Our “Sign” [Christ] Is Upon Us: Turn Towards Him and Live for His Good News

Woe to You

Today’s reflection is based on my homily given for the National Catholic Broadcasting Daily TV Mass.

It might be a natural inclination for us to want to look or want for a sign that will point us in the direction of something that we already ought to know. We really don’t like surprises, and most of us wrestle with patience with any sort of long term project requiring steady work.

But we can be assured that there’s virtue in the progress of everything we do along the way in our Christian lives. This may be why Jesus comes across so hard hitting in today’s Gospel; He knows we are on our way but have detours that aren’t going to be helpful to us along that way.  Put in our ordinary everyday terms, He might have said “C’mon people, how many times do I have to remind you of this?!?” Put in another way, His message might be like the strong message of a winning coach calling his players to a stronger, more united, more devoted commitment to the end game, a victory – a win!

Our Lord references the Old Testament prophesy of Jonah; part of which is our first reading today. Jonah brings an alarming and awakening message, perhaps to some, a very frightening message that they need to hear: wake up!The complete fulfillment of God’s plan is taking place now! Get your act together! Friends, this is a message and a wake-up call for us all; I know it is for me, but it is for so many of us who are in the process of living our Christian lives; we know that there are areas in our lives we still need to work on.

As Lent is upon us now, it’s important for us to really think about this, really reflect upon it in our daily lives. If we stop and consider the dramatic message Jonah brought to the people of Nineveh, it startled those who aspire for holiness but who were maybe forgetful, who had become complacent in some things or indifferent in some things.

I believe that to be us: myself to be certain and maybe you too!

One can only hope that a any sermon or homily is going to be for the person who came with no intention to live close to God and then leaves converted & changed, prepared to live a radically different life; but the reality is that while we welcome and embrace anyone like this, it is more likely that if you’re listening to me, if you’ve turned on the television or if you’ve come down here to the Abbey, you’re already trying to live your life close to Jesus.  I know I am, but I also know that I fail at that sometimes.  If you’re anything like me, you need today’s wake-up to get things going again.  We all need to be reminded today that the Lord’s hope and desire for us to re-commit ourselves to a holy way of life is now!  It’s today, not tomorrow but today.

If we truly embrace that, it should be fire not fear in our hearts.  It should be the fire of the love of God that compels us to love and embrace Him and a holy way of life, to love unconditionally those around us; family, friends, those who mistreat us and disrespect us most especially too. It ought to be the fire of the love of Christ that should want us to joyfully proclaim in word and deed that we are Christian – without fear.

Fear is not now, and never has been from the Lord. If the reading from the Book of Jonah and if Jesus’ word bring about fear in us, it’s important that we address that. It may be fear of something in our daily lives that we have to pray for freedom from and ask God how we might be released from that fear. I know I’ve talked with many who are fearful of the end and the final judgment on account of their sins.  Well, we ought not to be – those who are usually afraid are not the ones who should be. We need to make the regular practice of a good confession, and then entrust our struggle to God Himself.  The last thing God would want for any of us would be that we spend so much time wrestling with our own sins and weaknesses that we live in them instead of living for Him and doing the good work He has called us to. We need to be cognizant and accept our responsibility for our sins, always trying to do better – but to be afraid of God’s wrath for sin is not helping us to have a healthy spiritual life and prayer life.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, may we see today’s Mass as that sign, the same sign given by Jesus once for all and for which we put our faith, have a greater sense of hope in and grow to embrace in a spirit of love which Jesus intended for it to be.  May God bless you.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

I attribute much of the growth I experienced in the spiritual life to having a really good spiritual director in the seminary.  When I think and reflect back to those times, I remember needing a lot of help in getting my act together in the beginning and then along the way developing those good practices and good habits with the insertion of insight along the way.  My director explained towards the end of my seminary formation that in the beginning he needed to teach and help me to develop for myself a spiritual routine that allowed me to continue to grow in freedom, joy and a desire for a deeper relationship day by day with the Lord.  The prayer life and spiritual life I developed and grew in while in the seminary is the one which serves me well as a priest today.  Of course I can always do better, and I impress upon our seminarians that they must cultivate this deep desire to be with God and to pray well as seminarians because when they become priests it can be hard at times to maintain it, especially when you become busy – and prayer is most important for everyone but it is absolutely essential for the priest.

