23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: It All Begins At Baptism

Jesus Being Baptized

In my role as Director of Vocations right now, I don’t have the opportunity to baptize very often these days.  I loved baptisms and I always felt an excitement when I was the celebrant of them at the parish.  To welcome new members into the Body of Christ was beautiful – absolutely beautiful!  I would often give variations of the same homily, where I would talk about Jesus’ baptism and where I share John’s account was the Holy Spirit descending and the Father declaring: “This is my Son the Beloved in whom I am well-pleased.”  I would extend this to these children and young people and declare in the name of Christ as a priest: that the Holy Spirit is descending and the Father is declaring “This is my son/daughter, beloved and in whom I am well pleased.  There may be some who feel I am taking some license here, and others who feel I am wrong but hear me out: I declare this because it is Jesus’ Baptism they are being baptized into, and beyond our simple and somewhat simplistic and limited ways of understanding, if it’s His Baptism, then it has the same effects!  I also believe in faith that this is true and DON’T imply that this means anything unless the family and the baptized child lives his or her Christian faith; and this I offer we must all work together to give him or her every chance to do.

I speak about Holy Baptism today because I think about this beautiful first sacrament every time I ponder today’s Gospel.  Jesus declares: “Ephphatha!” (be opened) and this we ministers of baptism mark the baptized with at their baptism.  We do what Our Lord Himself does in the powerful action of opening one’s senses to allow God the Holy Spirit to enter; but everyone involved can also contribute to closing those senses too.  If a baby’s heart, mind and soul are opened by Christ through the minister; his or her heart, mind and soul can be closed by others who choose not to teach the child the Christian faith, or teach a misguided version of the faith.  I also think of the terrible sins of the clergy; and I wonder how many beautiful children who had every possible hope of being dedicated and amazing Disciples of Christ had this taken away from them by people with chose evil over good.  There are many things we can do to close a person off from God’s possibilities for them but the Good News is that there are many things we can do to work with God in continuing to allow His Will be Done and that when they become Beloved Members of the Body of Christ – that they respond to the “miracle” Jesus performed (among others) on the day of their Holy Baptism: “Ephphatha! Be open to receive My Life; to be My Light and to share My Word, My Love with everyone you will meet in this glorious life you’ve been given!”

Celebrating the Sanctity & Vocation of Our Blessed Mother

Mary

I remember having one of my most challenging discussions with a group of “recently minted” Catholic Christians (Neophytes who had just been received into the Church at Easter) about Mary’s life and role.  I was discussing the Immaculate Conception and the Birth of Our Lady and it’s importance for us as Catholics.  One of the women said, as I recall: “It seems a little odd to me that we celebrate Mary’s life as it matters little beyond her Son’s life.  We would never want to tell anyone else that their lives mattered little outside the context of someone else…why do we do that or say that for Mary?”  

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but something to the effect of “this isn’t just anybody else” or “this is why we call her the Mother of God” but I am quite sure it wasn’t an adequate answer and the woman probably politely accepted what I said so as not to be antagonistic and derail me.  She likely will never read this blog, may have even long forgotten me, but I have not forgotten her because I know she deserved an answer far better than I was equipped to give her.  I have thought about her observation many times because it challenged me to think, and thus to have deepened my own faith in the process – why do we celebrate Mary’s life as almost not her own?  Her life’s purpose and everything we celebrate seems to leave her without her own personal identity.  What I offer you here today is not a theological or intellectual treatise, but my own thoughts which have led me to honour and respect Our Blessed Mother all the more.

