Our Spiritual Exercises Help Us to Truly Proclaim the Son of God

Our Spiritual Exercises, the things we do to know and discern the Will of God put us in good company with St. Peter in today’s Gospel.  Holy Mass, personal prayer and encounter with the Lord, Lectio Divina with the Word of God, the times praying as a community, the Rosary and any number of other devotions which help us draw closer and closer to God are the things we do to be able to answer the question: Who do you say that I am?  With Peter’s answer: the Christ of God, the Messiah, the Son of God.  Could we answer the question without all of these things?  Surely we could, but there would be little substance to that answer.  In our times of trial and tribulation, would we turn to the Son of God?  Maybe but maybe not.  Would we really believe and have faith that anything would be different than the physical and present reality we experience?  Or would we keep faint hope that maybe something else, something Divine was happening?  A lot of questions here, brothers, but the point I’m making is that what we do to strengthen our souls and configure them to the One True God, Father, Son and always with the Divine Assistance of the Holy Spirit, these exercises are not ever in vane.  We need to draw close to God in order to trust Him.  We need to trust Him in order to truly profess Him.  We need to believe in our whole heart, mind and soul that He is the Christ of God to profess Him the way that St. Peter and other Apostles do in today’s Gospel and we need to do that in order to give our life to Him and live it out by our proper vocation. Today’s Gospel and my own few thoughts here are not to inform any of you of something that you don’t already know – instead, they are meant to remind us and encourage each of us in the busyness of our lives of why we give ourselves to prayer each and every day.  May the Lord be with us, and may we give ourselves generously to Him and He assuredly will give Himself with the greatest generosity to us.

Giving Our Brothers & Sisters the Benefit of the Doubt

I have often considered the Gospel of today as a “sign of hope” for Herod, whom I had assumed sought out Jesus to make right his wrongs, most especially for killing John the Baptist.  A friend of mine had suggested that this most likely was not the case, and that he was probably on a rampage and like his father, Herod was going to kill Jesus if he had reached him.  I will say, this certainly made me stop and think.

I still don’t agree with my friend, because I think we get the sense that Herod Antipas is grieved by his own weakness and the bad decision he made to behead John, putting his own word and reputation before God.  More than that, I think it gave me reason to stop and reflect about the importance of giving each other the benefit of the doubt.  Of course, none of us can deny that there are people out there in the world who have the wrong motives, impure intentions and who gravitate towards wrong or immoral choices.  There’s no question that it’s hard to give people we know have typically made bad choices the benefit of the doubt that they will make good ones – but it happens, and more often than we might believe.  There are conversion stories taking place each and every day.  I know, because I was one of them.  I know with absolute certainty that I am  a Catholic Christian, a Catholic priest because the Lord God gave me the benefit of the doubt (but He knew my heart & the Providential Plan) but so did others too.  As the Lord’s love was penetrating my heart, there were others (who didn’t know the old me too well, but didn’t question my conversion or motives) who gave me the benefit of the doubt, and my life changed.  My propensity for making poor choices decreased, my seeking the Lord’s help day by day increased and here I am now.

To see the “glass half full” and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt may very well attack the defensive wall each of us builds up to protect ourselves from being hurt, betrayed, slandered or maligned, maybe even destroyed.  It may attack what we feel protects us, but if we have faith and trust in the Lord we know that He is Who truly protects us.  He is who consoles us in our fears, our struggles, and comforts us in our afflictions.  It is the Lord who gives us the strength and the courage to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Something else really quite amazing happens too.  If we do this for others, not only are we truly being Christians in the world, there will be a change in the people around us.  If we’re less defensive, others will be too.  If we give people the benefit of the doubt they too will have a change of heart, and possibly been drawn closer to the Sacred Heart.  This world will be a much better place.  We don’t know what Herod’s motives were, but if we are to be suspicious of them (even in our prayer and personal Lectio) we won’t truly break through to the joy of the Gospel and if are to believe that it was to be redeemed, then we live in the hope and joy that the Gospel calls each of us to live in.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray today for the strength, the courage the wherewithal to believe that as Herod sought out the Lord it was the right time for his conversion and let us continue to pray that we welcome the converting into our Christian lives with loving and open arms.  May God bless you.

