A Tribute to St. Andrew the Apostle


We remember St. Andrew the Apostle today, as the Apostle who brought St. Peter to Jesus, who pointed out the boy with the fish and loaves, who brought others to Jesus and who came and spent the day with Jesus at His invitation, “Come & See”.  Andrew was also the Apostle whom Philip spoke to first before Jesus when he wanted to bring Greeks to see Jesus.

Although St. Andrew seems to be present at all the key moments of Jesus’ ministry with the other Apostles, he never seems to be the central figure next to Jesus.  Being perhaps the first among the others in chronology, he is most definitely not the first among others in any other remarkable way; the Gospels account his presence but little more.

The Gospels of Matthew and Mark speak of the brothers Andrew and Peter together but Luke’s Gospel makes no mention of him by name.  We celebrate his feast today in recognition of his great and saintly witness.  It should be our heart’s desire to be Apostles/disciples like St. Andrew.  At first consideration, it might seem like Andrew is the poor unsung hero, not getting the credit where credit is due – but discipleship and priesthood are not about, and never should be about the credit we receive for anything.

If we really reflect upon Andrew’s life and witness – he is a great role model and example for us.  He brought his skeptical brother forward and Peter’s life was changed forever – and Jesus found in Peter the one to lead the Church He founded.  He did everything he ought to have done as an Apostle and follower of Christ including giving his life’s blood for the Lord.

Perhaps you’ve never remarked in this way about St. Andrew.  I have heard more than a few reflection’s on his life themed this way, calling on us to ‘hang in there’ and be good disciples whether we get any recognition for it or not.  For each of us I don’t think that’s good enough.  I don’t think we can afford not to appreciate the valuable witness St. Andrew offers us and seek to be more like him.  Everything we get to do for the Lord is of the essence, is of the greatest importance and matters more than anyone in this world might ever know.  Even if the Gospels don’t account his great importance, we know what he did, he did for the Lord and what He did is the essence of what holiness is about – getting himself to heaven and bringing as many people with him as he could.

And that ought to be the most important thing for each one of us.  It is a human quality to like to be credited and rewarded for what we do, or who we are.  Even as we discern, perhaps not in an overt way, many wonder whether we are going to be noticed or recognized for our gifts and talents.  Even if we didn’t start out that way, there can be a tendency for us in our own human weakness to be convinced or become convinced that we’ve deserved more than we get.  To feel underappreciated as men of the church.  I can assure you that this is one of the most deadly attitudes for a priest to have in any way.  Of course, if this is something that we struggle with we pray for an increase in humility – but it’s something that we must “train” ourselves for in seminary.  We must never hold back from doing great work for the Lord but try hard never to accept the praise given, so as not to expect it.  We are not in this to be recognized by the people, other priests, bishops or people in high places.  We are recognized already by the Lord, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.On this feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle; may each of us pause and reflect upon our Christian witness today giving thanks for our faith & friendship with the Lord, and in that spirit of gratitude, give thanks for being called to greatness in our vocation.  And in that greatness call forth others to love and serve the Lord.

The Lord Reveals Himself to the Least Among Us – Independence to Interdependence

We need freedom not only from our weaknesses and sins, but also from what makes us strong too.  To truly embrace what are our gifts, our strengths in this life we must be free from total reliance on them.  When Jesus gives thanks to the Father in today’s Gospel for the Spirit revealing things to the childlike and not to those who are the most intelligent, learned, charismatic, talented – He reminds us of the freedom we need in order to receive God into our hearts, minds and souls.  He reminds us that in order for us to remain childlike we need to accept both strengths and weaknesses and see beyond them both to the power of God and connection we have to Him.

This is not meant to be a polarizing Gospel.  There are plenty of very wise, learned and charismatic men and women for whom the Gospel has been revealed, but these are not people who rest on their laurels, for as soon as we do that – we have already embraced ourselves and have limited the room in our lives for the Holy Spirit.  We then become independent from God in a sense, because we can do what we need to do to get by.  We need to move to interdependence with God; that is recognizing our gifts and talents, knowing they are given us by God and not being limited by them but rather allowing them to always and only be for His glory.  Interdependence is knowing and accepting our own giftedness and its purpose (for the glory of God and helping others) and the gift of faith & belief in God and allowing both to work together.  When we accept this and embrace this, we begin to develop the freedom in faith to be childlike (without belief that we are great and knowing that God’s the only one truly Great) and thus receptive to what He reveals to us by way of the Holy Spirit.

