From Seed to Harvest to Seed Again: The Cycle of Faith

Another cycle in the Office of Vocations (for 2016-2017) concludes and at the same time we begin again (for 2017-2018).  This may be more the manner in which the staff and I reflect upon the year and not the reality of vocation work which really never ends and besides that each of us, most especially myself – we need to be attentive to the Lord and the needs of His Disciples when they come.  It is just a little quieter around the office right now and it’s the time I’m taking to reflect upon the last year as I prepare for a new one.  It’s time to gain a little perspective.

I feel truly blessed to be a part of the vocations scene in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  This is an amazing ministry to be a part of.  To have the grace and blessing to be a part of someone’s life as they discern is great honour.  When a man or woman discerns God’s will in this way, they need to be close to God.  Unless its a work of vanity or a narcissistic ambition, which a true vocation never will be: it can only be discerned with the help of God and a sincere desire to experience God, to be close to God.  To “weed out” narcissists and the ambitious is part of the Vocation Director’s role and one that I take very seriously.  My own love for the people I have been blessed to serve motivates me to be very attune to these kinds of things: I am happy to say we have had very few of these kinds of candidates.  Young people with loving hearts, a deep love for the faith that they have been given as a gift, a passionate love for the Church that gives them life and a sincere desire to serve gives us a number of very fine candidates for priesthood and religious life.

We’re looking for more.  It’s also part of my role to consider the ways we reach out to people and how we make priesthood especially attractive to men who may then in turn consider a vocation.  Rarely though will it be anything that I do or can do which will lead a man to discern priesthood; he will already have considered it.  This is why our seminarians are such a key part of God’s plan in calling others forward.  When men encounter the men already discerning it helps them to see this is not such an absurd vocation in the world we live in.  In fact, it is heroic, noble, powerful, Christian; it is true Discipleship and it is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is important that those discerning seeing joyful witnesses of the Gospel (which is why Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation was so important) because priesthood and religious life while it may be in many ways “counter-cultural” and not the natural choice for many: it is a beautiful life, a powerful life, a life lived closed to our God.

Our Readings at Holy Mass this Sunday speak of sewing seeds, seeds themselves and the harvest.  They gave me food for thought and reflection on the cycle of life.  Cycles are important, because we see the cycle of life in almost everything living.  As a Vocation Director who has discerned with many in these past few years; I’ve seen the beginnings of vocational discovery in discernment, through to men making the decision to enter seminary (and women discerning religious life too).  In a few years, I hope to witness a few of the men I’ve spent time with ordained priests too.  I leave all of this in God’s hands because I know with absolute certainty that He has been the one who has given birth, life and will be the One who brings holy vocations to fulfilment.  I know it because I can see how the Lord has brought this about (and continues to) in the cycle of my own life.

Let us pray today for vocations; not necessarily for an increase in numbers, but rather an openness in desire and in the freedom that men and women have to respond.  And let us not forget to pray for the married vocation in the same way because we mustn’t forget that this is the foundational vocation that has served to beget religious vocations.  The Domestic Church (the family) feeds the Universal Church making Her strong and healthy!

 

We Are Blessed to Have Catholic Schools

Based on my homily given at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Serra House Campus on the 1st Friday of Advent.

There are a lot more people out there in the world that we minister to with faith; but we have to see things as Jesus sees them in order to truly believe that.  In today’s Gospel Jesus prepares Himself to heal these two blind men who approach Him, and as He does He appeals to their faith to believe that this can happen.  And they do.  As they are healed (though we don’t hear of this) we assume that this action taking place invites them into what will be a deeper encounter with God.  I visit a lot of high schools as Vocation Director but I visited a lot more classrooms as a parish priest and even though I was in a very busy parish, I took the time four days a week and for most of the day to visit young people in their classrooms.  I don’t remember a classroom that when I visited regularly, someone didn’t have questions.  Sometimes I needed to be creative in the ways I drew the questions (getting them to write them down) but the questions were there.  The kids, many of them were striving for a deeper faith, to know God more, to understand the Church and what they were being taught.

