Our Thankful Hymn of Praise to God

Today’s Gospel is traditionally known as the Magnificat, Our Lady gives praise to God for the great work He plans and delivers upon through her.  Mary’s Magnificat is an important proclamation because it demonstrates a humble young woman with a thankful heart who is ready for the great vocation God has in store for her.

Gratitude is an important disposition and attribute for every one of us.  If you’re anything like me, you can find yourself annoyed and irritated and “glass half-empty” too often in your life, so trying our best to have a constant spirit of gratitude is essential to healthy growth as a Christian.  It was something that was impressed upon me when I first began spiritual direction, and as a priest and a Spiritual Director myself I usually asked my directees to begin their times of prayer with some gratitude to God for the gifts He has given us.  Gratitude allows us to see God’s beautiful work in our lives and with thankful hearts we can see more clearly God’s action in our lives.  Key to Mary’s thankful disposition is also the disposition of humility; to accept that everything is gift from God and nothing “deserved” helped her, and it helps us to be even more thankful for what is given to us.

Perhaps as we prepare for the Lord’s Coming, more deeply into our hearts, our souls and our lives; maybe we can spend a little time today with Mary’s Magnificat and following her lead offer a Magnificat of our own.

Are We Ready to Trust in God More?

Are we ready to trust God?  This is a question each of us needs to ask ourselves again and again in our lives, especially if we’re going to live lives dedicated to God.  Are we willing to trust that God has a plan and no matter what we wanted or what we had hoped for in life; God has a plan that is meant to bring about the best in us and in time He will reveal that plan to us, in part or in whole. Trust is an activity; it’s the most important action a Christian can commit himself or herself to.  So many us weaken in our faith, some of us even stop believing because we are lacking and then sometimes unwilling to trust God.  Part of this is understandable, because we relate to God as we relate to others and many of us have every reason not to trust some of the people in our lives – we are justified in that.  It’s easier said than done, to habituate ourselves in our relationship with God to an acceptance that our relationship with Him is different.  It is, but it takes work and force of habit to remind ourselves of that.  If we can wrap our minds around that, it is amazing how far we can go in faith.  It’s amazing how much more able we are to see the Lord our God and to recognize His love and His Loving Presence all around us and in everything.

The Holy Parents are models of this trust, but most especially St. Joseph.  With the shocking news that she was with Child, Joseph had his whole life turned upside down in an instant.  While Mary had to trust God in His Plan after the Annunciation, Joseph did not have an instant encounter with the angel and had to deal with emotions of betrayal, hurt and pain before he encountered God’s messenger in a dream. Then we know he was responsible for safeguarding this family when their lives were in danger.  I can only imagine, this man of faith must have had days where his faith was tested, and I think it’s important that we reflect upon that sometimes.  It may give us cause to stop and ask ourselves, what ways do we need to trust more?  In what ways is our faith challenged and are we prepared to meet these challenges?

Trusting God is faith in action; in what areas of our own lives do we need to have greater trust in God’s love for us, His Providential Care for us?

Gaudete Sunday: Are We Truly Rejoicing in the Lord?

Advent is not merely a season we pass through on our way to Christmas; it is an important liturgical season, but even more than that: it is a season of our own very Christian lives.  We rejoice today at Christ’s first coming, at His coming again (to us in this season as we prepare and commit ourselves to a deeper faith) and His Final Advent when He returns to bring us all who truly desire it, with Him.  All “Advents” are vitally important, all are worth rejoicing in.

God in His great love for us entered human history as one of us, He came and redeemed us, as we were all in need of redemption.  We have been getting it wrong since the beginning, in the Garden of Eden.  The faithful, or those who were becoming faithful prepared for the coming of the Christ child and our Gospel readings and Isaiah’s Prophecy reminds us of how amazing, special, important and earth-shattering that First Noel really was.

God in His great love for us, continues to be with us first of all by giving us the ongoing Presence of His Son in Word (Gospels) and Deed (Sacraments, most especially the Holy Eucharist).  This means His Son has never left us, but today’s Advent is by means of the Holy Spirit who enters more deeply into the heart of the believer (hopefully us) and allows God’s love to penetrate more deeply.  We prepare the Way for the Lord in our hearts as we reflect upon another year and seek greater wisdom and understanding so that we may be more dedicated Christian Disciples today and every day.  What a reason to rejoice!

