Forgiving First, Then Truth in Charity

St. Joseph's

I spent this weekend at St. Joseph’s Parish in Streetsville.  This is a parish I am familiar with, as it has been a parish that for several years has kept the Office of Vocations busy.  There have been many men who are discerning from here and have found their way to visit me, many who have entered seminary formation.  In an archdiocese as large as ours (more than 2 million Catholics) St. Joseph’s stands out.  It’s my own prerogative (as Vocation Director) to want to understand why it is, this parish has so many men and women discerning right now?  But more than any answer or any “formula”, I give thanks to God for calling so many to discern giving their lives from this beautiful parish community.  This is my homily given there this weekend:

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some of you may remember the book Dead Man Walking; there was a movie in the 90’s based on the book.  It was written by Sr. Helen Prejean, a St. Joseph Sister who worked for many years in prison ministry and with some of the most hardened death row criminals. In her book she writes of the families of both the convicts and the victims whom she comes to know. One of the stories she tells was of the father of a murdered child, who knelt at the site of where his son’s body was found and prayed an “Our Father”.

By the man’s own account, he realized prayer was not only for the things we desire, but affects us: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…

This grieving father, who had absolutely every right to grieve, realized that he would face his son’s murderer one day: and as a Christian –he would need to find it in his heart to forgive.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine even thinking about forgiving someone who killed someone I loved and I have prayed the “Our Father” many, many times. I know I can say these words but I have a lot further to go as a Christian in my own ability to forgive.  If we are to take something as simple as the “Our Father” and stop and reflect upon it, if we are to unpack it: we should come to see that our faith calls us to action, always to act and unceasingly in our desire to act.

We can’t just talk about forgiving, we must actually forgive, and yes, it’s hard; it may at times seem nearly impossible: but it is possible! We know with God all things are possible!

Our readings on this 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time give us opportunity to pause and reflect upon our personal disposition as Catholic Christians, but also to grow in our desire to live-out our faith.  Ezekiel reminds us that it is important not only to see what’s going on, but in a spirit of genuine care and concern for others to try to help others “on the right way; the right path”.  Our Lord Himself reminds us of our “vocation” to help one another, to keep each other on the “right path”.  But it’s also in how we do it.

In my role as Director of Vocations, most of my work is to intimately know the men who are in our seminaries and leading up to that, the men who are discerning possibly the priesthood.  Since St. Joseph’s has many young men who’ve discerned or are discerning: I really can say, it’s my prerogative to know your sons; your brothers as best as I am able to.  Many of these young men are heroic in their desire to serve Jesus & His Holy Church and they want to do great things in the Name of our Lord; I hope that is something we all share in common.

I can assure you, if you don’t know some of the guys in seminary from this parish; their lives and their stories are very inspiring.  When they trust me enough to talk to me about their lives, their viewpoints, their plans, and their desires as God may will, priests one day: I will admit that what motivates many young people towards a life of evangelization is to share “the truth” with others and to help lead others to know God and to live holy, even saintly lives.  That truly is great!

When these courageous, energetic and heroic young men are ready to offer the truth – there’s often another consideration that often seems to be relegated to a place of lesser importance: that part is charity, the virtue of Christian love; deep care and concern for one another.  While many of our guys are great with understanding the “Truth”, it is the case that they have to learn to allow charity and mercy to dominate as well & not be filtered out.  It’s not just the case with men in the seminary, it’s for many of us and I include myself here too.  Most of us have to learn this.  I think it’s because we live in a work that we often feel attacked in our faith or defensive that we tend to go on the attack or offense right away.  We have to let go of our defenses if we are to speak to the truth in charity and in mercy.

Fr. Neiman and I have known each other for a long time, through our seminary days together and so he knows maybe better than anyone here, that this message is one I need to hear maybe more than others. I think I relate to our seminarians because I know how fired up & punchy I’ve been many times over many things too.  I remember in seminary really taking a brother to task for something.  As I recall I was a few years in, and the faculty seemed to be kind of happy or at least accepted that I took him to task.  My spiritual director though, a very wise man did not criticize me and was rather objective about what had taken place, but then he shared a thought with me.  He illustrated the difference between the truth & truth in charity.  He spoke to me about St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life & her having to learn this lesson as well.   Mother Teresa was known as a tough woman (you couldn’t accomplish the things she did in a lifetime without being tough, assertive and sometimes aggressive), but she also came to understand that the truth on its own won’t necessarily lead us to Christ.

