Lord, Show Us the Way…

I offer a reflection on a beautiful experience I had today, a blessing of my ministry as Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Toronto.  We held our first “Road to Emmaus Hiking Retreat” today.  It was a beautiful day where 23 men hiked the Bruce Trail, through the Cataract in Caledon; college and university men, men living out their vocation already, seminarians and men discerning.

Hiking Retreat 1

The Lord was with us as we began our Hiking Retreat early this Saturday morning.  Not only was the Lord with us as we prayed and asked for the Holy Spirit to be present throughout the day, but had blessed us with a gorgeous day for walking the Bruce Trail, by the Credit River, to the Cataract Falls amid the beauty of the autumn colours with the sun gleaming through the trees.  Just over twenty of us; men in college and university, men discerning God’s plan for them in their lives, seminarians, Fr. Ryan Alemão, Joe Di Fonzo and myself prepared ourselves ahead of time for this walk.

Joe Di Fonzo is the Program Coordinator at the Office of Vocations.  He has been instrumental for the past nearly ten years in the office in planning of retreats for young men.  He facilitated our high school retreats that helped young men in high school see God’s love for them and call them to service in Christ.  He is eminently qualified for this task, as a retired Catholic High School teacher of more than thirty years.

This is a new project.  A couple of years ago, Joe and I began discussing the decline we were seeing in those who were coming to the high school retreat and while we have run and will continue to host Discernment Retreats, we have been looking for new ideas to reach young men – an important part of the work we do at the Office of Vocations.  Happily, the decline in part is due to many good retreats and engagements for young people elsewhere; youth and young adult ministries and great ways Catholic Christians are being nourished.  The Office of Vocations never wants to compete with this – it’s not our mission.  The mission of our office isn’t simply to draw in more priests for the Church (that is my own priority) but to provide opportunities and encounters to help people desire holiness.  When we are on the road to living the universal call to holiness, it’s then that we will hear the Lord call us to our particular and unique vocation, whatever that may be.

Joe and I have both come to see the value in doing “guy things” with guys and Joe has run with this from there.

It was a great day of walking through the woods, encountering God in His created world, hearing inspiring reflections from Jeremy Zou, Sean Jacob and Cole Powers, three of our seminarians and having Marko Busic and Matthew Tulio share their own stories and experiences as seminarians, but more importantly as Christian men as they helped lead the retreat and journey the men who joined us.  Fr. Ryan and I concluded the day of reflection and retreat with Holy Mass.

My hope is that everyone received what the Lord intended for them.  He certainly filled my heart with joy and re-energized me in my own life.  He gave me a sense of continuing on my own journey and to appreciate everything I am encountering along the way and to continue to be sensitive to the beauty around me and not just looking for what’s to come at the end of it all (although that’s an even greater glory).  Today I appreciated the time I had to be with others, to be with the Lord in all of His magnificent beauty.  The Lord revealed to me that I need to continue to be inspired, as I was, and am by the people I am blessed to work with – the seminarians, the priests, my staff, and the people who I meet each and every day.  I journeyed and continue to journey with each of the five seminarians who helped to lead this retreat and I received so much more from them then I can imagine they could receive from me.  I’m sure that I’ve been a help to them but they truly inspire me!

I hope and pray we all receive what the Lord wants for us to receive.  We were in the midst of so many people out enjoying the day.  As a priest and a Catholic Christian man, I was immensely proud of the group of men who witnessed to Jesus Christ amid the people and places we all share.  Each and every man who came and joined us today was an inspiration in a world that needs to be inspired!

2nd Sunday of Advent: Does our Vocation Include Being “John the Baptist”?

Jesus Being Baptized

These words of the Prophet Isaiah were fulfilled by St. John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.   Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”   We hear these words in our Gospel today.  If we carefully and slowly meditate upon these words, we too by our own vocation are called to be John the Baptists in the world today.  We too were set apart at birth (connecting us again to Mary yesterday) and we too were given our mission.  What’s different is that unlike Mary and St. John, who lived most of their lives completely in God’s mystery and thus had to have complete faith and trust that God’s plan was coming about (so had to rely on the virtue of hope as well) we are given much of the Mystery already!  We follow the Mystery – the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Our Immaculate Re-Conception and our Mission is given to us on the day of our Holy Baptism – when Original Sin is taken away from us and we are made New in Christ.  From that day, we seek to be like Jesus and we are people who throughout our lives must seek to pave a way for others to follow the Lord.  

We seek to get ourselves to Heaven and bring as many people with us as we can.

We work in whatever ways we can to remove obstacles and barriers for people so they find their way to Jesus.  When I think about how I “found Jesus” late in life (in my late 20’s, and Jesus found me, I didn’t really find Him) it was the holy example of others, not the pulpit they preached from or the position of moral superiority I recognized.  I have come to hear beautiful things from pulpits (and hopefully share a few inspiring thoughts myself) and have come to see the importance of a good clear sense of morals, but these did not come first for me, they are not the “roads” or “paths” I must take as a Priest of Jesus Christ, nor are they of value first for anyone.  People must “know we are Christians by our love, our faith and trust, our peaceful sense of hope amid the challenges of the world, our true and authentic joy even in turbulence, strife, struggle and uncertainty.

Are we preparing a way for the Lord, into the hearts of others?  Perhaps on this Second Sunday of Advent, we might consider how we can continue doing this or begin to do this this very day!

We Must Become Fire!

Cardinal Collins 2

Each year I attend the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Director’s Conference in the United States.  In addition to spiritual retreats, this is where I find renewal and strength in my own ministry of helping people, especially men feeling the Lord calling them to the Holy Priesthood.  This year, we have been inspired by our own archbishop as Cardinal Collins gave the keynote address.  It was an important year as we all face the many terrible crimes committed by people entrusted with important roles of discipleship in the Church.  He reminded us as Vocation Directors to look for the things Jesus desires in us all, identifying them in those who come forth.  He reminded us as Vocation Directors, as priests, as Christian men and disciples to live for and abide in holy desires ourselves.  I’m sharing today the Cardinal’s talk which we will also share with those who collaborate in vocation work in the archdiocese as well; these are the Cardinal’s words:

On Becoming Fire

Breathe on me, breath of God,

My soul with grace refine,

Until this earthly part of me

Glows with your fire divine.

