Cardinal Collins
Rev. Michael Busch

Rev. Michael Busch

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.

February, 2017:


It seems these days that there is always someone trying to tell us what our purpose and function in life should be. As children, we were told to be little ladies and gentlemen because our behaviour reflected on our parents. As adults, we are told we must assertive because that is the only way to ensure success. The media tells us that unrestricted sexual activity is the ultimate form of self expression. Retailers and merchandisers tell us that our happiness grows exponentially the more products we consume. Bankers and financial advisors tell us that our future security rests in acquiring wealth. In our gospel today Jesus adds to this list. He says we are to be, “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”  But what exactly does that mean?

We know that salt enhances the flavour of things, and it preserves and purifies. So Jesus is saying that as his followers, we are to preserve his teachings, enhance the lives of others with our works of charity and purify our life of sin. The good news of Jesus Christ has a salt-like quality which affects our lives. And by living according to the gospel, we function in a way that enhances or enriches the flavour of life, for ourselves and for others.

“You are the salt of the earth.” and if you are going to follow Jesus, and do live the way he wants you to, you can’t help but be an agent of change wherever you go. That is the blessing, and the curse, of being Christian. As a priest, I have experienced both first hand.  I have walked into a room and watched people actually change before my eyes. I have seen placid faces turn angry at the sight of my roman collar and I have seen hopeless faces in emergency rooms transformed into hopeful faces when I stand by their bedside. It’s not just me doing that, it’s what I represent.  Whenever a priest arrives, Christ comes in, and everything changes.

Do you get the same reaction I get when you walk into a room? You probably are thinking “Of course not I am not a priest!” But all Christians are disciples of Christ and so your faith should have some outward expression that is visible to others. A disciple is defined by what he or she does. Just like salt is defined by what it does. Jesus warns us that if our faith life has no outward expression, if it is not witnessed to, then it is in danger of becoming salt which has lost its flavour.

We have all heard comments like, “Bob used to read at mass every week, but now you hardly see him in church.” or “Mary used to talk about the church she belonged to, but now she never talks about God or religion.” Under the stress, pressures and persecutions of everyday life, a follower of Jesus can lose his or her salt-like quality. Their faith which used to give flavour to their life, for some reason is lost and their life has become a dull, boring, empty and tasteless routine.

Jesus also says that we are the light of the world. Everyone knows the purpose of light. Light chases away the darkness, it enables others to see, it makes hidden things visible. The worst thing that we can do with light is to hide it. If hidden, a light cannot push back the shadows, nor can it enable others to find their way. The Light of Christ can give hope, chase away fear, and bring comfort to those in the dark. So what possible reason could we have for hiding it? Peer pressure? Fear of ridicule? The mistaken belief that faith is a private affair? We often hesitate to put the light of Christ on a stand for all can see because we know that his light will draw people’s attention to us.

We are embarrassed to be the one who is different. Sometimes we just want to be a part of the crowd. Being the light of Christ can cause some people to avoid us. It can be lonely to be different. People whose light of faith shines too brightly get insulted, attacked, even killed. No, it is not easy to be the light of the world, or the salt of the earth.

It is so much easier to restrict our discipleship to just going to mass, saying some prayers, and putting more money in the collection plate. No one minds those things because quite frankly you can do them or not do them and no one would really know. But does it fulfill the conditions Jesus sets for being a disciple? If we believe we are supposed to be the salt and light that Jesus says we are, then how do we act on that belief; not in a general sense, but in the concrete circumstances of our everyday life?” What does it mean to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world when my happiness comes from material things and not from helping my neighbour who is in need? What does it mean to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world when we fail to defend ourselves against those who deliberately attack our faith in Christ and our Catholic beliefs?

To say that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world is to understand ourselves in a certain way. Like Salt the primary function of a disciple of Christ is bind people together, to purify life from the effects of injustice and sin, and to add flavour to human existence through joy, hope, mercy, peace. The primary function of a disciple who is light, is to illuminate the darkness where evil tries to hide, and to brighten the path to Christ where the true dignity, purpose and meaning of life can be found.

The world does things in a certain way, and measures success and failure by it own standards. Our greatest task as Christians today is to give each other the courage and support needed to be salt enough and light enough, to cause change.  It may seem as though we are out of step with the world, but so was Jesus, and as his disciples we must live our lives as he did even though we may be persecuted for doing so. As Christians we can affect the world simply by being there; simply by witnessing to our faith and to what we believe to be true in a concrete visible way. So be what you are, be salt and light, because this world of ours could do with a few changes.


In today’s gospel, Jesus attaches great importance to good human relationships. So much so, that he even puts the resolution of our human conflicts before our worship of God. Of all our human relationships that produce happiness and fulfilment, one of the most important is the one between husband and wife. But anger, lies, jealousy and infidelity can destroy trust and jeopardize even the best marital relationships.

Across the Archdiocese today every Parish is celebrating Marriage Sunday.  So with the gospel in mind, I am going to offer a few observations that I have learned over twenty five years of preparing couples for marriage and counselling married couples in times of crisis. I hope that they will help those of you who are married to understand and strengthen your relationship and your prayer life.

In the Gospel Jesus talks about one of the strongest emotions to affect our relationships, anger. He says, “I say to you that the one who is angry with a brother or sister, will be liable to judgement; and whoever insults their brother or sister, will be liable to the council…; and whoever says, “You fool”, will be liable to the hell of fire.” Strong words, and frightening ones too, for which of us can honestly say we have never been angry at someone else? But Jesus isn’t just talking about the quick emotional reaction we feel when we are hurt or when our sense of worth has been violated. He is talking about the ways in which we nurture our anger and keep the flames of it alive within ourselves, so that we become unable or unwilling to forgive, or if we are the one in the wrong, too proud to apologise.

Anger can destroy a married couple’s relationship, if they allow their anger at the major and minor incidents of married life to take over. I have met many Married couples who keep score of all the things that have gone wrong, who was to blame, and how hurt they were. But score keeping creates victims not partners. In a survey of over 350 couples married for over 15 years the ones who were happiest said, “You must be willing to put aside the hurts and the betrayals, and seek forgiveness even when you know you are the one who is in the right. You have to be willing to put more into the marriage than you take out of it.”  Each partner must be willing to do a little more than what they think is a fair, especially in times of crisis. A lasting marriage is built upon spouses who care for each other. A marriage in which each partner is looking out for themselves will not last.

