Get Rid of Sins First; Then We Do the Lord’s Work

It seems to be a contradictory way of thinking for us to believe that sacrifices and the focus we might offer to penance would have much to do with joy at all.  During this Advent season, we are preparing our hearts and minds for the greatest gift God offered us in His Son coming into the world to offer all of us salvation and an eternity with Him in heaven.  Nothing could be more joyful, and the way we celebrate today lends itself to that great joy.  But we are reminded by today’s Gospel that penance or repentance as John the Baptist puts it – is part of the season as well.  We hear both John and later Jesus begin their message and the ministry that follows with “repent”.

Having had the life experience of many years with little or no faith, I have a slightly different perspective than others.  I certainly would have been the first one as a teenager or young adult to criticize Catholics for too much penance.  I can’t say I had any real understanding of the Catholic practice of confession, but it would have been high on my list to criticize because what little I knew of Christianity was that there was too much worry about sin and wrongdoing.  Most of my lifetime was spent on the outside looking in, and the worry made it seem that for the Christian, lives were wasted with this and not living life instead.  Now I am on the inside looking out and I hear the continued criticism offered on this but I have come to see things differently now.

Catholic Christians do not focus on sin; and if they do that’s wrong.  When I meet a penitent who seems overly mired, distressed, concerned or focused on his or her sin, or a particular sin; I try to get them to relax a bit.  I ask them to trust the Lord a little bit more, regularly confess their sin as they are doing, but use the freedom from sin (the grace of absolution) to get on with the best parts of being Christian – bringing Jesus Christ and His amazing message of salvation to others.  Let God sort out your weaknesses and give you a boost of grace.

What changed my perspective on all of this was not a teaching, was not a book, was not anything other than having enough trust in my faith when I became Catholic to face my fears and go to confession myself.  I encountered the Lord in the most amazing ways right there.  My whole life of faith has been a constant call for me to trust the Lord more.  It’s hard for an adult convert, I think especially for one like me that was not always positive about “religion” to trust in the Lord and the Church.  I, like so many, see the human weakness that is the human dimension of the Divine Reality.  But I trust the Lord brought me to His Holy Church and so I trust in Him and in His Sacraments.  It was probably one of the most difficult experiences for me to go to confession, but I did and I know the freedom from my sins as I confess them.  I also know that at its best, as it often is – the counsel I receive fills me with greater faith, hope in abundance and I leave the confessional a better person, ready to be a better person and live my faith to the fullest.

Penance, repenting of my own sins and weaknesses, letting go of these things and acknowledging that they will not and do not have dominion over me allows me to grow as a Christian and be the best one that I can be.  Sisters and brothers, let us all consider the words of the Baptizer today and may we free ourselves from what holds us back from the greatest joy our lives will ever experience.  May God bless you.

Lord, Help me to Help others Find You

st-francis-xavier

Jesus let me be Your feet, to go where You want me to go; your arms to do Your work; Your mouth to share Your words, Your mind to know as You know.  In order for us to actually do the work of the Master, we spend a lifetime in friendship getting to know the Master.  In today’s Gospel the disciples are commissioned to do the Lord’s work with the Lord having their back along the way.  If we stay close to the Lord in faith, through prayer, through good works, through a sincere and constant desire to live by the Good News itself we can “let go and let God”!  We can go out and do the work the Lord Himself wants us to do.

This is the witness that we need to offer our world today.  If we look at the life of St. Francis Xavier, through his life, the zeal he had, the hard work and love of the Lord he had, he traveled and tirelessly proclaimed the Good News to all the world.  He suffered and struggled in so many ways.  As he wrote to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “many are not becoming Christians because there is no one here to make them Christians”.  Seeing this, he had a clear sense of what the Lord was calling him to do.  The Lord doesn’t reveal this to us so that we can simply remark on a thing and then do nothing with it.  It became part of the life’s work for St. Francis to raise up other disciples in the places where the faith was beginning to take root.  He is the patron of missionaries.  He is also a role model for those of us who understand the Lord is using us to raise up more disciples.  The men who come and see me and who sense the signs of their calling to priesthood or religious life, must know at some point that there work will not be to take everything on in the Church, but will be to make more disciples and missionaries.

I’m far from a saint, but as I spent a little time thinking of St. Francis Xavier today, it occurred to me that there must have come a point in time when he trusted God so completely that he felt a sense of freedom to do everything he could without feeling the crushing weight of having to take on all responsibility for the lack of missionary presence in the places of the world he ministered it.  He was a great evangelizer himself, he was a great missionary.  If he had felt that responsibility he might not have reached the potential or greatness that the Lord saw to it he had.  Great things happened for St. Francis and they do for us when we realize that in our particular calling we are given a particular task.  St. Francis had his and we have ours.  In my work as Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Toronto, I am working with men who God willing as parish priests will help others find their calling and will do great things as missionaries of Christ in our archdiocese today and into the future.

