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Homilies-Busch 2018-03-10T11:47:50+00:00


Cardinal Collins
Rev. Michael Busch

Rev. Michael Busch

March, 2018:


In our Gospel today we see a side of Jesus that we are not used to seeing. Most Gospel passages show Jesus as benign, serene, and pleasantly mild. But this gospel shows Jesus as strong, angry, and even violent, using a whip to drive people and animals out of the temple grounds. It leaves us wondering, what would make him do this, why was he so angry?

Many think it was because of the buying and selling that was going on in the temple. But, the truth is, it was perfectly legal and even acceptable. Since the Jews were being occupied by the Romans, the currency they used was Roman, with Caesar’s image on it. Because Caesar was considered a god, they could not use such a blasphemous coin to pay the temple tax that was required of every Jew, it would violate their religious law. So they had to exchange the Roman coin for the Jewish shekel. The people also needed the shekels to buy unblemished animals to offer as a sacrifice. So the buying and exchange of currency that was going on was necessary to facilitate ritual sacrifice and tithing. The money the temple received from this was used to support poorer priests who lived and worked in there.

But the Chief Priests and scribes interfered with this system and used it to make a profit for themselves. First, they relaxed the temple restrictions on what activity could take place on the temple grounds so that the exchange of coins and the trafficking of animals could take place inside the temple grounds. That way they could control it. They then increased the exchange rate on the coins and raised the price of the animals, taking advantage of the people who needed these things to offer proper worship. They also kept the profits for themselves, while the poorer priests starved.

But most importantly, they put this market in the Court of the gentiles, a place set aside for devout gentiles where they could come and pray and hopefully come to know the one true God. Using this courtyard for the market did not bother the chief priests because they did not care about the gentiles. They believed the temple was for Jews alone, so why not use this court for a marketplace. Because of it was located in the centre of the city, the temple market grew from a few change tables and booths selling animals to a thriving market place with all kinds of goods. People came there to buy and sell, but not to pray. So, the temple precincts became a common thoroughfare and a money maker for the wealthy Chief Priest and scribes.

You can see why all this would make Jesus so angry. The Chief Priests were supposed to be caring for the people, instead of profiting from their exploitation. He was angry because the gentiles had lost their place of prayer in God’s house, and because the poorer priests were not receiving support from the temple profits. He was also angry at the people themselves who, out of apathy and convenience, allowed this desecration of the temple to continue unchallenged.

They went along with all of this abuse because they thought that changing their coins and offering a few doves was the most important requirement of their relationship with God. Jesus wasn’t just attacking the commercial ventures feeding off of religion, he was attacking religious rituals that were meaningless and without substance. Why had no one noticed how offensive this was? Was no one scandalized? Was no one saddened? It should have made anyone who loved God very upset, it should have motivated them to take action. And because they didn’t, Jesus did.

His righteous anger reverberates throughout the ages, right down to our own day. Jesus is still angry with any worship that leaves a person unchanged and the world unchallenged. Jesus is angry at the domestication, the taming and harnessing of the Gospel to make it work to our advantage. Jesus is angry at our own use of God to justify our position as a chosen privileged society that has the right to enslave the poor and the weak. Jesus is angry because we are not angry enough to change the many injustices that are built into our lives. Jesus is angry because religion has become superficial, focussed solely on aesthetic gratification. Jesus is angry at all those who claim to be Christian but live in a way that has no reference to God or to the ethical standards that he taught.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ anger is only directed at organized religious institutions. In the gospel Jesus makes a strong connection between the temple and the temple of his body. He is telling us that what goes on in our churches, also goes on in us. A true temple, the body as well as the building, is a place of worship and prayer. It obeys and honours God and the work of His people in spreading the good news. When money usurps God’s place in us, when profit means more to us than mercy, then we invite the anger of God. We must purge from the temple of our body all those things that have an adverse impact upon our spiritual lives. Our personal and corporate worship should address the injustices built into our culture, injustices which take advantage of powerless and the poor. True sacrifice desires to serve God no matter what the cost.

My friends: What makes you angry? Or better still what doesn’t make you angry, but should? Does the grossly unfair distribution of wealth that leads to famine and hunger make you angry, or are you willing to ignore it, as long as you get yours? Does homelessness, or the sexual exploitation and abuse women and children make you angry? What about discrimination and racism? Have we lived with these structural injustices for so long that we no longer see the harm they cause to others? If that is true, then what will it take to anger you in the Lord? What will force you into action? When will you start to live your faith? Or does the pressure of being politically correct keep you from taking it seriously?

Jesus took it seriously. He put his own life on the line, he was willing to suffer crucifixion to right these wrongs. His cross is a strong reminder to us that if we accept evil as a normal consequence of life and are not actively working against evil, then we are its friend and we are participating in the injustice that surrounds us.

Jesus enters this temple today with a challenge for all of us, “Do you see injustice where you live, work and worship? Are you willing to stand up and act on it? Is your passion for the gospel strong enough to make your worship more than the habitual practice of religious laws and rituals? Only when we hunger and thirst after justice and are willing to put ourselves on the line to abolish it; only then will our worship of God be truly worthy. Until then we are just going through the motions.

Today’s gospel sends a strong message to all of us. Jesus will accept no substitutes, he wants nothing less then our full wholehearted commitment of body, mind and soul. He wants us to live consistently, and with integrity so that faith in Him becomes a reality in all aspects of our lives. We can become so complacent that we believe God will settle for one hour of prayer on Sunday, a couple of dollars in the collection plate to ease our conscience and a few prayers during the week just to be safe.

Sometimes it takes a radical and dramatic event, like Jesus wreaking havoc in the temple, for us to see that God accepts no substitutes for a heart that wants a relationship with him. Like Jesus, we must make sure that every activity that goes on in this temple, and in this temple, glorifies God and serves his purpose.

February, 2018:


A friend of mine says that the four most beautiful words in the English language are “I’ll go with you.” We feel better when we have someone who is willing to travel with us and share special moments with us. We see this in today’s story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Three of his closest friends “go with him” up that mountain and share in his glorious transfiguration. But how Peter reacted to the experience points out to us that we may not always keep people company in a way that’s helpful.

For instance, we often talk more than we listen. Sometimes the best thing, the prudent thing, the most effective thing to say is nothing. Peter just witnessed Jesus being transfigured, and it was a moment of awe and wonder. But rather than just be quiet and enjoy it, he fills the air with words. Not because he has something important, worthwhile, or astute to share. He fills the air with words because he’s afraid, the silence is just too awkward, and he doesn’t know what else to do.

When Peter speaks, he begins by evaluating the situation and decides that, “…it is good that we are here.” And then, having judged the situation to be good, he suggests that they all get busy and do something to contain it and make it last… “Let us build three dwellings.” Most of us act just like Peter when we come face to face with a startling, unexpected revelation. Not knowing what else to do we analyse it, and judge it as good or bad. Then we tend to offer useless advice on how to make it more accessible, more familiar.

Then, like Peter, we try to capture the moment by taking out our cell phones and filming it. Somehow capturing and posting it on twitter or Facebook makes it better than simply experiencing it. I can remember being at a Papal Audience in Rome and being the only one in my section who was not looking at the Pope through some kind of electronic device.  I have seen the same thing at dozens of liturgical events where a great number of people gather to Praise Jesus. It is a wonder that God did not descend and tell us what he told Peter. “This is my son, the Beloved; be quiet, put the phone down, and listen to him!”

As a priest and a Pastor I have had my share of experiences that are wondrously awe-inspiring. In fact it was just such an experience that drew me into ministry in the first place. On a weekend retreat at St. Augustine’s seminary, during exposition of the Blessed Eucharist in the chapel. I was praying a passage from scripture in which Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me.” And I heard his words, really heard them, for the first time in my life. It seemed as though a wave of light broke into my darkness, and I felt as that Jesus was saying to me, “do you love me?” It was such an overwhelming feeling that all I could do was just sit there in the silence, not saying anything, not doing anything, just accepting the feeling of being called.

I spent the first 30 years of my life, trying to please others, especially my parents, my boss, my friends, even my pastor. But when I read those words, “do you love me?” sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament in that seminary Chapel, I experienced the presence of Christ envelope me. I was accepted. God’s healing grace was poured into me. I not only felt chosen, just as I was, I felt Jesus promising me, “I will go with you.”  He has not left me since.

I left that retreat, feeling relieved. It was as though a heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The burden of earning acceptance had been taken away. I could now be the me that I was created to be, not the me that everyone else expected or wanted me to be.

Maybe you have had some kind of transformative experience of your own. Maybe it happened in your childhood or youth. Maybe it was at a Sunday mass, or a catechism class. Maybe it was your confirmation, your marriage, your graduation, or the birth of your first child. Maybe it was the words of a homily, or a prayer, or a hymn that brought a sudden awareness of God’s presence in your life. Regardless of how it came to you, hopefully, you did not try to explain it away, or question its validity. Hopefully, those you shared it with loved you enough to just “be quiet and listen.”

There are many ways in which we can experience a transfiguration, many are happy events, but some of them involve suffering and grief. In my years as a pastor I have been called to the scenes of murders, suicides, and horribly tragic deaths from illnesses and injuries, deaths that were premature and devastating because the victim was so young and had so much more to live for. I have been called to hospital rooms where hopelessness and despair seemed to saturate the very air you breathed. I have stood at the grave side of people I have loved and spoke the ritual words of committal that stuck in my throat as I spoke them.

And in nearly all of those cases I heard people, well meaning people, people with good and generous hearts say things, as Peter did, not because they needed to be said, but because the silence was so awkward, the occasion so unfathomable, the pain so intolerable, that they felt someone ought to say something if, for no other reason, then to fill that leaden air with light, sweet, fluffy words. And often, those words were not only unnecessary but unintentionally hurtful, as well. In all those cases I just wished God’s voice would come out of a big, dark cloud and say to whoever was trying to give comfort with platitudes and clichés, “Hey! Be quiet, and listen.”

Listen as this mother pours out her grief. Listen as this father tears open his heart. Listen as this widowed wife weeps with shock and anger. Listen as this child sits in silence because she has not yet learned words to express her grief. Listen, and know that your presence, your hand placed upon a shoulder, your arms enfolding in a hug, your own tears shed in empathy, are comfort enough without the need for words to shore them up and make them effective.

My friends we are now in the season of Lent, and Lent is a season of words. Words of scripture that are gifts from God, words of prayer that praise God’s and bring joy, words of, reconciliation, that comfort, and renew our lives. These words are too powerful and too precious to simply be thrown into the air because we don’t know what else to do. Or because we don’t know how to be still and silent. We must learn to use our words more effectively to create a space where we can listen to Jesus as he speaks to us in the many situations we face each day.

If we don’t learn how to sit in silence and accept what he shows us, we won’t feel the powerful transfiguring grace that can change and redirect our lives. If we hide our awkwardness and our fear behind a wall of empty words we will never be able to be with others, as they need us to be. So set aside time this lent to sit in silence and listen to Jesus.  Celebrate the awesome wonder of his transfiguring love as it changes your life. And then in gratitude share that love by being really present to others.


Our gospel today begins with the line; “After Jesus was baptised, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.” We know the events surrounding Jesus’ baptism. How John the Baptist was standing in the Jordan River, preaching to people and baptizing them. The people liked John but the priests and pharisees didn’t. Then Jesus steps out of the crowd, walks into the water, and John baptizes him. A dove appears, and a voice proclaims Jesus God’s Son.

The gospel not only omits the baptism story, it also leaves out the story of how Jesus was tempted by the devil. This short gospel from Mark seems to downplay what Jesus went through. Mark makes it sound like it was “simple,” and “easy.” Jesus was God’s Son, so of course he is going to triumph over any temptations in that wilderness. The brevity of this gospel may leave us with the impression that our time in the wilderness of temptation is somehow going to be “simple,” and “easy,” because we are baptised and enjoy special favour as God’s sons and daughters.

Many faithful Christians tend to think that they have built up some kind of equity with God and so will have less problems and fewer doubts or struggles when times get rough. But when the Christian life proves not to be so simple, easy, or comfortable, the first thing we do is question our faith.

Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his ministry, but it did not make his life or his ministry “easier. “In fact his difficulties began the moment he was baptised. When Jesus came up from the water, and the spirit descended upon him, and the voice identified him as God’s Son, his future was redefined. He would never be able to go back to Nazareth, he could never return to being who he had been before his baptism.

In fact, the forces and pressures of his baptism began to affect him immediately. The priests and Pharisees who had come from Jerusalem to discredit John now added Jesus’ name to their list of possible threats and they began to plan ways to “contain” him. The people in the crowd became excited at the prospect of a new religious leader, who might be able to cure them of their infirmities. The weight of their expectations was a burden Jesus had to carry. The Zealots in the crowd became excited as well. They now had a possible political leader who would inspire the people to pick up the sword, and begin a revolution against the Romans. The resentment coming from the followers of John looked at Jesus with resentment. They believed that John was the one God had chosen. They had given their lives to John and saw Jesus as a usurper, trying to steal John’s role and authority.

Is it any wonder that Jesus was “immediately” driven out into the wilderness? He needed time to put all this together, to come to terms with the pressures and stress that had come from simply being baptised. But his flight into the wilderness brought more trouble. Hoping that these pressures would make Jesus vulnerable, the devil “tempted his faith and tested his strength.  But as difficult as Jesus’ wilderness experience must have been it revealed something, something that can help us in our own stressful baptismal journey through life.

But to understand it we first need to understand what this wilderness was. For Jesus it was a physical place, an extremely harsh land with little water. No one lived in the wilderness. To survive there you needed more than just physical strength or skill. Jesus’ was able to survive in the wilderness because he was dependant on God.

The wilderness for us is most likely not a dry waterless dessert, it may not even be a place. Our wilderness is wherever we go when we are driven by life’s trials and sorrows, a place where even the material comfort of our own home can not offer solace. We all live under pressure and stress. This world and its values can challenge our baptism and the way we live our faith. Add to that the burden of personal trials and sorrows and we may find ourselves wandering in a kind of wilderness, tired, alone, vulnerable; searching for spiritual strength.

In the Old Testament, there are many stories about the conflict between life in the wilderness and life in city. In the city people think they can take care of themselves and do not need to rely upon others, or even God, to survive. In the cities people lost their faith in God and began to live only for themselves. They put their faith money, armies, kings, and temples: things that were created by people and which promised a life full of material happiness.  But then tragedy struck, armies invades, people were enslaved. They were driven into the wilderness where they struggled and suffered, trying to understand why this was happening to them. And in the midst of that wilderness God finally appears, and their faith and their lives are renewed.

The prophets always came from the wilderness where they were tested and commissioned by God. It was in the wilderness that Jesus rejected Satan’s offer of wealth, power and fame. Jesus came coming face-to-face with the commission God gave him at his baptism, and it would be his trust in God that would guide his ministry. It was in this time away from every possible man-made help that Jesus’ resolved to do whatever God asked him to do. From then on faith would lead him forward.

We all have periods in life when we experience pain and discomfort, with no one to help us and nothing to make us feel secure. It can drive us into an emotional and spiritual wilderness where we begin to question the validity of our faith. What have we done to deserve this suffering? Why is God punishing me? What kind of a loving God puts his children through this?

We employ every material distraction we can think of, hoping to somehow turn this inner wilderness into a more comfortable place or at least numb ourselves to it. But whatever our own personal wilderness may be; it can be the very place where God can finally find us. God’s voice is often drowned out by the routine of our comfortable material lives and so time spent in the wilderness can actually deepen our understanding of the life of faith we were baptised into.

But we don’t have to wait until some personal tragedy to drive into the wilderness. This Lenten season is a good time to look at the wilderness within and see what it is we need to change so that God can find us. Lent asks us to fast, which means assessing the comfort of our material lives and remove what may be blocking God from getting through. Lent asks us to be more charitable, which means looking at our goals and expectations and seeing if they benefit anyone other than ourselves. Lent asks us to pray, to ask Jesus to strengthen our faith so that we can deal with all those things make us feel alone, angry, helpless, and hopeless.  Six weeks in the wilderness of lent can help us remove those things that get in the way of our relationship with God. Lent can help us to see how close God is to us. Lent is a time to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who will help us to live out our baptismal promises and show us how to praise God even in the wilderness.


When the leper approached Jesus, he was taking a big risk. Lepers were supposed to avoid people, keeping their distance and shouting, “unclean” so that everyone knew they were there.  In the first century, leprosy was a persistent and incurable skin disease. Once you had it, you had it for a lifetime. There was no getting rid of it and no way to hide it from others. The leper was an untouchable, the lowest level on the social ladder. He risked violent injury every day because people would throw stones at him and drive him away if they feared he was getting too close.

But this leper somehow managed to get close enough to Jesus to ask him to make him clean. In his previous healings Jesus would touch those who were sick. This poor leper, outcast and isolated from all human contact, put all his hope on Jesus touching him, knowing that by the laws of his day he too would become unclean. He also risked great disappointment. What if he was not healed? What if Jesus followed the laws of his day and rejected him. What if he was forced back into a life of despair and isolation. But he was willing to risk all of this because he was convinced that Jesus could, if he wanted to, restore him physically, spiritually, and socially.

Jesus response to the leper’s request was immediate. He stretched out his hand and touched him. The gospel doesn’t tell us who was there with Jesus, but he rarely travelled alone, it’s not unreasonable to assume that his disciples witness this scene. They probably felt horror, revulsion, and surprise at the risk Jesus took. No self-respecting Jew would venture near anyone who suffered from such a horrible disease. No one in his right senses would endanger their own health and position in society by daring to touch the flesh of a leper. But Jesus never gave it a second thought because this man’s desperate need overrode any moral, social or religious constraints. Jesus was motivated by a deep compassion for the suffering of this poor man. He acted without pausing to consider his own safety and well-being.

So here we have a man shunned and vilified by society. His illness made him untouchable, yet he had been touched by the healing hands of Jesus. Here the unapproachable had been approached. The incurable had been cured. The unclean and the contaminated had been miraculously cleansed and renewed. And in by taking action, Jesus swept away, the prejudice, misjudgment and, misunderstanding that had added to this poor leper’s sufferings.

This is how Jesus always acted with the poor, the sick, the possessed, the sinner. He met them on the level of their need, regardless of who they were or what they had done. He treated everyone as a unique individual, never as a stereotype. Stereotypes were as powerful then as they are now. Once a label is placed on a person, their humanity vanishes. Many labels were given to people in the New Testament — such as tax collector, Samaritan, prostitute, sinner. And every time Jesus encounters them, he ignores the label and deals with the person.

This was certainly true in his encounters with Matthew, Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the women caught in adultery and Mary Magdalene. Jesus knew the ugly side of society — the brutality of Roman occupation, the racial prejudices, the religious hypocrisy, and the sexual degradation. But never once did these factors blind him to the reality that each and every person he met was a unique son or daughter of God.

When Jesus was confronted with human need, cautiousness and prudence were not his characteristic traits, but compassion, concern and action were. For Jesus religion was a hands-on affair. And that is where we who make up his church, run into a chronic problem. We do not being follow him as closely as we should. Our minds approve of the gospel, our hearts have sincere feelings of love and service, but our willingness to help seems to have difficulty getting from our hearts and our minds, to our hands. We have a tendency to let our fears and our prejudices and the labels like, “immigrant, refugee, homeless and diseased” get in the way of our taking action.

We are caught up in a “cult of verbal Christianity.” We feel that if we have prayed about something, appointed a committee, or written our MP a letter about catholic education, abortion or Euthanasia, then we have done our job, we have fulfilled the requirements of our faith. How many church people pass a resolution against racism but never interact with those of another race in any meaningful way? How many people of faith discuss homelessness but have never met a touched a single homeless person. Jesus in his hands-on approach did the unthinkable thing — he saw through the labels and took action, he reached out and touched those isolated and outcast persons who lived outside society’s circle of acceptance.

We have heard over and over again that where Christ is, there is the church. But where exactly is Christ for us? Catholic doctrine says: Christ is where the bishop is; Christ is where the gifts of the Spirit are manifest; Christ is where the sacraments are celebrated and the Word is proclaimed. There is an element of truth in all of these answers, yet none of them explicitly includes the response of Jesus in our gospel today. We must discover for ourselves that Christ is among the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the imprisoned.

The church is not only a place where the gospel is preached and heard. The church is not only formed where the sacraments are enacted for the faithful to see and experience. The church is also the outstretched helping hand that sees past the fear and prejudices that keep the poor, needy and injured children of God isolated from us. The gospel reveals clearly to us that Christ is among the poor, and the true church is the people of God who praise and worship here in tis Cathedral, but who also free offer their service in concrete ways to the downtrodden and outcast. Today we need the church to be the body of Christ as it reaches out to the wretched of the world. We need to practise the hands-on ministry that Jesus started.

I often wonder what God thinks about the way we live discipleship. Sunday after Sunday we experience the challenge of the gospel in our worship services. We are inspired by God’s word and uplifted by the magnitude and splendor of our church music. But then we leave here and we let the selfishness and the hatred and the meanness of the world to allow our hands to fall idle and we fail to extend the love of God to others in any concrete way. Christ has no hands but ours to do his work. Sooner or later we have to do something. Like Jesus we must stretch out our hands and touch those in need, no matter what the risk may be.

January, 2018:


Once upon a time there was a tyrannical King. This king was able to work his will on his subjects in all things. All things except one; he was unable to destroy their belief in God. So he summoned his three wisest advisers. “Tell me,” he said, “where can I hide this people’s God, so that they will not find him.”

The first wise man said, “Hide their God beyond the farthest star, there they will not find him.” “Not so,” said the second wise man. “One day these people may learn to fly beyond the farthest star and there they will find their God. Instead hide him in the depths of the ocean.” “No,” said the third wise man. “One day these people may learn to swim to the bottom of the sea and there they will find their God. Instead, hide their God in the everyday life of the people, there no one will find him.”

The gospel story today concerns three different wise men. Instead of trying to hide God they were the first to find God amongst his people. Their task was not an easy one. They had to travel a great distance, they had to discern and interpret the signs around them in order to find the right direction to go. They also had to deal with treacherous and dishonest people like Herod, who wanted to destroy any threat to his power. And, to their amazement, their destination turned out to be a humble dwelling, where a seemingly ordinary child lived with a carpenter and his wife.

God still lives among his people, Jesus still waits for us to find him. Like the three wise men in our gospel, we must look for the signs which point the way to God. We do not have the brilliant light from a star to follow, as they did. But there is a light which helps all those who search for God. It is the light of faith and it illuminates the path to Christ. The light of faith can provide us with direction, but only if we take it seriously and are willing to follow it no matter where it may lead us. Like the wise men in the gospel, the light of faith may lead us to something totally unexpected. It will challenge what we think we know about God, and about ourselves. When that happens, it takes a wise person to accept what has been shown to them and to follow the directions that faith gives.

If we are serious about looking for God, if we really want to know where he can be found then we must prepare ourselves to be surprised by what we find. If we follow our faith, not only will it illuminate the truth about human life and the good that needs to be embraced; it will also illuminate all the regrets, the weaknesses and sinfulness that hide in those dark corners of our lives. The light of faith will stir up our conscience, it might make us so restless and unsatisfied with our present life that we will do whatever it takes to find God, who alone can satisfy our desires and give us true rest.  And when our faith finally leads us to God we must be willing to lose ourselves in him, to let him take control, to give ourselves to his will.

I remember a newly ordained priest telling me about the first time he answered an emergency call from the hospital. He remembers sitting nervously in his car, in the hospital parking lot, bracing himself to get out and face the person he was called to anoint. It was a man who was comatose, the victim of a tragic accident. What would he say to his family? How will he comfort them? What could he really offer that comatose man?

Maybe, he thought, I should just drive away and let the hospital Chaplin handle it. Just as he was resolved to do so, another car drove slowly by and he glanced at the licence plate. It read, “trust.” He was stunned. It was just a crazy coincidence, a fluke, but it was the one word he needed to hear. He suddenly understood that he was being called to grow, to change, to step forward and trust that God would be in that hospital room with him. In fact, it was God who was calling him there. He got out of his car, still afraid, still unsure of what he would find, but he had decided to trust in God.