       I have long been intrigued by a story from the days of the Fathers of the desert. A young monk –- one might almost say, a seminarian – who is discouraged, approaches one of the venerable elders, and laments that despite all his efforts at holiness – fasting, hours of prayer, following the rules of the community, and so on – he has made no progress, but is overcome with a sense of desolation and fruitlessness.  Not only is he not advancing in holiness, but he is slipping further into sin. The old monk looked at him, stretched out his hands, and flames shot out of his fingers. He said: “You must become fire.”

I believe that this story is instructive for all of us as we seek to be better disciples of Jesus, daily growing in holiness, and particularly for those who are called by Jesus to fulfill the mission of his apostles, and to help invite others whom he is calling to discern their vocation, and to enter formation for the holy priesthood. We must become fire.

If we who are bishops and priests do not become fire, and if those preparing for the priesthood do not, but instead become trapped in the dark and cold embrace of the world, the flesh, and the devil, then we are bound for destruction, for the lake of fire that is described in the Apocalypse (Apocalypse 20: 13-15), and we fail those entrusted to our pastoral care. As we are all aware, that has happened since the days of Judas, and is much in the news now. If the flame entrusted to us at Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination flickers and dies, or is abruptly extinguished, and the darkness of evil envelops the priest or bishop, then havoc is wrought upon the most vulnerable, and the splendor of the Holy Priesthood is sullied, and hidden from those whom God is calling to be priests of Jesus Christ. Satan entered into Judas, the light went out, and it was night. (John 13:27-30)

So we must become fire.

I propose to reflect upon four facets of the scriptural theme of fire, and to apply them to the priestly life and to the ministry of encouraging and guiding those who are called to the Holy Priesthood. I will also make a few observations about how some priests and bishops have gone over to the dark side, but that must not be the focal point of our thoughts or actions. It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. We would be naïve not to take note of the wickedness of Babylon, whose discord and darkness is destroying this earthly city through which we are passing, and has clearly infiltrated deep into the Church itself, but our hearts must be set on the fiery, dazzling beauty of our true home, the heavenly Jerusalem.

We must become fire. But how do we do that?

I will propose these four facets of the theme of fire that can focus our thoughts, move our will, and guide us in our actions:

  1. The Fire of Sacrificial Love: This is a common theme in scripture. The sacrificial offering is totally consumed by fire, as we must be by our priestly mission. We are not to hold back, but to give our lives fully to Christ and his people, a fact that is also symbolized in the ordination rite when we lie prostrate before the Lord during the Litany.
  2. The Fire of Purification: This is a frequent theme in both Old and New Testaments. Fire destroys that which is evil, which must be burned away. And gold and silver are tested in fire. (Sirach 2:5; I Peter 1:7) If we are to serve the Lord, and to invite others to do so, we must experience constant purification, and live in a spirit of repentance. Let the weeds and chaff within our hearts be thrown into the fire. We are currently going through a great and life-giving purification in the Church. The scandal is not that we become aware of evil in the Church, and to our shame so does the world around us; the true scandal is that evil occurs in the Church, and it is at its worst when it is hidden. It festers in darkness. The truth will set us free. Let there be light, and purification can begin.
  3. The Fire of Pentecostal Zeal. God came down in tongues of fire upon the apostles, cowering in fear, and they were granted apostolic zeal, that boldness which we see in the Acts of the Apostles. The early servants of God were on fire with the Gospel. So must all disciples of Jesus, and especially all who are called to the Holy Priesthood.
  4. The Fire of Majesty and Mystery. Every priestly vocation begins at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-12), in the presence of the majesty and the mystery of God. A vocation is not a career, but a personal call to the service of the Lord God and of his people. It is sublime, and it is divine. Profound awareness of the majesty of the Lord who calls us must penetrate to the depths of our souls; if it does not, then priesthood and episcopate can become worldly, and can be corrupted.

I will offer some reflections on these four facets of the biblical theme of fire, and will seek to draw from them some practical suggestions for our life as priests or bishops whose mission is to invite candidates to discern whether God is calling them to the holy priesthood.

The Fire of Sacrificial Love

          The theme of sacrifice is constant throughout the Old Testament, and is deepened in the New Testament. The sacrificial offering is placed upon the altar and is consumed by fire. To this day, in sacramentals of our Catholic liturgy, we have reminders of the Old Testament vision of sacrifice, as in vigil lights which burn until all the wax is consumed, and in incense which is burned as a sign of worship and prayer. This is an exact continuation of ancient sacrifice: “Let my prayers rise as incense before you, O Lord.” (Psalm 141:2)

The offering itself, the victim, is to be the best that the person can give to God. We too must give the best we have to God. Candidates for the priesthood, and priests and bishops, vary greatly in what they may have to offer, but whatever it is, it must be the best they have. No left-overs for the Lord, or for the priesthood.

The offering is then totally removed from the control of the one who offers, by being totally burnt up before the Lord as a sacrificial gift. There is no holding back, no clinging to that which is consumed by fire.