Mary is a model of all things virtuous for us.  We honour her life above the saints and other holy lives – because it was as close to perfection as any human being can get.  We don’t see her life, her sanctity, her vocational response, her commitment to virtue and her faith as something unattainable, but as something attainable.  If and when we think of Mary, we are wrong if we think of a life that isn’t something each one of us can and should aspire to be.  We also would be off if we thought of Mary as not being her own person; as we all are free-thinking people who spend our lives aspiring, living, loving, giving and being deeply committed to our relationship with God and other people.  Mary is every one of those things.  Mary’s beautiful life was dedicated to faith and trust in God every step of the way.  Mary’s life was one lived in the world and of this earthly world but lived with a meaning and purpose meant for Heaven.  Much of her identity might be inseparable from God, but the Blessed Trinity and most remarkably the Son of God who was also her Son.  So too is that the life we should all aspire to; as Christians we should hope and desire that people identify Christ in us, and less ourselves – this doesn’t mean people don’t see what makes us uniquely ourselves, but we should hope they see what makes us like Christ in every way.

We celebrate Mary’s holiness today.  To celebrate her holiness means to also recognize that she made choices that brought her closer and closer to God and to others throughout her life.  We see that clearly in what we Catholic Christians celebrate about her (tradition) and what we now can read and reflect upon about her (Scripture).  We celebrate as well, her ongoing response by faith throughout her life to what God was calling her to do (her vocation).  Her actions had consequences, just as her inaction also would have – just as our response to our vocation has consequences either way.  She is a model for us in so many ways; but it’s Mary’s primary and secondary vocation we celebrate today on this beautiful day we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lady.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and until the hour of our death!

Jesus Still Making All Things New Again

Jesus Tempted

I imagine the scribes and the Pharisees quizzing Jesus on why His Disciples unlike other disciples (including John’s) don’t observe the fasting – really didn’t get what He was telling them; but then do we?  On the very basic plain of fasting or not; some don’t bother or believe we’ve done away with the practice, others stringently uphold the rules of fasting but are highly critical and judgmental of those who are not.  Jesus came to renew things, not just change things.  He came, comes and is coming for that purpose.  We are living in a time, at this very moment, where fasting and abstinence ought to be very important to each one of us as Christians.  If it’s not, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and we’ve lost focus on the message of the Good News Jesus gave us.

Recently, we’re witnessing (hopefully) a purgation in the Church.  We’re experiencing a number of disturbing news reports almost daily that shock, dishearten, sicken, anger and challenge us.  We hear of crimes committed by clergy; the very people who were meant to be shepherds for us.  As a priest, these reports disturb me in all these emotional ways and sadden me greatly.  Especially as a Vocation Director; someone who spends almost every day speaking to the People of God and to those discerning religious vocations – these kind of reports and those yet to come, are a challenge and concern because I begin to ask myself why would anyone else want to come forward to serve as a priest or religious sister and brother?  But people do.  Young people do.  And while there are and unfortunately always will be people who take advantage of others, even in horrific ways and commit horrible sins against others: Jesus renews His Church and through the Church, the world!  And He will continue to do that and He calls forth disciples to do just that!

Recently, we’ve been asked to fast and pray as a Christian community for our Christian community, for the people who have suffered, for the people who are suffering, for the purging and purification of the Church and for healing as well.  Even if we feel this request comes from the mouths of people we think have lost credibility, it comes from Jesus Himself.  In these dark moments for us as Catholic Christians, we are well aware of some of the places the Bridegroom has not been with us, even if the reason is because we’ve left Him behind He was not with us in those moments because we chose something other than Him but He still wants to be with us, no matter how far away we’ve been or how we’ve completely messed things up.  So we pray and we fast; but not in an old way – in a new way!  If we begin here, we can be assured that we are part of the solution, we are bringing light (the Light of Christ) into the darkness!  And we can be assured that prayer and fasting are the first actions, but a renewed commitment to the Good News in our actions as disciples will follow.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is a brand new day and we are called upon in a committed and renewed way to follow the Lord today and each day of our lives.

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

DSC_1011

 

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.