My friends, we receive signs and directions from God every day. How many have we ignored, writing them off as crazy coincidences? How many times have we failed to move forward because we were not ready to accept what was being asked of us. To find God in our everyday lives we have to be open to the signs he sends us. Maintaining a personal discipline of prayer will help us to discern those signs and give us the courage to follow our faith wherever it leads us, no matter how frightening it might be. Without prayer the light of faith dims and can even go out and then we will have nothing to lead us to God. We will stop looking up at people, and start look down on them. We will no longer see God in anything human, and we won’t see the good in ourselves or in anyone else.

The wise men followed the light of a star to Jesus. The wise Christian follows the light of faith to Jesus.  If we accept the challenge, it will help us see the glory of God that lives among the everyday life of his people. When that happens the presence of Jesus becomes deeply personal. It will help us to bear the insults and discrimination at the hands of those who belittle our faith or reject Jesus outright and it will help us to be a sign that will lead others to God.

We must not let this journey to God frighten us. We must never cease to look for and respond to the signs which tell us that Christ is near. Most of us here are waiting for Jesus to find us, but we have to be more like those three wise men, and move from where we are to where Jesus is. The journey is not without hazards, it may even go against what we consider common sense and practical people will condemn it as folly. The journey may be blocked by those of this world who do not see by the light of faith, and do not recognize Jesus. No one is forcing us to go on this journey. We are free to stay where we are. But if we take the risk, if we are willing to say yes to the faith that guides our lives, then we will be amazed at where it leads us and in what face or form Jesus will appear to us at our final destination.

Good friends, this Sunday should be especially sacred to us, for today we celebrate a God who is not distant and removed from those he has created. We celebrate a God who is living here among his people, who is living within the people that he loves. As we prepare ourselves to seek him out, let us pray that on our journey, we may discern the signs of faith that will help us to know God more clearly. But above all, as we follow the light of faith to Christ let this question be our guide, “If a man or woman came to me, searching for Jesus, would they find him in my everyday life?”

Your answer should teach you a great deal about yourself and about the God that you are looking for.


At this is the time of year we either look forward with a new resolve, or we look back at where we have been and how far we have wandered from whatever goals we had set for ourselves. What ever the case may be, New Year’s Day often finds us composing some resolutions to help us deal with old habits or forge newer better ones. But have you ever noticed that your New Year’s resolutions look strangely familiar? As a matter of fact, don’t they look an awful lot like last year’s resolutions?

All too often, at the ending of one year and the beginning of another, we are reminded of last years resolutions that we have never fulfilled. Looking at resolutions that failed can be sad because it reminds us that in some ways we have failed ourselves, or our families. It may even remind us of how far we are from God, the source that gives us life, fuels our spirit, and heals our soul. Every New Year starts off with good intentions but then, we seem to run out of steam, we get distracted; our resolve collapses, instead of steering a clear course through the New Year, we wander and sometimes we get stuck in the same old routines and habits we were resolved to change. When that happens, coming here to church can be very beneficial.

It is here in the context of worship that we are reminded of what is truly important and discover the real areas of growth we need to explore. It is here we are called by God to live by faith, which will help us keep our eyes firmly fixed on eternal life rather than chase this world’s passing fancies. Here we are called to live by God’s law rather than the law of fashion and fad. Here we taught to value people above possessions. Here we are invited to look at the big picture of creation, rather than the snapshots that we think are so important to our personal way of life.

The resolutions we make are often focussed on trying to control everything around us, or in us. But here Jesus invites us to let him be the Messiah. We would have far more balance in our lives if we did not try to control everything that happens in our world. It is something that I, as a rector who cares for a major Cathedral parish, have to be very much aware of.

I can get so buried in “oughts and shoulds” that I begin to feel responsible for everything that goes wrong. I start working later and later, I don’t take my day off, or vacations because I feel the place will fall apart without me. A friend of mine gave me a little picture frame and told me to hang it by my bathroom mirror where I can see it first thing in the morning. In the picture frame is a verse which says: “Dear Michael, I know being in control makes you feel better, but I can handle it. Thanks anyway. Love, God.”  Courage is needed for the kind of life that trusts the difficult problems we face will be resolved in God’s time rather than by our limited resources.

And speaking of time, how many times did Jesus say to his disciples, “Let us go off by ourselves to some place where we will be alone and can rest awhile?” How many times do we read, “So they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves?” Have you ever thought that the best New Years Resolution you can make is to follow Jesus’ example and take time away from your hectic lives to be alone with God to contemplate what is most important in your life?

Twenty-eight years ago, when I was in the seminary, a priest posed a question at one of our retreats, he said: As computers take on more and more of the problems we normally spend our time on, what will we, as clergy, do to help the people in our congregation with their leisure time? “Looking back I can see that his future prediction of leisure time missed the mark by a very wide margin. Computers did not give us the leisure time we thought they would. Instead, whatever time they saved went into increasing productivity. Now we are weighed down will all kinds of electronic devices, all of which demand more and more of our time.  The biggest complaint in family and individual life is that “there is not enough leisure time.” Still, the question that priest asked long ago remains true, “How should I, as a pastor, help people to use what little leisure time they have more effectively?

“Leisure,” from the Latin, means “to be free.” Leisure is anything that restores you to peace while you are doing it. Gardening, golf, reading, and many other things, can restore us to peace as we do them. But how many of us think about using our leisure time for prayer and reflection? Because our free time is so limited, we try and cram as much activity into it as we can. In doing so we end up playing harder than we work. Yet we are never really refreshed. Quiet time spent with the Lord is the one thing that can keep our lives in balance. Our work, and our play draws energy from us and makes us tired. But prayer can restore energy to us as well as refresh and renew us.

Studies have shown that prayer can be just as important as diet and exercise in preventing heart attacks and other stress related diseases. Many people concentrate on their physical health, but neglect their spiritual well-being and are dying inside. We should try and spend some of our leisure time, in silence, concentrating on that last important ingredient for good health; our relationship with God.  When you spend quiet time with the Lord, don’t fill up the time and endless stream of prayers, and petitions. Try to be still and listen for his voice speaking inside you. If you open yourself up to the Lord, you will find that things worth being are better than things worth having.

The Native peoples of North America had an ability to live by the ages rather than by the day. They would make decisions for their people based on how it would affect the tribe seven generations into the future! Our lives are so scheduled that we find it difficult to make decisions seven minutes into the future and even then, we think only about what is good for us and our family and not understanding the long-term repercussions our decisions may have on others. I have seen the truth of this in the many regrets that people have expressed to me over the years, regrets like:

My mother never read me a story, she was too busy cleaning the house. My grandparents never came for Christmas, but they didn’t trust anyone to feed their dog.  My father never helped me with my homework, he was too busy watching football. My Brother and I were going to go hiking, but at the last minute he decided it was more important to wash his car.  When I left home to be married, I wanted to sit down with Mom and Dad and tell them I love them and would miss them, but my best man was honking the horn in front of my house and I did not want to keep him waiting.

We all carry inside of us a hidden desire for someone or something to come along and take away the problems and the pain that we carry. We rush around looking for that perfect vacation, or that special event where we can find some healing peace. But I have learned that pain is often healed at a moment when we are not looking for it, or even expecting it. God comes to us, loves us, and finally heals us, in his own time and in his own way.

Jesus came into our hectic world to help us focus on those things of eternal significance, such as listening, trusting and loving. So maybe the best resolution we can make this New Year’s Day, is to make more time for God here at church, at home, and most importantly in our hearts.

December, 2017:


A husband and wife in their late eighties were becoming very forgetful. He would forget where he put his glasses and as he went from room to room to look for them, he would forget what he was looking for. His wife would announce that she was going to the store for butter, but when she got there she would forget what she went for.

One evening, as they watched TV, the husband stood up and the following dialogue took place. “Where are you going,” she asked. “To get snacks,” he said, “it’s my turn.” “I want a hot fudge sundae.“ she said, “write it down!” “I don’t have to write it down,” he said. “And put nuts on it,”  she said, “write it down!” “I don’t have to write it down,” he said. “And whipped cream on top,” she said, “write it down!” “I don’t have to write it down,” he said. The husband then left to get the snacks. When he returned, he presented his wife with a plate of bacon and eggs. And she said, “Where’s the toast?”

Forgetfulness doesn’t just happen to older people. Many times when we are in a rush or under pressure we can forget things. In fact, in our hast to prepare for Christmas day we may have forgotten what exactly it is we are celebrating. We may need to be reminded about what it is we came here for. Now, I can be just as forgetful as you in these matters so, to be safe, I wrote it down.

Tonight we come together to celebrate that night long ago when the boundaries of darkness were pushed back. Darkness has always been a potent metaphor for those things in life that oppress and enthrall us, frighten and intimidate us, cause us worry and anxiety, and leech the joy from our lives. We know darkness in our physical lives when illness threatens us, or when we lack the basic necessities of life — food, shelter and clothing.

We know darkness in our emotional lives when we are burdened with worry, confusion, fear, grief, guilt or hopelessness; when we live with violence or addiction or both. We know darkness in our social lives when relationships fail, when the blessing of solitude gives way to the burden of loneliness, when we cannot make meaningful connections with other human beings. Divorce and separation are rampant. Many people wonder if marriage is even possible. Is love possible?

We know darkness in our political lives when we cannot organize our communities and our society in ways that are just and equitable to all, and when nations protect their economies at the expense of their people. Look at the state of our public institutions, hospitals are understaffed and turn away the sick for lack of funding; our prisons are overcrowded and under great tension; our schools are crippled by crumbling infrastructures and government bureaucracies.

We know darkness in our spiritual lives when the chasm that separates us from God remains unbridged, when we feel alienated from God, from other human beings, and from ourselves; when prayer seems an empty exercise and worship a performance offered by an aloof clergy to a disinterested congregation. Darkness symbolizes the evils with which we are entirely too familiar.  But even though this darkness has threatened and diminished the light of Christ in our world; despite all its power it has never been able to extinguish that light.

Some years ago I got stuck in a subway tunnel during a power failure. At first there were some emergency lights shining weekly, but after a half hour they went out and we were plunged into absolute darkness. It was the most profound darkness I have ever experienced. It made no difference whatsoever whether your eyes were open or closed; it was all the same, and you literally could not see your hand in front of your face. Everyone was very quiet, lost in their own fear.

After a while, a conductor came by with a flashlight and told us someone would be coming soon to bring us out. What a difference one little six-volt flashlight made!  It cast enough light to push back the darkness and enable us to see one another and the car we were in. We were so relieved that someone had come into the dark to find us that people started to smile and talk to each other.

It takes no great imagination to make the connection between the darkness of that tunnel and the darkness we know in our lives; between the light from the conductor’s flashlight and the light of Christ which is the Light of the world.  We all have been waiting for the Child born this night to enter our own darkness, whatever it might be. We want his light to find its way to us and to bring us out.

On that first Christmas morning Christ’s light was not a blinding light. It was a gentle glow, a thing of grace and tender beauty.  It shone through a baby, weak and defenseless, yet he was God’s own Son, sent to find us who are lost in the night with no light to find our way. But before our rescue from the dark forces of evil and sin was complete other lights had to be kindled: the candlelight of the last supper; the soldiers’ torchlight of Good Friday; the glorious brightness of the empty tomb on Easter morn; the Spirit’s flame at Pentecost.

My friends, when he comes again, the fullness of Christ’s light will finally fill this world and banish the darkness for good. But until that time, we must keep inside ourselves, the flickering flame of Christ ‘s love. Jesus is no longer a baby, he no longer hangs on the cross, he is not just a name we repeat in prayer, he is the light that draws us here. If the darkness is to be defeated, he’s got to be a reality in our lives, he’s got to be personal. He’s got to be someone we speak of, someone we speak to, someone we speak from. We have to look at this world through his eyes, touch it with his hands, and listen to it with his ears.

What we celebrate today is the birth and the beginning of the light. We celebrate the fact that the light of Christ is still pushing back the boundaries of darkness and the darkness is powerless to extinguish it. On this Christmas day we celebrate a birth. A beginning. A ray of hope which assures us that while we still know dark corners and fearsome shadows in our lives, God is always with us.  Our rescuer has found us and will remain with us until our deliverance is complete.

No matter how old we are, that is something we must never forget, so please write it down!


All this week I have been thinking about this scene between Mary and the angel, about the great miracle of Christ birth that is foretold, and about the spirit of Christmas itself. Christmastime can be a very bitter sweet season. For most of us it is a time where our joy of life, family and friends is intensified.

But for some it can also intensify their loneliness, and their losses. What does Christmas mean to those families whose children are in the military and serving in the many conflicts around the world? What hope can this story of an angel appearing to a poor teenage girl bring to them? I am sure that they are hoping for another kind of miracle, one that will bring their children home to them and make their Christmas a celebration of joy, peace and good will.

There are many people out there who are praying for miracles that are vastly different from the one offered us in this gospel. I have prayed for miracles. I have prayed for people I knew who were dying of cancer, who went right on dying. If they experienced any kind of healing, I was not aware of it. I have prayed for some sign that God is with us, a voice I could hear, or a hand I could hold in the dark, and nothing came of it that I could be sure of, no unquestionable sign, no message from an angel. Yet I still have hope, I still believe, even though the miracles I have prayed for have not come to pass. I believe because certain things have happened, dim half miracles, signs of Christ presence glimpsed in the stories of faith that we share and in the lives of faith that we live.

No one really knows what Mary was praying for when that angel appeared to her and asked her to bear God’s Son, but I am sure being chosen as the mother of God was not what she was expecting. She was given no explanation as to why God chose her. She was not told the details of God’s plan before she said yes. She had no proof that this was actually God who was speaking to her. Mary had to discover for herself the full meaning of this miracle, and she had to do it amid the joys and trials of being the mother of Jesus.

First she had to endure the fear of being pregnant and unmarried in a society that killed woman for such an offense. Then she had to leave her family and her home behind and flee to a foreign country because a paranoid King was afraid of her newborn child and what he might become. She had to endure the heartache of watching her Son preach a message that would in the end inspire those in his hometown to hate him, his closest friends to betray him, and the religious authorities to kill him.

The angel did not tell her that she would one day hold the lifeless body of her son on lonely hilltop, as she once held him in a lonely manger. All she had to go on was her faith, a faith that told her God would be with her every step of the way. A faith that shaped her life amidst joy and sorrow and helped to eventually see the true miracle that the angel promised, the resurrection and the reconciliation between God and his children.

It is the same for us. If we allow it faith can shape our lives, it can determine the things we do and the people we are. If we think we are nothing, with no future and no God, just a bunch of impulses that need to be satisfied; then we will be nothing, and do nothing but selfish and hateful things. But if we believe we have faith, and that God is walking with us, then we will live with dignity and purpose and help others to realize the miracles that life has to offer.

If someone says something funny or hurtful or cruel about someone else, do we laugh along with them, or do we stand up for the person being laughed at? When we are hurt, do we take pleasure in making the one who hurt us pay for what they have done, or do we forgive and try to build a bridge over the pain? When we are alone many thoughts can come into our heads –  destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, or creative, joyful, hopeful thoughts- which do we allow to take over; which do we let control us? Will we be brave today, or a coward? Will we be honest today, or a liar?

All those absurd happenings, decisions, and inner skirmishes that fill up the course of our daily lives seem to add up to very little at the time, but in the long run, are very important because it is precisely the small seemingly insignificant things of everyday life that carry God’s message. Maybe it is not as great as the message he gave Mary in today’s gospel but it is just as important, just as miraculous. God tells us that if we have faith, if we are brave, if we are merciful to one another…then Christ will come to birth in you.

And when Christ lives in you, acts of kindness and comfort, no matter how small, can bring about some great miracles. Putting your own needs and wants aside for a moment and making a small sacrifice for someone else, may not heal them of their infirmities or solve all their problems, but it will bring them some peace and give them hope.

That is why Mary said yes. That is why she was willing to suffer what she did to bring Christ to us. The Annunciation story tells us that in order to bring about a miracle of peace and joy for everyone, we have to be strong in faith and willing to sacrifice something of our selves. We must also be willing to open our eyes to the needs of others and see that they are the same needs we have. When that happens, then faith becomes a searchlight in the dark. It calls to others and shows them where they can find refuge during their own days of darkness.

But maybe the greatest miracle is that God still sends his message to all those who gather here, 2000 years later, to listen to his message of hope. So whether you have it all together, or are lost in some personal darkness; reveling in a new found love or suffering a deep loss; strong in your beliefs, or just coasting along unsure of where your faith is taking you; put your faith in God, as Mary did, and let faith guide you.

Will there be healing, of heart and soul this Christmas?  Will miracles come from our being together today? Who knows. All I know is that when those lovely old Christmas songs are played and replayed until their effect is like a dentist’s drill; when we tire of spending money we can’t afford on presents people neither need nor want; when Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, the plastic tree, the greeting card angels all becomes too much to stomach. There is still something about Christmas that cannot be ruined. That in itself is a miracle, a miracle that you can see and touch because the miracle doesn’t live in the decorations or the holiday music. The miracle lives in the person who carries the spirit of Christmas in their heart all year long.

If you can be a little bit like Mary, trusting in God and willing to give, then the Angel that God sends with a message of hope for this dark world of ours, might just be you.


Some of the most popular decorative features that we use to prepare our homes for Christmas are Christmas lights. They come in many sizes colours and brightness. It’s funny how a few strings of lights can affect our Christmas spirit, for good and for ill. How many of you open your boxes of decorations and found your lights were a tangled mess of wires and wondered if it was worth the effort? How many of you are still working with an old string of lights where if one bulb goes out they all go out?  Either you bite the bullet and replace the whole mess with those new LED lights that flash like an airport landing strip, or you call your travel agent and spend Christmas in Aruba.

Light, is an integral part of our advent and Christmas celebrations. Sociologists say its because we have always looked for ways to celebrate light, especially in this darkest time of the year. Our ancestors gathered around the hearth and lit candles in hopes that the light would keep the darkness, and whatever was hiding in it, at bay.  We have security lights to make us feel safe at night, as well as night lights so our children feel safe. We leave lights on in our house so that when we come home at night it wont feel so cold and empty. We humans have a deep cognitive and emotional response to light.

The readings for this third Sunday of Advent are also concerned about light. They speak to us about the light of God, and what that light reveals. They also tell us how we can magnify that light, make it burn brighter, shine further, for all to see. In each of our readings God’s light is not only a personal encounter, it also offers a communal challenge.

We all know that light and dark dwell very close together. This holy season can bring moments of depression, as well as moments of great joy. We all know the tremendous effort that goes into keeping our own flickering light of faith lit for these few weeks; and how hard it is to keep that light focussed on what is important, so that it will illuminate the path to God’s kingdom.

Isaiah’s proclamation in our first reading is meant to give hope, as he shines the light of God on his dispirited people. He tells them “The Lord has anointed me to… bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to prisoners…” God’s light of hope, that Isaiah speaks of is often at odds with the holiday lights that captivate us. They encourage us to overindulge in material goods, while offering the poor and homeless a few canned goods donated to a local food bank. The true light of hope, the one that can bring great joy, comes from helping those who are less fortunate than us escape the darkness of poverty, oppression and loneliness.

In our second reading the light of faith in the Christian community in Thessalonica seems to be flickering. The people are arguing about how to live out their faith, and who should lead them. Idleness and drunkenness have broken out among them, as well as quarrels over when, if ever, the Lord will return. God’s light in the church at Thessalonica is flickering, so Paul tells them how to strengthen it, he says; “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances… abstain from every form of evil.” Its advice we can use to boost the light of faith in our own times as we wait for the Lord’s return.

To “Rejoice always” is a tall order in our day especially when our days seem to be more dark than light. Who can rejoice under the threat of terrorist, bankruptcy, cancer? Who can rejoice as their marriage falls apart, as their children fall prey to drugs and suicide? Those who have survived can, for they can help others who are still struggling. All those who have come through the darkness can help those who are still lost and guide them towards God’s light where they will find the strength, comfort and mercy they need.

Paul also tells us to pray without ceasing. For many, that seems to be beyond their reach. I am always surprised by people who tell me they don’t pray, because they don’t know what to say to God, or how to say it. There is no set way, no words that fit everyone. But if we keep praying, honestly, sincerely, and openly; God’s light will find us. When the light of faith is flickering, we must do everything we can to keep it alive by rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks to God.

I once heard someone say that since the birth of Christ the church has been in postpartum depression. It certainly seems that way at times, Human history following the birth of the Christ Child has been difficult and burdensome.  It seems that when we Christians are not in conflict with the world around us, we find plenty of opportunities to fight with each other. Each Christian denomination claims that their truth is the only truth. It is not just the secular society in which we live that is destroying the light of Christmas, the conflicts between and within various Christian denominations also play a part.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist shows us how we should be acting. He did nothing to dim the light of Christ or pretend he was in control of the coming of God’s light. He left no doubt that he was not the Messiah. He goes on to say that he is not Elijah. Nor is he a prophet. He rejects any religious ideological plan or movement that would draw attention to himself. He will not, in any way, allow whatever importance he holds to diminish the light that is coming into the world.

John will only say that he is “one who is crying in the wilderness; ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Note that he does not say he is “the one,” rather just one. In the midst of the modern wilderness in which we live, we can also be ‘one’ who points to the Messiah.  If instead of using our gifts to just protect and promote our own Christian denomination, we could use them to guide others to the light of Christ. If we worked together to point to the light that is Christ, it would help us get us through the spiritual and commercial wilderness that can be Advent and Christmas.

So, here we are with just a little time left to go before Christmas day. We are all busy preparing various ways to celebrating the coming God’s light. If we are honest we don’t spend enough time trying to find ways to enhance our faith. Instead we rely on the Christmas tree lights and holiday decorations to get us through our personal and communal darkness.

Today’s readings suggest that we should add three things to our Christmas list if we want to ensure that this Christmas will deliver the joy it promises. 1. Bring the light of hope to those who are in darkness, the poor, the oppressed, the lonely. 2. Rejoice, no matter how dark your life seems, you can still generate a little light of hope by making prayer a part of your preparations. 3. We are not the light, but we can point to the light and so help others find their way. It’s a holiday checklist guaranteed to make your Christmas a lot brighter.


The way the church prepares for Christmas is different from the way the rest of the world prepares for Christmas. That can be confusing to many people. The “mood” of our Advent season is much more sombre and reflective than the mood of the Christmas season going on around us. For example, Christmas carols have been playing on the radio and in all the stores for weeks now. Then, the day after Christmas, they disappear. But we don’t sing Christmas carols here at church, until Christmas day and we continue to sing them for a few weeks after Christmas. Another difference is that Christmas decorations have appeared everywhere, in stores, in schools even in our homes. Yet here at church, other than our Advent wreath, there are none, we don’t even allow flowers.

Its hard to escape our “secular” experience of Christmas and we are often tempted to bring it to church with us. But if we were to follow the secular world in its anticipation of Christmas here at church, then the Advent season would become just another way to count the days before Christmas”. But the four weeks of Advent are not a countdown to Christmas Day. The Advent season is a time to prepare ourselves for a face-to-face encounter with God.

The world and the Church also interpret the meaning of Christmas differently. The world sees Christmas as a secular holiday, a special time for gift giving and for renewing our relationships with friends and family. The Church looks at Christmas as a holy day, a time to renew our relationship with God.

Christmas is the day when God became one of us! On Christmas day Jesus began his journey from the manger to the cross.  On Christmas day the invisible God of the universe not only became visible, he also gave us the gift of the Eucharist so that his presence will always be with us. If Christmas is merely a “holiday,” rooted in some long past historical event, then it is nothing more than an excuse to take a break from our normal routine. It has no significance beyond the parties and the gift giving. But if Christmas is a holy day, then it not only remembers the past, it speaks to the present and looks to forward to something which is still to come.  Its meaning and purpose is not limited to just one day out of the year. Every Advent season seeks to moves us a step closer to our own personal encounter with Christ, who came at Christmas as a baby, but who will come again as a judge on the last day.

Most of us here are probably not aware that Advent is meant to prepare us for Christ’s second coming. We are far too busy singing Christmas carols, buying Christmas gifts, baking Christmas cookies, and planning elaborate Christmas dinners to impress our friends and family. We are all well into the spirit of the secular world’s idea of Christmas and all of its hype and stress can drowns out the Advent message. So let us try to remember what we are celebrating here today and each Sunday of Advent.