Sacrificial fire speaks to us of the totality of the gift of love: everything is offered, and nothing is held back. In the sacrificial love which is prefigured and symbolized by the fire of sacrifice, our lives are offered completely to the service of God and our neighbour. How many false gods and earthly distractions are jockeying for a place in our lives, so that we offer ourselves to God half-heartedly, not whole-heartedly? But Jesus, recalling Deuteronomy, commands us: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”. (Mark 12:30; Deuteronomy 6:5)

Two wise guides to a priestly life of whole-hearted sacrificial love are Bishop Sheen, in The Priest is Not His Own and Cardinal Manning in The Eternal Priesthood. Priests and bishops are to be self-sacrificing, consumed by love of God and neighbour in selfless ministry, until at death they come before the Lord, and hope to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Their prayer must be that of John the Baptist, Christ “must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

When the sacrificial fire goes out in a priest or bishop, then he begins to put first his own wants – not his needs, but his wants. He wants control, or adulation, or a comfortable life, or worldly success, or popularity, or satisfaction of his lusts. Outwardly going through the motions of priestly or episcopal service, and saying all the right things, his actual conviction is that Christ must decrease, but I must increase.

When the fire of sacrificial love goes out, we can become self-indulgent. If priests or bishops lead self-indulgent lives, then we should not be surprised if shocking instances of abuse occur. Self-indulgence is the culture in which both sexual and financial corruption flourish.

When the fire of other-centered sacrificial love flickers, or goes out, we can also turn inward, and exalt the ego. A priest can become a star: a narcissistic star. The parish revolves around him, and he is beyond rebuke. People become dependent not on Christ, but upon the priest, an addictive situation that can destroy a parish. But as St Paul says: “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” (II Cor 4:5) I remember reading a book that aptly summarizes narcissism: The Object of My Affection is My Reflection. That is toxic in the leader of a community, bishop or priest, especially since he is called to be a spiritual father, and a spiritual shepherd who must be ready to sacrifice even his life for his flock. I recommend reading the description of the poor parson in the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He was a shepherd, and not a mercenary. He did not run off to London to advance his ecclesiastical career, but stayed at home, visiting his parishioners far and wide. Christ’s teaching, and his apostles twelve, he taught, but first he followed it himself.

So when we are accompanying potential candidates for the priesthood, and when we are presenting the priesthood to them, we must stress the fire of selfless, sacrificial love: humble, unassuming, other-centered, sacrificial love. Watch out for signs of self-indulgence and narcissism.

And watch for positive signs of humble service, concern for others, and unassuming hard work. The priest is not his own.

Because it takes time for signs both positive and negative to become evident, it is good to have a lengthy period of discernment and formation, to allow hidden problems to surface before ordination. A program of discernment and formation is more like a crock pot than a wok: it takes time. That is why in my own diocese and seminary I have lengthened the process: more time before entry into the formation community: a year or two in the associates program, four years of College Seminary for some,  plus a propaedeutic year, and four years of theology, and a parish internship too. Can’t we speed it up a bit? No. No. No. As the title for a great book on time management puts it: If You Don’t Have Time to do it Right, When Will you Find time to Do it Over?

The Fire of Purification

We must become fire, and the fire of purification allows that to happen, for it burns away our sinfulness. As the book of Sirach says: “My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, remain in justice and in fear, and prepare yourself for temptation… Gold and silver are tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation” (Sirach 2:1, 5).

We are all sinners, and as Isaiah says, men of unclean lips. In his great vocation experience in the temple, described in Isaiah 6, God purifies his lips and his life with sacred fire, and makes him ready to be sent. “Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me!” (Isaiah 6: 6-8)

To concentrate our minds, and to keep everyone on the straight path, it is good to remember the fire and brimstone that obliterated Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), and the Lake of Fire in the Apocalypse, which is the second death, the death of mortal sin, and which is the destiny of those who are unfaithful to their call (Apoc 20: 10-14). It is a good practice to pray, not only in the Rosary, but all the time, the prayer: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.” Mercy is founded on a recognition of the reality of justice, of right and wrong, of the fact of sin, and of repentance.

Our actions have consequences, as is evident in so many parables of the Gospel, such as that of the rich man and Lazarus. We sometimes forget that Jesus begins his ministry as John the Baptist did, with the words: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near at hand.” And at the end he speaks of the separation of the sheep and the goats. This is sharp, and clear, and calls for a decision. We should listen to the prophet Malachi, who warns the people about the coming day of judgment: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire…” (Malachi 3:2) Paul helps us to live rightly in the present moment when he speaks of the time to come when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Thess 1:7-8) . Any one of us who is tempted to lapse into complacent self – indulgence will be shaken by that vision of the fire of judgment, which is the ultimate sign of accountability.

Disastrously, a toxic sentimentality, in which both the call to repentance and the vision of judgment are obscured,  has entered into the Church, and never more so than in the few decades following Vatican II, from the seventies to the mid-nineties. There was a blurring of the clear lines of morality, and the creation of a distorted and highly subjective concept of conscience. It is no coincidence at all that this was the very period, we now clearly realize, in which most of the devastating incidents of priestly and episcopal abuse that are now in the news took place. Designing policies and other things to deal with this abuse is surely necessary, and largely has already been done. But that is radically insufficient. We surely do not need a policy to stop us from engaging in self-indulgent evil that leads to the Lake of Fire. All Christians, but especially bishops and priests, need to listen to and act on these simple words of Jesus: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near at hand.

It is also true that when the moral and spiritual demands of Christianity, or of the priesthood, become no more than an ideal, much to be praised in honeyed words, but with no practical relevance, and held to be impossible to actually live, then individually and as a Church we have become gnostics. But neither Christianity nor the priesthood is an abstract ideal; God does not play with us, holding out to us an ideal that it is impossible for us to live. By God’s grace, and only by God’s grace, every single one of us can actually become a saint. Vatican II spoke of the universal call to holiness, not the universal call to mediocrity. With a vision of the purifying refiner’s fire to keep us honest, we are challenged every day to be happy, healthy, holy priests. Nothing less than that. That is the reality of the priesthood.