Next Jesus addresses the problem of adultery. We all know the damage adultery can do to a marriage, but Jesus says that even thinking about adultery is wrong. We live in a culture obsessed with its sexuality, where we thing lustful flirtations, and the viewing of pornography is seen as harmless. But both spouses, man and woman, are responsible for the sanctity of their marriage and when couples fail honour each other with respect and dignity it can contribute to difficulties in the marriage relationship.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from couples whose marriage is in trouble is, “The chemistry just isn’t there any more.” Couples should not expect the same chemistry they felt as newly weds to carry them through 50 years of marriage. Ask any couple who has been married longer than ten years and they will tell you that the cute pet names they called each other on their honey moon are not quite the same names they call each other today.

As married life grows and matures so must the passion the couple feels for each other. A marital relationship is constantly changing, and as it grows a husband and wife must be open to new ways of expressing and deepening their love. Working for the good of the relationship and not for your own needs and desires is what makes a marriage strong. Once you’ve made a commitment to a live in relationship with another person for life, you don’t just walk away because some youthful romantic ideal no longer holds true.

Another thing that helps hold a marriage together is humour. Humour can help put things in perspective and keep you from taking yourself or your career so seriously that you lose sight of the other person in your life. Comedian Rodney Dangerfield once said about his marriage: “We sleep in separate rooms, we have dinner apart, we take separate vacations – we are doing everything we can to keep our marriage together.” Laughter and good humour can help a couple connect and it can heal hurts.

Learn how to laugh during your times of trials. Don’t let the things you lack make you so angry that you lose sight of the good things you have. Gentle humour from a loving spouse can loosen the grip of anger and stubborn pride that often isolates a couple from each other and leads them to seek comfort and support from something, or someone else.

For a marriage to work it must be grounded in reality. Remember you are married to someone who is equal to you, but remains unique. It takes hard work and sacrifice for two independent and strong minded persons to become one flesh. Men and woman are created differently; physically, mentally and emotionally, so, realistically, the road ahead will not always be smooth. Marriages often fail because one of the partners is trying to make the other live up to some romantic ideal, or is forcing unrealistic goals onto them, expecting them to become something they are not, or to achieve something they can’t. When couples learn to accept each other for who they are, their marriage becomes stronger. They don’t give up when trials come along because they know that what they have built together is worth a lot more than whatever seems to be missing.

Finally, recent studies have shown that a marriage which is faith centred has a better chance of staying together. In marriages that have lasted more than 20 years the couples said it was because they prayed together.  I know that many people would have a hard time believing this because, after all, we live in a society that says sex is the only true expression of human love that matters.

But these studies compared couples who pray together with couples who don’t. Those who pray together report having greater respect for their mate, they agree more on important issues, and are more honest and open with each other. Couples that pray together are twice as likely to stay together. Religion and spirituality play a much more important role in marriage than people realize. When a couple is married in the Church, God becomes part of their marriage and whatever hardships and trials they face, God’s hand will help hold their hands together.

We live in a society where failure of relationships such as marriage are regarded as normal. But as people of faith we know how important it is to keep our relationships in constant repair because our love of God is reflected in our love for each other. We believe that with the help of God, family, friends and the prayerful support of the believing community, a strong married relationship is possible. Together we can build good human relationships which will bring us closer to God and create a more meaningful life for us all.

January, 2017:


Many people wonder why today we celebrate Mary Mother of God instead of the beginning of a New year. The simple answer is that, for the Church, the new year began on the First Sunday of Advent. But to really understand why we do not follow the secular celebrations and concentrate on Mary as the Mother of God, we have to understand who Mary is and why she is so important to us. So today I offer you seven reasons why Mary is celebrated at the beginning of the secular new year.

Reason number one, Mary was the first disciple, the first one called by God to witness to the Messiah. When the angel asked Mary to become the mother of God she immediately said “yes” and she remained faithful to that “yes” even in the most difficult of times.  Mary was the first one to believe in Jesus; she was the first follower to give her life to him without counting the cost. She can help us to remain true to our faith and give us the courage to do whatever God asks of us in the new year.

Second reason, Mary is revealed as someone who keeps God’s word. Remember the scripture story where Mary and her relatives were trying to see Jesus but couldn’t get close to him because of the crowd? They sent word to Jesus, through the crowd, who said, “Master, your mother and your brothers are here.” Jesus then asked, “But who is my mother, my father, my brother and sister? The one who keeps the will of God. Mary’s claim to greatness is not just that she is Jesus biological mother, but that she remained true to God’s will, even as she watched Jesus become more and more persecuted by the people around him.

All parents who feel powerless and helpless about the influence of pornography and drugs on their children, and the weakening of their moral values by social media they rely on; should look to Mary on this the first day of the new year. Through her own witness she reminds us that even though there are things in our lives we cannot control, if we are true to God’s word, God will see us through it. We must persist no matter how hard this culture around us tries to suppress our faith.  Mary can help us remain true to the word of God, especially when people and other things block our way to Christ.

Third reason, Mary represents all who are oppressed and are silent victims to the atrocities of this age. Mary lived in a country that was occupied by a foreign government. She knew all about segregation and oppression. She was a woman who had no political voice in the society in which she lived. To protect her son, she had to flee to Egypt as a refugee. She stood on the fringes of the crowd and watched as soldiers tortured and killed her son.

People have always related to Mary in that tragic scene at the foot of the cross where she holds the broken body of her dead son. Those who are oppressed and cannot speak out, those whose families are imprisoned or shot, those who face retribution and torture for their beliefs, should place themselves under Mary’s protection because she understands what they are going through.

Fourth reason. At the annunciation when the angel said to her, “You are to be the mother of God.” Mary replied, “How can this be?” She was overwhelmed by the enormity of what was being asked of her, but put her trust in God, that he would be with her through it all. How many of us have felt helpless when a sudden change in life overwhelms us.  I’ve just found out I have cancer. I’ve just been told my husband is leaving me. I’ve just lost my job. Perhaps during this new year we will face an enormous challenge and find ourselves asking Mary’s question, “How can this be?” We will need Mary’s help to trust that God is with us, whatever comes our way.

Fifth reason, Mary is a model of simple faith. As we celebrate the Church’s elaborate liturgies and prayers and follow it’s intricate doctrines and laws, Mary reminds us that behind the ritual and the theology is the simple love of God for his people. No matter how complicated our lives get in this new year, Mary can help us cut through it all, and with a simple prayer, lead us to her Son Jesus and his healing grace.