I reiterate something I mentioned yesterday and it’s our disposition that’s an important in doing the Lord’s work.  If we’re ‘glass half-full men’ who are positive, joyful and see the best in our circumstances and situations – we will see ourselves into the places the Lord wants us to be.  If we’re ‘glass half-empty men’ who are negative, downcast and see what isn’t right – we will limit ourselves and those we reach.  If we are too dour, we actually make the Good News very unappealing.  The kids may or may not be going to Church, but perhaps they had no motivation before – we inspire, we motivate, we invite – or the Lord does so through us!

And if we believe that the Catholic schools aren’t Catholic enough, we ought to reform our own way of thinking – we need remind ourselves that Catholic school is not the Catholic Church.  We live in a province with a public school board that where we can go in, pray with teachers & students, talk about God openly and make a positive difference in the lives of those whom we meet there.  We can invite everyone into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ – as priests we can even at times heal people who come to us of spiritual blindness and ailments.  If I didn’t bring a joyful attitude and the love of Christ with me when I went into the school, I wouldn’t have heard the countless confessions of teachers who would pull me aside in the staffroom and ask for it.  Brothers, I assure you that if we allow people and the faith they already have to flourish with our positive Christian attitude – we will do the Lord’s work.  We can rest assured of that.

1st Sunday of Advent: O Come, Divine Messiah

One of the questions I remember often getting when I visited elementary schools was “why do we wear purple at Advent”. Lent it seemed easier to talk to people about the penitential nature of the season.  Advent, perhaps because the coming of Christmas is so exciting and the celebration of Christmas so joyous, it seems difficult to talk to people about this important dimension of Advent.  So I would often ask the kids to open their Bible and I would go to the Nativity story and then ask them to go back to before that to the story of John the Baptist and as we know John prepared the people for the coming of the Lord with a baptism of repentance.

Penance should not dominate the season of Advent, but it should be a part of the season. This is why our parishes have Advent Reconciliation Services and large-scale confessions. This is part of the “preparation” and “expectation” which marks the Advent season and is the essence of our Gospel message today.  We await the Lord as Christians, “never knowing the hour and the place” for ourselves or the Lord’s coming.  But when we’ve prepared ourselves and when we await (as this season reminds us), the Lord’s coming again in glory will bring great joy into the world.  Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that not all will appreciate that, though He wants all of us to.  He isn’t “scaring us with the Gospel”, instead He is reminding us that all we have to do is remain humble, confess our sins, try our best to be Christians, work hard at staying close to Him and dialogue with Him in prayer.  The Church provides us the Way (of our Lord Himself) and so our staying close to the Church helps us to receive this Gospel and prepare ourselves once again for our Lord’s entry into the world.

Today, there tends to be a lot of negativity and “in-fighting” even among Christians which gets in the way of how our Gospel will be received in a positive light.  I have read more than a few blogs that are so vitriolic and hostile to any differing opinion and attitude and as much as anyone might ever choose to read any of my blog posting, we choose to read each others.  It saddens me that so many Catholic Christians are choosing to use what really can be a wonder social media tool to say hurtful, unChristian things about our Holy Father, bishops, priests and others Christians with differing viewpoints.  It is my hope that the Advent (and Christmas) season will help lighten our spirits and the Sacrament of Penance will lighten our spiritual burden and there might be more constructive reflections which Christians have the opportunity to read.

This would be a great manifestation of the Lord coming into our world in a greater way, in a way of our choosing.  Through our hearts, in our minds and words and allowing it to penetrate our souls.

