We Need to Be Ourselves in Prayer

St. Martha is a saint I can really relate to.  We know her from Luke’s Gospel as getting a little upset with her sister Mary because she’s not helping prepare for Jesus, their guest. In today’s Gospel from John, she’s “giving it” to Jesus for not getting there sooner and keeping their brother Lazarus from dying.  Many of us can identify with Martha in many ways, and she is immortalized for both her love for Jesus and her strength of character, which is often seen as a weakness.  She’s impetuous seeming; brash at times, tells it like it is (or as she sees it), her encounter with the Lord is one with expectation; Martha is upfront, clear and direct with our Lord Jesus.  But no one in history would ever question her love.  She loves the Lord with all her heart, mind and soul.  Although her impetuousness may bring her to say things which had she more patiently taken the time and thought through – she might have seen the truth, her honest approach helps her grow (and she is a saint after all, so she continued to grow in life).  She sees the truth because the Lord speaks to her, He answers her questions, He is also clear and direct with His dear friend Martha.

Love goes a long way.  Martha loves Jesus as well as her family; that is also clear in every encounter we have with her.  Her love is what leads her to be passionate, and passion when for good and virtuous things is a powerful thing in this world.  In today’s Gospel, Martha’s passion is for the life of her brother.  She believes in God’s Son and His power and authority, but she is honest about how she feels.  It draws me back to the last days of my own mother’s life nearing death and something I learned that actually strengthened my own faith.

In the final days of her life, when I was coming to see clearly no “miracle” was on the way, in a moment of emotion and anger I lashed out at God.  I was very angry and said things which were terrible but expressed honesty.  I felt guilty almost immediately because I knew I was wrong in what I had said to the Lord.  I asked forgiveness and confessed my own sinfulness later, for I love God and we don’t say hurtful things to the ones we love.  The rush of guilt that came from accusing the Lord actually made me stop and think about what I said; there was a rush of insight the Lord gave me that helped me see things in a very different way, almost an immediate peace that the Lord was with my mother every step of the way.  My faith was strengthened by what was revealed to me in her dying and death, which has extended to the dying and death of others too; those I’ve been with in my priestly ministry.  I was honest with the Lord and He was honest with me.  Up to then, I saw what I wanted to see – in my honest desire to know why, the Lord revealed to me what He wanted me to see and know.  Before that experience I was open to what I wanted, after that experience I was open to the Lord.

Rarely have I gotten mad with the Lord, and that is not the point of my reflection – honesty is my point and honesty is what I realize the Lord desires of us in prayer.  We need to be absolutely honest with the Lord who knows everything anyway if we are to receive the grace of insight.  If we delude ourselves, we miss out on what the Lord might offer us.  Martha is a most sincere and honest servant of the Lord.  She teaches us this in her loving encounters with Jesus in the Gospel.

We’re Called to Make the Most out of Life

We’re called to make the most out of our lives.  This might not be something that we all want to face or think about – but it remains a reality that we must all face up to whether we like it or not.  Following on my post from yesterday, even though I was acquiring lots of things and accomplishing in life, I knew I wasn’t making the most out of my life.  That was perhaps what made me least satisfied with things.  It had nothing really to do with my job or how much money I made or didn’t make, it was simply a sense that I was called to do more.  I say that on this side of having responded to my vocation.  Although it’s important for me to daily strive to do better, to learn from my mistakes, to get closer and closer to God and live a holier life – to replace my vices and sin with virtue.  I know as a Catholic priest who loves God and loves His people; the people I serve – I am making the most out of life and there is a great peace and deep satisfaction which leads to joy in that.

Most of us, whether we’re Christians or not, believe in God or not are searching for the meaning and purpose in life if we are to find deep joy.  Who among us does not want to have a life with meaning?  Who does not want to find the direction or the purpose we are in this world for?  With both we have our compass and we can better navigate our way through the life we have been given with both our many gifts and talents and the shortcomings we work to overcome.  Jesus uses a parable of a fisherman bringing in everything in his net, separating the good fish from the bad fish and other things.  We certainly can see this as a call to live a dedicated, integrated and full Christian life, a life given to God and for others.  We can focus on the bad fish and garbage and make some kind of statement about what happens when we aren’t a “good fish”.  But that gets us no where.  The fires of hell and the wrath of God exist but these entities or places are not now, nor were they ever the places God wants us to be.

