As Christians, we celebrate the New Year twice! Of course, there’s the new year that we celebrate on January 1st, but TODAY, the First Sunday of Advent marks a new year for us as well. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably given up on making New Year’s Resolutions because so often we stop making them to avoid breaking them! I also stopped making them on that one day of the year, because I found it was important to my life as a Christian to make resolutions all the time throughout my life. IT IS important to capitalize on occasions and events, especially those that beget reflection and contemplating life. Maybe for some of us, like me – January 1st has lost that appeal. For us Catholic Christians (and many other Christians who celebrate Advent too) we ought to take this very first day of the New Year in the liturgical year as an opportunity to make some Christian resolutions.
Christian resolutions might include to find ways to be more committed to our Christian lives; a resolution to be a better Christian this year than we already are. Maybe to try a new form of prayer that we live in faith and hope will deepen our relationship with Jesus. Maybe to be cognizant of our time and finding a way to give ever so slightly more time (or a lot more time if we can) to helping others or being with loved ones and those in need. Giving money and material things are very important of course, but in the world we all live in with lives seeming busier and busier – time is of the essence. As a family, we might consider a way we could pray together in an engaging and meaningful way. As a family, we might begin the “New Advent Year” by coming up with a way to put together a Christmas hamper to give to another family in need. Our Advent Resolution might also be to really take time to consider how we might become more free to live and give ourselves as Christians in a world that like it or not, needs the strong and solid Christian witness now more than ever.
As you can see, I am only reaching the tip of the iceberg here.
I might also suggest that there is a big difference between worldly resolutions and Christian ones. It’s been my own experience that when we fail, the world isn’t always friendly to these failures. How many of us have made the New Year’s resolution to “get fit” and then find things get in the way of that and yet we’ve got this gym membership we’re paying dearly for all year? Or we sign up to play a sport and then we find it impossible to make it? The difference is that our Lord is a Lord of encouragement and love. We celebrate the Son of God coming into the world when we, as a People of God got things so completely wrong, and He brought us back again. And He keeps bringing us back. Advent is a time that most of our parishes have Reconciliation Services (I spend a lot of time in Advent & Lent going to many of those parishes), with many priests hearing many confessions. I often offer to people I meet in the confessional this thought or perspective: Jesus calls us to “be perfect as My Heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48)” but then in His deep love for us, gives us the “gift” of confession when we’ve fallen short. Perfection is still and always our goal and the desired end for a Christian, but we have an understanding God who loves us despite our failings, falls, shortcomings, weakness – He loves us no matter what and encourages us to just pick ourselves up and keep trying.
Broken “resolutions” are just a sign we need to keep working at it; joyful and determined to be the best Christians we can be. As we begin this season of Advent, let’s all make the commitment to make more of an effort to be the people our Lord and God created us to be; if each of us do that one more little thing: the world will be transformed by it.
A short reflection based on Fr. Chris’ homily given at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish on the First Sunday of Advent.
Sunday Reflection on the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Christians need to be fighters. A fighter is someone who despite hardships, difficulties and sometimes obstacles; someone who may suffer along the way – does not give up and stays the course – fights the fight. Fighting is not always a bad word! A bully is not a fighter, described in this way. A risk-taker is not a fighter described in this way. Christians need to be fighters and this is a value and character trait which is becoming more obsolete and unfortunately less a descriptive of the Christian – but as Christians, we need to ask for the grace; the courage and strength to restore the “fight” in us. If we think of the early Christians, they were fighters though they may have been prisoners and may have ended up dying horrible and brutal deaths at the hand of oppressors and tyrants. A characteristic which contributed to their greatness as Disciples was perseverance; perseverance is a characteristic important and admired in Christian Disciples. And why persevere? As Christians, we are people of hope: that no matter what seems to be taking place around us, God is with us, will deliver us and has the Final Word!
Perseverance is also a common thread and part of the account of each one of our readings, this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Moses and the people persevere; Moses interceding, the people depending on God. St. Paul calls upon Timothy to persevere in his ministry and Jesus reiterates the importance of perseverance in the parable of the unjust judge; who grants what is asked because he is moved by the persistence of the one who asks.