The sixth reason, Mary stands here at the beginning of every new year because she is the God-bearer, and she reminds us that we too are God-bearers. She gave to the world the living Christ, and we must always remember that our role as Christians is also to give Christ to the world. Everyone here is called to be a Christ-bearer, to nurture Christ within themselves and then to give birth to the Lord in their own lives by sharing Christ with those who are still searching.

And finally the seventh reason. As Jesus was dying on the cross, he turns to John, who represents all of the Christian family, and says, “Son, behold thy mother.” From the cross Jesus gives to us his last, and his most precious possession. And we who have received this wonderful gift must take care to honour her and love her as would our own earthly mother.

So we see why the Church places Mary, the Mother of God here At the start of yet another year; to protect us and guide us and pray for us as she did for her son Jesus.  Behind this Feast Day of Mary of God, is a mother who cares for all her earthly children. She cares because she is human, because she is a great disciple o faith, and because her life reflects our own. There’s not a tear or a smile of Mary’s that we haven’t felt. There’s not a question, a hurt, a pain or a suffering of ours that she has not also felt. Lead us Mary, through the trials and sufferings, the triumphs and the joys of this new year. Lead us to Jesus Christ your son.


In our First reading today Isaiah cries out: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” he is proclaiming that human history, after suffering in oppressive darkness can rejoice, for God’s light has finally come! More than that, this light is not just for a chosen few, but for everyone. With the Epiphany of the Lord, the light which began in a little town called Bethlehem is now revealed to the whole world.

It is the light of peace which disperses the dense darkness of violence and aggression. Since the dawn of time, what has humanity yearned for more fervently than peace? What has humanity been more tragically confused about than the methods and means of achieving peace? Now, at long last, a light has come into the world that will end our confusion. You would think this world we live in would be rejoicing at the coming of this light. But our gospel shows us, from the very beginning, that rather than welcoming this light and flocking to it, the world reacted by trying to block it out.

Here is a light which can answer the deepest longings of the human heart, and Herod is alarmed. Here is a light of new hope in a world whose long, dark history has been written in blood, and Herod is terrified. In fact, he is so unnerved at the prospect of a different kind of ruler and a new kingdom of justice and peace that he tries to destroy that light. Herod orders a terrible massacre of Bethlehem’s children because he would rather rule in darkness and fear than be ruled by the king of love and light.

But it wasn’t just Herod who feared this light, the gospel tells us that “all of Jerusalem” was frightened as well. Every citizen, great and small! In our world today it isn’t just the political rulers of this world who fear the influence of Christ’s light. Even though this light provides us with the very things we want the most, each one of us, in one way or another, may also be frightened by it.

One thing we want is companionship, an end to our loneliness. We come into this world alone and we leave it alone, and in between we long for someone we can really talk to, and who will really listen to us. Someone who can hear our deepest secrets and not think badly of us. Someone who knows all about us, the good and beautiful, and bad and ugly, and will still love us. We want to be cared for, listened to, understood and appreciated. But no matter how many connections we make with people when we come to the brink of real sharing, the dark side of our human nature, the pride, the greed, the ambition, the self-centredness, gets in the way of achieving genuine communion with another.

With out the light of Christ to guide us it is very hard for one person to deeply touch another person. But the light of Christ brings with it not only honest love, but fearless truth. What his light reveals in us can be frightening and so we retreat and raise our guard. We continually run from what the light of Christ reveals about us, preferring the lonely darkness rather than opening our hearts and becoming vulnerable to his life altering grace.

Each of us is wounded in more ways than we can count or understand.  Sometimes our pain is physically debilitating, but more often, our pain is emotional, or spiritual. We are wounded by dramatic, specific events in our lives which leave lasting scars. We are wounded by the indiscriminate evil and suffering that seems embedded in the ebb and flow of life itself. So often the dark pain of sin is handed down, like an unwanted inheritance, from generation to generation.

As adults, we are wounded by selfish ambition and faceless alienation, always wanting what another has, or demeaning and belittling others to keep what we have. We are wounded as dreams die and cherished life goals are lost to reality. We search for a light that will dispel this darkness, but when we come face to face with that light, we tend to deny what it shows us. When the prescription for ending our soul’s distress is placed in our hands, we don’t trust it. We may not like the darkness which holds our hurts and pains, but we are afraid to let them go, afraid to trust in the epiphany that the healing light of Christ brings.

The answer to our loneliness and pain is communion with God, and we yearn for it with all our might. But when the moment comes and God is ready to fill us, we shut Him out. When God confronts us with the possibility of giving up whatever it is that keeps us in darkness, we run from it. It is a sad fact that for some of us — in those intensely personal dramas which are played out in the privacy of our hearts and the sanctuary of our souls — our attitudes toward darkness and light are frequently reversed.  Our spiritual lives often amount to a reluctant embrace of the darkness we have know and grown comfortable with. The apostle Paul knew this well when he said: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

People run from the light that Christ brings, and the gospel gives a hint as to why this is so. After the wise men came and saw the infant Jesus, they returned home to their own country “by another way.” After seeing the light that had come into the world, they had to make a change in their plans and embark on a different route, one that was not familiar to them. To keep from falling into Herod’s hands they had to trust in God to show them the way. While searching for the light they were focussed and in control. But when they found the light, their futurebecame unknown and totally in God’s hands.

So it is with us. Our faith will help us find Christ and his light can rid us of every torment, every addiction and dependency, every hurt and fear which makes up this dead-end path we are travelling on. But when our faith illuminates a new and unfamiliar road, one that Christ himself lays out for us, we may hesitate to take it. It takes courage to embark on an unfamiliar and different route; and our fear of it may make us opt for the darkness we know rather than leap into the light.

In many ways we are like King Herod, cowering inside the darkness of our private loneliness and pain, unaware that what we fear has actually come to save us. The great irony of our religious life (if we are honest enough to admit it) is that even as we fear the darkness and praise the coming of God’s light to the world, we spend much of our lives running from the very light we are so fervently seeking.

My friends, Christ, who is our light, can dispel the unrewarding comfort of our familiar darkness and lead us to a place of refreshment, peace, and joy. So take heart, “Arise, shine, for your light has come… the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”


Bethlehem and Calvary were interwoven into Jesus’ life from the very beginning. When John the Baptist declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God, it sounded like he knew Jesus’ crucifixion was certain. In a culture that sacrificed lambs twice a day in the temple, those words were a premonition of death. “Here is the Lamb of God” can be loosely understood to mean, “Here is the one that is going to be sacrificed.” This Lamb of God imagery says something very different from “light of the world” or “bread of life” imagery. Jesus as the light of the world illumines and brings warmth. Jesus as the bread of life satisfies our deepest spiritual and physical hunger. Jesus as the Lamb of God speaks sacrifice and death

But the first disciples to follow him did not know that Jesus was destined to die on the cross. Even though Jesus tried to teach them about his suffering and death, they did not really understand Jesus as the Lamb of God until they actually watched him being sacrificed.

