2nd Saturday of Advent: Do We Really See the Lord?

A couple of years ago, we had a Jesuit retreat master for our priest’s retreat in the Archdiocese of Toronto.  He was very good, but made a comment about the state of our political climate of our country and even within the political climate of the Church that in a desire to be open to everything going on in the world around them they were what they might fashion, open-minded.  The retreat master added, “their minds were so open, their brains fell out”.  Of course, we all laughed at the humourous quip; but I can imagine that we all sat there and imagined somebody else, someone we knew or had met or had listened to – and we knew that person but I’m guessing that if you read most of our minds in that room (I’m sure it was mine), hundreds of priests though we were – not one of us was that person.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus would come and tell us directly and without any possibility for interpretation; whether He preferred we celebrate Holy Mass facing the people or ad orientum, in the Extraordinary Form or Novus Ordo, what how exactly He wants us to treat the topic pastorally of same-sex relationships, trans-gender, divorce and remarriage and the list goes on.   Wouldn’t it be amazing if we weren’t left hanging or guessing?  Well, based on my best guess about what we were thinking when our retreat master presented our current world reality to us – is to ask: is there a chance we’d miss it anyway?

This is only one man’s guess, but I think part of the reason that Jesus doesn’t give us every single answer is that He gives us exactly what our disposition as Christian Disciples is meant to be, and because He gives us that and expects us to apply it to our lives – everything else should be seen with the lens of that.  I’m the first to admit (right now) that I get caught up sometimes in all the polemics of the Church and I tend not to read the paper because the commentary on our political landscape and the politicians tends to rile me (and I don’t want that in my life, in the morning especially).  It is true that what some present as open-minded is not that at all, as there are very clear signs that those same people are closed to something else, someone else and someone else’s opinion.  I am not saying that we need to be open to all opinions, because that isn’t necessarily true either; but our disposition should be open to all people and seek to understand things before being understood about things.  This very basic principle of life is one which I think many of us need to pause and consider – how many of our arguments are a result of our needing to be heard and be right?

Jesus speaks Elijah having come (John the Baptist) and some heard, but many did not.  He spoke in their midst and how many heard and recognized God among them?  How many of us would?  This is why we need to work on our disposition, and Jesus gives us EVERYTHING we need to do that.

  • Love above everything else; we need to love one another with the greatest love
  • Try to understand others first, before wanting to be understood by others
  • Acknowledge our own wrongdoing (the “log”) before pointing out the wrongdoing (the “speck”) of others
  • it sounds cliche, but ask honestly “what would Jesus do?” not the Jesus in our mind, but the Jesus we know intimately through His Word (Scriptures) and Deed (Sacraments)

Surely there are other things, but these are a few thoughts for the day.  If we focus on these things, we can and will build on it from there.  We need to have Christ’s disposition before we’ll ever recognize Him in our midst.

Ignoring Our Calling

Ignoring our vocation is not an option for the Christian.  I am speaking of vocation firstly in the broader sense of the calling everyone of us has been given by God Himself; to be holy.  Our relationship with God and with the world as His Disciple is the most important thing we do in this life and everything else centers around it.  Everything.  We can live as married men and women or religious and consecrated men and women.  Some men can live as priests – and still not be holy, so as not to fulfill or honour their primary vocation.  And they won’t live effectively their secondary or particular and unique vocation very well without honouring the first.  Ignoring our call to holiness isn’t going to get us very far, certainly not closer to God and heaven and our faith is neither an ideal or a set of precepts but about an encounter and relationship and we must follow the call that has been made for all time: come to me, follow Me and I am with you and want you with Me; now and in Paradise!  That is Jesus’ call to us and for us.

Often I have been asked when I speak about vocations, “what if God wants me to be a priest and I don’t want to or ignore God?”  Obviously there are many layers in a question like this, but I always begin by asking those who think this way, to put God first.  Be holy and everything else will be taken care of.  Striving for holiness and becoming holy means that we have the humility to listen to God in prayer and know that He speaks to the heart and calls us to a life that is for Him and for others.  Sacrifice is a part of it, but a particular and unique vocation is going to fit the person.  We can and will see that when we are striving for holiness.  Even the process of discernment contributes to our ongoing growth in holiness.