We must learn to be gentle, reasoned, and positive and find ways to bring people to an understanding of the truth, more often than not so they get it on their own.  A Christian isn’t called merely to speak the truth, but is called to speak the truth in charity. There is a difference and to be truthful in a charitable and caring way often takes more energy and time; it’s the difference between a reaction to something and a response to a situation or event. My spiritual director did not convict me for how I had behaved, but I got the point he made gently, and this is a part of my daily examen now.

Do I speak to say the truth, or do I sincerely wish a person to come closer to the Lord? 

Today, as I work with seminarians myself, I try to be gentler and see where they are coming from first, I may challenge them but more often I might propose other things for them to consider.  I like St. John XXIII’s famous line and try to live more by these words (I’m not quite there yet): “see everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little”.  I think it’s a particularly relevant phrase for parents, grandparents, priests and anyone in Church ministry.

I am beginning to learn that I don’t need to correct all the time, the Lord provides us the times when we know we must.  We must turn to Jesus and a deeper encounter with Him in order to see that.  When Jesus scolds, admonishes, lectures, when He is blunt and direct: who is that for?  Is it for the poor sinner who is trying but shamefully fails from time to time?  Or is it for the self-righteous one who thinks they speak for the Lord in condemning others & laying burdens upon them?

In my confessional counsel, I often contrast Jesus’ words and His actions; “be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect”.  I contrast that with the beauty of the Sacrament of Penance we receive; the same Jesus gave us this sacrament to work out our imperfections.  He wants us to be perfect, yes, but knows we’re not & loves us imperfect as we are.  My friends, I began with a discourse on forgiveness because forgiveness opens our hearts to the rest of what Jesus asks of us.  Helping each other, requires deeper Christian love, and we can’t grow in love for others while we harbour ill-feelings, hatred or unforgiveness towards them.  Forgiveness must come first; then a desire to want what’s best for others, but also for the best reasons.  If we can try to do that we will make this world we all live in a much better place, one action at a time.  We need to start that right here in our parishes, our homes and the places we work and live.  May God bless you.

 

Facing the Reality of the Cross As a Follower of Christ

This reflection is based upon my Homily offered on the CTV Sunday Mass on Sunday July 2, 2017 (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time & Matthew 10:37-42)

In today’s Gospel we hear the Words of Jesus: “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me”.  These are powerful words and words it might be helpful for us to take a few moments to stop and reflect upon.  Do we live these words through and to the end, or do we live them to a point?  Are we willing to pick up our cross but then put it down again when the price seems too much or too high?  Do we follow Jesus up to a point… following Him to the Cross but not up on the Cross? Do we say, if even subconsciously “I will carry a cross but I won’t be crucified upon it?”  My friends, if we ask ourselves these questions and fall short – as if you’re anything like me you might do…

We can almost say that we are not truly followers of Christ, just “mere admirers”.    Our Gospel today calls all of us to not only reflect upon this but also to go deeper if we can.  I would think that many of us can relate to being “just an admirer” at times in our lives – when our commitment to Jesus is tested to the breaking point.  There are times in our lives when the full impact of Jesus’ words hit home for us though, with frightening force.

When hardship or tragedy strikes us in our lives; we are tempted to not want that cross, to not want to pick it up and follow Jesus as He asks us to; tempted to turn away from Jesus and no longer follow in His footsteps as we’re called to.  It’s hard for those of us who have loved someone to pick up our cross and follow Jesus when we have been rejected… cast aside… betrayed by someone we love deeply.  It’s hard for those of us who are elderly to pick up our cross and follow Jesus when we have been forcefully put into a senior’s home or nursing home.  It’s hard for spouses to pick up their cross and follow Jesus when the other spouse travels a lot for work and they are left lonely… isolated and taking care of the children.  It’s hard for us to follow Jesus when we have been diagnosed with cancer or some other life-altering disease and find our lives dramatically changed forever.