Today, we know what John the Baptist meant when he called Jesus the Lamb of God. We know that Jesus sacrificed himself for us, and for our salvation.     Because we know that Jesus dies for us, we tend to identify ourselves with those people in the gospels who cooperated with him, rather than with the religious leaders who were threatened by him and plotted his crucifixion.

We don’t see ourselves in those Gospel stories which show Jesus in conflict with others. We think we are more like those five thousand people in the gospel story of the loaves and fishes, and nothing like those people in his hometown synagogue tried to stone Jesus after he preached a sermon. We see ourselves in the woman who pressed through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, but believe we are nothing like those who stripped him of his garment to nail him on a cross.

But the truth is we are not the docile humble servant of Christ that we would like to think we are. We are more like those people in the story where Jesus removed the demons from a man and sent them into a herd of pigs who then ran over a cliff.  They were more concerned about the loss of their pigs than they were about the man who was cured. They didn’t thank Jesus or have a party for him. They were so afraid of what else Jesus might do so they begged him to leave. Whenever people are afraid of change, their solution often includes getting rid of the person behind the changes.

We see this continued in our own day. Whenever somebody tries to change something for the better, they encounter obstacles and opposition from those who benefit from the way things are currently done. As grateful as we are to receive the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must face the fact that some part of us may also be opposed to his teaching that says we also have to make sacrifices to share in those benefits. It is hard admit that sometimes, for selfish reasons, we do not want people healed and families strengthened and communities restored. Not everybody wants racial harmony and economic equality. Not if it affects their comfortable life or threatens their financial security.

Yes we are capable of doing good things. When a caring foster family welcomes a troubled child into their home, one less child is left to survive our violent streets. When a church group cares for homeless street people it means that at least a few strangers will feel welcomed and loved.  When a young man or women takes part of their summer vacation to build homes for the poor it means that a family in need will receive affordable housing. Some of our efforts do bear fruit. Some positive changes do occur.

But the bigger problems of human existence like, global warming, terrorism, the fair distribution of resources will take a greater effort on our part, a greater commitment.  We may never see the changes in our lifetime and so we may be confused about how important these causes are to our faith life. Why should we bother when we may never benefit from them or see their completion? When established boundaries are challenged and traditional ways of doing things are questioned we tend to draw back because the sacrifice seems to high.

Jesus did not come just to heal a few sick and do a few miracles, then wait patiently to die on a cross. He challenged the way things were not just to make it better for those who knew him but to ensure God’s kingdom continues to grow past his death and resurrection.

There is a price to pay for a faithfulness that challenges corrupt systems and crooked policies. John the Baptist knew it and so did Jesus, but it didn’t stop them from paying that price. There are two kinds of losers, those who have given up hope and those who don’t want things to be any different than they are right now. Those who have given up hope have lost, but often for reasons beyond their control. People who don’t want things any better than they are right now have also lost, because they don’t want any change to disrupt the comfortable lifestyles they have built for themselves.  Jesus came for the first kind of loser, offering them comfort, peace, and hope. Jesus was killed by the second kind.

The Lamb of God has shown us what selfless acts look like, and it is his example that calls us to use our own lives so that all of God’s children, present and future, might know a better life. We know that if we follow the Lamb of God, there will be sacrifices to make and crosses to bear. We know our sacrifices may mean enduring things we hate, but we forget that taking up our cross may also mean the death of something in our life that we love dearly, so that others may have life.   That sounds terribly extreme, and so the call to risk it all in the making of a better world does not appeal to most of us.

But the extent to which love is known and peace reigns on the earth is directly related to our willingness to open our lives to self-denial. God works in the lives of all those who allow it, but all to often our hands and hearts are full of things which get in the way of our sacrifice. Sometimes we resist and oppose the good that God offers, because it interferes with, or threatens the good we can gain for ourselves. We must sacrifice those things which nurture a divided devotion. We must refuse to keep company with distracting options.

Jesus tells us that there is a promised land where people live in peace and harmony with one another. Yet, without a willingness to sacrifice, the best we will ever do is gaze at it from a distance.


Just before the first disciples are called, Jesus makes an announcement. “The kingdom of God is at hand.” with this announcement Jesus is saying something very different. The kingdom is not only a reality at the end of time it is also tangible right now. It lives in the person, the values, and the behaviour of those who put their faith in Jesus. After making this astounding statement Jesus starts to call the first disciples who will witness to God’s Kingdom by following him.

In the gospel story, all four of the fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John, respond immediately when Jesus asks them to follow him. They are comfortable middle–class workers, yet they leave behind job security and family security, turning their backs on previous commitments and responsibilities. They let go of all that is dependable and familiar in order to respond to Jesus’ call.

Its very different from the Old Testament call stories.  Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, all hemmed and hawed, made excuses, moaned about their unworthiness and unsuitability and had to be wined and dined by a patient God until they reluctantly said, “Yes!” But not so James and John, Simon and Andrew. For them the urgency of the moment and the authority of the call wiped out any ambivalence or inadequacy they might have felt. Jesus called, and they obeyed.

They had no premonition of what would happen that day when Jesus called them, they were not preparing for it or even looking for it. They were going about their business as usual: casting nets, pulling them back in, sorting and salting the fish, taking them to market, and maintaining their equipment. Fishing was a stable and profitable occupation. They were not rich, but they were not dirt poor, either. When Jesus called them they knew what they were leaving, both the pros and the cons. But they did not know what Jesus was calling them to.

We have the advantage of knowing how things turned out. We know the joys and wonders that were in store for them. We know they saw and experienced things, that as simple fishermen, they could not have even imagine: a paralyzed man walking, a blind man regaining his sight, a little girl raised from the dead. We know they heard intriguing parables and inspiring teachings. What would we give up to hear Jesus say to us, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven”? What would that kind of spiritual insight be worth? How much of a pay cut would we take in order to see the power, intensity, and energy of the Transfiguration, as Peter, James, and John saw? Responding to Jesus’ call not only opened their eyes to the kingdom all around them it opened up for them a spiritual adventure they never could have found on their own.

