Striving for Greater In-Sight in our Faith

In today’s Gospel, Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus in his physical (and spiritual) poverty and he won’t cease crying out, so persistently in fact that the disciples are annoyed and seek to silence him, seeing him as a bother.  But Bartimaeus doesn’t stop, and Jesus hears him, meets him and gives him the healing that he seeks to find.  Today’s Gospel provides us much to stop and reflect upon.

First of all, we must stop and ask ourselves as Disciples of Christ, are there times when we get in the way of others who are seeking Jesus?  Are we open and free enough in our own thinking and understanding to recognize someone who is?  I ask myself that question today.  I meet people every day who seek the Lord in all kinds of way and I recognize my own limitations and especially when I am tired or stressed out about something my limitations increase and I know I can become less open to how others around me cry out to the Lord.  I know that others have other limitations, perhaps a belief that there are only a very few ways to reach out to the Lord, perhaps our limitation is that we feel so few are worthy – these are not justifications for our behaviour but limitations in our thinking.  The only way for us to overcome these limitations is to truly and sincerely turn back to the Lord and ask Him to open our hearts further to see grace taking place in people.  We need to then allow a paradigm shift in our way of thinking to take place; to see the glass half full (everyone who wants to see and meet Jesus will be accepted by Him) rather than the glass half empty (I’ve got to protect Jesus from the people).

A second valuable point of reflection today comes from Bartimaeus himself.  He is persistent in his cries.  He pleads for Jesus to meet him.  We all have reached out to God in prayer, but there are many of us who place less value on prayer for a variety of reasons: one, we feel that God already knows what we want or two, we’ve not received what we ask for, so why bother.  There are other reasons why we struggle with prayer but these two reasons are key.  We often look at prayer as for God to hear us and surely He does hear us, but prayer is for us.  God listens to us and our hearts and the things which matter most to us.  He hears our prayers and answers them but sometimes we need to be persistent in those prayers.  If Bartimaeus gave up, where would he have been?  In seeing the ‘big picture’ in this Gospel, we know that there were other factors at play in the delay and maybe there is in the ‘big picture’ of whatever prayer seems to be delayed in our lives too.  Maybe it’s so we grow deeper in our faith, maybe it’s so we learn how to overcome certain obstacles on our own, maybe it’s to ready us for when our prayer is answered – again, a deepening of our faith.  Bartimaeus asked for his physical healing, but what he received was so much greater, both the physical but moreover the healing of his soul too.

As we begin or continue our day, as Disciples of Jesus Christ; let us pray for greater spiritual in-“sight” and for a greater freedom and strength in our faith; to both see and welcome all in the Name of Jesus, but then to be freed from whatever holds us back and blinds us to the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Entitlement is Not Part of Our Vocation

In today’s Gospel, we hear of James & John asking for a privileged position (which enrages the other Apostles) and we hear Jesus tell them that even though they will have to carry His Cross in their own lives, He isn’t able to give them what they ask for.  Now, they may be speaking of spiritual & heavenly things here, but what’s creeping into their own minds is a sense of entitlement, and today’s reflection is on that in our own lives.

Entitlement is deadly for us as Christians seeking to live out our vocation, but we’re just as susceptible to being entitled as these two Apostle-saints are.  I meet many people discerning their vocations and there are many things which I look for to help me determine a true and authentic calling to priesthood or religious life.  These are things like an altruistic desire to serve, love for, care for others, a desire to give what we can in humble ways, a humble sense of our God-given gifts and talents which a man or woman desires to put to use for God and His Church in some way.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives a general sense of what I look for.  Entitlement is a hard thing to extract from a person’s desire but getting to know someone, it’s not hard to see entitlement because little things highlight it in someone’s personality.  But an act of entitlement does not end someone’s discernment.  I mention this because I have talked with people who feel I should end discussions with someone as soon as any sign of entitlement presents itself.  I draw back on today’s Gospel, James & John gave themselves generously for the Lord with their lives and we know that St. James won the crown of martyrdom and St. John gave his life so generously that he entered Paradise as well.  I also know that I have had many moments in my own life where I have acted or thought in an entitled way.  But I know the importance as a Vocation Director of speaking about it.

In my ministries, first as an Associate Pastor at St. Patrick’s in Markham and in my role as Director of Vocations now, I have been given comfortable accommodations, a nice office to work from, all the things I need to celebrate Holy Mass and to do what I do.  As a seminarian I was cared for as well.  I often reflect upon that in prayer because it keeps me humble and reminds me of what the good People of God give to their priests (and religious and others as well).  People throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto and the church over, love, care for and take care of their priests and we are blessed that they do.  They care for me, and I pray that I have the strength and wherewithal to care for the people I serve, right now the people who discern their vocations.  I have been given much, and I am truly grateful for much.  I am entitled to nothing, and I think it’s important not simply to say this but also to truly believe it.  It’s important for me to tithe just as it is for others, to give for the good of the Church because I am no different than anyone else this way.