What do those among us who suffer greatly do when the cross has been thrust upon them; and especially when that cross seems to exceed our ability to carry it?  When we find ourselves with such a cross, these are the times we especially need to remind ourselves that there were moments in the Life of Jesus Himself, when His Cross exceeded His strength to carry it and when that time came; He had to accept the help of a stranger; Simon of Cyrene.  The Son of God, the Savior of the World had to admit Himself weak and lacking in the strength to carry His cross on His own.

Whom do we reach out to, when our burdens seem too great?  Are we humble enough to admit we need help and ask for it?  We reach out to Jesus first.  He knows and can identify with what we’re going through better than anyone can.

We can count on His strength.

We also need to reach out to others in our lives as well; those who are vulnerable like us, professionals, friends and family.  Our Gospel today is an invitation for each of us to stop and ponder; to ask ourselves the humbling questions: are there times in my life when it impossible for me to pick up my cross and follow Jesus?  If our answer is in any way ‘yes’ – then we are given another challenge today.  We are challenged to do what Jesus did when His Cross became too heavy to bear and be humble enough to admit it; reaching out to those who want to help us, but it also challenges us to see things through the eyes of Simon of Cyrene too for others.  To be there and be alert for the time when someone else needs our help in carrying their cross.

We all pay it forward.

We all must help one another so that others are there to help us in our own time of trial too.  May God bless you.

Resistance to Temptation Strengthens Our Soul

Based on my homily given at St. John the Evangelist in Whitby on the First Sunday of Lent, Sunday March 5, 2017:

We live in a most vibrant culture; a culture always in pursuit of happiness.  In the world we live in, sin is often denied, camouflaged, psychoanalysed and repressed – but not confessed.  “We don’t really sin; we make mistakes of judgment!  We’re only “being human”.”

It’s not my intention to be cynical or to present this dark or irredeemable opinion of the world we live in. It was the world Jesus lived in too, it’s a world that we might not completely change but we contribute to it with our own outlook and attitude. Christians are without a doubt a very important and influential part of this world we live in, if even we may sometimes feel we are not.

Lent is a time to take a look at these temptations, sin and the consequences. The origins of the Lenten season saw those about to be baptized repenting of their sins and sought to know Jesus in a more intimate way. We see this in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in the various rites and then in the Scrutinies prior to Easter.  It became a season for the baptized to do the same.

Each of us are challenged to die to sin so that we may rise again to new life in Christ. This is not merely a theological concept, it is part of the Christian journey.  As we begin the season of Lent with reflections on the origins of sin among us, we hear in today’s readings the main themes of temptation, sin, guilt and forgiveness.

We hear in today’s Gospel of the temptation of our Lord, His submission to these temptations would have destroyed His mission and we would have a very different history than the salvation history we joyfully have a share in. Our temptation may not be as dramatic as our Lord’s temptation: but it’s not meant to be.

We fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from eating meat in part to heighten our awareness of temptation in our lives. Who among us didn’t feel more like having that cheeseburger or steak on Ash Wednesday but did not? It’s often when we are stressed in life, challenged, suffering in some way that we feel like sinning, letting go or moving further away from the Lord, pitying ourselves, or justifying selfishness – it’s not to be harsh.  We are tempted in the challenges of our lives.

But we are also challenged as Jesus is: to give ourselves over to material wealth and the temptation to draw closer to things than the Lord and others too. We must accept that this is indeed part of the experience of life; but as Christians we live for something much greater: greater than ourselves or this world: we live for God, for others and for a world much bigger than what we can see or comprehend.

We too face temptation but in struggling and resisting temptation we become stronger. Each time we are tempted to do evil or do wrong or to be self-centered or selfish and we choose the good instead, we become stronger. We are never tempted beyond our power.

We hear in the First Letter of John: “Greater is the one who is in us, than the one who is in the world (4:4).” By rite of our baptism and marked again at Confirmation, the Holy Spirit has dwelt in each of us. When we make a good confession, we may feel it’s guilt that brings us to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but we can be assured that the Holy Spirit that dwells within us helps us rid ourselves of what holds us back from being th best Christians we can be.

We also hear St. Paul affirm this as well when he says, “No testing has overtaken you, that is not common for everyone.  God is faithful and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you will be able to endure it (10:13)”.  As Jesus is tempted in the desert, He is assured of the Father’s protection; as are we in our temptations, trials and tribulations.  We simply need to have faith and trust; trust in God will lead us to greater faith.