All of us in pastoral ministry, and especially we whose mission it is to accompany those whom the Lord may be calling to the priesthood, need to live repentant lives. Just as a personal suggestion, I recommend that at the elevation at Mass, when we raise the Host and the Chalice, we pray quietly: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” And we need to get to confession frequently.  Every day, may the fire of purification burn away within us all that is unworthy of Christ.

As we consider applicants for the seminary, we need to look for a repentant and contrite heart. Certainly no-one is worthy of the priesthood, and everyone is a sinner, and humanly imperfect. We can talk glibly about being sinners, but in ourselves, and in those considering a vocation, it is vital that the fire of purification actually be burning brightly, that we truly (though, of course, without scrupulosity) be aware of the geography of our souls, and that we trustingly resolve, despite our weaknesses, and by God’s grace, to actually live a life of holiness. This is not an impossible ideal, despite our frailty. In fact, consciousness of our weaknesses leads us to know our need for God, and to realize that we will be faithful and spiritually fruitful as priests, not because of our own efforts but because of the power of Christ. We should listen to that great sinner and saint, St Paul, in II Corinthians: “a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Cor 12: 7-9).

The Fire of Pentecostal Zeal

In my former life of almost twenty years of preparing seminarians for the priesthood, I recall discussions of men who were not obviously incompetent or immoral, who might even be doing quite well academically, but who seemed to be inert. They were drifting towards ordination, with no clear reason to stop them. But did they have the apostolic fire? Were they driven by a true love for Jesus? Or were they simply going through the motions?

Someone who is ordained needs to have the apostolic fire of Pentecost: “When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

Some are introverts, and some are extroverts. Some have more lively personalities, and some are more quiet. Those superficial temperamental characteristics are irrelevant. Exuberant zeal is not required, and may in fact become a problem. But deep within, each person who is to be ordained must burn with the Pentecostal fire. As the prayer at one of the ritual Masses for ordination says: “make these your servants worthy ministers of your altar, and ardent yet gentle heralds of your Gospel.” Priests and bishops, and seminarians, must be ardent: they must be on fire with zeal to serve God and his people. The fire of Pentecost must burn away all self-referential careerism, as we boldly head out into the streets of the  secular city, like the apostles after Pentecost, in love with the Lord and forgetful of self, ready to  lose ourselves in our priestly ministry.

So we search for candidates who already burn with the Pentecostal fire, and who show it by their acts of generous initiative in their parish and in the activities of their life in society. Our seminary formation program must provide opportunities to develop and manifest that zeal. I don’t want to ordain a dead battery. One of the joys of working with candidates for the priesthood, as I have done almost all of my priestly life, is to have the privilege of being with zealous and inspiring seminarians. And that is one of the greatest joys of being a bishop, as I have been now for twenty one years: to be the bishop of such zealous and inspiring priests.

If a priest is himself alive and on fire, then he will be able to pass that on to others, as the flame of the Paschal candle spreads from taper to taper throughout the church at the Easter vigil, until the whole church is bright with the light of Christ. It has been said that education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire; that is even more true of evangelization. We must keep in mind the example of the Lord Jesus on the road to Emmaeus. The two disciples marvelled: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:33)

So that is what we should look for in candidates for the priesthood: men who are on fire with love for our Lord and with zeal in his service. And we need in our program of formation to help the seminarians become so profoundly committed to the life of holiness, that the fire will burn steadily and quietly throughout their priestly life. There are two times when a priest or bishop is horizontal in Church: face down at his ordination and face up at his funeral. In every moment between those two points, he must be on fire with sacrificial love and priestly zeal.

The Fire of Majesty and Mystery

We must become fire, and we catch that fire from the burning bush, where Moses discovered his vocation. It is in contact with the mysterious majesty of God that we discover and daily renew our vocation to the holy priesthood. Priests are not branch managers, and bishops are not CEO’s: woe to those who think in those terms, or who think of a priestly or episcopal career. We are unworthy servants and messengers of the living God, and we must live our mission in this fallen world always conscious of the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is our home.

If we look to the vocation stories of the Old Testament, so often they are set in the context of divine glory, of the fire of majesty and mystery. God makes a covenant with Abraham in a fiery theophany of sacrifice (Genesis 15:12-21), and Moses hears the Lord’s voice from the burning bush.  Isaiah receives his vocation in the temple, in a vision of the glory of the Lord, as an angel of God touches his lips with a burning coal. Elijah passes his mantle to Elisha, and is swept up into heaven in a chariot of fire. (II Kings 2:9-11) Jesus reveals his glory in the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and Paul is dazzled by divine light in the road to Damascus.

A vocation to the Holy Priesthood is never prosaic; it is always glorious, though it is rare that the glory is as visibly manifested as in the Biblical vocation accounts. We are servants of the living God, and must never forget it. Some have forgotten it, as did Judas when Satan entered into him, and it was night. But that requires effort to resist God’s grace. There is a marvellous image of the Last Supper in the chapel of Prince of Peace monastery near San Diego: there are shiny haloes over Jesus and all of the apostles at the table. But on the left, Judas is leaving the table, and walking away from his halo. Bishops and priests have sometimes done that.

We need to be conscious of the sacred office that was entrusted to us at ordination. We are stewards of the mysteries of God. To use that sacred office for personal benefit is simply wrong. I used to advise my seminarians that when they are priests they should go to the end of the line, unless doing so would be false humility that insults others, and wear clerical attire, as a sign of their mission, though not when buying a car.

So our vocation ministry must be founded on a profound awe of the privilege of being called to serve the Lord God as priests. And the holy priesthood must be treated with reverence – the priesthood, not the priest. Clericalism is not too high an estimation of the priesthood, but too low an estimation: it is using the holy priesthood to advance one’s personal desires, as sadly has happened. The priesthood is to be lived with sacrificial love, not used. If bishops or priests use their sacred office to dominate others, to take advantage of people’s quite appropriate reverence for the priestly office, or to manipulate that reverence to satisfy the cleric’s self-indulgent desires, then that is not simply evil; it is sacrilegious evil.