It is amazing that these men made their decision without experiencing anything more than the presence of Jesus. They must have known that accepting Jesus’ call would put them at risk. By this time John the Baptist has already been arrested. Danger lurks behind the scenes in Jesus’ own ministry. Would they have responded so readily if they had known about the Garden of Gethsemane or the crucifixion?

We see in the way Matthew presents their call, that not one of them hesitated for a second. In the John’s gospel, the first disciples take some time to respond to Jesus. They have a chance to think it over. But in this Gospel, we aren’t even sure these four know who Jesus is. What Matthew is trying to show us here is that we all take a leap into the dark when we respond to Jesus’ call.

If it we were being called today most of us we would want more time, we would want to do some research, check out some references, receive some assurance that the call is really from Jesus. We would take our time to sort it all out before we decide. But in the abrupt and immediate acceptance of these fishermen, Matthew makes a valid point. No matter how much we study the situation, or how carefully we plan our response to follow Jesus, we won’t really know what lies ahead of us.

These four men leave quickly when Jesus calls them, and they leave everything behind. Simon and Andrew had just cast their net. They did not even wait to pull the net back in. Matthew says they responded immediately. They don’t even cash in on that day’s profits! James and John are mending their nets as they hear the call. They are preparing their boat for their next fishing expedition. We don’t know what went through their minds, but they let go of their boat, and their livelihoods and followed him.

Jesus came to bring light to those who sit in darkness. Part of that darkness is hopelessness. Part of that darkness is illness. Part of that darkness is spiritual depression and anguish. Jesus came to bring light and to show us that the Kingdom of God is nearer to us than we think. Jesus teaches us what it will be like to be in God’s full presence, to experience true justice and fairness where everyone has the opportunity to live in joy. In Jesus, God has reached into our world to bring hope. To be a part of all that is worth letting go of our fishing nets and leaving our old life behind.

Jesus continues to call disciples today. We are may not be called to leave our jobs or our security to follow him. But many people do leave high-paying jobs for a ministry within the Church that pays a fraction of what their old job paid. Sometimes the net we are called to let go of let go of is our family, just as James and John left their father in the boat when they followed Jesus. I have known parents who could not let their son or daughter go to follow Christ’s call as a priest or sister. If that is your net, search your heart about what it means to follow Jesus.  Another net we hold on to is a feeling of inadequacy and unworthiness. “I can’t do that; I wouldn’t know where to begin, I am not talented enough, or smart enough.” But God’s call can stretch us in ways we hadn’t expected. He helps us to be what we never knew we could be.

Another net we hold on to is our bad experiences from the past. Maybe we tried a ministry and it didn’t go well. We experienced deep frustration and we vowed never to try that again. Sometimes the mistakes of the past are the building blocks of our later successes. God can work through the pain of past experience to bring real fruit from our next attempt.

When we are willing to let go of our nets, we carry on the ministry of Jesus, we announce our faith to the world, we declare our values are not the same as the world’s values, we are not ruled by money, success, or prestige. We resist violence, greed, and exploitation. When we respond to Jesus’ call we bring healing to the world. When we take care of one another in times of sickness, grief, or trouble we witness to God’s Kingdom at work here and now.

We don’t always know what will happen when we respond to God’s call. We do know that God is always with us and that he will work with us in whatever ministry we called to, and he will help us overcome our shortcomings and failures. If you feel God calling you, drop your net and respond. Let us shine the light of God’s Kingdom into the darkness of the world. Let us have faith and trust that Christ is leading us to a place worth going.


Today’s Gospel is one of those passages of scripture that can stir up our spirits in both positive and negative ways. The language is beautiful and uplifting, but it can also sting, because it seems to be calling us to a kind of life we are not able or willing to live. We yearn to be the precious children of God that these Beatitudes say we should be; but we’re not quite sure what Jesus expects from those who follow him.

It was the same for the first disciples. Just prior to this passage, we hear Jesus calling fishermen and tax collectors to follow him. These men were going about their daily business when suddenly they were invited, to live in a radically different way with Jesus. As captivated as they are by his call, these recruits aren’t really sure what it means to follow Christ. So Jesus takes them up to the mountaintop, away from the crowd, to teach them about discipleship. These beatitudes were spoken to them in private. And that tells us something very important. These familiar beatitudes aren’t for everybody. They are for disciples, for those of us who have answered his call and are committed to following Jesus. We must listen to them within the heart of committed discipleship, if we don’t then we won’t really understand the message they convey.

These Beatitudes are not a list of do and don’ts. Nor do they condemn us for what we are not, or ask us to be more than what we are. Yes they do speak to the very core of Christian life, but they are not rules or criticisms, they are blessings. Jesus is telling us that committed discipleship begins with blessings that are already ours. The beatitudes are not about what will we will become someday if we follow all the laws of the new covenant. It is about the grace that can be found in who we are right now.

This passage is not saying that God will be good to us down the road. It says that God is good to us right now. It does not posit a perfect kingdom in the far off future. It proclaims, with great joy, that the kingdom of God is already here. The beatitudes celebrates our present reality by telling us that even if we are poor in spirit, or in mourning, or are meek, even if we hunger and thirst for justice, we are already blessed. We all live with life’s shortcomings and deficiencies, we are all longing for more, we all experience grief and sorrow, but right here in the reality of our imperfect lives, God is blessing us and loving us and empowering us to act as a disciple.

Even though we need mercy and forgiveness, even though we struggle to be pure in body and spirit, we are blessed. Even though we know that our meagre efforts to establish peace in a violent and turbulent world seem to make little difference; even though we know that when we witness to what we believe and what we value, the world will laugh at us and pass us by; we are still blessed.

My friends, how do you see yourself? Are you a victim, powerless and at the mercy of an unforgiving world? Or are you a disciple, mysteriously pulled out of the crowd, sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning to be an source of grace in a graceless world? We are the people described by the beatitudes. We know that despite our brokenness and our neediness, we are still blessed by a loving God. We do not need to wait for some future Kingdom so that God can vindicate us, the kingdom has already been established here on earth, and we have been baptised into it.

Some time ago I read an editorial about the popularity of inspirational calendars, books and videos. It commented on how the power brokers and CEO’s of successful corporations are people who buy such items as the “Believe in Your Heart Monthly Planner” and the “Heal You Life Wall Calendar”. Despite their wealth and external success, they still are still looking for ways to nourish their shrinking inner spirit. As tough and together as we appear to others on the outside, on the inside, we are as needy and as impoverished of spirit as the people Jesus is speaking about.