We too, as the Christian Disciples of today are called to persevere. We are called to know our faith; to take an proactive role in learning and growing in what it means to be a Catholic Christian and to live by these principles. We are called to understand why living by these principles are important, why they matter and this often grows stronger in things we struggle with and how we suffer, in what we endure and how we handle difficulties. We even and often can learn a great deal from our personal failures and sometimes our colossal failures at being good Disciples. From our sins, from our weaknesses, from where we fall short – if we begin to see why these things happen, we do what Christians do: pick ourselves up and continue to soldier on. We fight. We fight the good fight, as St. Paul says. And let us consider St. Paul’s words, perhaps words remembered as prayer from 1 Timothy chapter 6: “But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.”
These words of the Prophet Isaiah were fulfilled by St. John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” We hear these words in our Gospel today. If we carefully and slowly meditate upon these words, we too by our own vocation are called to be John the Baptists in the world today. We too were set apart at birth (connecting us again to Mary yesterday) and we too were given our mission. What’s different is that unlike Mary and St. John, who lived most of their lives completely in God’s mystery and thus had to have complete faith and trust that God’s plan was coming about (so had to rely on the virtue of hope as well) we are given much of the Mystery already! We follow the Mystery – the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our Immaculate Re-Conception and our Mission is given to us on the day of our Holy Baptism – when Original Sin is taken away from us and we are made New in Christ. From that day, we seek to be like Jesus and we are people who throughout our lives must seek to pave a way for others to follow the Lord.
We seek to get ourselves to Heaven and bring as many people with us as we can.
We work in whatever ways we can to remove obstacles and barriers for people so they find their way to Jesus. When I think about how I “found Jesus” late in life (in my late 20’s, and Jesus found me, I didn’t really find Him) it was the holy example of others, not the pulpit they preached from or the position of moral superiority I recognized. I have come to hear beautiful things from pulpits (and hopefully share a few inspiring thoughts myself) and have come to see the importance of a good clear sense of morals, but these did not come first for me, they are not the “roads” or “paths” I must take as a Priest of Jesus Christ, nor are they of value first for anyone. People must “know we are Christians by our love, our faith and trust, our peaceful sense of hope amid the challenges of the world, our true and authentic joy even in turbulence, strife, struggle and uncertainty.
Are we preparing a way for the Lord, into the hearts of others? Perhaps on this Second Sunday of Advent, we might consider how we can continue doing this or begin to do this this very day!
Mary, the Mother of Jesus (of God) who we affectionately and personally call “Our Lady” was born fully and completely human and by the Grace of God had the stain of Original Sin, which affects us all – taken away from her. Why do we accept and believe this? Why is this important? And what does it have to do with us?
We accept and believe that Mary was conceived immaculately because her life was given in service to the Lord, from the time she was born, through her childhood, adolescence, young adult and until her dying day, she served God with every virtue given (faith, hope and charity) and every virtue she worked at day by day. This is important because it brings together the freedom every one of us have been given (to choose to do God’s will or not) and Divine Providence (that Almighty God Himself knows every action and the outcome of a life). In knowing this, Mary is given (and we are given too) special gifts, in her case because her vocation is best suited by it, she is conceived immaculately. Mary was fully capable of sinning and we sometimes forget this – but in choosing not to, she responded daily to God. She responded with an openness and obedience; a faith deepened constantly by trust.
Mary in the truest sense, lived and breathed her vocation. Mary lived out from beginning to end her life’s purpose! She is a model Christian, and we can learn a lot from her. We may not have been conceived immaculately, but then we need to remember that our vocation is no less important to the Lord, or to Our Lady. We, like her were given gifts from our conception, gifts that we can only know with prayerful self-reflection: not to use for selfish purposes but for self-less giving to God and to others. Divine Providence is in play in our lives as well; that is, God has a plan and a desire for each one of us and there is something universally and personally important for us to be doing in and with our lives: maybe to be a Priest of Jesus Christ and make present His Sacraments for us all, maybe to be a Religious or Consecrated Sister or Brother and dedicate our lives to service of God and His Church in ways of the utmost importance to salvation, maybe in the Generous Single Life in Christ giving ourselves totally and completely to Christ and His Church and maybe as a devoted Husband or Wife; Mother or Father married to God and to our spouse and building up the Church through the family we love and minister to; creating Holy Families throughout the world.
This blog post begins my Advent series, but is also from a homily for the First Sunday of Advent.