Every day we need to remind ourselves of the majesty of the Lord, whose servants we are. That is one reason why making a daily holy hour of adoration is such a good idea, and why the celebration of the Eucharist, and Eucharistic adoration, should be at the heart of our vocation efforts. In any case, all Jesus ever told us about vocations was to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into harvest. We need constantly and consciously to return to Mount Tabor, and to the heavenly Jerusalem, if we are to be faithful and fruitful in our priestly ministry in this vale of tears. As we pray before the tabernacle, the fire of the sanctuary lamp is a visible sign of the majesty and mystery of God.

You must become Fire

In every age until the end of time the Holy Priesthood is entrusted to frail and sinful men. Many priests have become famous as saints; most priests try earnestly each day, by God’s grace, to be faithful and humble servants; and some priests have betrayed their mission and their Lord. The priesthood of Jesus Christ is glorious, but we are not. We are called not just to do the minimum, or to shine by our own light, or to advance within the earthly structure of the church; we are called to become fire.

We must burn with the fire of sacrificial love, not holding back, but offering everything we have and are to Jesus and to the mission upon which he sends us. We must be repentant, alert to God’s justice, and trusting in his mercy, made holy in the fire of purification.

We must be filled with the fire of Pentecost, boldly proclaiming Christ in the darkness of the secular world.

And with awe and wonder we daily come before the Lord in prayer, meditating on his Word and receiving new life from him in the celebration of the Eucharist and in Eucharistic adoration, seeing reality as it truly is, in the light of the fire of divine majesty and mystery.

The young man said: what must I do? And the wise elder replied: you must become fire.

Thomas Collins

Archbishop of Toronto

September 17, 2018















May the Lord, Who Has Begun the Good Work in You, Bring it to Fulfilment



Recently, Cardinal Collins & I had the pleasure of spending a few days at Mount Mary Retreat Center with most of the seminarians for the Archdiocese of Toronto.  The seminarians get plenty of very fine spiritual retreats throughout the formation year at the seminaries; this was more of an opportunity for the men to spend time with their very busy archbishop and to build fraternity with one another.  Throughout the three days (Wednesday until Friday) our seminarians talked about their own challenges in formation, played sports, (ate junk food), had casual conversation and even came up with a game of “Church Jeopardy”, which I stoically observed (but would have lost at had I had participated).  This retreat was also an opportunity for our seminarians already in formation to meet the 11 seminarians joining them this year!  This gathering came at the end of their busy summers – most of our seminarians serve in parishes, serve at our shrines (Marylake & Martyr’s Shrine), evangelize as missionaries for Totus Tuus and work in various secular positions (landscaping, MacDonald’s, etc.) and a few in archdiocesan offices like the Office of Catholic Youth and Office of Vocations.

It is ever so vitally important for our seminarians to build this fraternity and unite themselves in the Mission of Jesus Christ that God may be calling them to.  In the climate of the Catholic Church we are all living in, with so many challenges and where many of the most recent reports we read and hear about are so serious, dark, negative and concerning to us all – I think it’s important to share something upbeat and positive here today!

We are blessed; truly blessed!  The Archdiocese of Toronto has 56 men in formation in various years at 2 major seminaries; St. Augustine’s Seminary (which includes Serra House Pre-Theology Seminary) and the Redemptoris Mater Seminary.  In a society which I’m sure we all can see has it’s challenges in so many ways – we have very good men who desire holiness, who are servants and who really do seek to be shepherds after the Heart of the Good Shepherd.

Our men are not perfect, nor are they (yet) living saints!  But I can assure you that they are self-reflective and honest men who are generous and who live in this world but desire something greater than this world can EVER offer them: a life always in Jesus Christ; sharing His love with their sisters and brothers.  These are men of faith who desire holiness and men with hearts that have a great capacity for love.  They are men who are emotionally and mentally healthy (this is an important matter to me as Director of Vocations) and who realize that who they are as men is as important as anything they can do for themselves spiritually or academically; and so their honesty with me and their seminary formators is paramount to who they are to become when they are (God willing and with their own willingness) ordained Catholic priests in the future.  They are men who desire to be fathers in every sense.  Our men need to know and accept God the Father’s love first; and as men to have a good sense of what it means to be a father to people in this world, modeled on St. Joseph, other saints and other fine examples of fatherhood in the world, often their own fathers.

Cardinal Collins spoke to them about so many different things.  One of the most important things he shared with them a sense of the Lord’s mission with them and assured them that they were an important part of that mission in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  We are also blessed to have an archbishop (who knows formation better than many) who despite his many responsibilities has always made time for his men.  I look for ways to make this happen, and this retreat was one such a way.

I am deeply grateful to the Lord to be their Vocation Director!  I am aware that this is title given to me to define a role I have – because Jesus Christ is and always will be their true Vocation Director!  I spend a lot of time with these men before they are given the green light to apply for seminary formation.  This can be a challenge.  It’s a challenge because men feeling called themselves to the priesthood – is really only the beginning.  I owe it to the Catholic Church, to the Archdiocese of Toronto and I owe it to these men in formation to really test a man’s call before he enters seminary.  I don’t do that alone.  I am blessed to have Cardinal Collins giving me clear direction, support and encouragement.  I am blessed to have a great and honest relationship with key seminary faculty and we work together to ensure our men are getting the best formation.  I am blessed to have a great support team (eleven Vocation Assistants, priests who assist me in key roles as well as three dedicated office team members who help us find ways to engage as many people as we can).