It is that very neediness that invites and receives God’s blessings. It is that very neediness that provides the fertile soil for our spiritual life to grow. And if we can accept and rejoice that it is within our neediness that God’s blessings are bestowed, then we can begin to embrace the neediness of others and become a blessing to them. I recently read about a woman who spent her whole life educating brain–damaged children and how much they changed her values and priorities in life.  These children whom most of the world rejected and hid from sight, became, to her, chosen and precious. They were the poor in spirit, the clean of heart, the sad and persecuted ones who somehow still reflected the joy of God’s grace.

One year she decided to help these children put on a production of My Fair Lady. She gave the lead part to a girl whose motor system had been damaged to the point that she was confined to a wheelchair. On the night of the performance when that girl wheeled herself out on the stage and sang, “I could have danced all night,” the audience was confronted by a disciple who brought home to them the true values of the gospel. Those whom the world rejects are, in God’s sight, chosen and precious. Those who are the most needy are the most blessed and they can become a blessing to others.

The beginning of each of the beatitudes is actually not quite accurate. The Greek has been translated into English as “Blessed are …” but a more accurate translation would be, “O the blessedness of….”

……O the blessedness of our utter dependence on God, for that dependence ushers us into God’s heart.

……O the blessedness of our deep sadness, for it is in that sadness that we can feel God’s touch, fill and comfort us.

……O the blessedness of our gentle submissiveness, for it is in humility that we find abundance.

……O the blessedness of our hunger for what is right and good, for our longing is fed by God’s grace.

……O the blessedness of granting forgiveness, for mercy is the sweetness of God’s love.

……O the blessedness of whatever peace and harmony we can create, for in peace we reflect the face of God.

……O the blessedness of suffering and struggle, for joy is the fruit of overcoming adversity.

……Rejoice and be glad even in your trials and persecutions for it is in the reality of life that God builds his kingdom of love.

Today the beatitudes say to all of us who have chosen to follow Christ: “You are loved. Go, therefore, and act in love towards others!”

December, 2016:


The Gospel today speaks of John the Baptist. Now John is not normally someone we connect to the Christmas story. You won’t find him in any nativity scene, or among the holiday decorations on your tree. Just imagine what a Christmas card featuring John the Baptist would be like. The cover would picture his gaunt figure covered in a dusty camel hair pelt, he would be holding a fistful of locusts and staring out at you with a wild look in his eyes.

Inside the card is a verse from our Gospel: “Greetings from our house to yours. Our thoughts to you at this time of year are best expressed by these words from John the Baptist, ‘You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee the wrath to come? The axe is laid to the root of the tree, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire!’ Merry Christmas the Smiths.”

Not exactly a view of Christmas we are used to. By and large we prefer the sentimental side of Christmas, the one with the jolly, plus sized gentlemen in the red velour jumpsuit. He symbolizes Christmas more than this fanatical messenger from the desert.  But the Christmas story really begins with John. He comes to us before the star in the sky, the shepherds and the three kings. So if you want to get to the joy of Bethlehem you have to deal with the message of John the Baptist. If you really want to appreciate what is found in the manger, you must first confront the prophet in the desert, with his wild and bitter sermons about sin and repentance. In short there is no Jesus at Christmas without John in Advent.

In the ancient Middle East before a king went out to visit his kingdom he would send a messenger ahead of him. That messenger would not only proclaim the kings coming but would get the people to clear the roadway of debris, and if the path that the king was going to travel was crooked with too many sharp turns he would get them to straighten it out, so the king could have easier access to his subjects.

That is what John the Baptist is doing for Jesus, proclaiming his immanent arrival and telling us that we must clear the way and straighten the path for Jesus to enter into our hearts.  The best way to do that, John advises, is to repent; to get rid of the small mindedness, the back biting, the jealousy,  the minor embezzlements, the self-centeredness.

If John the Baptist was standing in front of us today, would we be prepared to place our lives under his scrutiny? Or would we have trouble acknowledging our sinfulness because we have trouble identifying exactly what sin is? Psychology, environmental development, birth order, social conditioning, as well as ethnic and cultural pressures, have provided us with endless reasons and excuses to behave badly. So much so, that we have begun to think that nothing is truly our fault. After all, if our free will is severely compromised by the way we grew up, or the conditions we are forced to live under, then are we really guilty of anything, can we really sin at all?

Even if I am guilty of some petty sins, I do more good things than bad things don’t I? So what if I give into temptation, or indulge in some vice once in a while, I am basically a decent person. If I lie or cheat or steal or gossip, I’ll make up for it by going to mass, saying a rosary, or helping out at the church bazaar. Surely God judges me on the good things I do more than the bad things I do.

Yes God does see the good we do, but God also sees that sometimes we hide behind the good things we do, fooling ourselves that it allows us to  do bad things and get away with it. John’s condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes in our gospel can easily be turned on us. John doesn’t care that we have gone to church for years, that we are kind to our spouse and children, or that we support several large charities, or how everyone at the office thinks we are nice. It doesn’t matter to him if we are a middle child, or from different culture, or feel victimized because I don’t have what others have. John the Baptist challenges us to be honest with ourselves, to admit that sometimes we have chosen badly, acted selfishly and used others to make ourselves feel better.  Somewhere along the line, says John, we must put aside all the excuses and deal with the reality of our sinfulness, if we wish to receive God’s salvation.

Most of us live our lives without examining ourselves too closely. That could be the very sin we need to repent. We could be on a damaging and deadly course, but are doing nothing about it because we deliberately choose to ignore the messages that God sends us through scripture and the prophets, like John.  It’s easier to make excuses, or to justify our actions than to try and muster the courage, the hope, or the faith to clear away the debris, and make a straight the path so that the Messiah can break into our lives.

If we examined our lives closely we would see that we do things that are wrong, that are sinful and destructive and that we have made up excuses and reasons which make it easier for us to accept our bad behaviour. Sin is hurtful painful, and demeaning so its no wonder we try to hide it, even from ourselves. But we can’t hide it forever.

Each year, as we look towards receiving our King, we encounter John the Baptist, standing in front of us, telling us exactly what we need to do, “Prepare the way of the Lord…” If we don’t deal with this unwanted prophet today, and listen to his message of repentance, then the sinful debris and the crooked paths we create will keep us from receiving the salvation of God when Jesus our king comes again. The message given on this third Sunday of Advent is clear:

There is no Jesus without John,

No joy without the Jordan,

No rejoicing without repentance.

