What Are We Waiting For?

I think if we do the math on what we know about the life and age of John the Baptist, we know the Prophet who “prepared the way for the Lord” was relatively young when he was martyred for Christ.  We know that he himself prepared (throughout his young life) for his calling and he gave everything to that mission.  As he nears the end of his life, from prison, he reaches out to inquire.  Did I do what I was meant to do?  Are you the Lord who is to come?  Jesus replies to John’s disciples who inquire by pointing to the works of the Lord which have taken place; effectively answering the question and giving John something to reflect upon in his own life.  If John can look to his actions, what he called people to and see the connection to the works of the Lord, then not only can he know with certainty that Jesus is Lord, but he also has an intimate and personal connection by his own works.

What we might ponder today is to ask the same question in faith: “Jesus reveal yourself to me. Where are you present around me here today?”  We know He is the Lord Messiah, we are not waiting for another to come – but we can’t be waiting for an other invitation than the one the Lord has already implanted in our own heart of our true calling and vocation.  There are lots of reasons young people don’t seem as eager to respond to the Lord’s call to ecclesial or religious vocations (priesthood & religious life).  Might one be that there’s a sense for many of us that discernment is too complicated? I entered seminary at 34 years of age and my life and life experience helped form me to be the priest that I am (in good and not-so-good ways).  I remember thinking to myself, and expressing a few times that I wanted the shortest possible route to ordination at the outset.  I spent seven years in formation and needed every one of those years!  It’s amazing that I now meet young men who feel they are ready immediately to be priests and I need to help them to slow down without discouraging them.  What I find the most effective thing to do is to help them to see every experience from the time they say yes to the Lord until ordination or whatever is the entry point into their vocation otherwise (marriage, religious life, generous single life in Christ) is not sitting in the sidelines.  Preparing ourselves for our vocation is active work.  Especially because we know the importance in ecclesial vocations of being able to inspire, motivate, invite, welcome and embrace everyone – the active work is in developing humanly, spiritually, intellectually and pastorally.  I know that many people suggest to me that our seminarians should be with the people more.  I can assure you that the seminarians would love this.  They are generous and love people very much.  But their active work is becoming the men they need to be for the future.  Of the religious communities of women and men I know, this very same principle applies.  And they must stay close to Christ and His active work through others just as John the Baptist, who did not have his liberty while in prison gave witness to Christ there.

A Loving & Gentle God Teaches Patience by Personal Witness

Today’s Gospel offers a special reminder to converts and “reverts” alike.  God’s great gift to us can be the entry point or a return to faith, to a deeper and more personal encounter with Christ. As someone who became Catholic in my thirties, and who works with people who have both personal conversion and reversion (coming back to their faith) stories, it is amazing to see how gentle the Lord really can be.  Perhaps this is what perplexes so many of us, because we often are far less patient and gentle with each other than the Lord is with the sinner.  “Hard on others, and hard on himself”.  This is an observation I’ve had to make when I work with men discerning, but admittedly I am sure an observation my seminary formators, spiritual director and maybe even my vocation director had to make about me too.  Even though I have been a committed Catholic for the last 13 years of my life, I am a work in progress in so many ways.  I know intellectually, spiritually and deeply that the Lord loves me – but I am sure that there are parts of my mind and soul that are not fully convinced.  How do I know that?  Because there are many times I am not nearly as gentle as I should be.  I confess uncharity in my own heart more than I would ever really want to admit.  The great sense of hope for me is that, thanks be to God, my relationship with the Lord allows me to keep my eyes on Him and regain lost ground again.  When it comes to the lack of patience and gentleness I might feel, I have a sense of the office I carry as a priest and as a Vocation Director, with God’s precious vocations in my hands and I ponder this daily.  In my daily examen, I ask myself who I have been resistant too, impatient with, not as gentle as I could have been.  I pray to God to show me the areas of my own life I have not served Him or been His instrument.

Today’s Gospel we are given a sense of hope for everyone we meet in our lives, and we are given insight into the Lord’s vantage point, a vantage point we must try our best to look at things from.  God is loving, patient and gentle with us, because even when some choose ways other than His, He does not leave or abandon us.  He remains, and waits for hearts to mature, soften and grow.  He waited for me.  But far beyond my own experience, He has waited for all humanity to grow and continues to.  We must do our part personally and within our community of faith and beyond.  Let us then follow the witness the Lord provides us with each and every day.