Instead, we must focus on being a good part of the catch ourselves and call others to do the same.  God asks this of us.  He doesn’t ask us to focus or pass judgment on those who choose otherwise because we can spend way too much energy on that!  Our energy is better spent on helping our brothers and sisters (and ourselves) find the deep Christian meaning in our own lives; working together for the purpose Jesus calls us all to.

 

The Treasure of Our Faith

Pearls are found in the most unassuming place; their “packaging” a very dull and boring shell.  Often times our faith can seem to have the same kind of packaging, which is why many of us avoid it or stop living by it.  God most certainly reveals Himself, but not always in the powerful ways we would like and so we stop praying to Him and in effect staying close to Him at all.  If you’re reading my blog, you most likely are a Christian, a person of faith; my thoughts and reflections are written for you.  But even if you are deeply committed to your faith, the likelihood is you’ve considered what life might be like living for the things which we see promoted as the “ideals of life”.  We might have considered how our lives would be with money, fame, success in business, popularity, winning at all costs.  What keeps us grounded in faith?

For myself it was an encounter with the Divine Mystery of God Himself and His Son Jesus Christ.

When I was in my late twenties and had lived a life aspiring for many of those things (though I didn’t have them all) I realized what I did have was not making me any happier or more fulfilled.  I was not further ahead only less satisfied with life and not really engaged in it.  A very good friend who had less of those things than I did BUT was very joyful and happy shared her “pearl” with me – her faith in Jesus Christ.  I didn’t accept that pearl, that treasure at first and hung on to my ideals for a while until I came to see them as lacking the depth or the allure they once had.  I went with her to a faith-encounter group called Alpha and I met Jesus there.  I began after a long while to go to church each week, seeking and searching for where I belonged.   Week after week a different Christian community.  Around 2001 I attended Holy Mass for the first time.  This is where I encountered the Divine Mystery of God.  I can’t explain what happened, what I experienced or what it was – but I knew at Mass I was home and I know I felt God’s Presence in a way greater than I every had before.  Jesus who I had been getting to know over the last couple years drew ever closer there, and I to Him.  I went to Mass there every week, daily Mass too and in 2002 decided to become Catholic.  I was fully committed to that and on fire for my faith.  The Holy Spirit powerfully descended upon me in April of 2003 and never having thought of priesthood or ministry before I was two and a half years later entering seminary formation.  That was 13 years ago now.  There have been times I have lost sight of the treasure, the pearl – God who found me.  I remind myself of those glorious days when the tough ones come and go.  I try not to go too long without reminding myself of all the Lord has given me.  My faith is the greatest thing I have in my life.  God embraced me, loved me always and patiently awaited my coming to Him.  Although I know that at one time I saw the dullness and unattractive qualities of living a Christian life; having to follow God’s Will and Way, not living for the world but something that was eternal – I know now what life in Christ brings us.  I have received in abundance the same gift that my friend who brought me to Christ had.  Joy everlasting, a forward vision to eternity with God and others in Paradise.  The pearl I would give anything for, the treasure I would buy the field for.  May God bless you.

Sts. Joachim & Anne; Paying Tribute to our Grandparents Today

We celebrate today the feast of Sts. Anne & Joachim; the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the grandparents of Jesus.  We know very little about them but they have been an important part of the tradition of our Catholic Church and I think an important couple with a special role that we might take a moment to reflect upon today.

For many of us here, myself included, our grandparents have been or are very special people in our lives.  Faith and family are often two of the things most of us are commonly grateful for.  Here we are, Disciples of Jesus Christ more than two thousand years after He walked the earth; doing His work; His Word, His message still alive today and being spread throughout the world.  If we consider from then until now, we know this faith has been passed down through the generations and it’s for those many generations we give thanks.  Our grandparents are an important part of the passing on and the teaching of faith to their grandchildren.

In my role as Director of Vocations for the archdiocese, I meet many young people who attribute a strong and clear sense of faith and then by extension a prayerful understanding of their vocation calling from their grandparents and the time these important and special people in their lives took to explain things to them and give them positive examples.  Grandparents are responsible for spreading good seeds in rich soil when they assist their children in the raising of their grandchildren.

In my parish work and celebrating baptisms, I have always tried to make some kind of acknowledgement of grandparents from the font because of the very special role many of them will play in the lives of the children.  A reality of the world we live in is that even though they work hard and try their best, parents have to work and often don’t have the time to explain to their children why we do what we do as Christians, and this is where I see grandparents so often step in.

