Our Lives are Interwoven: We Need to Encourage & Inspire Others

Fr. Paschal Breau

Today’s Reflection is my Speech from the Ordinandi Dinner last night.  Thanks to our local Serra Clubs for all of the great work they do and another great evening.  Thanks to the Ordinandi Class of 2018 for the gift of their vocation.  Tonight’s talk was three short stories of two lives interwoven.  Fr. Paschal Breau, SA who passed away in 2007 was a dear friend and mentor for me but so much more.  He is also Maurice (Paschal was his given religious name).  Our lives are interwoven and these stories speak of that but allowed me to share a message of how important it is we all encourage and support vocations:

Tonight I’d like to begin by telling you a story that was told to me.  In 1937, a shy, nervous sixteen year old kid name (Morris) from a suburb of Moncton, New Brunswick took a long train ride to Garrison, New York across the river from West Point and with a few personal things made a 5 mile trek to Graymoor in the Appalachian Mountains, where he joined with other young men becoming Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.  He barely said anything for fear of saying the wrong thing.  The friars who were in charge were strict and intimidating to Morris unlike the nice one who came to meet him and his family at home (the nice one was a Vocation Director, by the way).  A young 16 by his own admission and more than 1,100 kms from home even his name was changed, chosen for him by the Founder, an old priest who seemed rather stoic and stern.  And just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, he was told he would have to get up in front of all the hundred or so Friars and introduce himself to everyone.  It was the scariest moment of his young life.  He stumbled, he stuttered, he froze for a time and had to be told to speak up.  It was the worst experience of his young life; that was until a few months later the cold, windy weather took its toll on him and he developed pneumonia and had to be sent home; then that became his worst day ever.

The 2nd story is in the process of being written.  It is the story of this 32 year old bus driver who’s quite content to drive his bus and to be invisible in the world.  A bus driver who has been on a Christian journey for a few years and is only a couple of months a baptized Catholic.  He has come to discover in the process of his becoming Catholic a deep love that God has for him, and a deep love he has for God and His Church but he’s far too new at this Catholic thing to feel he might be called by God to the priesthood.  And the reasons he has for being content at being “invisible” are his fears which he has been good at avoiding throughout his life.  He fears public speaking and always has.  He fears the things he believes he’s not good at and has found enough that he is good at to be satisfied in life.  He fears being alone, he fears taking any kind of major or dramatic step in life because he draws back on his own failures and fears of failure.  At 32, he’s gotten pretty good at saying “maybe later”, “maybe tomorrow” or “that’s for others”.  The most real and serious thing he has in life is this relationship with God and once his parish priest opens the door to his thinking about priesthood, God won’t let him stop for some reason.

So after a couple of months of these thoughts pre-dominating his prayer time with the Lord, he decides to go on retreat.  He meets a lot of people; priests, religious sisters & brothers, other people on the same retreat and they all seem more sure than he is.  He listens to them introduce themselves, and while their personal stories are all very interesting – they’re not his story.  After the sharing he’s ready to leave.  He walks out the door, towards his car and a priest is standing close by.  He says hello, he introduces himself and remarks, “you’re the bus driver” and proceeds to ask him if he’s ever heard the joke about the priest and the bus driver.  They talk for the rest of the evening and he stays for the weekend.  This begins the third story.  The bus driver has the opportunity to speak of his fears and finds in this priest, who’s 82 many of those same insecurities challenged him. The difference is he faced them; he didn’t overcome them but faced them.  But he can’t help but see more abundantly in this priest real joy and real love for God and His Church.

Though 50 years apart in age, they form a great friendship, deep and mutual in many ways, but the bus driver also finds in the priest a mentor, a spiritual companion and a role model for the life in Christ he’s seeking now to live.  The bus driver is inspired by the priest’s life; his deep love and dedication to his vocation.  The bus driver has never met anyone as truly joyful as this priest – ever.  He inspires, he encourages, he invites the bus driver into his life, which he comes to see is not exactly his life but the life of Christ in this world.  And through the telling of the story of his life, the priest impresses upon his young friend that this life can be complete and not missing the deep love and friendship we need.  It’s a life of great joy and freedom if you’re willing to face your fears and face them with God.  This Life in Christ won’t lack anything.  The priest and the bus driver continued on the Christian journey together as Friends in Faith but so much more.

