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.

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.

Behold the Lamb of God!

The Lamb of God

This is my homily given at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica today:

“Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  Surely, we recognize these words which take place near the end of the Mass and during the communion rite, when we together; me as the priest and you as the faithful people of God look upon the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with true and honest faith and devotion, believing these words as fully and completely as John the Baptist did when he proclaimed them in the setting of today’s Gospel.

We then proclaim the words of the Roman centurion, who asked Jesus to heal his sick servant in the 8th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”.

Friends, these words are not Scripture piecemeal, these are perhaps the strongest, purest, most meaningful professions of our faith.  To declare who we see, who we see, when what is right now, Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus our Lord and declare Him with the same faith as St. John did, the Lamb of God mustn’t just be words we utter with our lips or declare by rote.  These words must carry the meaning they did for St. John, but so much so that we are prepared to give everything we have for these words.

We know the Gospel account of the life of John the Baptist and we know that the Name and Person of God would cost Him.  In today’s world that we live in, a world not as different from Gospel times as we might think if we were really to reflect – not a bad world, but a world with much indifference, much greed, ambition – many reasons not to want the Gospel and the Lamb of God to be a part of that world – isn’t that the very same world we are a part of?

And I say not a bad world, because we have many parish churches that are full, at least many of them in the Archdiocese of Toronto, and every single person in every one of these churches wants a relationship with Jesus, we all do.  What are we prepared to give for that relationship?  What extent are we to believe?

Are we to be Disciples or Friend of Jesus or are we to be acquaintances?  An acquaintance gives nothing for the one with whom he is acquainted, a Disciple or friend gives everything for that friendship of mutual love and respect.  I don’t just ask you that question before I ask it of myself.

There are days, more than I would like to admit that I am merely an acquaintance of Jesus and where I’m not willing to give much for my faith – but each day I pray that it not going to be one of those days and I think it’s important for us all to do the same.  If we truly “behold the Lamb of God” here this morning at Holy Mass, then not only are our sins washed away, but the impurities of our hearts and intentions are too.  If we believe this happens, and I assure you it can and will if we allow the outpouring of grace to permeate our souls – we are ready to give it all for Jesus, for the Name above all other names, for the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  We are truly blessed as we are called here to the supper of the Lamb and having been fed, to journey out there and nourish others with our well-fed souls.  May God bless you.

A Brand New Year: Celebrating Mary’s Motherhood…And Our Own Mothers

On this New Year’s day as we reflect upon our past year and look forward to 2018 ahead, we also celebrate a very important Solemnity, the High Feast of Mary, Mother of God.  Holy days of obligation have become fewer and fewer, but this remains for us one of those days as Catholics (Christmas is another and every Sunday), which also means that there is something very special and important that we celebrate during this day.  Mary is an important Christian figure for us as Catholic Christians.  As an “outsider” who became a Catholic, I too was one who once thought it was weird and archaic that Catholics “worshipped” Mary the way we do.  My thought for today is not to argue that we do not; but we don’t.  We respect her and give honour to her above all others for the role she plays as a “Christian before there was Christianity”, her tremendous generosity, her leadership, her example, her vocation!

If we don’t seek to understand, her title as Mother of God might confuse some, lead some to believe Our Lady herself was not fully a human being, because if God our Lord is fully divine and the uncreated Creator, how could He be born of a human being.  Of course, we know that for in time (for all-time), for a purpose and for humanity (for each and every one of us) God became one of us in His Son, Jesus.  He chose to be born into the world to experience every vulnerability we experience too.  For that purpose, God chose to be born as we are born, from a mother.  