Lest We Forget…

 

poppyThese words remind us of Remembrance Day; a day when we celebrate the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, that is, the sacrifice of their lives for others. And we should not forget them.  Throughout Canada and the United States and surely around the world, we try to hang on to the memory of the wars which won for so many of us the freedom that from time to time (or all the time) we take for granted.  The freedom to live our lives the way we choose to live our lives.  Lest we forget…because to forget is to forget what inspired many of these people to have the courage and strength to give themselves in this ultimate way – what inspired them and gave them this freedom more often than it was not – a deep love and commitment first to God and then through His Son Jesus Christ who Himself gave that ultimate sacrifice and modeled sacrifice for us.  I mention the Father and then the Son, because as we are well aware it wasn’t just Christians who gave their lives and surely there were many who understood the sacrifice they were making without being themselves Disciples but if we were to look around the world and we were to stop and think about it for a moment – the sacrifice made for others in service to God, country and others so closely resembles a martyr’s death.  Men and women who with great humility did not see themselves heroes, did the most heroic things.  I think of those men and women, but I think of the Holy Martyrs as well.  They too are great heroes.  They model the gift of life; the gift of the ultimate sacrifice which we must remember is the gift of love given from Christ to all of us, given by us towards one another when we try to be Christ-like in our lives.  On this Remembrance Day, all of us are called to stop and recall, remember, reflect and lest any of us forget…

What Holds You Back from Authentic Discipleship?

The Lord wants to free us of what holds us back from being the best Christian Disciples we can be.  What is holding you back?

As you can well imagine, as Vocation Director, my main mission is to speak of the Holy Priesthood most often, religious vocations next to that (religious community life and consecrated life – vocations primarily for the work of the Church) and I have occasion when I am preaching to speak about the beautiful vocation of marriage too.  Discipleship is required for any and all of these vocations, as well as a desire to live our primary vocation, that is to be holy; to desire to be with God and close to Jesus Christ in our lives.  All of us, I would suggest without exception have something that holds us back from that.  I know I certain do.  There are days we can see we’ve served God well and we’ve helped bring people closer to Christ by our words or more often our actions by the authentic witness we have given in some way.  Then there are other times or days we may feel like hypocrites because we realize that we don’t or haven’t lived up to our faith in some way or by some action; some indifference or inaction even.  And of course, thanks be to God we have the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to ask the Lord’s pardon, mercy and forgiveness for those times and we truly do make a firm purpose to amend our ways and to try, try again.  How many of us can become frustrated or disappointed with ourselves for what holds us back; our weaknesses or our sins?  I think most of us do.

Today’s Gospel finds Jesus healing a woman of what holds her back in life.  He is challenged by others who quite obviously are held back from their narrow minds and narrow manner of thinking.  They want to restrict or place conditions on mercy.  Today’s Gospel ought to inspire us to realize Jesus wants every single one of us to acknowledge that we need Him and He is more than willing and ready at this very moment to heal us of what holds us back – but we are also reminded that God gives us free will and in freedom we have to desire and actively respond to God – not just go along for the ride.

There may be things that hold us back; but nothing, absolutely NOTHING needs hold us back from authentic witness or true discipleship.  Grace is not refused us, and need we look any further than the Church we are a part of?  Multitudes, numbers beyond our imagining have made it to heaven through the Holy Church which was founded by Jesus and Twelve.  Twelve people, by God’s power made that great a difference throughout the whole world, a world beyond even their own knowing.  Jesus took away what held them back, He did for the woman long suffering.  What does Jesus need to heal you from, or take away from you; that which is holding you back?

St. Matthew’s Beautiful Vocation Story

Matthew's Call

I guess it would stand to reason that as Director of Vocations, I would love vocation stories.  It’s one of the joys of my ministry – I get to hear vocation stories all the time.  I love to hear them, and I get tired to share my own.  I sometimes think how many times can one man share how the Lord called him, first to baptism, but then shortly after to the Holy Priesthood.  I tire, but then I read and pray over today’s Gospel and it urges me to keep sharing as the Sacred Writers are inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer us St. Matthew’s vocation story, a powerful story of a man called to conversion, called to amend his life, and to follow the Lord.  St. Matthew did great things, though he accounts in his own Gospel today of how he was a great sinner that the Lord reached.  Jesus rejected keeping up appearances and conventional attitudes to “mingle with the tax collectors and sinners”.  These people are thought of as the lowest of the low, the worst of the worst.