My friends in Christ, as we begin our Lenten season, I wish each of you well in your personal Lenten commitments; sacrifices and spiritual offerings. Let us be People of Hope, as we journey with Christ, may we be successful in the challenges that face us day by day and may we know that we are not alone, but have a God who loves each of us so very much and will protect us. May we resist temptation and have the grace to see ourselves gro stronger as Christians each day too.  May God bless you.

Mary, Mother of God…And Our Hearts

nativity-scene

Based on my homily given at St. Alphonsus Church in Peterborough.

Most of us make New Year’s Resolutions whether we keep them or not and we usually criticize ourselves or laugh at the very notion; knowing that there’s a likelihood that whatever we resolve to do – we won’t continue.

We resolve to do things differently; maybe go to the gym or go for a long walk every day, to pray more maybe or whatever it may be. Our resolve may last a month or two, maybe even a week or two, or as much as we might hate to admit it, sometimes only a day or two – and then our New Year’s Resolution’s finished and we’re back to work or school and New Year’s is all but forgotten. Does this sound remotely familiar to anyone?

Health clubs admit they put much of their ad and marketing budget into campaigns around this time of year and make most of their revenue for the year with men and women buying yearly gym memberships that many won’t use past February. Maybe we feel a little guilty for the excess Christmas cheer or the way we rang in the New Year and our resolution comes from a notion that we have to do something drastic about it. The biggest mistake though, would be to become convinced that New Year’s Resolutions and the idea of making those resolutions are useless – they most certainly are not!

Resolutions are good in and of themselves, we just need the willpower to stick to the resolutions we make. First of all, we need to make realistic resolutions that we plan to keep, but I’m sure most of us here know that already. Our resolutions need to fit our lives. And we need to approach them with a sense of hope, a sense of promise that we can keep them and most of all joy towards the goal or the end result of the goal we seek to achieve. Resolutions are a part of “our Creed” (in a manner of speaking); they are a part of who we are as Christians. As Christians we ought to be making resolutions that we try to keep all the time.

We make resolutions when we go to confession, not to sin again and while we may have some sense in the back of our mind that we will likely have to go to confession again, our intention and our resolution is still to amend our unchristian ways and try to be the very best people we can be. Failing in a meeting a resolution is not a sign we should quit, but an invitation to begin again having asked ourselves where we went wrong. We make the resolution or our parents did at the time of our baptism; that we would stay close to the Lord, love Him and serve Him and others; to live our lives by faith & not merely for what we can see in this world.

When we profess the Creed together as a sign of unity and a sign of our faith, we seek to believe what we profess with our whole heart, mind and soul. We must resolve where we don’t believe or struggle to believe, to seek to enter more deeply into relationship with God and the Church, seeking to understand and be resolved to believe all the more.

Resolutions really are an important part of the Christian life. We are all a “work in progress”. We aren’t perfect, but we seek to be perfect. Without faith, we might seek to be just be “okay” or be good – with faith in God and through His Word Incarnate Jesus Christ; we seek to be “perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect”. We don’t waste our time thinking that we won’t ever be perfect, or that we won’t make it, nor do we resign ourselves to our imperfections; instead we take our life one day at a time, knowing our meaning and purpose is found in and through the Lord Himself and we continue to progress day by day. We make each and every “resolution” to be better with joy. This means even when we miss the mark or don’t quite succeed or even when we fail, we must remember we do what we do for the Lord and not to be exceedingly hard on ourselves. Failure is only a terrible thing when we learn nothing from it, and it is only an end when we let it be a sign for us to quit. That’s not a Christian attitude or approach to things.

