2nd Tuesday of Advent: Jesus Speaks in the Most Unassuming Ways

In today’s Gospel, we have young Mary and her relative Elizabeth, both women who are so very different, but share something in common.  Most certainly it is that they carry the Gift of Life within them, lives that will arguable be some of the most impacting lives in human history; but they also share in common that they, themselves are two of the most unassuming people who are essential to human history themselves.

During this Advent season, it is important for us to stop and think about the people around us, the people in our daily lives who make a great impact upon us and the world we live in.  They are often times the most unassuming people.  Recently, there was a very sad article in the news of a couple of police officers who made fun of a young woman with Down’s Syndrome.  While the media sources villainized these police officers, the young girl and her mother, while disappointed in the behaviour of these men who should have known better – were very forgiving.  This was a story which was only in the news cycle (as best as I could see it) one day: but had a powerful impact upon me.  Sometimes news outlets publish these kinds of stories to evoke outrage in us, and the behaviour should be something we find deplorable but it was in what was least important that I found the most in this story myself.  It was the forgiving spirit of this young woman.  She was not hung up on the things the rest of us were.  She taught me in her response to the reporter’s questions to relax and get off my own high horse and to let more go.  I don’t know if she was a Christian, but she certainly acted like Christ.

I think you get the point; this news story was not on the news as a feel-good story, it had no religious overtones; but this young woman taught me humility, generosity and something about forgiveness in a very unassuming way.  Every one of us encounters these kinds of people and situations all the time, and we’re only sometimes aware of them.  We’re aware of the unassuming yet generous nature of Mary and Elizabeth, because we’re expecting it and awaiting it in the Gospels.  What the Gospels teach us is what we need to go and discover in the world we live in day by day.  Let us consider today, where will we encounter Christ in the most unassuming ways and people.  May God bless you.

2nd Monday of Advent: Are We Open to God’s Sacrament of Mercy?

As a man who became Catholic at 31 and found the roots of my Christian faith outside of the Catholic Church, I can assure you that like many adult converts I struggled with the notion of going to confession to a priest.  It seemed a very convincing argument that we could speak directly to God and confess our sins directly to Him.

As I reflect upon today’s Gospel, I think about where I was as a Catechumen (preparing to become Catholic) and how I had to take a “leap of faith” to believe I should go to confession as a Catholic in due time.  Like the Pharisees and scribes of the times, I was closed off to Jesus’ healing power because I was focused on why I shouldn’t as opposed to why I should.  What I mean by this is that I focused on the man (the priest) and how he couldn’t do anything I couldn’t do.  I was focused on my deep, dark secrets rather than on what the Lord wanted to do with them.  I was focused on my fear rather than the freedom and mercy Jesus wanted to give me in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

At that time, and even to this day, I stop every now and again and do a “spiritual inventory” of the things I love & appreciate about being a Catholic Christian.  I give thanks for the guidance, love, mercy, acceptance and the strength the Holy Church gives me by following God’s plan through the Church.  These reasons I might have had, not to go to confession are so much less than what the Church teaches we receive – so I made a plan then to trust God who had led me to His Church and not to trust myself on that one.

Fast forward many years, to today: I reflect upon this as a Catholic priest who hears and absolves many through the Sacrament of Reconciliation; who believes with my whole heart, mind and soul in the healing power of Confession.  It is not me who forgives, it is Jesus Christ who uses me to forgive people.  When I absolve, my name isn’t in there at all.  I can hardly believe that there was a time I almost made my mind up I wouldn’t go to confession – for it would have been only me who would have missed out on the most miraculous and powerful healing I’ve experienced taking place in my life!  Do I believe that God can forgive sins without the help & use of priests – sure I do!  Do I believe I should insist upon it – absolutely not, for the Lord my God chose for it to be this way, I trust He knows what He’s doing.

2nd Sunday of Advent: Coming Home to God

Our readings today speak of a homecoming for us: returning to God. A few years ago now, there was a website that was popular called “Catholics Come Home”.  It was the beginning of a sense that many Catholics have that we need to do a better job of reaching out to others who have felt alienated from God and the Church and encourage them, welcome them and embrace them when they “come home”.  There has always been tension among us of how we should do that: the Church is pastoral means different things to different people.  To some it means we reach out to share the truth, but accept it or don’t.  To others, the truth changes relative to the needs of the person, and so the welcome becomes the most important thing.  As Disciples of Christ and most recently here in the Archdiocese of Toronto, our pastoral mandate as Catholics is to “care for the gathered and reach out to the scattered”.  Whether we’re part of the gathered or part of the scattered, in order to come home, invite others to come home or be at home with the Lord – requires a certain disposition on our part.