The Gift of Unworthiness

This might seem like an unusual title, “The Gift of Unworthiness” but I truly believe that a sense of our unworthiness is indeed, a gift.  I deal with a lot of unworthiness.  I live with it myself (for there’s no more unworthy a soul than me) but as Vocation Director, it is often the greatest obstacle and struggle with people discerning their vocation to overcome, a deep sense of unworthiness.  So while I face unworthiness with the men and women I serve and dialogue with – I am first reminded of the manner in which I began to deal with it in discernment.  A great Jesuit (former Vocation Director) Fr. Len Altilia led the first discernment retreat I attended.  At that retreat, one of the first things he said to us all was “you’re probably sitting here thinking you’re unworthy, that the Lord might be calling you (to priesthood or religious life) and guess what, you are.  So there’s only one way to get over it…accept it.  We all have (and he pointed to the many priests, religious sisters and brothers who were there with us for the weekend).

It’s not easy to just get over it, but I have never forgotten Fr. Len’s words and I must say I use them often in my own vocation ministry now.  It may be a lifetime of struggle with constant feeling of unworthiness in our calling; constant need of the Sacrament of Penance and good support from those who share with us in a similar calling (other religious sisters, brothers or priests) but what makes us feel unworthy is also a sense of how great the Lord is, how great His love is for us and how important the calling we are chosen for is.  I don’t want anyone to think that I am in any way excluding the holy vocation of marriage here.  Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers know well the weight of their vocation too and many of them feel a sense of unworthiness too.  But I certainly know that marriage is blessed by the total gift of men and women to God and to each other and the family is the greatest blessing which is the bedrock, the foundation and the garden for vocations to build up the Church.  A worthy calling, and when two people feel unworthy but spend their lifetime seeking to be worthy – the world benefits from this.

Humility is the key.  The true gift of a sense of unworthiness is to be found in humility. Humility gives us a sense of the greatness of God and the lowliness of ourselves, but does not manifest in inaction.  We can’t let unworthiness paralyze us, and this is so important. It is a great disappointment when a person does not respond to the Lord’s call because of this sense of unworthiness they may have.  Of course there are people whom I meet for whom their struggles will consume them in particular religious vocations but sometimes people discerning can’t be convinced that everything will be alright by spiritual or vocation director – and so they reject their call.

But for those who embrace their call and who always have an awareness of their unworthiness – this can truly be a gift, a gift that keeps on giving because they do become aware that the Lord will increase and they must decrease, and they are a living testament to the love, mercy and generosity of God in the world.

1st Sunday of Advent: O Come, Divine Messiah

One of the questions I remember often getting when I visited elementary schools was “why do we wear purple at Advent”. Lent it seemed easier to talk to people about the penitential nature of the season.  Advent, perhaps because the coming of Christmas is so exciting and the celebration of Christmas so joyous, it seems difficult to talk to people about this important dimension of Advent.  So I would often ask the kids to open their Bible and I would go to the Nativity story and then ask them to go back to before that to the story of John the Baptist and as we know John prepared the people for the coming of the Lord with a baptism of repentance.

Penance should not dominate the season of Advent, but it should be a part of the season. This is why our parishes have Advent Reconciliation Services and large-scale confessions. This is part of the “preparation” and “expectation” which marks the Advent season and is the essence of our Gospel message today.  We await the Lord as Christians, “never knowing the hour and the place” for ourselves or the Lord’s coming.  But when we’ve prepared ourselves and when we await (as this season reminds us), the Lord’s coming again in glory will bring great joy into the world.  Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that not all will appreciate that, though He wants all of us to.  He isn’t “scaring us with the Gospel”, instead He is reminding us that all we have to do is remain humble, confess our sins, try our best to be Christians, work hard at staying close to Him and dialogue with Him in prayer.  The Church provides us the Way (of our Lord Himself) and so our staying close to the Church helps us to receive this Gospel and prepare ourselves once again for our Lord’s entry into the world.