The priest saw his friend the bus driver, enter the seminary, finish and graduate with a degree in philosophy which he knew was one of the greatest fears he faced, he helped him face several other fears but moreover helped him always see & reflect on the joys of everything he experienced.  At 87, the priest joyful prepared for the next part of his Christian journey through death into eternal life.  His friend, once a bus driver & not far from being ordained a priest himself wanted him to be with him at the altar that day.  The priest assured him he would be, with the best seat & place in the cathedral.  Shortly after that, as he was close to death, his friend got to be with him.  He asked him to help him make the sign of the Cross and then, the priest went to sleep in Christ.

Some of you may already know, I am the bus driver and this is part of my own story.  The priest is Fr. Paschal Breau who I honour by telling you part of his story tonight.   The joke he told me is the joke I told to begin my Ordinandi Dinner speech six years ago & I was thinking of him as my heart pounded coming up here.  He is also Morris, the teenager from the first story.  There wasn’t time that night 6 years ago to talk much about this priest who inspired me, walked with me, encouraged me and shared his vocation with me.  As you can see, all 3 of these stories are profoundly interwoven.  Fr. Paschal who in his 80’s became a part of my life as a part of God’s plan was inspired by others who reached the heart & soul of young Morris, helping him face his fears throughout his life.  From 1937 and onward – I am eternally grateful to those who inspired him and he paid it forward.  We are 2,000 committed Christians here tonight – and we need to be aware of how we are interwoven into the lives of others.  The deacons tonight will talk about the people who have helped bring them here; the Cardinal talks about the priest who inspired him in his own vocation story, I don’t want to be presumptuous but I hear more vocation stories than most people here and I can assure you, the people who encourage us, inspire us, help us and support us matter a lot.  I also know how disappointment, rejection and discouragement can get in the way of a vocation too.

For those of us who have “found” what the Lord is calling us to do – we have to make a commitment here this evening.  This is most definitely for the bishops & priests here, but it’s the married folks and parents, the teachers, the parish staff and people ministering in chaplaincy! It’s the Serrans, the CWL and the Knights of Columbus.  We need to commit ourselves to strive for holiness and to be inspiring Catholic Christians!  We need to encourage people to seek holiness for themselves.  We need to encourage them and help them to be open to all vocations; priesthood, religious life & entering into holy, healthy marriages.  One of the greatest challenges I face as a Vocation Director is to have one of the seminarians or someone whom I’m working with decide they’re not called to priesthood.  But when I’ve listened to where their prayers are leading them, I know if God’s leading them and they found what they were searching for – and praise God, the Church will be richer for it!  My disappointment or desire as a Vocation Director should never be a factor in their lives.  No parent should project their disappointment or worry on their children discerning a vocation.  We should never offer discouragement to anyone who looks up to us, even if we feel they could be the Prime Minister of Canada or the C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company – because what every joyful, faithful bishop, priest, religious sister will tell you is that there’s no greater company to serve in than the Lord’s.  And I know many people working in our parishes, chaplaincies, Vocation Office – who could be making more money doing other things, but who serve the Lord and love their lives of service.  We have many people in each of our lives who are discerning.  The best we can do is pray for them, as the Serrans and so many others do.  And then we can love them and share our lives with them and show them that what they may do matters to us.