Meet Matthew McCarthy, soon-to-be Deacon & Priest for the Archdiocese of Toronto

This is the vocation story of Matthew McCarthy, who is in his fourth year of theology studies at St. Augustine’s Seminary.  Matthew will be ordained a Transitional Deacon at Our Lady of the Airways Parish in Malton this coming Saturday December 17 by Cardinal Collins.  We look forward to Matthew serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Toronto in May of next year.

The story of how the Lord called me to the priesthood is not something I would consider extraordinary.  God never communicated his will to me through external means – I received no dream, or visit from an angel who commissioned me to go forth and serve God as a priest.  Nor did I receive a divine message through more familiar means, such as a phone call or text message.  Rather, the Lord let me know his plans through quieter, more interior ways: through prayer and a deep sense of peace and joy I experience whenever I see myself serving him as a priest.

I was born into a fairly devout Catholic family.  We went to Mass every Sunday, and during the week whenever we could make it.  From the second grade until the middle of high school I was an altar server at St. John Fisher parish in Brampton.  Some of my fondest memories of altar serving were the times when my parish priest, Fr. Aflred Grima, would chat with me in the sacristy before Mass began.  He and I were committed Leaf fans, and so our conversations often included a commentary on the latest hockey game.  But before we began to talk hockey, the first question he would always ask me as he walked into the sacristy was: “So, how is my future priest?” I would always answer with a smile and a shrug.  To be honest, the question never really meant much to me at the time, being only about eight or nine years old.

Even throughout my teen and early adult years, I never seriously considered the priesthood.  I had my sights set on a career in sports.  I grew up playing competitive hockey, baseball, and basketball and it was my dream to make it to the pros in one of those sports.  If that didn’t happen (and it didn’t), I wanted to commit myself to studying sports.  And so, after finishing high school, I entered the kinesiology and health science program at York University with the intention of becoming a physiotherapist or the trainer of a sports team.

It was at this time that I also joined the Catholic Chaplaincy at York and attended the Masses they offered, as well as their other social functions.  It was here, for the first time, that I began to wonder if the Lord was perhaps asking me to consider the priesthood.  The two chaplains at the time, Frs. Allan MacDonald and Roger Vandennaker CC were very helpful in opening my eyes to the beauty of this particular vocation.  Also, for the first time, I met two seminarians at the chaplaincy, who were studying to be priests for the Companions of the Cross (a society of priests based in Ottawa).  Prior to this, I had not known anyone who was going through the process of seminarian formation. They, like me, were young men and we shared a lot of the same interests.  So they, too, helped me realize that that God often calls ordinary men (like me!) to the priesthood.

Over my years of study at university, I noticed that, while thoughts about becoming a trainer or physiotherapist appealed to me, the excitement didn’t last very long.  I would often find myself trying to work up and sustain an enthusiasm for the career.  Now, there are things about being a trainer and therapist that still interest me today.  However, when I see myself serving God as a priest, I feel a profound and lasting sense of peace and joy.  The best way I can describe it is: through prayer and reflection over a period of about 2 to 3 years, I’ve become confident that this is where the Lord is leading me to use my gifts and my talents.

Looking back, I can see that now that Fr. Grima’s question to me as a young altar server of 8 or 9 years old was a seed that was planted in my heart by the Lord.  And over the next 20 years, he slowly watered it and cultivated it, until I made the decision to join the seminary in my final year of university.  If anything, my vocation story shows that the Lord often doesn’t reveal his plans in fantastic and extraordinary ways, but chooses rather to work gently in the depths of one’s heart.  Today, seven years after making the decision to join the seminary, the Lord has continued to strengthen my conviction to serve him as a priest, and I humbly and gratefully speak as a man who will be ordained to the priesthood in a few short months.  So I ask you to continue praying for me and the other men in my year who are making final preparations for ordination – that we may be loving and faithful priests, serving the Archdioceses of Toronto.

 My Greatest Joy of Discernment: Discovering God’s Grace in Unlikely Places

We all have areas of our lives that we wish were different.  Like a piece of cracked pottery, each of us is broken and chipped in certain ways.  Perhaps one of the greatest joys of the discernment process for me is discovering how the Lord has worked in these particular areas of my life, and helped me to realize that, even in these very areas, there exists a value and strength that I had not recognized or considered.