This is the message that I share with all those discerning and our seminarians as well. The life of the priest must be one of genuine loving sacrifice and there will be the Cross to bear, there will be rewards immeasurable, there are joys beyond all telling, and it is a life very much worth living – but we mustn’t seek for glory, the Glory is God’s to say at the end of our life “well done, good and faithful servant”.  May God bless you this day.

Much Is Left to Be Revealed

We can all imagine the child in the back seat of the car on a long car ride asking his mom or dad, “are we there yet?”  A classic story of impatience, but also perhaps of not knowing where we’re going or how long it’s going to take to get there.  I think we’ve all been there. It can be hard to be patient when we just want to get where we are going.  It can be difficult to be a patient Christian.  When we begin to live the Christian life, it’s exciting to heroically struggle to be the best we can be, and as we begin to see how our lives become better for the struggle, it’s rewarding, fulfilling, enriching and amazing to encounter the Lord at such a deep level.  But then we are called to do that day in and day out, year after year and eventually without what we see as the daily benefits.  People in the world around us seem to be having more fun, more immediate gratification, more enjoyment in life than we are making our sacrifices.

We catch a glimpse of that frustration in St. Peter’s exclamation in today’s Gospel. It pairs nicely with the First Reading today which calls on us to be patient and strive for holiness. These readings go well together because the more mature expression from St. Peter comes in the First Reading, the Gospel reveals his impatience in the moment, the relatable and identifiable struggle we can all feel from time to time, “what am I doing all this for anyway?”

As Christians, we’re all in the same position.  Holiness and striving to be with God in heaven and to bring as many people with us as we can, sometimes in the “right now” of our lives this can seem like a fool’s game.  We can be inspired, but then the shine wears off eventually and we’re left questioning.  It’s an age-old and classic struggle. But this is what faith, trust and fidelity are all about.

As Director of Vocations, working with people at the beginning of their vocational discernment, I am inspired by the enthusiasm and energy and faith that most have. It’s great for me because I spend a lot of time reflecting upon my own vocation to priesthood and how I am living that out.  I feel blessed right now that I still feel a tremendous joy in my priestly ministry.  I love being a priest, I love witnessing and doing what priests do.  I love meeting people who inspire my faith and the excitement of every day.  I have friends who have shared with me a loss of that joy, a personal or internal struggle that makes them question whether God really called them to this life at all.  I pray for them because there’s nothing else I could say or do to help them when they feel things “drudging on”.  I am inspired though by the joyful and faithful senior clergy of our archdiocese and there are many of them who continue to minister and remain faithful to their life’s mission.  I also know for many of them, life hasn’t been easy but there commitment is what I consider a rock-solid example for myself.  Some might look to these men (I can think of many women religious and married people as well, faithful and steadfast in their mission) and ask “why wouldn’t you do something else?”  Some may look at what have done (or not done in the eye of the beholder) and ask “was it all worth it?”  And for some, they may not be able to provide a wonderfully convincing answer that would inspire.  The inspiration for me is in the following through on their commitment to the Lord, nothing more or less than that. In simple faith they did what was asked of them and await the words of the Lord at the end of their life “well done, good and faithful servant”.

That is the greatest thing any priest (or Christian) with faith in God can desire to hear at the end of his life.

Disappointment on the Road to Perfection

It’s not hard for us to feel discouraged like the rich young man we hear of in the Gospel today. We think we’re on the right track and then we hear something in a homily, read something or come across a Scripture passage which questions whether we’re on the right track at all.  Anything and everything we do for God as we try to live a good and holy life and follow His commandments and the precepts and teachings of the Church is good.  But we can always do better.

As a confessor (and a penitent as well) I certainly encounter the struggle many of us (most of us maybe) share.  We try pretty hard, and yet we fall short.  This is the essence of the Christian journey – we are all a work in progress.  That means we’re on the road to perfection, but we’re not perfect.  The great failure, which happens is that we allow any frustration we have with our imperfection to lead us to quit trying or to rationalize away our struggle.  Both can happen.  I have met many who struggle with their weaknesses and failings to the point that they just quit because they believe that God has quit on them.  I have met others, and we can look to fairly significant figures in Church history too who have convinced themselves the sins and weaknesses they struggle with are not sins or shortcomings at all, because they see or know too many others who struggle with the same things and believe a loving God would not allow this to continue if it were really a problem to Him.  Although these kinds of struggles and “disappointments” in our faith life extend far beyond the confessional, I experience it there most often and believe the act of humility which is made manifest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation can powerfully counteract the disappointment we feel.