First, we are preparing for Christ’s second coming. The day will come for every one of us when we will meet the Holy One, whether we want to or not. I am not saying that to scare you. It is simply the truth and the Church has set aside this period before Christmas to help us prepare ourselves for that day. Secondly, Advent is a time to reflect on how we are living. If our life today is in any kind of disarray or disorder, we should not be using Christmas as a distraction, a way to escape for a while. Instead we should be using this Advent season to straighten out the path that leads us to our final encounter with Christ at the end of our days.

The idea of coming face to face with Christ who will judge us, can be frightening, for in the presence of Christ, what will my life, and the way I live it, look like. But if we enter into the holiness of this Advent season it will help us face that fear. These four weeks remind us that Christ came wrapped in our humanity so that he could wrap us in the mantle of God’s love. The church’s Advent season is our yearly reminder that we only have a short time to prepare for Christ’s coming. These days are set aside each year so that we can begin to change our lives and take on a new look, a new direction, a new hope.

If you find you are too distracted by the world and its ideas of Christmas, there is still time to prepare yourself this Advent. Our Gospel today shows us where to begin. The main character is John the Baptist. His appearance is not in keeping with the Christmas we are used to. His camel hair outfit is certainly not as festive as a Santa’s red suit. Nor does his message of repentance jibe with the “happy holiday spirit.” But he does address the matter of how to prepare ourselves to meet the Holy One. He tells us to repent.

The Greek word for “repent” means “to change.” But the world we live in doesn’t seem to be able to offer repentance, instead it pronounces condemnation and retribution. We would rather damn the sinner to eternal hell fire, than offer them a way to change and be saved.  Johns vehement and passionate proclamation of the baptism of repentance seems to agree with this view. But the repentance John speaks of here is not meant to be a threat of condemnation and eternal punishment.

John is not interested in revealing the sins we have committed, or subjecting them to public scrutiny. John is not the judge, he is the one who reveals that judgement is coming. He is urging us to simply acknowledge our sins, to stop make excuses for them, and then he tells us to get off that crooked path that is leading us astray — turn and walk in a new direction. He wants us to find the straight path to joy and peace in God.

I know that this is a difficult time of year for making changes. But if Advent is really about preparing for our final encounter with the Holy One, then it must also be about change — changes in our values and priorities– changes in our attitudes — changes in the way we treat each other.

I am not asking you to throw out the Christmas decorations, and live like a monk in silent austerity. What I would like you to do in these last two weeks of Advent is to ask yourself: “Is there anything in my current Advent preparations that keeps me from being sensitive to God’s presence in my life?”  “What is keeping me at arm’s length from God?”

If we are honest with ourselves we will see that there are things that keep us from God. For some of us, it is working too hard. For some, it is jealousy or greed. For some of us, it is a negative attitude and outlook which leads to depression or resentment. Some of us have a chip on our shoulder that says we are owed something. For some, it is an anger we can’t let go of. The specifics of what God calls each of us to change is different. But no matter what it is that we struggle with, if it is a barrier that prevent us from being open and sensitive to the spirit of God it must change!

My friends, if you’re looking for the overly sentimental, escapist holiday spirit that seems so prevalent in our world at this time of year, you won’t find it here. But if you are looking for an encounter with the living God who sent his Son to change the hearts and lives of people — then you have come to the right place! For the next two weeks the Church will continue to echo the message of John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” May this message help you to repent, to reverse your direction, to knock down those barriers and encounter the Holy one in your life.


Have you ever denied something that, deep down, you know to be true? Have you ever turned away from a situation or ignored a particular circumstance in order to avoid the uncomfortable process of dealing with it? Or maybe you have had the experience of keeping a stiff upper lip and pretending that something is not what it is.

We all practice denial to some extent or other. Some of us deny the fact that we’re a few pounds overweight. Others deny the fact that the cars we drive contribute to global warming. We even deny the wounds and betrayals that occur in our most intimate relationships, leaving those untended hurts to fester and grow worse.

Most of us deny small things, but some of us live their whole life in denial. Like those who suffer from addiction. Addicted people must construct elaborate scenarios of denial in order to continue their behaviour and feed their addiction. The loved ones and friends of the addicted person can also deny the addiction as well saying. “Oh, that’s just Uncle Jeff. That’s the way he is. It’s okay.” Deep down, however, we know that it’s not okay.

Denial can be horribly destructive. Ignoring the true circumstances that impact your life can have unbelievable consequences, and can cast nets of pain and hurt in every direction. Denial takes many shapes. Some people deny the deep anger that consumes their spirits. Others deny a paralyzing fear that holds them captive. And some people deny crippling patterns of violence that have been handed down through their family; an unrequested legacy of hurt.

Denial, affects our emotional and physical life, but denial can also affect our personal spiritual journey, as well as the spiritual life of our country. In the 1930s in Germany, a whole country was in denial while Hitler’s followers slowly took over the nation with devastating results. Today, at a time of rapidly advancing environmental degradation, many in our own country are in denial. While oceans are fished clean, forests are stripped, and ice caps melt, officials and politicians call for more studies to because they don’t believe it’s really happening. We live in denial consuming a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, while millions in other countries starve.

It is important to understand that denial is not just willfully ignoring the circumstances. It’s not just a conscious choice to remain unaware. It is, in a very real sense, a form of spiritual illness. It is part of a numbing process that turns us away from the holy, from what is true, and what is real. Our human history tells us that we simply don’t do well without God. When we slip into lives of denial, it’s not only destructive behaviour or actions that we deny; it is the power of God’s healing grace and presence that we deny as well. And for us, just like the people Israel, there are consequences. When we refuse to acknowledge the truth of what is going on, whether it is in our own personal behavior or in the actions of our church or nation, we deny that we are accountable to God for our behavior.

This personal and cultural denial is not something new, it has gone on for a very long time. But we can reverse it if we want. In our first reading from Isaiah, we hear one of the most potent pleas in all of Hebrew Scripture — a call from a people who have lost their way. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”, this is a plea from a people who no longer feel that God is with them. They aren’t really seeking God, they don’t want to know his ways”, they are blaming God for abandoning them, they don’t see hoe their actions have contributed to their estrangement..

But the prophet connects God’s seeming absence with the lack of moral justice practised in the community. He reminds them that they have “become like one who is unclean, and all their righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” They are very good at thanking and praising themselves for the good things they have achieved, but give no credit to God. When disaster strikes, or their resources fail they wail for God to fix what is broken, blaming God, while denying they had any part in what has happened to them. Isaiah is asking them, “Did God really abandon you, or are you the ones who turned away?

It’s the same question we must ask ourselves. When the chips are down, when things go badly, do we blame God for abandoning us. When life turns downward, we take it as a sign that God has left us. But is God really hiding from his people? Has God backed off and left us without help — devoid of resources or possibilities? Why do we deny our misbehavior, our disrespect, and our disobedience, and still expect God to be there?

If we are honest with ourselves we would see that we humans have a predisposition, a quiet willingness, to let our lives slide into unconsciousness? It is, after all, a lot easier not to confront the collection of life’s messes that we seem to pile up around us. Could it be that in denying our weaknesses, we also ignore the reality of the holy which can guide us as we make our way in the world? Could it be that we, like the Israelis of Isaiah’s time, do not see or experience God because we do not acknowledge God’s presence? And by acknowledge I mean, intentionally focussing on God; striving each and every moment to purposely live our life in the presence of our Creator.

What would happen if we shed the scales of denial that cover our eyes and our hearts? What might we see? What might we feel? If we were to emerge out of the waters of denial, would we see what is going on in our nation? Would we see the slow and steady erosion of our lives from hedonism, secularism, consumerism? Would we be able to discern the steady stream of untruth that flows from the media, from politics, from economic policies? And seeing it, would we act? Would we speak up?

Think of what it would mean this Advent if we were to live a life fully aware that God is not just “on his way,” but is right here with us. How would our personal behaviour change? How would our spiritual lives shift? What would happen if we opened our whole being to the incredible and growing presence of God? No more denial. No more hiding our weaknesses from God. No more blaming God. No more trying to make it all work on our own.

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent; the time of remembering when God came to us, when the Kingdom of God began to emerge in a very real way, in the birth of God’s Son. Jesus revealed the fullness of humanity by coming to dwell among us. Will we acknowledge him and allow him to remove the deadening layers of denial we live with? Will we accept the truth of God’s ever-present love and wonder?

Will we accept God’s presence over the numbness and denial that permeates our lives? Will we begin to walk the way of the gospel, with Jesus’ by our side.

November, 2017:


The media constantly reports to us incidents of senseless violence. The thin veneer of civilization we cling to is frequently shattered by crime, mass shootings, terrorist attacks and armed conflicts. There’s no denying that we live in a violent world — but is there a realistic alternative that can prevent or or at least lessen its effect on us? Why do we continue to believe that the only way to solve violence, is with even more violence. Is there another way? On this feast day of Christ the King, we who make up his army of believers do not rely on state-of-the-art military hardware to address the violence that surrounds us, we have weapons of an entirely different nature.

One of the biggest weapons in our arsenal is the Gospel, but are we using it as effectively as we can? How do we bear the Gospel message to those victims of violence, who may find it difficult to accept?  How do we tell  victims (and their families) that the right response to the extreme violence they have suffered is to forgive those who caused their suffering. How do we proclaim a gospel that contradicts our human inclination for vengeance, and retribution? This feast of Christ as king reminds us of God’s eternal kingdom, a kingdom of hope and peace. We can easily lose sight of that Kingdom, and the message of Christ the King, who does not solve violence with violence?

Whether it is in response to international threats or terrorists acts at home, we assume that our only course of action is to treat violence with violence.  At the very least we make a show of force by stock pile weapons of mass destruction to match the threat of destruction from other countries. This is known as the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. It may have prevented a major confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But it has also created a pattern of smaller acts of terrorism that have kept us engaged in perpetual and uncontrollable violence since World War II.

But despite all this small glimpses of the sovereignty of Christ has peeked through. A number of years ago there was a mass shooting in a school in an Amish community. What shocked the world more than the number of children who were killed was the response of the Amish community. They not only prayed for the man who had terrorized their school but they chose to share some of the money that poured into their community with the family of the killer. When asked why they did this, they said that this was what they believed Christ would want them to do.

The question for us Christians is not just whether we can accept the leadership of Christ who doesn’t solve violence with violence, but can we do what he tells us must be done. The gospel spells out how we should act: feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, attend to the sick, minister to those who are imprisoned. When we fail to do these things, not only do we risk our eternal life, we may be adding to the violence of our earthly life. How much of the violence in our world is caused by those who have been constantly denied of food, clothing, and shelter. How much violence has been cause by our unwelcoming attitude towards immigrants, people of colour, and those with different sexual orientation and different faith.

Our world challenges the Christian proposal to respond with forgiveness and grace to the violence of the world. It vehemently reprimands the church as being naive and unrealistic. It challenges the church, saying it must accommodate itself to the real world, and trust in violence as its only defence. It is our duty, as Christians who faithfully follow the dictates of Christ our King, to show the world that there is another way to break the seemingly perpetual chain of violence that holds us captive. As a Christian we can not avoid making a personal response to the lordship of Jesus. We cannot pretend that neglecting to do what we are supposed to do, or neglecting to offer forgiveness does not add to the senseless conflict and violence that plague us, not if we truly call ourselves followers of Christ. As people of God, there comes a time when we must face the evil before us, as that Amish community did, and break the cycle of violence through forgiveness and generosity.

Jesus’ kingship is not defined as one who has military or economical power over others. Jesus is a King who leads by truth, as he said: “For this I was born, and for this I came into this world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Do we belong to the truth, are we listening to Christ’s voice?

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are challenged to declare that Christ is our king, not any other power or person who rules through violence and death.  We know that such forces of legalized violence still exist, but we declare that they are not our way. We will not let them shape us. It is Christ who will shape our lives. He chooses to rule by service rather than by force. He chooses to die on our behalf rather than conquer our enemies. The resurrection was an affirmation of his power to conquer death and to give life. If we follow in the way of Christ our King, we too will share in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life with him.

Amongst all the violence, darkness and despair there is another way to live life, there is another kingdom, not of our world, yet co-exists with our world. Behind the economic upheaval, behind the wars, behind the endless violence that is so devastating to us, behind the waves of poverty, behind the crowds of people without, jobs, or food, or shelter, there is another reality. Behind what we can see, there is another truth. This gospel calls us to see beyond the temporary, the transient, the illusion of power, to the eternal truth that cannot be changed, or broken; that cannot be lost to military force, or political will;  that cannot be torn away by violence or death.

Christ our King, invites us to honour his truth in our worship, in our acts of kindness, and in our lives. By serving those in need, we hurt each other less. And maybe, if we can find Christ in others, we might hear Christ our king say to us, “Come and inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for you.”


The third servant in the parable of the talents in our gospel was given charge of some of his master’s property and did nothing but bury it. In doing so he loses everything and is punished severely. It seems unfair, after all he did not lose the money or squander it on himself, he gave every cent back to his master. Hiding money because you are fearful of losing it is not an uncommon practice. People do it all the time. I have met people who do not trust banks preferring to keep their money in a wall safe at home, or even to bury it in the yard.

I read a story about a couple who was out for a walk on their property when they notice something sticking up out of the ground by a tree. It was the top of a rusty tin can, in fact they eventually dug out ten of them, they were heavy and the lids were rusted shut so they decided to take them home to open them. To their surprise they found each tin filled with old gold coins. Looking up the coin on the internet they estimated that the entire lot was worth well over $800,000.00.

Ecstatic at first at this unexpected gift, they soon began to worry about what to do with it, where would they keep it, what if someone found out they had it. They decided to rebury it under a woodpile in the yard until they could decide what to do.  It sat there for years as they could not decide how best to use their gift. In the end they just left it there and made a note of its location in their will.

Gifts, or talents, can be lost, if you do not use them. We all have been given many gifts and talents, but are we developing them properly or using them to their full potential? Today’s parable calls each of us to serve God through the gifts that he has given to us, trusting that God will help us to make productive use of our efforts for the kingdom.

The slaves in the parable of the talents receive dramatically different amounts of the master’s property, but even the smallest amount was still immensely valuable in the currency of Jesus’ time. The gifts that God has entrusted to us are also very valuable, whether it is money, musical talent, artistic ability, intelligence, or good humour. All gifts from God are equally precious indeed.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because others have so much more you have no gifts, or the little gifts you have don’t amount to much. God’s gifts reside in everyone and, like seeds, are full of potential, but we must use them for them to grow. Unfortunately it is almost routine for Christians to excuse themselves from working for the kingdom by protesting that their gifts, if they admit to having any at all, are too modest to be of any significant value. Certainly there are people who stand out more than others because of their gifts such as a Jean Vanier or Mother Teresa. As they used their gifts, the world took note and was blessed through them.

Most of us, however, are ordinary people with more modest gifts. But according to Jesus’ parable, even the most modest gift is significant in the kingdom. They are a privilege and they come with responsibility. Like muscles that need to be worked or they wither, God’s gifts can never be passively possessed. Our differing gifts have been wisely given by God to use and develop, but not to bury. Otherwise we may end up like the unproductive servant in our parable who loses everything.

We have to be more like children at Christmas. Their enthusiasm is unbounded. Their reaction to a gift is immediate, they tear open the plastic wrap, put the batteries in and use the gift right away! Children are not content to set their gifts aside, passively enjoying them in the package. They don’t delay, taking time to plan out how to best use it. They don’t worry about how they will look if they used it, or how others will feel if they don’t have the same gift. They don’t save it for another day, or think about how long the gift will last. Their response is immediate and active: use the gift! Do what they’re designed to do! That’s the kind of enthusiasm for God’s gifts that the parable encourages. Don’t just maintain them or bury them safely in a hole in the ground. Use them! Risk a little! Otherwise they — and we — are worthless to the kingdom.

Recognizing that you have gifts and using them could be a turning point in your life. Especially if we discovered that we can serve others through our gift. It would take on a whole new meaning for us and bring immense joy into our lives. It may even prove to be a part of our calling to serve God. In scriptures, the first letter of Peter calls each of us to serve: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received”.

This parable takes aim at our tendency to live for our own goals and dedicate all our talents and resources to our own comfort or security. Our responsibility to the gifts we have been given goes far beyond ourselves. We are part of something much larger than ourselves: the glorious kingdom of God. Our gifts have been given to us so that we might serve well in God’s kingdom. It isn’t enough to acknowledge, use, and develop our gifts. We were made to find joy serving in God’s kingdom. Our lives take on deeper meaning when our gifts lead us to servanthood, and deepens our discipleship.

Our gifts were given in trust and a “trust” is property held for the benefit of another. Our gifts, no matter the magnitude, are “entrusted” to us by God for the benefit of God’s kingdom. Our calling is to tend God’s gifts as we attend to God’s kingdom, never forgetting whose talents they are, and whose purposes they serve, and whose kingdom we wait upon.

I am sure many of us here often wondered why God has given us the special gift we have. If we are unsure of what to do with it then we must ask God for guidance in using it. When a special gift or talent goes undeveloped or unused, we will suffer set backs and hardships. When we practice self preservation, afraid to take a risk out of fear that we will lose what little we have, our life can become very empty and full of regrets over what could have been. Through prayer and hard work, however, we can realize the full potential of our talents and begin to see God’s hand leading us into the joy of service through out gifts.

Such is the journey of faith. It is a journey of utter freedom — not freedom from hard work, practice, and doing our best, but freedom from worrying about the outcome. God is at work through us. God promises to help us. Living in these promises, let us work faithfully for God’s purposes. May we have the courage to invest ourselves and our gifts in the kingdom for which Jesus gave his life — and for which we have been given ours.


People have a deep longing to be regarded with respect. But sometimes our desire for respect can cause us to compete with others for praise, which in turn can drive a need to be seen as superior to others. When that happens, it’s not enough to be respected as a good and caring teacher; we need to be Teacher of the Year. It’s not sufficient to be appreciated as a productive and faithful worker; we need to climb the promotional ladder faster than our colleagues.

Even within the practice of our religion we compete to be recognized as the best — the best preacher, the best choral singer, the most prayerful parishioner. Our need to be regarded as superior to other followers of Christ, may even cause us to ridicule another’s person’s religious practices. If Jesus were to describe our Christian community today, “judgmental” may very well be the word he would use. We judge others, to make ourselves feel superior. We have become so adept at pointing out another’s fault, and telling them what they lack, and what they have to do toe the Catholic party line that we don’t even realize we are being judgmental. We have a tendency to ignore, neglect or even shun people in our parish, consciously or unconsciously, because they aren’t living up to the expected community standards.

When Jesus spoke of the scribes and Pharisees, those who considered themselves the religious judges of their time, he used them as an example of how not to behave. He condemned them for it and for their hypocrisy, because they put heavy burdens on others, while excusing themselves. They did not always practice what they preached. Their arrogant and judgmental attitude was alienating people from God’s kingdom. Jesus warns his followers not to do the same thing.

That warning is very important to us because, I believe that most of us sitting here this Sunday morning may be judging someone very harshly. The person we are judging may appear to be a good Catholic, they may say all the right prayers, and attend mass every Sunday; but we consider them to be a hypocrite, because we feel that they are not practising what they preach out of any real conviction. They are just going through the motions, pretending to be what they are not.

But the really distressing part of all tis is the person we are treating so unfairly and so harshly, is ourselves. There is not a single Catholic in this church today who has not, at sometime or another, felt like a hypocrite. Maybe you have some difficulty with an aspect of faith or how to practice it. Maybe you are having a problem understanding or accepting a particular teaching of the Church. Maybe it is an emotional problem that leaves you numb and empty when you are at prayer. Maybe you have trouble believing God still exist or cares because there is so much war, so much hunger, so much needless death? Where was God when I lost someone I love, when I got cancer, when my marriage ended in divorce? Why isn’t God protecting me from bullies in the schoolyard, and in the workplace? Why do I go on presenting to the world this false facade of piety?

I pray, but it feels as if I am talking to myself. I go to church, and I receive communion, but I do for my kids, I do it to keep my parents off my back, I do it because I don’t want to hurt my spouse’s feelings. I am not so sure what this means anymore. I say all the right things, I follow the laws of the Church, I put my envelope into the offertory every week, I keep up my Catholic face; but inside I am lying to myself and to everyone else. Everyone else seems to be so sure. They turned their lives over to God and experience great spiritual benefits. But I have never had those experiences. I have not seen a single vision or heard even the tiniest voice, not even when I needed God the most. Why do I keep going through the motions? I feel like such a hypocrite.

My friends, I am sure that each and everyone of us has endured one or more or maybe even all of these doubts and questions. Not just in passing fleeting moments, but perhaps for weeks or months or years. They nag at us, and make us feel like hypocrites because we go right on doing what we have always done, keeping up the appearances of a good Christian, not because we want to deceive anyone, not to win praise from others, but in the hopes that someday we will see some kind of sign that proves that God really cares about me.

If this describes what you are going through, if you feel out of step with the practising Catholics you know, if you are experiencing doubts which make you feel less sure about your own Catholicity, don’t despair. Despite the occasional emptiness in your faith life, it is not hypocritical to keep up your commitment to religious practice even when that practice seems so empty and routine. The worse thing we can do is judge our faith against what others appear to have.

Even if your faith does not seem as strong as others around you, or as fulfilling as you would like it to be, even if your questions seem to outweigh your beliefs, even if the laws and practices of the church are hard to understand or become harder to practice, I beg you, do not judge yourself too harshly. As long as your search for the truth is carried out honestly and in humility, you still have an place in the Catholic Church and in this parish community.

Believe me I know how hard it is to practice our faith in this culture. I know that you are trying to be faithful even when you are not getting anything out of it. I know that worship can sometimes seem a joyless duty. I know because I too have felt that way.  But we are not hypocrites just because we are not perfect. We are still children of God, we are still his beloved, and he is still with us even as we go through our own personal Calvary.

Ultimately we hope to find Jesus, or that Jesus will find us. And the best place for that to happen is right here, in church. Because as much as this ritual may seem boring or repetitive at times, it is the one place Jesus continues to invite you to come to him and find the strength and grace you need to live in this world. Here Jesus gives you his body and blood, which can satisfy all your physical needs and spiritual longings. Jesus, is the only one who can see into your heart and your soul and he has already judged you to be a precious child of God. He will help you to see who he is and who you are and, that you are worthy of his love.

To receive respect from others we must first learn to respect ourselves. We must continually weigh our actions, our words, and our attitudes against the standards, laws and moral imperatives of our faith, but we must be careful not to judge ourselves too harshly when we, or others fall short. Trust in God, and let Jesus help you to find your identity in him.

So when the masses and prayers and devotions are not as inspiring as they could be, or when the practice of faith seems to be nothing more than an empty habit, please remember this; you are a child of God. You are loved by your Father in heaven. He will never abandon you. So don’t give up on yourself, and in time you will see that you are not a hypocrite, how can you be, if the longing for God’s love is at the centre of what you practice and preach.

October, 2017:


We face many pressures and stresses which cause problems in our society today. The endless appetite for scandal, has made the news media more invasive and less respectful of our personal lives. We face a relentless diet of television entertainment that promotes crude, rude and violent behaviour as entertainment. We keep building vast shopping malls full of stores that sell useless objects that never seem to satisfy our growing hunger for instant gratification. There is a crisis in our ideas of what constitutes marriage and how to bring up children without sacrificing any of our personal goals.

What is truly incredible is that most of these so-called “problems” of today actually started out as solutions to problems in the past! Years ago, there used to be considerable poverty. It was common to see children walking to school in the depths of winter wearing only a thin cardigan or pullover and many children had no shoes or socks at all.  Although there is still severe poverty in some areas of our society, thanks to the development of social service agencies,  children at least have access to reasonable shoes and warm clothes.

Back in the 1960’s, when most of the social services started up, it was thought that if we could eradicate extreme poverty it would benefit the development of our country. Over the last 50 years or so these social services have been very active, preventing the worst kinds of poverty. After all, desperate people living in desperate conditions turn to crime, and the argument was that if conditions were improved, crime would diminish. And so it became imperative to raise the standard of living as we did so we produced bigger and better shopping facilities. The invention of television was thought to provide relaxation and enhance our leisure time. The rapid growth of various forms of news media was meant to supply us with information on the world around us that would enhance our understanding. An open attitude to marital relationships and raising children was the magic that would put right all the ills of society.