It’s a very special thing to see this, knowing that when Grandma or Grandpa take the children to church, to meet Jesus and the priest too, that their parents and grandparents probably did the same in generations that passed, a nice rite of passage.  They spread the seeds, they sow the faith.  My brothers and sisters in Christ, as grandparents or thinking of our parents and grandparents today, let us turn to the Lord and to the examples we have in Sts Anne and Joachim and maybe today we can say an extra and special little prayer for these very important people in our lives.  May God bless you.

Christian Honour Takes a Radically Different Form

In order for men to really convince me and then their formators in the seminary that they have an authentic and legitimate vocation to diocesan priesthood, they must demonstrate a desire to be holy, a desire to want to know Jesus on a deep and personal level, to see Jesus in all people, even those who might not agree with them and even those who are very wrong in their interpretation of the message of the Gospel.  They must seek virtue, especially humility, goodness, an ever deepening faith, love, prudence and these are only a few of the many things we look for and (thanks be to God) find in many men who present themselves these days.  I know from my counterparts, Vocation Directresses and Directors from Religious Communities; they too find many suitable disciples in the people who discern with them these days.

One of absolute graces of vocation ministry is you see the best, the brightest, the most joyous, the most discerning, the most open men and women coming forward and with intellect, reason and with every good gift presenting themselves with a sense of a vocation and a desire to make a life commitment that is radically different and which will include a lack of understanding on the part of many of the faithful as well as others, and in some circles – hostility.

Despite all of that there can be a temptation among us when discerning, and in living out a religious vocation (priesthood, religious or consecrated life) as I’m sure there is I every vocation to become expecting or entitled to things, to feel we deserve something for the gifts we bring to the table.  Sts. James and John teach us that today.  Their mother who is just a loving mother wants a place of honour for her sons.  Jesus doesn’t deny her request, but asks instead if the boys are ready to receive what the place of Christian honour is really all about.

And this is something we all need to ponder.  This is why we as Catholics venerate the saints and why we have great celebrations as we canonize one (like Mother Teresa soon).  We’re not celebrating people here who have the best Curriculum Vitae or resume, who made the Fortune 500 or managed to make it onto the cover of Time Magazine (even if they did).  We are celebrating women and men who followed Christ and who suffered or who were prepared to suffer for him.  We celebrate what they gave in this life and we know that the Lord who came to bring us with them, see them as good and faithful servants.  Their reward was heaven, their place there the same as ours we hope.  To be with the Lord our God and others in Paradise.

We need to seek to live our faith deeply committed to Jesus; to serving Him and everyone else.  Honour for the Christian is about doing that well.  Honour for the Christian is about others to do that well too.  It must be our deep desire not only to get ourselves to heaven, but to bring as many with us as we can.  May God bless you.

Jesus Affirms Us as Sisters & Brothers

This is an excerpt from my homily given to the Steubenville Toronto LEAD team as they prepare themselves to serve us as leaders at Steubenville Toronto this coming weekend.  The finest young men and women chosen for a special task.

Too often, today’s Gospel is seen as a denial by Jesus of His relatives who are standing at the back and await Him.  It’s not a denial of them; but an affirmation of others; the same kind of affirmation we are all called to offer as Christians to one another – to see each other as family.  My best friend’s family embraced me when I was young, and I know the blessing of good Christian people welcoming me into their home and treating me as a son, a brother, later an uncle.  I know that this witness given to me helped me to see family in a radically different way and I’m sure it contributed to my own sense of freedom and love which helped me discern God’s will for me to give my life to others as a priest.

To see the people I serve; the people in the parishes I’ve been a part of and now the seminarians and young men and women considering religious life; to consider them my family – it takes nothing away from the love I have for my own family, but has brought me more love in my life than I ever could have imagined possible.

I want to put away a fallacy, a falsehood that exists about priesthood & religious life – people think because we give up marital relations it’s a lonely life – nothing my friends could be further from the truth.  Faith in God and in Christ calls upon each one of us to give of ourselves to trusting the Lord and going deeper – faith seeking understanding.  Jesus isn’t denying His relatives; instead, He’s affirming relationships.  As He preaches to this particular crowd our Lord heals a man possessed and is accused of being evil.  But in the drama of the moment of the healing miracle; Jesus speaks to those open now to listening, of making good choices in their life (Matt 12:33-37); of looking for signs (38-42) and of inviting evil into our lives (43-45) and here we have Him speaking of the importance of relationships for the Christian.

What makes you and I different as Christians from any other religion is that our faith is not founded merely on following an ideal or something.  Our faith is more than following someone. We are not merely or only followers of Jesus.  Our faith hopes for, longs for; is at its very best when we have a relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ.