Today, there tends to be a lot of negativity and “in-fighting” even among Christians which gets in the way of how our Gospel will be received in a positive light.  I have read more than a few blogs that are so vitriolic and hostile to any differing opinion and attitude and as much as anyone might ever choose to read any of my blog posting, we choose to read each others.  It saddens me that so many Catholic Christians are choosing to use what really can be a wonder social media tool to say hurtful, unChristian things about our Holy Father, bishops, priests and others Christians with differing viewpoints.  It is my hope that the Advent (and Christmas) season will help lighten our spirits and the Sacrament of Penance will lighten our spiritual burden and there might be more constructive reflections which Christians have the opportunity to read.

This would be a great manifestation of the Lord coming into our world in a greater way, in a way of our choosing.  Through our hearts, in our minds and words and allowing it to penetrate our souls.

Mercy, Grace & Healing Meet: In a Simple Confession

Grace still amazes me.  As a man who still has to say more of my life has been lived without faith (the balance will shift if and when I turn 64…I’m a few years from that yet) grace is an amazing thing to me.  Not only did grace give me the joyful and amazing life I now live as a priest, happier than I ever could have imagined being; seeing God’s work every day when I see the faith of people receiving Jesus at a Holy Mass our Lord gave me the privilege to be an instrument of Himself at, or being able to offer healing words to someone in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or the deep peace & comfort people receive during a Holy Anointing in sickness or near death.  Most especially I see grace at work in the hearts, minds and souls of the people I work with as a Vocation Director and without all the words to express it – I know it to be grace.  Grace is everywhere and abundantly active in the world – but we have to want to see it.

What helps us see grace is mercy.  We are coming to the end of the Year of Mercy and I hope that you (and I hope this for myself too) are changed forever.  Jubilee Years are not meant to be chapters of the Book of Life closed.  We need mercy more than ever, Jesus has implored us all to be merciful and when we have experienced mercy; had an interior conversion of our souls by receiving God’s mercy but also having been merciful to others and hopefully have experienced the mercy of others too – we are open to the experience of grace and the ability to see grace everywhere; even in the midst of this sometimes confusing world we live in.

Jesus encountered this blind beggar on the road who called out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner!”  He humbled himself to our Lord, but appealed to both His Divinity (his ability to forgive him & heal him) and His humanity (Son of David, I’m your brother!).  Of course there are many places in our life that mercy, love and grace can take place but one of my own favorites is the confessional.  I make this regular practice myself because I know it’s where I receive mercy, love and forgiveness but it helps me to offer it too.  And I have to confess “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.” Knowing He will gives my heart reason to rejoice.  I had the privilege once to ask a great priest confessor of mine what gave him the ability to be a good confessor; he replied “the amount of time I’ve spent on the other side of this box”.  I try to own his words.  Every now and again, hopefully more often than not and sometimes without even knowing it, you say the right thing – and praise God, it’s Him and His grace through you that helps.  I can and do read books to help me to be a better confessor, but I can admit that the time I spend as a penitent helps me to be a better confessor because I can relate to any penitent knowing that everyone who presents themselves in the Sacrament of Confession is humbled to do so and sincerely desires an encounter with the Lord.  I never want to stand in the way or be an obstacle to that.

