Distance Shows Us What We Really Care About…

This reflection is written by Cole Powers, a Toronto Seminarian who recently finished his second year of Theology and is spending his summer working in the Office of Vocations.

In the days following the celebration of Easter, the next major feast we look forward to in the Church is the feast of the Ascension. I have always thought that it was a bit strange that the Church would celebrate the day that Her Lord left Her. It is easy to imagine the Apostles’ bewilderment in the days following the Lord’s Ascension. Why had he gone to the trouble of returning from the dead only to leave us alone again?

We may very well think the same thing in these days of lock-down and quarantine. How can it be that the Lord is asking us to refrain from participating in the very and only thing that gives our lives their savour – their meaning? How can it be that the Lord, who promises us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20) now asks us to be without His carnal presence?

There is a saying in Italian to the effect that “distance is like the wind, that snuffs out little fires, and inflames great ones.” That is, when you are far from the one you love, you come to realize better what and how much your beloved means to you – whether that love is superficial, or more profound. Could it be that the Lord needed to withdraw His physical presence from the disciples precisely in order that they would realize the depth of what He had accomplished in their hearts? The risk is always before us of walking with the Lord without realizing who He is, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus. They had Jesus next to them, but they were so preoccupied with the tragedy that had befallen them that their eyes did not recognize Him. In fact, it was only after He had left that they reflected: “did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” (Lk. 24:32).

If this time fills us with sadness, nostalgia, and yearning we should know that we are not alone, and, moreover, that this is a very positive sign for our discernment. We do not miss losing something which does not matter to us. If we miss Him now, it is because something truly great has happened in our lives: we have met the Lord. In this time, perhaps more than ever before in our lives, we can discover, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger writes, that “we can understand how, paradoxically, the impossibility of sacramental communion, experienced in a sense of remoteness from God, in the pain of yearning which fosters the growth of love, can lead to spiritual progress. […] from time to time we do need a medicine to stop us from falling into mere routine which lacks all spiritual dimension. Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.” (Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius, pp. 98-99).

Perhaps this time of lock-down is precisely such a time for us. Now is a time to reflect on our path with the Lord so far, and to ask God and ourselves what it is that has occurred to us, within us, in our discernment. As a seminarian, my days at the seminary are often filled with many things to do, meetings to attend, talks to listen to, papers to write, and so on. It is only in the silence of prayer and reflection, however, that I am able to discern what God is doing in my heart, and where He is leading me from day to day, week to week, year to year. If I refuse to allow myself time for such reflection, I inevitably lose the sense of my vocation – why I do the things I do. Now can be a beautiful opportunity to discover precisely this sense and this meaning for ourselves and our lives with the Lord, that is, our vocations.

 

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.

We All Help the Lord Direct Vocations

This is a speech given at this years Ordinandi Dinner hosted by the Serra Clubs.  There were just over 1,800 of us there this night:

OD 2020 [1]

Eight years ago, I stood up at this podium and delivered my Ordinandi Dinner speech.  It marked me.  “You’re the priest that used to be a bus driver”. Anyone who remembers me that way, remembers me from that dinner [not from being on my bus] – thank goodness for that!

The people of Mississauga are safe from at least one less crazy bus driver now!

My job takes me to many places throughout the archdiocese where I hear this.  People remembering me this way shows me just how important this dinner is in connecting people to our priests.

I’ve been speaking as your Vocation Director for the past 6 years.  Tonight, I want to share some insight and wisdom from these years of experience – my message is for everyone here!

My fellow Vocation Directors.

Please don’t tune out, I am addressing each and every one of you; not the priests and bishop only!  You!  I was appointed to this work by the Cardinal, but in directing vocations your work is as important, and maybe in some ways more important than my work!

My fellow vocation directors, first of all, we must seek for the Lord, quality over quantity.  It would be nice to have a couple hundred seminarians, like years ago: but that’s not our reality.  AND please don’t believe there’s a vocation crisis!  The Church is NOT desperate for more priests.  If we worry, we won’t be looking for the best men, men like these deacons we will hear from tonight.

We need to look for men with servants’ hearts, who love God & connecting with God through prayer & service, who love people, who love life, men who are positive, energetic and who want to do great things & see the good in the Church and the world and make it better.  Every one of us here know men like that.

Second, pray for this.  Cardinal Collins always reminds us to pray when he speaks on vocations: “pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He may send labourers into the harvest”.  The Scriptures are full of vocation stories, every one of them founded in prayer.  Our Lady is remembered for immediately answering the Lord’s call but could only do that in communion with God through prayer.

Pray.