But as we all know, it hasn’t quite worked out the way we had planned. Crime has not diminished. In fact not only has it increased but it has become much more violent. For instance, years ago elderly people were safe by virtue of their age and frailty. Not even the worst kind of criminal would attack an elderly person. That is no longer true.  And children were safe in schools the world over. Now, in many parts of the world, children have been shot and killed in their own classrooms, sometimes by their own classmates. Better living conditions and an easier way of life have not only failed to solve society’s problems, they have become problems in themselves.

Poverty is still the root cause of much of the world’s evil, but it’s no longer the poverty caused by lack of money. It’s something much more sinister. The deprivation that plagues our society is caused by lack of love, because instead of love our society has substituted material benefits and the inclination to seek out an easy, more tolerant, less confrontational approach to life. The way we now approach life is the way we also approach love.

Teachers today are experiencing a new breed of extremely difficult and out-of-control children in our schools who have little or no respect for any kind of authority. They are a product of a permissive society which surely demonstrates that love isn’t synonymous with indulgence or with opting out of discipline. Neither is love synonymous with material gifts. There are many families where the children are showered with expensive gifts, but are not taught anything about boundaries; or worse, they are not given any personal attention from career minded overworked parents.

A very high proportion of people today only see love as the physical attraction felt between adults. And if a man or a woman should suddenly feel a physical attraction to someone outside their family unit, then they simply pair up with a different partner and the children are expected to cope as best they can. But physical attraction is not synonymous with love.

In our gospel today we hear a Pharisee ask Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” My friends, much more than just the law and the prophets hanging on those two commandments. Upon the law of love hangs the whole of human life. If we properly understood what love is and were able to put it into action, then perhaps our society would be experiencing the kingdom of heaven instead of the hell we are in.

To love as Jesus wants us to love is tough. It is far from being an self indulgent, emotional response. It often requires strong words and strict discipline in order to do what is best and right for the one we love.  Love is honest. It means saying what actually needs to be said, even if it wounds and deflates our conceit. Jesus once said to his best friend Peter. “Get behind me, Satan.” But he said it in love, and his words put Peter on the path to becoming the first head of the Church. Those who really want to follow Jesus’ commandment of love must be prepared to take that kind of risk with those they love.

Love sticks around. It doesn’t disappear at the first sign of trouble, but stays there facing any manner of pain. Jesus loved so much that he allowed evil people to crucify him. He could have turned tail and run away from trouble, but he stuck it out to the end. Love is forgiving. It doesn’t pass on gossip, or pay any attention to unpleasant rumours. And it doesn’t nurture a sense of grievance, constantly feeding that grievance to make it grow. Love freely and fully forgives.

Love is unselfish. But it does not turn you into a doormat allowing other people to walk all over you. Those who are really unselfish must first know and love themselves. “Love your neighbour as yourself,” Jesus said, not “love your neighbour more than yourself.” Love is a very difficult and tough commodity, and is much more than a mere feeling. For us human beings it’s almost impossible to really love, unless we follow the first commandment to love God with the whole of our being. For God loves each of us with a deep and pure and perfect love, a love which will develop within us the more we learn to relate to him.

The number one reading for most of the weddings I perform comes from St. Pauls first letter to the Corinthians. It says:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or
resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all
things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

There is a reason that this reading is chosen so frequently. It speaks the truth about love and it reminds us about what the cost of love is. It is a guiding light, not only for married life, but in all of our human relationships. If we loved God and each other like this then our friendships, our marriages, our families and our society would become the paradise we all long for them to be.


The Herodians and the Pharisees set out to trap Jesus using flattery and a very tricky question about taxes. The Pharisees believed that Israel was a theocracy, ruled by God’s Law, and that they were the keepers and interpreters of the law. The Herodians were a political party. They believed that Israel should be ruled by King Herod and his family. Neither one of these groups liked each other, but they hated Rome even more. So the question that they proposed to Jesus was not really about taxes. It was about power. Who did he support, the Law, Herod or Roman? But Jesus was not about to be drawn into a political and theological trap and his answer tells us that there are two powers at work in our lives and we must decide what it is we owe to each of them.

Today, as in Jesus’ day, God’s power and human power continue to make demands on us. We must decide which one is more important to us, which one are we going to give our lives to. But first, we have to understand the nature of God’s power and Human power and how each of them affect our choices, and our actions.

So let us look first at human power, what is it based on, where does it come from, how is it used? Looking around our world today you may come to the conclusion that the greatest expression of human power is destruction. You do not need missals, or tanks, or any other weapon of mass destruction to exercise this power. Every single person here has the power to destroy, an animal, a car, an enemy, a friend, or even themselves. As prevalent as the power to destroy is, human power can also create. We can make music, and paintings, friendships, and communities.

But whether it is destroying or creating, human power has the same basic characteristic, it tends to be external and coercive. It’s the power, for better or for worse, to manipulate things, people and ideas. We all have the power to push, pull, prod and mould our environment and other people to our liking, be it for their own good, or for our own profit, be it for the glory of God or for human politics.  Think of all those who held extraordinary human power throughout history; the destructive power of Hitler, the analytical power of Freud, the creative power of Shakespeare. All of these people held in their hand the power to change the world, but could any of them satisfy the deepest longing of the human soul?

Out of the many millions that each one of these people affected with their power, did any of them satisfy even one persons deepest longing for love, peace or meaning? That is something that no human being has the power to do, either for themselves or for anyone else. So in reality coercive and external power, like the power that the Pharisees and the Herodians tried to use to trap Jesus, is useless. Ultimately it does not matter who gets the tax money, it does not matter how powerful any one person is, because such power, no matter how good or benevolent it is, can never truly satisfy the deepest longings of the human soul.

Only God can do that, because God’s power affects who we are. God’s power gives meaning and substance to our lives. For us Christians God’s power can be explained in three simple words from the First Letter of John, “God is Love.”  In other words, our deepest longing to be loved by another person is really a reflection of God’s love for us.. And our own longing to love expressed in the love between two friends, in the love between parent and child, and in the love between husband and wife, is a reflection of God’s love for us.  God’s divine power can move us to selfless acts of courage and kindness. It can change our whole way of living, it can make us better people, it can give us strength to face any trial. That is the power of God as love.

Unfortunately we fool ourselves into thinking that love is a human power. But we can not achieve love, generate love, or wield love as we do our powers of creation and destruction. When I love someone it is not something that I have generated on my own. It is something that is happening within me, as well as within the person I love, yet neither one of us has the power to control it, we cannot make others love us. To use an old soap opera cliché “it is bigger than both of us.” Because whenever love enters into our lives so does God.

The power of God stands in violent contrast to human power. God’s power is not external as human power is, it is internal. By applying external pressure I can make a person do what I want them to do. But I can not make them be what I want them to be, not without destroying their freedom. Only love can change a person, and it happens, not coercively, but by working with our free will and creating a longing to be what love wants us to be. And because God’s love is not coercive, and because God treasures our freedom, we are also free not to love God. We are free to resist God’s love, to deny it, even to crucify it.  This is the freedom Jesus speaks of when he says give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Jesus knew how attractive human power is, but he refused to overpower our freedom to make us choose God’s power of love. We all are free to choose for ourselves which power we want to give ours lives to.

That leaves only one question left to answer, “How do I connect with the power of God, the power that can heal, that can set me free, that can give me peace, that can answer my deepest longing for love?” There are many ways to do that. You can start by praying, you can attend daily mass, you can go to confession and faithfully follow the precepts and moral guidelines of the church in your everyday life, these are some of the ways in which we can begin to give ourselves to God.  But as good and necessary as these things are, they still can lie within the sphere of human power. How we choose to pray and worship, affects our external self, it can become habitual, routine and complacent. But if they are done honestly and sincerely, we can open our will, our mind and our heart to God.  There is only one way in which the power of God’s love will actually reside in you; you must ask for it.

I know, you are probably saying to yourself, ‘that’s too simple, that can’t be all there is too it.”  But Jesus said, “ask and you will receive.” If we have not known the power of God’s love in our life maybe its because we have not really asked for it. Maybe we have been so busy following all the rules and trying to do what is expected of us that we have replaced God’s love with religious discipline. Maybe we have concentrated too much on what is wrong with us or how sinful we can be, that we have shut out the joy of God’s healing love. Maybe we are exerting so much of our human energy and power on trying to get God to change what is going on outside of us, that we have become insensitive to the power of God’s love living within us. Maybe we are giving far too much to Caesar and not enough to God.

My friends, don’t be like the Herodians and the Pharisees and approach God thinking that you can make him fit into what you think is important. Don’t think that because you can exercise your human power to change what is outside, that God’s power will automatically fill you up inside. Don’t think that you have to change your life so that you can find God. Let God find you and everything in your life will change.

Approach God like a child approaches a parent. Pray in what ever words you have, in what ever way you can. And if the voice inside of you; a voice you have inherited from years of chasing human power still says, “I don’t feel loved.” Please, don’t give up. Just keep on giving to God what you can, and little by little you will feel the power of God; to love, to heal, and to give peace.


Chirpy is a parakeet. While cleaning its cage one day, Chirpy’s owner was interrupted by the telephone. As she reached for her phone the hose of the vacuum cleaner got too close and sucked the bird right into the bag. She dropped her phone, opened the vacuum and pulled out the bewildered bird. To revive it she stuck it under the water faucet. The bird survived, but now its owner says: “Chirpy doesn’t sing much anymore, she just sits and stares.”

There are many people who are a lot like Chirpy, they look as if they have had the life sucked out of them. Sometimes I see them here at mass just sitting there staring into space. They don’t sing much anymore, if they ever did. Now, I must admit that there have been days when I have felt the same. If you have felt that way too, then today’s gospel parable is for us. It has a message for everyone whose faith has lost a sense of joy.

In our parable a King invited people to his son’s wedding celebration, but his invitation is ignored, ridiculed and violently rejected. The king then sent out his servants with the instruction:  ‘Go therefore into the main streets and invite anyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and filled the wedding hall with guests”.

The first thing we should take note of is that the invitation is to a wedding feast. It was obviously meant to be a celebration of joy. We have been invited to this Eucharistic banquet. It is also meant to be celebrated with joy. But if you feel like you’ve been run through the vacuum cleaner of life and your faith has become bland, uninteresting, and seemingly irrelevant, then you could end up like the first people who were invited. Not only had they lost their sense of joy, they were mean spirited towards the King who invited them.

We have an open invitation to celebrate the Eucharist. But we do always do so with joy. Sometimes we treat this glorious banquet like a funeral wake! Our lack of response to the invitation to pray and sing can make this celebration feel grim, depressing, and downright dismal. We can get so wrapped up in our own private thoughts and worries, that we just sit there staring into space, waiting for it to be over. Eventually we make up excuses not to go to mass, because it is just a waste of time, and we have other things to do.

Some of the loss of joy maybe the priest’s fault. We rarely preach on the joy of discipleship. Instead, our homilies tend to deal with rules and laws and obligations, or sad, grim issues like death, sin and evil. We can also lose our joy and tact more like undertakers, or criminal judges. We can give the impression that Christian joy can only be obtained after we die, as a reward, if we are good enough.

Because of what she experienced, Chirpy the parakeet lost the joy which made her sing. Perhaps we who gather here have lost our joy because of what life has done or is doing to us. But like this parable of the King inviting everyone to the wedding feast of his son — God is inviting all of us to share in the joy of his son Jesus. It is an invitation we should not downplay or ignore just because life itself seems joyless.

There is something else mentioned in this parable that can also dampen our joy. Some of those who rejected their invitation to the wedding feast did so because they were distracted by other concerns. One went to his field no doubt to cultivate or water his crop and another went to his business. It’s a warning we busy Christians all need to hear as we set our priorities in life. Undue focus on our job and our career can crowd out those things that are critically important to experiencing real joy, like prayer and worship and works of charity, especially when they bring us together as a community. Making a living can crowd out the joy that comes from making a life.

As I have said, the wedding banquet in this parable, parallels the Eucharistic feast in our church. And so we have to ask ourselves, have we accepted the invitation and are we prepared to celebrate with joy?  When we eat this bread together, we experience Christ with us, and that is like no other experience in our lives. It should be a joyous experience of grace. We don’t deserve to be here, we haven’t earned the right to be here.  But God invites us anyway, just as that king invited all those people from the street. They weren’t his relatives; they hadn’t contributed to his campaign for king; and they didn’t know the bride or groom. Still, they were invited to share in the joy of that wedding feast.

My friends, ne of the best ways to find joy in this Eucharist is to share it with others. Jesus wants us to love one another, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to pray for each other, to be kind. We often treat these commandments as burdens we must bear, the price we have to pay for being Christian. They should spring naturally into our hearts from the promise of eternal life, which we have been so graciously given in this Eucharist. Our joy should make us want to invite others to this feast.

They don’t need to look or act like us. They don’t need to be those society judges to be acceptable, or the community’s ethnic majority (if it has one). They don’t have to be of our culture or who we call “our people.” They don’t have to be those who “fit in” or behave as we think they should. We invite them simply because we have been invited. And then we do our best to help them experience the joy of faith which has so enriched our own lives. A joy which springs from gospel of Jesus Christ; born as a homeless refugee in Bethlehem, sacrificed on the cross for our forgiveness, risen on Easter morning so that we too might come out of the grave, and then sent by the Holy Spirit to be with us here.

So we return to where we started. We have been given an invitation we did not deserve nor dared to hope for, and it brings with it the promise of great joy. All we have to do receive that joy is accept the invitation and participate fully in the meal that is offered at this altar. Keeping that joy alive will depend on how we treat each other after the feast.  What we have consumed here should strengthen us and help us to invite others to share in our joy.

So don’t just sit there, staring into space waiting for this hour of obligation to be over. Join in the feast. And if life has sucked you into the vacuum cleaner like Chirpy — perk up, sad bird, and sing with us for here we rejoice in the wedding feast of the lamb.

September, 2017:


The city of Toronto is a very unique city. The diverse hues of ethnic heritage, religious background, and cultural practices blend together in different ways to give the fabric of our city its depth and richness. Just as we are blended together in the local communities in which we live, we are also blended together as God’s people in this Cathedral and in every Parish in our Archdiocese.

Even though we may not realize it, each of us has a very real impact on the other. Where we have been this week, what we have done, what we have said, all those big and small experiences of daily living,  impact the fabric of life in our city. And, in return, what we do here, the service, prayers and worship of this Cathedral congregation has an effect on our faith life. Through each one of you, the practice of this community of faith reaches beyond the four walls of this Cathedral. It is carried into public arena, into our schools, consulting firms, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and company boardrooms. Our faith colours the unique perspectives and values that we share with others, as well as our concern for what is going on in the world around us.

This weaving together of culture, and faith has been a characteristic of life since the beginning of human history. But in our own times, it takes on a new dimension. We live in a global community. Through the various forms of commercial and social media and the information network provided by the internet, we have instant access to each other, no matter where in the world we live. What is happening in distant parts of the world has an immediate effect on our lives right here.  We are indeed, like a multi-coloured quilt whose beauty and appearance relies on each unique piece of cloth and how there are stitched together.

Yet I would guess that most of us here consider ourselves relatively unimportant. We don’t believe that our personal story has an effect on the global community. But that’s not true, everyone is important, every life has value, and even though we may live simple lives, we still have an effect on the world around us. Look at Nathaniel, the person that Jesus called in our Gospel story. Nathaniel, also known as Bartholomew, is probably the least known of all the apostles. He is only mentioned here and one other time in the scriptures.

What we do know about Nathaniel is that he was a simple person who was hoping and searching for God in the world around him. We know it because of the fig tree that he sat under. In Nathaniel’s time, entire extended families lived in small one-room houses. They often planted fig trees in front of their homes as a private place to “get away to.”  You see, a fig tree is about fifteen feet tall and its branches spread out about 25 feet in width like an umbrella, creating a space that is almost like a private room. If someone wanted to get away from the chaos of a one-room house, they would go sit under the fig tree. It was a quiet space that was conducive to reading scripture or praying. Nathaniel was sitting under the fig tree seeking and praying for God’s living presence. That is where Jesus found Nathaniel when he called him.

Now, I realize that this Cathedral looks nothing like a fig tree. But aren’t we doing the same thing here that Nathaniel did under the fig tree? Don’t we come here because we too have a yearning to know the living God? Don’t we come here because the chaos of the world makes it hard for us to find God? Here we have a quiet place where we can hear scripture, reflect, and pray, this is a place where God can find us.

Nathaniel was also known as a man “in whom there was no deceit.” He was a person who sought to be honourable and decent. He was not a prominent person, but he was a good, responsible and caring person in his community. If he did not have that basic goodness, then Jesus would not have called him. Jesus is looking for the same qualities in us. He knows how hard we try to be good. He knows how much we are concerned about, and care for our neighbour and for the world in which we live.

Yes, we can be a diverse people with widely differing ideas about prayer, and worship, and service. Yes this world can be a dark place and evil seems to infiltrate every corner of it. But there is help for us. This Cathedral is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. He is our guardian against the evil and chaos that plagues this world. That is why we end our mass by praying the prayer of St. Michael.  We ask him to protect the goodness that is in each one of us, so that not even one soul is lost, because when even one of us is missing it changes the fabric of our community.

Today’s gospel for this Feast day of St. Michael is about Jesus calling one of his apostles. Nathaniel was not the greatest among them, but he was essential to god’s plan of salvation. His life had an effect on the early Church. As I reflected on this gospel, I thought about the people who were called to built and worship in this Cathedral. Yes, some of them were “prominent” disciples of the day; people like Bishop Power, John Elmsley, and Samuel G. Lynn. They used their considerable wealth and resources to create a space where people could seek the Living God.

But the story of this Cathedral also involved the ordinary “grass roots,” Catholics, all those anonymous people who had strong yearnings and desires for a place of worship where God could find them. Without the response of the farmers and merchants, without the sacrifice of the immigrant Irish, without the poor and widowed gave what they could in the monthly penny drives to help pay the debt, there would have been no Cathedral.

The renewal and restoration of this beautiful Cathedral was also the work of great leadership and ordinary faithful people. Without the commitment of all our parishioners over the last 170 years, and your own untiring commitment to the faith today, we would not have such a magnificent structure to honour God in. We often let the work of an extraordinary Bishops, Priests and prominent lay people overshadow and diminish the work done by ordinary parishioners whose commitment ensures that there will always be a place where others can seek God. God’s will is not accomplished only by the elite or powerful. It is also accomplished by the actions of ordinary disciples like you and me.

I also believe that this Cathedral has not stood this long because the Archangel St. Michael, is our patron and our protector. Under his protection over the last 170 years we have grown in goodness, and with him to defend us, our worship will weave past and present together into a rich tapestry of faith, whose future growth God will shape. From this holy ground Jesus will continue to call forward new leaders from our midst, lay people, priests and Bishops, to direction to our energies and prayers.

Those who sacrificed to build this Cathedral created for us a holy place, where we can hear the Word of God, and reflect and pray, away from the noise and the clamour of our everyday life. They planted this “fig tree” and its is up to us to make sure its branches continue to shelter all those ordinary disciples whose prayers are heard by God who works them into the fabric of his Holy Will for all people.

St. Michael Archangel, and patron saint of our Cathedral and our Archdiocese, continue to protect and defend all the ordinary disciples, like us, whom Christ calls to do his work.


Ralph and Jane had been married for more than twenty years. They had three children who were in the stages of getting married or leaving for college. They were about to be empty nesters, and were anticipating redeveloping their intimacy as a couple. Jane had given up her personal career goals in order to be a full-time mother and homemaker and she began to make plans to re-enter the workforce. But then tragedy struck. Ralph’s younger brother and wife were killed in a car accident. They left three children as orphans, aged eight, ten, and twelve. Ralph and Jane took the children into their home, and Jane’s life as a stay at home mother settled right back into its old routine for another decade.

Meanwhile Ralph worked hard to established his career. He travelled a lot. He saw it as part of the sacrifices he had to make for his brother’s children. Jane was often left alone guiding three more teenagers through their changing identities and raging hormones. She had hoped to travel with Ralph, but this new family required all her attention. By the time nine years had passed, the toll of raising two families had robbed Jane of her vitality and sidelined any chance of another career. When the last child finally left for college, Jane was physically and emotionally spent.

That’s when Ralph came home from a business trip and broke the news that he was leaving her for his secretary. His secretary had made it possible for Ralph to be the man he had become, while Jane was too busy with the children to spend time with him. In fact, they travelled often together, something that Jane never could make time for. More than that, his secretary really understood Ralph, while Jane seem to have lost interest. Ralph filed for divorce and married his secretary. Jane, of course, felt cheated. She became an outsider to their mutual friends. Her social life grew very small. Jane was becoming a bitter tag-along that nobody cared to have around.

But even as he slipped easily into his second marriage, Ralph wanted to make things right with his former wife. So one day he called Jane and told her he was sorry for the way it had all turned out. He was aware that he had hurt Jane and he asked for her forgiveness for the pain he had caused. What did Jane do? She told Ralph “I want you to go to hell!”

We can understand her feelings. Maybe we have been there ourselves. Hell is what a relationship that has moved into conflict without forgiveness amounts to. Hell is the place where justice is never tempered by mercy, where relationships are never mended, where grudges grow and grace is absent. Hell is eternity apart from God’s forgiving love. Hell is a prison we make for ourselves when we are unable to forgive.

Jesus’ words to his disciples in our gospel today about conflict resolution and forgiveness sound wonderful, yet, they are some of the most challenging and difficult words in all of scripture. We are social creatures who cannot live in isolation. Yet, because of the sin and stupidity that trouble our human condition, we do not always live well with those around us. And, it is most often those who are closest to us, who cause us the greatest pain. Jesus outlines for us today a strategy for addressing our troubled relationships with one another.

First, Jesus reminds us that we have to make the process of restoration personal. When we are hurt and when our pride has been damaged, we often become vindictive and belligerent. Using gossip and rumour as a weapon, we seek to polarized our friends and families into those who are for “us” and against “them.” If I can poison the atmosphere around the person who has hurt me, I hold the advantage. When friends become enemies, we feel the need to involve others in degrading them and depersonalize them until they no longer deserve respect.

But Jesus demands another approach. “If your brother sins against you go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” Jesus insists we treat the offender as a person even though our heart wants to pull away in disgust. We must meet them face to face and deal honestly with whatever has caused our separation. Jesus does not say it will be an easy thing to do. Hurt is painful, and so is reconciliation.

If we can’t resolve our differences on a one to one basis then Jesus challenges us to look at the matter through the eyes of the community. That means we must place our hurts and pains in submission to what our faith teaches us.  Again, this is not easy, it is hard for us to think communally in this highly individualized society. Our self centred and self satisfying way of life constantly tells us that reality revolves around our personal needs and desires. In stark contrast, our faith community teaches that we may have to give up some of our personal agenda for the sake of the greater good.

That doesn’t mean that my individual life, personality, and desires are of no value. It’s just that we can become so obsessed with our personal rights and so absorbed in our own experiences that we become blinded to just how much we truly depend upon others. I believe that one of the primary maladies of our age is our resistance to community. I also believe that belonging to a religious community may be the only cure for the growing incivility of our age.

When we refuse to give ourselves to God, we invariably become gods to ourselves and degenerate into a people who are limited by what we can grasp with our fingers and strike with our fists. Here, in worship, we become more aware of what it means to be one within the Body of Christ. Here we see how Jesus has a stake in all of our lives and what it means for us to have him as the head of this body of believers. Here the leadership of our church, empowered by the Spirit and ordained by the community, speaks to the many tensions of life that disrupt and fracture our common life.

There are no easy answers, of course. But Jesus’ teaching here demands that we wrestle with the issues. We cannot claim fidelity with God and at the same time act irresponsibly in our relationships with others. As individuals, and as community, we have to take part in the process of reconciliation and restoration.

People join our Catholic community for a variety of reasons. Some come seeking a deeper relationship with God. Others are looking for a more disciplined way of life. Others hope to find solace from the world and refuge from the problems that have plagued them. But whatever the reason, the cry of the human heart is “I need mercy!” and only in the midst of a people who believe in God’s mercy and are searching together; only among people who truly care for one another, can that mercy be found.  This community helps us step out of our circle of self-interest long enough to see the fragile interdependence of all who share in this fellowship of faith. We cannot create community, for it does not revolve around us. We can only enter community or receive it as a gift.