We need to pray ceaselessly for vocations, all vocations.  We need to be inspiring Christians ourselves and show others the way by what we do, not telling them what to do.  Don’t for a single second think you have nothing to offer.  No one gets a single thing out of any of us playing small in the world.  Encourage, support and be joyful.  Look at where you are right at this moment.  The Serrans are ordinary men & women who pray and do what they can.  Their discipleship has led to gathering more than 800 students and nearly 2,000 people at two events in one day.  The Lord assures us we all have an important part to play.  Be assured the Lord who has begun all of this good work will bring it to a glorious fulfilment.

Does Jesus Minister to Us While We Minister for Him to Others?

Jesus in the Synagogue

The very second, the very moment that we get it in our heads no matter who we are that the Gospel lesson or admonition applies more to someone else than it does to us – is the very moment we become the indignant hometown crowd member Jesus speaks to in today’s Gospel.  Obviously, at this moment we must confess that we don’t wish to be that person and then let the grace given to us and the virtue of humility to grow in our hearts.  Every Gospel lesson applies to each of us and we must accept that it does (by faith and trust in the Lord) even if we cannot for the moment see the way that it does.

Pride and entitlement cannot ever get in the way of our faith and our vocation.  They can and they easily do.  Speaking as a priest, I know that there are many ways I have those moments where I feel I can speak from authority on things and I have it together more than others do.  I have those prideful and entitled moments.  I have been humbled in my pride already many times in my life, and while it stings – it’s been the best thing for me.  It has helped me quickly get down off my own “high horse” and realize that I need to hear the Gospel as much if not more than anyone else.  I also realize that any and all authority given to me by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit through my ordination was not meant to think I am Jesus, but to do His work in the way He wants me to do, not in my own way.  As a humbled sinner, I speak to the men who discern with me about this and remind them of this too.  They are entering into a beautiful committed life with Christ, but they must also remember that they are entitled to nothing and they must be both ministers and recipients of the Good News.  This applies to all of us.  St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles as they founded the Church in Jesus Christ may have been given abundant graces for that purpose; but they also needed to be recipients of the Word until the ends of their earthly journey; same as all the saints, same as everyone else.

Let us remember this today and ask ourselves, are we journeymen with our Lord Jesus, or are we the hometown crowd who take credit for the works of the Lord as though they were our own?

Christ the Wellspring of Living Water: Reflecting on the First Scrutiny


Today we celebrate the First Scrutiny in many of our parishes.  With the elect recently entered into our Book of Elect and preparing themselves in these remaining weeks of Lent to enter into the waters of baptism, seeking to die to self and live for Christ – today through Jesus’ Gospel encounter with the woman at the well; they (we) are reminded of our need for God who is Himself the wellspring and from Whom we have our thirst quenched and who gives us what we need to truly live.  As an adult convert, I recall as a Catechumen Elect, the preparation many years ago for this day, the first of my Scrutinies.  I remembered reflecting upon the many places in my soon-to-be “old life” where I “drew water”.  Drawing water from the desires and expectations of others in the world no long quenched my thirst.  Tasting the water of success, the water of other’s praise, the water of having enough money to quench my own thirst became tired and not fulfilling.  Even though my heart was becoming the Lord’s, I was still living with those things and while it seemed compelling to simply throw all those things off and totally and completely to live for Jesus – I was not ready for that.  The words were really sinking in though and the profound experience I had as an Elect was drawing me even closer to the Body of Christ where I would one day give up those things.  The profound grace and blessing I have been given is that because of my experience, I was able to be with RCIA groups most years ever since.  As a seminarian I was afforded the opportunities to journey with others and so, to reflect as well on these Scrutinies again as a catechist with them.  As a priest, to preach on the Gospel and to identify with the Elect as well.