The Disciples went to the Lord, the Source of all prayer and asked for His help in praying and we have the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, the perfect prayer.  They will (as we all should) continue to ask God to help them to pray better, more sincerely, more perfectly throughout their lives BUT it is important that they cultivate much of what and how they pray on their own.  This extends to each one of us as Disciples too.  It is important that we are growing in our own insights into prayer and our relationship with God as we develop in our spiritual lives, and while it is important that we have a good spiritual director, someone who can accompany us on the journey – it is also important that our director does less “instructing” and more listening to us as directees.

We priests are asked often to be spiritual directors for people, especially those who are discerning.  I am on the lookout for spiritual directors all the time and there are many of my brother priests who feel ill-equipped to be that for people.  I talk about this often, and encourage them because they are capable of accompaniment.  Often we feel inadequate in the advice we might give someone in the spiritual life, and this is why we question whether we should be a spiritual director.  Especially with men who are discerning, what a joyful, faithful, loving, hard-working priest can offer is the insight that brought him to where he is today; more than profound wisdom or insight or the ability to draw from everything he knows about Catholic Christian spirituality.  Hopefully as a person and as a priest he grows in this too throughout his life – but we all need to get better at listening (I certainly know I do) because it’s in listening to another heart who desires to be close to the Lord that we come to see the Lord’s work in others.

Although I share here an insight on spiritual direction, I speak of spiritual accompaniment in a broader way.  Each one of us as Christian Disciples on the journey have people come into our lives as we come into the lives of others who sincerely want to grow and learn from one another – it’s part of the journey!  As much as it’s important always to appeal to the Lord to “teach us to pray”, we must look to the good example of others too, and learn and grow from each other – the Lord teaches but we teach each other and this is God’s desire: that we be instruments of God’s grace to one another.

1st Monday of Lent: What We Do for Others as Important as What We “Give Up” for the Lord

Most of us have been in the practice of “giving something up” for Lent; of making a sacrifice of sorts – but to what end?  Of course this is an important practice and as we seek to grow in our lives of faith, we may even realize that we ought to go beyond this simple gesture of faith if we are to grow as Christian Disciples.  Today’s Gospel offers us all a very important point of reflection.  What are we doing for others?  We know the Lord desires our loving and unselfish gift of ourselves for Him and for others – so it’s important for us, especially in the season of Lent to ask ourselves this important question.  All of us!  Even if we have found the ways to serve, do we serve simply for the sake of others or do we serve and hope for some credit and to be thought of a certain way because of it?  Do we seek to do more, or continue to do what we’ve been doing for a while.  Are we making every effort to examine our lives and to ask ourselves before the Lord in prayer, are there places we could be doing more?

This is a question we all should ask ourselves and if Lent is for us a place of greater encounter with the Lord, we ought to ask Him to help us see these places.  Often times, when we feel the passion that a deeper encounter with the Lord brings to our lives we feel like doing something dramatic in answer to this – and maybe this is the right thing to do, but not if there are areas where serving needs around us are being neglected.  The corporal works of mercy, which Jesus calls us to and in today’s Gospel especially are meant to be given by each of us in loving generosity, but with the people the Lord has given and entrusted us with first; family, friends, people we minister to,  in our parish family, in the community we live in, in whatever measure we can give.

May our Lenten experience help each one of us deepen our commitment to serving others; I can assure you that if you have not yet discovered what the Lord is calling you to (your vocation), He will reveal it to you in midst of service – every vocation is about service and without discerning ways we might serve in greater ways, we will be hard-pressed to discover what it is the Lord calls us to.

1st Sunday of Lent: Are We Ready to Embrace a Deeper Life in Christ?

Jesus TemptedPassion of the Christ

We celebrate today the first Sunday in the season of Lent.  We began the season with the marking of ashes; reminding us of both our mortality and our need to renew our lives and so if we truly entered into this season with those two things in mind, we should be ready for humble introspection and reflection.  That too, is an important part of this season for all of us.  It is part of the circle of life.