We live in hope and we look for role models; people who help us by their example. Today, we celebrate the great Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, our Mother in faith! Often times when we focus on the highly theological titles of Our Lady, Mother of God; we forget that this is a fully human woman, capable of sin (though she did not) capable of being wrong as she might have been from time to time, not all knowing in all things (and had to have faith and trust in God’s Providence too). Reflection on the Scriptures teach us that. I don’t say these things to diminish our Lady who holds the highest honour of any fully human person (Jesus is fully human and fully Divine). Instead, it’s to point out that this fully alive, fully human woman, who was given arguably the greatest role in human history; to bring to life God’s Son and through Him salvation; she too surely made resolutions in her life. She surely made many, because it would be unrealistic to believe that she didn’t grow and mature, that she didn’t deepen in her own faith and understanding of what was taking place through her, because we know she did. She must have made the resolve to become a better and greater instrument for the Lord day by day throughout her life. We mustn’t look at Mary as a role model in a one-dimensional way, as simply a stoic image of greatness. We look at her in a multi-dimensional way as a complete person, a complex person as all of us are. If we do that, we will draw ever closer to her. If we do that, we realize that what other Christians and people of other faiths don’t see about us, but what might be edifying for them if they did. That we love, honour and respect Mary because in addition to what she did for us by bringing the Incarnate Son of God into the world we live in – worthy of honour itself. Is the model she provides us with, by her own very life! She is a role model for us, she embodies what we as Christians seek in life; she walked the walk day by day.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, let’s consider our own relationship with Mary, and may she always play an important role in our own lives – may we ask for her to pray for us, and to give us strength as we resolve to be the best Christians we can be. May God bless you.

Well Done, Good & Faithful Servant! Enter into the Joy of Your Lord!

manresa-pickering

This homily is given in the context of a vocation discernment retreat I am giving at Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Center in Pickering.  Ten men discerning their vocation spent the weekend in silent prayer.  This homily is themed with the conferences for the weekend.

During the Rite of Ordination for Deacons [every priest is ordained a deacon first; a transitional role] there is a homily in the rite, which most ordaining bishops use in addition to their own homily – Cardinal Collins most certainly does.  The last three sentences of the homily read this way: “Express in action what you proclaim in word of mouth. Then the People of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear Him say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

It was almost six years ago that I was ordained a transitional deacon, but those were words that remained with me, and words that evoke a powerful reminder for me now as I attend many ordinations in my current ministry.  They are powerful words, because they are words that I hope to hear one day when I pass from this life to the next, words I hope to hear from the Lord Himself.  Nothing could be sweeter to me than the sound of these words.

I share them because my hope is that in reflecting upon your own lives, these are the kind of words you hope to be really, the crowning achievement of your lives too.  I was 34 years old when I entered seminary formation and spent seven years in formation discerning my vocation, much like Joe who spent those six years discerning his vocation to marriage but when you take your time and really allow yourself to be open to what the Lord hopes for you – you find yourself savouring it all.

And so after 7 years of growing in self-awareness, of being formed in my humanity, in my ability to love and in how to be pastoral & to serve others as a priest, of having grown and matured and having learned how to be a better Christian man and disciple – seminary was coming to an end and I was ordained a deacon, ordained to serve.  I could have looked at it as a time of freedom from the seminary or freedom to serve the Lord.  I chose the latter.

I think of a video clip I saw of Archbishop Fulton Sheen in the final year of his life, meeting St. John Paul II, a young pope at the time.  The two godly men met, and the pope embraced Archbishop Sheen and thanked him with these words, “well done, good and faithful servant – you served the Church well and when it’s your time may you enter into the joy of the Lord.”

Archbishop Sheen was the first big Catholic TV star; some of you maybe your parents or grandparents will remember him well.  A brilliant man; a very, very popular man – these words were the greatest words he could want to hear in his life too.

Whether you’re more like the simple bus driver (like me) who never would have thought he would do anything like this (priesthood) or a great orator, scholar and bishop – somehow these words can have such a great impact, the simple acceptance and joy of the Lord at the work we do makes all the hard work, sacrifices and struggles we might have seem worth it.

Living our vocation is not only about this: there is much, much joy in living the way God intended us to; seeing some of the fruits of our labours while we live.  Knowing our life had meaning and purpose.

In today’s Gospel, all John the Baptist asks as his life is coming to an end is did he fulfill the work the Lord had for him in this life.  The response Jesus offers him is greater than he could have hoped for.  Not only is he given a sense of the fruitfulness of his life AND a confirmation of his life’s purpose.

But he is also given a sense of the true joy the Lord feels for him and is embraced by Jesus.

