Recognizing Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread

One of my favourite personal stories to share with confirmation students is my own recognition of Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.  When I was a catechumen (preparing to become Catholic and in RCIA), I had a meeting with the preparation team.  I was very conscientious and a diligent student.  I was on fire in my quest to be a Disciple of Jesus and to learn everything there was to learn about Him.  We had been taught about the Eucharist and it was told to us that Catholics believe at Mass the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus.  I did not believe it, and I told the teachers I could accept it as a symbol but “c’mon let’s not go too far!”  It was at this point and with a discussion that my catechists told me that if I could not accept this, then I could not become a Catholic.  I was very angry about this because I had been doing my best and my first reaction was to blame the catechists for not having taught me properly.  I was not someone who was going to ‘buy in’ and you had to be reasonable.  I was prepared to walk away believing that Jesus didn’t want me to be brainwashed into believing something about Him that wasn’t true.

My sponsor encouraged me to meet with our Associate Pastor, a very intellectually gifted man (a friend and now a seminary professor) and he could probably help me with this.  He and I spoke for almost two hours on this and he offered me as much as he could.  He couldn’t convince me, but what he told me as we were wrapping it up was so profound and is the essence of the story I am telling here today.  He told me that to believe in Christ is a gift of faith, and it’s an actual gift.  Believing in the Eucharist as a Catholic is also a gift and we need to ask God for gifts of faith.  He told me the greatest theologians and teachers of the Church could share everything they had and not convince me of something that is a Mystery of Faith.  He told me that I needed to ask God for it in prayer, which is what I did.  I don’t remember the moment when I came to believe, but something happened within the next few weeks that allowed me to continue (because I was obstinately prepared to quit).  I came to believe wholeheartedly by the time I was preparing for the Scrutinies and when I was received into the Church on April 19, 2003.  Even more than this, I came to believe so truly and completely within two years of my being received because I discerned a vocation to the priesthood; to become in fact a Sacrament of the Sacraments.

I tell this story to young people because we doubt, we struggle, we sometimes come up short, we question God and desire Him to reveal Himself to us in more powerful ways than we experience every day.  God does reveal Himself but we have to be open and ready to receive Him.  He will answer what we ask of Him.  He did for me.  I was not as open as I needed to be, before that meeting, and after I almost became one of those people who departed when He revealed Himself as the Bread of Life.  When I opened my heart, mind and soul – the Lord revealed Himself to me.  Rarely does a young person have the dramatic experience they might hope for on the day of their Confirmation, like the Apostles did at Pentecost.  But this story might help some to see and realize how openness to the Holy Spirit is important and that something is ignited whether they feel it or not as they begin the next important step on their faith journey.

Commemorating the Day

My posting today is a reflection of a most personal nature; today is an important day for me altogether and one which I plan to celebrate.  It is the birthday of three good people in my life (for respect of their privacy I won’t mention them by name) but each of them has contributed in a big way to helping me love more as a person. They are without a doubt people I love, and perhaps one of the most fundamental parts of priestly formation for me was to learn how to love in life.  This is why I didn’t enter seminary until I was almost 35: for I needed to learn how to love and be loved!  This is something that has also become a fundamental quality I look for in the men whom I discern with and who I see a vocation to priesthood in.  If we don’t desire love; both to give and receive it, and have a sense of how to love others and be in relationship with God and with others – we aren’t ready for formation and to live a celibate vocation.  There are MANY people out there who think that priests and religious sisters and brothers are somehow deficient in their ability to love intimately another person and I would assert to the contrary; a celibate vocation requires a more radical sense of intimacy and love to be lived out daily.  To be able to love and forgo the beautiful gift of physical intimacy requires a deeper ability to have and desire intimacy to offer our celibacy in love for serving others as our Lord Jesus did.

The other reason I waited until I was 35, was that I was going on 32 when I was received a Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2003.  That was April 19.  It was one of the most powerful and glorious events and I celebrated it on Saturday night, but the date itself was today.  I spoke about that event in my posting on Saturday but I commemorate the day today as well.  I have been a Catholic Christian fourteen years today.