And God is His Greatest act of love ever, desires us to be with Him forever and the meaning and purpose of our lives and everyone else’s, whether they know it or not is to joyfully prepare for the Last Advent when Christ will come and the fullness of redemption will be completed.  In so many ways, we cannot place our focus on this because we wouldn’t be as engaged in being Christian and living as we ought to today if we were awaiting that Last Advent.  In another way, it is good to be consciously aware of it, as to do so brings about a sense of urgency in being or becoming the very best versions of our Christian selves we can be.  St. Teresa of Calcutta was known for imploring priests “celebrate this Mass like it’s your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass”.  I have really tried to own these words as we all should in participating at the Mass as well – but the sentiment extends beyond Holy Mass to everything we do as Christians.  We cannot and should not wait for another day to be amazing, ardent and evangelizing Christians.  We have our mission: to get ourselves to heaven and bring as many people with us as we can!  Let’s then do so joyfully on this Gaudete Sunday when we are aware or should become aware of how very much indeed we are loved and may we rejoice in that.

2nd Saturday of Advent: Do We Really See the Lord?

A couple of years ago, we had a Jesuit retreat master for our priest’s retreat in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  He was very good, but made a comment about the state of our political climate of our country and even within the political climate of the Church that in a desire to be open to everything going on in the world around them they were what they might fashion, open-minded.  The retreat master added, “their minds were so open, their brains fell out”.  Of course, we all laughed at the humourous quip; but I can imagine that we all sat there and imagined somebody else, someone we knew or had met or had listened to – and we knew that person but I’m guessing that if you read most of our minds in that room (I’m sure it was mine), hundreds of priests though we were – not one of us was that person.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus would come and tell us directly and without any possibility for interpretation; whether He preferred we celebrate Holy Mass facing the people or ad orientum, in the Extraordinary Form or Novus Ordo, what how exactly He wants us to treat the topic pastorally of same-sex relationships, trans-gender, divorce and remarriage and the list goes on.   Wouldn’t it be amazing if we weren’t left hanging or guessing?  Well, based on my best guess about what we were thinking when our retreat master presented our current world reality to us – is to ask: is there a chance we’d miss it anyway?

This is only one man’s guess, but I think part of the reason that Jesus doesn’t give us every single answer is that He gives us exactly what our disposition as Christian Disciples is meant to be, and because He gives us that and expects us to apply it to our lives – everything else should be seen with the lens of that.  I’m the first to admit (right now) that I get caught up sometimes in all the polemics of the Church and I tend not to read the paper because the commentary on our political landscape and the politicians tends to rile me (and I don’t want that in my life, in the morning especially).  It is true that what some present as open-minded is not that at all, as there are very clear signs that those same people are closed to something else, someone else and someone else’s opinion.  I am not saying that we need to be open to all opinions, because that isn’t necessarily true either; but our disposition should be open to all people and seek to understand things before being understood about things.  This very basic principle of life is one which I think many of us need to pause and consider – how many of our arguments are a result of our needing to be heard and be right?

Jesus speaks Elijah having come (John the Baptist) and some heard, but many did not.  He spoke in their midst and how many heard and recognized God among them?  How many of us would?  This is why we need to work on our disposition, and Jesus gives us EVERYTHING we need to do that.

  • Love above everything else; we need to love one another with the greatest love
  • Try to understand others first, before wanting to be understood by others
  • Acknowledge our own wrongdoing (the “log”) before pointing out the wrongdoing (the “speck”) of others
  • it sounds cliche, but ask honestly “what would Jesus do?” not the Jesus in our mind, but the Jesus we know intimately through His Word (Scriptures) and Deed (Sacraments)

Surely there are other things, but these are a few thoughts for the day.  If we focus on these things, we can and will build on it from there.  We need to have Christ’s disposition before we’ll ever recognize Him in our midst.

Ignoring Our Calling

Ignoring our vocation is not an option for the Christian.  I am speaking of vocation firstly in the broader sense of the calling everyone of us has been given by God Himself; to be holy.  Our relationship with God and with the world as His Disciple is the most important thing we do in this life and everything else centers around it.  Everything.  We can live as married men and women or religious and consecrated men and women.  Some men can live as priests – and still not be holy, so as not to fulfill or honour their primary vocation.  And they won’t live effectively their secondary or particular and unique vocation very well without honouring the first.  Ignoring our call to holiness isn’t going to get us very far, certainly not closer to God and heaven and our faith is neither an ideal or a set of precepts but about an encounter and relationship and we must follow the call that has been made for all time: come to me, follow Me and I am with you and want you with Me; now and in Paradise!  That is Jesus’ call to us and for us.