I look to St. Paul for this.  In 2 Cor 12:7-10, we hear St. Paul speak of an encounter that he has with Jesus.  He wants to be perfect and yet he struggles.  He asks the Lord to take the “thorn from his flesh” and Jesus replies “My Grace is enough”.  Paul is on the road to becoming a saint by the time he writes this letter, and wanting to be holy, it seems he’s frustrated and discouraged by the “thorn” (whatever he struggles with).  Instead of taking it away, Jesus tells Paul that He has given him His Grace…isn’t that enough?  I have revisited and reflected on this passage for years.

I think we benefit from not being perfect because we know that we need Jesus.  We can’t become holy, perfect or reach the ultimate expression of our creation without Jesus.  We are all given grace, and while we must cooperate as best we can with that grace, we are not merely fallen from grace because we struggle.  Disappointment as the rich young man experienced can be a game-changer.  We shouldn’t let it be such that we give up, but that we realize the joy of the Christian life is to keep going, knowing with the Lord’s help, we are going to get closer and closer to God and heaven if we do.

Re-committing Ourselves in Love

Good Shepherd

Once again, the thread of today’s Gospel is love.  St. Peter is asked three times the question by Jesus, “do you love Me?”  And acknowledging Peter’s affirmative response, Jesus directs Peter to do something with that love – care for and shepherd his people.  Jesus’ three time profession of love counteracts his three time denial of Christ at the Cross.  We look at denial or betrayal as the worst of all possible transgressions we can commit against one another, and there’s no question that there’s a deep sting and pain when we hurt someone we love.  But Jesus Himself has a remedy, forgiveness and a chance to start over – then a re-commitment to loving more deeply.

We don’t have to look too far in the world we live in to know that there is a real lack of forgiveness, and I know in my priestly ministry how difficult people find it (myself included) to forgive and let go.  But we get no where if we don’t try to.  If we give up, we can rest assured that Jesus’ message is going to fall on deaf ears and little by little, bitterness, resentment, hostility, unhappiness, revenge and retribution will take over.  Stop and think about those words.  I reflected on them as I wrote them, and those are words that are making their way more and more into the Christian’s vocabulary and the Christian’s life, and we can’t let that happen. We must rise above that, we must try to get to the core of what has caused us pain and presentment and allow the Love of Christ to replace the “hole of emptiness” in our hearts that keeps us from true and life-giving love, such as the love Jesus gives Peter, replacing the guilt he felt for his cowardice at the Cross.

Peter is given a new lease on life, but not so that he could keep that to himself but rather to give himself totally and generously for others.  Friends, each and every one of us is given a new lease on life today.  If we’ve got heavy baggage (of sin and personal weakness) we need to drop that off in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and be rid and free of it.  If we’ve done little things that have caused us to love even a little less than we should, then we must let the Word of God enter more deeply into our souls and be refreshed and renewed.  Do we love Jesus?  Well, of course we do.  What do we do now?  Spread His Word, His love, His message of hope and joy that brings peace to us on our spiritual journey.

We too are being given a new lease in our lives.  We can forgive even the worst of transgressions against us if we trust in the Lord and allow Him to be the one who appreciates and welcomes our forgiving hearts.  We are given, a Gift of the Holy Spirit, courage (fortitude) to ask forgiveness of those who we’ve sinned against.  Again, even if their hearts won’t allow them to let go, the Lord will free us from our bondage.  We are all asked to “sin no more” and to sincerely try to live with deep commitment and integrity.

Let us all do this.  Let’s do it by asking Our Lady’s help today as we celebrate her visit in Portugal and to the young disciples in Fatima.  What a timely Gospel today, as we turn to Mary who gave her life to others, to the Father through the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, to her Divine Son throughout His entire life, and to all Christians after she held Him in her arms at the Cross.  Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

Love and Love Beyond Ourselves

Today’s Gospel gives us a dose of reality.  Jesus has an accurate and realistic sense of what the climate of the world will be when the Son of God is removed from it.  His disciples and followers will mourn His death and long His presence.  Those who felt He “got in the way” will be glad He is gone, or indifferent to the whole event and fact. Jesus speaks to His followers using the analogy of a mother giving birth; a very good one.  As mothers know, and husbands better than I childbirth is rarely an easy thing and there is pain and suffering there, rarely is the act of giving birth a pure pleasure I am sure.  But when a mother looks at the child born to her, the pain is insignificant in comparison to the joy received.  This is the beauty of love and love beyond ourselves.