The moments we find our Lord Jesus Himself in prayer, communicating and dialoging with God the Father; Jesus Himself reveals the importance of relationship to us Divinely but also humanly through His relationship with His mother, St. Joseph, the Apostles and His many friends. We don’t go it alone in this world and if we took a moment to think about what that would look like or feel like; I don’t imagine any of us desire that – to be absolutely alone in this world; to have no one or nothing.

We know that Jesus dearly loves His mother, and the privilege we have of being Disciples of Christ now is we know how much He loves His mother and the role she plays in our lives, in the Church we are a part of.  For Jesus to say to the people who listen that they are every bit as special and important to Him as His dear mother is, as His relatives whom He grew up with are – this ought to make these people desire a deeper relationship, a deeper communion with Jesus and with the other men and women in the crowd.

And it’s important that we hear this message too.  We are Disciples with open and receptive hearts as the people were in this Gospel account, we are in the presence of Jesus Himself, His Word and with His very Person & Presence with us.  Just as this account was in the context of a series of important messages Jesus offered; I too think that this message is in the context of what we might consider the next steps to be in our discipleship, in our lives.

You are uniquely special disciples my friends, chosen to be Steubenville Toronto LEADS – you are chosen.  It might have been by way of an application, and it might not seem to you right now that the Lord Himself chose you – but He did.  When you put an application in, it might have seemed a simple action but Steubenville Toronto is such an important event that the leadership team who select you pray fervently about who they will select – that’s you.  So as instruments of the Lord, Jesus chose you and they responded.

You are important to the Lord our God and His Son Jesus Christ.  You were picked by Him because you have and will continue to have a relationship with Him.  You are His brothers and sisters.  He has chosen you to look at the experience you are having at Steubenville Toronto as an important part of your life leading you and to be followed by a deeper sense of commitment.

Maybe it will be to become a more dedicated leader in your parish, as a youth minister, a lay pastoral assistant, to offer your gifts and talents to other things in your community building relationships and evangelizing in greater and greater ways.  Maybe it will lead you to consider how you live as a committed Catholic Christian in your career and given to the vocation of marriage; as a husband or wife, mother or father – giving yourself totally to God and another person, and then other people in the raising of children; of building up the Holy Catholic Church as you grow through what we call the Domestic Church in a home, a family.  Maybe it will be to a religious vocation; the priesthood or religious life.  To marry the mission of Jesus Christ as we priests do, or to marry the Person of Jesus Christ as religious do.  No matter what I can assure you is that this experience and your life is not leading you to do less, to be on autopilot, to be small in the world.  Look around you here!

You are all important people in the mind of God.  That I’m sure of!  What stops us from being who we are meant to be is often fear – but our deepest fear is not really that we’re inadequate but rather that we’re powerful beyond measure.  It’s the light that can and will shine from us that scares us more than the darkness because we know that light, that reflection of the Light of Christ comes with a price, a sacrifice, it shines only when we surrender ourselves to it.  And that frightens us; it certainly has frightened me many times.  We ask ourselves, who are we to be great?

The answer is you’re a Child of God. You’re playing small doesn’t serve the world or your purpose. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so others won’t feel insecure around you.  You were born with a purpose, to make manifest the Glory of God.  When you let your light shine, as a Christian a reflection of the Light of Christ we also give others unconsciously permission to do the same.

Our Lord Jesus: The Sign

Today’s reflection is based on the Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass

Jesus is THE SIGN.  My friends, today’s Gospel calls us all to know and trust THE SIGN and not to spend our lives looking for other signs.  If we spend our time looking for other signs, miracles, asking that the Lord reveal Himself in other ways we will miss THE SIGN which was already given, and miss spending our lives following the sign, satisfied, fulfilled, satiated, content.  Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, the Bread of Life, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We mustn’t go looking for more, because in doing so we miss what we have and we miss understanding that what is given is in fact everything.

One of the greatest “habits”, a technique really my spiritual director taught me was to always begin my day in gratitude to God for the gifts He has given me (life, faith, my vocation, my ministry, the people in my life) and the gifts of the day/moment as well.  Always in that spirit of gratitude, even my own temptation to be negative, ungrateful, cynical, pessimistic or downcast can’t go too far.  Gratitude for the big things and the “little things” (the constant ‘God’ moments of the day) helps us not to have to go seeking the ‘signs’ because the signs are all around us, and constant gratitude helps us to always be aware of it.  The scribes and Pharisees ask for signs because they can’t be grateful for what God’s given (in Christ Jesus) and are always looking for more.