Now as a Catholic Christian man with 15 years of Scrutinies under my belt, my reflection on this First Scrutiny is one I share with the committed Catholics today.  We need to pray for these people who seek to prepare themselves and will in short weeks be asking the Church for Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation.  The conversation this woman in today’s Gospel has with Jesus is one which each of us needs to stop and have with Our Lord today.  Do we still recognize Jesus at the places where we draw water from in our lives today?  Where we pray, our churches or our special places?  Are we drawing water and allowing Jesus to really and truly speak to us, or are we denying part of what our lives are or what they have become so we simply don’t have to deal?  If we are, then we need to be really honest with the Lord.  When the Elect go through the Scrutinies, they are reflecting on and allowing the Lord to accompany them on the journey into the waters which means repentance, acknowledgement of the darknesses that still exist, the hurts, the pains, the sorrows – the areas of our lives that just aren’t right yet.  The Light (of Christ) will come, but first we must acknowledge where we aren’t ready to be nourished and ask in this moment for the grace to let go and let God take over.

What does that mean for you?  I know what it means for me.  It means that as I pray for the Elect (and while it’s different for me right now, not in parish ministry: I pray in a more universal way), I also pray for the areas of my own life that are dark, where I haven’t been all that I can be for Jesus and for other people, the people He calls upon me to serve as a priest.  I pray for more strength to respond more generously, to acknowledge more truthfully and with greater clarity the wounds, issues, shortcomings and infidelities of my own heart – those areas I need to drink more wholly of the Living Water that has satiated me for all these year.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my hope that all of us take this blessed day to do the same.

Reflecting on the Sacrament of Penance Today


The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of my favorites (because I can relate to the prodigal son and have experienced the Father’s love & mercy) and one that is the spring board for my RCIA talk on the Sacrament of Penance (from my parish days).  I use this parable for that purpose because it’s important for adult faith formation that we illustrate God’s love and mercy especially with a sacrament as beautiful, powerful, grace-filled, welcoming and embracing as the Sacrament of Penance is.  I speak from the perspective of an adult convert, and now as a priest who is both Confessor and Penitent: that the Sacrament of Penance embodies the elements of the relationship of the Prodigal Son and Father in the parable and that we must embrace it this way and trust that this is what God wants for each one of us, each time we receive this sacrament.

I believe we are moving into a time where more and more of us are once again embracing the Sacrament of Penance (aka Sacrament of Reconciliation, Sacrament of Confession) passing a time when it was becoming less and less common for the everyday Catholic Christian to receive it.  The Church requires it of us once a year, but this is a minimal guide.  Many receive the sacrament frequently and regularly.  It’s not only important for our souls, but also our disposition as penitential Christians who recognize how quickly we can become misguided in our thoughts and actions and how necessary it is for us to rid ourselves of these things and to give ourselves to the right things, of sharing our lives in Christ with others.  If we are often and abundantly aware of God’s love and mercy extended to us, we then will develop habits of extending love and mercy towards others too.

In my role now as Vocation Director, I speak about this with those discerning and with seminarians.  Although most have spiritual directors who give them advice on how often they should go to confession based on what they struggle with and how they struggle (balancing a good practice but not wanting a scrupulous devotion), it is important that men who are to one day (God willing) become confessors be first good penitents.  They too need God’s love and mercy in abundance and to have a sense of how our heart’s anguish is immediately and powerfully overcome by God’s embrace.

Confession is an act of faith and trust in the Lord plain and simple.  There are Catholics and non-Catholics out there who question this sacrament because we needn’t confess our sins to a priest, and in their considerations and reflections, place too much focus and emphasis on the priest.  I also know as a priest that I cannot allow myself to get in the way of Jesus’ salvific work.  My counsel is less important than the grace; the love and mercy poured forth.  The words of absolution and healing are God’s, not mine.  Stories perpetuate themselves and too many adults especially have heard the stories of the priests who are harsh and judgmental-seeming in the confessional.  I share with RCIA groups my one experience but amid the thousands of times I have now gone to confession.  Even in that one time, God’s love and mercy were received as I did my Act of Contrition and penance, I knew I was perfect in my relationship with God again.  I do not tell people that how the priest treated me was right or okay, but I reiterate for them that I needed to remind myself through my bruised ego that my mind and focus needs to be on God and not on the priest, who may have his own issues or even just had a bad day.  To place any more focus on the priest in good confessions or bad experiences is missing the point of the Sacrament of Penance and what we are there for.