The great blessing of my work in vocations ministry is working with men and women who find themselves deep into the meaning of life; seeking to understand their meaning and purpose in this world.  As disciples and followers of Jesus, they know that is in Him that they will find these answers to the fundamental question(s) we have in this world: “why did God put me here? What am I here for?  What is my purpose in particular?”  Often in the early stages of discernment, and truthfully perhaps throughout our discernment and well into living out our vocation we concern ourselves with the pain and suffering that might be associated with the vocation we choose.  What I mean by that is that for men discerning priesthood, there is the worry that they won’t be happy and fulfilled without a wife and children, that they will spend their lives feeling like they missed out on something, that they will be lonely, that they will find out one day that they made the wrong choice, that people will turn away from them or even that they will not get to have a “normal” life.  As I have come to discover as a vocation director, it’s not my job to convince anyone that these things aren’t true.  I truly see that my greatest gift as a vocation director is my own joyful witness (joy truly felt I will add).  I also try not to sugarcoat the truth – not everyone is called to the priesthood!  Or religious life! When you are, you will know you are.  It doesn’t mean there won’t be struggles, pain and suffering at times, but there isn’t a vocation that doesn’t have those things.  That’s part of sacrifice which is a necessary ingredient to any vocation, or life that’s worth living.

Throughout my life, but most especially in seminary, I needed plenty of formation and personal maturing and spiritual growth before I was ready to give my life in a particular and unique way (through priesthood).  I needed to study and learn so that I might teach others, I needed to learn how to become a gentler person who came to know how to love people on a deeper level and a person who loved others more and went beyond myself more often.  This wasn’t always easy, but on the day of my ordination and then every day since then, I experience the joy of that commitment.  I have dark moments and dark days, I know we all do, but even then I am reminded of the birth of my vocation many years ago and when I was “born” a priest four years ago now and the joy of that far exceeds anything I’ve suffered along the way.

We Can Disagree; But We Must Love & Unite

Our first reading today offers us a sense that disagreements and differences of opinion within our Church we might say are part & parcel of Apostolic Tradition.  Obviously, they’re not quite that because Jesus does not desire us to quarrel with one another. But Jesus knew the Divine Church of God He established could not be without disagreement, as it is perpetuated and continued throughout the ages by human instruments. Many of our forefathers might have been holy and saintly, but they definitely weren’t perfect.  This is the Glorious Church we’re a part of.  We also know that there have been divisions which have separated us throughout the centuries.  We know that many disagreements and differences of opinion have left us far from communion with one another.  But we must desire unity with Christ and His Church which means we must desire (whether we have it or not) unity with one another.  Caring for and loving one another is a great beginning.  Jesus through God the Holy Spirit is trying, we must all be open to what He says to us.  Today’s reflection and pondering for me is on my own desire for Christian unity.

If you’ve some of my other reflections, you’ll know that I am 13 years a Catholic Christian now.  Jesus Christ found me when I was most in need of him.  I didn’t begin my relationship with Him as a Catholic, it took me a lot of self-knowledge and visiting many Christian communities before I came to realize that my relationship with Christ and His Church was strengthened in the Catholic Christian Church and believe with my whole heart, mind and soul that our Church is the Church of Jesus & His Apostles BUT I also know Jesus is very much present with Christians in other Christian communities too.  The Holy Spirit speaks to those who follow Christ.  Having had these experiences of worshiping with Christians have made me a better Catholic Christian man and while I have had disagreements and I am well aware that we don’t always see eye to eye, we all do in many things and if we are going to preach and teach Jesus Christ throughout the world, we need to consider the many things we have in common and work from there.  We must recognize and realize that it’s essential we extend Christian love to one another.

This is something that I try to surmise from the conversations I have with people in vocation work.  If the men I meet with, men or women for that matter don’t get the essence of this fundamental Christian teaching, it’s hard to find or live our vocation.  If we believe our vocation is to fix or change the Church or people, then this is a classic flaw and we need to go deeper.  If we are more traditionally-minded or progressively-minded as Catholics and see our role to “convert” those who we see things differently from the way we do.  I know I meet this when I meet people who think I should know that we don’t need more traditional priests or we don’t meet more “liberal” priests.  Although I usually find myself listening to why the faithful think the way they do on these things – a person’s expression of their faith (traditional or otherwise) factors less into my consideration than their desire to serve the Lord faithfully, love people unconditionally, desire to understand people and lead and shepherd them to meet Christ.  I look for love and a desire to bring people together, an excitement to share Jesus’ words of love and union with everyone; to “get to heaven and bring as many people with [them] as they can”.  I like for a strong desire for holiness lived in the reality of the world the Lord desires us to share in here today.  Differences will continue to happen, reconciliation brings us together one small act at a time.