Often I have been asked when I speak about vocations, “what if God wants me to be a priest and I don’t want to or ignore God?”  Obviously there are many layers in a question like this, but I always begin by asking those who think this way, to put God first.  Be holy and everything else will be taken care of.  Striving for holiness and becoming holy means that we have the humility to listen to God in prayer and know that He speaks to the heart and calls us to a life that is for Him and for others.  Sacrifice is a part of it, but a particular and unique vocation is going to fit the person.  We can and will see that when we are striving for holiness.  Even the process of discernment contributes to our ongoing growth in holiness.

First thing’s first: we have to be talking with God.  Prayer and spending time with the Lord is important because we are developing and growing in relationship with (Him) the One we love.  Serving and giving to others is important because all vocations are a total gift of ourselves for God and for others.  There aren’t vocations that are self-serving, self-centered or selfish.  We need to continue to get to know Him, which is why we are always focusing on Sacred Scripture and allowing the Church and the Church’s teachings to be an important part of our lives.  That is why we allow the Sacraments to draw us ever closer to God.  When our lives are centered on these things: we are growing simultaneously as Disciples.  As we do this, in time, we begin to ask the question: “Lord, how do you want me to live my life as a Disciple?” and “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

But we don’t put the cart before the horse, so to speak.  When we do, we confuse things.  We don’t ask whether we should live our lives as priests, husbands, wives, religious sisters or brothers until we are seeking day by day to live a holy life and answer the Lord’s call each day.  If we seek to do this, there’s little chance that we ignore the calling God has for each one of us, His invitation or our acceptance of that invitation

What’s the Difference Between Heaven & Earth?

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes a distinction between what we see in this world and what Heaven will be.  John the Baptist is the greatest of the Prophets, for he prepared the way for the Lord, the Incarnate Son of God to come into the world and most pointedly, into our very hearts and lives.  He was the one who prepared those who opened their hearts – to receive God.  As we hear the Baptist’s words in Advent: are we prepared to receive God into our very heart and souls, or perhaps in a deeper way?  Even though John the Baptist was a Great Prophet and a very important instrument of grace; Jesus tells us that Heaven will blow our minds with magnitude, splendor and greatness.  By offering us a sense of how great Heaven is – Jesus shares with us the importance of our being ready for that reality; our preparation here in this world is for the eternal reality we hope for.

As a Disciple who lives out my discipleship as a priest, I am asked the question (and consider it for myself), when is enough enough?  When have we/I done all we need to do?  When can we be assured we are living as the kind of Christians we are called to be?  The answer, when we get ourselves to heaven and we bring as many with us as we can.  That may seem like a non-answer or a pious platitude that doesn’t actually say anything: but it says everything!  Our encounter with God is a relationships and the very best of relationships don’t end.  They require constant work, and while we can enjoy the relationship and really, we must, we don’t sit back and become complacent friends or spouses.  Our relationship with God is no different and of the greatest importance.  God the Son gives us all that is required and when we have completely fulfilled that: we are ready and assured of heaven!  And that is a lifetime’s opus!

Our first task this Advent season is this: encounter God again.  This is not to imply we haven’t been, but read and hear the Gospels with fresh ears, new eyes and an openness to what God the Holy Spirit wishes to impart.  Then we must live our Christian lives in an even more committed and dedicated way.  Be encouraged that by living in more committed ways, no matter what we struggle with, God is with us and we must then invite others to do the same.  We cannot wait to be saints to call others to the same.  We must remain sinners who seek to be saints to invite others to the same.  That is what Christians must be!  We are not hypocrites in this way unless we deny our sinfulness.  We reconcile with God through confession and acknowledge our sins are “thorns” that remind us how in need of Jesus we really are.  Regular reconciliation paves the way to live for the very best part of what a Christian does.  To evangelize and to spread the Word – God loves us, calls us close to Him, wants us with Him forever in Paradise.  Paradise is not here: it’s in heaven.  Let us head there together.

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!.