I recently heard a preacher speak about the art of Kintsugi, which is a Japanese method of repairing broken pottery.  The preacher used it as an analogy as way of illustrating how God can use each one of us despite the parts of our lives that seem broken or embarrassing.  According to the philosophy of this art, the damages and repairs sustained by a broken clay vessel are considered part of its beauty, rather than unsightly flaws.  When a piece of a clay vessel chips off, a Kintsugi potter will meld the two pieces together using a mixture of powdered gold, silver, or platinum.  By using these types of precious metals, the potter gives the once-broken vessel an added brilliance and value.  Furthermore, because of the materials and technique used in the process, the clay vessel is even stronger and more resistant to damage than it had once been before. 

This is how the grace of God operates when I allow it to permeate every aspect of my life! There are many days when I look at the broken and seemingly awkward areas of life and feel discouraged.  During these times, I’ll often hear words in my heart such as: Who am I kidding? I’ve got no place in God’s plan.  I’m too weak. “These” areas of my life are definitely going to get in the way of God’s plan for me.  The reality is, however, every aspect of my life, good or bad, can pose a challenge to God if I don’t allow his grace to touch it.  But when his grace does touch these areas, he is capable of drawing from them a brilliance and a value that I had never noticed before.  But this realization almost always occurs in the context of reflection and prayer – and this is the beauty of discernment.  It is the process by which I, in the context of silence and prayer, allow the Lord to pour his grace on all areas of my life and evermore discover how he can use even my deepest cracks and faults to reflect his glory.

Well Done, Good & Faithful Servant! Enter into the Joy of Your Lord!


This homily is given in the context of a vocation discernment retreat I am giving at Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Center in Pickering.  Ten men discerning their vocation spent the weekend in silent prayer.  This homily is themed with the conferences for the weekend.

During the Rite of Ordination for Deacons [every priest is ordained a deacon first; a transitional role] there is a homily in the rite, which most ordaining bishops use in addition to their own homily – Cardinal Collins most certainly does.  The last three sentences of the homily read this way: “Express in action what you proclaim in word of mouth. Then the People of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear Him say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

It was almost six years ago that I was ordained a transitional deacon, but those were words that remained with me, and words that evoke a powerful reminder for me now as I attend many ordinations in my current ministry.  They are powerful words, because they are words that I hope to hear one day when I pass from this life to the next, words I hope to hear from the Lord Himself.  Nothing could be sweeter to me than the sound of these words.

I share them because my hope is that in reflecting upon your own lives, these are the kind of words you hope to be really, the crowning achievement of your lives too.  I was 34 years old when I entered seminary formation and spent seven years in formation discerning my vocation, much like Joe who spent those six years discerning his vocation to marriage but when you take your time and really allow yourself to be open to what the Lord hopes for you – you find yourself savouring it all.

And so after 7 years of growing in self-awareness, of being formed in my humanity, in my ability to love and in how to be pastoral & to serve others as a priest, of having grown and matured and having learned how to be a better Christian man and disciple – seminary was coming to an end and I was ordained a deacon, ordained to serve.  I could have looked at it as a time of freedom from the seminary or freedom to serve the Lord.  I chose the latter.

I think of a video clip I saw of Archbishop Fulton Sheen in the final year of his life, meeting St. John Paul II, a young pope at the time.  The two godly men met, and the pope embraced Archbishop Sheen and thanked him with these words, “well done, good and faithful servant – you served the Church well and when it’s your time may you enter into the joy of the Lord.”

Archbishop Sheen was the first big Catholic TV star; some of you maybe your parents or grandparents will remember him well.  A brilliant man; a very, very popular man – these words were the greatest words he could want to hear in his life too.

Whether you’re more like the simple bus driver (like me) who never would have thought he would do anything like this (priesthood) or a great orator, scholar and bishop – somehow these words can have such a great impact, the simple acceptance and joy of the Lord at the work we do makes all the hard work, sacrifices and struggles we might have seem worth it.

Living our vocation is not only about this: there is much, much joy in living the way God intended us to; seeing some of the fruits of our labours while we live.  Knowing our life had meaning and purpose.