He may have specially chosen His Mother, but He chooses ours too.  In the last few years of my life, I give thanks to God each day for my own mother, and I will until I die.  I know the Lord chose Lynda to be my mother, but I confess I would not have seen that without the eyes of faith; and I have not had the eyes of faith to see for almost 30 years of my life.  I have spent the better part of my life judging my mother and seeing her for what she was not, rather than for what she indeed was, a gift to give thanks to God for, as we do Our Blessed Mother.  My mother was very young when I was born into the world, nineteen years old.  Older than Our Lady, but young in the standards of the world I was born into.  She was pregnant with me only months after graduating high school.  I never asked my mom whether or not she intended to keep me or not, but the thought has occurred to me as I reflect and pray that this very young woman, barely more than a girl, faced many issues when she brought me into this world.  I know some of those challenges; the obstacles she faced, many of the family’s issues and demons, I know some of sad circumstances my mom (and dad too) faced bringing a child into the world.  But I came into this world, and I can look back on this now, give thanks for my life that is for God and know that my mother is probably the person I should thank most for my life.  And I do.  Now I do.

My mother passed away 14 years ago, not long after my becoming Catholic and a year before I entered seminary.  Though she died far too young (in my opinion) I am thankful that I had the opportunity in the few years before she died to appreciate her.  My life truly changed and my faith really deepened when in addition to other things, I stopped focusing on the imperfections of my mother, and focused on what and who she was; a gift from God, a person trying her best like the rest of us.  My mother did many, many things with her life I respected a great deal, but it was humbling to have her tell my sister and I that her greatest thing in life was to have brought us kids into the world.  Not only has this been the source of my growing appreciation for my own mother, but it also helped me as a Catholic to deepen my own honour and respect for our Lady.  Obviously in Mary, God Himself knew the important role she needed to play in loving, nurturing, teaching, mentoring His Divine Son throughout His earthly life – but since His life and what He was to do here was for all of humanity and for the whole world: so too was her life for the same.

As we begin a new year, may each and every one of do our Blessed Mother a favour.  May we stop for a time and reflect upon our own mothers; if we were so inclined we could reflect upon her in ways such as I have, maybe even deeper and more profound ways but conclude by giving thanks to God for the gift of our own mothers; whom He chose for us, as He did His own mother.  And may it lead us to honour Mary, not because she desires to be honoured, but because she deserves to be.  And may we ask her to pray for us that she lead us always (as she desires to do and is doing) closer to her Beloved Son our Lord.

Are We Ready to Trust in God More?

Are we ready to trust God?  This is a question each of us needs to ask ourselves again and again in our lives, especially if we’re going to live lives dedicated to God.  Are we willing to trust that God has a plan and no matter what we wanted or what we had hoped for in life; God has a plan that is meant to bring about the best in us and in time He will reveal that plan to us, in part or in whole. Trust is an activity; it’s the most important action a Christian can commit himself or herself to.  So many us weaken in our faith, some of us even stop believing because we are lacking and then sometimes unwilling to trust God.  Part of this is understandable, because we relate to God as we relate to others and many of us have every reason not to trust some of the people in our lives – we are justified in that.  It’s easier said than done, to habituate ourselves in our relationship with God to an acceptance that our relationship with Him is different.  It is, but it takes work and force of habit to remind ourselves of that.  If we can wrap our minds around that, it is amazing how far we can go in faith.  It’s amazing how much more able we are to see the Lord our God and to recognize His love and His Loving Presence all around us and in everything.

The Holy Parents are models of this trust, but most especially St. Joseph.  With the shocking news that she was with Child, Joseph had his whole life turned upside down in an instant.  While Mary had to trust God in His Plan after the Annunciation, Joseph did not have an instant encounter with the angel and had to deal with emotions of betrayal, hurt and pain before he encountered God’s messenger in a dream. Then we know he was responsible for safeguarding this family when their lives were in danger.  I can only imagine, this man of faith must have had days where his faith was tested, and I think it’s important that we reflect upon that sometimes.  It may give us cause to stop and ask ourselves, what ways do we need to trust more?  In what ways is our faith challenged and are we prepared to meet these challenges?

Trusting God is faith in action; in what areas of our own lives do we need to have greater trust in God’s love for us, His Providential Care for us?