We Are Blessed to Have Catholic Schools

Based on my homily given at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Serra House Campus on the 1st Friday of Advent.

There are a lot more people out there in the world that we minister to with faith; but we have to see things as Jesus sees them in order to truly believe that.  In today’s Gospel Jesus prepares Himself to heal these two blind men who approach Him, and as He does He appeals to their faith to believe that this can happen.  And they do.  As they are healed (though we don’t hear of this) we assume that this action taking place invites them into what will be a deeper encounter with God.  I visit a lot of high schools as Vocation Director but I visited a lot more classrooms as a parish priest and even though I was in a very busy parish, I took the time four days a week and for most of the day to visit young people in their classrooms.  I don’t remember a classroom that when I visited regularly, someone didn’t have questions.  Sometimes I needed to be creative in the ways I drew the questions (getting them to write them down) but the questions were there.  The kids, many of them were striving for a deeper faith, to know God more, to understand the Church and what they were being taught.

I reiterate something I mentioned yesterday and it’s our disposition that’s an important in doing the Lord’s work.  If we’re ‘glass half-full men’ who are positive, joyful and see the best in our circumstances and situations – we will see ourselves into the places the Lord wants us to be.  If we’re ‘glass half-empty men’ who are negative, downcast and see what isn’t right – we will limit ourselves and those we reach.  If we are too dour, we actually make the Good News very unappealing.  The kids may or may not be going to Church, but perhaps they had no motivation before – we inspire, we motivate, we invite – or the Lord does so through us!

And if we believe that the Catholic schools aren’t Catholic enough, we ought to reform our own way of thinking – we need remind ourselves that Catholic school is not the Catholic Church.  We live in a province with a public school board that where we can go in, pray with teachers & students, talk about God openly and make a positive difference in the lives of those whom we meet there.  We can invite everyone into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ – as priests we can even at times heal people who come to us of spiritual blindness and ailments.  If I didn’t bring a joyful attitude and the love of Christ with me when I went into the school, I wouldn’t have heard the countless confessions of teachers who would pull me aside in the staffroom and ask for it.  Brothers, I assure you that if we allow people and the faith they already have to flourish with our positive Christian attitude – we will do the Lord’s work.  We can rest assured of that.

A House with a Solid Foundation Must also be a Home

This is a homily preached at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Serra House Campus on the First Thursday of Advent.

God became flesh and lives among us;  Jesus came into the world and laid the foundation through His three year ministry here; then through the Holy Church that foundation and structure continues to strengthen each of us who stays close to her, so that the structure of our own lives remains solid, secure and can weather the storm of attack and the elements of the world we live in day by day.

Through seminary formation and as men who have chosen to take on more of the elements of the world, we stand firmly rooted and to be both out front leading the people but with them, encouraging them, supporting them, shepherding them and helping them to strengthen the foundation of their own lives; with that task, my brothers we should clearly see how important it is at it is that we make the utmost of this time we have in formation to allow ourselves to be fully formed.

To be men so in love with Jesus Christ and the Church that we seek the most solid foundation and structure we can receive.  A solid house is just a building and nothing more unless we let others inside.  What I mean by that is that we are not simply seeking this solid foundation and sound structure in our own lives so that others can see – we need to let others in.

If all we are is a bastion of truth, virtue, morality & good liturgy; we will be the ones who say “Lord, Lord” and the Lord will wonder who we are. We need to be joyful, engaging men; men who welcome others and who don’t pre-judge people, their situations and their circumstances.  There can be a tendency in the close-knit environment of the Christian community to turn inward upon ourselves; to become so focused on these things I mentioned; truth, virtue, morality and good liturgy among other things – that instead of allowing ourselves to be formed to appreciate and internalize these inherently great and beautiful things for ourselves, we become so focused on them that we form sympathy groups within and attack others who don’t fit with us.

The problem with it is that this kind of attitude among seminarians and priests especially, but Catholics in general does not allow anyone else to encounter Christ and it closes the doors that our Lord Himself desires to be open.

Brothers, the foundation that has been laid in your lives; your Christian faith that led you here is to be nourished, tested, purified, deepened with the purpose that you will joyfully open your hearts and minds and lives to God’s people no matter what their belief.  If you do this joyfully people will be attracted to the message you bring.  If you are optimistic, filled with evident hope and joy; if you are a positive person – people will be receptive to the Good News you bring to their lives.  If you are pessimistic and negative about things they will not.

Your faith and the foundation and structure of your own lives will allow you to bring this amazing Gospel and the Church to the lives of others in creative ways that will allow them to respond.  My brothers in Christ, consider this today – this is the essence of Jesus’ message to us.  The foundation of our faith lives must lead us to open ourselves up to others.  May God bless you.