I can relate to St. Matthew, I did not do anything to invite Jesus into my heart, but He encountered me through good people.  He reached out to me, I did not seek Him at first.  In His tremendous gift of love given to me, I came to know, then embrace and then to love Him.  I needed His example of mercy, love and forgiveness first and I needed to embrace it before I could embrace what came next.  More than thirty years of sin wiped away in an instant.  The embrace of mercy and forgiveness given by God first led me to begin to forgive others and to allow myself to heal.  And then the journey towards priesthood began.

I have come to discover God’s purpose and plan for me.  I may be a priest, but I am still growing to love more deeply, forgive more radically and completely and be more merciful to others and I experience it myself regularly.  I am re-committing myself to my vocation each and every day.  I still ask myself “why me” from time to time in my role as Director of Vocations.  I know my weaknesses and shortcomings, but I also know the Lord works wonders and I can see and recognize that in my own life and in the many people I am blessed to meet.  I know His love, mercy, forgiveness and grace; so I see it at work in the people I meet – and this is why I love vocation stories, because they reveal the Lord’s powerful presence in the world, in the blueprint of each Christian’s Purpose-Driven Life, through their vocation.

Equality in Discipleship: Jesus Has a Special Mission for Us All

In today’s Gospel, we hear about the women who accompanied Jesus in His three-year ministry to bring the Good News to the world and to call the faithful to Discipleship.  As many of you know, I am a convert to the Catholic Christian faith (more than 13 years now) and it did not occur to me until I began discerning the priesthood that women or anyone for that matter was “less” in the eyes of God.  I say this because not too long into my discernment, I met some very good and influential women along the way who were somewhat critical of the Church’s reservation of ordination to the priesthood to men.  I mention my own experience because these past 13 years have helped me to come to understand many things about discipleship.  My reflection today is not an opinion or position on Church teaching.

My conversion experience and the deepening of my Christian faith, expressing myself as a Catholic Christian was deeply and profoundly influenced by men and women.  My desire to become Catholic grew the closer I came to knowing God through Jesus Christ.  As with many of our parish churches, my community and my RCIA team was largely made up of faithful and loving Christian women.  As a catechumen, then as a neophyte, my faith deepened with the help of many of the Lord’s Disciples.  As I sought to live a holy life; there were many people who influenced that and their gender had little to do with any of that.  My parish priests played an important part in the formation of my faith, but no more than anyone else.  When I began to hear the call to discern priesthood, it came from the same community of Disciples and others in my community as well as the clergy.  This was perhaps why I discerned joyfully a vocation to priesthood because I had the support of a community working together as Disciples.

When I was early on in my discernment, I was blessed to have a religious sister who became a good and wise friend of mine,.  She explained something to me that impacted my life and eventually my own priesthood.  She had almost fifty years in vows as a woman religious.  She told me of many of the great things she had seen, but she also shared with me many of the experiences she had of hurtful experiences with priests and bishops who were condescending towards her, who treated women religious and women in general as lesser people.  This was not a negative person or someone who was not aware of all the good work she and other women religious were able to do, but she said something key: “somehow, somewhere along the way, we have lost our way as Christians”.  She taught me as a man not to presume to tell women how to feel or what to think.  She taught me to see all people as equal, that a healthy single celibate must have a deep and meaningful respect for all people.  I have reflected on the many things she shared with me over the years, and I have incorporated these things into any talk I’ve ever given about priesthood and why (as children often ask), “can’t girls be priests”.  I have no intention of answering that question here or trying to; the Church, her theologians and many ecclesial documents can speak better to that than I can.