In today’s Gospel, all John the Baptist asks as his life is coming to an end is did he fulfill the work the Lord had for him in this life.  The response Jesus offers him is greater than he could have hoped for.  Not only is he given a sense of the fruitfulness of his life AND a confirmation of his life’s purpose.

But he is also given a sense of the true joy the Lord feels for him and is embraced by Jesus.

May we seek to be John the Baptists in today’s world, because as Disciples of Christ, we are called to fill his role in our vocation.  To prepare the way for the Lord.  To know that we act in the name of Jesus Christ whom we follow, but we also prepare our brothers and sisters for others who will bring Jesus to them is a great joy of the Gospel.

I think of a few things that Joe mentioned in his talk yesterday as well.  He spoke of the sacrifices he and his wife made to share faith with each other and then to pass it on to their sons.  What I can tell you is that these seven young men are good Catholic men, disciples who will make their mark on the world by living their faith and with their own families.

There were times when Joe and his wife brought Jesus Christ directly into their children’s and their student’s lives and there were times when they ‘prepared the way for the Lord’; for others to bring the Lord to them.  That is what we ought to do as disciples.

We are not one or the other.

When I celebrate this Mass and administer the sacraments as I do as a priest, I am acting ‘in persona Christi Capitus’, in the Person of Christ the Head of the Church and in my priesthood, I am called to be ‘alter Christus’, ‘another Christ’.  But in many situations, I am preparing the way for others to bring the Lord to them; parents, teachers, ministers in parishes.

We need humility in our vocation; no matter what we might be called to – we have to realize that the Lord calls others to greatness in His name.  Our vocations are integrally & intimately connected one to another.

Even in vocation ministry, for those of you discerning, it is the impression of priests other than me who have brought you to a place in your discernment where you are considering the priesthood.  Being the one who prepares others for something greater than ourselves is the life we have chosen as Christian men, Disciples of Christ.

It is not a lesser life, it’s a great life – no matter what vocation our Lord is calling us to.

My brothers in Christ, let us consider John the Baptist today and his great yet humble works and may we too follow the Lord, seek to fulfill and live out God’s call for us and may we long for the words “well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter the joy of your Lord.”  May God bless you.

Experiencing the Glory of Christ Should Allow Us to Serve, Suffer & Witness for Him


This homily is given in the context of a vocation discernment retreat I am giving at Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Center in Pickering.  Ten men discerning their vocation spent the weekend in silent prayer.  This homily is themed with the conferences for the weekend.

As the Apostles descend the mountain with our Lord, this conversation arises about what the arrival of the Messiah is meant to look like; that Elijah is to come and prepare the way for the Lord.  It is then, that these men of faith realize that he is come, John the Baptist.

In another moment, Peter confesses Jesus, “the Son of the Most High God” to which Jesus declares to all that Peter has received this truth from the Holy Spirit.  There are some among the believers who suspend belief until God reveals Himself in the way that they have interpreted in Sacred Scripture, or the way that was interpreted for them.

As I made mention in my introduction last night, Peter, James & John went up the mountain and in the midst of the Transfiguration they knew that something special was happening; but truthfully, they didn’t know a fraction of what it was they were experiencing?

If we were told Jesus will come again, in exactly this or that way, at exactly this time and it will look exactly like this – where would that leave us?  Our faith and trust in God would make little difference, because we would just be doing what we were told.

We wouldn’t be responding in total freedom; it wouldn’t be a totally selfless gift of ourselves for God and for others and it would be to respond to God’s gift of love to us – out of fear.

But instead we don’t know the whole plan, we only know that there is a Divine Plan and we are an important part of it.  Not because the Lord Himself had to allow us to be a part of that plan, but He chose to.  Many things revealed, some remain hidden.

There may have been many questions on the minds of the Apostles as they descended the mountain, the glorious encounter on the mountain, but Jesus guided them to take away the best part of the experience: to know that Scripture & God’s Promise was being revealed in their very midst!  They knew the glory of what was to come.  As do we.

That’s what we too have been given; we know through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and His Glorious Promise that we have nothing to worry about, nothing to fear.  We know from those Apostles and the others that we have a community of believers descended from them to this very day that eagerly awaits the Lord’s return, but does so by living His life here in this world, here and now.

