Thoughts on my 43rd Anniversary of Ordination

Msgr Zimmer

To celebrate our Week of Prayer for Vocations, I’d like to share a reflection written by Rev. Msgr. Paul Zimmer, CHH, a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto.  Msgr. Zimmer is Pastor of St. Clement’s Parish in Etobicoke and has been a great witness of the vocation of priesthood to many of us (myself included) through his own dedicated life of service.  Wishing Msgr. Zimmer an early Blessed Anniversary! A BEAUTIFUL witness!!

I still remember vividly the day of my Ordination to the Holy Priesthood. It was Saturday, April 30, 1977. The ceremony took place in Our Lady of Victory Church, where I spent two years as a Deacon Intern. The ordaining bishop was His Excellency Francis Valentine Allen, auxiliary to Archbishop Philip Pocock. I was 27 years old.

My First Mass, with family, friends and parishioners, took place the next day in Our Lady of Victory Church. The preacher was my best friend and brother priest, Father John Croal. We met by chance in 1970. I was a student at Ryerson and he was already in the seminary. Father John inspired my vocation, and then pushed, pulled and prayed me to my ordination day. After 50 years of friendship the bond between us remains the same: love for Christ, love for the Church he founded and love for the people we serve. Thank you Father John.

My priestly ordination took place during a time of great turmoil for the Church. In those years, just after the Second Vatican Council, everything was being questioned, including the role and identity of the priest. Many priests and religious sisters abandoned their vows and sacred commitments. Some even walked away from the Church and the practice of the Faith.

Hurt. Disillusionment. Anger. Fear and anxiety. These were just a few of the emotions I experienced as a young priest. It sometimes seemed that everything I believed, about the Priesthood and the Church, was under attack. Thankfully, the one thing necessary was always there. Jesus Christ. The same yesterday, today and forever. Jesus Christ. Alive in the Church, in the Tabernacle and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus Christ. The rock of our salvation. I held on to him for dear life, and thankfully, he held on to me.

My first parish appointment was a great blessing. Archbishop Philip Pocock sent me to All Saints Parish in Etobicoke. My pastor was a wise and humble man, Father (now Monsignor) Marianno “Moe” Polito. He taught me to ignore the polemics of the day and encouraged me to focus on the real-time needs of our parishioners. I spent a happy five years in that first, formative appointment.

After All Saints I made the round of the Archdiocese: Associate Pastor at St. Christopher’s in Mississauga, Vice-Rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral, and then Pastor at St. Anne’s in Brampton, Prince of Peace in Scarborough, Annunciation in North York and finally, best of all, a return home as Pastor of St. Clement Parish in Etobicoke. As many of you already know, my family were founding members of this parish. As a seminarian I actually served at the blessing of the church.

Am I the same man who was ordained 43 years ago in Our Lady of Victory Church? An honest look in the mirror tells me that I’ve changed considerably since those first years of my priesthood. Less hair. More lines and wrinkles. And of course, the energy level has diminished greatly. I was ordained at 27 and this year, on the 4th of August, I will turn 71.

The physical changes are obvious, but the real changes are more important. Over the years the Lord Jesus has gentled me, humbled me and taught my heart. Day in and day out, year in and year out, he has formed me as a shepherd after his own heart. And trust me, I’m still a work in progress. The Lord isn’t finished with me yet. In fact, I sometimes feel that I’m only now beginning to understand what the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is all about. Thank you Lord.

So here I am. Forty-three years a Priest and 13 years as Pastor of St. Clement Parish. What a wonderful gift. Please pray for me and join me in thanking God for his many blessing, especially for the gift of the Holy Priesthood. On my part, I will continue to pray for each and every one of you. On this 43rd Anniversary I pledge to continue my journey in the footsteps of Jesus the Great High Priest. The one who came to serve and not to be served The one who came to give his life as a ransom for many.

Msgr. Zimmer also shared this reflection with the people he shepherds on the St. Clement’s Parish website.

 

Reborn in the Spirit of God

Rebirth in Spirit

We can all become prone to taking our faith for granted.  How many of us Catholics “rest assured” that we can do what we want and live how we want because we have the Sacrament of Confession to “fix that”?  Of course, that’s not what the sacraments are for and not how we are to approach our faith.  We are given a “re-do” by our Lord because while we are called to be perfect and never stop trying, doesn’t want us to give up trying.

We have the Holy Spirit to thank for all of this.  Whether we’re converts or “reverts” or we never left practicing our faith but have had “a fire lit” in our hearts to live our faith with renewed commitment; this is rebirth.  Perhaps as a convert but surely as a priest, I have heard many life-long Catholics tell me that they admire converts because “they chose their faith” versus being handed on their faith from their family, most especially their parents.  There may be a point to this; but from my place as a convert I have a deep admiration for the people who have chosen their faith as young people, teens, adults and older in life and grew up in a faith-filled home.  I am blessed to have a good family, but faith wasn’t a part of my life or my upbringing.  I am definitely in the minority as a convert who became a priest.  Most of the men I work directly with as Director of Vocations and the many people I meet, women and men who seriously discern their vocations have had faith present throughout their lives, in their homes, their schools, all around them.  Most of them have had occasion to be lukewarm or even not-practicing, but the Lord brought them back.