Grace and goodness is everywhere in the world.  At times it may be hard to see it.  Let us all consider the ways we can open our hearts and minds to see the very best the world has to offer, see what is being redeemed and redeemable and be instruments of grace for that.  There are many ways, but one of the best ways I know is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  May God bless you


Lest We Forget…


poppyThese words remind us of Remembrance Day; a day when we celebrate the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, that is, the sacrifice of their lives for others. And we should not forget them.  Throughout Canada and the United States and surely around the world, we try to hang on to the memory of the wars which won for so many of us the freedom that from time to time (or all the time) we take for granted.  The freedom to live our lives the way we choose to live our lives.  Lest we forget…because to forget is to forget what inspired many of these people to have the courage and strength to give themselves in this ultimate way – what inspired them and gave them this freedom more often than it was not – a deep love and commitment first to God and then through His Son Jesus Christ who Himself gave that ultimate sacrifice and modeled sacrifice for us.  I mention the Father and then the Son, because as we are well aware it wasn’t just Christians who gave their lives and surely there were many who understood the sacrifice they were making without being themselves Disciples but if we were to look around the world and we were to stop and think about it for a moment – the sacrifice made for others in service to God, country and others so closely resembles a martyr’s death.  Men and women who with great humility did not see themselves heroes, did the most heroic things.  I think of those men and women, but I think of the Holy Martyrs as well.  They too are great heroes.  They model the gift of life; the gift of the ultimate sacrifice which we must remember is the gift of love given from Christ to all of us, given by us towards one another when we try to be Christ-like in our lives.  On this Remembrance Day, all of us are called to stop and recall, remember, reflect and lest any of us forget…

God Calls Us All: Part I – Becoming a Catholic Christian


Rev. Fr. Chris Lemieux,
Director of Vocations
Archdiocese of Toronto since July 2014.

As I make my way from place to place as Vocation Director, I am asked to share my vocation story.  At times when I am called to share, I think to myself “what’s so special about my life, I ought to share this?”  At other times of introspection, I feel profoundly loved by God that in the midst of my unremarkable but unique life, He would call me to the Holy Priesthood.  Here is my story:

I was born and raised into a very ordinary life.  My family were blue-collar people who worked hard and raised me to have good values and respect for others, but my parents weren’t people of religious faith.  My mother did teach my sister and I to read from the Holy Bible and she tried at times to take us to the local church, but she was raised without much religious practice in her family either.  The Bible stories seemed cool to me as a little boy and I had, for a while, God as my imaginary friend; a friend I could talk to on my knees at my bed but whom I had no real sense heard or responded to me.  This is where it all began and for quite some time, where it ended too.  From my childhood and into my adulthood I would not have called myself an atheist or an agnostic because I was completely indifferent and didn’t waste much time thinking about religion or God.  I did have a personal hostility to the people of faith whom I had met who were in my opinion hypocrites and I carried that bias with me for many years.

Despite a decent upbringing, I managed to make a mess of things throughout my teenage years and my young adulthood.  I wouldn’t say I went completely off the rails but I didn’t live a very moral or good life and I was constantly caught in a web of selfishness and self indulgence.  All of it to say I was headed in the absolutely wrong direction in life if I were to find passion, purpose, meaning and most of all love.  I had “things” and got by with my gifts; but I had no idea where or Who had given me those gifts until much later.

At a very low point in my life; I had a great friend (my best friend’s sister) who was herself a good-living Christian.  She never hid her Christian faith and she never forced her religious beliefs on anyone.  If you were to ask her where her strength and courage came from; where her joy and satisfaction in life came from; you would know it was Our Lord Jesus Christ.  She was not perfect and didn’t profess to be perfect and her life was not perfect – she had many of her own struggles; but her strength and joy amid hard times was infectious.  We talked a lot about life, meaning, purpose, being positive and finding joy and I will admit I wanted to have what she had at the core of her life without Jesus and without religion.  But I came to discover I could not find all this without Jesus.

Zena took me to Alpha where she was a group leader and it was in Alpha that I met Jesus for the first time really, and met some of His Disciples whom I saw the same things Zena shared with me.  I wasn’t going to “buy in” and while I appreciated what all my new Christian friends were doing, and I was at least not openly criticizing Christians anymore I departed that community of believers and went on my own “search” which led me to various Christian congregations Sunday after Sunday.  I would still go to Alpha and I began to read the Gospels and the Epistles.  More and more I came to discover Jesus and desired a faith life in Him.