As Jesus says, it is absolutely imperative that we engage the power of the community in addressing the hurts that affect us. Failing to do so only isolates us from each other. How we deal with difficult emotional relationships needs to be refocused. We must see the one who has hurt us as someone who needs to experience the grace of God. We must imagine Jesus standing next to them as he stands next to us, only then can we conquer our hatred and bitterness. When we believe that we all share in the same Kingdom of God, we will hear Jesus saying to us, “You have gained again your sister. You have found again your brother.” And our world will be more peaceful because of it.


Today I am going to ask you to do something that we don’t like to do, but should do more often. I want you to think about who you are and how you define yourself. Start by thinking about the clothes you wear. What do they say about who you are:  your gender, your age, your economic status, do they express how you feel.  Do your clothes define your true self?

Now, think about the place where you live. Are you happy with your home, does it make you feel safe, secure? Is its furnishings and decoration warm and inviting? Think about everything you own, the cars, the phones, the computers. Those things say a lot about you, but are you just the sum total of your possessions?

What about your job? Are you a homemaker, an office worker, a teacher, a factory worker, a lawyer or doctor? Are you retired or a student? A huge part of our identity comes from what we do, but does what you do truly define you, does it fulfill you?  Take a look at all the people you know, in the past, and at present: brothers or sisters, parent, or spouse; friends, neighbours, teachers, schoolmates, co workers, even enemies. How many of them do you feel really know you? Do they support your dreams and your goals?

When you are talking to God, who are you? Are you a faithful church-goer, a volunteer in one our ministries, a strict adherent of religious teaching and laws? Is your understanding of yourself as Christian defined by the prayers or devotions you say, or how much you put in the collection plate, or which parish you attend?

What about your physical and emotional feelings.  You might be in pain at this moment.  You may be grieving. You may be feeling very peaceful, or very happy. Maybe you are too harsh and critical about yourself, or about others.  Maybe you have allowed yourself to be defined by your emotions, your pain, your anger, your fears, or your passions and deep inside of you there is something that remains hidden, unexpressed. Many of us do not like to look very deeply at who we are, we would rather live on the surface, and deal with life moment by moment, never really looking at where we are going or how life is shaping us.

But we are never completely defined by what we wear, where we live, who we know, what we do or what we feel.  Yet we allow these things to limit us, making them the most important things in life. And by devoting ourselves to them, by trying to make our lives as comfortable and worry free as possible, we never really find or express our true self.  Over time we find ourselves chaffing under the false and superficial understandings that we live by. By projecting a false image of self sufficiency we can become frustrated and trapped by the way others think of us and treat us.

Are you tired of that false “self” that is defined by your job, your relationships, your social status, and your appearance? Do you want to let out the true person that you know you are inside? If so, then today’s gospel points the way. “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life, for my sake will find it.”

In this gospel we see Peter struggling with a false image of the Messiah that he has defined for himself. Even though he has just made a profound statement about who Jesus was, he wants Jesus to be a Messiah that makes his discipleship more comfortable, and more important in the eyes of others. Peter rejects Jesus’ concept of the cross as the essential component of his life as a disciple. He refuses to accept the fact that Jesus must suffer and die because that means he must do the same. By defining his life by his emotions, his possessions, his experience and his desires, he has invested too much of himself in the earthly aspects of his discipleship. He wants his discipleship to be defined by power, authority, wealth, respect. But, but Jesus is telling him that to find true discipleship, he must be prepared to lose everything.

When Jesus went to the cross, he lost his position in the community. He went from a respected leader, to a common criminal.  He lost his friends and his followers abandoned him.  He lost his only possessions, his clothes, and with them went his dignity.  He lost his family.  In order to insure his mother’s survival, he had to give her away to one of his disciples. There was a terrible moment when he even lost his connection with God. Jesus gave up everything including life itself, but in losing everything, he revealed his true self as Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour and redeemer.

What Peter could not understand is that we come closest to finding our true selves whenever we experience profound changes in our lives, changes that sometimes come through separation, sacrifice and loss. This church is full of people who have suffered the loss of possessions, jobs and relationships.  Those who have been through these traumas will tell you that when those things we always identified as ourselves with are stripped away, we see beneath the superficial images we think we need to be, to the real person that God calls us to be.

Whenever we lose some part of our life through tragic circumstances, or willingly let go of some of the things that seem to define us –  we get the chance to grow and change.  All of us travel through this life invested in physical, emotional and spiritual baggage that we think is essential to our being. As it accumulates it weighs us down and saps our energy until eventually we stop altogether, stuck in one place, because there is just too much to carry and we are afraid to let any of it go.  If we did, it would change how we look at life, and how we look at ourselves. It would cause a kind of crucifixion, some part of us will die.

But Jesus says that in order to see the true course of our lives we have to sacrifice those false identities we have collected. In order to go forward, we must embrace the cross, and be willing to empty ourselves. We must let go and let God show us who we really are.  Like Jesus, we need to die to our old selves, in order to be raised up to new life in him.

It is hard to face the cross and the sacrifice it asks of us. But as Christians we can not run away from its reality, not if we want to walk with Jesus.  We must resist cultural pressure that defines what it says life should be. We must resist contemporary wisdom that says it is foolish to give one’s life away.  We must not buy onto all those advertisements and media programs which tell us life is only what we see, hear, feel, wear and own. Jesus leaves no doubt that if we try to save our life by these methods we will lose the gift of eternal life. But if we trust in the cross of Christ, then whatever losses we suffer in this life are gains for the next.

So where do you find yourself — embracing the material aspects of human life and its empty promise of power and pleasure? Or embracing the challenge of the Cross, with its beauty and its pain? Do you put your trust in the pursuit of materialism, or do you trust in the promise of eternal life? We must not be afraid, or let our own ideas of what we think life is, or what we think discipleship is, to get in the way of what Jesus asks us to do. He will be with us every step of the way, leading us, and even ready to carry us when the road is most difficult and the weight of the cross seems beyond our strength. So let go of everything that keeps you from Jesus, give him your life today, and gain life with him forever.

August, 2017:


We live in an age where science dominates our lives. Everyday we hear of some new discovery that disproves something we all thought was a sure thing. Everything is being questioned under a scientific light. Many people even believe that someday a “scientific discovery” will show that Christianity is based on nothing more than religious assumptions, which, if they could be proved wrong, would cause the whole structure of the Christian faith to collapse. They see the Catholic church as nothing more than a house of cards built on a coffee table with one short leg.

Things may seem a bit shaky today, no matter what branch of Christianity you find yourself in.  Scandals have rocked the Christian faith from the Catholic Church to the empires of the televangelists.  Does that prove that Christianity is a house of cards? No, it only proves that the rock on which Christ builds the church is not an intellectual bishop or a charismatic priest or a charming television personality. Many of the inner city churches which once boasted thousands of members are reduced to just a handful of people meeting in huge sanctuaries that feel like mausoleums.  Does that prove that Christianity is a house of cards? No, it only proves that the rock on which Christ built his church is not marble, or limestone or brick.

Many books, newspaper articles and television shows use historical data and intellectual dialogue to discredit the beliefs and teachings of our church. Do these critiques prove that Christianity is just a house of cards? No, it only shows that our faith is not based solely on human reason, or theological and philosophical arguments. There has been a decline in the church’s influence in our society and the clergy is not respected as much as it was in the 1950s and early ’60s. Communities that used to set aside the Lord’s day, as a day of prayer and rest, now spend Sunday shopping. There are many people who must work on Sundays in order to keep food on the table. Does this prove that Christianity is a house of cards? No, it only proves that Christ did not found the church on political expediency, or public opinion.

But if these things do not form the foundation of the church, what then is this rock that the gospel speaks of?  Jesus says the church is founded upon the rock that is Peter. He was a flesh-and-blood person, a fisherman from Galilee who had a wife and a mother-in-law, and a house and a boat. Yet the rock is something more than Peter. For Peter was a man who died and the rock of faith is something which cannot die.

When Jesus pointed to Peter as the Rock he said, “here is a person who believes so much in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, that his confidence encourages and supports others in their belief, here is a man who has “Living faith”, and “living Faith” is the rock upon which the Church is built.  The rock of faith lives in the Pope sitting on the throne of Peter in the Vatican making statements that are reported in newspapers around the world.  The rock of faith also lives in a nurse sitting in a rocking chair in a hospital singing “Jesus Loves Me” to a small baby who only has a few hours to live.

The rock of faith lives in a university student who is ridiculed for his beliefs by friends and faculty alike, yet continues to praise God in worship and in service to others. The rock of faith lives in an elderly person confined to a nursing home with no family or friends left to visit her, yet each day in her morning prayers she thanks God for the life he has given her. The rock upon which this church of ours is built lives in all those people whose faith strengthens them in good times and in times of trial. Living faith helps them to seek forgiveness in times of weakness and sin, and forms them into a source of courage and inspiration for others. Through their prayers, and their committed service, they follow the witness of St. Peter and form the rock that keeps this church of ours alive and strong.

But living faith is not something that we automatically earn or acquire on our own. You can read all the parchments, and prayer books and bible passages in the world, you can serve meals at a homeless shelter, visit the sick in the hospital and bring communion to shut ins, and still not find it. This living rock of faith can seem fragile and elusive when we try and practice it on our own. But when faith is practised within a community, then it becomes an anvil which wears out many hammers that try to strike it down.  When Eastern Europe emerged from nearly a century of communism’s official policy of atheism, many were astounded at the survival of a vibrant faith.  Some say it was the grandmothers who kept that faith alive. They told bible stories to their little grandchildren. They sang sacred hymns while scrubbing the floor.  Communism fell to dust, but their faith lived on.

Yes there are people within our church who are not great examples of faith. They play power games. They are hypocritical. They desert the church when it is in need and only came back when the church has something they need. There are some people who have mixed motives, and selfish reasons for being a part of the church. But look at who Jesus called the rock of faith.

Peter was the guy who was always pushing himself forward trying to be first. Peter was the show off who wanted to walk on water just like Jesus.  Peter was the big-mouth who said he would die for Jesus and then, three hours later, denied even knowing him.  Peter, the rock, on which Jesus founded the church, was not a piece of polished marble.  He was a big, stubborn and often dense fisherman who did not fit the Jewish idea of a religious leader. He is certainly not the kind of person you and I would pick to lead our church today.

Yet Jesus still chose Peter to be the rock upon which the church is built. Despite his human flaws, despite his stubbornness and betrayals, his faith in Jesus brought him strength, taught him humility and reconciled his sinfulness. Jesus did not pick Peter because he was perfect. He knew Peter was a flawed human being, like you and me, but he also knew that Peter cultivated a living faith and in time it would help him become harder and stronger and more enduring than all his faults and weaknesses. Faith was something he experienced and knew in his heart, rather than something he heard with his ears or read in a book.

People who become like Peter know that Jesus is their saviour. They can answer the question Jesus put to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Most of us here would answer that question automatically with words like Peter’s, “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” But is that what we truly believe or is it just what we have been taught to say. Are we just repeating what millions of people have said for almost 2,000 years, or is it something we believe, something we personally know to be true?  Is our faith centred in our head or in our hearts?

Faith comes alive when we are coping with life’s painful wounds we find that Jesus, can heal our wounds. Faith comes when our life loses meaning and purpose and Jesus enters and gives us a new direction. Faith comes when we stop despairing about the state of the world and let Jesus help us find a way to be part of its salvation. We believe that, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” not because we have tangible and irrefutable proof; we believe it because our experience of faith has told us it is so. No matter who attacks our beliefs, or how many human flaws we have, or the scandals of those who govern our church, we form the Rock of living faith, upon which Christ has built his Church.

July, 2017:


Our gospel today speaks of trust. Trust is a hard commodity to come by these days. We are so concerned about our own personal happiness, that we don’t trust others completely. We tend to hold back. We do not give 100 percent of ourselves, even in our most personal relationships- afraid that sooner or later the other person in the relationship will betray us. And if that happens, rather than seek understanding or reconciliation we just walk away.

We talk a lot about the need to communicate, but don’t really understand what open communication is. Instead of opening ourselves up to different opinions and approaches and discussing them with others in a respectful manner, we tend to pontificate, pushing our own views or position on a given issue saying, “That’s the way it is and if you don’t like it there’s the door.” We are afraid of risking ourselves, in an open relationship with another person because it may cause a shift in the comfortable way we live.

We close our minds and hearts to another’s influence, rather than risk change. Friendships and even a marriage may form under such conditions, they may even last for some time. But when a crisis comes, or our personal security is challenged, then all those fears we hold in reserve come rushing out, and we find yourself saying things like, “I always knew you would betray me, I always knew I there was something about you I couldn’t trust; I always knew you would hurt me someday.”

We are often too quick to interpret other people’s motives, or we allowed our own insecurities to judge their actions. We just can’t seem to trust anyone completely because we are unwilling to risk our whole self. In many ways this is also how we conduct our relationship with Jesus. In today’s gospel he says, you must love me more than mother and father, more than husband and wife, more than son or daughter. But if we can’t give ourselves one hundred percent in these, our most intimate human relationships, how can we ever hope to give ourselves completely to Christ?

I do not doubt that many people here have a genuine love for Jesus. It may have begun in your youth, or later as an adult. Maybe your relationship with Jesus came about through a cherished relationship with a spouse, family member, or friend. Maybe it is tied to some ministry or work within the church. However it came about, we are here in this church because in some way we feel Jesus’ presence as well as his comfort and his love.

But then something happens. Our faith is challenged by some church teaching, or we don’t like the new priest’s homilies, or we suffer the betrayal of a close friend. Suddenly, our faith is not the shield we thought it was. God will seem more difficult than we thought. We begin to withdraw from the Church community and eventually we abandon it all together. I have heard far too many people say “I don’t go to church any more because the people there are hypocrites. The priest doesn’t understand me, the teachings don’t allow me to live the way I want to live. I don’t need all those rules and regulations to be a Christian. I can pray at home.”

But without the teachings of the Church to guide us, on what do we base our values, our morality, our ethics. If Christianity is based on self empowerment, psychology, political correctness and not on what Jesus taught, then it becomes nothing more than a personal whim.  We can’t agree on what is good or what is true for all people because there are no objective truths to share.

To be Christian is to have a personal relationship with Christ. By not going to mass you deny the most intimate part of that relationship, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is the grace of that sacrament that helps us to relate more deeply to him. Without the example of a worshipping Christian community who shares in that Eucharist, we lose our motivation to do good works, and to contribute to charities which help the poor and the needy. And just because we can pray at home doesn’t mean that we will. The fact is that many people who give up going to church, eventually stop praying all together because there is no ritual to help release that prayer, and no congregation to support it.

The gospel today is asking us, is our relationship with Christ superficial and cautious? Are we just one personal crisis, one bad homily, one misunderstood teaching away from severing all ties with the church. Just because we were born and raised in the faith and attend mass regularly, does not mean we have a genuine personal relationship with Christ. Oh we have prayed with him and we may walk with him. Christ is our companion when we need him to be. But we may still be holding back. We may not be giving everything we have, because his gospel challenges our comfortable ideas of who we are, and what we want in order to be happy.

Deep down inside we all harbour a lack of trust, we all are holding back something in our relationship with Jesus. Built within our personal religious practice, there is some line we will not cross, some cherished personal interpretation of what the Church teaches that, if challenged, would cause an end to our relationship with the Church. Despite all the years of prayer and faithful worship we think we are a better judge than God of what is good and right for us.

The sad truth is, we only want Jesus when we need him, while he wants us all the time. We want to be comfortably holy, but his path to holiness can make us uncomfortable because it challenges us to give all of ourselves to him. We try to manage our relationship with Jesus, in the same way we manage our other relationships, to benefit ourselves. Jesus has a place in our lives, but doesn’t have priority over the things we own, or the lives we live.

If we think that faith is something we can control, something we can shape and mould to fit in with all our worldly desires and wants, then one challenging homily from a priest, one difficult church teaching, or one gospel that trys to pull us into Jesus’ all-encompassing love, will fill us with panic and cause us to pull away. When our faith is challenged we often fail to trust God’s will for us. We rationalize our motives and convince ourselves that we are the ones who are being betrayed, while in actuality we may be betraying Jesus and ourselves.

Christ said to his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” The church was built on this saying. As the successor to those first apostles the Church continues to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and whoever welcomes the church into their lives welcomes Christ. Yes the Church is a human institution, as well as a divine one. It is subject to human weakness and sinfulness, the people who sit in these pews are not perfect. But the Church and Jesus Christ are one and we cannot separate them and continue to love one, but abandon the other. Jesus gave the Church to us as a gift of grace to support us and guide our faith. To reject the gift is to reject the giver.

To truly welcome Christ into our lives we must try and live within the Church even though it may, at times, be hard to do. We be open to giving all of ourselves, without holding anything back. We must seek understanding and reconciliation when the inevitable hurts or betrayals are perpetrated against us, either by the church itself or by someone who ministers in it.  Here Jesus speaks to us directly, and he will never lie to us, he will never hurt us, and he will never abandon us.


If you had a very old and valuable gold watch handed down to you from your Great Grandfather, and it stopped working, would you open the back and tinker with it yourself? Of course not, you would want an expert craftsman to examine the watch and fix it professionally. Similarly, if someone in your family was ill and needed surgery, you would take them to the best doctor you can find in the hopes of restoring their health.

But when something goes wrong with our personal lives, when we are emotionally drained and weary of soul, who do we turn to? When our spirits are damaged or broken and we are left lonely, depressed, bitter, or afraid, to whom do we go? Do we go to a specialist, or a professional, like a psychologist, or psychiatrist? Probably, if the problem is big enough, and if we can afford it. Most of us deal with the stresses and anxieties that come from modern busy lives, by turning to our friends, or co workers, or the nice lady who lives next door. Some of us may even seek out a palm reader, or a television psychic, or newspaper columnist who writes about social relationships.

In our gospel today Jesus gives us a better option; he says, “Come to me! Come to me all you who weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” If your life is broken, if you are hurting and in need of repair, bring your life to Jesus. He is the divine physician who can heal. He is the master repairman who has been sent by the one who created you. He will fix your hurts, and heal your brokenness. Others may give us encouragement, or lend a sympathetic ear, but it is to Jesus, to the Master, that we should go when our burdens become too much to bear.

We all have burdens to carry and we all grow weary under the weight. Whenever I greet someone, I often ask them, “How are you?” Most people reply with, “I am tired!” People work hard to give their family the best things, all the “extras,” the world says are important to the “good” life. They come home at the end of the working day tired and stressed out. Their weariness can cause miscommunication, arguments and abuse. Their life begins to deteriorate, they become more distant, relationships end, inappropriate ones begin, children act out, rebel, run away. Are these the extras we have planned and slaved for? Is our reward for hard work, nothing more than guilt and fear, ulcers and divorce?  The burdens we carry are destroying thousands of homes a day as marriages that began with passion and romance, end in hate or indifference.

The steady rise in substance abuse also reveals how tired we are. Vodka and orange juice “Pick–me–ups” are a morning habit, a few “cocktails” in the afternoon to keep us going, and, of course, the “tension reliever” martini at night. Canadians take over 10 million sleeping pills to help them sleep each night. We are so tired of coping with our burdens that we rely on drugs to see us through. We are so worn out by the reality of modern life that we use marijuana, or cocaine to escape.

We worked hard to build a healthy, affluent society so that our children will have more opportunities and less hardships than we did. Yet suicide is the number three killer of those under twenty-five years of age. Listen to the words in this suicide note from a young college student, “I’m tired. Tired of people with green hair and pierced tongues, rave parties and casual sex… I’m tired of people who only play with others…I’m tired of cynics who label themselves realists…I’m tired of people who are afraid to care…I’m tired of people who look for kicks with a bottle in one hand and a condom in the other… I’m tired of people whose understanding of something goes no deeper than what they read on Facebook or Twitter… I’m tired of people who say they hate injustice and prejudice, but do nothing about it… I’m tired of people embarrassed at honesty, love, knowledge… I’m tired…so very tired of living.”

Yes, we are weary. We have tried everything to make our lives better, everything but God. We are too proud. We want to be self–sufficient. We don’t want anyone to see that we are weak and trembling. Jesus is offering us another way, but first we must admit we are in need. Jesus did not say, “Come to me all who are self–sufficient.” He did not say, “Come to me all who are getting along quite well without me.” He says, “Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Are you weary? Do you need help with your burdens? Then come to him; take His yoke upon you; learn from him, and you will find rest for your souls. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Maybe it’s that work “yoke” that frightens us. It conjures up images of being tied down, harnessed to something that takes away our freedom. We can’t go where we want, do what we want. But that is not what Jesus intends when he says take up my yoke. Remember that Jesus was a carpenter, he probably made many yokes with his father Joseph. A yoke is made with great care, it is specially fitted to each individual oxen, so that it will not cause chaffing or pain from movement.

The yoke that Christ offers is specially made by him for you. He takes into consideration your strengths and weaknesses and it will fit so well that it will not under–challenge you, nor will it be overbearing. To carry this yoke means to carry out God’s divine plan for your life. When you carry the yoke of Christ upon your shoulders, you will achieve your maximum capability, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. You will also find peace and joy and freedom. But most importantly, a yoke is made for two oxen to share, it enables them to work together, to move as one. The yoke you take on is shared with Christ, you are tethered to him and he will work with you and help you bear the many burdens this life throws at you.

When I look out at this congregation I see so many tired people. People who are under–challenged or overburdened by their way of life. Sexual confusion, financial stress, self–contempt, and divorce are but a few of the symptoms that show the yokes we have made for ourselves do not fit well and are causing suffering and pain. We need to come to Jesus! We need to take up his yoke, and discover just how much we are loved. Then maybe we will be able to love ourselves and others. We will no longer be tired. We will have the strength for every task.

I once heard a story about a young dog. He was spinning round and round in circles when an older dog sauntered up and asked, “What are you doing?” “I’m chasing my tail,” the young dog replied. “When it wags, I’m happy. When it droops, I’m sad. So happiness must be in my tail. If I catch it, I will always be happy!” So he continued to spin round and round trying to get hold of his elusive tail. Finally, all out of energy, he fell to the ground, tired out. The old dog, watching all this, said, “You know, I used to chase my tail. But one day I found that if I just went on about my business, happiness followed right along behind.”

Today, God’s Word calls out to all tail-chasing, happiness-seeking, tired-out people. Jesus says, “Come… and I will give you rest.” Jesus can deliver us from the all those things that make us tired, all those things we are chasing which we think will make us happy. Take up the yoke of Christ, bind your life to his, and as you go forward in life, happiness will follow.


I remember studying this parable years ago in our preaching class in the seminary. It sticks out in my mind because the priest said something that did not sit very well at the time. He said that in preaching on this gospel we should not be so concerned over what the ground where the seeds fell represented. He warned us not to assign identity – metaphorical or otherwise – to the thorns or rocks or shallow soil mentioned in this parable. This was a simple story of a sower and his seeds. It describes to us how farming was done in those days, and those who heard it would have understood it, because it was a part of their everyday life.

To plant his seeds a farmer would walk about casting the seeds in every direction he went.  And then, after letting nature take its course, he would come back to harvest whatever had grown. The seeds landed in a multitude of locations, with only a fraction of them ever producing fruit.  When Jesus told this parable there was no hidden symbolism, no metaphorical meaning; no moral finger pointing. Jesus was not using these images to condemn or judge others. In fact the explanation given in the gospel after the story itself is considered to be an add on by the early Christian community and may not have come from Jesus directly. Jesus just told the story and then he invited all those who have ears to listen to what was said and to understand it in the context of their daily lives. So, as future preachers of the word, we were challenged to tell this parable as Jesus did, and then let those who have ears hear for themselves what is being offered.

Back then I really didn’t like his idea. I felt this parable of Jesus should have strong moral values assigned to it. It is impossible to preach on this parable and not point a finger at those whose shallow, rocky practice of the faith choke the seeds of faith that Jesus scatters. I had already decided what this parable meant. I wanted to force my own meaning on to it and I found it very hard to simply let the story speak for itself.  But after 25 years of ministry I can look back and say that the priest who challenged my view of this parable was right, and that back then I simply did not have the ears to hear it.

After all these years of preaching I have learned to listen to the scriptures and not try and force my own meaning or agenda onto them. So today, I will not be pointing fingers, or making moral accusations as to why the seeds of failed to produce a richer harvest in you. Instead I will ask you, what do you hear? What, in this random tossing of seeds and the resulting growth and harvest, speaks to you. How does this parable resonate in your life? Do you have the ears to hear what Jesus is saying?

