflection is one I also ask myself in the moments when I find myself shying away from speaking as a Christian.  There’s no question that balance requires us to be prudent and sensitive to every encounter and situation that we’re in.  There are times when I speak with people that I need to be mindful that a hard-core response is not going to be effective in doing the Lord’s work.  But we cannot shy away from moments of standing firm and sharing our faith when it’s warranted.  And we cannot seek only to make the Gospel palatable to people who may find the message altogether disagreeable.  The Gospel calls us all to a higher plain, to a deeper, more committed, more purpose-filled life.  The bar must always remain set high, and we cannot lower the bar to allow more of us to reach it – that is not what Jesus did.  He had (and has) compassion in every possible way for human weakness, but we don’t simply factor in human weakness and create a more agreeable message.  Today’s Gospel is a reminder of that for each one of us.  Although the question “Who do we speak for?” is a question each of us needs reflect upon, it ought to be rhetorical because as Christians we speak for Jesus Christ – that is what we are confirmed to do.

Sometimes people are not going to like us or agree with us, sometimes the message we carry with us as Christians will be attacked and we will be personally attacked for being the carriers of that message, this is what integrity is all about and it’s what being Christian is all about too.  It is part of the sacrifice each of us makes by professing faith in Christ.  We may not always carry that message with perfection either, but an examination of our conscience every day ought to grant us the insight to know how we can share the Good News in better ways.  But we ought to feel confident that just as we find meaning and purpose in living our faith; that hearts are converted when Christians give witness to the Father’s love for all to see.  May God bless you.

Christians Need to Restore Integrity

As I’ve been listening & reflecting upon the Gospels lately, I have been thinking about the world we live in where we are losing our sense of what it means to be who we were created to be.  We as Christians know the story.  We know how God Almighty didn’t simply create, but with a love that is apparent all around us, created us with the greatest love.  He created us with the innate gift to give and receive love, most importantly to Him and others but to love the created world we live in.  We know that story, and as Christians, we also know the part that He entered by way of His Son into our human & personal history so that not even one of us would be lost; so that we might all be saved.  That is hope fulfilled!  So why then are we in the dire straights we find ourselves in as a society now?  Why is the world going to ‘hell in a hand basket?”  There are surely many reasons, but one of the reasons (and a point of reflection) is that we need to spend time contemplating integrity in our own lives.  We need to strive to be men and women of integrity, and as Christians to call others to integrity too.

The world is not going to ‘hell in a hand basket’, in fact the world we live in is a reflection of what we make it to be.  The world is a good and beautiful place, we enhance that beauty or we bring ugliness into it.  Take death for instance.  Death is a hot topic right now with the assisted suicide legislation before parliament.  Certainly we are all called to stand against what we see as misguided direction in legislation and attitudes among our elected leaders; but more than this we need to reflect upon life and death in a beautiful way.  I shared the story of being with my mother from life into death, but I have been with other loved ones at that time and have seen great value and meaning pour forth from the life of a dying person.  I could not imagine myself supporting assisted suicide or seeing any life as not worthy or valuable enough to safeguard.  But I also have to ask myself (as we all do) – what am I really doing with the insight the Lord gave me?  Am I speaking out or contacting my Member of Parliament to let my voice stand?  Am I speaking publicly about the great dignity of human life?  Am I treating everyone I meet each and every day with the greatest possible dignity?  Do I see everyone as a precious gift from God?  I know there is (and maybe there always will be) room for growth there.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways that I know I need to become a man of integrity.  The words and actions which come from each one of us, they need to speak to who we are and who we need to be as precious children of God.  The question which captures this is one which our Lord Himself posed to the disciples.  Who do people say that I am?  Who do people say you are?

Endless Mercy: The Call of Christ

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us.

As most of you know, this is part of the closing prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a powerful prayer which has become and is becoming increasingly a part of the life of the faithful Christian.  An especially important prayer in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

An awareness of the Mercy of God is the foundation of any and all of our vocations.  It almost begins there.  Many of us, most of us struggled with a sense of unworthiness when we began our discernment; be it priesthood, religious life or marriage.  I like St. Luke’s call of the Apostles story because Peter confesses his unworthiness and the Lord says, “Come, follow me, I will make you fishers of people”.  We are aware of God’s mercy, but the tension, the difficulty most of us have is accepting that mercy and then extending it towards others.  In the Gospel today, Peter asks how often we have to forgive.  Jesus quantifies it in a way that suggests always, ceaselessly, without end, beyond what we think or feel our capacity is to do so.

Forgiveness and forgiving is not only an important part of beginning our vocational discernment, but one which we need to nurture, grow and deepen throughout our lives.  We may come to our faith believing that we need more catechism, teaching, engagement in our faith and it’s true we do need all these things, but we must begin and can’t do without more healing.  We need to be healed and we need to extend healing to others.  If we experience the mercy of God but don’t extend it in our vocation; we become quickly disconnected from the Gospel.  If we constantly seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession for our sins against our husbands and wives yet don’t grant or accept forgiveness from them – grace will diminish quickly.  If we as priests (and future priests) receive the Sacrament of Healing often and absolve inside the confessional but then are ruthless and hard-hearted towards the people we serve, people will be turned off or turn away.  If we as religious women and men speak of forgiveness and then find ourselves uncompromising towards those we minister too; soon enough we’ll have no one to minister to but ourselves.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus leaves us with a positive and joyful message, a very freeing message today.  We must allow ourselves to be freed of the burdens of our own sins and free ourselves from the worry about the sins of others.  If we are willing to bring ourselves to the greatest possible place of forgiving and letting go; the grace of God will take us the rest of the way.  May God bless you.