One of the challenges most Vocation Directors face today is a reluctance on the part of many to come forward.  In many places, Vocation Directors resist the urge to take just anyone when they don’t have a lot of men presenting themselves in the first place.  Most Directors also hear from many people that they should be more open to the men who do come forward.  At times, among my brother Vocation Directors I feel reluctant to say much since we still have a number of men discerning and a number of men entering formation every year.  But we don’t have as many men entering as represents our Catholic population of over two million in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  I look at this as a worldly concern, and I keep reminding myself it’s not a concern given to me by the Lord.  I am not exaggerating when I say that we could have more than double the men in formation that we have, and at first glance that might seem to serve a need of offering Mass and having more parish priests – but that will not serve any of us in the future!  It’s also why I know that it’s important to empower a team to help me in this task – I want to be sure to have strict enough requirements to help the right men enter formation, but not so strict that I discourage an authentic and true calling because of my own limitations.  And then I need to listen: first and always to the Lord Himself, then to my archbishop, then to those who share in this ministry with me.

We are truly blessed that these men are the men the Lord has given to us, to discern for us and please God to serve us in the future.  To have an abundance of diocesan priests is not the Lord’s desire, but to have the right ones is.  That’s what I hope and pray for, and I hope it’s what you will pray for too.  May the Lord who has begun the good work in them, bring it to Glorious Fulfillment.

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.

Turn Away from Sin-Turn Towards Jesus

Today begins my Lenten reflection series.  A Most Blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent to all.

Passion of the Christ

Today we will hear these or similar words: “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel”. I hear these words anew each year and they mark for so many of us a time of new beginning. As an adult convert, I hear many of my contemporaries and people much older than I am who believe that we should not focus much or any of our attention on sin. Their experience is that this was an unpalatable part of their Catholic upbringing, and it’s what makes the Catholic Church antiquated and out of touch: that we focus on sin too much. That’s not my experience of the Catholic Christian Church at all. In fact having lived my life by no religion and even hostile to Christianity for some of it; I am indeed glad that I am reminded to “turn away from sin” and given an alternative – Jesus Christ!

We are sinners, but loved sinners. We are sinners who must stay close in relationship to our Redeemer; there’s no other way. Where and when this became a distasteful thing, I have no idea. As a man who lived for himself for many years, I can assure you I have searched for something better and never found it. The Gospel is the Way, the Truth and I can assure you that Life flows from it. As a spiritual director (and as a Vocation Director too), I have always encouraged a regular practice of confession, not to move anyone to scrupulosity but rather so that our sins and weakness clearly have no dominion over us and we can pick ourselves up and get on with the best part of what it means to be Christian: Discipleship and living the mission!

I love Lent; it renews us as Christians. Even the best of us get caught up in the busyness of life and through the forty days as we journey again with our Lord to the Cross are reminded of the essence of what real love, sacrifice, perseverance; and real triumph is all about. Our sense of contrition and desire to amend comes from a recognition of the great things others have done for us; namely Christ.

Our Gospel today reminds us that this is not about making a show of things, that is definitely not what Lent is about, but we must give witness. We must seek to become day by day better people, better Christians. We must seek to reserve judgment against others, instil kindness, love, compassion, generosity, faith and a sense of hope. These things by the way we give witness will help encourage others to follow the Lord. And then we will be doing our jobs; of getting ourselves to heaven and bringing as many with us as we can.

God Calls Us All: Part I – Becoming a Catholic Christian


Rev. Fr. Chris Lemieux,
Director of Vocations
Archdiocese of Toronto since July 2014.

As I make my way from place to place as Vocation Director, I am asked to share my vocation story.  At times when I am called to share, I think to myself “what’s so special about my life, I ought to share this?”  At other times of introspection, I feel profoundly loved by God that in the midst of my unremarkable but unique life, He would call me to the Holy Priesthood.  Here is my story:

I was born and raised into a very ordinary life.  My family were blue-collar people who worked hard and raised me to have good values and respect for others, but my parents weren’t people of religious faith.  My mother did teach my sister and I to read from the Holy Bible and she tried at times to take us to the local church, but she was raised without much religious practice in her family either.  The Bible stories seemed cool to me as a little boy and I had, for a while, God as my imaginary friend; a friend I could talk to on my knees at my bed but whom I had no real sense heard or responded to me.  This is where it all began and for quite some time, where it ended too.  From my childhood and into my adulthood I would not have called myself an atheist or an agnostic because I was completely indifferent and didn’t waste much time thinking about religion or God.  I did have a personal hostility to the people of faith whom I had met who were in my opinion hypocrites and I carried that bias with me for many years.

Despite a decent upbringing, I managed to make a mess of things throughout my teenage years and my young adulthood.  I wouldn’t say I went completely off the rails but I didn’t live a very moral or good life and I was constantly caught in a web of selfishness and self indulgence.  All of it to say I was headed in the absolutely wrong direction in life if I were to find passion, purpose, meaning and most of all love.  I had “things” and got by with my gifts; but I had no idea where or Who had given me those gifts until much later.

At a very low point in my life; I had a great friend (my best friend’s sister) who was herself a good-living Christian.  She never hid her Christian faith and she never forced her religious beliefs on anyone.  If you were to ask her where her strength and courage came from; where her joy and satisfaction in life came from; you would know it was Our Lord Jesus Christ.  She was not perfect and didn’t profess to be perfect and her life was not perfect – she had many of her own struggles; but her strength and joy amid hard times was infectious.  We talked a lot about life, meaning, purpose, being positive and finding joy and I will admit I wanted to have what she had at the core of her life without Jesus and without religion.  But I came to discover I could not find all this without Jesus.

Zena took me to Alpha where she was a group leader and it was in Alpha that I met Jesus for the first time really, and met some of His Disciples whom I saw the same things Zena shared with me.  I wasn’t going to “buy in” and while I appreciated what all my new Christian friends were doing, and I was at least not openly criticizing Christians anymore I departed that community of believers and went on my own “search” which led me to various Christian congregations Sunday after Sunday.  I would still go to Alpha and I began to read the Gospels and the Epistles.  More and more I came to discover Jesus and desired a faith life in Him.