Brothers, no matter what the Lord is calling you do in this life He’s given you – it will be to the glory of the kingdom if you earnestly, honestly, passionately respond to it.  It occurs to me how much more solemn and glum maybe the trip down the mountain was,

having now experienced what they did and having that foretaste of heaven, were they to be sadly disappointed with what they experience from here on in?

I wonder if it’s like the feeling we feel after the wedding day or ordination day, when we’ve experienced so much hope & joy and then we have to get on living in the world.

When we have such great hope and strong faith in the Lord’s Promise, we are ready for the next part of the plan to be revealed, and my hope is that this is what the Apostles Peter, James and John experienced.

Hope. And joy.

And this is what I hope each one of your lives are filled with, my Christian brothers.

These Apostles were chosen for this glory, so that in the right and chosen time, they could give witness to the Lord; witness to His life, suffering, sacrifice, death, resurrection and His Glory.  They were there, so that they could profess to all that we share in all of this by God’s choice and are intimately one with Him.  They were chosen, but you too are chosen!

The Lord is calling you to live your lives for something much greater than yourselves, to inspire others, but to know the Lord so intimately that you have deep faith and growing trust in Him and that you will make a difference with that in whatever way your gifts allow.

Brothers, what I can assure you is that’s not a maybe.  That’s an absolutely!  You absolutely are called to that.  What has been revealed so far is enough!

How do I know this?  Look around you, you are not just a random 10 guys here, you are the men the Lord chose to be here, to get away from what you are doing and to be with Him here [at this retreat] today.  Our archdiocese has just over 2 million Catholics and ten of you gave your weekend to come here.  That’s not a fluke, that’s in the Lord’s plan.  Listen to Him.  Let Him speak.  The question that we take away with us here today is what are we – what are you going to do with that?

Seek to Know the Lord & His Church in Prayer

The Life of Christ which is expressed through the Church and the Gospel is meant to bring us the greatest joy and freedom, that which we need to get ourselves to heaven by a holy way of life, and as Disciples of Christ to bring as many people with us as we can.  This sounds right, and I’m sure that this is something that most of us can agree upon.  From there, we digress.  This is less a criticism of any one person than stating a reality that we don’t have to go too far to see.  We agree on some things and disagree on others.  Even as Catholics, we find ourselves accepting some teachings of the Church and then rejecting some that we feel are “old-thinking” or simply “not right”.  We can be “cafeteria Christians” picking and choosing what is acceptable, palatable, agreeable and what is not. This is not a judgment, but as priest who, I must confess, has done this myself too at times and someone who works with Catholic Christian each and every day it is again a reality. There is a lesson we are offered by our Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel and a point to ponder upon and reflect upon in our own lives.  Are we these “cafeteria Christians”, who essentially are the people Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel?  Even though the people we hear our Lord speak of, are highly critical of John the Baptist and then our Lord Himself – we must consider how and why we take the positions of opposition to what we are taught or know our faith is about.

As I often do, I offer a little insight into how I combat this difficulty for myself.  It is the way I think as an ordinary Catholic Christian man who happens to be a priest.  As a convert, there were MANY things which I found objectionable at first.  Even though I love the Catholic Church and gave myself wholeheartedly when I was baptized in 2003 – there were many things that I had great reservations about and refused to accept.  At that time, I believed that I didn’t really need to accept everything to accept the Catholic Church.  As my understanding of the Church and her Divine Purpose has developed, I came to realize that I did.  As a catechumen and then a neophyte, one of the gifts which most men and women who choose the Church and Holy Baptism receive is an inquiring mind and a desire for truth and knowledge.  There were many things which I needed to simply tell myself that I will follow the Church because it is of God and pray for the understanding, asking the questions and seeking the answers until I have satisfaction.  I am still on a quest for some satisfaction, but because an important Office of the Holy Priesthood is to teach, I passionately took on some of the tougher questions and challenges while I was in the seminary.  I would never profess to be an expert on much of anything, and I know that my means of communicating the truth is less than others who have the gift of brilliant minds and to teach – I point others to them; to the theologians of the Church, many of our seminary professors and amazing teachers of the faith.

Friends, I offer you this: if things aren’t clear, ask the Lord in prayer to point you to the places to make it clear and I can assure you He will.  He has never let me down!  Don’t reject any of the Gospel or the Church’s teaching or assume you’ve been taught correctly to reject it.  This doesn’t serve anyone, let alone ourselves as Christians.