Celebrating St. Thomas the Apostle: Hope, Faith & Trust Meet

One of the little routine habits I’ve been faithful to since becoming a priest is to quietly repeat the words of St. Thomas the Apostle, “My Lord and My God” when I kneel during the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament at Holy Mass.  In the rubric of the Mass, we genuflect as a sign of reverence for what is taking place through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, but I have added this nearly silently as an added sign of my own reverent awareness of the weakness of my faith, while offering for us all the greatest act and sign of faith our Lord Jesus has given us – His coming into the midst of us in His very Person, but in a manner that we will all receive Him, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity and hence forth as Christian brothers and sisters go out into the world and proclaim Him Lord for all to know.

Jesus praises those who do not need to touch His wounds, or see Him and yet believe.  He accommodates Thomas who comes to believe.  As a convert and as a man who often defaults to skepticism, often doubts and needs to have things proven to him (certainly a degree of stubbornness), I can identify with St. Thomas and hence, “My Lord and My God”, a sign of my own struggle and the satisfaction of a growing and strengthening faith – my weakness yet indefatigable desire to have the faith of the Apostles and saints of the Church.

Jesus praises those who have no need of the “proof”, but He offers Himself to Thomas, I believe, as a sign to us all to “keep fighting the good fight” of belief.  Keep seeking Him, abiding in Him and He will bring us to His wounds and give us everything faith provides.  This is why we hope.  Hope is the virtue of giving ourselves to the Lord day after day and simply placing our trust in God’s promise and hope is rewarded.  I meet people all the time who have a strong and solid faith and their ability to trust in God totally and completely is a great witness for me.  I admit I seek that kind of faith, and pray for it.  As much as I wish I didn’t have to admit it, I have many moments when I rely more on what I can do, than what the Lord can do.  I have many occasions for which I must trust more and question less.  I do have faith, but my faith is tested in little ways again and again and I try to be attentive to these moments, and turn to Our Lord and to St. Thomas (asking his prayers for me) to help me “in my unbelief”.

St. Thomas is forever to be known as the great skeptic of the Apostles, but he is an Apostle all the same and he met the moment the Lord had prepared for him to give his greatest witness (his martyr’s death) with full faith and trust in His Lord and God.  I really think that it’s less important how we get to where the Lord desires us to be – but that we get there!  Of course our daily actions of faith, trust and hope are very important and on this pilgrimage of life, we need to seek to constantly move forward and not backwards, but let us consider for today that we are quite alright, and let us ask for St. Thomas’ prayers for a greater faith and place our trust, the faith and trust we can muster now in Our God who loves us with the greatest love.  May God bless you!

maxresdefault

It’s Time to Move from the Sidelines

For God So Loved the World

John 3:16; “God so loved the world, that He gave His only son…”  If I were a betting man, I would bet this is this is probably one of the most often utilized Scripture reference.  I imagine that most people that hold up signs at sporting events or otherwise highlight this as their favorite verse, know what this verse is (I have met a few who did not though).  God so loving the world – is beautiful!  No doubt about it, but the rest of the verse ought to impact us deeply too, as should the verses that follow (3:16-21).  These verses connect very closely to our parable in today’s Gospel and ought to impact us to our very core.  It happens that we can and often do become complacent, apathetic, lukewarm in our faith.  God does love the world which is why He gave us prophets, legitimate apparitions and most importantly His Son.  And the fate of the prophet of the past, might be our fate!  Why, because after the Lord came, we ought now take on the role of prophet as we are the new generation of prophets!  Would anyone know that about you?  Would they know it about me?

Throughout human history, God has spoken directly to us.  The prophets and even for us the apparitions which we have received may impact us for a time but then we get on with our life and forget about them.  Jesus, Son of God came into the world and while we can certainly say as Christians we acknowledge that and accept that He is the Son of God and perhaps we aren’t the tenants who killed the Son – we must indict ourselves if we’ve stood by and watched as someone else has.  What I mean by this is that there are times we are going to have to fight for our faith.  There are times when we are going to have to make choices that are not popular that may lead us to be ostracized, ridiculed or mistreated by others because we live in a culture and society where angry atheism, secularism and anti-religious sentiments coexist.  Coexisting doesn’t always mean in peace and without conflict.  It doesn’t mean compromising our moral or ethical principles or adapting them so we all coexist peacefully.  It doesn’t mean hurting other people, condemning them or getting up on a moral high-horse either.  It means standing for something rather than little or nothing.