Around 2000, when I was about 29 I entered St. Jerome’s Parish for Sunday Mass for the first time.  I knew that Sunday I was home.  Without all the words to describe it; God was so present to me there.  There was something sacred taking place there and I felt so at home.  It compelled me to come again and again and I came to Catholic Mass from then on.  I didn’t begin to consider becoming Catholic for almost two more years.  Finally in August or September of 2002 I made contact with the parish office and inquired about becoming Catholic.  I entered RCIA then and was received into the Catholic Church on April 19, 2003.  It was the greatest day of my life to that point; receiving Holy Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist that day.  I spent a long time in those years from Alpha and onward getting to know Jesus, and on that evening at the Easter Vigil becoming part of His family, marked forever as a member of that family.

And in the final months of preparation, something else was taking place as the fire of the Lord’s love began burning, and as I prepared to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I was being called to something very mysterious, scary, dramatic and unknown to me.  My baptism was not just an event in my life; it was a moment when I committed my own life for Jesus and with an open heart and mind, the Lord had something else in store for me.

(continued in Part II)

God Calls Us All: Part II – Is God Calling Me to the Priesthood?


Rev. Fr. Chris Lemieux,
Director of Vocations
Archdiocese of Toronto since July 2014.

As I make my way from place to place as Vocation Director, I am asked to share my vocation story.  At times when I am called to share, I think to myself “what’s so special about my life, I ought to share this?”  At other times of introspection, I feel profoundly loved by God that in the midst of my unremarkable but unique life, He would call me to the Holy Priesthood.  Here is my story (Part II):

On April 19, 2003 I became a Catholic Christian.  I received Holy Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist on that evening but the second part of my story begins a week before that night when we “Elect” who were nearing the end of our preparation had a mini-retreat at the parish which included confession.  Because I wasn’t baptized (and Holy Baptism wipes away Original Sin and all our sins at once) I did not need to go to confession.  My pastor, Fr. Vid Vlasic had a conversation with me on that day.  Instead of simply wishing me well, he firmly planted a seed that would forever change my life.

Fr. Vid offered me a suggestion: “maybe you should think about becoming a priest”. Although I have no vivid recollection of what I said in response to that, there were many things which I remember thinking about all of this.  Others had suggested it, and I thought it outlandish at first.

  • They couldn’t possibly have known I was a notorious sinner
  • I can’t do what they do (celebrate Mass in front of crowds and preach)
  • They’re very educated – I’m not
  • I’ve never wanted to be a priest
  • It’s just because I’m a single guy
  • What about the wife and family I want to have
  • I don’t want to be a part of the priesthood (the sex abuse scandal broke in Boston just before I entered RCIA – it certainly made priesthood unattractive)

If I needed more, I could have found more.  It meant a lot that Fr. Vid was encouraging me but I had a lot of doubts.  I was new to trusting God and though I had an ever-growing and strengthening faith I was not spiritually mature enough at first to seriously consider priesthood.  I did however believe that God had put various people in my life to draw me to Him.  I had sense enough to listen to Him through these people and Fr. Vid gently but consistently encouraged me to keep thinking about it.  I went to weekend retreats where I met “normal” people who were thinking of priesthood and religious life.  I continued to pray and every once and a while think about priesthood.  I grew to not be opposed or closed off to the possibility.

A major consideration was my job; a career really.  I had worked for a number of years as a bus driver at Mississauga Transit and could have retired at 52.  Job security, stability and greater and greater seniority allowed me a comfortable life.  I had very good friends whom I was close to, family whom I was growing closer to and to add to it; it hadn’t gone unnoticed by me the beautiful Catholic ladies whom I had every intention of dating!

About a year after becoming Catholic I met a Franciscan priest who would become one of my best friends, a mentor to me and would help me to see my way into deeper and deeper discernment.  Again, yet another person in my life I know God graced me with to find my way.

Fr. Paschal Breau was a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement and had been over sixty years religious when we met.  He had been Vocation Director for his community and so he was full of wisdom and knowledge.  He was a retired priest when we met on a retreat and we became instantly good friends.  Fr. Paschal had never imagined he would be a priest and had spent nearly 30 years a brother in the community before studying for the priesthood.  He was admittedly not a gifted academic (I could relate), he had been terribly shy when he started out as a very young man (I could relate).  His life as he revealed it to me, helped me to see that I presumed a lot of gifts that priests may or may not have.  Fr. Paschal had a deep love of God and people and a desire to serve them.  This was the greatest witness he gave to me as a priest, and so much more as a friend.