Today, we celebrate being born of the Spirit, reborn in Christ and pray for many more to experience what Jesus talks about with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel.  May we reflect a little more deeply upon our faith today and remind ourselves that Jesus’ gift of a “do-over” is meant so that we may come completely back to God and engage ourselves, powerfully, properly and necessarily in the work of being dedicated Disciples, followers (and not merely admirers) of Jesus Christ.  May God bless you.

Divine Mercy: May We Grow as Extensions of God’s Merciful Love

Divine Mercy

The first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it. (From St. Faustina’s Diary, 742)

We celebrate today Divine Mercy Sunday; the Second Sunday of Easter as the visionary St. Faustina indicated Jesus desired in her prayerful encounters with the Lord.  Mercy is an important gift, both given to us and given by us and has been a constant point of reflection for us as Christians always.  Pope Francis speaks constantly that we be aware of the mercy granted to us, and in turn that we are as merciful as we possibly can be.  He constantly implores that priests be instruments of God’s great mercy in everything we do in our lives as Christians and ministry as priests.

Today I celebrate the actual day I was received into the Church; April 19, 2003.  My conversion (as I’ve referenced in many posts) was a long and winding one, but also one I walked cautiously and carefully towards (becoming Catholic).  I wanted to be sure this is what God really wanted.  Seventeen years later and many lessons in faith and with many, many reasons to trust God’s Providence now; I am forever grateful that the Lord led me and guided me through my many doubts along the way.  All those years ago, I remember being very unsure about why I didn’t need to go to confession when others who had been baptized did.  Was I not as much in need of “airing my dirty laundry” as the baptized?  Of course, it is Original Sin (and subsequently all other sins to follow) that are “wiped away” first – but this was one of my first and perhaps still the greatest points of reflection on God’s Divine Mercy!  When I joined Jesus and my sisters and brothers at the Font of Mercy on that day so many years ago; Jesus took away every stain of sin from me and gave me in return everlasting life.  I have fallen many times (too many times to remember) since, and have been “restored” through God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In the midst of my own unworthiness, the Lord called me to serve Him and His People as a Catholic priest.  For every one of my shortcomings, weaknesses and sins, which are (as I said) too numerous to have counted, God has given me even more (Infinite) mercy. 

What I recognize in my own life is available for us all.  The challenge we all face is not to take this for granted and to apply this ourselves to our interactions with others.  We are called to live a “sacramental life”; in other words, to be as merciful and loving as we can be with each other.  This is what God desires of us, as He has been the example of for us and has provided us through both Scripture and many of these private revelations of holy people (like St. Faustina).

Having mercy with each other means forgiving others because it’s the right thing to do rather than because people deserve it.  Being merciful is acknowledging we ourselves are loved sinners and loving others regardless of what their sins (obvious and underlying might be).  We use Jesus as our example here.  How many people who were considered serious public sinners did He unconditionally forgive with the parting words of “Go, and sin no more.”  He offered them words reminding them of their higher calling (to aim for perfection) but did not waste time indicting or ripping them apart for what was objectively terrible behaviour.

Friends, let us consider the many ways in our own daily lives; beginning with our family and friends, extending further to others in our lives and including those we struggle with the most – to extend love and mercy towards.  In this way, we must reflect how our lives can be more configured to Jesus who asks this of us all as Christian Disciples.  May God bless you!

Called to be a Follower of Jesus Christ

Jesus & Disciples

Jesus has a mission for all of us, if we are willing to accept it.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that we are invited by the Lord Himself to come and see, to follow Him and to accept the mission we are called to in this life; to bring God to each other, and each other to God.  This is a vocation; not only the call of men called to the priesthood but for every one of us in our own and particular, unique way.  What and how exactly we will do this could be as a married person, a religious sister or man or as a priest.  There are even some of us who are called to do this as dedicated and consecrated single people.

Our mission comes from being a Disciple and follower of Jesus.  Being a follower affects and requires every part of who we are.  There’s a difference between being a follower and being an admirer of Jesus as Christians.  Several years ago now, I came across a reflection from Fr. Mark Link, SJ, a Jesuit spiritual writer and author who passed away a few years ago.  Since reading Fr. Link’s reflection, I have always asked myself am I a true follower or more an admirer of Jesus in my Christian actions each day.  An admirer obviously appreciates what Jesus did and perhaps even what Christians do, but doesn’t feel he or she needs to follow suit, or makes excuses as to why his or her circumstances might be different.  We might admire how people pray, and that people do great things as Christians, or make great sacrifices as Christians – but unfortunately, we don’t find the means and ways to do the same.  A follower takes what he or she knows and applies it, as best as he or she can, recovers quickly from mistakes and keeps going.  A follower wants to learn and grow and dedicate him or herself more and more to this mission given them to bring Jesus to everyone he or she meets in our daily lives.