May we seek to be John the Baptists in today’s world, because as Disciples of Christ, we are called to fill his role in our vocation.  To prepare the way for the Lord.  To know that we act in the name of Jesus Christ whom we follow, but we also prepare our brothers and sisters for others who will bring Jesus to them is a great joy of the Gospel.

I think of a few things that Joe mentioned in his talk yesterday as well.  He spoke of the sacrifices he and his wife made to share faith with each other and then to pass it on to their sons.  What I can tell you is that these seven young men are good Catholic men, disciples who will make their mark on the world by living their faith and with their own families.

There were times when Joe and his wife brought Jesus Christ directly into their children’s and their student’s lives and there were times when they ‘prepared the way for the Lord’; for others to bring the Lord to them.  That is what we ought to do as disciples.

We are not one or the other.

When I celebrate this Mass and administer the sacraments as I do as a priest, I am acting ‘in persona Christi Capitus’, in the Person of Christ the Head of the Church and in my priesthood, I am called to be ‘alter Christus’, ‘another Christ’.  But in many situations, I am preparing the way for others to bring the Lord to them; parents, teachers, ministers in parishes.

We need humility in our vocation; no matter what we might be called to – we have to realize that the Lord calls others to greatness in His name.  Our vocations are integrally & intimately connected one to another.

Even in vocation ministry, for those of you discerning, it is the impression of priests other than me who have brought you to a place in your discernment where you are considering the priesthood.  Being the one who prepares others for something greater than ourselves is the life we have chosen as Christian men, Disciples of Christ.

It is not a lesser life, it’s a great life – no matter what vocation our Lord is calling us to.

My brothers in Christ, let us consider John the Baptist today and his great yet humble works and may we too follow the Lord, seek to fulfill and live out God’s call for us and may we long for the words “well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter the joy of your Lord.”  May God bless you.

Immaculate Conception: Gateway to a Beautiful & God-Given Life

 

We celebrate the beautiful Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent, celebrating God’s grace given to His Chosen Handmaid, the Mother of His Son.  It  is a time for us to pause and ponder the Lord’s Divine Plan for the salvation of the world and His Divine Plan for each of us.  One of the common misunderstandings I’ve experienced has been that many believe we are celebrating Jesus’ immaculate birth here, but of course it is the traditional belief that Our Lady was given the special grace of the removal of Original Sin by God the Father Himself prior to Christian Baptism.  In seminary, I read many beautiful theological reflections on this topic by many theologians throughout the history of the Church that gave me a deeper sense of why Our Lady would be given this special gift.  I know in many friendly debates there are many among us who think that this is old-school thinking, or thought that “deifies” Mary.  There are others whom I’ve spoken with who believe that Mary was guarded and protected against ever sinning.  I am no theologian, so you’re getting an ordinary priest’s way of looking at Mary’s immaculate birth here.  Mary is someone we can relate to.  She was the first and greatest Christian – she followed Jesus Christ before He was even conceived, from her own birth, and for this she received a gift from God that every Christian receives in baptism.  It doesn’t deify her, it gives her the same strength of faith we all have been given.  And like us, she wasn’t protected from sinning, because she was a real girl in a real world.  Of course, God who knows all knew her family and how she would be brought up and her own disposition to things.  That’s why He chose her.  This was all a part of the Divine Plan!  If we stop and take into account, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her birth, her childhood, the Annunciation when she came to bear Our Lord, His birth, the Holy Family, her life on her own and with her Divine Son, His Suffering & Death (and her suffering with Him), His Resurrection (and her rejoicing in the Divine Plan), her own Assumption and Crowning in heaven – we see the panorama of Mary’s life and if we reflect upon our own we should see something here too – our Lord wants us to see it, as does our Lady!

We too have been called from birth, called to share in the waters of baptism, called into Discipleship, enlivened with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Holy Confirmation and called to our vocation in life, the manner in which we attain holiness and heaven ourselves, but also bring as many people with us as we can.  We are given many powerful gifts to do that, and while it may not be immaculate conception, we shouldn’t be disappointed.  That was for Mary.  We have been given Holy Baptism which brought us to the same place.  The heavens opened up and the Lord Jesus proclaimed “this is my Beloved Brother/Sister, in whom I am well pleased”.  Friends, let us reflect upon our own lives today, our vocation and how we might live that vocation out today and every day, and as we look at the panorama of Mary’s beautiful life which began at the Immaculate Conception, may we be reminded that our Christian journey began at our conception too.  May God bless you.