We can be tempted to write them off as the faithless, not like ourselves; at least we have faith.  That would be wrong, that would be us “missing the sign” that we are called to gratitude for everything we have and what more we are given in every moment of every day.  Even in our struggles.  In the midst of the storms of our life, like the Disciples on the boat on the rough Sea of Galilee; they look for a sign from God that He is with them, and Jesus is only feet away – the Sign is there, and they miss it for their fear.  Jesus calmed the sea that day because of their fear and lacking in faith, but having visited many sick people in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices; there is strength of faith there that gives me resolve to go deeper in my (right now) comfortable life so I’m ready when life gets harder and I am tested in greater ways.

I also think of the profound “sign” I was blessed to have witnessed in my dear friend and mentor, Fr. Paschal, a very good and holy Franciscan priest who helped me to discern priesthood and become a better man and Christian.  I was with Fr. Paschal as he was dying and fading from this life.  He was ready to go, and at 86 years of life told me many times he was ready to meet the Lord, excited in fact for this was what his life was about.  In pain and when the end was near, unable to do what he wanted to do, he whispered to me in his hospital bed “help me make the sign of the Cross”.  Ten minutes later he was in a coma and died several hours later.  The Sign was his life, and it has never left me that Fr. Paschal knew the Sign, as he drew close to that sign in his final hour.

Friends, it’s important for us all to trust in the Sign.  This is the essence of our faith, this is essential to our life lived well.  I shared with you a couple of my own thoughts today, but surely you have other reflections in your own life you might meditate on.  For today, let’s give thanks to the Lord for He is Good and His love (as a Sign) for us never ends and may we see the Sign of His love in everything we do this day.  May God bless you.

16th Sunday Ordinary Time: Working for the Lord and Doing the Lord’s work

There’s a difference between working for the Lord and doing the Lord’s work.  Recently, when I was visiting a good friend of mine, she shared with me this point we might ponder, a point that was shared with her at one time.  It’s an apt point for reflection especially today in light of the Gospel.  What’s the difference?  For each of us, it will be our life’s opus to figure it out – and live it out!  There are some things we can look for though and we give thanks to Sts. Martha and Mary for their help in us doing that.  I share with you from my own reflection today.

When we work for the Lord, we can easily be distracted by many things that we believe are relevant until it becomes apparent to us that they’re not.  As a priest, I have been tempted to value a day on the amount of work I’ve got done or the number of tasks I’ve completed.  What I’m doing is priestly work in service of God and in service of the People of God.  This is work for the Lord.  Even as Vocation Director, there can be a temptation to think that if I’ve given out many seminary applications, met many men on a given day “doing vocation work” or given many vocation talks that this has been a good day for the Lord.  Again, this is working for the Lord.  Of course, in my own vocation there are many other possible scenarios.  Surely mothers and fathers can relate to “getting things done” and there is a need and necessary time for that.  But this is where the difference lies.

There are many days that I am completing tasks and checking another item off my list that people can sense I am task-oriented and not fully engaged, my mind on the next thing I need to get done.  For a man who struggles from time to time with patience, often task-orientation brings out a lack of patience in me.  I’m getting the job done, but my care and concern for people is far less important to me than the task at hand.  We can see in her fretting and annoyance with Mary that Martha’s less concerned with Jesus being with them, more concerned with what Mary isn’t doing and the tasks she needs to get done for the occasion of our Lord being there – He is already there and she’s missing that!

In my vocation work, I remind myself of the difference between working for the Lord and doing the Lord’s work all the time.  I can meet with 6 or 7 discernment candidates a day and move from meeting to meeting, but I must ask myself – have I truly listened?  Have I seen the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of this person?  Do I have what I need to bring to deeper prayer for this candidate?  Have I truly been the Lord’s instrument in this meeting of ours?

Doing the Lord’s work means being Jesus to the people we encounter every day.  Working for the Lord doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing.  In order to understand the difference, we need to really know and have embraced the One whose work we are doing.  This we gain through prayer, through seeking day by day to be like Him, not presuming things about Him but also being open and accepting that we get it wrong sometimes and having a sincere desire to get it right.  Knowing the difference and changing also requires a great deal of insight about ourselves.  My friends, today I pray that we all learn (like Martha did) to know the difference and I pray that we don’t miss the occasions to do the Lord’s work because we’re working for the Lord.  May God bless you.