Before I entered the priesthood, I was a bus driver for Mississauga Transit. Each year, we would have a little ceremony where drivers who had an accident-free year were given a little award. I remember one year, one of the veterans who had an impeccable record for good driving [it was like a 20-year award] was asked what his secret was to being a great driver. Without missing a beat, he said “I kept my eyes on the road!” Of course we all laughed, but there’s a truth about that I’ve never forgotten because when I think of the Christian journey and especially our readings today that begin our Advent part of that journey – I think it’s good advice for us all to be mindful of as we begin again and re-dedicate ourselves as Catholic Christians. “Keep your eyes on the road”. We can all become distracted by other things. We can all lose focus from time to time. We can all fall into sloppy or unhelpful habits that make us feel more comfortable for a short time, but don’t help us where we are going. This happens when we are in the car – or bus as the case may be. It also happens in our Christian spiritual lives too. We see many accounts of it with the Apostles and other disciples in the Gospels, and I’m sure that most of us can see it in our personal lives as well. Here we are in Advent, four weeks of it before Christmas. We have time to prepare for the greatest gift of our faith: the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus. God loves us so much He came into the world to get us back to where He wanted us to be. That’s all of us! Keeping our eyes on the road in our faith helps us see Jesus really is with us, always: sacramentally, through His Word, in and through others and heaven lies ahead. Advent is a joyful time and we intently and intentionally prepare ourselves for Christmas – not only with shopping for gifts and food (although these things are important for bringing us closer to one another) we need to stop for a moment each day along the way and be mindful of why we do those things: food, family, presents: we do it because we are thankful. We do it because we see life, the Christian life we have been given as a gift. What does God tell us about love? If we love Him, the gift we offer the Lord in the way we love Him is to love others. We have four weeks to prepare for His greatest gift of love and all we have to be thankful for in that, to of course be thankful for the coming of the Lord but also to be thankful for what we have as well. Our faith and our personal lives need to meet each other in a deeper and more attentive way in Advent. In this way, we have the “big picture” and are keeping our “eyes on the road” so to speak.
When we keep our eyes on the road, just as when we drive we also can anticipate troubles and problems that lie ahead and how we can respond rather than react to them. If we see brake lights ahead of us, we are able to be prepared and slow down or stop slowly and cautiously. But if we are moving along not aware of what’s ahead, we slam on the brakes and quite possibly whatever’s in front of us and then we need to deal with the setbacks. Often we’re not able to handle the situation we face. Part of our Advent preparation is to look ahead. We hear readings about Our Lady and St. Joseph and how they handled tough decisions, impossible decisions even – with a trusting faith in God. We hear of Anna’s prophesy that Mary would experience a sword that would pierce her heart. Her bundle of joy would be a source of pain and sorrow for her. But we see she turned to her faith, she trusted the Lord and while this doesn’t take it away she realizes this can’t take away from the joy of the moment, and when the sad or heart-piercing moments of her life come (as they will) she is as ready as she is to embrace the moment she lives in now. The Holy Family will teach us that we too must draw strength from our faith, praying for a deeper trust in the Lord and thus a deeper faith. None of us want to spend our lives reacting to things (because we live in anger, frustration, bitterness) when we do. We want to be able to respond even to the challenges and hardships we face with love all around us. When we are thankful for all we have our problems seem less significant.
My friends, let us spend this Advent season with our hearts, minds and souls focused on all we have to be thankful for in our lives, on the source of the strength and courage we have been given in faith and let us “keep our eyes on the road” so to speak trying our best not to be distracted from focusing on faith, love and family once again. May this be a most Blessed Advent season for each of you. And may God bless us all!
In my role as Director of Vocations right now, I don’t have the opportunity to baptize very often these days. I loved baptisms and I always felt an excitement when I was the celebrant of them at the parish. To welcome new members into the Body of Christ was beautiful – absolutely beautiful! I would often give variations of the same homily, where I would talk about Jesus’ baptism and where I share John’s account was the Holy Spirit descending and the Father declaring: “This is my Son the Beloved in whom I am well-pleased.” I would extend this to these children and young people and declare in the name of Christ as a priest: that the Holy Spirit is descending and the Father is declaring “This is my son/daughter, beloved and in whom I am well pleased. There may be some who feel I am taking some license here, and others who feel I am wrong but hear me out: I declare this because it is Jesus’ Baptism they are being baptized into, and beyond our simple and somewhat simplistic and limited ways of understanding, if it’s His Baptism, then it has the same effects! I also believe in faith that this is true and DON’T imply that this means anything unless the family and the baptized child lives his or her Christian faith; and this I offer we must all work together to give him or her every chance to do.