Our disposition needs always to be one governed by Jesus and His Word, lived out as one who desires to be like Him in all things.  Our disposition needs to be one of care and concern, and not judgment, because what we are doing for Jesus is either helping or hindering the scattered from coming to Jesus, nothing more and nothing less.

John the Baptist’s desire to bring people to Jesus.  Nothing more or less.  He desires to lead everyone to a baptism of repentance, not for Himself but for Jesus.  Sometimes, people like how hard-hitting John is towards the Pharisees and want to be as hard-hitting as he is with people who don’t live by the truth.  Unfortunately, very few of us really understand that the scattered are not the Pharisees.  Very few of us are able to see that its more likely that we might be the Pharisees than the scattered.  How many of us believe ourselves to be Pharisees? It’s easy to see others in this role though. We see those people who are too traditional, too conservative in their beliefs, too liberal or progressive in their beliefs, too pious or devotional, too folksy, too one thing or another as Pharisaical.

Rarely can we imagine ourselves as part of a “brood of vipers” that we’ll hear John call out later, and maybe we aren’t.  Something tells me, and I include myself here; that if we did stop and consider that we can be Pharisaical sometimes, we can be part of that brood – that maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to put up walls, obstacles, doors, hurdles for our scattered brothers and sisters to make their way through before they come home; home to our Lord Jesus Christ.

On this second Sunday of Advent, as we await the deeper entry of our Lord into our hearts, minds and souls – may we pray for a more open disposition, that we may let the Holy Spirit more deeply into our own hearts so that our friends in Christ may come home and we may be the ones who welcome them.

1st Saturday in Advent: Believe What You Read, Teach What You Believe, Practice What You Teach

There’s a beautiful part in the Rite of Ordination for deacons that is both simple and profound for us all.  When the man being ordained a deacon is handed the Book of the Gospels, he is presented it and hears from the ordaining bishop, “believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach”.  It’s an important part of the life of the man being ordained for service for the Church, and while he is ordained for this mission; the beautiful part of our Christian lives and of our Church is that everyone is sharing in that mission.  We are living in a time when so many people dedicate their lives to helping those ordained and consecrated for that mission and serve the Church beautifully.  We rejoice that so many are coming to know the Holy Scriptures, the teachings of their Catholic Christian faith and taking seriously God’s call for them to give their lives generously in so many different ways.

To read and know the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Holy Gospels and to believe what Our Lord Himself tells us, adding to it what we know is offered us as insight through the Magisterium of the Church and the traditions left for us from the Apostles and through the rich history of more than 2,000 years of Christians living as Christ.  This gives us cause to believe and to share that with others, not because we have to but because we have the freedom to choose and the more we know the more it should lead us to want to choose God and His loving Divine plan for us all.

And how we know is when we all do our part and teach others.  My faith is richer by those who have taught me, and while Jesus Himself encountered me in my life, I came to know Him in deeper, more profound, more loving ways by His faithful servants who taught me.  Not only my theology professors and the ordained, but so many others; the people I serve as a priest who love Him unconditionally and somehow manage to encounter Him in me as priest and through the sacraments.  My dear friend who brought me to Church for the first time with her and taught me how to love Jesus in the first place, and so many others who “taught” me along the way because they believed.

And to know and teach is nothing if we don’t practice this in our daily lives.  We can talk about being Christian, but we must be Christian.  This is essential.  We must be a good example, and good Christians beget many more good Christians.  Bad examples of so-called Christians do more harm than good.  Of course we sin, and I sometimes wonder in my bad days or in my own limitations – did I push someone away by my actions.  I know I have to have the ability to admit, certainly to God but also to my brothers and sisters that I am not a perfect Christian but my daily commitment is to want to try to be.  We have to develop the good habit of apologizing and asking forgiveness, not only of God but also constantly of our brothers and sisters.  If we do that, we need worry less that we won’t be good Christians; good Christians aren’t perfect but they are trying to be.  That needs to be us!