 

Get Rid of Sins First; Then We Do the Lord’s Work

It seems to be a contradictory way of thinking for us to believe that sacrifices and the focus we might offer to penance would have much to do with joy at all.  During this Advent season, we are preparing our hearts and minds for the greatest gift God offered us in His Son coming into the world to offer all of us salvation and an eternity with Him in heaven.  Nothing could be more joyful, and the way we celebrate today lends itself to that great joy.  But we are reminded by today’s Gospel that penance or repentance as John the Baptist puts it – is part of the season as well.  We hear both John and later Jesus begin their message and the ministry that follows with “repent”.

Having had the life experience of many years with little or no faith, I have a slightly different perspective than others.  I certainly would have been the first one as a teenager or young adult to criticize Catholics for too much penance.  I can’t say I had any real understanding of the Catholic practice of confession, but it would have been high on my list to criticize because what little I knew of Christianity was that there was too much worry about sin and wrongdoing.  Most of my lifetime was spent on the outside looking in, and the worry made it seem that for the Christian, lives were wasted with this and not living life instead.  Now I am on the inside looking out and I hear the continued criticism offered on this but I have come to see things differently now.

Catholic Christians do not focus on sin; and if they do that’s wrong.  When I meet a penitent who seems overly mired, distressed, concerned or focused on his or her sin, or a particular sin; I try to get them to relax a bit.  I ask them to trust the Lord a little bit more, regularly confess their sin as they are doing, but use the freedom from sin (the grace of absolution) to get on with the best parts of being Christian – bringing Jesus Christ and His amazing message of salvation to others.  Let God sort out your weaknesses and give you a boost of grace.

What changed my perspective on all of this was not a teaching, was not a book, was not anything other than having enough trust in my faith when I became Catholic to face my fears and go to confession myself.  I encountered the Lord in the most amazing ways right there.  My whole life of faith has been a constant call for me to trust the Lord more.  It’s hard for an adult convert, I think especially for one like me that was not always positive about “religion” to trust in the Lord and the Church.  I, like so many, see the human weakness that is the human dimension of the Divine Reality.  But I trust the Lord brought me to His Holy Church and so I trust in Him and in His Sacraments.  It was probably one of the most difficult experiences for me to go to confession, but I did and I know the freedom from my sins as I confess them.  I also know that at its best, as it often is – the counsel I receive fills me with greater faith, hope in abundance and I leave the confessional a better person, ready to be a better person and live my faith to the fullest.

Penance, repenting of my own sins and weaknesses, letting go of these things and acknowledging that they will not and do not have dominion over me allows me to grow as a Christian and be the best one that I can be.  Sisters and brothers, let us all consider the words of the Baptizer today and may we free ourselves from what holds us back from the greatest joy our lives will ever experience.  May God bless you.

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

Ordinandi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(continued in Part II)

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

Ordinandi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Is Madly in Love with Us!

This Easter Sunday homily was given at St. John the Evangelist & St. Cornelius Parish in Caledon, where I served two summers as a seminarian.

Often our coming to Holy Mass the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, our being here is something we know is good for us, but for many of us, we are at a loss to explain why we come; which can also be a reason why (for some of us) we stop coming altogether.

It would seem that if we’re not able to convince someone else, anyone else, even our children – or to have our parents convince us of why we should be here – then eventually it might even stand to reason that we are ‘living a lie’ and we give up believing that coming to Mass is an important and connected part of our spiritual lives.