My reflection is on respect.  Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost respect for one another. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten Jesus called us all to Discipleship, men and women and He loved, respected and treated all with dignity and equality.  When it comes to the Priesthood, sometimes we forget that the “power and authority” that is very real in the Holy Priesthood, is not a power or authority to be lorded over others.  It’s a power to do something that is not attached to me or to any man, but is acting in the person of Jesus. What I do for Jesus is a privilege but not something I deserve or have a right to as a man, but is part of my vocation which is every bit as important as what everyone else is called to do for our Lord.   Our Lady, Mary Magdalene, multitudes of amazing women who faithfully serve the Lord have been role models for me, as I’m sure they are for all of us.

The One Lost Sheep

As Christians, we’re called to care deeply for one another.  We really can’t begin to do the work of Disciples of Christ, of true Christians unless we care so deeply for everyone around us.  Life and the circumstances of life can often leave us feeling jaded, hurt, cynical, unloved ourselves and we can (most if not all of us) find ourselves retreating or moving into defense mode.  It really doesn’t take too much for us to just simply want to remain with those around us who are like minded and find ourselves without any desire to spend time with others for whom we don’t share the same values or think in the same way.  One of the profound and radically different teachings of Christ was not to focus our attention merely on those around us who are of like-mind but to reach out to others confident that our faith as foundation gives us the strength and courage to do this.

Few if any of us want to be rejected and so we “play it safe” so as not to offend others. Nobody benefits from our playing it safe, because this also means that by playing it safe, we shrink, we play it small in the world.  The alternative is not to be so bold that we offend others, or that we ride a moral “high-horse”.  Instead, the alternative is that we stand for something unbelievably positive, joyful, optimistic and wonderful in this world.  Something that is joyfully selfless rather than empty and selfish.  That something is to care for others no matter what they’ve done or how they’ve treated us or how they’ve acted in the world; no matter how hostile, angry or hurtful they have been – we treat each other with love, care and concern no matter what!  Why, because the Lord our God has treated us this way and we have been given grace beyond grace of eternal life, a life that is ultimately without concern if we can wrap our minds around it.  Jesus has told us “everything is going to be alright”.

This is the platform from which the Christian boldly steps out for others.  Jesus is not only forming sheep, importantly He forms shepherds.  The men I work with as Director of Vocations, Jesus forms as “Shepherds after His Own Sacred Heart”.  But our Lord Jesus is calling all of us as Disciples to be shepherds and we are the “linchpin” to His mission; we go for the lost because the Good Shepherd is taking care of the rest of us, calling all of us to deeper and deeper conversion.  This is why we don’t seek to merely live our faith and discipleship out inside the walls of our parish church.  We worship there, we’re nourished there – but then we go out and invite others in.

Today, let us all consider what we have done and what we are doing to go out and joyfully, passionately and lovingly bring the lost sheep back to the Lord, or to encounter Him for the first time, and to consider the ways we might do that.  May God bless you.

St. Joseph, Model of Vocations

St. Joseph

This is part of a vocations homily published in audio format on EWTN’s Vocation Boom program:

It’s always a great gift to be able to preach on vocations on the feast day of St. Joseph for a variety of reasons. St. Joseph presents for us a role model in discernment. Secondly, he is also an example of someone who dedicated His life to the living out of His vocation to the fullest. What we know of Him in both Holy Scripture and through tradition reveal for us two of the most essential elements of any generous vocational response; humility and obedience. Finally, St. Joseph is the patron saint for us here in Canada, so I have no doubt He will intercede for us here praying to the Lord of the harvest here in the Canadian Catholic Church, that there will be more labourers entering into the harvest.