The other event significant in my own life was the election of Pope (now Emeritus) Benedict XVI on this day in 2005.  As a neophyte, and someone moved in many ways to encounter Christ through St. John Paul II, I remember how the events of his final days of life were for me.  I remember about the wonder I had as a new Catholic watching the election of the new pope.  I remember taking the day as I was able to praying for our Church and for the new pope and the many new directions the Holy Father had for us as a Church.  I remember one thing that struck me when Pope Benedict emerged and spoke for the first time.  He talked about his own insecurities, trepidations and sense of unworthiness.  This had a deep impact on me as I was months away from seminary and preparing for my seminary interviews and giving up my career as a bus driver.  His fear at the office he was elected to serve, the highest and it seemed (to me perhaps) he was so qualified to hold; he could not find pride in this and was humbled by the election.  As so many of us do, I have struggled with pride in my life and the only way I have ever overcome pride (or the Lord has more appropriately) is through humility.  I have been humbled so often in life, and while it hurts when I am, it has been worth it!  Having been humbled, I seem to find it a little easier the older I get to have a more humble opinion of myself.  Not a low opinion, a humble one.  And please God, I will continue to.

Friends, take the days you have like mine today; we all have them and commemorate the anniversaries and events of your life.  Days like this are a reminder of what it means to be human and as men and women of faith they are important because they give us a sense of importance for the faith traditions and feast days we celebrate, reflecting more deeply on the Mystery of God.

Called by Name

Jesus invites us to follow Him and to “Come and See”, to have the strength and courage to come and see what the Lord has to show us – what He’s all about and what a Life in Christ is all about.  But this is not merely a universal invitation (although it is that too)!  It is a very personal invitation, and Jesus calls us by name. We know He called the Apostles by name, but in today’s Gospel we have the Risen Lord speaking with Mary and He is calling her by name.  As a Disciple, she hears His voice and recognizes Him as we too hope to.  Our daily spiritual exercises are important to that end; the time we spend conversing with God in prayer, knowing Him through His Word and through His Sacraments given to us, understanding His hopes and desires for us through the Church and beyond this in many personal and particular ways which we as individuals choose to draw ever closer to Jesus.  Mary Magdalene had a very particular and unique relationship with the Lord as we all do (or aspire to) and He does call each of us by name.  Are we ready and able to hear His voice as He calls?  Will we recognize Him where He calls out for us?

Moving Past Our Fears

Nothing great is ever accomplished when we give in or succumb to our fears.  In today’s readings on this Easter Monday we hear of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus after the Resurrection and He needs to assure her before she hears what He has to tell her – be not afraid.  When we reflect upon the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear today and will hear in the coming days of the Apostles who have met the Risen Lord.  They are strengthened and although they do not know what exactly they will face (martyrdom for most of them) they are no longer afraid. Peter is proclaiming Jesus as Lord with power, conviction and a strength he previously did not have.  We know that he boldly professed he would die for Jesus before Good Friday and then denied him in fear of what was taking place.

So this is for us too.  We can doubt ourselves, which will lead to us doubting God.  We are ordinary people called to do extraordinary things as Christians.  We are not called upon to put complete faith and trust in ourselves, otherwise we are limited in what we can do to our own abilities and view or vision of the world.  We can’t live or be any greater than what we are by our own limits.  Instead, we are called to allow God to speak to us directly and seek to see ourselves as God sees us.  The Bible is filled with accounts of ordinary people whom God has called to do extraordinary things.  Fully human people whom God has called to do His work.  And then He chose to become one of us to bring us even closer.  Jesus, both God and man gave us His life so that we might sanctify the world and bring each other (through Him) closer to God and to heaven.  We can trust that and have faith in our abilities here. We must face our fears and deal with them or we will never accomplish what we set out to do as Christian Disciples.  This is a simple message, but exceedingly difficult for us to live which is why fear is mentioned so often in Scripture.  Once for every day of the year, and to be contemplated and considered by each of us, every day of our lives and we can move past it.

May we, in this Easter season, rejoice in the fearlessness of the Apostles and Disciples of Christ and may we as one of these disciples face our own and with the grace of God move beyond.  The world depends upon us to do this.