There is a game that people play when they get to be a certain age. We get out our class yearbook and look at the pictures of ourselves and the classmates we knew, ten or twenty, or thirty years ago. We remember how exciting those times were; the many dreams we had, the things we were going to accomplish, the potential opportunities that awaited us when we finally graduated high school or, college, or university.

Then we start to wonder; “What happened, why haven’t I realized any of those things? What kind of harvest has my life produced? I have played this game myself, and often I have felt a kind of sadness. I look back at those I went to the seminary with and I see that there were some who had great potential, who had great faith, who expressed joy in God. Yet now, many years later, some of them are not as happy as they used to be, or as joyful. For whatever reason the seed of faith that was scattered in them did not produce the harvest that was expected. The fact is that most people are spending their lives doing work in which none of their former gifts are being used.

Perhaps we were led onto a career path where our gifts and talents are being fed upon by others and we ended up empty and abused. Maybe be we find ourselves on rocky ground, just one step ahead of bankruptcy, living from paycheck to paycheck never getting ahead, all our potential fading away. Maybe our hopes and dreams are being choked by the thorns of family obligation, cultural restrictions, political expediency.

Maybe the stresses and strains of our busy lives have not allowed that seed of faith to grow very much. We just don’t have the time right now, but some day down the road when things settle down, after the kids have been raised, after we retire, after all our obligations have been fulfilled, then we will make time for Christ. But the truth is, we do not have unlimited time, we have only this life, this small span of years to act upon the faith we have been given. We must listen carefully for that still small voice of God and not let the many conflicting voices of the world make our choices for us.

The most important part of this gospel is the invitation Jesus issues; “Let anyone with ears listen!” This parable is about perception and action, hearing and doing. As the sower Jesus scatters the seeds of his gospel far and wide. It may seem like a careless scattering, some falling on a footpath, some among thorn bushes, some on rocky ground, as well as some on good soil; but Jesus gives himself to all.  It is our response to the sowing which is important.

The seed of faith was planted in each one of us at our baptism. That seed is watered and nurtured by the words of Jesus found in scripture: love the Lord with your whole heart; love the person next to you as you love yourself; share in the poverty of the poor; follow the example of humility and obedience found in our mother Mary, and in Christ our saviour. No matter what type of work we do or the kind of life we live, we must always try to reflect our faithfulness to the covenant we have with God. If we hear and act upon His word then we will be amazed at how much grace can be produced in even the most inhospitable soil.

This world of ours is filled with people who have listened to the wrong voice and are engaged in a life in which they will find no lasting pleasure or purpose. They spend the only years that they are ever going to get in this world chasing after personal wealth and security; only to find out too late that all of it has turned to ashes because they have not addressed the great issues of faith and of human need, in themselves and in others.

We must listen to the simple message of this gospel and open our ears and our hearts to the seed that Jesus is sowing. If we do, we will hear the voice of God guiding us; and the seed that takes root in us, will produce a rich harvest of faith, hope and love, no matter what the soil is, no matter what the circumstances of our lives are.


The parable of the wheat and weeds in today’s gospel states very simply, something we all know very well. That good and evil live and grow together.  The just and unjust live side by side, sharing the same bus; residing in the same neighbourhood, sometimes even living under the same roof.  When evil first takes root in your life it can be very hard to recognize, at the beginning it can even look like something good. It is only after it reaches a certain stage that we begin to recognize its destructive nature.

By the time we recognize the evil it has become so entwined with the good things in our lives that to root it out is almost impossible. So, like the farmer in this parable, we may have to wait for some time before we can eliminate it; we may have to put up with some evil, in order to save what is good.  It is a risky move. Evil might, overpower the good.  But then again, the opposite might happen. The influence of good may cause a person to move away from the evil that has taken root in their lives.

If you have a friend who has made some bad choices, whose lifestyle goes against the Christian values and morals they grew up with, or is abusing drugs or alcohol in a way that is destructive to your friendship. How would you treat them? Would you condemn them, reject them, judge them as a sinner and have nothing more to do with them? Or would you walk with them, help them to see there are also good things in their life. Would you encourage and support them so that those good things can grow and not be destroyed by their destructive evil habits?
That is what Jesus does for us. He permits good and evil to live side-by-side in the hopes that we will eventually choose the good and reject the evil.  Yes, Jesus hates evil. He wants it rooted out more than we do. But think, where would we be if Jesus condemned us the first time we sinned? Jesus deals with our sinfulness shrewdly, with patience and perseverance. He will not destroy what is good with the bad. “Let them grow together,” insist Jesus. Give the good in each and every one of us time to grow. He is hoping that over time our faith and trust in God will help us reject whatever evil has taken root in our lives.

But don’t think that because Jesus appears so lenient, we are off the hook and can indulge in the evils that tempt us. We must never forget that there will come a day of Harvest, a day of Judgement when Jesus will separate the weeds from the wheat. He will make that final judgement between the good and the evil within his people.  I know is a truth that we do not want to be reminded of, and may have difficulty accepting.  But someday, we will be judged as to what our lives have produced, those who are mostly wheat will be gathered into heaven and those who are mostly weed will be burned in the fires of hell.

It sounds cruel, I know. It doesn’t jibe with all we have been taught about a compassionate and forgiving God. We don’t want to believe that some of us may end up living forever apart from God, while others will enjoy God forever. It doesn’t seem fair.  How could a loving God ever condemn one of his creation, no matter what sins they had committed. And so we cling to the hope that there will be some kind of second chance after we die. That somehow Jesus will know that I really did intend to do good, even though I allowed other things just got in the way.

But, as I said last week, we only have this short span of years to grow in faith. This parable tells reminds us that it is what we do, the decisions we make, and what we produce in this life, that determines our eternity – with God, or apart from God. The truth is that by our life choices, we choose the path to heaven or hell. Every single day, in everything we do and say, we decide whether we will live for God, or for ourselves.

Our problem is that we don’t think about the consequences of the choices we make.  We often choose exactly the opposite of what we know is good for us, or right for us to do. We already know what we need to do to have healthy relationships, yet we continue to act as though we have the right to do whatever we want to be happy, to feel good, to satisfy our desires, even if it means lying to and cheating on those who are closest to us.

We know the results of destructive actions, like drinking, taking drugs, watching pornography; yet we go right on doing those things anyway, giving ourselves all kinds of excuses to justify our behaviour. Every single Sunday we listen to the Gospel telling us to love our neighbour, to forgive others their trespasses and to treat those who are different with respect and dignity. Yet we continue to point fingers, gossip, malign and judge. We take great pleasure in pointing out the evil which has taken root in others, while making excuses for the evil that has taken root in us.

Lust, drugs, alcohol, greed, selfishness, indifference, envy, hatred, prejudice; all these seeds of evil have been planted and grow together with the good seeds of God’s Kingdom, faith, humility, obedience, love, hope, sacrifice, peace. All we have is this life, this short time to distinguish ourselves from the weeds, to show by our actions and our choices that we deserve to be gathered into the barns of heaven and not cast onto the fires of hell.

I have heard so many people say, “I may not practice everything the church teaches, I may have committed some serious sins, but deep inside I am a good person. Surely, God wouldn’t have the heart to keep me out of the kingdom.” But it is not enough just to believe in your own goodness, you must somehow demonstrate that goodness; not just to please yourself and win praise and admiration from others, but because you desire to please God and do what is right, not what is popular. If we do not live for God in this life, how can we expect to live with him for eternity?

My friends, one day there will be a final separation. We can go on making excuses and convincing ourselves that God will overlook our shortcomings, and fool ourselves into thinking all we have to do is desire to be good to get to heaven. Or we can take this gospel seriously and begin to produce good fruit even though some weeds will continue to grow.

The wheat and the weeds grow together in our lives. The day when God will separate the good from the bad, will come sooner than we want or expect. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Am I ready for the harvest?”

June, 2017:


It had been ten long days since Jesus had ascended into heaven that the angel had told the apostles to go back to Jerusalem and wait. They did not know what exactly they were waiting for, or when it would come, or what it was they were going to receive. It must have seemed like an eternity, to wait for this gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised to them.

Then it happened. In the midst of the sound of a rushing wind, and with tongues of fire dancing on their heads, the disciples received what Jesus promised them. They were suddenly able to speak a myriad of foreign languages so proficiently that people from the far reaches of the Roman Empire were able to understand them. They spoke of the mighty acts of God, and of what God had done in the Messiah Jesus Christ. It was a strange and amazing miracle. It is no wonder that many who were gathered in Jerusalem that day came to the conclusion that these people must be drunk! But, in fact, they had received the promised Holy Spirit. It truly must have been an extraordinary event.

Now, if your life is anything like mine, you have probably never experienced anything even remotely resembling the events of that first Pentecost. But, that does not mean that the spirit of Pentecost is no longer at work. Pentecost is happening right here, right now, in this place … again and again and again. True there is no rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no speaking in foreign languages that we have never heard or studied. But It is happening.

We can begin to see how, with the help of today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Life was very tumultuous in this troubled faith community of Corinth and much of what they faced we still face today. Life in the church always has been and always will be messy. That because our parish communities are continually threatened by a world that promises to overwhelm them. The divisions, hierarchies, pecking orders, status seeking, bickering, and conflict that are so much a part of our secular world always threaten to slowly seep into the life of the church and turn it into a club that is no different from the clubs and volunteer organizations that fill our society. That certainly was a problem in Corinth. That congregation seemed to be perpetually fractured and squabbling over issues of worship and membership. Factions and cliques were constantly forming around particular leaders or particular issues that were often at odds with one another.

Everyone thought that their way was the best way or the preferred way or the only way to worship. In Corinth, there were those who believed that if you could not speak in tongues or prophesy, there was something wrong with you. There were those who used their wealth to flaunt their status over others at the communion table. As a result, the congregation was fractured and conflicted. Life in the Corinthian church truly was anything but orderly, gracious, or polite.

I have seen many parishes struggle with these same issues. We like to think that our parish welcomes everyone, that we make everyone feel like they belong, but sometimes it looks as if some are more welcome than others, and some belong more than others. If you are from a certain ethnic background, or a belong to a prayer group, or live in a certain neighbourhood, or give a certain amount of money, you may feel you belong more than others, that your voice, your opinion, your vote counts more than others.

At a previous parish, a wealthy and influential member of the congregation requested a private meeting with me about how the parish was being run. At that meeting he informed me that, because of his status, and the amount of his donations, his believed that his opinion ought to count more than others who gave less. Then he threatened to withhold his contributions to the parish until certain changes were made to his liking.

Attitudes like that can be very damaging to the life of a parish community as well as to the very faith that holds our Church together. As a pastor I must be careful not to succumb to the pressure or the temptation that some members count more than others. That is not always easy to do. In our capitalistic, bottom line, market driven, materialistic world, it is all too easy to let money, the promise of getting more of it, or the threat of losing some of it, be the glue that holds a faith community together. When there is a church roof to repair, or a much need parish hall to build, it is hard not to let faith in money matter more than faith in God.

Paul reminds the Corinthians, and us, that we cease to be the church when we allow our life to be corrupted in this way. In the church it is not money or power or prestige that defines us. It is Jesus Christ. It is his promising presence among us and our trust in that promise that binds us together. We are all here by the grace of God. We are all beggars. We are all here on our knees, knowing that we don’t deserve a thing, yet with our hands outstretched trusting that God will mercifully bless us and forgive us. No one can claim greater rights, greater influence, or greater power because they have more, money, more status, more political influence than everybody else. That we believe at all, that we dare to call ourselves the very sons and daughters of God and can claim a place among his holy people is not the result of anything we have. It is all because of what God has done for us in Christ and because of what Christ has given to us through the Holy Spirit.

We must be careful not to turn our church into a club where we keep score to see who is more deserving, or praying harder, or giving more. As a pastor I know that this church does not depend on me, not on my charisma, or the eloquence of my homily, or the beauty of the mass, or the angelic voices of the choir.  People may be drawn to a particular parish because of the attractiveness of the pastor or the service, but they stay because of the attractiveness of Christ and his promise. They come because they have been moved by the power of the Holy Spirit. You may think that your being here today is the result of plans, decisions, and commitments that you may have made, but at the very heart of our faith is the miracle of the Holy Spirit who calls us, gathers us, and enlightens us. That means every single Sunday is Pentecost Sunday.

Whether people come to church or not, is not dependent upon my ability to entice them. It’s not up to me to push the right buttons, to say the right words, and to create the right appearance. It is not about the Parish Priest getting the credit when they come or the blame when they don’t. My job is simply to proclaim the good news of what God has done in Christ through the power of his Spirit, just like Peter and those first disciples did at the first Pentecost. When I do, God has promised that there will be Pentecost again. If and when people respond, it is the work of God’s Spirit and not mine.

That is indeed good news. That is truly liberating news. Nobodies arm needs to be twisted. No threats need to be issued. There is no need to make people feel guilty. Instead, people are free to respond because they want to, because they are called by the Holy to carry Christ and his love to the world. The Holy Spirit will help them to speak the language of that love to a myriad of cultures, worldviews, values, and perspectives, just like the disciples who spoke in so many different languages on that first Pentecost.

Let us listen for the Holy Spirit calling us to go forth and set the world on fire with the love of Christ. Let us make it be Pentecost again!


Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity provide us with model of how we the church should act out our baptismal mission. Each of the three persons of the Trinity provides a way for us to witness to our faith. Through them we are called to become a watchful church; a witnessing church; and a serving church.

It is God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, who calls us to be a watchful church. We should be actively looking at and listen to the world around us. If we look carefully we will see that the tremendous and rapid changes of the last few years is causing one of the greatest transformations in the history of the world. Look at the list of our achievements since WWII: nuclear power, intercontinental missiles, space travel, the internet, wireless communications, genetic engineering and nano technology. Whether we like them or hate them, these developments are now producing massive changes in every part of society, and not all of those changes are good.

Most of the time, we take these changes for granted, we don’t assess their impact, or look at the direction these rapid innovations are leading us. And when they are used for harmful and destructive purposes, we would rather not look at what is happening around us. It can lead to fear and despair and the belief that God has abandoned his creation. But he hasn’t. God still watches over his people. God sees the tensions and fears that assail us. He has not closed his eyes on the world, we have. But there is hope here if we look for it. Faith still thrives in times of upheaval and uncertainty, through those bring their faith to bear on their work in areas of conflict and destruction. If we paid closer attention we would see that God’s presence is still active in our world.  God has not given up, and neither should we. We must be a watchful church and look for ways to promote hope and peace, politically, socially, economically and spiritually.

The constant negativity of our political leaders and endless tragedies that are occur from violence and natural disasters can have a cumulative effect on us. The overriding image of the media presents the world around us as a conflicting mass of economic, cultural, religious and social concerns; obviously much too large a challenge for any one of us to deal with alone. Overwhelmed by the larger problems we fail to see the individual soul who is so near to us; the single human being at our doorstep, who is in need.

Jesus had the ability to zero in on the one struggling person in the tumult of human upheaval. As he moved about in crowds that followed him, Jesus was always looking for the one lost soul. And when he saw a such a person he reached to comfort and to heal. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity calls us to be like him. He calls us to be a witnessing church, one which is not so caught up in the problems of the world, that it fails to see the lost person in the crowd, who needs to hear about the comfort and healing of Christ.

When we go out into the world, Jesus sends us with something to say. It is more than a word of human encouragement. It is more than an assessment or judgment of the situation. It is more than a mix of religious doctrine and law. Jesus sends us out to witness to the good news of salvation. He sends us out with the gospel which points to him and to the comfort and aide only he can give.

The Gospel of Christ speaks to every lost soul. It speaks to every individual. It zeroes in on every human and spiritual need we have. The second person of the Trinity proclaims that no matter what suffering we find ourselves in, we do not stand alone. Jesus himself is suffering with us. In the Gospel there is always hope. Hope in Christ who was raised up from the dead and is bringing the course of our lives toward a glorious destiny, one in which we have good reason to hope.

As the witnessing church we have a mandate to witness to the world, to bring the comfort and healing we have experienced through our victorious Savior. But we hesitate to do so. It is often a difficult thing for us Christians to stand before others and say that we follow Christ. It is can be awkward for us to share the promising hope of Jesus Christ with others. That has certainly been true in my life, and I know it’s sometimes true in yours. We hem and haw when it comes to being a witnessing church! We do it because we lack confidence, we feel we do not know Christ well enough ourselves. To fulfill the role of a witnessing church we must get to know Christ more personally. We must allow his word, his message and his hope dwell in our hearts more fully. We must ask him to transform us into the kind of witness this world needs.

And that is where the third person of the Trinity comes in. After watching with God the Father, and witnessing with God the Son, we are inspired and strengthened to serve by God the Spirit. The concept of being a servant is strange to most of us. We have adopted a life-style which has trained us to be served. Our affluence and reliance on material goods makes it pretty hard to take sacrificial service seriously. We despise the servant’s role and to take it more seriously will require a shift of mind and attitude.

We must ask the Holy Spirit to come and accomplish this in us. It is the Holy Spirit that confirms our beliefs and inspires our actions of service. Authentic servanthood is what the Spirit brings, and if the world is to listen to the witness of the church in our day, it will be because that witness is not just a confession of faith, it is an active faith filled authentic witness of service and to others. It is giving yourself, your time, and your treasure in concrete ways that express the presence of God and love of Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit for help in recommitting your life so that you live in the world as a servant to others – helping, sacrificing, suffering, and living for those who are in need. Thus we will become the serving church.

My friends, the first step towards becoming a church that is living out, and not merely teaching the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, takes place right here in the way we worship as a church. We will fail to reflect the divine life of the Trinity, if we fail in our worship. We will not be a watchful, witnessing and serving church if we are not a vitally worshipping church. We need the joyful fellowship and spiritual strength of one another’s presence, in prayer and in song. That will help to carry our church outside the walls of this Cathedral.

In both the Old and New Testaments worship was usually a feast, a celebration, a joyful gathering. But for us modern Christians, it doesn’t always come off that way. Is it because the hymns and the liturgy have become irrelevant for our time? I don’t think so. If the worship of God has become dreary and dull for us, it is because we have set our minds on other things. Our concentration is not centred on God, but around other personal and often selfish goals. Our energy is spent in receiving and taking, not in giving and serving.

We have become spectators. We watch the actions of the priest, we listen to the choir and barely whisper our responses when invited. So few are actually engaged in the act of worship. We must be more active in our worship, calling upon the grace and mercy of God our father, giving thanks to our God the Son who feeds in the Eucharist, and responding to inspiration of the God the Holy Spirit. Only then will we become the watching, witnessing and serving church the Trinity calls us to be.


As a priest was leaving the grocery store with some supplies for his evening meal, he noticed a woman in her car trying to back out of a narrow parking spot. He set his bag down on the pavement and got the woman’s attention by waving his hands. He then proceeded with dramatic arm gestures and directions to assist the woman in backing her car out of the spot. Feeling quite smug and self–satisfied for his good deed he picked up his bag and strode over to the car where the woman had opened her window and was motioning to him. He leaned down into the car about to introduce himself and the woman said, “Father, that was thoughtful and all, but the truth is that I was trying to get in to that parking space, not out of it.”

There are times in life when we arrive on the scene, thinking we know what’s going on around us. We are clear in our minds that we have this situation well in hand and that we are able to take charge and manage it. Then reality steps in and disabuses us of all the illusions we may have. We find that not only are we out of touch with what’s happening, we may even have upset the apple cart, because we were clueless as to what is really going on.

Today’s gospel is directed to just such clueless people. We go about our business, doing our level best to be good Christians. As we practice our faith we think we are doing what is right, advisable, practical. We work hard at building a what we think is the ideal Christian community: creating a nice pleasing and functional place to worship, a place where people are accepted and welcomed for who they are, and where everyone works together to what needs to be done.

Isn’t that what we all have in mind as the ideal parish? But sadly it is not the case in many of our Christian communities. We are often disappointed and disillusioned when, no matter how hard we try, we fail to fully realize this ideal. The truth of the situation is quite different from what we thought. I have watched people storm out of church, angry over the way mass was being celebrated, or the type of sacred music the choir was singing, or the content of the sermon the priest delivered. Many of us who come up against the reality of the way our Church functions are shocked to find just how much influence, money, politics and social status have upon the way our faith communities are formed.

It’s difficult to escape that pervasive myth that Christians are nice people living in a nice community, trying to be nice to everyone. Perhaps that is why today’s gospel sounds a bit jarring, a bit harsh, to us who believe we are living in an ideal Christianity community. This Gospel reading is difficult for us to avoid. Its stark reality is staring us in the face. Our lovable, gentle, huggable Jesus has the audacity to stand there and tell us that our faith may give us cause to be afraid, that all our secrets will be revealed, that no matter how nice we are, some will try to destroy our body and our soul, that the only thing we can do is to trust in him, and if we don’t, he himself will deny us before God in heaven. This is not the Jesus we think we know. It’s easy to see why a lot of us would just rather remain clueless than face the reality this gospel presents.

Yet, if we truly want to grow in faith this scripture is important – perhaps even critical to building our “personal relationship” with Jesus. Its challenges our perception of a loving one–sided, one–dimensional Jesus building for us. a nice comfortable and easy Christian community. There is much more going on here than meets the eye. We have to think more deeply on who Jesus is, and what exactly it is that he has called us to be. Jesus is describing what will befall us if we live his gospel as well as what he will do if we continue to ignore the true path of faith.

Being Christian is not just about being nice, it is also about being faithful in following what Jesus has taught. Think about it. If we truly followed the Gospel of Jesus, what would happen to us, how would people see us? What if we gave a substantial portion of our material goods to the poor; what if we brought homeless men and women into our own homes; what if we actually made an effort to love our enemies and to pray for those who abused us; what if we really worked at living out these teachings; what would happen, how would the world around us react?

If we truly and authentically follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, we would be in opposition to much of what the world sees as normal and acceptable. Imagine your family’s reaction if you emptied you bank account and went to live in poverty with a Franciscan order? Imagine if your friends dropped in to visit you and you had fifteen or twenty homeless people laid out in sleeping bags in your living room? Imagine what your co-workers would say if you invited your worst enemy from the office, the one who constantly runs you down and spreads unflattering gossip about you – over for dinner? I doubt any of these actions would be met with overwhelming approval.

Contrary to what some Christians believe, following the Christian life is not a ticket to personal well–being and prosperity. It’s not simply praying and going to mass in an effort to make ourselves holy. In fact, it’s quite the reverse. It’s about giving your life over to following the teachings of Jesus Christ and living for others. It will cause discord and division. It is likely that some people will be unhappy with your choices, some may even hate you and threaten violence. And we can rest assured that if we followed the will of God, like Jesus did, before us – we will be labelled a troublemaker.

This gospel has opened our eyes to the consequences of faithful Christian living; so what do we do now? Do we ignore it and slip comfortably back into a nice guy Jesus and a comfortable easy Christian witness? Do we remain in our nice Christian cocoon and turn away from the conflict and unpleasantness of faithful discipleship? Do we continue to promote a Church that – in all honesty – sometimes resembles a religious social club more than a community of Christians redeemed by Christ? What do we do?

Each individual soul here must make their own decisions as to how they will follow Jesus. But whatever we do, let us open our eyes to what is really asked of us as Disciples of Christ. Let us not remain clueless and just go on with business as usual, ignoring or downplaying the mission we were given at our baptism. Let us work at making our faith commitment, to our Church and to our community, flow from the teachings of our Lord and Saviour. Let’s try to take a bold and courageous step forward on our journey with Christ.

Maybe we will reach out more to the hungry and homeless, the imprisoned and the lonely, the elderly or the unborn. But at the very least we should look more closely at the blank, faceless congregation around us, and see that these women, children, and men we worship also have life stories, with hopes and dreams of their own, and that together we have much more to offer in making this church more than a safe comfortable place to pray. Yes, we may incur the displeasure of some. But we will be walking on the path of faithful witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

We must witness to our faith in such a way that it creates a new vision and a new hope. We must lift up the Gospel message so that it shines in wholeness and healing. Let us not be clueless Christians, giving wrong directions. Instead, let us grow in faithfulness, and live as Christ has taught us.