I speak about Holy Baptism today because I think about this beautiful first sacrament every time I ponder today’s Gospel. Jesus declares: “Ephphatha!” (be opened) and this we ministers of baptism mark the baptized with at their baptism. We do what Our Lord Himself does in the powerful action of opening one’s senses to allow God the Holy Spirit to enter; but everyone involved can also contribute to closing those senses too. If a baby’s heart, mind and soul are opened by Christ through the minister; his or her heart, mind and soul can be closed by others who choose not to teach the child the Christian faith, or teach a misguided version of the faith. I also think of the terrible sins of the clergy; and I wonder how many beautiful children who had every possible hope of being dedicated and amazing Disciples of Christ had this taken away from them by people with chose evil over good. There are many things we can do to close a person off from God’s possibilities for them but the Good News is that there are many things we can do to work with God in continuing to allow His Will be Done and that when they become Beloved Members of the Body of Christ – that they respond to the “miracle” Jesus performed (among others) on the day of their Holy Baptism: “Ephphatha! Be open to receive My Life; to be My Light and to share My Word, My Love with everyone you will meet in this glorious life you’ve been given!”
I often speak of my conversion experience and my becoming a Catholic (many years ago now). A few months before “taking the plunge”, I was challenged by my RCIA Coordinator in a way that saw me almost walk away from my becoming Catholic right there. It was customary for catechumens, such as I was, to have a meeting with the RCIA team and when asked about my personal understanding and belief about the Eucharist, I could not or would not accept that the bread and wine actually and truly became the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We had a very short conversation with follow-up questions but in the end I was told in no uncertain terms that “if I did not believe what the Church teaches here, I could not go forward and become a Catholic”. My sponsor helped me keep it together, one of my priests took the time to explain everything to me and to talk with me (for nearly three hours) and at the end of it all, I still did not believe!
Every explanation given, every logical argument made could not and did not bring me to a place of assenting to this truth. The priest left me with the linchpin for this dilemma or crisis I was having; he told me that he had given me all the apologetic and Scripture-based arguments and explanations that he could give me and he told me that I should not set my intellect or reason aside for this matter either, but that our logic, intellect and reason could only bring us so far. This was a matter of faith, and I had to ask God to take me the rest of the way. I had to pray about this and understand that love is at the root of the Eucharist.
For years, first as a seminarian and then as a priest I have told this story because I did not set aside my doubts or concerns, but I do know that the Lord gave me what I needed, as He will us all! I believe wholeheartedly in the Real Presence and I stake my life on it now. I can’t completely explain it but I believe it; on this among other things “I walk by faith and not by sight ( )”.
This was once again tested when I was a parish priest and one of the parents of a child receiving First Holy Communion told me that their child was told by someone that the Eucharist wasn’t really the Body and Blood of Jesus. In an instant and because there might have been others who heard the same thing, I had to talk about this with the children. I talked about prayer and asking Jesus to help them understand this. I also talked about how the Real Presence is rooted in Jesus’ love for us. We find real, physical tangible ways to express our love for those whom we love, and more than anything; this is at the heart of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity we celebrate each time we come to Holy Mass.
Jesus, Son of the Living God have mercy on me and continue to reveal to me and deepen within me a true devotion to Your Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.
Today we celebrate the First Scrutiny in many of our parishes. With the elect recently entered into our Book of Elect and preparing themselves in these remaining weeks of Lent to enter into the waters of baptism, seeking to die to self and live for Christ – today through Jesus’ Gospel encounter with the woman at the well; they (we) are reminded of our need for God who is Himself the wellspring and from Whom we have our thirst quenched and who gives us what we need to truly live. As an adult convert, I recall as a Catechumen Elect, the preparation many years ago for this day, the first of my Scrutinies. I remembered reflecting upon the many places in my soon-to-be “old life” where I “drew water”. Drawing water from the desires and expectations of others in the world no long quenched my thirst. Tasting the water of success, the water of other’s praise, the water of having enough money to quench my own thirst became tired and not fulfilling. Even though my heart was becoming the Lord’s, I was still living with those things and while it seemed compelling to simply throw all those things off and totally and completely to live for Jesus – I was not ready for that. The words were really sinking in though and the profound experience I had as an Elect was drawing me even closer to the Body of Christ where I would one day give up those things. The profound grace and blessing I have been given is that because of my experience, I was able to be with RCIA groups most years ever since. As a seminarian I was afforded the opportunities to journey with others and so, to reflect as well on these Scrutinies again as a catechist with them. As a priest, to preach on the Gospel and to identify with the Elect as well.