Jesus Is Risen Alleluia

We celebrate on this most Holy Night, the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, just as He said He would Rise – so He did!  I was happy to have been able to spend some time in prayer today and my thoughts were drawn back to the Easter Vigil in 2003 when I entered the waters of Holy Baptism and was confirmed and became a Catholic Christian.  It was one of the greatest nights of my life!  More than thirty years in this world and I remember praying the entire day in an empty and barren church.  Our Lord was not there and after having several years of spiritual journey: learning, loving, knowing and growing closer to Jesus I felt a great emptiness and loneliness in that empty and barren church.  I experienced in that short time of prayer both desolation and consolation soon after.  The desolation for me as a soon-to-be Catholic was that emptiness and a deep sense of what most of the thirty-one years of my life had been; desolate and Jesus was not there.  He was there and I was more and more giving my life for Him and here He was gone.  I longed for Him.  The emptiness made me hunger all the more.  The consolation for me was knowing that Jesus was now a part of my life, and as I prepared each week in the Scrutinies and commemorated His Passion and Death in this Holy Week; this time Jesus rose, I would be rising with Him.  And I was excited; I was ready.

When I entered the waters of baptism, I remember climbing into the font praying for the Holy Spirit to come and reveal Himself to me in a greater way.  And He did.  I prayed as the water was poured over me, and I prayed that the Lord “show me the way”.  It was not primary on my mind, but my pastor had thrown me for a loop the week prior by his asking me to consider the Holy Priesthood.  That was not on my mind; but a desire to spend the rest of my life as a dedicated Christian man and to know what God wanted me to do – this was on my mind.

Fourteen years ago I became a Catholic Christian and the Lord has blessed my life each and every day of it.  I have journeyed with Him through some trying times with loved ones dying and it has only strengthened my faith.  He called me to give my life as a Priest, and I rejoice in His using me to be His Instrument in the world and for His people.  The Lord has shared His Way, His Truth and His Life with me and I am truly grateful.  A Blessed Easter to one and all!

What’s So Good about Good Friday?

It would seem if we were just to consider the events which we commemorate on “Good Friday” that there seems to be nothing good about it at all.  But while that may be true, we as Christians celebrate Good Friday as the events which led ultimately to our salvation.  Christianity (and Christians for that matter) seems absurd to many because it seems to try to make sense out of suffering, for which nothing can really and truly make any sense of it.  I read an article recently criticizing Christians for our theology on suffering because we are just trying to apply our stories to make us feel better about what we might have to endure.  What sense does suffering without any faith make? Is it somehow more realistic to just accept suffering for what it is worth?  But “Good” Friday is not merely about suffering – but the events that took place in Jerusalem could have been avoided; completely avoided from a human point of view.

The political and religious climate was volatile (as the Gospel readings highlight) and while we see the pride and arrogance in the leadership both civil and religious; the Crucifixion of someone as popular as Jesus would have been avoided.  But that point is moot, because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, professed and prophised the manner in which He would die and rise again and made no attempt to avoid what we commemorate.  None.  So Jesus’ actions were for something greater than we can comprehend and that is what is good.

Jesus configured His Will to the Father’s Will and saved everyone who believed (and would come to believe) in Him.  He prayed to the Father to ‘take this cup from Him, but if it is Your Will, may I do Your Will, Father”.  None of us should want to suffer, none of us should want to die: if we do that’s strange.  We cannot be controlled by our fears as Christians – that’s the difference we are blessed with.  Jesus, even knowing the redemption that His Divine- human act would bring about, had asked for another way, but embraced the Father’s Will and knew that what He would do was greater than what He would suffer.

What is good about Good Friday is in the saving action that Jesus brought about by His own free will action on this day.  He didn’t have to die for us, but chose to take this on so that the saving plan would come to be.  He taught us about the ultimate price for love, and that when we love someone we do what is best for them.  He knew what would save believers – and He did it!   Good Friday and anything we celebrate as Catholic Christians commemorating the Way of the Cross is not meant to be a “theology of suffering” and to believe that would be to parse out the goodness of it all.  Jesus loved us with a love that is greater than we humanly experience and chose to suffer and die for the ones He intimately loved and each and every person who chose and would choose to accept that relationship.  That is truly good.  Suffering and death does not and will not make total sense to us, but both are and can be experiences and events that bring us close and deeper into communion with God.  Just ask any hospital chaplain.  And until Jesus comes again, there is only one way to heaven; and that’s through death.  I don’t know about you, but that really is what I hope I’m destined for.

