Loving One Another as Jesus Did

exaltation of the cross

Today’s reflection is my homily given to the Associates, men in our Pre-Seminary Formation Program in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the “Golden Rule”, but it was popular in decades past and even in some places now, and while there is nothing inherently harmful in the notion of the Golden Rule; its popularity surrounds a desire to demonstrate for us how much alike many religions really are and I’ve heard it said “how we are all rivers flowing into the same ocean”.

My reflection this morning is not to bash the Golden Rule, a somewhat flawed but well-meaning theology.  If you know the Golden Rule, you might know it from school – many Catholic Schools display it prominently and it makes sense to me to have the Golden Rule there; where many of the students are not Catholic and even many of the Catholic students have a very limited understanding of their faith that it gives them, at least, a sense of why we should love and embrace others.  The Golden Rule offers us a series of altruistic maxims which for us as committed Catholics should not be the limit for us in our Catholic Christian faith.

What I mean is that we must allow ourselves to delve more deeply into what Jesus offers us; the profound mystery that comes from God’s Son, which we as Christians have.  That may mean little to others, but it is by faith everything for us.  The maxim closely associated with today’s Gospel is “love each another as you love yourself”.

It may seem fine for us as Catholic Christians to seek to live in this way but this provides us with only a superficial understanding and desire to live as Jesus calls us to.  Often this comes from a sense that I can only love as is humanly possible, and to love beyond that is for God or Divine, which is hoped for but not likely to be achieved in this life – wrong.  Jesus tells us so.

In John’s Gospel (13:34), Jesus says “love one another, as I have loved you”.  He calls us to love our enemies, pray for those who do us harm. Brothers, this is a totally different kind of love that we are called to as Catholic Christians, as Catholic Christian men.  Of course all Christians are called to live in this way as our Lord commands it, but this is the kind of love that must be a total gift of ourselves for Christ and for all.  Not just some, or our people, but for all.

It is this total gift of love, this agape love which is what urges us on and gives us the strength, courage and the gift of the Holy Priesthood and the gift of Celibacy to live out the Holy Priesthood.  It may be that you haven’t thought or reflected upon this Gospel in this way before, but I’d like you to ponder it now.  Even if we haven’t figured out at this moment whether God has given you the gift of the priestly vocation, or the gift of the celibate vocation to live a life of total love (giving and receiving love in a complete way) so that you may be joyful as a priest and completely engaged with others in the world; even if we haven’t figured this out, my hope brothers, is that you look at the priests you know and others you’ve met throughout your lives, the joys we share with you, you’re able to see these gifts can be lived out positively, joyfully, with complete love and the complete engagement of who we are & who we are meant to be.  And while we are, all of us, incomplete and sometimes weak instruments of the Lord – what should occur to you is that we are men who are trying to respond & grow in the awareness and response to these gifts day by day.

Today’s Gospel deepens our sense of the kind of love Jesus calls us all to as Christians, but the kind of love that is absolutely necessary and essential for the priesthood.  A sacrificial and complete love; a love that is not about counting the cost to ourselves of what we do, a love that is complete in both giving and receiving but in which we trust the Lord on the receiving part and focus on the giving.  I tie this to the priesthood, and I might say most especially the Diocesan Priesthood, because we are perhaps the priesthood most closely connected to the world.  Although we must go beyond naming the individuals or groups we don’t like, and calling them enemies.  We are in the midst of rampant secularism, individualism, liberalism and so many other things that attack humanity.  These things are our enemies and yet we need to be beacons of love and kindness in the midst of all that.  We need to be joyful in the midst of all of that.

We live in a world that is becoming more hostile, more aggressive, more self-serving, and selfish and we need to love with greater intensity in the midst of all of that.

This is not just being good people in good ways; this is profoundly living the Gospel, surrendering ourselves to it in fact in the midst of the chaos of everything else going on all around us.  Being real and not living with our heads in the clouds.

Not attacking others or criticizing everyone but embracing as Christ embraced.  This is the Christian life and it is most definitely the agape, or deepest form of love we are called to and which is expected of our priests in the world today.  Loving our enemies does not mean accepting hateful behaviour, it means having the strength of conviction and faith to love past hateful behaviour or actions.  Praying for those who persecute us, doesn’t mean praying for their demise or diminishment; it means praying for them with love and in humility praying for a deeper sense of love for them, maybe conversion but most certainly for God’s Presence in their heart.  Surely many early Christians prayed for Saul of Tarsaus which led to St. Paul’s own encounter with the Lord Jesus Himself and his total conversion.

