1st Sunday of Lent: Are We Ready to Embrace a Deeper Life in Christ?

Jesus TemptedPassion of the Christ

We celebrate today the first Sunday in the season of Lent.  We began the season with the marking of ashes; reminding us of both our mortality and our need to renew our lives and so if we truly entered into this season with those two things in mind, we should be ready for humble introspection and reflection.  That too, is an important part of this season for all of us.  It is part of the circle of life.

The circle of life happens whether we want it to or not; we are born, we grow quickly absorbing, learning, growing, developing until we reach full growth and then while the growth and development may slow down, it is either made sweet and healthy by humble reflection and introspection or it’s made bitter/maybe bittersweet by scepticism, cynicism and pessimism.  We are either filled with hope or mired in hopelessness.

Friends, Lent is about wanting the best for ourselves and for each other.  If we’re mindful that death will come to us all, we aren’t meant to be dire, downcast or gloomy about this, but to realize we’re on a timeline and while we ought to appreciate, enjoy and savour our lives – we are called to live the lives we’ve been given with meaning and purpose.  If we acknowledge we are called to “turn away from sin [selfishness and living for ourselves in the moment] and turn towards the [hope-filled] Gospel; our lives get better and our lives stay better!

That is the foundation, the fertile ground I hope we are all allowing ourselves to be rooted in as we begin Lent.  In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus in His desert experience, taking on temptation and suffering, being pulled away from God and remaining committed and resolved to stay close to the Father.  We hear of His temptation in the desert followed by His Proclamation that begins a Lenten experience for Him and His followers.  Believing in the Gospel comes with a price.  Turning away from sin doesn’t make life easy in any way.  Meeting temptation with resolve is not an easy thing to do.  All three of these statements are absolutely true and they ought to be essential and real statements for the Christian; for the Disciples of our Lord.  They are true, they are not easy to swallow – but they are only part of the story.  The greatest part of the Christian “story” or life is in what is received.  That – is more profoundly great than absolutely anything given by us for it.  We have to remember that.

As we prepare this Lent for more humble introspection and reflection, let us stop and consider our own lives lived up to this very moment in time and let us ask ourselves what more are we prepared to do, to receive the love of God and a deeper faith into our hearts, minds and souls.

We Are Called from the Ordinary – To Be Extraordinary

This is my homily given at Sacred Heart of Jesus Korean Parish in Etobicoke today on the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Today’s Gospel is a portion of St. Mark’s Gospel from Chapter 1, which among other lessons is the expression of an “ordinary day” in the life of Jesus Our Lord.  He came, He was Baptized, He was tempted, He began His mission, He preached the Gospel, He encountered the man with the unclean spirit, He healed, He went out further to continue to spread the Good News and performs yet another miracle.

Now please don’t put too much focus at this point, on my synopsis of St. Mark, chapter 1: I am merely pointing out the pattern that we might consider the ordinary pattern on the Mission and Ministry of Jesus.  Now, here we are in the 4th Week in Ordinary Time, and I am sure that we have all heard somewhere before: if not in catechism class, then perhaps in a homily that our use of the term “Ordinary” to describe a liturgical season should not lead us to somehow think this is less than the other high liturgical seasons.  That’s true.  But further than that, I might propose something for us all to consider here today: food for thought for the week if you will – there is nothing ordinary about the life or mission of a Christian.  Nothing is ordinary and if we are more than just our bodies and minds here today for Holy Mass; we must allow this truth to penetrate our hearts and souls and we must really carry this with us from here and into the world we live in – today and every day.

We are Catholic Christians.  By the power of God the Holy Spirit, every one of us here was created to be extraordinary by our Baptism (p).  Why is it, that it seems that nothing “extraordinary” is asked of us, and yet we have the example of so many of our Holy Saints who lived heroic and extra-ordinary lives?  Why do we celebrate the lives of other holy people often from the past, but have a hard time seeing that we were created in the same way, gifted in the same way, empowered by the same Holy Spirit in the same way, and called to live the very same lives that they lived?

As Korean Catholics, you have a beautiful tradition of saints who’ve lived and died extraordinary lives committed and witnessing to the same faith we share with them, examples and models for us all.  We too are baptized into living extraordinary lives, my friends.  I know we are!  And I am not standing here preaching to you as a man who altogether gets that and lives it each and every day either!