The circle of life happens whether we want it to or not; we are born, we grow quickly absorbing, learning, growing, developing until we reach full growth and then while the growth and development may slow down, it is either made sweet and healthy by humble reflection and introspection or it’s made bitter/maybe bittersweet by scepticism, cynicism and pessimism.  We are either filled with hope or mired in hopelessness.

Friends, Lent is about wanting the best for ourselves and for each other.  If we’re mindful that death will come to us all, we aren’t meant to be dire, downcast or gloomy about this, but to realize we’re on a timeline and while we ought to appreciate, enjoy and savour our lives – we are called to live the lives we’ve been given with meaning and purpose.  If we acknowledge we are called to “turn away from sin [selfishness and living for ourselves in the moment] and turn towards the [hope-filled] Gospel; our lives get better and our lives stay better!

That is the foundation, the fertile ground I hope we are all allowing ourselves to be rooted in as we begin Lent.  In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus in His desert experience, taking on temptation and suffering, being pulled away from God and remaining committed and resolved to stay close to the Father.  We hear of His temptation in the desert followed by His Proclamation that begins a Lenten experience for Him and His followers.  Believing in the Gospel comes with a price.  Turning away from sin doesn’t make life easy in any way.  Meeting temptation with resolve is not an easy thing to do.  All three of these statements are absolutely true and they ought to be essential and real statements for the Christian; for the Disciples of our Lord.  They are true, they are not easy to swallow – but they are only part of the story.  The greatest part of the Christian “story” or life is in what is received.  That – is more profoundly great than absolutely anything given by us for it.  We have to remember that.

As we prepare this Lent for more humble introspection and reflection, let us stop and consider our own lives lived up to this very moment in time and let us ask ourselves what more are we prepared to do, to receive the love of God and a deeper faith into our hearts, minds and souls.

Are We Ready to Surrender it All?

Matthew's Call

I must admit that I wish (and I’m sure every other Vocation Director is with me on this) that vocation work in the Archdiocese of Toronto was as easy as it seems it was for Jesus with Levi (it seems).  Of course, the Gospels give us the account and we have to remember there were many other things happening that we can’t know for certain that Levi followed Jesus immediately but it was a pretty fast moving conversion and discernment.  There are many obvious reasons why my work can be more challenging; one of them being – I am not Jesus!  I am not the Son of God!  And so I’m working within my own limitations and trying my best to convey His Way, His truth and His life.  As a “work in progress” and an imperfect instrument myself, I need the words of our Lord and have my own limits in conveying them to others.  Hopefully not too many and fewer as I (hope to) grow in holiness myself.  “Teach me your ways, as I walk in your truth!”  It is absolutely true that it is in fact, Jesus that everyone who is called, follows: but they do so through and with those who inspire them and are instruments of Jesus in their day to day life.  So I’m not Jesus, but neither are the other people in the discerners’ life either.

We are called to give it all to the Lord as Levi does.  Once the Truth penetrates our hardened hearts, we are meant to surrender and so today we reflect upon that, each of us for ourselves.  Where have we not allowed the Holy Spirit and the Love of God to penetrate our hearts and souls?  Where have we not surrendered ourselves to the Way we are called to live as Disciples?  Today’s Gospel gives us cause to pause and reflect upon that.  And I shall reflect upon it too.  There are areas of my life that require greater surrender.  And if I’m not prepared to surrender everything, I ought not to be asking those whom, I meet that are discerning to do the same!

During this season of Lent, as we continue to “turn towards the Gospel”, may each one of us in our own daily lives and in our vocation look to surrender it all in a greater way.

Life is About Balance: Feasting & Fasting

Life is about balance.  This is not only what I remind myself as often as I possibly can, but it is what I offer seminarians and those discerning: that everything we do, we must seek to do in balance.  Especially for those who minister to others and find themselves sharing or even imparting (but it should be more about sharing) personal wisdom and experience of one’s Christian life – we need to be striving for balance.  That means balance in all things.  If a seminarian is praying all the time; not exercising, not socializing with other seminarians or friends inside and outside of the seminary, not resting enough or not working hard enough on his studies – that’s not finding balance.  If he’s doing any one or more than one of these things and neglecting anything else in his life – again, a lacking in balance and he’s not going to find in his life and through his vocation, what he searches for, what God desires for him.  And he has to work harder.  Having an appropriate perspective though, would mean that he has enough of a sense that his faculty members, his brothers and sisters in Christ…and most especially his Vocation Director are on the same journey and quest, and not necessarily ahead of him in any way!