And if you want to pray with others, join the Serrans who’s very important mandate to pray for vocations has brought us all together tonight.  Prayer works!

Third, don’t sit back and wait for someone else to plant the seed in someone else – you do it.  Reinforce it with reasons why you think he would make a good priest or she would make a good religious sister.  Don’t undervalue your place as a Disciple of Christ to call other Disciples.

That’s for each one of us!  I remember nearly 20 years later, all of the people who planted the seed & said “Chris, you ever thought about becoming a priest”.  Who said, “this is why I think you should be a priest.

Sure, he or she will need the support of their pastors and in time, the appointed vocation director – but you are all a very important, I might even say essential part of an increase in good & healthy vocations!  And the more of us that do that, the more chance we have of giving those whom the Lord calls the strength and courage to take that leap.

And remember, my fellow vocation directors: a healthy increase in vocations is up to us all!  Vocations come from the pews you sit in and that we clergy and religious here used to sit in.

They don’t come from someplace else.  We’re blessed to have shared the pews with many of you!  There were hundreds of faithful men and women, dedicated Catholics and even struggling ones who had a very important part to play in my formation.

If we are good priests, it’s because of the people in the pews who shared their faith with us, who prayed for us.  We cherish and value Priesthood, yes because it’s a gift from God but because it’s important to you – the people that we serve.  And finally, my fellow vocation directors: we’ve got work to do!

There are nearly 1,900 of us here tonight, many of you have been to more than the 15 or 16 Ordinandi Dinners that I’ve been to. Friends, I ask you this: this is my challenge for each one of you:

  • Think of those you know who’d make good priests and good religious sisters – spend some time thinking about it, then invite them to think
  • Tell them why they would be good priests or religious
  • Tell your priests and parish staff, so they too are aware of who and what you see

If we all invite even 3 or 4 people through a lifetime – just imagine where the Church we all love and give our life to – will be.

God Declares Us His Beloved in Christ – Let Us Please Him by Responding to Our Baptismal Call!

Jesus Being Baptized

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  These are the words that we hear close out today’s Gospel.  This was the proclamation and affirmation given to John the Baptist, letting him know that this was in fact, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Messiah for whom he was a messenger, for whom John’s entire existence was to proclaim.

Why did the Father declare His pleasure with the Son?

Well, one of the reasons I think He did was: He knew the Son’s purpose, and the role He would play in saving His people.  This would also affirm for John that the One he was preparing people for had come.  By our baptism we take on the Life of Christ and His mission, no less than Christ did by coming into the world and stepping into the Baptismal waters (this is by Jesus’ design and desire and if we believe that, this doesn’t diminish the Son of God, but increases the holy life we aspire to).

While John was baptizing, as we know it was a baptism of repentance, a washing away of sins in a symbolic and ordinary sense, an importance sense but it’s not a baptism like the one we share in Christ.  So what does that mean?

If we live the Life of Christ, we share in all aspects of His life, and in the extraordinary and supernatural sense.

And while we are given this life and we can’t earn or deserve it – God’s sincerest hope is that we will accept that life and live for Christ.  As we celebrate today the Baptism of the Lord, this is a good time for each of us to pause and consider the gift we’ve been given and for those possibly listening who haven’t been baptized, to consider asking for the gift, a gift for each and every one of us.  It’s good for us to reflect upon the gift and what we have done with that gift.

As a Vocation Director, I spend a lot of my time working with those among us who are in the process of responding to that gift through their vocation; discerning a religious vocation.  But whether our vocation is the religious life, priesthood, marriage or to remain singularly dedicated to Christ – our baptism gives us a purpose; a purpose many of us are on a journey to discover.

Since we Catholics are normally baptized as infants, we don’t remember the day we were baptized.  I was baptized as an adult, so I feel blessed in one way to remember that day and I celebrate it each year and as a priest who baptized many, I read over the words of the Baptismal Rite and ponder again and again that moment.

I recommend this for all of us [it’s easy to get the Rite online].  When I celebrate Baptism, I almost always use these words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Speaking to families, I remind all those who bring children to the font that God declares these words to His sons and daughters for the same reason He declared them to His Only Begotten Son – love and hope.  He offers them to us as He loves us with the unbridled and passionate love that saw Him give up His Son to save us and He offers them with hope: that He who delivers and makes good on every promise ever made, desires that we seek to respond in kind.  May God bless you.

Sacrifice, Surrender & Suffering: Here Comes the Lamb of God!