Brothers, today’s Gospel is Jesus’ call for each one of us to go deeper: for us priests to go deeper in the living out of our own vocation, in your reflection upon the vocation you feel in your heart the Lord calling you to. Our vocation must be lived out with the kind of love ascribed for us in the Gospel today, nothing less.  If all we are living by is what amounts to the Golden Rule – we must move beyond!  We must surrender to the Lord and seek to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect and realize with absolutely joy-filled hearts that we must continue in this Christian journey towards perfection and stop at nothing short or nothing less.  May God bless you.

Go And Reconcile…

Confession

Speaking of the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation as a priest does not detract from the sanctity of the inviolable seal of the sacrament.  As a priest having heard many confessions, who looks forward to hearing many more – I can say with profound conviction that in some ways I wish others knew the real grace that takes place in and around there; as sacred a duty and responsibility I have to protect the secrecy of the confessional; I wish others could hear what’s confessed there; but it’s between the faithful and the Lord their God.  I am hearing, counseling and absolving on His behalf.  Kneeling or humbling oneself before God, much of what many of us confess before God, if it were known to others might make one wonder just how it is that there is so much unforgiveness, hatred and bitterness between people in the world.  In the confessional, people so often want reconciliation with God and other people in the world.  Of course many of us struggle to be charitable to others who hurt or betray us, but in the confessional – so many take responsibility and the blame before God for whatever goes wrong in relationships in their lives.  Penitents are inspiring to me, they make me want to be a better priest, a better man, a better Christian each day.  As I consider today’s Gospel and think about who I have hurt, torn down, betrayed or hold anger and resentment towards; I consider how we live in a hope-filled world much of it coming from the desire to do right towards others and be right with God.  I seek to be reconciled myself and to reconcile with those around me.

Celebrating the Chair of St. Peter

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I was blessed to spend some time with the Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Boston when I first entered vocation work.  Even though I had been ordained 1 ½ years by then and had taken seriously my own understanding and commitment to obedience and thought I understood the way the hierarchy of the Church worked; Fr. Hennessy shared with me something that I have never forgotten, that shapes the way I look at everything I do as a priest and as a Catholic Christian.  After speaking of “best practices” and the highlights and challenges of a Vocation Director; Father reminded me that it was Jesus, the Lord Himself who had appointed me and it is He who I work for – we all do.  He was not being disrespectful towards my bishop, Cardinal Collins (or his for that matter) but he impressed upon me that our bishops don’t take lightly the decisions they make and pray fervently in their appointments.  If I’m only looking at my ministry as something I’m doing for my bishop, I won’t be doing what he wants or needs of me.  If I see what I am doing as for the Lord whom we are both obedient to; I am going to miss part of the picture my bishop depends upon me to see.  My bishop fills the same roll I do to him for someone else: the pope.  Again, God’s choice through prayer (prayer of the College of Cardinals).  I’ve been thinking of this one today as we celebrate the Chair of St. Peter, and as I think of the Holy Father and the Holy Fathers I have known.  There have been 5 popes in my lifetime, and many more in the lifetimes of others.  They are all so very different.  Some we relate to perhaps better than others.  Some we remember with fondness, some we learned much from, some are more present, some are more “mysterious” and offer profound fatherly wisdom to us – but one of the greatest things we can remind ourselves is that they are most profoundly Servants of the Lord and our servants.  We need to value the papacy as it far exceeds anything the man in the “chair” can offer.  But we need to respect the man who is in the Chair, for the Office he holds is of the Lord.  He may not be perfect (in fact he isn’t and wouldn’t claim to be) but neither was St. Peter.  We are blessed as Catholic Christians to have St. Peter’s successor, for like St. Peter himself, he keeps us together, he keeps us on track and on course and he keeps us, as he seeks to keep Himself close to the Master so that we all can live our lives fully and completely as Disciples of the Lord in the ways that we do.

Our “Sign” [Christ] Is Upon Us: Turn Towards Him and Live for His Good News

Woe to You

Today’s reflection is based on my homily given for the National Catholic Broadcasting Daily TV Mass.

It might be a natural inclination for us to want to look or want for a sign that will point us in the direction of something that we already ought to know. We really don’t like surprises, and most of us wrestle with patience with any sort of long term project requiring steady work.