I am not preaching only to the congregation, I am preaching to myself.  There are many different ways I convicted myself as I prepared my homily and reflected on the many ways and many days I seem to be satisfied and content with the living an Ordinary Life, with little desire to live fully my own baptismal call.  What keeps me, what keeps us on track is a Sacramental Life.

Truthfully, no encounter with our Lord Christ is going to be an Ordinary encounter.

I try to reflect on this before and after confecting the Eucharist.  I know it and feel it each time I go to Holy Confession.  In my current role and ministry, as Director of Vocations for this archdiocese, I am working with men who are considering the Holy Priesthood and women and men who are considering religious and consecrated life.  I suggest to you that in today’s world that we live in, this is an extra-ordinary way for people to choose to live.  I suggest to you, and offer as insight: that extra-ordinary things are happening in the lives of most of these people that lead them to begin to see the Lord our God calling them to live extraordinary lives for Christ in the “ordinary” lives they feel they have been given by God.  When I encounter young people who are discerning their vocation, they are so “on fire” with the Holy Spirit and ready to love and serve the Lord and others that it is has an effect upon me, and often affects me to re-commit myself to Jesus Christ where I confess I am lacking.  I mention this for two reasons, two important reasons I want each of us to take away today.

One, we are all called to be extraordinary.  Deep down, we must acknowledge that.  Each and every one of us are extraordinary people called to live extraordinary lives for the Lord and for others.  We may feel we don’t have that capacity – if we feel that, this is something we’re wrong about and we need to ask our Lord to help us see with greater clarity our Baptismal call.  This world and all of us in it, is not served by any one of us here playing small in the world, being less than all we can be for God and for others.  Our community, our families, our friends, our co-workers or fellow students do not benefit by our playing small or the fear we might have of being judged negatively or criticized for being Catholic Christians.  Fear is never of the Lord, and so we must allow the Lord to rid us of the ‘unclear spirit’ of fear that holds us back from the living out fully of our faith.

Two, we must help one other to see our ability to share our gifts in extraordinary ways.  As I journey very closely with the men who enter St. Augustine’s Seminary and discern a possible call to Diocesan Priesthood, men from this parish community– I get to know their lives very intimately.  One of the things which I come to discover very quickly and which I am granted insight into, is how important the people in their lives are to their good (and poor) vocational discernment.  I have come to see how extra-ordinary the bonds of relationship between people really are.  We may rarely if ever think about this.  I have worked with men who have the heart, mind and soul to live their lives as priests, yet are being strongly drawn away from their vocation because they perceive the people in their lives want them to do something else.  Not only can this be a sad reality a vocation director and a person discerning must face – it is something which reinforces for me the importance of developing good relationships with others.  Each one of us needs to stop and think about each and every relationship we have and will have and ask ourselves: are we helping one another to see the gifts God has given each of us, and helping one another be the very best person we can be?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, none of us here are meant to be living ordinary lives, our lives are absolutely and without a doubt meant to be extraordinary.  You are an extraordinary person, and I hope and pray you will take that with you here today.  Look around you, because each of you are extraordinary too and should be valued as such.  This world we live in needs you to engage yourself fully and completely in this way, and help each other to see extraordinary gifts in each other.  Help one another to become extraordinary, to become saints.  The true definition of holiness is to seek to get ourselves to heaven and to bring as many people with us as we can.  My friends, that is the vocation, the mission each and every one of us share and must take seriously today and every day.  May God bless you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd Sunday of Advent: Coming Home to God

Our readings today speak of a homecoming for us: returning to God. A few years ago now, there was a website that was popular called “Catholics Come Home”.  It was the beginning of a sense that many Catholics have that we need to do a better job of reaching out to others who have felt alienated from God and the Church and encourage them, welcome them and embrace them when they “come home”.  There has always been tension among us of how we should do that: the Church is pastoral means different things to different people.  To some it means we reach out to share the truth, but accept it or don’t.  To others, the truth changes relative to the needs of the person, and so the welcome becomes the most important thing.  As Disciples of Christ and most recently here in the Archdiocese of Toronto, our pastoral mandate as Catholics is to “care for the gathered and reach out to the scattered”.  Whether we’re part of the gathered or part of the scattered, in order to come home, invite others to come home or be at home with the Lord – requires a certain disposition on our part.

