From Seed to Harvest to Seed Again: The Cycle of Faith

Another cycle in the Office of Vocations (for 2016-2017) concludes and at the same time we begin again (for 2017-2018).  This may be more the manner in which the staff and I reflect upon the year and not the reality of vocation work which really never ends and besides that each of us, most especially myself – we need to be attentive to the Lord and the needs of His Disciples when they come.  It is just a little quieter around the office right now and it’s the time I’m taking to reflect upon the last year as I prepare for a new one.  It’s time to gain a little perspective.

I feel truly blessed to be a part of the vocations scene in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  This is an amazing ministry to be a part of.  To have the grace and blessing to be a part of someone’s life as they discern is great honour.  When a man or woman discerns God’s will in this way, they need to be close to God.  Unless its a work of vanity or a narcissistic ambition, which a true vocation never will be: it can only be discerned with the help of God and a sincere desire to experience God, to be close to God.  To “weed out” narcissists and the ambitious is part of the Vocation Director’s role and one that I take very seriously.  My own love for the people I have been blessed to serve motivates me to be very attune to these kinds of things: I am happy to say we have had very few of these kinds of candidates.  Young people with loving hearts, a deep love for the faith that they have been given as a gift, a passionate love for the Church that gives them life and a sincere desire to serve gives us a number of very fine candidates for priesthood and religious life.

We’re looking for more.  It’s also part of my role to consider the ways we reach out to people and how we make priesthood especially attractive to men who may then in turn consider a vocation.  Rarely though will it be anything that I do or can do which will lead a man to discern priesthood; he will already have considered it.  This is why our seminarians are such a key part of God’s plan in calling others forward.  When men encounter the men already discerning it helps them to see this is not such an absurd vocation in the world we live in.  In fact, it is heroic, noble, powerful, Christian; it is true Discipleship and it is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is important that those discerning seeing joyful witnesses of the Gospel (which is why Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation was so important) because priesthood and religious life while it may be in many ways “counter-cultural” and not the natural choice for many: it is a beautiful life, a powerful life, a life lived closed to our God.

Our Readings at Holy Mass this Sunday speak of sewing seeds, seeds themselves and the harvest.  They gave me food for thought and reflection on the cycle of life.  Cycles are important, because we see the cycle of life in almost everything living.  As a Vocation Director who has discerned with many in these past few years; I’ve seen the beginnings of vocational discovery in discernment, through to men making the decision to enter seminary (and women discerning religious life too).  In a few years, I hope to witness a few of the men I’ve spent time with ordained priests too.  I leave all of this in God’s hands because I know with absolute certainty that He has been the one who has given birth, life and will be the One who brings holy vocations to fulfilment.  I know it because I can see how the Lord has brought this about (and continues to) in the cycle of my own life.

Let us pray today for vocations; not necessarily for an increase in numbers, but rather an openness in desire and in the freedom that men and women have to respond.  And let us not forget to pray for the married vocation in the same way because we mustn’t forget that this is the foundational vocation that has served to beget religious vocations.  The Domestic Church (the family) feeds the Universal Church making Her strong and healthy!


Wisdom Frees Us from Worrying About Worldly Concerns

Our Gospel today reminds us that we are not called to be oblivious or naive about what is going on in the world around us; in fact, we are called to be wise to worldly things but free from the worry about them.  Easier said than done.  As I get older, I am finding that there really is less and less reason to worry.  My worry doesn’t change the outcome of much of anything – it just consumes me.  I’ve also considered myself experienced in the world which can and has led me to be paranoid about things; again a form of worry that often times is not even rational.

Jesus is being realistic in today’s Gospel.  He tells us to beware of our fellow men, because they will be the ones who mistreat us, denegrate us, perform injustices against us, hurt us, betray us and often time in the name of Christ or because we are Christians.  We are a target, but so was our Lord Himself.  We need to “wise” to this – we are easy targets because we aren’t called to retaliate and because we are living counter culturally.  Jesus is being realistic, but He isn’t telling us to bury our head in the sand or to succumb to the temptation to be like everybody else.  We are called simply to continue to think of others always first and think of ourselves last.