Good Shepherd

Jesus is referred to in the Gospels as the Son of Man, at other times as the Son of God and in today’s Gospel (the Gospel of John) as the Lamb of God as St. John the Baptist declares Him, “here comes the Lamb of God”.  There is a great deal of importance to be drawn and reflected upon in the manner in which Jesus is referred to when each of these deliberate expressions is used.  Jesus is referred to many times as the “Son of Man” and this term is used many more times in the Old Testament; an important reference to Jesus’ fully human nature [we celebrate that our Lord came to us as one of us].

Jesus is also referred to as the Son of God which affirms His fully divine nature; that He is in fact God and we celebrate God with us, God among us.

Today we hear John the Baptist refer to Jesus in a humble way, as the “Lamb of God” bringing together many Judeo-Christian concepts, humanity, divinity and most importantly acknowledging ahead of the time soon to come of His Ultimate Sacrifice, as the Lamb sacrificed for all of humanity to bring us back to God.

Before we let go of today’s Gospel as simply a theological lesson, it’s important that we reflect on the significance of the manner in which we refer to Jesus as we live our lives as followers, Disciples of Christ.  When we acknowledge Jesus as the “Son of Man”, we are reminded that our God is not a distant God speaking to us without truly knowing the human experience.  He is a human being living a fully human life and so as His followers we are living His life in addition to our own.  This means more than we are trying to be like Jesus; it also means our life is meaningful and purpose-driven (whether we’ve found that or realized that), just as His was!

When we acknowledge Jesus as “Son of God”, we are reminded that our God did indeed come into our midst and so all that we are and all that we are trying to be as Christians is beyond natural (it’s supernatural) and beyond ordinary (extraordinary) and so what it means to live a grace-filled life is to spend our lives seeking to live a Divine Life.  We may not be God, but our life will be an extension of God when we seek to be holy.

When we acknowledge Jesus as the “Lamb of God”, we are reminded that our God is a God of Sacrifice and surrender.  Jesus gave His entire life for us and made a sacrifice beyond comprehension.  As His followers, sacrifice, surrender and sometimes suffering are important parts of who we are as Christians.  Too often Christians are “written off” as fools for believing that sacrifice and suffering are good and important parts of life.  We don’t just go looking for death and martyrdom – to do that WOULD be foolish.  When it becomes part of our story and brings others closer to Jesus and brings strength to others it is of the greatest value to us and we consider it an act of love for others.  We have so many examples of that in the world already, it shouldn’t be too hard to see sacrifice, surrender and suffering as a total gift of ourselves for God and for others – an essential part of our vocation!

Friendship in the Lord

Basil & Gregory

Friends are essential to the life of every Christian.  Friends are an important part of who we are and who we are becoming.  We grow as people with good and healthy friendships; being around people who love us, support us, encourage us and who can also help us to see where we struggle.  People who are honest with us and provide us with honest feedback based on a context of knowing who we are. 

There have been a few men I have met in these past six years, convinced that one of the reasons God might be calling them to the priesthood was because they had no real desire for friendship.  As a Vocation Director, it’s important for me not to dismiss men who share this, but to help understand what makes them see a desire to be alone and without others “as a gift”.  Of course there could be many reasons; they were hurt by people in their lives who should have loved them, family or friends.  Usually it isn’t too hard to understand once we listen to the story of someone’s life.

It is erroneous and flawed thinking of course.  To not want to be with people and to desire good and meaningful friendships and relationships with others, is not only not a gift, but it is a necessity for the priest.  Men who are to be priests must desire good, meaningful and healthy friendships with both men and women to be balanced men and in the future balanced priests.  I would, however, emphasize that friendships need to be good, meaningful, healthy and balanced.  Often what leads a person to not want friendship is a deficiency in what they have had as friends.

We celebrate today as Catholics, the lives of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen who both became bishops and are remembered as “Doctors of the Church”, in other words offered us many things very significant in the living out of our Catholic Christian faith.  These were two very intellectual men who encouraged and supported one another in deep and meaningful friendship.  They were competitive in their intellectual pursuits, but supporting, encouraging and learning from one another still.  They sought the path of holiness together and embodied the true meaning of Christian love for the people in their lives but for each other as brothers in the Lord.  These two men brought many people with themselves to Heaven.  Their friendship undoubtedly made both of them wake every day wanting to be better Christian men and they both helped one another become that.

This is what we should all want; I know I do.  I feel blessed by the friends that God has graced my life with.  The older I get, having lived long enough to have known good friendship and not-so-good friendship; I am thankful for the people in my life who help me become a better version of myself day by day.  I am thankful for the time I can spend with these people and today as I think of these two great saints, I continue to hope and pray for my dear friends as I know that they pray for me too.