May, 2017:


Have you ever felt overpowered by life? Up against what seems to be impossible odds? Depressed? Hopeless and helpless? What do we do when life bullies us into a corner? Where do we turn when trouble trips us up? Our faith tells us that the resurrected Christ, the one who has triumphed over the cross and the grave, the one who stands eternal before the throne of our heavenly Father will help us. In fact, in today’s gospel Jesus makes an astounding promise to all who feel lost and abandoned. He says, “I will not leave you as orphans.”

Orphans is a word we don’t hear very often, or use much any more. It’s not a popular word. In fact, we try to avoid the fact that orphans even exist. And yet, it is estimated that the many conflicts and natural disasters occurring around the world today have left as many as 1.5 million children orphaned. Just think — one point five million children left without anyone to care for them.

But it isn’t just children who are orphans. There are countless others who also feel abandoned, who are left alone without help, or guidance or comfort. They also feel like orphans. Like the 55-year-old employee who is laid off with no prospect of another job. Considered to be past his prime and too old for re-training, he can feel abandoned and alone. Unemployed and living off life savings that will soon run out; what does Christ’s promise, “I will not leave you as orphans” mean to him?

Or the Ninety-year-old woman, living alone in a nursing home after sixty-five years of marriage? Without her spouse she has nothing but the television for company. Her children said the house she lived in was too big for her, and because they lived in different towns and have hectic lives of their own, they put her in a home where she would be looked after. What does Christ’s promise, “I will not leave you as orphans” mean to her?

Or the drug addicted young man, whose errant lifestyle has brought shame on his family and driven his friends away. His body is slowly deteriorating from the effects of his addiction. He lives alone in pain and suffering, looking for the next fix, the next high that allows him to escape into nothingness. For him and for the millions of others throughout the world who suffer with addictions, what does Christ’s promise, “I will not leave you as orphans” mean to them?

It may be the teenager who is different from the rest, the wife whose spouse has left her, the businessman whose business is failing, or the parent whose child has rebelled and left home. Or any of the countless others in the world around us who feel alone and without hope, rejected and abandoned. To all these Christ brings the good news, “I will not leave you as orphans.”

The last supper is the setting of this gospel promise. Jesus sits at table with the disciples in the upper room. The candles of the Passover meal have nearly burned out and it is time to go. One disciple has already fled the gathering, and his betrayal of Jesus will be a shock to all of them. Another disciple’s denial is predicted and the pain of the cross awaits them all. And in the midst of this uncertain gathering, Jesus reaches out to them in love saying; “I will not leave you as orphans. I am coming to you. In just a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

Jesus promised that he will never abandon us. He sends the Holy Spirit to us as a counsellor, an advocate, a comforter, a friend. This Spirit will care for us, offer us hope when there is none to be found, give us strength when we are helpless, console us and give us life, even in the face of death. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in our lives and the promise of hope to all who feel abandoned.

But the measure of comfort and hope that we receive depends on us. We have a part to play in realizing Christ’s promise. The Holy Spirit that brings us comfort and strength, also sends us forth as messengers of God’s love to the poor, the unemployed, the young and the elderly, the sick and rejected, the unhappy and the sorrowful, the lonely and the dying. We are the ones who carry Christ’s promise, “I will not leave you as orphans” to all those who feel abandoned. We are the ones whom God entrusts with the good news and are sent forth to bring his message of love to others.

It is hard to bring that message of love to others when we feel abandoned and alone ourselves.  But Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” What he is telling us is that if our faith is strong, if we truly love him we can’t help but bring his message of love to others, even if we ourselves are broken and hurting. In his great love for us, Jesus promises us help. He promises us the Holy Spirit, the one whose presence will comfort us. But the Spirit cannot be hoarded for our own personal use. For it to accomplish the comfort and peace it promises, it must be shared.

Where there is no love, there is no comfort. For all too many of us, our Christian faith is centred eighteen inches too high, for that is the distance between our head and our heart, between knowing about God and knowing God, between understanding the presence of God and living it.

Ideas are powerful things. But an idea has no power to heal a broken heart. An idea cannot take away the pain of heartache or fill the void of a loss. An idea can bring no comfort in the face of tragedy or peace in the wake of death. An idea is no substitute for experiencing the love of Jesus Christ, and sharing that love with others who are in as desperate need of it as we are. When Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will not abandon you, you will have my love to strengthen you.” he expects us to work with him in fulfilling that promise.

One of the most famous of all the English poets was a woman by the name of Elizabeth Barrett, an invalid for many years, her illness was so severe that she could not even raise her head from her pillow. One day, she was visited by a man by the name of Robert Browning, who had come to meet the author of the poetry that had inspired him so. After his first visit, an amazing thing happened. He left Elizabeth with such joy and happiness that she was able to lift her head. On his second visit, she sat up in bed. And on their third, they eloped and were married. Today she is known as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the greatest of all of the English love poets.

Such is the power of love. It has the power to heal. It has the power to make well. It has the power to lift drooping heads and fill empty hearts. No wonder people were healed just by coming into the loving presence of Jesus. If we believe that Jesus is God’s love incarnate, God’s love in the flesh, then we are bound by our faith to help people find the healing they need by being the presence of Christ for them. Sharing his love will heal the broken heart, fill the emptiness of loss, comfort the lonely and strengthen the weak.

We have God the Father who loves us. We have a loving Saviour who triumphed over death. We have the Holy Spirit, who brings faith to life. If we share what we have with each other we will never feel “orphaned,” for we will have the peace and understanding that comes from centring our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


The church, that we belong to has taken some hard knocks both from friends within and foes without, and attitudes toward the church can range from chilly indifference to arrogant cynicism. All kinds of people have condemned it for its navel-gazing, and its lack of concern for the world. T. S. Eliot once described the church as a “fat hippopotamus resting on its belly in the mud.” It’s true, because the church is a human institution, it can sometimes appear foolish. But thanks to the Holy Spirit which guides it, it is still seeking new ways to fulfill its mission in a world that is constantly changing. God continues to call the Church from the world, forms it into the institution we know, and then sends it back into the world.

This is the great commission described in our gospel for this Ascension Sunday. The trouble is we modern Christians have lopped off the last part of the formula. Some of us think that God calls people from the world into the church, period. Once we capture these Churchgoers, we tend to make the church a place where they can escape from the world; or we make rules and laws to keep them in line, and never allow them to grow emotionally, spiritually or intellectually. As one parishioner once told me. “It’s the business of the Church to tell us how we should act, what we should, and how we can avoid being contaminated by the world.”

But when we immerse ourselves completely in the activities of the institutional church, when we pull away from the world, or refuse to enter it in the first place, we are working against the mission Jesus gave us. We can become so preoccupied with the institution that all our energy goes into building a big beautiful building to show our importance; creating impressive liturgical ceremonies to feed our personal spirituality; and soliciting bigger and better donations to create parish programs that fulfill our social and recreational needs. We become so enamoured with the institution that we pull out of the world, or in fear, use the Church to hide. When we do this we and never hear, with our heart, the Great Commission. Liturgical style, large donations, big congregations, these criteria have become the guidelines for defining a “successful church.” And when this happens, we miss the point of today’s gospel and the commission of Christ to his disciples. It gets lost in the shuffle, gets buried in institutional paraphernalia, busyness, popularity, trivia.

We have come through an extensive restoration of this Cathedral. It is indeed very beautiful, a wonderful sign of the presence of the Church in our city and in our world, we were blessed with large donations which helped us achieve our goal, more than 5000 people walk through these doors every Sunday. But we cannot sit here gazing at the wonderful thing we have accomplished, as if we have reached our goal, and all we have to now is enjoy it. The Cathedral has changed, but this great change we have gone through is meant to inspire an even bigger change in the hearts, minds, and purpose of God’s people.

As the work of restoring this Cathedral building nears completion, we now must take up the great commission and take the joy, grace and strength that we receive here out into the world. The beauty of this place is meant to inspire us to become more actively involved in the world to which God sent Jesus.  A congregation that only exists to serve its own needs, which no longer moves out into world with the Spirit of Christ, is dead.

When Christ calls us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” he insists that we invade every sphere of life. We begin with our own families, and then we extend the reach of faith into the realms of politics, economics, environment, and recreation. We Christians have no options, even though we like to think that we do. We think we can refuse to be witnesses for our Lord and decline to testify for Christ because we don’t want to incriminate ourselves. We too afraid of what people might think if they find out we are involved with the Kingdom of God and the Cross of Christ.”

Unfortunately, instead of turning outward and spreading the good news of the gospel in the world, we often engaged in a kind of revers-evangelism. We turn inward and demanded that the church cater to our whims, agree with our ideas, change its values so that it is easier for us to live in the world. And when that doesn’t happen, we quit outright, or limit our contributions, or become Christmas-Easter Catholics. We give God the leftovers after indulging ourselves in all the material goods this world can offer. We ignore our opportunities to be an effective witness. We criticize everything that we don’t like; or by doing the minimum Sunday obligation we think we have fulfilled our responsibility to Christ. And when Christ calls us to leave our comfortable pews and take what we have received back into the world, we refuse.

This Cathedral is not the final destination of faith, it is a pit stop, a refuelling station where we get the grace and strength we need to go where God calls us. As a congregation, and as an individual Christians we must accept this Great Commission to go out into the world with the message of Christ in out hearts and on our lips. Each and every one of us here, no matter their station or status, have many opportunities to witness to the gospel of Christ. As a congregation, and as an individual Christian we must be willing to use our social, financial, and political resources to show that we are just as concerned about the world out there, as we are about ourselves in here?

Today’s gospel makes us ask some pretty tough questions. Would it hurt me to sacrifice some of my personal comforts to help the millions of poor who spend their entire lives in the cold and dark? How much do I care about those in the world, who have no immediate relation to Christ and the church? Do I care about the lonely, frightened people around us who cover up their loneliness and fear by trying to possess everything that money can buy? Would it ruin my social status or reputation to let my neighbours know that the church has top priority in my life? Am I willing to share the Good News with people with whom I play cards, go on picnics, attend movies, have barbecues, and talk about everything under the sun, except my friendship with Christ?

Am I willing to “go into the world” in this sense? Our neighbours may never know that “God cared enough to send them the very best,” unless we demonstrate by word and deed, that we care enough to be the very best that God sends. We learn how to care and to show compassion, only if we are willing to expose ourselves to each other in some degree of depth. We will never learn to care by sitting in a church pew saying our private novenas while throwing rocks at those who don’t. We will never have compassion for those in need unless we are willing to offer compassion to Christian, Muslim Buddhist or atheist, with no strings attached.

Our role as Christians is not to criticize, castigate, attack or condemn, but to console, comfort, collaborate, and counsel. When we accept Christ’s mission as ours, and allow Christ’s mission to work through us, then, we begin to understand that this great commission to “go and make disciples of all nations,” is rooted in our deepest relationship of love for Christ and for his people.

April, 2017:


A significant percentage of the people gathered here today are involved in matters of life and death. For some, it comes with their profession. They are doctors, fire fighters, police officers, members of the military, and they deal with matters of life and death every week. For most of us, however, the experience is not professional, but personal. The young couple that is eagerly expecting a new life in their home. The middle-aged woman who is watching her elderly mother die gradually. The parents who child is in rehab painfully reclaiming his broken life. The husband and father whose wife succumbs to breast cancer.

There is probably some one here who has recently received a diagnosis that has made them face their own mortality. There is probably a widow here who is remembering her wedding anniversary and the life she shared with her late husband. On any given Sunday morning, there are a lot of people in our pews who are dealing with matters of life and death. And that burden can be overwhelming for many of them.

Some will try to anesthetize themselves to the pain in unhealthy and even self-destructive ways. Others will simply seek every manner of distraction in order to avoid their troubles. But many simply do not know where to turn in the midst of their fear and their grief. Their faith seems to have failed them, and death leaves in its place stilled tongues and tear-stained cheeks.

Fear of death can make life a prison. You can’t see the walls. You can’t see the locks, but you can see the prisoners. You can see them every day all around us as they slip through life, hoarding all they can get for themselves, grabbing for more and looking for meaning in material things that are empty. They are imprisoned by fear and hiding from life. Death is like a ball and chain tied to our leg. We try to run from it, but its weight is too heavy. It slows us down. We try to pick it up and carry it, but its burden is too great. We try to ignore it, but it always rears it head up when we least expect it. The loss of a loved one or a sudden illness reminds us that life is indeed very short.

We see this very thing happening in our gospel today. In the home of Mary and Martha people shuffled about aimlessly, wailing and crying, their faces downcast, their eyes dulled by death. There was no laughter on their lips, no music or singing, only the grief that reminded them of their loss. Another prisoner of sickness had been visited by the jailer of death. Another person caught in death’s icy grip had been taken from them. Lazarus had died and was gone.

Mary and Martha had to face death. Their brother, Lazarus, had been seriously ill. This family were Jesus’ closest friends, so they sent for him. Having witnessed his healing power, they felt their brother would be in no danger if Jesus were near. So, counting on his friendship and his love for them they asked Jesus to come. We can appreciate those feelings, can’t we? Who hasn’t called upon the Lord in time of trouble? Who hasn’t thought, “If only God would help.”

But Jesus didn’t come in time. In fact, he even seems to ignore the sisters request. By the time he made it to Bethany, Lazarus was already four days buried. When Martha heard he was approaching town, she storms out to meet him. “Lord, if you’d only been here.” If you’d only come sooner, “my brother would not have died.” There is hurt in those words. Hurt and anger and disappointment. The one person who could have made a difference, didn’t. Martha was wondering what kind of friend Jesus was. She wants to know why he abandoned them in their need.

Perhaps we’ve done what Martha did — called upon the Lord for healing; asked God for help and looked for Jesus to come. We can understand Martha’s expectations, can’t we? Surely he will come, surely he will help. Haven’t I been faithful to him? Haven’t I worshipped him all these years? He aided the paralytic, he cured the leper, he gave sight to the blind, and they hardly knew him. Surely he will come to me. Surely he will help me.

But Jesus didn’t come and Lazarus got worse. Martha and Mary were left to watch Lazarus slipped into unconsciousness, getting dangerously weaker and weaker. I can imagine Martha whispering in his ear, “Hold on. Hold on. He will come. He will be here soon.” But Jesus didn’t come. He didn’t help. And finally, Lazarus died. Now, four days to late, Jesus arrives and Martha is hurt.

We know how she felt, for her words are our words. They have been echoed in the minds of countless people as they make their way to the grave side. “If only God had been here. If only Jesus had answered my prayers … my brother, my husband, my wife, my child, would have gotten well. If you did your part, God, none of this would have happened. If you only answered me Jesus, I wouldn’t be hurting like this.”

Like the story today of Mary and Martha, death can reveal our view of God. When we come face to face with death, our view of God is challenged and we are forced to look deep within, to examine our faith. When we face death, we are forced to ask, “Where is God?”  We think that when a person is not healed, God has abandoned us. We interpret the presence of death, disabilities and grave illness with the absence of God. We think God doesn’t care.

But that isn’t true. When Martha rushes out to see Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again.” She thinks he is talking about the resurrection on the last day. So Jesus has to clarify for her. He says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Illness and Death has never stood in the way of God. God is present even in the presence of death.

Standing there before the grave of Lazarus, Jesus wept. He shed tears of sadness for the pain that Mary and Martha felt and he weeps tears for every family who has to stand at the grave of a loved one. But he also sheds tears of frustration because we so often fail to see beyond the grave, we refuse to hear his words of comfort and peace, and we think that death is the final word. To prove that isn’t so, Jesus cries out, “Lazarus, come out,” Lazarus heard his name. His eyes opened and his life returned. And rising from the grave, he came forth alive and well. Death cannot triumph where Jesus is present. God has the last word.

God wanted them to know and God wants us to know. Death never triumphs when Jesus is present. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” So where Jesus is present, there is life. Where Jesus is present, we are set free. The keys to our prison of fear are in Jesus’ hand. Where Jesus is present, there is no need to fear. Death has no power over us. Our faith in Christ Jesus sets us free.

Jesus is always with us, even in our darkest, deepest need. We should not fear death. We should not hide behind closed doors. For we have a friend who has come to help. We have a Saviour who can rescue us from the grave. Jesus has unlocked the prison of death. And where he is, there is life!


As Jesus hung on the cross they tack a sarcastic sign over his head saying, “King of the Jews.” Three sets of people took turns mocking him: the religious leaders say, “He saved others; let him save himself!” The soldiers chide, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the criminals crucified with him says, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Why didn’t Jesus save himself? He fed 5,000 people with a few fish and some scraps of bread. He walked on water. He healed a blind man with a bit of mud. He even raised his friend from the dead! So why did Jesus allow himself to be crucified? Why didn’t he do something? Why didn’t he show those who mocked them just how powerful he was? Jesus’s prayer from the cross should have been, “Smite them, O God, as you did your enemies of old.” Instead we get: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

We don’t truly understand the cross because, for the most part, we are people living without hope, and we lack the courage to take a long look at anything that speaks of sacrifice, including the cross. We expect life to be like the half-hour sit-coms we watch on TV, where a problem is introduced and resolved in the span of thirty minutes. Our modern response to the cross is remarkably similar to those who mocked Jesus. We refuse to spend any of our precious time reflecting on why Christ hung on that cross, or what it means for us. We turn away. We gravitate more towards Easter Sunday than Good Friday. We want resolutions that make us happy. We want a risen Jesus not a crucified one.

Years ago we sent missionaries to the far, dark reaches of the world to share the gospel. But the trend has reversed. Now those far, dark reaches of the world are sending Christian missionaries to us. Why? Because the cross, the sign of Jesus’ sacrificial dying on behalf of others, has been lost for many secure, wealthy North American Christians. But in those developing nations that struggle with widespread poverty and suffering, the message of the cross is very real.

The voices of those who mocked Jesus on the cross all shouted, “Save yourself!” Show us some power, some fireworks, some glitter.” They cannot imagine that the cross means anything other than death. They don’t look long enough at the cross to take it seriously for their lives. They give it a sideways glance and shake their heads in common derision.

But one man does take a good long look. He senses the mysterious paradox in the death of this innocent man who “has done nothing wrong.” He looks at Jesus hanging there; powerless, humiliated, and silent before his tormentors. That man, a criminal, saw something in Jesus that the others didn’t. “Remember me,” he said. “Remember me.” He didn’t say, “Save me.” He didn’t say, “Get me out of this, will you?” He just wanted to be remembered. To have Jesus recall his life. That is precisely what Jesus asks of us. To take a long look at his cross and not turn away. To remember him.

Yes, it would be easier to have a God who rescues us from all our humiliation, pain, and suffering. Instead, we have a God who invites us to look long and hard at the cross on which his Son died. An occasional glance is not enough. By taking a long look at the cross we share with Jesus our own crucifying moments and we gain courage and hope by slowly drinking in the life that is Jesus.

Many, years ago, on Calvary, mocking voices rang out. “Come down from the cross. Save yourself and us!” But by staying there, he has.


After opening yourself up and becoming vulnerable to another person, to have them abuse the trust you placed in them by betraying you, can cause more pain than if that person had physically beaten you. If a person who claims to love you, then turns around and hurts you deeply, you would probably do what most of us would do in that situation — you hurt them back.

Certainly, you wouldn’t choose to spend your last night alive with that person. Especially if you knew that his betrayal was going to lead to your death, a death you didn’t deserve. You wouldn’t invite him to share your last meal or treat him with the same love and compassion that you have for all the other guests at your table. You wouldn’t get down on your hands and knees and wash his feet. Certainly, you wouldn’t give yourself, your very body and blood, to him. But that is exactly what Jesus did with Judas.

The chief priests had paid Judas thirty pieces of silver to spy on Jesus and let them know just the right moment to betray him. No doubt, that’s what he was doing in that upper room, as Jesus offered the bread, his body, and the wine, his blood, to all of them. Holding the silver coins in one hand and the body and the blood of Christ in the other, Judas chose to betray Jesus.

It’s hard to believe that Judas could have participated in the foot washing and in Jesus’ last meal, with the other disciples, and still turn him in to the Chief Priests. What’s even more amazing is that Jesus himself knew that Judas was planning to have him arrested and killed, and still he washed his feet and gave himself to him.

Why didn’t Jesus dismiss Judas at the beginning of the meal? Why did he allow him to share in such an intimate time with his closest friends? Judas seems had defiled this holy moment. If Jesus knew what he was doing why didn’t he asked him to leave earlier, so that he would have been excluded from the loving exchange of his body and blood with his true followers?  But, for whatever reason, Jesus intentionally chose to include Judas.

As the story unfolds, of course, we learn that Judas isn’t the only person who will betray Jesus.  When Jesus is arrested, Peter denies even knowing him. One by one, all the disciples fall away from him and after Jesus is crucified, they all hide out for fear of being recognized as his followers. Not only did Jesus share his last supper with the one who sold him out to his enemies, he shared his last supper with all who would deny knowing him. Even though he knew what each of them would do to him, he still loved every one of them enough to wash their feet, and give them his body and blood.

And he loves us in the same way. Even when we feel that we have no right to receive him at this altar because our faith is not strong enough or sure enough, Jesus still offers himself to us. Even when all we do is talk about defending the cause of the poor and oppressed, but don’t do very much about it, Jesus still offers himself to us.

Even when we feel like an outsider because we do not feel the presence of God in our lives or at this table. Even when we are supposed to be in an attitude of prayer, but are constantly looking at our watch and wondering how long this homily, or that song, or that procession will take. Even when our mind wanders and all we are thinking about is how to get out in time to beat the traffic or get a seat at our favourite lunch spot. Jesus still offers himself to us.

Jesus loves us enough to offer his body and blood, to all those who sometimes fall short in loving him. Just as he did not turn anyone away from the that Last supper where the Eucharist was born, he does not turn anyone away from this altar. Even if we feel like Judas holding thirty pieces of silver in one hand, Jesus still gives his body and blood to be taken in the other hand. But as freely as this gift is given we must never take it for granted or abuse it by thinking it is ours by right of baptism, or that we have earned it by following all the rules of the Church.

Nothing we do can make us spiritually, psychologically, or morally worthy to receive our Lord. Not even knowing how unworthy you are will make you any more worthy. The Eucharist is a free gift. And Jesus, the one who invites us here today, does not restrict his gift to those who are judged faithful, pious, and good, He shares it with sinners and outsiders as well. So if your faith is weak and your doubts are strong, if your motives are questionable and your spirituality leaves something to be desired, you are still invited to the Lord’s table, you still have a place here.

We all need to examine how and why we come to the Lord. If you think you are unworthy of receiving the body and blood of Christ, because your doubts are too strong or your sins too many to be forgiven, then think back to the night when Jesus gave us this holy meal. Our Lord Jesus took bread, he gave thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body broken for you.” He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. It is poured out for you and for the forgiveness of sins.” From the very beginning, it has been shared with people who were unworthy of the gift. That’s what makes it a sacrament, because it is all about God’s grace poured out for the undeserving.

It is not how we come to Christ, but how Christ comes to us which makes the reconciling and renewing presence of God real in our lives. On this Holy Thursday, as we reach up from the midst of anger, sin, despair, complacency, or emptiness, to where Christ is, Christ comes to us where we are and offers himself to us. Here at the Lord’s table we meet Christ at the level of our need.

But as he openly offers himself to all, we need to be as open as he was to all those who come to the Lord’s table with me. Even if their theology is too liberal or too conservative for me. Even if the way they praise and worship God is so different from mine that I question their faith. Even if they offend me because they are too pious, or not pious enough, too sexist or too racist. I can not share in this Eucharist without sharing in their company. Jesus opened himself up to all and he commands us to do the same.

No matter how strong or weak our faith may be, no matter how faithfully we read our Bible or pray, no matter how many commandments we have kept or broken, no matter how well or how poorly we have done at following Jesus, no matter who you are or what you are trying to hide, Jesus offers you his body and blood. It is given for the forgiveness of sins, and for the healing of our divisions.

The Eucharist isn’t reserved for perfect people. It’s for people like Judas, who betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver. It’s for people like Peter who promised he would never leave Jesus and then turned around and flatly denied even knowing him. It’s for people like the disciples who cowered in fear as soon as Jesus left them. It’s a meal where no one is excluded even those we may consider most unworthy. It’s a meal where all are loved and forgiven. It’s a meal where all who believe that this is truly the body and blood of our saviour, are given the gift of Jesus himself. That’s the way this holy meal began. Do not take it lightly. Approach it with humility and in thanksgiving for the, unity, grace and healing it offers.