St. Joseph for obvious reasons couldn’t have been as open and receptive to the Annunciation, as his betrothed, the Blessed Virgin was. He wasn’t there!  Our Lady was open to God’s grace, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and even presuming she told St. Joseph (which I think we can be sure she did), logic and reason would have led him to be skeptical and in doubt until the angel appeared to him in a dream as well. But Joseph did not rush to judgment or immediately act upon his hurt, disappointment, feelings, or even what seemed to be logical but instead surely took these things with him to prayer. We are not given a sense of how immediate the response was, but it certainly wasn’t instant. In discernment, people are encouraged to act in the same manner. We all reason and we all apply logic, but while these factors are a very important part of the natural human condition, we often must think and pray outside or beyond these things. In the end, reason and logic are expanded not eroded and we too will encounter God who will set our mind at ease.

Once God has spoken to our heart and our questions are answered, we need to begin to respond to Him and His call for us as Joseph did. He took Mary and departed, He moved quickly to protect His family. He settled in Nazareth for the safety of his child. We too need to answer our call. If we are called to priesthood and we have a sense of that, we too must respond and not create for ourselves more obstacles than the ones that exist, the ones which we must seek to allow grace to begin to break down.

St. Joseph, husband, father and faithful man answered his call in obedience and humility. He listened for the Will of God and did not presume it. He brought the Child Jesus to the temple, for the rituals, knowing His Son was special and Divine, He did not circumvent the Will of God. He also did all he did in a spirit of humility and although he could have certainly acted with pride, he didn’t. In this way, he is a model for priests who give their life in obedience to their bishop, and their future bishops whom they don’t know on the day that they are ordained. They must strive for humility as pride is one of the most deadly vices for anyone in any vocation’ but most especially for the priest and in the priesthood.

And finally, and joyfully I ask St. Joseph to intercede for all of us in Canada and the United States, but especially for us here in Canada and for our Church. St. Andre Bessette, a great saint of blessed memory here had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and his vocation as a Holy Cross brother is a great vocation story for everyone.  Our country is under his patronage. In many ways, many of the Vocation Directors here in Canada learn a lot from the good things that are happening in the United States; we pray for an increase of vocations to priesthood and religious life and ask St. Joseph to petition that for us.

 

 

Who Do We Speak For?

Food for thought today given Jesus’ public statement – who do we speak for?  As we near Passion Sunday and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to His suffering, the Cross and His death, we also know that His public statements about His Divine Purpose & Mission are not winning Him more friends at this point, and inciting more hostility towards Him.  But He stays on point and speaks up!  The Father depends upon the Son.

Who do we speak for?  This question for reflection is one I also ask myself in the moments when I find myself shying away from speaking as a Christian.  There’s no question that balance requires us to be prudent and sensitive to every encounter and situation that we’re in.  There are times when I speak with people that I need to be mindful that a hard-core response is not going to be effective in doing the Lord’s work.  But we cannot shy away from moments of standing firm and sharing our faith when it’s warranted.  And we cannot seek only to make the Gospel palatable to people who may find the message altogether disagreeable.  The Gospel calls us all to a higher plain, to a deeper, more committed, more purpose-filled life.  The bar must always remain set high, and we cannot lower the bar to allow more of us to reach it – that is not what Jesus did.  He had (and has) compassion in every possible way for human weakness, but we don’t simply factor in human weakness and create a more agreeable message.  Today’s Gospel is a reminder of that for each one of us.  Although the question “Who do we speak for?” is a question each of us needs reflect upon, it ought to be rhetorical because as Christians we speak for Jesus Christ – that is what we are confirmed to do.

Sometimes people are not going to like us or agree with us, sometimes the message we carry with us as Christians will be attacked and we will be personally attacked for being the carriers of that message, this is what integrity is all about and it’s what being Christian is all about too.  It is part of the sacrifice each of us makes by professing faith in Christ.  We may not always carry that message with perfection either, but an examination of our conscience every day ought to grant us the insight to know how we can share the Good News in better ways.  But we ought to feel confident that just as we find meaning and purpose in living our faith; that hearts are converted when Christians give witness to the Father’s love for all to see.  May God bless you.