Today the prophet has spoken.


The Christmas shopping season is now in full swing. Brick-and-mortar retailers are vying with online websites for our shopping dollar. Local business associations push for us to support our independent neighbourhood retailer over the big box malls. Some stores offer gifts that also give a portion of the gift’s price to a worthy cause. And there are the many crafts made by people from around the world seeking financial aid.

Christmas gift shopping is perhaps the biggest support to our economy. Sales on Cyber Monday topped $1 billion this year, the busiest online shopping day in history. The average consumer will spend close to $700- $1000 on the holidays this year. And yet, mixed in with the joy of gift giving is this sense of unease about how much we spend on our Christmas gifts.

It seems ludicrous that we celebrate the birth of the homeless baby Jesus by indulging in such extravagant consumer spending on gifts for people who already have everything they need. Still, there is something very beautiful about gift-giving, the generosity and the contagious cheer that fills the Christmas season. Gifts reveal our love for someone, but they can also reveal what we long for, or wish we could be. Gifts come filled with meaning — they reveal something about the giver and about the recipient. It is fitting then that on the busiest and most lucrative time of the Christmas shopping season our first reading from Isaiah, the Psalm, and Gospel speak to gifts and gift giving.

The gifts given and received mentioned in our readings today come from God. Like the gifts we give, they say something about God who gives them, and about us who receives them. But the gifts God gives, they are entirely different then the gifts we tend to give, and so, we may not appreciated them as much as we should. The gifts from God mentioned in today’s scriptures are based on the ancient world’s understanding that our physical disabilities have spiritual dimensions. Isaiah envisions the coming of God’s realm as a time when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy”. It is a time where all that seems broken is made whole as a gift from God. The Psalmist also sees a wealth of gifts when the realm of God comes to life. The imprisoned are set free, the bowed-down are lifted up, and the stranger, widow, and orphan find themselves included in the community.

Our understanding of disability tends to be limited to physical or psychological impairments. We do not readily embrace the fact that a failure to hear or see properly can be caused by a dysfunctional spirit. Sometimes our progress, or happiness may not have been impeded by a physical, psychological or emotional disease. It could well be that our spirits are in need of healing in order to lay aside our limitations and leap and sing for joy. The gifts of grace that God gives may come with some physical healings, but they always nourish the spirit. These gifts invite us to let God, to let God make us whole in body and spirit.

Matthew’s gospel speaks of God’s gifts by using a snippet of conversation between Jesus and the followers of John to highlight the kind of messiah that he is. He tells his disciples that he is not the kind of messiah who comes to overthrow the Romans. He is a Messiah who brings evidence of God’s fullness, and makes it alive in people who need it most. Jesus tells them to look at what happens to people in his presence. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Again, our understanding of disability may not allow us to hear these words as being about us, and the places where our limitations hold us captive.

The third Sunday of Advent, is Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice.” That is why each of our readings today highlights a joy deeper than receiving all those gifts on our Christmas wish list. It goes beyond finding that perfect gift for someone we love and experiencing their joy when opening it.  God’s gifts have a permanence that puts our store bought gifts to shame. The gifts we give to one another be they, big or small, expensive or home-made, reflect the kind of relationship we have with them. And sometimes the gift we give to someone we love expresses not just who they are to us but who we hope they can be.

God’s gifts, are like that. They promise a wholeness beyond what we could ever create for ourselves. God’s gifts envision a future beyond our imagining. They signal a change in the very way the world works, and are meant to shake up what isn’t working. These are gifts that herald a new relationship between God and humanity, and establish new connections between the people and God. God’s gifts are evidence of a whole new creation coming into being.

As we ponder the gifts of God, as imagined  by Isaiah and the Psalmist, and brought to life by Jesus, perhaps the way we give gifts to one another will be less about how much we money spend. Maybe our reflection of the gifts God gives will help us see that a level of community is being abused by our gift giving as many of the things we buy were made by underpaid workers around the world. In God’s Kingdom, the gifts that are given are good for everyone, not just for the partners in the gift exchange. So our gifts, too, must reflect the deep joy in the spirit that connects us, and our fearless trust in the giver of all things whose gift of peace is for everyone in the community.

My friends, may all the gifts you give and receive this season be about the joy you find in the Holy One, and may you be at peace with God whose many gifts of grace creates, and re-creates the world around us, and helps you to be all God hopes you can be.


In today’s gospel we hear about Joseph and the part he plays in the story of Jesus’ birth. There is an abruptness to this gospel. Joseph receives a message from God in a dream. An angel of the Lord tells him to take Mary as his wife because her child is born of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph awoke and does what the angel tells him. That’s it. We don’t get a complete picture of this remarkable man, who he was, or what motivated him to do what he did. There is no guarantee of help with the hardships that lay ahead, the trip to Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt. There is no promise of reward, or glory.

Scripture says very little about Joseph. There are legends about him being an older man, perhaps a widower with other children. By the time Jesus begins his public ministry, Joseph has presumably died, as he is no longer mentioned. But hidden within the lines of today’s short gospel are some clues about this man. First, scripture calls Joseph a righteous man, which implies that he was obedient to the will of God. The word could also mean that he had great sympathy and kindness. He was going to quietly divorce Mary because he did not want to draw attention to her pregnancy. After all, this was a society that stoned unmarried pregnant women.

Joseph was also open to God’s divine presence. Through his dreams God directed the course of his life and Joseph not only took those dreams seriously, he acted on them even though they left many questions unanswered. How many of us would have taken on as much as he did on the strength of a dream? If you were asked to sacrifice our reputation and our expectations to care for a girl who claims her child is the Son of God, without knowing what it would involve, without proof that what she says is true; how would you respond? Would you agree to do it?

We would need to be certain that it would benefit us before we act. We would need irrefutable proof to silence all our doubts and fears. We would want to know more about what the purpose is and what the outcome would be. Even knowing that God has some kind of role in it doesn’t really help us. Before we act we would have to have faith, and it is often a lack of faith that keeps us from accepting those challenges that can change the course of our lives. Joseph had faith. He believed that God was not only behind what he was asked to do; God was intimately involved in his everyday life.