In September 2005, almost two and a half years after becoming Catholic, I entered Serra House in Toronto.  At that time, it was a House of Discernment; a place men lived as they tried to get a sense of whether God might be calling them to enter seminary.  I loved my time there; it was joyful but also challenging.  I did my best but struggled with philosophy at 35, back in the classroom.  It was the one of the greatest challenges for me learning how to trust God; having to tell myself over and over “if God wants you to be a priest, He will help you here!”.  He did.  I struggled my way through philosophy but finished in 2007.  In 2006 I entered the seminary.  I had Fr. Paschal with me to the very end and at my graduation when I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy.

Early on, I remember speaking to Fr. Paschal about his being an important part of ordination, a conversation that might have been too early.  He told me that he knew the Lord had something special planned, but that he believed he would be with me at my ordination in a “special place”.  Fr. Paschal passed away when I was preparing to enter Second Theology, a loss I felt but bittersweet as it was mingled with blessing.  I was with him at the end, and I was strengthened in my faith by the witness of his.  I felt strong in my faith through the next years of formation and I know that Fr. Paschal and others prayed for me to receive great grace along the way.

I was ordained a transitional deacon at St. Gertrude’s in Oshawa on October 15, 2011 and a priest on May 12, 2012 at St. Michael’s Cathedral.  In addition to the Communion of Saints who prayed for me (as they do for us) I know my dear mother who passed away in August 2004 and my dear friend Fr. Paschal were with me that day in spirit and memory.  I had the great honour and grace to offer Holy Mass as I celebrated my first Mass of Thanksgiving for my mother at St. Paul’s Basilica the next morning; Mother’s Day 2012.

I had my doubts and fears, which I allowed the Lord to free me of through the years of discernment.  I feel blessed and love being a priest.  The Lord certainly has lived up to His end of the bargain; gifting the one (me) He has chosen.  I spend every day trying to be a better man – and trying to live up to my end of the bargain.

We Can’t Give Up on Each Other

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that we can’t give up on each other.  Jesus is criticized for eating with the “wretches” which we know become some of the most ardent Disciples of Christ.  This is a most timely Gospel for us all to hear, especially as the Year of Mercy is coming to an end and we need to allow a merciful spirit to be etched in our minds as we continue to live our faith and hopefully never to forget God’s mercy as it’s been extended to us.  Recently, at the NCDVD (National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors) in Boston, Cardinal Lacroix gave a timely speech about some of his own pastoral experiences.  He spoke of a couple who came to him asking for Holy Baptism for their first…their second…their third child and so on, each time never finding their own way into the pews but wanting baptism for their children.  Eventually, as the Cardinal tells it, the family (large by this time) had a powerful conversion experience and were a faith-filled and ardent Catholic Christian family.  He offered this from his own experience as a priest, that we might be gentle, merciful and not assuming the worst in the people we serve.  I thought about his story today as I prayed with our Gospel; it is a reminder to me not to give up on anyone the Lord presents to me.  Obviously we need to have the strength and courage to present God’s truth with love and with compassion and to call our brothers and sisters to a “higher place”, perhaps at times to gently challenge them but never with an authoritative edge but rather with care and concern for their souls and to help them to know God in a deeper and more personal way.  We must journey with them.  This is something that I try to include in my personal reflections with the men in my discernment programs and in the seminary; also the men and women I speak to who are discerning their vocation.  If the Lord is calling us as Disciples to religious vocations; that is, to serve the Holy Church in a special way; He is most definitely calling us to consider today’s Gospel with a deep love, charity, assuming the very best of people when we encounter them.  We can’t give up on each other – Jesus didn’t.  As a convert in my thirties, I can assure you of that.  I am glad that the Lord and His Disciples who brought me His love didn’t give up on me.