March, 2017:


We can become so familiar with the rituals and seasons which define our faith that they start to lose their significance and the depth of meaning they signify. One of the most significant symbols of the Lenten season is the one that marks it’s beginning; ashes on our forehead. We have gone through this ritual so many times we may think of it only as a mark that begins the Lenten season.

By themselves, ashes can represent fear and destruction. They can remind us of a neighbour’s house which burned down or the cremation of a loved one. They are also a symbol of our fragility and mortality, like the ashes which come from slow decay, they form the dust of the earth from which we came and to which we must return. The ashes we use come from the burnt remains of the palms given on Palm Sunday last year. They were a part of our celebration of Easter joy, now here they are in ruin. These ashes symbolize the joys and hopes we had over the last year which have since faded and disappeared.

But ashes also have a positive side. They can symbolize our growth into a new person in Christ. They represent yet another chance to turn away from sin and believe in the good news. Ashes upon our forehead is God’s annual sign- like spring- that life can be renewed. A forehead that is smudged with ashes reminds us to repent, to come back to the Lord with all our hearts, leave the past in ashes, begin to live again.

In the story of Cain and Abel, after slaying Abel, Cain was given a mark by God. At first we might see it as a sign of his sinfulness, a man branded by God as a murderer. But Cain asked for this sign so that people would not kill him, and so it was not only a mark of judgement, but also a mark of God’s personal protection. The mark we receive today means much the same to us.

These ashes are a sign of the sins which invade our lives; sins that are obvious to others and the secret sins only known to ourselves. It is also a sign of our inclination towards conflict, prejudice, intolerance, and injustice. But like Cain- this mark is also a sign to each other and to the world that despite the radical unworthiness caused by our sinful behaviour, we remain under the protection of God’s love and mercy.

We receive these ashes on our forehead in the form of a cross because we believe that the cross of Jesus has overcome evil at its root. That the death and resurrection of Jesus is stronger than the power of sin, no matter how many or how great those sins may be. And so a forehead marked with ashes is a sign that we are imperfect beings, but the sign of the cross reveals the promise of what we can become. These ashes mark the beginning of a new Lenten journey, a journey that is all about dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus.


As we enter into Lent, the focus for many of us turns inward as we examine those temptations in our lives that keep us from living our Christian faith. One of the most seductive temptation that can seriously diminish our spiritual lives, is the misuse of power.  We all know how abusive and destructive power can be when applied unjustly or selfishly. But power is not the exclusive domain of politicians, military leaders or the super wealthy. No matter how small or insignificant we feel we are, each one of us has the power to effect change, and that personal power can, when exorcised wrongly, set loose our arrogance and cause us to act selfishly.

As the Lenten begins we may, with out any conscious thought, be using our personal power to manoeuver through Lent, without ever having to leave our comfort zone. For the next 6 weeks we will fast from chocolate, coffee, beer, and french fries. We will adjust our charitable giving so we can put an extra dollar or two in the collection plate. We will pray a decade of the rosary between taking the kids to school and grocery shopping. We tend to use our personal power to just do the bare minimum, what is considered reasonably acceptable.

Lent is meant to be more than an exercise in human will power, or a personal challenge to add a few “spiritual” things into a busy schedule. It is an opportunity to set aside the routine of daily life and follow Jesus into the desert, where we can deal with the those temptations of power that take our eyes off of God and short circuit our spiritual lives. Today’s gospel asks a very challenging question: Are we willing to forsake the power offered by Satan in the world for the power offered by Jesus in the wilderness?

Lent is about doing things differently. It is about change and surprise, and it should turn our concepts of power, and how it is exercised, upside-down. Lent challenges us to see how power operates in our world and in our own lives; to look at how we use it, and how its misuse affects us. The three temptations that Jesus faced suggested that he use his power for his own benefit, to make his life easier.

First, Jesus was tempted to conjure up food for himself. If he is the Son of God, why not use the power at his command to ensure his survival? Next, Jesus is tempted to test God’s love for him. Why not use his power to show everyone just how important he is to his Father? Jesus third temptation seems easy for him to resist, he would never bow down to Satan. But it does point out to us how the pull of worshipping the wrong thing is always before us. Each test is about how Jesus will use his power — in service to God, or to something else? Each question presented by the Tempter is really a question about whether Jesus will empower himself, or use his power for something greater than himself. The basic underlying temptation that Jesus faced in each of these tests,  is the same one that we face; the temptation to treat God as less than God. We are constantly tempted to mistrust God’s readiness to come to our aid, especially when we are put to the test. We tend to rely on whatever power we can conjure up for ourselves.

The things we “give up” for Lent are meant to evoke, in some way, the larger sacrifices that Jesus made for us. But we turn them into an exercise that improves the strength of our will power and gives us a sense of personal satisfaction. These little sacrifices we make do nothing to improve our spiritual lives because they have less to do with Jesus and are more about our own ego.

Our “giving up” should go deeper than candy, or french fries, or shopping. Looking at how Jesus responds in the desert and seeing his determination to make God the source of his power, should inspire us to examine the many ways we misuse our personal power, and how we can add a new spiritual dimension to the power we exorcise.  Our focus in lent should not be on ourselves or what we can do for ourselves. It should help us to see how our personal, political, social and economic vision lines up with the vision of Jesus for the poor, the hungry, the widow, and the orphan.

Are we using the power we have for God’s work, or for our own selfish needs? Do we acknowledge God as the source of our power, or does it come from the approval and recognition of others? Do we define our power, by virtue of a job title or a salary range? How are we using the collective power of our social status, our gender, our education, our skin color, our wealth, and all the other privileges we enjoy? Are we building up God’s kingdom for our neighbour, or just for ourselves?

We tend to trivialize whatever power we have. We don’t see ourselves as important enough or effective enough to change the world. We don’t even believe we have the power to change ourselves. But through our baptism we all share in the same power that Jesus received from God. When we use that power selfishly it hurts people, and it separates us from each other, from God, and from creation. It can even separate us from our essential selves. The temptation to use what ever power we have, apart from the power of God from which it came, is the root of the many hurtful and destructive actions in our world today. Such misuse of God’s power hampers good relationships with others and can polarizes our attitude into one of arrogance, or despair.

Despair is the rejection of hope. We hear it in the voices of our politicians who use their power to trade on our fears and manipulate our worries by insisting we are in a perpetual state of war with radical Islam, with terrorists, with communists, with liberals, and whoever else threatens our view of security and prosperity. We despair that our Christian virtues of love and kindness and gentleness and compassion are not strong enough to survive in the real world. We don’t see faith as something that empowers us, but as something that disables us.

Arrogance, on the other hand, is self-love run amok. It is the child of narcissism. It declares that nothing matters but “me,” and in fact it believes “I” may be the only who can save you, the only one who knows what is right. Our culture loves nothing quite so much as flamboyant arrogance and it rewards nothing so richly as a well-groomed narcissist. How else can a person become famous simply for being famous? A dog looks upon humankind and says: They feed me and care for me and comfort me and tend to my every need. They must be gods. But a cat looks upon humankind and says: They feed me and care for me and comfort me and tend to my every need. I must be a god!  We live in a cat culture.

There is only one prescription for the twin temptations of arrogance and despair? It is the one Jesus spoke to the devil in this week’s gospel: ” ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ” Lent begins with Jesus in the wilderness, tempted by Satan to turn from God and use his power for food, safety, and fame. Jesus refutes every one of Satan’s temptations. Before Jesus could begin to preach and teach the Good News of God, he had to come face-to-face with the power of Satan and its influence on humanity. Before Jesus could journey toward the cross, he had to see just how great the need for salvation really was. Our own Lenten journey to salvation begins by looking into the depths of our souls and seeing how our power connects and depends upon God’s power, and then to use that power to serve something bigger and better than ourselves, to connect others to the love, mercy, forgiveness and peace of God.


Over the years I have heard many parishioners who, reflecting on this gospel, say that they envy Peter and James and John. These disciples got to experience visions, like the transfiguration, that swept them into the very presence of God.  Compared to other Christians they know or have read about, they feel they have lead very unremarkable and ordinary faith lives. They long to have the kind of deep religious experiences that others have had, like the cancer victim’s blinding moment of light when Jesus stood by her death bed; like the widowed friend who had a vision of her beloved husband after his death, whole and healthy and happy; like the young man who heard his dead father’s voice affirming him in a way he had never done when he was alive.

To them, having such dramatic epiphanies would certainly make their faith stronger and easier to accept. I can’t promise you that my homily today will give you a startling and deeply religious experience. But if you allow me to share with you my own mountain top experience of Jesus, then maybe you will understand better the vision his disciples experienced. It may also help you to recognize and understand your own experience of Jesus. It is only when you look through the eyes of faith that you will see that you too have stood in the presence of God.

The vision of the transfigured Jesus comes a at pivotal time in his ministry. He is halfway between his baptism and his resurrection. Up until now this story about Jesus hasn’t been all that hard to swallow. Even though he has had a few run ins with the Pharisees and scribes, as a whole he is accepted as a teacher, and a preacher, as a moral example and even as a healer. Jesus has inspired people, but he hasn’t yet mystified them, until today. All of a sudden the earthy Jesus with his dusty feet and tired eyes becomes the heavenly Jesus, with glowing robes and shining face. He appears before his closest disciples as a shimmering vision of pure, unadulterated divinity; ripping apart the barrier between God and humanity.     An intriguing detail of Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration is that the disciples do not seem all that amazed when Jesus suddenly turns into a dazzling light show. Standing there in the company of Elijah and Moses, they seem to take it in stride, right up to when they hear the Voice of God repeating once again the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” It was the Voice and not the vision that knocked the disciples to the ground. It was the Voice and not the vision that blanketed them with fear.

I have never experienced the vision that they had, but I have heard the voice of God in my own life. When I turned 30 I was a kind of lost soul. I had work for some years in advertising, I left that to paint and to develop an art career. I also worked for my uncle in the business that he and my Dad had built. But I didn’t have a real focus or purpose. I was just drifting along, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life.

The pastor of my parish must have seen that I was struggling, so he started to involved me in various things around the church. One day he gave me a piece of paper with the details of a Come and See Weekend at St. Augustine’s Seminary. I said I would think about it and put the paper in my pocket.  I had never thought of being a priest, nor did I want to be a priest. But I couldn’t throw that paper away. I carried it around for a few weeks and then on the last day of registration, decided to call and signed up. I figured I would go and my pastor will see its not for me and I can get back to working on my art career.

I didn’t tell anyone where I was going that weekend not even my mother. When I arrived at the seminary I was early and they told to wait in the entrance hall for someone to come and show me to my room. As I stood there I had this overwhelming feeling that this was where I belonged. I hadn’t talked with anyone yet, I was all alone, there was no else waiting with me. It confused me because I couldn’t say why I felt that way. I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t really understand what it meant. But that evening we had a holy hour and as I sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament I heard God’s voice asking me, “How much do you love me?”

Everything that has happened since that night, a year in Serra House getting my philosophy credits, 5 years of seminary training, and 25 years of priestly ministry, has been an attempt to answer that question. And though out it all, that Voice, and that question has echoed again and again and again in my soul. God has never stopped loving me, and through all the bright and dark days of my ministry, I have never stopped loving God. God has been the foundation of my life since that day I stood alone in the seminary hallway.

What are the voices, ethereal or otherwise, that murmur in your soul, in your conscience, in your memory today? What are the voices that have called you to your truest self – cutting though fear, demolishing inadequacy, duelling with doubt, lifting you out of laziness? What are the voices that have given you focus, or given you courage for the living of your days? Is it the voice of your father shaping you as a child? Is it the voice of your mother, reminding you that she will always share your joys and your sorrows? Is it the voice of your spouse encouraging you, empowering you to realize your potential? If we look closely at our lives we will see that it has been the voices – and not the visions – that have slowly opened our lives to the presence of God.

The Voice in today’s gospel story reassures and empowers Jesus just before he turns his face toward Jerusalem, and the cruelty of the cross. It reassures and empowers the disciples who have just been told to deny themselves and pick up their own crosses. And it reassures and empowers us as we embrace our own Christian journey, a journey in which we regularly wrestle with temptation, with repentance, with suffering, and with commitment. `And from the cloud of confusion that often surrounds us, God’s voice says several important things. First of all it says, “Remember your baptism.” Remember that you are the Beloved – that you are uniquely created, named, blessed, and set apart by God for a holy purpose in this world.

My friends, in the long run, it is not the dazzling and startling visions that are important. It is the slow plodding through the daily trenches of faithfulness that truly connect us to God. Our gospel story today ends with a very human Jesus – the glow of divinity completely gone as he stands alone, his feet still dusty, his eyes still tired. Gently he touches his disciples and encourages them to rise up. Jesus gently resurrects them, so that they can continue their journey with him down into the valley – down into the reality of the way things really are. Jesus also gently resurrects us every time we celebrate this Eucharist, so that together with God’s low, steady voice speaking quietly within us, we can face our own reality and do what needs to be done.

If, along our journey, voices and vision do come our way, we should treasure them and savour them for the joy they bring. But remember, the true light of God’s presence is in the trust of your heart and in the daily faithfulness of your lives. May it always be so – for you and for me.


Streams of living water. That’s what Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well, and that’s what he offers us; life-giving, life-renewing, life-refreshing water, that can satisfy all who drink, and all who do drink will never thirst again. The water that Jesus offers us can satisfy our longings in life, it can nourish our innermost selves. And if you are wondering, “Where does this living water come from?” It comes from an active, living trust in God and a passionate and personal faith in Jesus Christ.

We need this kind of trust in God. We need this kind of faith in Christ because without this living water, our lives are like a desert. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah knew this when he proclaimed the words of the Lord, saying, “I will condemn the person who turns away from me and put his trust in human things. He will be like a bush in the desert which grows in the dry wasteland on salty ground where nothing else grows. Nothing good will ever happen to that person.” Pretty strong words. But they certainly proclaim to us the truth that without a living trust in God, without a passionate faith in Christ, our lives are wasteland, where ultimately, nothing good will ever happen to us.

Living waters! That’s what we need and that’s what Jesus offers us this morning; living waters that can satisfy our thirst for life. These waters he offers promise to give life to our faith, to supply us with an endless source of strength and encouragement no matter what we face in life. I am sure everyone here wants to have these waters. Like the Samaritan woman we say to Jesus, “Give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty again.” But first we must admit we are thirsty and that is often difficult for us to do. It is difficult for us to admit our need. How many of us ignore the thirst within us by pretending it does not exist? How often do we tackle our anxieties or deal with our sinfulness by simply putting on a false exterior and hiding our need, from others and from ourselves? We want to appear strong, we don’t want others to know how we hurt, so we pretend that our weaknesses don’t exist. We refuse to acknowledge our longing to be accepted, to be apart of a community, to be loved for who we are.

W say that our Christian faith is important to us. We say that we trust in God. We go through the motions of being religious, but we never draw close enough to God, or allow Jesus to touch us and change our hearts inside. We attend church, but it’s not our first priority. We open the hymnal and hold it in front of us, but we don’t sing. We listen to the pastor’s words each Sunday, but inside a thousand other thoughts are running wild. The same self-righteous judging of others still plagues us. The same seeking and striving to be better than those around us continues. The same selfish nature still rules unchecked within our hearts and the seeds of faith planted within us never seem to take root.

We need living water for them to grow. We need to draw close to God, to open our hearts, and allow the grace filled waters of Jesus’ love to flow within us and nurture that fragile planting of faith so that it can bear fruit. For too many of us, the choose to satisfy our thirst by drinking from the sickeningly sweet waters offered by the world. We dip our cups into the streams of modern secular life — we try to quench our thirst with the things it provides us. We try to fill ourselves up by drinking deeply from the wellspring of power, possessions, and popularity. We think that sexual pleasure can give us lasting satisfaction. We hope that waters of fame and prestige will fill us up and quench our thirst.

But if the waters of power, and prestige offered by the world could produce peace of mind, then there ought to be a lot more contented people in these pews. And if possessions alone could produce happiness, then our country ought to be filled with nothing but joyful people, because no one can dispute that we have more possessions than any other generation before us.

But we aren’t happy satisfied, or contented people. Because none of the water offered by the world can truly satisfy the thirst in our souls. Our thirst is for truth and meaning. Our thirst is for a purpose in life that cannot be found in material possessions, carnal pleasure, or worldly power and prestige. Those streams do not contain living water. Those who drink only from them will always come away thirsty.

Nothing short of the living water of grace that flow from an honest personal relationship with Jesus can satisfy us. Jeremiah knew that as well, because he also proclaimed; “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in God. They are like a tree planted by the water, which sends its roots out to the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and it never fails to bear fruit.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of life that I want to live, that’s the kind of faith I want to have.

Those who drink of the streams of living water that living water that Jesus offers cannot fail. Those waters flow unceasingly from the scriptures that we proclaim, from the Eucharist we receive, and from mercy and forgiveness that flows each time we are reconciled with God in confession. A faith that is strong and active, a life that is steady and true is the kind of life that Jesus wants us to live and it is available to all those who drink of the streams of living water he offers.

This annual season of Lent is a time to seek out these life giving streams of water that Jesus offers, to reflect on how often we refuse to drink from them? Instead of turning our hearts over to Jesus, we just go through the motions. Instead of dinking deeply from the living waters flowing through our worship, we only give half hearted attention, and only when we feel like it. Instead of disciplining our hearts and minds through scripture reading and prayer, we ignore God’s word and only pray when we want something. Instead of flexing our spiritual muscles and exercising our faith through Christian service to others, we refuse to address the needs all around us and keep to ourselves.

Streams of living water — we need them as badly as the woman at the well. We need to have a personal encounter with Christ as badly as she did. Her life was empty inside. She was looking for happiness in all the wrong places. Having gone through five husbands (and living with yet another) tells us she was in search of something but didn’t know where to find it. Her encounter with Christ was a life-changing event. He gave her a new start and a completely new way of looking at life. He gave her the living water of love and forgiveness and after she drank she was no longer afraid, or ashamed. Instead of hiding from the people who looked down on her she ran out to her village and proclaimed the good news to them.

Streams of living water — that’s what Jesus offers us today. He is the source of blessing and hope for everyone who thirsts in our world today. He is the living water we need, but we have to acknowledge our need for him and believe that he can provide it.  We must say to him, “Lord, I want that living water. Help me to trust that you will give me strength to bear whatever burdens I carry, and to see that the living water you give me is meant to be shared so that others may have life.

My friends, today Jesus offers us streams of living water that bring blessings and peace. May we all find the courage to drink.


The Gospel today seems to focus on the miraculous healing that the blind received. But this story is not primarily a miracle story, it is really a story about light and darkness, and how one nurtures us and the other hinders us.  It isn’t what we see physically that makes life good or bad.  It’s what we see spiritually that dictates how we experience life. The blind man saw Jesus. The Pharisees saw Jesus. One saw a healer, a friend, a saviour. The other saw a Sabbath breaker, a sinner, a threat to be dealt with. How they responded to Jesus depended on what they saw in Jesus.

Our lives today seem to be filled with gray areas. Areas that are not fully illuminated, nor are they fully darkened. These gray areas exist because we are hesitant to say what is right and what is wrong. We believe everyone is free to choose whatever they want, to see whatever they want to see. We may choose not to see them, but even with the gray fog surrounding us the light of faith reveals the right choices. Even though we may not want to acknowledge it, deep down inside we know the choices that lead to light, and the choices that lead to darkness.

As our gospel makes clear, we need to look at things in a new light. We must allow God to use the circumstances of our life to help us see, just as he did with the blind man. Putting our faith in Jesus may not change the physical circumstances in our lives, but it will help us to improve our perspective on life and the choices we make. Jesus came that you and I might see beyond the grey areas to the truth.

The second reading from Ephesians tells us: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Those gray areas of life are the sleep from which we must awake so that the light of Christ can guide us. Not only will he guide us, he will help us to guide others. As Christians, we believe Jesus is the light of the world and it is our responsibility to spread that light so others can see and come to recognize him as healer, friend and saviour. But there is a risk. As the light of the world Christ dispels the darkness, and in his light all our secrets and hidden evils are revealed. When we choose to live in the light of Jesus, all that is dark within our lives is exposed to the light; nothing is hidden from him, or from the rest of the world.

Last year I helped a friend of mine to plant a vegetable garden. There was one particular squash plant in his garden that was a large, green, and healthy, with strong stems and large leaves. He thought this plant would produce some beautiful squash. But a few days later he noticed that the plant was terribly wilted. There were no outward signs of damage, nor were the plants around it in this condition. He gave it extra care trying to nurse it back to health. But in a few more days, it was completely dead. When he pulled the plant up and examined its roots he discovered that a bore worm, which can’t be seen from the outside, had eaten the heart out of the stem of the plant.

That’s how our dark, hidden sins work on us. Like the bore worm, hidden sins can eat away at the heart of our Christian experience and leave us spiritually dead. When left unexposed to the light of Christ, sin continues to do its dirty work: obstructing our lives, destroying true joy, and separating us from a loving God. We may look good on the outside, but inside we are slowly dying.

There is another danger that the light of faith can expose. It’s a fault we share with the Pharisees, we think the thing we see, is the thing everyone should see. We’re all guilty of this. We settle on some key insight, about God and our neighbour, as though we had unlocked all of God’s truth for us, and everybody else. The cause of perpetual ignorance is being satisfied with your own opinions and content with your own knowledge and experience. Like the Pharisees, when we assume that we have seen all that God desires to show us, we dim the light of faith and increase the darkness. No matter how much you see, the moment you make the assumption you’ve seen it all, you become profoundly blind.

The blind man in our gospel moves by degrees from one level of sight and insight to another: first he receives physical sight. Then he acknowledges that his benefactor was the man they call Jesus. Then he confesses Jesus as a prophet. Next, he defends Jesus before the Pharisees, saying, “He is of God.” And finally, he acknowledges Jesus as “The Son of Man” and worships him.

The Pharisees on the other hand move from one level of blindness to another: at first they accept the miracle of healing, but then debate the correctness of healing on the Sabbath. Then they doubt the miracle and interrogate the man’s parents, seeking to prove he was never blind. Then they seek to trap him in cross examination by having him repeat the details of the story. Finally, those judging the miracle find themselves judged by Jesus himself. Three times the former blind man, who is truly gaining knowledge, confesses his ignorance and gains new sight. Three times, the Pharisees make confident statements about what they know remain blind. Light promotes growth. Darkness leads to death.

We all know that a darkened path can cause us to stumble. Is the path to our church, to the Christian life, well lit so that people can recognize it? There are people, like those in our RCIA program, who come into our church, and into our lives, looking for family and companionship. We need to help them see the path that leads to the altar of God. They want to know God and they want to be known by him. They need to feel that they belong here, that they have a place among us. Like a lighthouse on the shores of the ocean, the light of faith cast by our witness and example can lead people to safe harbor or, at the very least, it can warn them of dangerous waters.

Does your light of faith help others to see in the darkness? Are you easily identifiable as a follower of Jesus so that people recognize this church as a safe place to be? Does your light of faith shine only in this building, but not in your home or your workplace? As a congregation, are we leading people to the safety of Jesus and away from the dangers of sin? Light is as light does. When our commitment is low, when our connection is faulty, the light of faith is dim.

We tend to live with our faith light on a dimmer switch most of the time so that people won’t notice it. Sometimes we are too busy going to church that we forget to do the work of the church. We join in the mass, the music, the prayer groups, the bible study class, but the light of faith never shines outside this church building. What will it take to turn your light turned up? God is our power source. When we are plugged into that source, the Holy Spirit living within us gives off a light that people cannot miss. Light is as light does. A light that is hidden is darkness does not do anyone any good.

Yes the light of Christ will reveal our flaws and imperfection, as well as those around us. So we must take care not to ignore our sins and jump all over the sins of others. Whatever sins are revealed they are not to be used as a basis for gossip, or to show that I am less of a sinner than you. Sins are revealed so that they might be forgiven and, through kindness, understanding and patience, be corrected. What is done in the darkness can be overcome by what is done in the light. By living in the light of Jesus, we reveal what is pleasing to God. Seeing with the light of faith, we become a light for others, bringing Christ into the darkest corners of our world.

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200 Church St. Toronto ON M5B 1Z2

Phone: 416-364-0234

Fax: 416-364-6029

Web: St. Michael's Cathedral

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