Balance eludes many of us, but the reality we must open our eyes to is that what makes Christians different is that we don’t give up and we don’t accept that “what we have failed to do” is in any way a defeat and that we do not displease God.  I am no more an expert on God than anyone else, BUT what I feel I can say knowing the Lord is that what would disappoint God is if and when any of us give up trying to please Him, trying to find that balance in all things that are the ingredients of a well-lived life for the Lord and for others.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of how and when to fast and how and when to celebrate.  He imparts His Divine Wisdom to us of living a balanced life.  We are not a Holy Church of Penance exclusively or of Celebration exclusively.  We are both and.  We are both a People of the Cross and Resurrection.  Sometimes we can lean more on living our lives as a penance, suffering a punishment perhaps than the true gift that our life is, no matter our circumstances.  Sometimes we can lean too much on living our lives in the moment, for only the good things, the pleasure and be rather oblivious to the fact that we are a “work in progress” in need of God’s mercy, love, forgiveness and embrace.  In need of it, and needing to extend it to others.

On this holy Lenten day, let us embrace both our moments of fasting, and our moments of rejoicing celebrating the Lord who loves us, and may we never give up striving for the balance God desires for us day by day.

Thursday After Ash Wednesday: Ready for Christ?

I’m living in a world where the essence of Jesus’ message and today’s Gospel are the essence of consideration: “…pick up your own cross, deny yourself and follow the Lord”.  This is the essence of a vocation, any and all vocations and this is what we want from someone discerning – to “own” these words for themselves.  Whether we are living out our Christian Discipleship or coming to discover what our vocation is (how we will uniquely and completely live out that Discipleship) we need to prepare ourselves for these three things.

Picking Up Our Cross(es).  Our lives will be filled with joy and blessing, we will feel “in sync” with the world around us when we have a good sense of what our meaning and purpose in this world is as Christians.  But we must remember that while the greatest part is joy and fulfilment, the crosses we carry are every bit as important a part as the more positive stuff.  We are actually formed more by our crosses and hardships than we are by the successes we experience in life.  People that find success in everything they do and accustom themselves to only that, or don’t suffer along the way tend to have a hard time dealing with the hardships when they come (and they will come).  Fear may keep us at first from embracing the crosses but we must remind ourselves that fear is a barrier to a truly Christian life.  Pushing through our fears will lead us to the treasure of true and real faith and the treasure of holiness.

Denying Ourselves.  Often we think our vocation or the Discipleship we are called to live is for ourselves – what is God’s plan for me!  A vocation, Christian Discipleship is for others and the only way we can truly and fully give ourselves totally and completely for others is to deny ourselves in the process.  We are not being called to give everything away and have nothing for ourselves; even Jesus took care of Himself as He ministered to others, but if we’re not prepared to deny ourselves we will deny others instead.  We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to give, to be available – for others.  And in doing so, we encourage others to do the same.

Following Christ.  Last but most certainly not least is to follow Christ.  The first two actions precede following Christ.  In order to follow Christ we need to be like Him.  He picked up His cross, not only just before Golgotha, but at Cana – when He began His ministry.  He was prepared by God for that and then picked up the Cross.  We know He denied Himself throughout the Gospel as He experienced the attacks from all sides and He followed God’s plan as we do.

In these holy days of Lent, as we consider our Lord’s plan for us, may we make this here our motto: Picking up Our Cross, Denying Ourselves & Following Him!

Ash Wednesday: Turning Away from Ourselves & Turning Towards God

When I was in the seminary, I read a book entitled Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussaude.  It was a good book which helped me and has helped many of us to experience God in every day actions and experiences of our lives.  We go through ups and downs, consolations and desolations, hardships and challenges and triumphs all the time; but we are called to slow down to nearly a stop from time to time to reflect upon our lives; where we are going and how we are getting there – but to reflect on the journey and appreciate the journey itself.