Resistance to Temptation Strengthens Our Soul

Based on my homily given at St. John the Evangelist in Whitby on the First Sunday of Lent, Sunday March 5, 2017:

We live in a most vibrant culture; a culture always in pursuit of happiness.  In the world we live in, sin is often denied, camouflaged, psychoanalysed and repressed – but not confessed.  “We don’t really sin; we make mistakes of judgment!  We’re only “being human”.”

It’s not my intention to be cynical or to present this dark or irredeemable opinion of the world we live in. It was the world Jesus lived in too, it’s a world that we might not completely change but we contribute to it with our own outlook and attitude. Christians are without a doubt a very important and influential part of this world we live in, if even we may sometimes feel we are not.

Lent is a time to take a look at these temptations, sin and the consequences. The origins of the Lenten season saw those about to be baptized repenting of their sins and sought to know Jesus in a more intimate way. We see this in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in the various rites and then in the Scrutinies prior to Easter.  It became a season for the baptized to do the same.

Each of us are challenged to die to sin so that we may rise again to new life in Christ. This is not merely a theological concept, it is part of the Christian journey.  As we begin the season of Lent with reflections on the origins of sin among us, we hear in today’s readings the main themes of temptation, sin, guilt and forgiveness.

We hear in today’s Gospel of the temptation of our Lord, His submission to these temptations would have destroyed His mission and we would have a very different history than the salvation history we joyfully have a share in. Our temptation may not be as dramatic as our Lord’s temptation: but it’s not meant to be.

We fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from eating meat in part to heighten our awareness of temptation in our lives. Who among us didn’t feel more like having that cheeseburger or steak on Ash Wednesday but did not? It’s often when we are stressed in life, challenged, suffering in some way that we feel like sinning, letting go or moving further away from the Lord, pitying ourselves, or justifying selfishness – it’s not to be harsh.  We are tempted in the challenges of our lives.

But we are also challenged as Jesus is: to give ourselves over to material wealth and the temptation to draw closer to things than the Lord and others too. We must accept that this is indeed part of the experience of life; but as Christians we live for something much greater: greater than ourselves or this world: we live for God, for others and for a world much bigger than what we can see or comprehend.

We too face temptation but in struggling and resisting temptation we become stronger. Each time we are tempted to do evil or do wrong or to be self-centered or selfish and we choose the good instead, we become stronger. We are never tempted beyond our power.

We hear in the First Letter of John: “Greater is the one who is in us, than the one who is in the world (4:4).” By rite of our baptism and marked again at Confirmation, the Holy Spirit has dwelt in each of us. When we make a good confession, we may feel it’s guilt that brings us to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but we can be assured that the Holy Spirit that dwells within us helps us rid ourselves of what holds us back from being th best Christians we can be.

We also hear St. Paul affirm this as well when he says, “No testing has overtaken you, that is not common for everyone.  God is faithful and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you will be able to endure it (10:13)”.  As Jesus is tempted in the desert, He is assured of the Father’s protection; as are we in our temptations, trials and tribulations.  We simply need to have faith and trust; trust in God will lead us to greater faith.

My friends in Christ, as we begin our Lenten season, I wish each of you well in your personal Lenten commitments; sacrifices and spiritual offerings. Let us be People of Hope, as we journey with Christ, may we be successful in the challenges that face us day by day and may we know that we are not alone, but have a God who loves each of us so very much and will protect us. May we resist temptation and have the grace to see ourselves gro stronger as Christians each day too.  May God bless you.