St. Matthew’s Beautiful Vocation Story

Matthew's Call

I guess it would stand to reason that as Director of Vocations, I would love vocation stories.  It’s one of the joys of my ministry – I get to hear vocation stories all the time.  I love to hear them, and I get tired to share my own.  I sometimes think how many times can one man share how the Lord called him, first to baptism, but then shortly after to the Holy Priesthood.  I tire, but then I read and pray over today’s Gospel and it urges me to keep sharing as the Sacred Writers are inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer us St. Matthew’s vocation story, a powerful story of a man called to conversion, called to amend his life, and to follow the Lord.  St. Matthew did great things, though he accounts in his own Gospel today of how he was a great sinner that the Lord reached.  Jesus rejected keeping up appearances and conventional attitudes to “mingle with the tax collectors and sinners”.  These people are thought of as the lowest of the low, the worst of the worst.

I can relate to St. Matthew, I did not do anything to invite Jesus into my heart, but He encountered me through good people.  He reached out to me, I did not seek Him at first.  In His tremendous gift of love given to me, I came to know, then embrace and then to love Him.  I needed His example of mercy, love and forgiveness first and I needed to embrace it before I could embrace what came next.  More than thirty years of sin wiped away in an instant.  The embrace of mercy and forgiveness given by God first led me to begin to forgive others and to allow myself to heal.  And then the journey towards priesthood began.

I have come to discover God’s purpose and plan for me.  I may be a priest, but I am still growing to love more deeply, forgive more radically and completely and be more merciful to others and I experience it myself regularly.  I am re-committing myself to my vocation each and every day.  I still ask myself “why me” from time to time in my role as Director of Vocations.  I know my weaknesses and shortcomings, but I also know the Lord works wonders and I can see and recognize that in my own life and in the many people I am blessed to meet.  I know His love, mercy, forgiveness and grace; so I see it at work in the people I meet – and this is why I love vocation stories, because they reveal the Lord’s powerful presence in the world, in the blueprint of each Christian’s Purpose-Driven Life, through their vocation.

True Kinship with Jesus Our Lord

When His family arrives and Jesus is notified; instead of bringing them up front, He uses this as an important teaching moment.  He raises all His true disciples to a higher place and our Lord indicates that we share the deep bond of intimacy with His own family as we seek to do the Will of God.  Being a Disciple of Jesus, in other words a Christian, means having a deep, growing and personal relationship of love and unity with the Blessed Trinity.  Just like we know Mary did.

“Blessed are those who heard and kept the Word of God as Mary faithfully did”.

Jesus shows us that true kinship, true family is not just a matter of flesh and blood.  God’s gracious gift to us is His adoption of us as His sons and daughters.  This is something that we celebrate in many places of our faith, but none more distinctly than at the baptismal font.

When we are claimed for Christ at the font, we enter into this adoptive configuration with Jesus and the Church.  Everything we do for Christ, answering our vocational call, giving witness to our faith everywhere we go, living by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, loving all with the greatest love…all these things we do as our relationship grows with God.  To lay down one’s life for our friends; to sacrifice and surrender ourselves in every way.

We consider this too today as we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew Kim and his companions; over 100 Korean Christians who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The story of these brave martyrs should touch all of our lives.  St. Andrew was a young priest who was ordained only about a year, but died bravely professing Christ and evangelizing to the very end of his life when he was being tortured and was beheaded.  He was baptized at 15 and was nine years later ordained a priest.  He died alongside St. Paul Chong, a seminarian who was himself close to ordination. Not only did the lives of these two men and the other hundred martyrs impact a nation of people and draw others closer to Jesus Christ, but these saints, we have acknowledged publicly and devotionally, modelled for us that true kinship with Jesus.

They are a sign for us all of what it means to be kindred spirits with Jesus Christ and His Disciples.