But we can be assured that there’s virtue in the progress of everything we do along the way in our Christian lives. This may be why Jesus comes across so hard hitting in today’s Gospel; He knows we are on our way but have detours that aren’t going to be helpful to us along that way.  Put in our ordinary everyday terms, He might have said “C’mon people, how many times do I have to remind you of this?!?” Put in another way, His message might be like the strong message of a winning coach calling his players to a stronger, more united, more devoted commitment to the end game, a victory – a win!

Our Lord references the Old Testament prophesy of Jonah; part of which is our first reading today. Jonah brings an alarming and awakening message, perhaps to some, a very frightening message that they need to hear: wake up!The complete fulfillment of God’s plan is taking place now! Get your act together! Friends, this is a message and a wake-up call for us all; I know it is for me, but it is for so many of us who are in the process of living our Christian lives; we know that there are areas in our lives we still need to work on.

As Lent is upon us now, it’s important for us to really think about this, really reflect upon it in our daily lives. If we stop and consider the dramatic message Jonah brought to the people of Nineveh, it startled those who aspire for holiness but who were maybe forgetful, who had become complacent in some things or indifferent in some things.

I believe that to be us: myself to be certain and maybe you too!

One can only hope that a any sermon or homily is going to be for the person who came with no intention to live close to God and then leaves converted & changed, prepared to live a radically different life; but the reality is that while we welcome and embrace anyone like this, it is more likely that if you’re listening to me, if you’ve turned on the television or if you’ve come down here to the Abbey, you’re already trying to live your life close to Jesus.  I know I am, but I also know that I fail at that sometimes.  If you’re anything like me, you need today’s wake-up to get things going again.  We all need to be reminded today that the Lord’s hope and desire for us to re-commit ourselves to a holy way of life is now!  It’s today, not tomorrow but today.

If we truly embrace that, it should be fire not fear in our hearts.  It should be the fire of the love of God that compels us to love and embrace Him and a holy way of life, to love unconditionally those around us; family, friends, those who mistreat us and disrespect us most especially too. It ought to be the fire of the love of Christ that should want us to joyfully proclaim in word and deed that we are Christian – without fear.

Fear is not now, and never has been from the Lord. If the reading from the Book of Jonah and if Jesus’ word bring about fear in us, it’s important that we address that. It may be fear of something in our daily lives that we have to pray for freedom from and ask God how we might be released from that fear. I know I’ve talked with many who are fearful of the end and the final judgment on account of their sins.  Well, we ought not to be – those who are usually afraid are not the ones who should be. We need to make the regular practice of a good confession, and then entrust our struggle to God Himself.  The last thing God would want for any of us would be that we spend so much time wrestling with our own sins and weaknesses that we live in them instead of living for Him and doing the good work He has called us to. We need to be cognizant and accept our responsibility for our sins, always trying to do better – but to be afraid of God’s wrath for sin is not helping us to have a healthy spiritual life and prayer life.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, may we see today’s Mass as that sign, the same sign given by Jesus once for all and for which we put our faith, have a greater sense of hope in and grow to embrace in a spirit of love which Jesus intended for it to be.  May God bless you.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

I attribute much of the growth I experienced in the spiritual life to having a really good spiritual director in the seminary.  When I think and reflect back to those times, I remember needing a lot of help in getting my act together in the beginning and then along the way developing those good practices and good habits with the insertion of insight along the way.  My director explained towards the end of my seminary formation that in the beginning he needed to teach and help me to develop for myself a spiritual routine that allowed me to continue to grow in freedom, joy and a desire for a deeper relationship day by day with the Lord.  The prayer life and spiritual life I developed and grew in while in the seminary is the one which serves me well as a priest today.  Of course I can always do better, and I impress upon our seminarians that they must cultivate this deep desire to be with God and to pray well as seminarians because when they become priests it can be hard at times to maintain it, especially when you become busy – and prayer is most important for everyone but it is absolutely essential for the priest.

The Disciples went to the Lord, the Source of all prayer and asked for His help in praying and we have the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, the perfect prayer.  They will (as we all should) continue to ask God to help them to pray better, more sincerely, more perfectly throughout their lives BUT it is important that they cultivate much of what and how they pray on their own.  This extends to each one of us as Disciples too.  It is important that we are growing in our own insights into prayer and our relationship with God as we develop in our spiritual lives, and while it is important that we have a good spiritual director, someone who can accompany us on the journey – it is also important that our director does less “instructing” and more listening to us as directees.