On this glorious Advent day, as Jesus reminds us all to go out and do what He calls us to do: may we believe, may we teach others and may we practice what we believe and teach!.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception: God Has a Plan for Us All

“Immaculate Mary, thy praises we sing”.  Why do we sing your praises, O Blessed Virgin Mary?  Because God chose you for a special purpose and you lived your life for that meaning and purpose and if we all stop and think about it: we are Eternally Grateful that you did.  For the life we give thanks for each day as Christians is one we have because you brought the Saviour of the World into the world.

That is something we are truly mindful of during Advent when we prepare to welcome your Son, our Lord more deeply into our hearts and souls, just as He was welcomed by the faithful into the world more than 2,000 years ago.  Each year, we give glory and praise to God for so many, but Blessed Mother, we thank you most especially for your “yes” to God.

Even before that “yes”, God who knew Our Lady’s heart and soul prepared her for her life with the special gift of her own Immaculate Conception.  Sometimes these special moments of God’s involvement in the lives of His loved ones go amiss.  Many people don’t stop to really reflect on what the meaning of Mary’s Immaculate Conception might have to do with them.  Mary being born without Original Sin isn’t something to pass over unreflected.  She may have been given this very special grace as a special servant of the Lord to help “re-create” humanity, but whether with Original Sin or not, Mary had choices, the same choices we have in our lives.  She could have sinned, but did not.  In our first reading, we hear of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Eve too was conceived and was without Original Sin.  In fact, it was God’s desire everyone be without it.  Eve (and Adam) made choices that impacted everyone us.  So too did Mary (and her Son our Lord) make choices that impact us all!  And here we are: that through their lives and the Divine Gift of their lives: we are and can be redeemed, that we can be without Original Sin too.  We may not be immaculately conceived, but because of Our Lord and Our Lady, we can be without that Original Sin and restored in that grace every time we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  And hence, we can spend our lives being reconciled and redeemed and get on with living as God calls us to as well.

Mary’s life was not determined for her, as though she did not have choices.  God who knew her future as He knows ours, gave her this gift because He also knew this blessed woman would come to know and love Him more than anything else and would choose day by day to respond to that love, embody it and share it with everyone.  Simple as she was, she lived according to the meaning and purpose of her life as we are called to live ours.

There are skeptics out there about just how or why Our Lady was Immaculately Conceived, about whether or not she had total and complete freedom to say yes or no to what was in store for her in this life: but I am not one of them.  I have a very human view of Our Lady: she is not a Divine Person, but a human one!  She is a model for me in so many ways having managed to get as close to the Lord our God as any one person on this earth ever could.  She was chosen, but so are we!

Mary, our Mother is also the Mother of Vocations; because she is the greatest example of anyone living for the meaning and for the purpose God gave her and in doing so, without power or might changed the world forever.  When I stop and think about it: so too has God created you and I with a meaning and purpose.  He has called us to live for Him, love Him and embody that love and give it away for the world.  We may not have been immaculately conceived, but that’s also because we are not given Mary’s vocation, we are given ours.  We have been given the grace to do that.  We are equipped for whatever we are called to do for the Lord and like Our Lady, need to be generous in doing it and joyous in praising God for what He has called us to do.

1st Thursday of Advent: The Foundation is Needed before We’re Doing What God Calls Us To

Our Gospel today reminds us that our lives as Christians must be built on the foundation of a strong and lived-out faith life.  Every vocation requires that good Christian foundation; people living as God calls them to, come what may.  Working with the men I do, it is that foundation that is one of the most important things I look for in men who are discerning as an important sign God might be calling them to priesthood.  It is not in what we might think it is; in how good or terrible they’ve been in their life, not how catechized or knowledgable about Church teachings they are, not in how often they’ve gone to Mass throughout their entire lives.  The Lord knows that if these were the criteria to determine the foundation of a person’s life in Christ; I would be neither a Christian nor a Catholic priest.  It is how they are living now (or in the case of what I’m called to determine how they’ve been living for a few years) and how they are prepared to live today and continue to try to live each and every day.

The foundation is to be found in a deep and committed love for Jesus Christ, a desire to grow in that love and to share that love, not just in word but embody it and share with all others.  That’s what makes a good priest, a good religious sister or brother, a good husband and father, a good wife and mother.  That’s where the rubber hits the road for us as Disciples of Christ, as committed Christians and it is what is needed by each of us to live out that discipleship day by day and most importantly to live out the unique and particular plan and call that Jesus has for each of us.  Are we, are you ready to live that out?  The Lord wants you to!

1st Wednesday of Advent: Are We Feeding & Being Fed?