As Christians we may suffer different persecutions; perhaps the persecution for our ideological differences, living in a society that see Our Way, Truth and Life as ridiculous or obsolete. We need to look at this as a joyful opportunity to embrace more deeply Jesus Christ and knowing and growing in the understanding of the Will of God day by day, give witness to Him and we remind ourselves today in light of the Gospel and these holy martyrs of what it means to be kindred spirits with the One True God

Equality in Discipleship: Jesus Has a Special Mission for Us All

In today’s Gospel, we hear about the women who accompanied Jesus in His three-year ministry to bring the Good News to the world and to call the faithful to Discipleship.  As many of you know, I am a convert to the Catholic Christian faith (more than 13 years now) and it did not occur to me until I began discerning the priesthood that women or anyone for that matter was “less” in the eyes of God.  I say this because not too long into my discernment, I met some very good and influential women along the way who were somewhat critical of the Church’s reservation of ordination to the priesthood to men.  I mention my own experience because these past 13 years have helped me to come to understand many things about discipleship.  My reflection today is not an opinion or position on Church teaching.

My conversion experience and the deepening of my Christian faith, expressing myself as a Catholic Christian was deeply and profoundly influenced by men and women.  My desire to become Catholic grew the closer I came to knowing God through Jesus Christ.  As with many of our parish churches, my community and my RCIA team was largely made up of faithful and loving Christian women.  As a catechumen, then as a neophyte, my faith deepened with the help of many of the Lord’s Disciples.  As I sought to live a holy life; there were many people who influenced that and their gender had little to do with any of that.  My parish priests played an important part in the formation of my faith, but no more than anyone else.  When I began to hear the call to discern priesthood, it came from the same community of Disciples and others in my community as well as the clergy.  This was perhaps why I discerned joyfully a vocation to priesthood because I had the support of a community working together as Disciples.

When I was early on in my discernment, I was blessed to have a religious sister who became a good and wise friend of mine,.  She explained something to me that impacted my life and eventually my own priesthood.  She had almost fifty years in vows as a woman religious.  She told me of many of the great things she had seen, but she also shared with me many of the experiences she had of hurtful experiences with priests and bishops who were condescending towards her, who treated women religious and women in general as lesser people.  This was not a negative person or someone who was not aware of all the good work she and other women religious were able to do, but she said something key: “somehow, somewhere along the way, we have lost our way as Christians”.  She taught me as a man not to presume to tell women how to feel or what to think.  She taught me to see all people as equal, that a healthy single celibate must have a deep and meaningful respect for all people.  I have reflected on the many things she shared with me over the years, and I have incorporated these things into any talk I’ve ever given about priesthood and why (as children often ask), “can’t girls be priests”.  I have no intention of answering that question here or trying to; the Church, her theologians and many ecclesial documents can speak better to that than I can.

My reflection is on respect.  Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost respect for one another. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten Jesus called us all to Discipleship, men and women and He loved, respected and treated all with dignity and equality.  When it comes to the Priesthood, sometimes we forget that the “power and authority” that is very real in the Holy Priesthood, is not a power or authority to be lorded over others.  It’s a power to do something that is not attached to me or to any man, but is acting in the person of Jesus. What I do for Jesus is a privilege but not something I deserve or have a right to as a man, but is part of my vocation which is every bit as important as what everyone else is called to do for our Lord.   Our Lady, Mary Magdalene, multitudes of amazing women who faithfully serve the Lord have been role models for me, as I’m sure they are for all of us.

The One Lost Sheep

As Christians, we’re called to care deeply for one another.  We really can’t begin to do the work of Disciples of Christ, of true Christians unless we care so deeply for everyone around us.  Life and the circumstances of life can often leave us feeling jaded, hurt, cynical, unloved ourselves and we can (most if not all of us) find ourselves retreating or moving into defense mode.  It really doesn’t take too much for us to just simply want to remain with those around us who are like minded and find ourselves without any desire to spend time with others for whom we don’t share the same values or think in the same way.  One of the profound and radically different teachings of Christ was not to focus our attention merely on those around us who are of like-mind but to reach out to others confident that our faith as foundation gives us the strength and courage to do this.

