The Greatness of Women

Mary Mother of God

There are many things a Vocation Director looks for in a candidate for priesthood, but few things more important than what a man thinks and how he acts towards women.  For so many reasons, its important for me to understand how men who are considering the priesthood think of women.

Many years ago, I worked with a religious sister who shared with me some of her experiences over a lifetime, nearly 50 years as a religious sister including the many times she had been demeaned, condescended to, disrespected, marginalized or made to feel less important in dignity by priests and sadly even bishops.  She WAS NOT (and is not) an angry woman and I was glad she shared that with me.  It raised my own awareness, as a seminarian then, that we men have work to do.

It can be a great challenge for a great many people to be a part of (our) Church that seems to be dominated by men, as we have an all-male clergy.  I know that there are many people who struggle with this.  I know that as a priest, the single-most asked question in the classroom by students is “why can’t girls (women) be priests?”  My answers are often long and theological with reference to Scripture and Tradition, and they are often, I’m sure, unsatisfying to the inquirer.  I also consider my friend’s experience and I add to it that we priests need to be aware that we have often distorted and at times have disrespected the office we hold as Priests and Bishops.  What I offer people is that Priests and Bishops were never supposed to treat women as anything less than equal and the power and authority given by ordination is meant to bring salvation and a deeper encounter with our Lord and Saviour, rather than to be lorded over people or used to control or exert power.  I admit we’ve come a long way in understanding that, but we have a long way to go.  As Pope Francis says “there’s no Church without women” and while women can’t be priests, “[women] cannot be limited in the role and importance; the part they play” in bringing Jesus Christ and the Glory of God through the Church to the world.

And who better to cite as the most powerful example of this than Mary Most Holy?  To look and reflect upon the life of Mary, Mother of God, is to realize that God has made women to be great!  She was given a vocation, a role, a part to play for all eternity that no one else could do – and she was given this role as a woman of faith.  No one in all of human history was closer to God than she was.  No one has the prayer power (the ability to intercede in prayer) for us that she does.  Mary wasn’t an Apostle, nor was she a priest or a bishop.  But if there was an Apostle or disciple who might have considered treating Our Lady with less than the fullest dignity she deserved, we could only imagine what Our Lord Himself would have had to say about that!

As a Vocation Director, it is of prime importance to look for men who understand this or are capable of seeing things in this way.  Our future priests must have a deep respect for women already lived out and obvious in their lives.  They must value equally and without exception women.  A priest who wants to be “with the boys” and not spend his life with good female friends as well is problematic and hopefully we are all becoming more discerning and realistic in helping anyone who thinks this way with the issues that have led them to this way of thinking.

The role for women in the Church, in the world, as Christians witnessing to us IS GREAT and we celebrate that today as we celebrate the life of one of the greatest woman, Mary the Mother of God.

Jesus Fills Us in Our Need

jesus12

Throughout all of human history we have struggled to meet God.  We may meet people in our lives who think that God, religion, Christianity, perhaps faith in general is for the weak-minded and simple among us.  There are many valid reasons that people feel that way.  Upon first glance, there are many “religious” people who have rigid beliefs of “it’s us versus them”.  At second and third glance; many terrible and destructive things have happened with “religious people” placing the Stamp of God upon hateful and destructive actions.  If I seem sympathetic – I’m not; if I seem understanding – I am!  I was one of “those people” who for so many years had a dismissive, hateful, negative attitude towards religious people for what I believed religion was all about.  And given where I live, it was directly towards the only religion I had much of an awareness of at the time – Christianity.  I could never imagine myself a Christian from all the “poor examples” I had met in my life.

But I will be the first to admit that I had only a vague understanding of what it meant to be a Christian then.  I did not want or feel I needed to understand anything more than I did to dismiss religious people altogether.  My ignorance was bliss for me then too, so I understand why it seems that this attitude and mentality doesn’t seem to move much.  I was so arrogant and proud that I could not be moved on the subject.  Then I met some real Christians; men and women who meekly and humbly tried their best and when I got to know them, I came to see they were ordinary folk trying to be the best people they could be.  I realized my preconceived ideas needed to be challenged and my understanding needed to be deepened.  While dedicated Christian Disciples showed me what a Christian really was and what we are meant to be, I am also aware that God gave me the grace of an open heart to see it in the first place.

It was through Jesus and His Disciples (these good Christians I came to know), that I really came to meet God through His Son, Jesus.  I didn’t realize I was hungry for the food that Jesus offered, but when I came to realize – Jesus gave me what I needed.  Jesus filled me in my need.

Throughout human history, so many of us haven’t been aware of the hunger and need we have and our hearts remained closed to what Jesus has to offer.  I speak about this from experience!  I was for a very long time one of those people.  Jesus reached me…He gave Himself for me…He brought me in love…to Him.  

I pray daily now, for those who were like me; who may see me and criticize me for being one of these weak-minded hypocrites.  I have my moments still where I am these things; the difference now is that each criticism that is made of me for this is an occasion I am reminded I need to draw closer once again to the Lord who loves me!