Our Gospel today calls to mind the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, but it gives us cause to stop and reflect, especially during this Advent season – are we being fed?  Are we feeding others?  Both of these are important to our lives as Christian Disciples as we are called to do both.  As a priest, I must ask myself this question often because I am well aware when my spiritual “batteries” are running low, and I am not as open to being fed; it’s hard for me to feed others – and it really is incumbent upon me to be doing that: it’s what I was ordained for: but more than that – it’s part of my Christian vocation first!  This is because we are both Disciples and Instruments of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Advent is meant to shake-up or stir up something in us; not only in preparation for the coming of the Lord, but to enliven in us something special and profound once again.  I am very happy to see many young people putting into place a spiritual practice during Advent, similar to the sacrifice or offering they might give during the Lenten season.  This is great because it will jump start our faith and prayer life and we will be amazed by grace once again.  In fact, I was so inspired by the sacrifices and offerings of some of my younger brothers and sisters in Christ that I too have made the commitment to do something that will give me the freedom and hopefully the desire to be nourished and fed once again.

I know that I need to make the time for more spiritual reading, more prayer, more time alone with God and so my plan is to consciously give something up that I know will allow me more time.  It’s funny that only three days into Advent and I find myself inclined to watch Netflix (I don’t do a lot of it, but enough to somewhat affect my prayer life) and so there’s a bit of an interior struggle – sign that it was more of an attachment and habit than I thought it was.  I have spiritual books that I have been meaning to get to for a LONG time, and now three days in, I am finding the nourishment is giving me peace and I feel renewed in many ways.

Let’s consider the ways we are feeding others and ask ourselves, are we being fed?  God wants us to be and we owe it to ourselves to give our time to being fed.

1st Tuesday of Advent: We Need to Simplify Our Lives

Sometimes we over-complicate our lives with things that are not leading us closer to where we want to get to.  Parents want the best for their families, and so off we go to work and give full attention to our careers, only to realize that in the desire to be able to give more to our families & our kids, we give them much less of what they actually need – time and attention!  This is not a criticism, it is a reality for so many men and women today, who simply get caught up in the ways of the world we live in.

We live in a society today where this has happened so often, for so long and to so many people; that dedicated husbands and wives can’t compete with others for good jobs, the average work day becomes longer and longer and anyone entering the workforce today is placed in a situation where they are required to work longer hours and weekends in a way far different than people did even two decades ago.  I know it well.  It may not be my experience today as a Catholic priest, but I was a part of it and witnessed it in my career days.  I was blessed to be a single man then, and the choices I could make [not to take overtime, not to work weekends] were not the choices that other people working with me were able to make.  I also started as a bus driver when a person could tell his employer that he wasn’t going to work Sunday because of his religious beliefs, and in the 9 years I spent as a bus driver, I only worked a handful of Sundays and usually for my fellow drivers who wanted time with the family.

It’s important that we recognize that the “we” who brought this about is also the “we” who can change it; but first our attitude and thus bring about change to a simpler way.

It may seem idealistic to suggest this, and hopeless to believe things could ever center around the family again – but we have to believe that governments govern according to the desires of the people – plain and simple.  If days of worship and family are important to us, we have to take a stand and others with us – and we have to be determined to “stick to our guns” for what matters most and encourage others to do the same.  That is inherently Christian and it is what we are called to do.

I worked with men and women that made sacrifices at work for the sake of their family; lived in smaller homes, stretched money better than many of us do – and these were people, some of whom were Christian, but almost all of them people making sacrifices for the sake of the family.   I shine a lens on this particular reality because it is one that most of us have some experience or at least some understanding of.  How many out there can say that there’s been one Sunday they haven’t attended or have considered not attending Mass because we were too busy? Or have missed talking to our Lord because we were busy?  We may be the cause of the busyness, but more likely we are caught up in the reality of living in the world and society acts upon us to complicate our lives.  We can work at making them uncomplicated, though.

As we uncomplicated our lives, we also need to work at simplifying our relationship with God.  We will have a deeper relationship with Him and hence others if we work at it.  Obstacles and barriers to our growth as Christians will begin to diminish.  the solution itself may seem complicated to bring this about, and that may seem true for a while, because it’s like untangling a knot in a shoe lace.  Once we unknot the lace, we know that the shoe ties up again more easily or we can take our foot out of the shoe; so too is this.  The effort now will bring about an easier and less complicated way of life for us all.