Immaculate Conception: Gateway to a Beautiful & God-Given Life


We celebrate the beautiful Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent, celebrating God’s grace given to His Chosen Handmaid, the Mother of His Son.  It  is a time for us to pause and ponder the Lord’s Divine Plan for the salvation of the world and His Divine Plan for each of us.  One of the common misunderstandings I’ve experienced has been that many believe we are celebrating Jesus’ immaculate birth here, but of course it is the traditional belief that Our Lady was given the special grace of the removal of Original Sin by God the Father Himself prior to Christian Baptism.  In seminary, I read many beautiful theological reflections on this topic by many theologians throughout the history of the Church that gave me a deeper sense of why Our Lady would be given this special gift.  I know in many friendly debates there are many among us who think that this is old-school thinking, or thought that “deifies” Mary.  There are others whom I’ve spoken with who believe that Mary was guarded and protected against ever sinning.  I am no theologian, so you’re getting an ordinary priest’s way of looking at Mary’s immaculate birth here.  Mary is someone we can relate to.  She was the first and greatest Christian – she followed Jesus Christ before He was even conceived, from her own birth, and for this she received a gift from God that every Christian receives in baptism.  It doesn’t deify her, it gives her the same strength of faith we all have been given.  And like us, she wasn’t protected from sinning, because she was a real girl in a real world.  Of course, God who knows all knew her family and how she would be brought up and her own disposition to things.  That’s why He chose her.  This was all a part of the Divine Plan!  If we stop and take into account, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her birth, her childhood, the Annunciation when she came to bear Our Lord, His birth, the Holy Family, her life on her own and with her Divine Son, His Suffering & Death (and her suffering with Him), His Resurrection (and her rejoicing in the Divine Plan), her own Assumption and Crowning in heaven – we see the panorama of Mary’s life and if we reflect upon our own we should see something here too – our Lord wants us to see it, as does our Lady!

We too have been called from birth, called to share in the waters of baptism, called into Discipleship, enlivened with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Holy Confirmation and called to our vocation in life, the manner in which we attain holiness and heaven ourselves, but also bring as many people with us as we can.  We are given many powerful gifts to do that, and while it may not be immaculate conception, we shouldn’t be disappointed.  That was for Mary.  We have been given Holy Baptism which brought us to the same place.  The heavens opened up and the Lord Jesus proclaimed “this is my Beloved Brother/Sister, in whom I am well pleased”.  Friends, let us reflect upon our own lives today, our vocation and how we might live that vocation out today and every day, and as we look at the panorama of Mary’s beautiful life which began at the Immaculate Conception, may we be reminded that our Christian journey began at our conception too.  May God bless you.


The Lord Carries Our Burdens with Us

Most of us have come to know this beautiful poem called “Footprints in the Sand”:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”


How often do we take on the burdens of life; to figure out the concerns and challenges of each day, often thinking we are alone in all of this?  Even for those of us with strong faith when we face problems or difficulties, we can feel alone in them before we bring them totally and completely to the Lord.  When we do, we begin to see the joyful and freeing reality of today’s Gospel.  The Lord does not leave us alone.  He may not take away these troubles from us, but He is with us.  To follow Jesus in this way and to experience the truth of this Gospel, we really do need to trust Him.  We can’t believe that the Lord will lighten the burden for us unless we are forced to trust Him.

It is yet another joy of priesthood, to experience through those we minister to.  I have had a few of those burdens myself; experiencing the weight of being with my mom as she was dying, the weight of the challenges I faced while discerning and even at times the weight of certain parts of the priestly office.  These are light in comparison to others, but they were real burdens for me, and became lighter and most definitely manageable when I entrusted them to the Lord.  Even amid the sadness of losing my mom and other people in my life, I never lost my joy and sense of hope.  I carry my mom close to me as I speak about her in my homilies and reflections to this day.  I have brought the people that I care about; their cares and concerns with me to Holy Mass as I celebrate it.  I bring the things they ask for prayers for with me to my prayer time.  I ask the Lord to help me take the weight of the sins of others upon my shoulder as I hear their confessions.  As I put on the stole at Mass, at prayer time or when I am hearing confessions – that stole is a symbol and sign of the yoke I wear, the Yoke of Christ.  When I put it on, I pray for His strength, His Words, His Life.  And I trust that the Lord who loves us all will give this in abundance.