This is the essence of a religious vocation.  It’s the essence of every vocation and I can see it in the married vocation too, but this is the kind of quality men and women called to serve God and His Church are called to perfect in our way of life.  We are going to be targets at times, mistreated and all these things which can be daunting when we consider this way of life.  But we are never closer to our Lord than when we share in His Life.  We share in His Life when we take on His Mission and His Sacrifice.

Let us consider today how we approach suffering and sacrifice; do we embrace it and let go of the worry?  Find the peace within?  Let us allow ourselves to be wise in knowing what the world might have in store for us as Christians both good and bad, and let us respond without worry today and every day.

Facing the Reality of the Cross As a Follower of Christ

This reflection is based upon my Homily offered on the CTV Sunday Mass on Sunday July 2, 2017 (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time & Matthew 10:37-42)

In today’s Gospel we hear the Words of Jesus: “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me”.  These are powerful words and words it might be helpful for us to take a few moments to stop and reflect upon.  Do we live these words through and to the end, or do we live them to a point?  Are we willing to pick up our cross but then put it down again when the price seems too much or too high?  Do we follow Jesus up to a point… following Him to the Cross but not up on the Cross? Do we say, if even subconsciously “I will carry a cross but I won’t be crucified upon it?”  My friends, if we ask ourselves these questions and fall short – as if you’re anything like me you might do…

We can almost say that we are not truly followers of Christ, just “mere admirers”.    Our Gospel today calls all of us to not only reflect upon this but also to go deeper if we can.  I would think that many of us can relate to being “just an admirer” at times in our lives – when our commitment to Jesus is tested to the breaking point.  There are times in our lives when the full impact of Jesus’ words hit home for us though, with frightening force.

When hardship or tragedy strikes us in our lives; we are tempted to not want that cross, to not want to pick it up and follow Jesus as He asks us to; tempted to turn away from Jesus and no longer follow in His footsteps as we’re called to.  It’s hard for those of us who have loved someone to pick up our cross and follow Jesus when we have been rejected… cast aside… betrayed by someone we love deeply.  It’s hard for those of us who are elderly to pick up our cross and follow Jesus when we have been forcefully put into a senior’s home or nursing home.  It’s hard for spouses to pick up their cross and follow Jesus when the other spouse travels a lot for work and they are left lonely… isolated and taking care of the children.  It’s hard for us to follow Jesus when we have been diagnosed with cancer or some other life-altering disease and find our lives dramatically changed forever.

What do those among us who suffer greatly do when the cross has been thrust upon them; and especially when that cross seems to exceed our ability to carry it?  When we find ourselves with such a cross, these are the times we especially need to remind ourselves that there were moments in the Life of Jesus Himself, when His Cross exceeded His strength to carry it and when that time came; He had to accept the help of a stranger; Simon of Cyrene.  The Son of God, the Savior of the World had to admit Himself weak and lacking in the strength to carry His cross on His own.

Whom do we reach out to, when our burdens seem too great?  Are we humble enough to admit we need help and ask for it?  We reach out to Jesus first.  He knows and can identify with what we’re going through better than anyone can.

We can count on His strength.

We also need to reach out to others in our lives as well; those who are vulnerable like us, professionals, friends and family.  Our Gospel today is an invitation for each of us to stop and ponder; to ask ourselves the humbling questions: are there times in my life when it impossible for me to pick up my cross and follow Jesus?  If our answer is in any way ‘yes’ – then we are given another challenge today.  We are challenged to do what Jesus did when His Cross became too heavy to bear and be humble enough to admit it; reaching out to those who want to help us, but it also challenges us to see things through the eyes of Simon of Cyrene too for others.  To be there and be alert for the time when someone else needs our help in carrying their cross.

We all pay it forward.

We all must help one another so that others are there to help us in our own time of trial too.  May God bless you.