The Apostles and first Disciples are charged with a mission: we too are charged with the same mission.  Let us truly give ourselves as followers (more than admirers) of the Risen Lord today and every day!  May God bless you.

Fr. Lemieux’s Easter Message: Now’s the Time

 

Easter Image 1In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Vocations is perhaps one of the few places “open for business”.  The Lord continues to call in the midst of these worldwide health concerns.  Even for me as Vocation Director, I have been wonderfully and pleasantly surprised by those who hearing and beginning to answer the Lord’s call in sincerity and authenticity.  It’s for this reason, after many months I’ve decided to “reach out” by way of my Blog once again.

My Easter Blessings to all who happen here!  I rejoice today recalling Easter 17 years ago when something changed.  What I’m talking about isn’t ontological (though it is) or theological (though it is).  I died to my old way of life and emerged from the waters of Baptism, a new man.  There are many days (far too many to count) when I am far and away from feeling like “a new man” as I am well aware of my sinful folly and the many ways that I don’t live up to what it means to be Christian, what it means to live my life as a Disciple of Christ.  And I’m a priest.  Before you think that what I mean is that makes me somehow better than others, I DON’T THINK THAT AT ALL.  Being a priest means I should have no excuse and yet I manage to find excuses for my weaknesses, shortcomings and sins.

First of all, I try to constantly remind myself of this when I interact and deal with others.  If I fail at being the best Christian and Disciple I can be, then it’s important that I not ever be judgmental of others – because we’re all in this (life/world) together.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t keep trying to be the best I can be, and that doesn’t mean that I should overlook everything that others do either.  I need to keep working at living up to the perfect gift of Eternal Life that Jesus gave me (and all of us) Easter morning.  He came into the world to give it, but it was given Easter morning. We are in this life’s journey together.  What this means, and should always mean is that we help each other.  Jesus’ own earthly life was one of love and mercy, of setting the bar high as God desires of His people whom He made to be perfect but also giving us a means and a way back to Him when we haven’t measured up.

The first 32 years of my life which I reflect upon now as “a lead-up to God’s plan” and these past 17 which began on Easter morn are about “walking humbly with my God” recognizing life is an amazing gift patterned with both challenges, sufferings but also with many, many joys.  Life is always about both.  I used to think that Christians “buried their heads in the sand” and talked about the Cross of Jesus when it came to life’s hardships as though it was somehow an explanation and a very poor one at that.  As a Christian, I know that’s not true.  There is no making sense of what Jesus was put through Holy Week culminating in His Crucifixion on Good Friday from anything life is supposed to be about.  It’s in the Resurrection and the Return of the Risen Lord and the Promise of Eternal Life that sense can be made of everything He (and we as His followers) go through.  The Christians life is to face realistically and with faith our own “crosses” which can be at times simple and small and sometimes heavy and truly burdensome.  We were meant to cherish, embrace, appreciate and enjoy this life here in this world, for it’s a Gift from God and He Himself enjoyed His life too.  But we live for something beyond it and prepare ourselves for that as well.  We celebrate that today.

In these tough and challenging days we are all going through, perhaps some with heavier crosses than others to bear; I have come to encounter many reaching out and feeling the Lord’s Presence.  I have spoken to many (and I include myself in this group) who given the time we have encountered God in a deeper way this Lent, Holy Week and now into Easter.

Often one of the first things men and women share with me, as to why they hesitate to follow through in discernment; is because of a sense of unworthiness.  None of us, not one of us is truly worthy but we can’t allow our unworthiness (our weaknesses, sins and shortcomings) to eclipse the Lord’s call.  He doesn’t want that for us.  He gave His Only Son for the sake of all of that, not so we could wallow in unworthiness and all the reasons we shouldn’t be His followers and Disciples.  He gave His Only Son who left the Twelve (eleven as Judas is gone) and then many others as well to help each other in carrying the crosses and carrying on the Mission.

So what’s next?  Although we await, hopefully with Christian patience and with a sense of hope, knowing God is with us – the next reality we face when the world opens up again after this pandemic: I am moved by the number of people reaching out to me hearing authentic callings from God to serve Him and others.  Easter is a season of hope, promise, a season where we really reflect upon why we are Christian and why we want to continue to be.  My friends and fellow travelers on this journey; let’s pray for each other that this Easter will be one where many of us emerge stronger, committed and energized to be the Disciples that our Lord Jesus and the world needs.