Our disposition needs always to be one governed by Jesus and His Word, lived out as one who desires to be like Him in all things.  Our disposition needs to be one of care and concern, and not judgment, because what we are doing for Jesus is either helping or hindering the scattered from coming to Jesus, nothing more and nothing less.

John the Baptist’s desire to bring people to Jesus.  Nothing more or less.  He desires to lead everyone to a baptism of repentance, not for Himself but for Jesus.  Sometimes, people like how hard-hitting John is towards the Pharisees and want to be as hard-hitting as he is with people who don’t live by the truth.  Unfortunately, very few of us really understand that the scattered are not the Pharisees.  Very few of us are able to see that its more likely that we might be the Pharisees than the scattered.  How many of us believe ourselves to be Pharisees? It’s easy to see others in this role though. We see those people who are too traditional, too conservative in their beliefs, too liberal or progressive in their beliefs, too pious or devotional, too folksy, too one thing or another as Pharisaical.

Rarely can we imagine ourselves as part of a “brood of vipers” that we’ll hear John call out later, and maybe we aren’t.  Something tells me, and I include myself here; that if we did stop and consider that we can be Pharisaical sometimes, we can be part of that brood – that maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to put up walls, obstacles, doors, hurdles for our scattered brothers and sisters to make their way through before they come home; home to our Lord Jesus Christ.

On this second Sunday of Advent, as we await the deeper entry of our Lord into our hearts, minds and souls – may we pray for a more open disposition, that we may let the Holy Spirit more deeply into our own hearts so that our friends in Christ may come home and we may be the ones who welcome them.

1st Sunday of Advent: The Daily Commitment of a Vocation

A couple of years ago, I had a friend of mine, a priest I serve with in the Archdiocese of Toronto come and speak to our Associates; men who are seriously discerning the priesthood.  My friend, a priest of just over 40 years was not sure about coming and I had to coax him by assuring him he was the right guy – a joyful man and priest.  Even I had no sense of just how appropriate and providential it would be to have him speak to these aspiring young men.

He spoke frankly and honestly about his priesthood and the life while he was easily able to share stories of the great joy he had experienced as a priest; he also shared with these men some of his struggles too.  He spoke of the times he felt lonely and isolated, the hard times and challenges he faced as a priest.  He even shared with the men his falling in love with someone, facing the challenge of honouring the commitment he made to God and His Church versus the love of a person in his life.  He chose priesthood of course, but in the telling of his life’s story he brought all of these things to the key point he shared with us all: his showing up on ordination day was the easiest of the decisions he had made (he also told the guys of his challenges in seminary).  The real test and testament to his joyful life with the Lord was the commitment he made, and makes every day to priesthood and his vocation.

He really gave me food for thought: this is true for us all.  Whatever our lifelong commitment might be, we make a one-time choice and then the testament to what is real in our life is to be found in the daily living out of that.  That’s why seasons like Advent and Lent are so important for us as Christians.  We are encouraged to “be watchful” and to “stay alert”.  It’s easy to become complacent and indifferent to things, even our faith.  It’s easy for us to forget the most essential of things: our need to pray and commune daily with the God we love, extending that love for others in every way we can.  We forget to try hard to be virtuous, to live every single day as though it might be our last on this earth.  To make a daily commitment to be Christian.  My friend reminded me, and called me actually (hopefully others too) to make a daily commitment to my vocation to priesthood – to the life, love and vocation I chose with God’s help.

I often try to take on the world (I think many of us do) and that can be okay but not when we are frustrated and it leads us to become lukewarm or complacent when we don’t see the results we want to see.  That’s what Advent should remind us: it’s not about results or always what we see – often it’s about what we don’t see.  If we simply commit ourselves day by day to what the Lord has called us to do, we too will be able to look back on a lifetime and see things the way my friend is blessed to see his life.

May the Lord who has begun the good work in us, bring it to fulfillment!

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.