Few if any of us want to be rejected and so we “play it safe” so as not to offend others. Nobody benefits from our playing it safe, because this also means that by playing it safe, we shrink, we play it small in the world.  The alternative is not to be so bold that we offend others, or that we ride a moral “high-horse”.  Instead, the alternative is that we stand for something unbelievably positive, joyful, optimistic and wonderful in this world.  Something that is joyfully selfless rather than empty and selfish.  That something is to care for others no matter what they’ve done or how they’ve treated us or how they’ve acted in the world; no matter how hostile, angry or hurtful they have been – we treat each other with love, care and concern no matter what!  Why, because the Lord our God has treated us this way and we have been given grace beyond grace of eternal life, a life that is ultimately without concern if we can wrap our minds around it.  Jesus has told us “everything is going to be alright”.

This is the platform from which the Christian boldly steps out for others.  Jesus is not only forming sheep, importantly He forms shepherds.  The men I work with as Director of Vocations, Jesus forms as “Shepherds after His Own Sacred Heart”.  But our Lord Jesus is calling all of us as Disciples to be shepherds and we are the “linchpin” to His mission; we go for the lost because the Good Shepherd is taking care of the rest of us, calling all of us to deeper and deeper conversion.  This is why we don’t seek to merely live our faith and discipleship out inside the walls of our parish church.  We worship there, we’re nourished there – but then we go out and invite others in.

Today, let us all consider what we have done and what we are doing to go out and joyfully, passionately and lovingly bring the lost sheep back to the Lord, or to encounter Him for the first time, and to consider the ways we might do that.  May God bless you.

Truly Trusting God

Nowhere in the Gospels do we hear that Jesus Himself was a fisherman.  We hear He is the “son of the carpenter” and so it’s traditionally held that Jesus was skilled at carpentry work, as it would have been likely that St. Joseph would have shared his own skills with his foster-son, the Son of God.  He’s not a fisherman and yet He stands at the shore of the sea and tells the professionals how to catch fish.  Obviously there was something miraculous but we can only imagine how difficult it would have been for St. Peter to trust Jesus and to lower his nets into waters that seemed to be barren only hours before.  A simple act of trust paid off for the fishermen and led them to open their hearts to the Word proclaimed in their hearing – but this was a particularly profound moment in the life of St. Peter who seems to react strongly “go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”.  Peter recognizes it is the Lord in whom He is asked to trust and this is a defining moment of faith for him but also a moment of deep conversion.

As I’ve mentioned in other blog reflections, St. Peter is my own patron saint and for this moment he has with Jesus.  As a convert, I was faced with my own trust issues and I too had much to confess in my own life.  Self-reflection of where the Lord encountered me and how He embraced me in the darkest moments of my own life have led me to see I am loved, a loved sinner.  Like Peter, I have often wanted to hide my own face from the Lord but He will have none of it!  He loves me more!  He loves us more!  It’s not that He loves us sinning, that’s not the case – but it’s a true and faithful love not to abandon the weak in their own misery and this is the God of love I have come to know.

Back to the Gospel for a minute: many of us go through life numb to sin.  What I mean by that is we get so caught up by habit or weakness in our own pain; our own sinfulness.  We have those moments of desire to make things right but they come and go because we don’t trust God enough.  Either we don’t trust that He can forgive us, we don’t trust that He exists, we don’t trust that we deserve to be forgiven, we don’t trust that if He does forgive us -that we can change our lives…and the list goes on.  But the profound moment for St. Peter in today’s Gospel is found in His realization of what can and has taken place when He trusted – God reveals Himself to Peter!  And the same goes for us.  The Lord will reveal Himself to us if we ask Him to and let Him.  I know it because I was that man who rejected the Lord’s love several times before I finally trusted and my life is for Him and for others (also for Him) now.  Let us consider our own trust issues, when it comes to the Lord and may we be open to His Grace as He offers it to us day by day.