Behold the Lamb of God!

The Lamb of God

This is my homily given at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica today:

“Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  Surely, we recognize these words which take place near the end of the Mass and during the communion rite, when we together; me as the priest and you as the faithful people of God look upon the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with true and honest faith and devotion, believing these words as fully and completely as John the Baptist did when he proclaimed them in the setting of today’s Gospel.

We then proclaim the words of the Roman centurion, who asked Jesus to heal his sick servant in the 8th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”.

Friends, these words are not Scripture piecemeal, these are perhaps the strongest, purest, most meaningful professions of our faith.  To declare who we see, who we see, when what is right now, Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus our Lord and declare Him with the same faith as St. John did, the Lamb of God mustn’t just be words we utter with our lips or declare by rote.  These words must carry the meaning they did for St. John, but so much so that we are prepared to give everything we have for these words.

We know the Gospel account of the life of John the Baptist and we know that the Name and Person of God would cost Him.  In today’s world that we live in, a world not as different from Gospel times as we might think if we were really to reflect – not a bad world, but a world with much indifference, much greed, ambition – many reasons not to want the Gospel and the Lamb of God to be a part of that world – isn’t that the very same world we are a part of?

And I say not a bad world, because we have many parish churches that are full, at least many of them in the Archdiocese of Toronto, and every single person in every one of these churches wants a relationship with Jesus, we all do.  What are we prepared to give for that relationship?  What extent are we to believe?

Are we to be Disciples or Friend of Jesus or are we to be acquaintances?  An acquaintance gives nothing for the one with whom he is acquainted, a Disciple or friend gives everything for that friendship of mutual love and respect.  I don’t just ask you that question before I ask it of myself.

There are days, more than I would like to admit that I am merely an acquaintance of Jesus and where I’m not willing to give much for my faith – but each day I pray that it not going to be one of those days and I think it’s important for us all to do the same.  If we truly “behold the Lamb of God” here this morning at Holy Mass, then not only are our sins washed away, but the impurities of our hearts and intentions are too.  If we believe this happens, and I assure you it can and will if we allow the outpouring of grace to permeate our souls – we are ready to give it all for Jesus, for the Name above all other names, for the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  We are truly blessed as we are called here to the supper of the Lamb and having been fed, to journey out there and nourish others with our well-fed souls.  May God bless you.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Are We Ready to Trust in God More?

Are we ready to trust God?  This is a question each of us needs to ask ourselves again and again in our lives, especially if we’re going to live lives dedicated to God.  Are we willing to trust that God has a plan and no matter what we wanted or what we had hoped for in life; God has a plan that is meant to bring about the best in us and in time He will reveal that plan to us, in part or in whole. Trust is an activity; it’s the most important action a Christian can commit himself or herself to.  So many us weaken in our faith, some of us even stop believing because we are lacking and then sometimes unwilling to trust God.  Part of this is understandable, because we relate to God as we relate to others and many of us have every reason not to trust some of the people in our lives – we are justified in that.  It’s easier said than done, to habituate ourselves in our relationship with God to an acceptance that our relationship with Him is different.  It is, but it takes work and force of habit to remind ourselves of that.  If we can wrap our minds around that, it is amazing how far we can go in faith.  It’s amazing how much more able we are to see the Lord our God and to recognize His love and His Loving Presence all around us and in everything.

The Holy Parents are models of this trust, but most especially St. Joseph.  With the shocking news that she was with Child, Joseph had his whole life turned upside down in an instant.  While Mary had to trust God in His Plan after the Annunciation, Joseph did not have an instant encounter with the angel and had to deal with emotions of betrayal, hurt and pain before he encountered God’s messenger in a dream. Then we know he was responsible for safeguarding this family when their lives were in danger.  I can only imagine, this man of faith must have had days where his faith was tested, and I think it’s important that we reflect upon that sometimes.  It may give us cause to stop and ask ourselves, what ways do we need to trust more?  In what ways is our faith challenged and are we prepared to meet these challenges?

Trusting God is faith in action; in what areas of our own lives do we need to have greater trust in God’s love for us, His Providential Care for us?

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.

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.