To Save a Thousand Souls

Throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto, we have begun discernment groups for men called “Quo Vadis” and using one of the finest vocation resources I know of right now, a book aptly entitled “To Save a Thousand Souls”.  I suggest that the title of the book is an apt one, because it invites the reader to want to open it, and in it find his way to a deeper sense of God’s calling for him in his life.  Now, this book is for the man discerning priesthood, in a more focused way the diocesan priesthood as it’s written by a diocesan priest, a former Vocation Director – we are all in the business of saving souls; it’s part of the Christian mission!  It is to suggest that the role of priest is to focus one’s life for this purpose, to be a minister of the sacraments to enable one to save souls and to make that one’s life’s work.

It is God’s greatest joy that a souls should be saved.  We hear in the words of today’s Gospel, Jesus making this point; the shepherd saving the life of the lost one while not focusing his time and attention on the ones that have not left the herd.  We know that He too speaks of His own mission; that those who have stayed close to God and who know the Father’s love while certainly deserving to be close to Jesus must allow Him the freedom to go out and gather others who do not yet know Him or who have lost their way.  We all make sacrifices, even as we evangelize and minister to others.

I think of my short but very joyful time at St. Patrick’s in Markham.  The parish community was a truly amazing one, vibrant, alive with amazing people doing so much of God’s work in the Markham area.  Certainly what we might consider a “mega-parish” simply based on the size of the congregations at Mass.  There was more than enough to do in the parish office for a young associate pastor.  Since working with youth in the parish was a focus of my ministry there – I spent a lot of time in the schools.  There were many who told me that this was a waste of time considering many didn’t come to church anyway.  That might be true, but even if it is, all the more reason for me to be there to reach out, to bring Jesus to them!

I don’t know if my visiting the schools had a great impact or effect on the young people or teachers; I hope it did.  I also hope they might choose to go to church and be close to God there because it was God and not because of me.  I may never know.  It’s also not for me to know.  God knows.  I trust Him, take seriously the words of the Gospel and while I still care for the people who are entrusted to me as a priest, I reach out to others to welcome them in.  This, my friends, is the joy of the Gospel!

Confession: The Healing of a Soul

Today’s Gospel offers us an interesting point to ponder; something valuable to reflect upon.  Jesus forgives sins and the Pharisees accuse Him of blasphemy, mindful that God forgives sins and unwilling to accept that Jesus is God for a variety of reasons.  In order for the Pharisees to know Jesus is God, they need to have more than an intellectual understanding of what God and who God is.  Although we know through the Scriptures and through a tradition of understanding which is our theology God appeals to our intellect, He raises the mind (faith seeking understanding) our relationship with Him is communal (all of us together as we share God’s love for us and each other) and personal.  It’s not one or the other, it’s all of the above.  This is what we as devout Christians spend a lifetime seeking perfection and balance in.  From here, we can see that the Pharisees most likely lack the personal relationship with God.  If they knew intimately the Father, they would know and accept the Son.

This is where we all need to stop and reflect a little bit today.  Before we point any finger at the Pharisees, we must search our own souls.  I for one have heard from more than a few “good Catholics” that they don’t bother with confession because they can confess straight to God and don’t need a priest to mediate.  I’ve even thought the same way in my earliest days as a Catholic.  We tend to see the human weakness and frailty of the priest and the priesthood.  We may consider that many priests we know or know of are “no better” than we are.  No one should deny that.  The priest acts in “the person of Jesus Christ” when he performs the Sacraments, but like the Apostles and Disciples, has to aspire to be like Him at other times.  To deny ourselves the healing of confession is not really denying the priest anything that is uniquely his, it is denying Jesus has the power and authority to work in this way.  In this way, although maybe a little strongly worded, it’s a kind of a blasphemy we see the confessional to be if we deny it in this way.

The Pharisees accusing Jesus of blasphemy were limiting the Father’s ability to forgive sins through “His Son; His Messiah” just as we limit Jesus’ ability to forgive sins through “His priests” because all we see is the man before us.

Of course, I am proposing a different theology, a stronger, more trusting faith which includes the healing we receive in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, believing and accepting this along with all the other “gifts” the Lord gives us in the Sacraments makes for a stronger Church and in turn a stronger Christian witness throughout the world.