Mary, the Mother of Jesus (of God) who we affectionately and personally call “Our Lady” was born fully and completely human and by the Grace of God had the stain of Original Sin, which affects us all – taken away from her. Why do we accept and believe this? Why is this important? And what does it have to do with us?
We accept and believe that Mary was conceived immaculately because her life was given in service to the Lord, from the time she was born, through her childhood, adolescence, young adult and until her dying day, she served God with every virtue given (faith, hope and charity) and every virtue she worked at day by day. This is important because it brings together the freedom every one of us have been given (to choose to do God’s will or not) and Divine Providence (that Almighty God Himself knows every action and the outcome of a life). In knowing this, Mary is given (and we are given too) special gifts, in her case because her vocation is best suited by it, she is conceived immaculately. Mary was fully capable of sinning and we sometimes forget this – but in choosing not to, she responded daily to God. She responded with an openness and obedience; a faith deepened constantly by trust.
Mary in the truest sense, lived and breathed her vocation. Mary lived out from beginning to end her life’s purpose! She is a model Christian, and we can learn a lot from her. We may not have been conceived immaculately, but then we need to remember that our vocation is no less important to the Lord, or to Our Lady. We, like her were given gifts from our conception, gifts that we can only know with prayerful self-reflection: not to use for selfish purposes but for self-less giving to God and to others. Divine Providence is in play in our lives as well; that is, God has a plan and a desire for each one of us and there is something universally and personally important for us to be doing in and with our lives: maybe to be a Priest of Jesus Christ and make present His Sacraments for us all, maybe to be a Religious or Consecrated Sister or Brother and dedicate our lives to service of God and His Church in ways of the utmost importance to salvation, maybe in the Generous Single Life in Christ giving ourselves totally and completely to Christ and His Church and maybe as a devoted Husband or Wife; Mother or Father married to God and to our spouse and building up the Church through the family we love and minister to; creating Holy Families throughout the world.
Have we (you) had a personal encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ? Has He healed you of your blindness? I have had one of those experiences and I was healed, but I continue to need healing from so many of the ways that I am blind.
In today’s Gospel we hear of two blind men calling out in public for Jesus the Messiah (Son of David recognizes His predicted coming in the line of King David, as it is written) to have mercy on them. They are aware of the Messiah in their midst but we also hear that Jesus waits until they are inside the house to speak to them: placing a premium on the personal encounter and it is there and through that personal encounter they are healed.
I’ve spent the majority of my life being hostile to religion and to religious people, most notably Christians because almost everyone I knew was Christian. I had no interest in anything religion was about until I came to a point of realization that I wasn’t living for anything real or significant in my life: the very accusation I made against religious people. I wasn’t an atheist, I did believe in a Creator God and it was to Him I prayed. I had a personal encounter with Jesus His Son, first through the Word and then a few years later through His Sacraments and through His Church. Over several years, the love I was coming to receive, know and accept from God was leading me to “see things” I was not and had not seen before. Little by little, I was less blinded by my opinions and judgments and more open to the grace and love of God in my life, and then as God desired it – I had sight to see the goodness of people.
I think of the amazing “miracles” of healing that have taken place in my life. I think also of the work the Lord still has to do. When I read and reflect upon today’s Gospel, I also think of how I gained sight through my own personal encounter with Jesus. And I am blessed to spend my life (through the priesthood) thanking Him for it and asking Him to continue healing me of what I need healing from in order to live the best Christian life I can.
I remember reading a book in seminary “Dare We Hope” by Hans Urs von Balthasar which gave us food for thought – who is saved and who is not? Although some people may think it’s a “cop out” for a Catholic priest to have little to say about this – I have little to say. The reason is that while I seek to abide in God’s infinite love (and try daily not to put limitations on my own love for others) and His infinite mercy gives me authority to preach on our need to forgive without limitations – I speak very little of God’s judgment. It’s not that I don’t believe or accept God’s judgment but I really do believe that this is the area that any thought, opinion or reflection I have on God’s judgment will be more what I think and less about what God’s judgment actually looks like. In a recent homily I gave to our seminarians, where I offered some thoughts on how to speak about hope when Jesus speaks to us about righteousness and judgment I put it this way: “The righteous (and unrighteous) will be judged by God but we have to remember first and always that God judged us worthy of giving us His Son, worthy of salvation, worthy of redemption and He makes a pretty good argument to leave the judging to Him and Him alone”.