We need to absolutely love being Christians, we need to know that being a Christian means we are constantly seeking to know the Lord Jesus better every day and trying to be like Him in all ways.  We start with the Gospels, we allow the Sacraments to saturate and permeate our souls.  We reflect upon our Baptism and draw strength from our Confirmation – and as we gain knowledge, wisdom and strength – we go out and set the world on fire with love, but love that means something!  Love that stands for something!  Love that isn’t watered down by our own agenda or an overriding desire to be liked by everyone because that’s not love.  It’s time for us all to move from the sidelines and move into the forefront of being messengers or prophets of God, come what may!

No One Told Us Being Christian Would Be Easy

Persecution of the Christians at Rome by Nero

I was baptized and received into the Catholic Church in 2003, some fifteen years ago now and in that time, I have met some amazing people doing amazing things as committed Christians, loving as they are called to love, raising families, ministering, living their lives and their vocations in so many different and powerful ways.  I am edified by Christians most days and in so many ways these people (others too of course) make me want to be a better man!  How empty these words of mine are to be, unless they are tested in some kind of way.  How noble sounding these sentiments are unless I am prepared to live them as a Christian, come what may.  I have met the best Christians and they are an example for me of living and committed faith, sacrificing and standing firm in the faith that has given them everything including surely the persecutions or denial as well.  What we endure here is relatively light persecution, as secularism and a distaste for religious belief may make us feel ridiculed or uneasy about sharing our faith publicly.  Others have it much worse, but whatever persecution or torment we receive for being Christian, it is a test for us we hope we pass “when the rubber hits the road”.

No one told me that being a Christian was going to be easy, although there have been times I have to confess that I expected them and wanted them to be.  On my prayerful days when I am more intimately and profoundly connected to Jesus, I realize the importance of surrendering my own willful desires and making the necessary sacrifices asked of me as a Christian – but that is not every hour of every day, I hate to say.  It’s important for us to seek that communion with God at all times, so we are doing the Will of the Father, by whose authority we live and love and give as Christians, as often as we can.  We will be tested, as Jesus is tested in today’s Gospel.  We must be ready for that test.  We needn’t answer the question, just as Jesus doesn’t answer this question (because it’s a misguided and malicious question meant to trap Him anyway) but we needn’t answer it because it should be an occasion for us to reflect for ourselves upon why we are doing what we do – is it for Jesus?  Or is it for ourselves?  Let the answer be, as best as we are able to make it, that we do all things for Jesus and His Church, His people.

We pray for the strength and courage today, to be Christians in mind, heart and soul.  We pray also to give firm and constant witness to our faith even through our suffering.  Sts. Marcellinus and Peter, pray for us!  

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.

Does Jesus Minister to Us While We Minister for Him to Others?

Jesus in the Synagogue

The very second, the very moment that we get it in our heads no matter who we are that the Gospel lesson or admonition applies more to someone else than it does to us – is the very moment we become the indignant hometown crowd member Jesus speaks to in today’s Gospel.  Obviously, at this moment we must confess that we don’t wish to be that person and then let the grace given to us and the virtue of humility to grow in our hearts.  Every Gospel lesson applies to each of us and we must accept that it does (by faith and trust in the Lord) even if we cannot for the moment see the way that it does.