Around 2000, when I was about 29 I entered St. Jerome’s Parish for Sunday Mass for the first time.  I knew that Sunday I was home.  Without all the words to describe it; God was so present to me there.  There was something sacred taking place there and I felt so at home.  It compelled me to come again and again and I came to Catholic Mass from then on.  I didn’t begin to consider becoming Catholic for almost two more years.  Finally in August or September of 2002 I made contact with the parish office and inquired about becoming Catholic.  I entered RCIA then and was received into the Catholic Church on April 19, 2003.  It was the greatest day of my life to that point; receiving Holy Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist that day.  I spent a long time in those years from Alpha and onward getting to know Jesus, and on that evening at the Easter Vigil becoming part of His family, marked forever as a member of that family.

And in the final months of preparation, something else was taking place as the fire of the Lord’s love began burning, and as I prepared to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I was being called to something very mysterious, scary, dramatic and unknown to me.  My baptism was not just an event in my life; it was a moment when I committed my own life for Jesus and with an open heart and mind, the Lord had something else in store for me.

(continued in Part II)

God Calls Us All: Part II – Is God Calling Me to the Priesthood?


Rev. Fr. Chris Lemieux,
Director of Vocations
Archdiocese of Toronto since July 2014.

As I make my way from place to place as Vocation Director, I am asked to share my vocation story.  At times when I am called to share, I think to myself “what’s so special about my life, I ought to share this?”  At other times of introspection, I feel profoundly loved by God that in the midst of my unremarkable but unique life, He would call me to the Holy Priesthood.  Here is my story (Part II):

On April 19, 2003 I became a Catholic Christian.  I received Holy Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist on that evening but the second part of my story begins a week before that night when we “Elect” who were nearing the end of our preparation had a mini-retreat at the parish which included confession.  Because I wasn’t baptized (and Holy Baptism wipes away Original Sin and all our sins at once) I did not need to go to confession.  My pastor, Fr. Vid Vlasic had a conversation with me on that day.  Instead of simply wishing me well, he firmly planted a seed that would forever change my life.

Fr. Vid offered me a suggestion: “maybe you should think about becoming a priest”. Although I have no vivid recollection of what I said in response to that, there were many things which I remember thinking about all of this.  Others had suggested it, and I thought it outlandish at first.

  • They couldn’t possibly have known I was a notorious sinner
  • I can’t do what they do (celebrate Mass in front of crowds and preach)
  • They’re very educated – I’m not
  • I’ve never wanted to be a priest
  • It’s just because I’m a single guy
  • What about the wife and family I want to have
  • I don’t want to be a part of the priesthood (the sex abuse scandal broke in Boston just before I entered RCIA – it certainly made priesthood unattractive)

If I needed more, I could have found more.  It meant a lot that Fr. Vid was encouraging me but I had a lot of doubts.  I was new to trusting God and though I had an ever-growing and strengthening faith I was not spiritually mature enough at first to seriously consider priesthood.  I did however believe that God had put various people in my life to draw me to Him.  I had sense enough to listen to Him through these people and Fr. Vid gently but consistently encouraged me to keep thinking about it.  I went to weekend retreats where I met “normal” people who were thinking of priesthood and religious life.  I continued to pray and every once and a while think about priesthood.  I grew to not be opposed or closed off to the possibility.

A major consideration was my job; a career really.  I had worked for a number of years as a bus driver at Mississauga Transit and could have retired at 52.  Job security, stability and greater and greater seniority allowed me a comfortable life.  I had very good friends whom I was close to, family whom I was growing closer to and to add to it; it hadn’t gone unnoticed by me the beautiful Catholic ladies whom I had every intention of dating!

About a year after becoming Catholic I met a Franciscan priest who would become one of my best friends, a mentor to me and would help me to see my way into deeper and deeper discernment.  Again, yet another person in my life I know God graced me with to find my way.

Fr. Paschal Breau was a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement and had been over sixty years religious when we met.  He had been Vocation Director for his community and so he was full of wisdom and knowledge.  He was a retired priest when we met on a retreat and we became instantly good friends.  Fr. Paschal had never imagined he would be a priest and had spent nearly 30 years a brother in the community before studying for the priesthood.  He was admittedly not a gifted academic (I could relate), he had been terribly shy when he started out as a very young man (I could relate).  His life as he revealed it to me, helped me to see that I presumed a lot of gifts that priests may or may not have.  Fr. Paschal had a deep love of God and people and a desire to serve them.  This was the greatest witness he gave to me as a priest, and so much more as a friend.

In September 2005, almost two and a half years after becoming Catholic, I entered Serra House in Toronto.  At that time, it was a House of Discernment; a place men lived as they tried to get a sense of whether God might be calling them to enter seminary.  I loved my time there; it was joyful but also challenging.  I did my best but struggled with philosophy at 35, back in the classroom.  It was the one of the greatest challenges for me learning how to trust God; having to tell myself over and over “if God wants you to be a priest, He will help you here!”.  He did.  I struggled my way through philosophy but finished in 2007.  In 2006 I entered the seminary.  I had Fr. Paschal with me to the very end and at my graduation when I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy.

Early on, I remember speaking to Fr. Paschal about his being an important part of ordination, a conversation that might have been too early.  He told me that he knew the Lord had something special planned, but that he believed he would be with me at my ordination in a “special place”.  Fr. Paschal passed away when I was preparing to enter Second Theology, a loss I felt but bittersweet as it was mingled with blessing.  I was with him at the end, and I was strengthened in my faith by the witness of his.  I felt strong in my faith through the next years of formation and I know that Fr. Paschal and others prayed for me to receive great grace along the way.