I may have my personal opinions and beliefs about someone’s bad actions landing them in hell as opposed to going to heaven – but that is 100% up to God and I don’t hope hell for anyone! If I did, that would stand directly against what I am called to live my life for as a Christian and as a priest: to get to heaven and to bring AS MANY people with me as I can. Dare we hope that all by the Grace of God will be saved!
There are good theological reasons to see the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the Holy Eucharist in the same light. I often think of the multiplication and miracle of Jesus feeding these people in a pastoral way as well. I find myself moved by the love and compassion Jesus has for the people who come to Him. As a Catholic priest, by the power of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I pray over bread and wine and it becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Bread of Eternal Life. I am very mindful of how much I want all the people who come to receive to know Jesus in this way. I see so much faith and trust in their eyes when they come forward to receive Our Lord. I really and truly believe that when much of society and the media often can suggest that the Catholic Church is becoming irrelevant, it hasn’t been my experience. People still come for Holy Mass – NOT BECAUSE any of my brother priests or bishops or myself are amazing; but because Jesus is there! There are many miracles beyond what I am describing taking place in our faith communities all the time, but that the Lord Jesus makes Himself present in so many different ways, but to feed us with His own Body is really and truly a gift from God!!!
Where would professional sports be if a world-class athlete were not to give 100% to preparing for the big games or the Olympics because he or she was worried along the way that they might be traded to another team? For this reason they need to mentally prepare themselves for the task at hand trusting that whatever happens, they’ve given everything and it’s never in vane! This analogy may not be an exact fit for our Disciples today, but it might be worth our own consideration as Christians. We prepare and work as Christian Disciples for something we can’t see around us right now – Heaven and Eternal Life! Jesus says “blessed are the eyes that see what you see”.
The Son of God entered the world and performed miracles and did many things before the eyes of the people. His Apostles & Disciples did many of these things as well. Everything they (and we) do is for God and the blessedness of eternal life with and for Him. Our lives are given to tasks that very much benefit this world but are meant for things far beyond. And when we see God, God’s actions in the world (people being drawn back to God, back to the sacraments, back to His Word), and we see God in others and acting in that person and through the Person of His Son – truly, blessed are our eyes to see that! Friends, we too need to mentally prepare ourselves as athletes do, but most importantly as Disciples of the Lord do, to go out and work tirelessly for the most blessed of all things: faith, redemption and salvation – and know that the Lord who empowers us to do this, blesses us as He did those in today’s Gospel.
“Lord, I am not worthy to have You enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”. As we profess these words with faith when the priest holds the Body of Christ before us – does it ever occur to us that these words are offered for us and memorialized in the liturgy by someone who would not have likely been considered to be a good Catholic Christian? These words are not of someone in the inner circle or who was likely with Jesus at many of the various key moments through Galilee or Jerusalem, unless it was to oversee the soldiers who were monitoring Jesus; and then the inner circle might have been treated these soldiers and the centurion with suspicion. In this part of Matthew’s Gospel, we also hear other accounts of people reaching out to the Messiah in unconventional ways.
The Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah suggests that God would send His Messiah to redeem Israel, and surely many people had their own beliefs that this would benefit them and only them as they stayed on the “inside tract” of their faith. There were many who were ready to accept and believe that they were to be redeemed for what they had been doing to “keep on the right side of the Law”. But there were many who, for various reasons were on the outside looking in. We also know that there were many who were “on the right side of the Law” who were not able to open their hearts and minds to Jesus as the Messiah, doing exactly what He came to do –because what their own sense of righteous provided them was a limitation to who was to be saved and who among them was to be condemned. They were not willing to think “outside the box” and because of this, they projected their own limitation on our Lord and Saviour.
Jesus knew no such limitation, and today’s Gospel is an example of this. He praises the faith of the centurion, and in healing his servant from afar gives us all yet another example of his unlimited scope and reach in bringing people back to God.
I am in the process of reading and praying over “Gaudete et Exsultate” [Rejoice and Be Glad], Pope Francis’ exhortation to us on living our call to holiness. What impresses me the most about this exhortation from the pope is how he highlights the reality of holiness for us. Holiness in life isn’t meant to be for someone else – it’s meant to be for all of us. We are all called to be saints in this world AND I would suggest with all the complexities, problems and issues in the world we are living in – we need saints now more than ever. We aren’t called to look like saints from the past or be like one or another. We are meant to aspire for holiness in the life we are living now. Of course there are common characteristics among saints: an ever growing faith, a present and growing desire to be like Jesus Himself, a desire to work with God’s grace in tackling and overcoming sin in our own lives, deep commitment and desire to be merciful and understanding, a constant desire to love with the unconditional love that has been extended already to each of us, to forgive others in the complete and unconditional way we have been forgiven.