Saturday After Ash Wednesday: Our Lives Have a Meaning and a Purpose

Matthew's Call

As many of my readers will know, I am a big believer that our Christian faith provides us with both a clear sense of purpose and the meaning of our lives.  We might be inclined to laugh this off as absurd until we give ourselves to Christ.  We might believe that this is a recruiting tool Christian use to get more to believe.  Although it’s the Christian’s mission to evangelize; to “get to heaven and bring as many people with us as we can” it is also very much a part of Jesus’ instruction that Disciples not focus too much time and attention in places where Jesus’ Word is being rejected.  We have to accept that God is the primary agent, and we are secondary in His mission.  If we don’t reach someone, we need to get past it and entrust it back to God.  That said, it is an important part of the Christian witness to share with others the joy, peace and understanding of his or her meaning and purpose found in being a Christian and living it out through our chosen and freely responded to vocation.

Our Gospel today illustrates one such vocational call: that of St. Matthew, aka Levi.  He was living his life for what he could gain in the world and although he had much of what the world could offer him; money, worldly power over others, material things – none of this brought him any closer to discovering meaning in his life and his true purpose.  But Jesus did, and we know He did.  Matthew followed the Lord and found a new purpose and the meaning for his life as an Apostle.  He brought others to the Lord and the Church and faith we are a part of is thanks to Matthew and the other Apostles and Disciples.  Today’s Gospel is his story; what will yours be?

Friday After Ash Wednesday: Purging & Cleansing Our Souls

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Fasting and dieting for personal health are without a doubt, a staple of our society.  We seek to look and feel good and we know what brought about our lethargic feelings and perhaps that pot belly or excess fat in areas of our body was the poor or excess eating habits that so many of us have been guilty of.  And so we fast and we diet.  But we also know that this requires a balanced approach.  We know that this requires of us a certain discipline which doesn’t mean that we stop eating altogether and that we have a plan for the future otherwise we know that what we do by controlling our eating now will not last us any longer than for the time or moment we do it.

Our Gospel today reinforces that fasting, penance and prayer contribute to our souls looking good and our feeling good too.  Fasting, penance and prayer release and remove the “cobwebs” or “dirt” that gets in the way of being the very best Christians that we can be.  But just as when we fast or diet, we don’t stop eating altogether but stop the excess or bad, we replace it or supplement good things: our souls need the good food of the Good News.  Jesus’ Disciples need to be nourished in the right way so that they can go the extra mile and do what they need to do.  Fasting is and will always be a part of the Christian’s life and most especially in Lent we’re reminded of this.  But we are nourished first and foremost so our souls are healthy and ready for what is to come.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Living for Others

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Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.  Jesus calls us to do three things for Him in today’s Gospel, but three things which we probably all can agree are not easy things for us to do.  They are, however, essential and essential to any and all vocations we are being called to.

Denying ourselves.  Although self-preservation is a strong human instinct and perhaps in many ways important to everything we do; when we allow self-preservation to be what guides us always in life we quickly become selfish, self-absorbed, self-interested and before we know it, totally consumed with ourselves.  Self-denial is not a burden but a freedom; freedom from focusing on ourselves and “emptying” of ourselves from sin (through confession among other ways) and through an increase in the acts of charity.  Doing for others helps us to think about ourselves less.  If we focus on God and what God wants for us, we will find that others come first.  We will also find that who and what we are becomes clearer to us as we become more and more “vessels” or “instruments” of God and see the work we do for Him is what we find brings us happiness and peace in our lives even if things aren’t peaceful and always joyful around us.

Pick up your Cross.  Often times we think that this refers to the obvious “crosses” of sickness, weakness or inadequacies.  Of course, these are crosses we bear but we also bar crosses when we serve others too and these are important to the vocation we choose or God chooses us for.  When we deny ourselves we prepare ourselves to discover what it is the Lord calls us to.  When we pick up our crosses to follow, we take on the burden of service which is a yoke the Lord carries the heavy part of but some of it is ours.  There is a burden of service but there is a great joy to be found in knowing that we are more configured to our Lord’s work and mission when we do.

And “follow Me”.  These words are certainly words used by every Vocation Director because it is the call.  These are the words our Lord uses when He invites ordinary people to Discipleship and to follow in His footsteps.  They are the words that mark the call forward and we must allow these three invitations to be circular for us “deny yourself, pick up your Cross and follow Me”.  We need to continue to find ways to empty ourselves of selfishness and self-interest or self-focus, joyfully and securely take up all the Crosses we bear with our Lord and continue day by day to follow Him.