Pride and entitlement cannot ever get in the way of our faith and our vocation.  They can and they easily do.  Speaking as a priest, I know that there are many ways I have those moments where I feel I can speak from authority on things and I have it together more than others do.  I have those prideful and entitled moments.  I have been humbled in my pride already many times in my life, and while it stings – it’s been the best thing for me.  It has helped me quickly get down off my own “high horse” and realize that I need to hear the Gospel as much if not more than anyone else.  I also realize that any and all authority given to me by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit through my ordination was not meant to think I am Jesus, but to do His work in the way He wants me to do, not in my own way.  As a humbled sinner, I speak to the men who discern with me about this and remind them of this too.  They are entering into a beautiful committed life with Christ, but they must also remember that they are entitled to nothing and they must be both ministers and recipients of the Good News.  This applies to all of us.  St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles as they founded the Church in Jesus Christ may have been given abundant graces for that purpose; but they also needed to be recipients of the Word until the ends of their earthly journey; same as all the saints, same as everyone else.

Let us remember this today and ask ourselves, are we journeymen with our Lord Jesus, or are we the hometown crowd who take credit for the works of the Lord as though they were our own?

Christ the Wellspring of Living Water: Reflecting on the First Scrutiny

download

Today we celebrate the First Scrutiny in many of our parishes.  With the elect recently entered into our Book of Elect and preparing themselves in these remaining weeks of Lent to enter into the waters of baptism, seeking to die to self and live for Christ – today through Jesus’ Gospel encounter with the woman at the well; they (we) are reminded of our need for God who is Himself the wellspring and from Whom we have our thirst quenched and who gives us what we need to truly live.  As an adult convert, I recall as a Catechumen Elect, the preparation many years ago for this day, the first of my Scrutinies.  I remembered reflecting upon the many places in my soon-to-be “old life” where I “drew water”.  Drawing water from the desires and expectations of others in the world no long quenched my thirst.  Tasting the water of success, the water of other’s praise, the water of having enough money to quench my own thirst became tired and not fulfilling.  Even though my heart was becoming the Lord’s, I was still living with those things and while it seemed compelling to simply throw all those things off and totally and completely to live for Jesus – I was not ready for that.  The words were really sinking in though and the profound experience I had as an Elect was drawing me even closer to the Body of Christ where I would one day give up those things.  The profound grace and blessing I have been given is that because of my experience, I was able to be with RCIA groups most years ever since.  As a seminarian I was afforded the opportunities to journey with others and so, to reflect as well on these Scrutinies again as a catechist with them.  As a priest, to preach on the Gospel and to identify with the Elect as well.

Now as a Catholic Christian man with 15 years of Scrutinies under my belt, my reflection on this First Scrutiny is one I share with the committed Catholics today.  We need to pray for these people who seek to prepare themselves and will in short weeks be asking the Church for Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation.  The conversation this woman in today’s Gospel has with Jesus is one which each of us needs to stop and have with Our Lord today.  Do we still recognize Jesus at the places where we draw water from in our lives today?  Where we pray, our churches or our special places?  Are we drawing water and allowing Jesus to really and truly speak to us, or are we denying part of what our lives are or what they have become so we simply don’t have to deal?  If we are, then we need to be really honest with the Lord.  When the Elect go through the Scrutinies, they are reflecting on and allowing the Lord to accompany them on the journey into the waters which means repentance, acknowledgement of the darknesses that still exist, the hurts, the pains, the sorrows – the areas of our lives that just aren’t right yet.  The Light (of Christ) will come, but first we must acknowledge where we aren’t ready to be nourished and ask in this moment for the grace to let go and let God take over.

What does that mean for you?  I know what it means for me.  It means that as I pray for the Elect (and while it’s different for me right now, not in parish ministry: I pray in a more universal way), I also pray for the areas of my own life that are dark, where I haven’t been all that I can be for Jesus and for other people, the people He calls upon me to serve as a priest.  I pray for more strength to respond more generously, to acknowledge more truthfully and with greater clarity the wounds, issues, shortcomings and infidelities of my own heart – those areas I need to drink more wholly of the Living Water that has satiated me for all these year.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my hope that all of us take this blessed day to do the same.