I was ordained a transitional deacon at St. Gertrude’s in Oshawa on October 15, 2011 and a priest on May 12, 2012 at St. Michael’s Cathedral.  In addition to the Communion of Saints who prayed for me (as they do for us) I know my dear mother who passed away in August 2004 and my dear friend Fr. Paschal were with me that day in spirit and memory.  I had the great honour and grace to offer Holy Mass as I celebrated my first Mass of Thanksgiving for my mother at St. Paul’s Basilica the next morning; Mother’s Day 2012.

I had my doubts and fears, which I allowed the Lord to free me of through the years of discernment.  I feel blessed and love being a priest.  The Lord certainly has lived up to His end of the bargain; gifting the one (me) He has chosen.  I spend every day trying to be a better man – and trying to live up to my end of the bargain.

True Strength Found in Love & Mercy

This blog post is a homily given to the “Associates” today.  These are men discerning the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Toronto. 

Prodigal Son

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be”. I’ve always liked this very accurate assessment of things, and not only do I think it to be true; I know it. Not just for the United States, but for Canada and for everywhere in the world. I know it not only because I’ve encountered it in the parishes I’ve ministered in, but I know it’s even something I meet with men discerning, in seminaries and among priests. And before you hear this as a striking condemnation or my pointing the finger at any one of you (I’m not) – I have been and often am guilty of doing the same. Before it appears that any one of us are villains in this way, I would add that the Apostles and disciples were often guilty of holding misperceptions and untruths as dear to them too – not just the Pharisees. And it doesn’t always make itself as manifest as hating the Church. The very same lack of understanding or holding of mistruths can lead us to hold an “us versus them” mentality of believing that part of what we are doing is saving the Church from its people or that we are saving these people from things that they quite truthfully are not going to be saved from by us.

What I mean by this, is that there are many who see the key role of the priest is to safeguard the sacraments from the people who I presume are abusing them. Brothers, we are all in need of saving, surely my saying hasn’t escaped any of you. Although certainly in the history of our Catholic Church there have been moments when we have held on tightly to the title “defenders of the faith” and there are times when it seems we have to defend our faith to others more than we would wish to – but our Lord requires us first and always most importantly to live it out. To live by what He calls us to. To look at the Sacraments as Gifts of Love and Mercy; that which they are.

In the Gospel today, it’s fairly apparent that Jesus is misunderstood even by those closest to Him. He is out of His mind! Misunderstanding follows our Lord everywhere He goes. Among His family & relative, among His friends, the Apostles. Certainly we have to be careful because among us as His friends, disciples and through the Holy Priesthood assistants to the Apostles – we too, all of us are prone and susceptible to being wrong, sometimes more than we are right. To being defensive when we should be compassionate. To being uncomfortable with being loving & merciful when it will make us appear weak. Again and again, Jesus appears weak and I think this is why He is so misunderstood and perceived wrongly because it’s so very easy for us to have an incorrect notion of what strength really is. We all need to think about that. I’m sure that we can think about people who have strength of character, strength of faith, strength of persistence in love and showing compassion and mercy. These are not necessarily the same kinds of things we think of when we think of strength.

Brothers, it might be nice for us to imagine that with some of the attacks we can see upon our Church even today, upon Christians even today that we utilize our “army” of Catholic Christians, said to be 1.2 billion worldwide to defend Holy Mother Church. And I know that there is and will continue to be a current of belief that we should exercise a show of force this way. But the show of force we should exercise, and which I hope is the show of force all of us here desire to show – is a show of the power of our love for everyone; enemy & friend alike. A show of mercy, if God willing you’re called to the Holy Priesthood, to be a compassionate and merciful confessor, but to offer forgiveness always, inside and outside of the confessional. A show of force in how we pray for all, for one another, for what’s best for each other.  Compassion, love, patience, kindness and dedication to the “least”. I can assure you that if you begin to exercise these kinds of things in your life, if this becomes your message, our message – there will be some, many even who think “he’s out of his mind”, just as they did our Lord. But rest assured you are doing His work.

This is what the Catholic Church is about. This is what we as members must allow to be our show of force; commitment to prayer, lived out in compassion, love, mercy and we must give ourselves totally and completely for that.

32nd Thursday in Ordinary Time: Live for Your Faith

We are cautioned by today’s Gospel not to take for granted what was given to us – that could include many gifts from God but today we focus on one of the greatest gifts; that is, our faith. What has brought each of us together here this morning is something which may be profoundly personal and which you may never have revealed to another person; that is, God has revealed Himself to you! We don’t get up for Holy Mass, many of you having travelled further than I did to get here today without God having revealed Himself to you. That can never be something small or insignificant.  Since God’s not small and insignificant, neither then can His personal revelation of Himself to you be small and insignificant. Nonetheless, as we know it’s easy to begin taking that for granted or overlooking it. We can get caught up in the outer trappings of life, and when we do we also begin to minimize the revelation of God, we lose perspective. You might wonder how I can say all these things, as though I speak from authority on it?  Well, I’m no exception. The Lord revealed Himself powerfully to me, so that I entered the baptism at 31 and was in seminary formation three years later, a priest ten years after my conversion. Nonetheless, I find myself often distracted from the glory of God revealed and focussed on the pessimism of the world. I find myself easy to criticize, to find fault, to be of fault, to lessen the kingdom sometimes by my actions. Where I’m leading with this is that if we don’t get ourselves back on track in our faith, we will find that we don’t recognize the Lord in His majesty, mystery and awesome wonder if we don’t keep our faith fresh and ignited. This is a caution for us, but it’s also an opportunity for us to turn things around again. Let God reveal Himself to you now! Let Him forgive you of your transgressions in the Sacrament of Penance. Let Him speak to you through the Word and His Greatest Action of His Most Holy Body and Blood. Know that filled with the Eucharistic Presence, ignited by His word and ready for action – that the Lord our God reveals Himself to each one of you now, to go out into the world making disciples for Jesus Christ. My friends, we are not in danger of missing God if we are ready at this very moment and hereafter to receive Him.  May God bless you.