Now as a Catholic Christian man with 15 years of Scrutinies under my belt, my reflection on this First Scrutiny is one I share with the committed Catholics today. We need to pray for these people who seek to prepare themselves and will in short weeks be asking the Church for Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. The conversation this woman in today’s Gospel has with Jesus is one which each of us needs to stop and have with Our Lord today. Do we still recognize Jesus at the places where we draw water from in our lives today? Where we pray, our churches or our special places? Are we drawing water and allowing Jesus to really and truly speak to us, or are we denying part of what our lives are or what they have become so we simply don’t have to deal? If we are, then we need to be really honest with the Lord. When the Elect go through the Scrutinies, they are reflecting on and allowing the Lord to accompany them on the journey into the waters which means repentance, acknowledgement of the darknesses that still exist, the hurts, the pains, the sorrows – the areas of our lives that just aren’t right yet. The Light (of Christ) will come, but first we must acknowledge where we aren’t ready to be nourished and ask in this moment for the grace to let go and let God take over.
What does that mean for you? I know what it means for me. It means that as I pray for the Elect (and while it’s different for me right now, not in parish ministry: I pray in a more universal way), I also pray for the areas of my own life that are dark, where I haven’t been all that I can be for Jesus and for other people, the people He calls upon me to serve as a priest. I pray for more strength to respond more generously, to acknowledge more truthfully and with greater clarity the wounds, issues, shortcomings and infidelities of my own heart – those areas I need to drink more wholly of the Living Water that has satiated me for all these year. Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my hope that all of us take this blessed day to do the same.
One of the most important “learnings” (or re-learnings for most of us) on the Christian journey is to learn how to trust; in particular – to Trust God. God has never given any of us a reason not to trust Him, although we sometimes see things that way. People give us many reasons not to trust them, we even give ourselves reasons not to be trusted and thus to be untrusting of others. Whatever those reasons or circumstances we need to re-learn how to trust God as Christians. In today’s First Reading at Mass, we hear the story of Abraham and Isaac and it may seem from our vantage point that God plays with Abraham to see how close he will come to trusting Him and then at the final moment stops the plan to sacrifice or kill Isaac and praises Him for His steadfast trust. I know that I have heard many reflections on this Gospel from a humanistic point of view give us a sense of God’s desire for blind and complete devotion to Him. In fact, nothing could be more superficial because it would be wrong for us to assume that was His relationship with Abraham. Instead, I would suggest that this Gospel highlights trusting in God no matter what the circumstances. God is not telling Abraham to sacrifice or kill his son, but instead to trust in Him.
The same can be said for the Apostles today as they spend time with the Lord on the mountain and He is Transfigured before their very eyes. As we can see in this Gospel, there’s not a lot made clear, there’s not a lot of understanding given them here. Instead, they encounter a foretaste of heaven which they will have to hang onto when the tough days which lay ahead come to them. They are yet to experience the Paschal Mystery, and when they do the faith and trust that is being built up here, is going to be tested to be certain.
So too is this something that we need to ponder with our own Christian lives. Are we ready to trust totally and completely in the Lord? Are we giving thanks everyday for what we are given and the grace and blessing, the Glory of God we experience each time we have an encounter with the Lord in prayer, through the Sacraments, in our faith communities? Are we ready for the time when each one of us will be called upon to fully participate in the Paschal Mystery (the suffering, death, Resurrection and then participation with the Communion of Saints) which we will be called to do? Do we listen for the voice of God calling out: “Behold, this is my Beloved with whom I am well pleased!” He declares us beloved too as we join our Lord in the Sacraments. We join our Lord as we live out lives of Discipleship, lives committed to deep and committed vocations.
Let us consider the faith and trust we have in the Lord our God today and every day of our lives.
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.