We priests are asked often to be spiritual directors for people, especially those who are discerning.  I am on the lookout for spiritual directors all the time and there are many of my brother priests who feel ill-equipped to be that for people.  I talk about this often, and encourage them because they are capable of accompaniment.  Often we feel inadequate in the advice we might give someone in the spiritual life, and this is why we question whether we should be a spiritual director.  Especially with men who are discerning, what a joyful, faithful, loving, hard-working priest can offer is the insight that brought him to where he is today; more than profound wisdom or insight or the ability to draw from everything he knows about Catholic Christian spirituality.  Hopefully as a person and as a priest he grows in this too throughout his life – but we all need to get better at listening (I certainly know I do) because it’s in listening to another heart who desires to be close to the Lord that we come to see the Lord’s work in others.

Although I share here an insight on spiritual direction, I speak of spiritual accompaniment in a broader way.  Each one of us as Christian Disciples on the journey have people come into our lives as we come into the lives of others who sincerely want to grow and learn from one another – it’s part of the journey!  As much as it’s important always to appeal to the Lord to “teach us to pray”, we must look to the good example of others too, and learn and grow from each other – the Lord teaches but we teach each other and this is God’s desire: that we be instruments of God’s grace to one another.

1st Monday of Lent: What We Do for Others as Important as What We “Give Up” for the Lord

Most of us have been in the practice of “giving something up” for Lent; of making a sacrifice of sorts – but to what end?  Of course this is an important practice and as we seek to grow in our lives of faith, we may even realize that we ought to go beyond this simple gesture of faith if we are to grow as Christian Disciples.  Today’s Gospel offers us all a very important point of reflection.  What are we doing for others?  We know the Lord desires our loving and unselfish gift of ourselves for Him and for others – so it’s important for us, especially in the season of Lent to ask ourselves this important question.  All of us!  Even if we have found the ways to serve, do we serve simply for the sake of others or do we serve and hope for some credit and to be thought of a certain way because of it?  Do we seek to do more, or continue to do what we’ve been doing for a while.  Are we making every effort to examine our lives and to ask ourselves before the Lord in prayer, are there places we could be doing more?

This is a question we all should ask ourselves and if Lent is for us a place of greater encounter with the Lord, we ought to ask Him to help us see these places.  Often times, when we feel the passion that a deeper encounter with the Lord brings to our lives we feel like doing something dramatic in answer to this – and maybe this is the right thing to do, but not if there are areas where serving needs around us are being neglected.  The corporal works of mercy, which Jesus calls us to and in today’s Gospel especially are meant to be given by each of us in loving generosity, but with the people the Lord has given and entrusted us with first; family, friends, people we minister to,  in our parish family, in the community we live in, in whatever measure we can give.

May our Lenten experience help each one of us deepen our commitment to serving others; I can assure you that if you have not yet discovered what the Lord is calling you to (your vocation), He will reveal it to you in midst of service – every vocation is about service and without discerning ways we might serve in greater ways, we will be hard-pressed to discover what it is the Lord calls us to.

1st Sunday of Lent: Are We Ready to Embrace a Deeper Life in Christ?

Jesus TemptedPassion of the Christ

We celebrate today the first Sunday in the season of Lent.  We began the season with the marking of ashes; reminding us of both our mortality and our need to renew our lives and so if we truly entered into this season with those two things in mind, we should be ready for humble introspection and reflection.  That too, is an important part of this season for all of us.  It is part of the circle of life.

The circle of life happens whether we want it to or not; we are born, we grow quickly absorbing, learning, growing, developing until we reach full growth and then while the growth and development may slow down, it is either made sweet and healthy by humble reflection and introspection or it’s made bitter/maybe bittersweet by scepticism, cynicism and pessimism.  We are either filled with hope or mired in hopelessness.

Friends, Lent is about wanting the best for ourselves and for each other.  If we’re mindful that death will come to us all, we aren’t meant to be dire, downcast or gloomy about this, but to realize we’re on a timeline and while we ought to appreciate, enjoy and savour our lives – we are called to live the lives we’ve been given with meaning and purpose.  If we acknowledge we are called to “turn away from sin [selfishness and living for ourselves in the moment] and turn towards the [hope-filled] Gospel; our lives get better and our lives stay better!

That is the foundation, the fertile ground I hope we are all allowing ourselves to be rooted in as we begin Lent.  In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus in His desert experience, taking on temptation and suffering, being pulled away from God and remaining committed and resolved to stay close to the Father.  We hear of His temptation in the desert followed by His Proclamation that begins a Lenten experience for Him and His followers.  Believing in the Gospel comes with a price.  Turning away from sin doesn’t make life easy in any way.  Meeting temptation with resolve is not an easy thing to do.  All three of these statements are absolutely true and they ought to be essential and real statements for the Christian; for the Disciples of our Lord.  They are true, they are not easy to swallow – but they are only part of the story.  The greatest part of the Christian “story” or life is in what is received.  That – is more profoundly great than absolutely anything given by us for it.  We have to remember that.