First thing’s first: we have to be talking with God.  Prayer and spending time with the Lord is important because we are developing and growing in relationship with (Him) the One we love.  Serving and giving to others is important because all vocations are a total gift of ourselves for God and for others.  There aren’t vocations that are self-serving, self-centered or selfish.  We need to continue to get to know Him, which is why we are always focusing on Sacred Scripture and allowing the Church and the Church’s teachings to be an important part of our lives.  That is why we allow the Sacraments to draw us ever closer to God.  When our lives are centered on these things: we are growing simultaneously as Disciples.  As we do this, in time, we begin to ask the question: “Lord, how do you want me to live my life as a Disciple?” and “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

But we don’t put the cart before the horse, so to speak.  When we do, we confuse things.  We don’t ask whether we should live our lives as priests, husbands, wives, religious sisters or brothers until we are seeking day by day to live a holy life and answer the Lord’s call each day.  If we seek to do this, there’s little chance that we ignore the calling God has for each one of us, His invitation or our acceptance of that invitation

What’s the Difference Between Heaven & Earth?

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes a distinction between what we see in this world and what Heaven will be.  John the Baptist is the greatest of the Prophets, for he prepared the way for the Lord, the Incarnate Son of God to come into the world and most pointedly, into our very hearts and lives.  He was the one who prepared those who opened their hearts – to receive God.  As we hear the Baptist’s words in Advent: are we prepared to receive God into our very heart and souls, or perhaps in a deeper way?  Even though John the Baptist was a Great Prophet and a very important instrument of grace; Jesus tells us that Heaven will blow our minds with magnitude, splendor and greatness.  By offering us a sense of how great Heaven is – Jesus shares with us the importance of our being ready for that reality; our preparation here in this world is for the eternal reality we hope for.

As a Disciple who lives out my discipleship as a priest, I am asked the question (and consider it for myself), when is enough enough?  When have we/I done all we need to do?  When can we be assured we are living as the kind of Christians we are called to be?  The answer, when we get ourselves to heaven and we bring as many with us as we can.  That may seem like a non-answer or a pious platitude that doesn’t actually say anything: but it says everything!  Our encounter with God is a relationships and the very best of relationships don’t end.  They require constant work, and while we can enjoy the relationship and really, we must, we don’t sit back and become complacent friends or spouses.  Our relationship with God is no different and of the greatest importance.  God the Son gives us all that is required and when we have completely fulfilled that: we are ready and assured of heaven!  And that is a lifetime’s opus!

Our first task this Advent season is this: encounter God again.  This is not to imply we haven’t been, but read and hear the Gospels with fresh ears, new eyes and an openness to what God the Holy Spirit wishes to impart.  Then we must live our Christian lives in an even more committed and dedicated way.  Be encouraged that by living in more committed ways, no matter what we struggle with, God is with us and we must then invite others to do the same.  We cannot wait to be saints to call others to the same.  We must remain sinners who seek to be saints to invite others to the same.  That is what Christians must be!  We are not hypocrites in this way unless we deny our sinfulness.  We reconcile with God through confession and acknowledge our sins are “thorns” that remind us how in need of Jesus we really are.  Regular reconciliation paves the way to live for the very best part of what a Christian does.  To evangelize and to spread the Word – God loves us, calls us close to Him, wants us with Him forever in Paradise.  Paradise is not here: it’s in heaven.  Let us head there together.

2nd Tuesday of Advent: Jesus Speaks in the Most Unassuming Ways

In today’s Gospel, we have young Mary and her relative Elizabeth, both women who are so very different, but share something in common.  Most certainly it is that they carry the Gift of Life within them, lives that will arguable be some of the most impacting lives in human history; but they also share in common that they, themselves are two of the most unassuming people who are essential to human history themselves.

During this Advent season, it is important for us to stop and think about the people around us, the people in our daily lives who make a great impact upon us and the world we live in.  They are often times the most unassuming people.  Recently, there was a very sad article in the news of a couple of police officers who made fun of a young woman with Down’s Syndrome.  While the media sources villainized these police officers, the young girl and her mother, while disappointed in the behaviour of these men who should have known better – were very forgiving.  This was a story which was only in the news cycle (as best as I could see it) one day: but had a powerful impact upon me.  Sometimes news outlets publish these kinds of stories to evoke outrage in us, and the behaviour should be something we find deplorable but it was in what was least important that I found the most in this story myself.  It was the forgiving spirit of this young woman.  She was not hung up on the things the rest of us were.  She taught me in her response to the reporter’s questions to relax and get off my own high horse and to let more go.  I don’t know if she was a Christian, but she certainly acted like Christ.

I think you get the point; this news story was not on the news as a feel-good story, it had no religious overtones; but this young woman taught me humility, generosity and something about forgiveness in a very unassuming way.  Every one of us encounters these kinds of people and situations all the time, and we’re only sometimes aware of them.  We’re aware of the unassuming yet generous nature of Mary and Elizabeth, because we’re expecting it and awaiting it in the Gospels.  What the Gospels teach us is what we need to go and discover in the world we live in day by day.  Let us consider today, where will we encounter Christ in the most unassuming ways and people.  May God bless you.

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.