1st Monday of Advent: Worthiness is Not a Pre-requisite to a Vocation

We hear the centurion in today’s Gospel say, “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, only say the Word and [my servant] will be healed”.  Of course we recognize these words, as we share them gazing upon our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at Holy Mass.  They are beautiful words for us to consider; they are a sign we share of a deep faith in the healing powers of the Eucharist; of recognition of our own unworthiness in the Presence of God.  It’s important for humility’s sake that we recognize our unworthiness, as it makes even greater what we are given by God.  We can’t live there, and if we do, we will never fully respond to the grace given us by God.  We are all unworthy – but we need to get over that otherwise we will never do what we’re called or meant to do in life.

I’m very blessed to have had a mentor and dear friend, Fr. Paschal Breau who shared with me the joy of his own priesthood and Life in Christ.  We spoke about this very topic many times.  Little did I ever know that I would step into his shoes one day, the shoes of a Vocation Director.  He was the Vocation Director for his religious community for nearly 40 years and shared with me one of his greatest disappointments was when men would not fully discern a religious vocation (priesthood or religious life) because they felt too unworthy.  As much as anyone; Spiritual Director or Vocation Director might impress this point upon them – they would not come around and eventually would move on.

I have met those men too.  And it is a great disappointment for me as a Vocation Director to have men walk away from what I believe would be a fulfilling life and true vocational path because they don’t felt and won’t feel worthy.  Worthiness is not a pre-requisite for any vocation; a desire to be worthy is.  None of us are or ever will be worthy of what God calls us to do in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ: but He calls us all the same.  If we place our focus and attention on our unworthiness we create for ourselves an obstacle to our vocational discernment.

Should a husband ever feel truly worthy of the woman he marries and loves as his wife?  Does he ever say I really deserve her?  No, because to say such a thing somehow shows he loves himself more than her.  Acknowledging the gift God has given him in the woman he loves, he is called to love her as a Gift from God with his whole heart, mind and soul and in doing so, he worthies himself towards that gift.

On this glorious Advent day, may each one of us consider our own unworthiness, but in gratitude first for the Lord our God has chosen not to call those who are worthy, but if we stay close to Him as Disciples, He worthies the called!

1st Sunday of Advent: The Daily Commitment of a Vocation

A couple of years ago, I had a friend of mine, a priest I serve with in the Archdiocese of Toronto come and speak to our Associates; men who are seriously discerning the priesthood.  My friend, a priest of just over 40 years was not sure about coming and I had to coax him by assuring him he was the right guy – a joyful man and priest.  Even I had no sense of just how appropriate and providential it would be to have him speak to these aspiring young men.

He spoke frankly and honestly about his priesthood and the life while he was easily able to share stories of the great joy he had experienced as a priest; he also shared with these men some of his struggles too.  He spoke of the times he felt lonely and isolated, the hard times and challenges he faced as a priest.  He even shared with the men his falling in love with someone, facing the challenge of honouring the commitment he made to God and His Church versus the love of a person in his life.  He chose priesthood of course, but in the telling of his life’s story he brought all of these things to the key point he shared with us all: his showing up on ordination day was the easiest of the decisions he had made (he also told the guys of his challenges in seminary).  The real test and testament to his joyful life with the Lord was the commitment he made, and makes every day to priesthood and his vocation.

He really gave me food for thought: this is true for us all.  Whatever our lifelong commitment might be, we make a one-time choice and then the testament to what is real in our life is to be found in the daily living out of that.  That’s why seasons like Advent and Lent are so important for us as Christians.  We are encouraged to “be watchful” and to “stay alert”.  It’s easy to become complacent and indifferent to things, even our faith.  It’s easy for us to forget the most essential of things: our need to pray and commune daily with the God we love, extending that love for others in every way we can.  We forget to try hard to be virtuous, to live every single day as though it might be our last on this earth.  To make a daily commitment to be Christian.  My friend reminded me, and called me actually (hopefully others too) to make a daily commitment to my vocation to priesthood – to the life, love and vocation I chose with God’s help.

I often try to take on the world (I think many of us do) and that can be okay but not when we are frustrated and it leads us to become lukewarm or complacent when we don’t see the results we want to see.  That’s what Advent should remind us: it’s not about results or always what we see – often it’s about what we don’t see.  If we simply commit ourselves day by day to what the Lord has called us to do, we too will be able to look back on a lifetime and see things the way my friend is blessed to see his life.

May the Lord who has begun the good work in us, bring it to fulfillment!