As we prepare this Lent for more humble introspection and reflection, let us stop and consider our own lives lived up to this very moment in time and let us ask ourselves what more are we prepared to do, to receive the love of God and a deeper faith into our hearts, minds and souls.

Are We Ready to Surrender it All?

Matthew's Call

I must admit that I wish (and I’m sure every other Vocation Director is with me on this) that vocation work in the Archdiocese of Toronto was as easy as it seems it was for Jesus with Levi (it seems).  Of course, the Gospels give us the account and we have to remember there were many other things happening that we can’t know for certain that Levi followed Jesus immediately but it was a pretty fast moving conversion and discernment.  There are many obvious reasons why my work can be more challenging; one of them being – I am not Jesus!  I am not the Son of God!  And so I’m working within my own limitations and trying my best to convey His Way, His truth and His life.  As a “work in progress” and an imperfect instrument myself, I need the words of our Lord and have my own limits in conveying them to others.  Hopefully not too many and fewer as I (hope to) grow in holiness myself.  “Teach me your ways, as I walk in your truth!”  It is absolutely true that it is in fact, Jesus that everyone who is called, follows: but they do so through and with those who inspire them and are instruments of Jesus in their day to day life.  So I’m not Jesus, but neither are the other people in the discerners’ life either.

We are called to give it all to the Lord as Levi does.  Once the Truth penetrates our hardened hearts, we are meant to surrender and so today we reflect upon that, each of us for ourselves.  Where have we not allowed the Holy Spirit and the Love of God to penetrate our hearts and souls?  Where have we not surrendered ourselves to the Way we are called to live as Disciples?  Today’s Gospel gives us cause to pause and reflect upon that.  And I shall reflect upon it too.  There are areas of my life that require greater surrender.  And if I’m not prepared to surrender everything, I ought not to be asking those whom, I meet that are discerning to do the same!

During this season of Lent, as we continue to “turn towards the Gospel”, may each one of us in our own daily lives and in our vocation look to surrender it all in a greater way.

Life is About Balance: Feasting & Fasting

Life is about balance.  This is not only what I remind myself as often as I possibly can, but it is what I offer seminarians and those discerning: that everything we do, we must seek to do in balance.  Especially for those who minister to others and find themselves sharing or even imparting (but it should be more about sharing) personal wisdom and experience of one’s Christian life – we need to be striving for balance.  That means balance in all things.  If a seminarian is praying all the time; not exercising, not socializing with other seminarians or friends inside and outside of the seminary, not resting enough or not working hard enough on his studies – that’s not finding balance.  If he’s doing any one or more than one of these things and neglecting anything else in his life – again, a lacking in balance and he’s not going to find in his life and through his vocation, what he searches for, what God desires for him.  And he has to work harder.  Having an appropriate perspective though, would mean that he has enough of a sense that his faculty members, his brothers and sisters in Christ…and most especially his Vocation Director are on the same journey and quest, and not necessarily ahead of him in any way!

Balance eludes many of us, but the reality we must open our eyes to is that what makes Christians different is that we don’t give up and we don’t accept that “what we have failed to do” is in any way a defeat and that we do not displease God.  I am no more an expert on God than anyone else, BUT what I feel I can say knowing the Lord is that what would disappoint God is if and when any of us give up trying to please Him, trying to find that balance in all things that are the ingredients of a well-lived life for the Lord and for others.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of how and when to fast and how and when to celebrate.  He imparts His Divine Wisdom to us of living a balanced life.  We are not a Holy Church of Penance exclusively or of Celebration exclusively.  We are both and.  We are both a People of the Cross and Resurrection.  Sometimes we can lean more on living our lives as a penance, suffering a punishment perhaps than the true gift that our life is, no matter our circumstances.  Sometimes we can lean too much on living our lives in the moment, for only the good things, the pleasure and be rather oblivious to the fact that we are a “work in progress” in need of God’s mercy, love, forgiveness and embrace.  In need of it, and needing to extend it to others.

On this holy Lenten day, let us embrace both our moments of fasting, and our moments of rejoicing celebrating the Lord who loves us, and may we never give up striving for the balance God desires for us day by day.

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!