Friends, let us consider how Jesus fills us in our own need.  Let us consider how we come to the Lord for loving, healing, growth, guidance.  Let us consider what we are given when we do.

Thursday After Ash Wednesday: Ready for Christ?

I’m living in a world where the essence of Jesus’ message and today’s Gospel are the essence of consideration: “…pick up your own cross, deny yourself and follow the Lord”.  This is the essence of a vocation, any and all vocations and this is what we want from someone discerning – to “own” these words for themselves.  Whether we are living out our Christian Discipleship or coming to discover what our vocation is (how we will uniquely and completely live out that Discipleship) we need to prepare ourselves for these three things.

Picking Up Our Cross(es).  Our lives will be filled with joy and blessing, we will feel “in sync” with the world around us when we have a good sense of what our meaning and purpose in this world is as Christians.  But we must remember that while the greatest part is joy and fulfilment, the crosses we carry are every bit as important a part as the more positive stuff.  We are actually formed more by our crosses and hardships than we are by the successes we experience in life.  People that find success in everything they do and accustom themselves to only that, or don’t suffer along the way tend to have a hard time dealing with the hardships when they come (and they will come).  Fear may keep us at first from embracing the crosses but we must remind ourselves that fear is a barrier to a truly Christian life.  Pushing through our fears will lead us to the treasure of true and real faith and the treasure of holiness.

Denying Ourselves.  Often we think our vocation or the Discipleship we are called to live is for ourselves – what is God’s plan for me!  A vocation, Christian Discipleship is for others and the only way we can truly and fully give ourselves totally and completely for others is to deny ourselves in the process.  We are not being called to give everything away and have nothing for ourselves; even Jesus took care of Himself as He ministered to others, but if we’re not prepared to deny ourselves we will deny others instead.  We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to give, to be available – for others.  And in doing so, we encourage others to do the same.

Following Christ.  Last but most certainly not least is to follow Christ.  The first two actions precede following Christ.  In order to follow Christ we need to be like Him.  He picked up His cross, not only just before Golgotha, but at Cana – when He began His ministry.  He was prepared by God for that and then picked up the Cross.  We know He denied Himself throughout the Gospel as He experienced the attacks from all sides and He followed God’s plan as we do.

In these holy days of Lent, as we consider our Lord’s plan for us, may we make this here our motto: Picking up Our Cross, Denying Ourselves & Following Him!

Conversion – One Day at a Time

As a Catholic convert and the privilege of my ministry listening to the Lord’s powerful calling of people to serve His Church as priests, religious and dedicated Disciples; todays feast of the Conversion of St. Paul is another occasion for deep and profound reflection.

We like to hear the powerful and dramatic conversion stories, like that of St. Paul, St. Augustine or Thomas Merton among so many others. In fact, the accounting of my own vocation story has dramatic moments or elements to it; but I have come to appreciate that rarely is a conversion as dramatic as we make it out to be.

It would be a mistake, my friends to fixate on the moment of Saul’s conversion as the most important part of the story. It isn’t. There are many who have stories similar to his whom we don’t remember and aren’t talking about. Why? The “drama” didn’t bring that person to the life long conversion which we celebrate in the person of St. Paul as he left his life as Saul of Tarsaus behind.

I have a good friend of mine, a priest of more than 40 years who came to talk to our Associates a couple of years ago who offered an important piece of wisdom from his lifelong commitment to his priesthood and priestly life. He told these young men about the ups and downs of his life in an honest way, of joys and struggles. He spoke of the day of his ordination and the importance of the ‘yes’ he made before the bishop on that day but stressed the importance of the ‘yes’ every single day of his life. He made a profound point for myself, the other young priests there and many of the young men discerning. I can attest to the joy and appreciation many have for this priest’s vocation and his life. But the moment it began isn’t as important as the daily commitment. It’s the same as for St. Paul. His daily commitment is why we celebrate his conversion. Remembrance of an event, but the less obvious event of his life.

Will others celebrate the “event of our lives”. We all have a conversion, reversion or deeper conversion moment; we may even be having one right now. The focus should not be what other people do in the celebration of our life, but as people of faith the recognition that Our Lord celebrates with us. The Communion of Saints celebrate with us. Will they be celebrating the moment – this moment – when we lived every day for the Lord and for others?

St. John the Baptist: May We be More Like Him Everyday!

exaltation of the cross

St. John the Baptist should be a model and mentor for how we live as Christians.  His life given totally to God and “preparing the way for the Lord”, even though we can be fairly certain he didn’t know exactly how the Day of the Lord was to take place.  He didn’t need to, he had faith and surely his faith grew as he committed himself to trust God.  Certainly he was given the gifts he used to bring people to a “baptism of repentance”, but unlike each one of us Christians, he did not have the blessing of knowing the whole story – he did not have the big picture that we are blessed to have by being born anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi and having the Holy Tradition and Holy Gospels of the Church.  Given that, I think it’s even more remarkable, the faith and trust John had.