We may then, come to believe that we fit into a different category “I’m spiritual and not religious” and belong to a belief system that eventually will crumble away what we accept by faith; until it will be hard to have faith in anything at all(p).  Perhaps you think you’re going to hear a homily criticizing you if this is you – but guess what, you’re not!  You’re not because I too have been there most of my life, with little or no desire to be a religious man, a Christian man.  You’re not, because we’re glad you’re here with us tonight/today; we all have a past, but Jesus loves us in the present and forever! I’ve also made the mistake of believing that my faith had to be so sure and strong that I had to convince everyone else that I was right and they were not that it led me first to a sense of hopelessness, it led me to great doubt and drove a wedge between me & the Lord.  I don’t judge, because I struggled with faith even as a new Catholic, and continue to.  Faith wouldn’t mean anything if it came easily to us; it wouldn’t be faith in God if it left nothing to mystery and the imagination.  We struggle but so too did the disciples.   I think we can well imagine how each and every disciple questioned and doubted his faith until the tomb was found empty and even then until they encountered the Risen Lord.  Most of us have our periods between Good Friday and Easter Sunday where everything is mystery, where our faith is tested.  My hope and prayer for each one of us here is that as the Lord Rises Glorious and Immortal, our faith rises and is transformed to be stronger, deeper, tested and true.  We are all here because we have faith, or we want it.  We are invited today to a new or renewed faith in God, to a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ and then once again to the baptismal waters.  It began at baptism for us, ends with death and dying to self in life and our faith is raised again with Christ, new and transformed with Him in His Resurrection.  And we pause to reflect upon the greatest act of love (ending on the Cross on Good Friday) and the greatest sign of faith, hope and love (we celebrate today at Easter in the Resurrection).  Friends, we may not be able to explain why we are here – but we are here!  And that’s what so pleases God.  We may not have it all figured out, but that’s okay because it’s already figured out for us, all we have to do is stay committed to Jesus and to the Easter Promise, and things are never going to be the same.  Tonight/today, I want to share with you the words of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, retired Archbishop of Cincinnati.  He had the most beautiful way to look upon what our faith in Jesus Christ is all about; what the meaning and purpose of our life on earth and with God forever is all about.  Let us listen to these words –   these words express why we are all here:

The most important thing in the world is that God is madly in love with us.  There’s no reason for it.  God just loves us.  That’s why there is a world.  That’s why each of us is here.  God has loved us for a long time, ever since the beginning of human history.  And God has never stopped loving us, even when we human beings made a mess of things and we did our best to forget about God’s love for us.  But that’s not all.  God loves us so much that He wanted to be one of us.  In Jesus Christ, God became a human being not just to tell us who and what God is, but also to show us who and what we are supposed to be.  Jesus was faithful to that mission even when it cost Him His life.

But that’s not all.  Jesus is still alive because His heavenly Father wouldn’t let Him stay dead.  Jesus is with us still and has sent us the Spirit that unites Him and the Father to make us live God’s life in addition to our own.  To be part of that life we don’t have to earn it, we don’t have to deserve it.  All we have to do is accept what Jesus offers us and then act in accord with what He has made us to be.

But that’s not all.  Jesus has established a community of those who have accepted Him so that none of us ever has to be alone.  Jesus nourishes that community with Himself (Holy Communion we receive at Mass; with the Word of God we hear and the faith we unite ourselves in and profess) and He marks every major moment of the life of every member with His personal action in the sacraments.

But even that is not all.  God loves us so much that this life of Jesus that we have been given to share will never end.  God wants us with Him forever.  No matter how confusing and painful our life may be, we have God’s guarantee of final fulfillment.  In the most literal sense, God has promised us that everything is going to be all right.  God invites us to take constant joy in hope.

But there’s still more.  Because we share the life of Jesus, we share the mission of Jesus.  Each of us is called to extend the love and care of the Lord to those around us.  We may not seem to have much to offer, but what we do have is eternally important because it’s not just ourselves that we offer, but the Lord Jesus Himself.  The Lord has chosen to need each one of us to get His work done.  Nobody’s life is insignificant.

The long and the short of it is that God is crazy about us.  Once we accept that, everything else falls into place.

Friends, that’s pretty good news.  There’s no question that we all need a little good news right now.  There seems to be much hopelessness, bad news, uncertainty in the hearts of many.  It is here that we find sanctuary with the Lord; here in our community of believers.  We celebrate this most especially at Easter.  This is very, very good news!  Nothing happening in the world today has dominion over love in our hearts; over the joy and peace we can have faith and trust in.  The Lord died on Friday, everything seemed doomed and downcast with Jesus in the tomb.  But He has Risen, truly He has Risen!  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a promise of transformation; it ought not to lead us into doubt and confusion; but clarity, hope and promise.  A joyous Easter and may God bless you!