Do you want to become a saint? I know that I do. We need to ask ourselves: “what is standing in the way of me becoming a saint of our Lord Jesus Christ”? The answer to this cannot be what we’ve done in the past – that’s not good enough! The answer is to be found in what are we willing to do today and for the rest of our lives? Are we willing to acknowledge the Power of God and live our lives rejoicing in what God can do with us if we are open to it? Are we ready to love as much as we can, forgive as much as we can? Extend mercy and kindness to everyone we can? Serve others today and every day of our lives? Then we are ready to become saints.
Jesus has not placed limits on us, as the Gospel assures us today. We place limits on ourselves. Are we ready to allow our Lord to lift those limits from us today?
This blog post begins my Advent series, but is also from a homily for the First Sunday of Advent.
Before I entered the priesthood, I was a bus driver for Mississauga Transit. Each year, we would have a little ceremony where drivers who had an accident-free year were given a little award. I remember one year, one of the veterans who had an impeccable record for good driving [it was like a 20-year award] was asked what his secret was to being a great driver. Without missing a beat, he said “I kept my eyes on the road!” Of course we all laughed, but there’s a truth about that I’ve never forgotten because when I think of the Christian journey and especially our readings today that begin our Advent part of that journey – I think it’s good advice for us all to be mindful of as we begin again and re-dedicate ourselves as Catholic Christians. “Keep your eyes on the road”. We can all become distracted by other things. We can all lose focus from time to time. We can all fall into sloppy or unhelpful habits that make us feel more comfortable for a short time, but don’t help us where we are going. This happens when we are in the car – or bus as the case may be. It also happens in our Christian spiritual lives too. We see many accounts of it with the Apostles and other disciples in the Gospels, and I’m sure that most of us can see it in our personal lives as well. Here we are in Advent, four weeks of it before Christmas. We have time to prepare for the greatest gift of our faith: the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus. God loves us so much He came into the world to get us back to where He wanted us to be. That’s all of us! Keeping our eyes on the road in our faith helps us see Jesus really is with us, always: sacramentally, through His Word, in and through others and heaven lies ahead. Advent is a joyful time and we intently and intentionally prepare ourselves for Christmas – not only with shopping for gifts and food (although these things are important for bringing us closer to one another) we need to stop for a moment each day along the way and be mindful of why we do those things: food, family, presents: we do it because we are thankful. We do it because we see life, the Christian life we have been given as a gift. What does God tell us about love? If we love Him, the gift we offer the Lord in the way we love Him is to love others. We have four weeks to prepare for His greatest gift of love and all we have to be thankful for in that, to of course be thankful for the coming of the Lord but also to be thankful for what we have as well. Our faith and our personal lives need to meet each other in a deeper and more attentive way in Advent. In this way, we have the “big picture” and are keeping our “eyes on the road” so to speak.
When we keep our eyes on the road, just as when we drive we also can anticipate troubles and problems that lie ahead and how we can respond rather than react to them. If we see brake lights ahead of us, we are able to be prepared and slow down or stop slowly and cautiously. But if we are moving along not aware of what’s ahead, we slam on the brakes and quite possibly whatever’s in front of us and then we need to deal with the setbacks. Often we’re not able to handle the situation we face. Part of our Advent preparation is to look ahead. We hear readings about Our Lady and St. Joseph and how they handled tough decisions, impossible decisions even – with a trusting faith in God. We hear of Anna’s prophesy that Mary would experience a sword that would pierce her heart. Her bundle of joy would be a source of pain and sorrow for her. But we see she turned to her faith, she trusted the Lord and while this doesn’t take it away she realizes this can’t take away from the joy of the moment, and when the sad or heart-piercing moments of her life come (as they will) she is as ready as she is to embrace the moment she lives in now. The Holy Family will teach us that we too must draw strength from our faith, praying for a deeper trust in the Lord and thus a deeper faith. None of us want to spend our lives reacting to things (because we live in anger, frustration, bitterness) when we do. We want to be able to respond even to the challenges and hardships we face with love all around us. When we are thankful for all we have our problems seem less significant.
My friends, let us spend this Advent season with our hearts, minds and souls focused on all we have to be thankful for in our lives, on the source of the strength and courage we have been given in faith and let us “keep our eyes on the road” so to speak trying our best not to be distracted from focusing on faith, love and family once again. May this be a most Blessed Advent season for each of you. And may God bless us all!
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!”
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!
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.