Ash Wednesday begins again another time for us of spiritual renewal.  We hear these or similar words as we are marked with the ashes “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel!”

It is not that we are not always trying to turn away from sin in our lives or we don’t otherwise believe in the Gospel – we are reminded that we need to consider how we do.  It should also occur to us that if we are turning away from one thing, we are by rights turning towards something else.  That something else is God.  We need to see God in our every moment and action of our lives and become more intentional Christians – more intentional Disciples.  We look forward to the Lenten season to help us do that.

Today we begin and we pick up a Lenten practice; a sacrifice or adding a practice that will call to mind each and every day that we must be intentional in our faith.  Hopefully we form new and good habits, and we turn ourselves away from our bad habits.  It is said that it takes 21 days to break a habit, so we must look at Lent and the 40 days we have as forming and reinforcing good habits.  And may the Lord who has begun the good work in us, bring it to fulfilment.

Turn away from sin, but turn towards God.  None of us will regret that we have.

We Are Called from the Ordinary – To Be Extraordinary

This is my homily given at Sacred Heart of Jesus Korean Parish in Etobicoke today on the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Today’s Gospel is a portion of St. Mark’s Gospel from Chapter 1, which among other lessons is the expression of an “ordinary day” in the life of Jesus Our Lord.  He came, He was Baptized, He was tempted, He began His mission, He preached the Gospel, He encountered the man with the unclean spirit, He healed, He went out further to continue to spread the Good News and performs yet another miracle.

Now please don’t put too much focus at this point, on my synopsis of St. Mark, chapter 1: I am merely pointing out the pattern that we might consider the ordinary pattern on the Mission and Ministry of Jesus.  Now, here we are in the 4th Week in Ordinary Time, and I am sure that we have all heard somewhere before: if not in catechism class, then perhaps in a homily that our use of the term “Ordinary” to describe a liturgical season should not lead us to somehow think this is less than the other high liturgical seasons.  That’s true.  But further than that, I might propose something for us all to consider here today: food for thought for the week if you will – there is nothing ordinary about the life or mission of a Christian.  Nothing is ordinary and if we are more than just our bodies and minds here today for Holy Mass; we must allow this truth to penetrate our hearts and souls and we must really carry this with us from here and into the world we live in – today and every day.

We are Catholic Christians.  By the power of God the Holy Spirit, every one of us here was created to be extraordinary by our Baptism (p).  Why is it, that it seems that nothing “extraordinary” is asked of us, and yet we have the example of so many of our Holy Saints who lived heroic and extra-ordinary lives?  Why do we celebrate the lives of other holy people often from the past, but have a hard time seeing that we were created in the same way, gifted in the same way, empowered by the same Holy Spirit in the same way, and called to live the very same lives that they lived?

As Korean Catholics, you have a beautiful tradition of saints who’ve lived and died extraordinary lives committed and witnessing to the same faith we share with them, examples and models for us all.  We too are baptized into living extraordinary lives, my friends.  I know we are!  And I am not standing here preaching to you as a man who altogether gets that and lives it each and every day either!

I am not preaching only to the congregation, I am preaching to myself.  There are many different ways I convicted myself as I prepared my homily and reflected on the many ways and many days I seem to be satisfied and content with the living an Ordinary Life, with little desire to live fully my own baptismal call.  What keeps me, what keeps us on track is a Sacramental Life.

Truthfully, no encounter with our Lord Christ is going to be an Ordinary encounter.

I try to reflect on this before and after confecting the Eucharist.  I know it and feel it each time I go to Holy Confession.  In my current role and ministry, as Director of Vocations for this archdiocese, I am working with men who are considering the Holy Priesthood and women and men who are considering religious and consecrated life.  I suggest to you that in today’s world that we live in, this is an extra-ordinary way for people to choose to live.  I suggest to you, and offer as insight: that extra-ordinary things are happening in the lives of most of these people that lead them to begin to see the Lord our God calling them to live extraordinary lives for Christ in the “ordinary” lives they feel they have been given by God.  When I encounter young people who are discerning their vocation, they are so “on fire” with the Holy Spirit and ready to love and serve the Lord and others that it is has an effect upon me, and often affects me to re-commit myself to Jesus Christ where I confess I am lacking.  I mention this for two reasons, two important reasons I want each of us to take away today.