“I am not the Messiah” is a key phrase in today’s Gospel account of this piece of John’s life.  He is not, yet was indeed empowered by the Lord to prepare everything for the coming of the Messiah more deeply into the hearts of those who wanted to be close to God.  We are not the Messiah, nor should we ever think ourselves to be when we utilize our God-given gifts and evangelize in the world today.  We most definitely should not shrink or shy away from the gifts, the tools the Lord has given us to “prepare the way” for others to be closer to Christ.  One of the greatest tragedies for the Christian faith, is Christians shrinking away or hiding themselves so that others don’t feel “offended” by us.  We may believe that we live in a time where we believe that the mention of our faith, that our firm purpose to profess ourselves Christians will offend people – and maybe it will.  But all we need to do is open our Bibles, and to look at the Gospels to know that Jesus, and John the Baptist “offended” people too.

We need to radiate the faith that is ours.  There is a way to do it, of course.  We must radiate love, compassion, joy first.  We know all too well that this is not always the case.  Although John the Baptist, and even Jesus may be remembered in the Gospel as challenging certain groups by calling them out, “you brood of vipers” if somehow we have it that this was the predominate message, we’ve lost perspective on the Life of Christ altogether.  Love, compassion, mercy, joy, love (yes, I did mention love twice) predominated the Gospel message.

I can assure you, that I too am someone who needs to hear these words and to live by them.  I can assure you that today I am going to do what I can to be more like John the Baptist (which also means more like Jesus) and prepare the way for the Lord, and remember “I am not the Messiah”, but I am someone by my own Baptism in the Lord who needs to seek to allow Him first to enter more deeply into my own heart, and then seek to be fearless in bringing Him into the world of ours – that so much needs Him.  May God bless us all in this!

Our Thankful Hymn of Praise to God

Today’s Gospel is traditionally known as the Magnificat, Our Lady gives praise to God for the great work He plans and delivers upon through her.  Mary’s Magnificat is an important proclamation because it demonstrates a humble young woman with a thankful heart who is ready for the great vocation God has in store for her.

Gratitude is an important disposition and attribute for every one of us.  If you’re anything like me, you can find yourself annoyed and irritated and “glass half-empty” too often in your life, so trying our best to have a constant spirit of gratitude is essential to healthy growth as a Christian.  It was something that was impressed upon me when I first began spiritual direction, and as a priest and a Spiritual Director myself I usually asked my directees to begin their times of prayer with some gratitude to God for the gifts He has given us.  Gratitude allows us to see God’s beautiful work in our lives and with thankful hearts we can see more clearly God’s action in our lives.  Key to Mary’s thankful disposition is also the disposition of humility; to accept that everything is gift from God and nothing “deserved” helped her, and it helps us to be even more thankful for what is given to us.

Perhaps as we prepare for the Lord’s Coming, more deeply into our hearts, our souls and our lives; maybe we can spend a little time today with Mary’s Magnificat and following her lead offer a Magnificat of our own.

Gaudete Sunday: Are We Truly Rejoicing in the Lord?

Advent is not merely a season we pass through on our way to Christmas; it is an important liturgical season, but even more than that: it is a season of our own very Christian lives.  We rejoice today at Christ’s first coming, at His coming again (to us in this season as we prepare and commit ourselves to a deeper faith) and His Final Advent when He returns to bring us all who truly desire it, with Him.  All “Advents” are vitally important, all are worth rejoicing in.

God in His great love for us entered human history as one of us, He came and redeemed us, as we were all in need of redemption.  We have been getting it wrong since the beginning, in the Garden of Eden.  The faithful, or those who were becoming faithful prepared for the coming of the Christ child and our Gospel readings and Isaiah’s Prophecy reminds us of how amazing, special, important and earth-shattering that First Noel really was.

God in His great love for us, continues to be with us first of all by giving us the ongoing Presence of His Son in Word (Gospels) and Deed (Sacraments, most especially the Holy Eucharist).  This means His Son has never left us, but today’s Advent is by means of the Holy Spirit who enters more deeply into the heart of the believer (hopefully us) and allows God’s love to penetrate more deeply.  We prepare the Way for the Lord in our hearts as we reflect upon another year and seek greater wisdom and understanding so that we may be more dedicated Christian Disciples today and every day.  What a reason to rejoice!

And God is His Greatest act of love ever, desires us to be with Him forever and the meaning and purpose of our lives and everyone else’s, whether they know it or not is to joyfully prepare for the Last Advent when Christ will come and the fullness of redemption will be completed.  In so many ways, we cannot place our focus on this because we wouldn’t be as engaged in being Christian and living as we ought to today if we were awaiting that Last Advent.  In another way, it is good to be consciously aware of it, as to do so brings about a sense of urgency in being or becoming the very best versions of our Christian selves we can be.  St. Teresa of Calcutta was known for imploring priests “celebrate this Mass like it’s your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass”.  I have really tried to own these words as we all should in participating at the Mass as well – but the sentiment extends beyond Holy Mass to everything we do as Christians.  We cannot and should not wait for another day to be amazing, ardent and evangelizing Christians.  We have our mission: to get ourselves to heaven and bring as many people with us as we can!  Let’s then do so joyfully on this Gaudete Sunday when we are aware or should become aware of how very much indeed we are loved and may we rejoice in that.

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.