I spent this weekend at St. Joseph’s Parish in Streetsville. This is a parish I am familiar with, as it has been a parish that for several years has kept the Office of Vocations busy. There have been many men who are discerning from here and have found their way to visit me, many who have entered seminary formation. In an archdiocese as large as ours (more than 2 million Catholics) St. Joseph’s stands out. It’s my own prerogative (as Vocation Director) to want to understand why it is, this parish has so many men and women discerning right now? But more than any answer or any “formula”, I give thanks to God for calling so many to discern giving their lives from this beautiful parish community. This is my homily given there this weekend:
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Some of you may remember the book Dead Man Walking; there was a movie in the 90’s based on the book. It was written by Sr. Helen Prejean, a St. Joseph Sister who worked for many years in prison ministry and with some of the most hardened death row criminals. In her book she writes of the families of both the convicts and the victims whom she comes to know. One of the stories she tells was of the father of a murdered child, who knelt at the site of where his son’s body was found and prayed an “Our Father”.
By the man’s own account, he realized prayer was not only for the things we desire, but affects us: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…
This grieving father, who had absolutely every right to grieve, realized that he would face his son’s murderer one day: and as a Christian –he would need to find it in his heart to forgive. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine even thinking about forgiving someone who killed someone I loved and I have prayed the “Our Father” many, many times. I know I can say these words but I have a lot further to go as a Christian in my own ability to forgive. If we are to take something as simple as the “Our Father” and stop and reflect upon it, if we are to unpack it: we should come to see that our faith calls us to action, always to act and unceasingly in our desire to act.
We can’t just talk about forgiving, we must actually forgive, and yes, it’s hard; it may at times seem nearly impossible: but it is possible! We know with God all things are possible!
Our readings on this 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time give us opportunity to pause and reflect upon our personal disposition as Catholic Christians, but also to grow in our desire to live-out our faith. Ezekiel reminds us that it is important not only to see what’s going on, but in a spirit of genuine care and concern for others to try to help others “on the right way; the right path”. Our Lord Himself reminds us of our “vocation” to help one another, to keep each other on the “right path”. But it’s also in how we do it.
In my role as Director of Vocations, most of my work is to intimately know the men who are in our seminaries and leading up to that, the men who are discerning possibly the priesthood. Since St. Joseph’s has many young men who’ve discerned or are discerning: I really can say, it’s my prerogative to know your sons; your brothers as best as I am able to. Many of these young men are heroic in their desire to serve Jesus & His Holy Church and they want to do great things in the Name of our Lord; I hope that is something we all share in common.
I can assure you, if you don’t know some of the guys in seminary from this parish; their lives and their stories are very inspiring. When they trust me enough to talk to me about their lives, their viewpoints, their plans, and their desires as God may will, priests one day: I will admit that what motivates many young people towards a life of evangelization is to share “the truth” with others and to help lead others to know God and to live holy, even saintly lives. That truly is great!
When these courageous, energetic and heroic young men are ready to offer the truth – there’s often another consideration that often seems to be relegated to a place of lesser importance: that part is charity, the virtue of Christian love; deep care and concern for one another. While many of our guys are great with understanding the “Truth”, it is the case that they have to learn to allow charity and mercy to dominate as well & not be filtered out. It’s not just the case with men in the seminary, it’s for many of us and I include myself here too. Most of us have to learn this. I think it’s because we live in a work that we often feel attacked in our faith or defensive that we tend to go on the attack or offense right away. We have to let go of our defenses if we are to speak to the truth in charity and in mercy.
Fr. Neiman and I have known each other for a long time, through our seminary days together and so he knows maybe better than anyone here, that this message is one I need to hear maybe more than others. I think I relate to our seminarians because I know how fired up & punchy I’ve been many times over many things too. I remember in seminary really taking a brother to task for something. As I recall I was a few years in, and the faculty seemed to be kind of happy or at least accepted that I took him to task. My spiritual director though, a very wise man did not criticize me and was rather objective about what had taken place, but then he shared a thought with me. He illustrated the difference between the truth & truth in charity. He spoke to me about St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life & her having to learn this lesson as well. Mother Teresa was known as a tough woman (you couldn’t accomplish the things she did in a lifetime without being tough, assertive and sometimes aggressive), but she also came to understand that the truth on its own won’t necessarily lead us to Christ.
We must learn to be gentle, reasoned, and positive and find ways to bring people to an understanding of the truth, more often than not so they get it on their own. A Christian isn’t called merely to speak the truth, but is called to speak the truth in charity. There is a difference and to be truthful in a charitable and caring way often takes more energy and time; it’s the difference between a reaction to something and a response to a situation or event. My spiritual director did not convict me for how I had behaved, but I got the point he made gently, and this is a part of my daily examen now.
Do I speak to say the truth, or do I sincerely wish a person to come closer to the Lord?
Today, as I work with seminarians myself, I try to be gentler and see where they are coming from first, I may challenge them but more often I might propose other things for them to consider. I like St. John XXIII’s famous line and try to live more by these words (I’m not quite there yet): “see everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little”. I think it’s a particularly relevant phrase for parents, grandparents, priests and anyone in Church ministry.
I am beginning to learn that I don’t need to correct all the time, the Lord provides us the times when we know we must. We must turn to Jesus and a deeper encounter with Him in order to see that. When Jesus scolds, admonishes, lectures, when He is blunt and direct: who is that for? Is it for the poor sinner who is trying but shamefully fails from time to time? Or is it for the self-righteous one who thinks they speak for the Lord in condemning others & laying burdens upon them?
In my confessional counsel, I often contrast Jesus’ words and His actions; “be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect”. I contrast that with the beauty of the Sacrament of Penance we receive; the same Jesus gave us this sacrament to work out our imperfections. He wants us to be perfect, yes, but knows we’re not & loves us imperfect as we are. My friends, I began with a discourse on forgiveness because forgiveness opens our hearts to the rest of what Jesus asks of us. Helping each other, requires deeper Christian love, and we can’t grow in love for others while we harbour ill-feelings, hatred or unforgiveness towards them. Forgiveness must come first; then a desire to want what’s best for others, but also for the best reasons. If we can try to do that we will make this world we all live in a much better place, one action at a time. We need to start that right here in our parishes, our homes and the places we work and live. May God bless you.