One, we are all called to be extraordinary.  Deep down, we must acknowledge that.  Each and every one of us are extraordinary people called to live extraordinary lives for the Lord and for others.  We may feel we don’t have that capacity – if we feel that, this is something we’re wrong about and we need to ask our Lord to help us see with greater clarity our Baptismal call.  This world and all of us in it, is not served by any one of us here playing small in the world, being less than all we can be for God and for others.  Our community, our families, our friends, our co-workers or fellow students do not benefit by our playing small or the fear we might have of being judged negatively or criticized for being Catholic Christians.  Fear is never of the Lord, and so we must allow the Lord to rid us of the ‘unclear spirit’ of fear that holds us back from the living out fully of our faith.

Two, we must help one other to see our ability to share our gifts in extraordinary ways.  As I journey very closely with the men who enter St. Augustine’s Seminary and discern a possible call to Diocesan Priesthood, men from this parish community– I get to know their lives very intimately.  One of the things which I come to discover very quickly and which I am granted insight into, is how important the people in their lives are to their good (and poor) vocational discernment.  I have come to see how extra-ordinary the bonds of relationship between people really are.  We may rarely if ever think about this.  I have worked with men who have the heart, mind and soul to live their lives as priests, yet are being strongly drawn away from their vocation because they perceive the people in their lives want them to do something else.  Not only can this be a sad reality a vocation director and a person discerning must face – it is something which reinforces for me the importance of developing good relationships with others.  Each one of us needs to stop and think about each and every relationship we have and will have and ask ourselves: are we helping one another to see the gifts God has given each of us, and helping one another be the very best person we can be?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, none of us here are meant to be living ordinary lives, our lives are absolutely and without a doubt meant to be extraordinary.  You are an extraordinary person, and I hope and pray you will take that with you here today.  Look around you, because each of you are extraordinary too and should be valued as such.  This world we live in needs you to engage yourself fully and completely in this way, and help each other to see extraordinary gifts in each other.  Help one another to become extraordinary, to become saints.  The true definition of holiness is to seek to get ourselves to heaven and to bring as many people with us as we can.  My friends, that is the vocation, the mission each and every one of us share and must take seriously today and every day.  May God bless you.

Conversion – One Day at a Time

As a Catholic convert and the privilege of my ministry listening to the Lord’s powerful calling of people to serve His Church as priests, religious and dedicated Disciples; todays feast of the Conversion of St. Paul is another occasion for deep and profound reflection.

We like to hear the powerful and dramatic conversion stories, like that of St. Paul, St. Augustine or Thomas Merton among so many others. In fact, the accounting of my own vocation story has dramatic moments or elements to it; but I have come to appreciate that rarely is a conversion as dramatic as we make it out to be.

It would be a mistake, my friends to fixate on the moment of Saul’s conversion as the most important part of the story. It isn’t. There are many who have stories similar to his whom we don’t remember and aren’t talking about. Why? The “drama” didn’t bring that person to the life long conversion which we celebrate in the person of St. Paul as he left his life as Saul of Tarsaus behind.

I have a good friend of mine, a priest of more than 40 years who came to talk to our Associates a couple of years ago who offered an important piece of wisdom from his lifelong commitment to his priesthood and priestly life. He told these young men about the ups and downs of his life in an honest way, of joys and struggles. He spoke of the day of his ordination and the importance of the ‘yes’ he made before the bishop on that day but stressed the importance of the ‘yes’ every single day of his life. He made a profound point for myself, the other young priests there and many of the young men discerning. I can attest to the joy and appreciation many have for this priest’s vocation and his life. But the moment it began isn’t as important as the daily commitment. It’s the same as for St. Paul. His daily commitment is why we celebrate his conversion. Remembrance of an event, but the less obvious event of his life.

Will others celebrate the “event of our lives”. We all have a conversion, reversion or deeper conversion moment; we may even be having one right now. The focus should not be what other people do in the celebration of our life, but as people of faith the recognition that Our Lord celebrates with us. The Communion of Saints celebrate with us. Will they be celebrating the moment – this moment – when we lived every day for the Lord and for others?