Let us all take some time today to consider the blessings we receive when we approach the Sacrament of Penance with a contrite and ready heart and let us focus on the life we are prepared to live after we go: that is the Joy of the Gospel!!

Is Jesus the Cornerstone of Our Lives?

Is Jesus the cornerstone of your life?  I find myself well into my forties now, reflecting upon my life, more than 15 years of it now as a Christian.  I had a life already as I became Christian and as a priest ministering to people and living my life radically different from my early beginnings I look at what is the same and what is different.  I wonder sometimes if I have really and truly become a better man than I was in the early days of my life.  No doubt without the moral and ethical compass I have now in my teens and into my twenties I was living selfishly and lived for what I could get out of life, the world and others – without much meaning and purpose.  In that way, I am happily living for something greater now.  Where I challenge myself is where I can clearly see I like comfort and the remnants of the things that I considered selfish choices I made, sometimes those elements of my life remain and I fall into moments and occasions of returning to pre-Christian ways.  But I don’t live there.  The “house” I live in now belongs to Jesus and He is my Way, my Truth and my Life.  I am still a weak and sinful man, but the Lord in His love and mercy is not going anywhere and though I still find myself missing Him in areas and parts of my life, He is my cornerstone.

Today, our Gospel gives us all an occasion to reflect: is Jesus the cornerstone of the house we live in?  We must remember that He will be rejected, but are we rejecting Him?  If we are in any way, now (Lent) is the time for us to make amends and to begin again.

Have We Passed by & Not Noticed Lazarus


Rich Man & LazarusToday’s Gospel has always had a deep impact on me, especially as I find myself living in downtown Toronto right now.  I have asked myself many times, will I find myself in the rich man’s unfortunate shoes one day, having ignored someone in need?

I have wrestled with the most appropriate way to live out this Gospel experience.  Some people carry a lot of coin in their pockets and give to those who ask for it.  Some people buy a person on the street a sandwich, but I often find myself with little time to do that.  I am in no way averse to either of these things and there are times to do both, but outside of either of those opportunities, it is and always will be important to pray for others: and so the very least and most I can do is to smile, say hello or acknowledge a person in need and say a prayer for their needs.  If we have means to help, of course we should; but our help could be to give of our time, treasure or talents to help them in many different ways, not only in pocket change or a meal – but ultimately and most importantly not to simply offer others in need our pity and certainly not to overlook them.

Many years ago now, when I was visiting downtown Toronto; I remember seeing a very young man from afar asking for change.  In the 5 minutes I watched him, he didn’t get much of anything.  In fact, I was saddened by what I saw that he was virtually invisible.  From what I could tell, he was fairly recently on the streets but I was impressed that despite everyone ignoring him, he didn’t give up.  I didn’t have much to offer him, but gave what I could (was pittance as I recall) and said hello to him, which seemed to be something.  Now, I’m not telling you this for a pat on my own back.  It was that encounter and my many reflections on this Gospel that have led me to believe that whether I can help out with money or food, I must never overlook people.  When we become desensitized to others, when we become indifferent to others around us – we lose our God-given humanity and we will find ourselves in the place of the rich fool.  We will be accountable for our actions, which we aren’t even aware of and we won’t know what to do with it when we are presented with those actions.

So what to do?  We may be prepared and ready to move forward and to try our very best not to ignore people from today and every day forward, but what about the people (maybe even the many people) we’ve ignored or overlooked, the people we were indifferent to yesterday or previously in our lives?  Pray for them now!  Spend some time before the Lord now and pray for them now, invoke the prayers of your favorite saint to pay for them now.  You may not feel it right now, but if that’s what you do to rectify the past and make the commitment today and moving forward not to be indifferent and not to overlook people – be assured that when the time comes for You to meet the Lord face to face, everyone will recognize you for the prayers you offered for them; a powerful and important gift.