God may not be using angels, and we may not trust our dreams to guide us, but that does not mean that God is no longer sending us messages. God speaks to us much more often than we realize in the ordinary events of each day. Who knows what he will say to me or to you today, or what unlikely moment or event he might choose to say it in.  Not knowing is what makes each day a holy mystery. Joseph discovered for himself the full meaning of what God asked him to do, amid the joy and the trials of taking care of Mary and Jesus. All he had was his faith to guide him, but it was enough. He needed no other proof or explanation.

It is unfortunate that we do not act on our faith in the same way Joseph did. We tend to manage our faith and its limit its impact on our lives. If faith seems to be drawing us towards some action, we weigh the benefits, the time, the effort involved, and if it looks like there is more sacrifice that reward we reject it.  We are locked into a life based on the search for endless self fulfilment that is never fully achieved. And because it isn’t fully achieved, we carry around in us an certain emptiness- a sense that something is missing, a restlessness, a feeling that all is not right, that there should be something more.

Psychologists, call this feeling anxiety and we have all felt it. A large part of our inner life is filled with this sense of unease and incompleteness. And  when our rational minds, trying to define the role of faith and God and being unable to do so, ends up denying the value of both, that emptiness is intensified. God may not be speaking to us in dreams as he did with Joseph, but I believe it is in this emptiness and silence that God communicates best.  In this anxious silence God speaks to us about ourselves, about what he wants us to become. All we have to do to hear his message is to be still and listen, and let our faith guide us in our actions.

When somebody says something cruel and hurtful about somebody else that we know is not true. Do we tell the truth or keep silent? When a friend has hurt us, do we take pleasure in paying them back in kind, or do we try and build a bridge over the hurt? In those anxious empty moments when we are alone thoughts may come, swarming like bees- destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, do we allow them to take control of us, or do we offer them to God in prayer? Will we be brave today or a coward? Will we be honest today or a liar?

All the inner skirmishes that go into making up our days may seem to add up to very little at the time, but it is precisely in those small seemingly meaningless things of everyday life that God speaks to us messages of great significance. They may not seem as great as the message he sent to Joseph in today’s gospel, but what he says is just as important, be brave… be merciful…help one another…have faith. In a way, He is asking each one of us to help Christ be born out of the emptiness which we all carry inside of us. That is what Advent itself is all about, in the emptiness of our own lives something new, something great is waiting to be born. But unless we open up a channel for the word of God to enter we will not be aware if it. Let me give you an example.

It was high noon in Toronto and the streets were buzzing with crowds, cars, taxis, horns blowing, brakes screeching and sirens wailing. Two men were making their way through the crowd; one was from Toronto and the other was a visiting Farmer from Saskatoon. As they were walking along the farmer suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Hold on,” he said, “ I hear a cricket.” His friend replied, “Are you nuts? Even if there were a cricket around here you wouldn’t hear it with all this noise.”

The farmer remained quiet for a few moments, then walked over to a concrete planter where a bush was growing and turned over a few leaves and found a cricket. His friend from the city was amazed. “What great ears you have,” he said. “No,” replied the farmer, its just a matter of what you have been conditioned to listen for. Look I’ll show you.” With that he pulled a handful of coins from his pocket and let them drop to the sidewalk. As if on signal, every head on the block turned around. You see,” said the farmer, “you hear what you want to hear.”

The words that God speaks to us in our own lives are real. They may not be like the messages Joseph had but they require faith in order to respond; faith in the sense of our willingness to see, to wait, to watch, and to listen for the incredible presence of God here in the world among us. On this last Sunday of Advent God is sending us a message, asking us to help him bring Christ to the world. All we have to do is train our ears to hear it.


Christmas is finally here. The mall is closed. The turkey is stuffed and in the oven, that sweater for Aunt Martha is wrapped and sent and it’s time to take a little breather. So we sit on the sofa, tune into a holiday movie on Netflix, down a rum and egg nog and gather our strength for the Boxing Day sales. Does that just about sum up Christmas for you? If it does, then what are you doing here? Why did you make this trip to a crowded downtown Cathedral? What piece of the Christmas puzzle do you hope to find here?

I have pondered these same questions every Christmas for most of my life. What is it about this day that makes us act differently? Why do we go out of our way to extend courtesies to perfect strangers? Why come here every Christmas to listen to the same story of love peace and good will?

It is a message that is certainly hard to reconcile with the world we live in, a world that revolves around anger, political malice, and war. Ours is a world that makes money its god, and makes God its enemy.  Ours is a world where justice is vilified and corruption is rewarded.  Ours is a world that breeds loneliness, frustration, and indifference. It is a world of great sadness and overwhelming hopelessness.

Such a world makes it very easy to ignore Christmas, and dismiss its promise of hope in the form of a new born baby as sentimental nonsense. It’s better to treat this season as a winter Holiday that celebrates nothing more than the biggest merchandising opportunity of the year.  Let’s forget about the Messiah’s claim of future peace and justice, and get on with the business of consuming the world?

But it seems that Christmas is not so easy to let go of. Something about this day still speaks to people in a way the secular world cannot. The evidence of that is right here, believers and unbelievers alike crowding into in churches all around the world every Christmas. They have many reasons for coming. Some have come to see this a beautifully restored Cathedral. Others have come to hear the boys of the Choir School sing. Some are here because their parents made them come. Others who are not Catholic, and those who don’t belong to any faith are here out of respect for a spouse, or a loved one who is Catholic. Many haven’t been to church since last year, but are here tonight because deep inside they are holding on to something that used to be important, something they learned as a child, something they hope will speak to their need, their losses, their struggles, their loneliness.

No matter what reasons you have for being here, Christmas is more than a beautiful Cathedral, or beautiful singing, or a childhood memory. It is the about God’s promised Messiah, Jesus Christ who came to show us, by his own life and death, what it means to be people of peace, and to live in hope.  Even if we have been beaten down and almost destroyed, by the world around us, the promise of Christmas can still have a profound effect on us. “To you is born this day…a saviour, who is the Messiah the Lord.” Into the darkness of fear was born a light of hope. This unique gift is given to us each time we celebrate the saviour’s birth. Like a light in the window on a cold dark day this gift of Christmas draws us together, if only for an hour to repeat its centuries’ old promise- God is with us.

Even with all our cynicism and indifference we can’t quite forget that. No matter how hard the world around us tries to ignore the spiritual significance of this day, no matter how politically correct it is to call it a Winter Holiday instead of Christmas day. No matter how many gifts are under our tree, the only important one was found in a manger. The birth of Christ gives a gift that we cannot receive in any other way. And when you are up to your neck in physical, emotional or spiritual darkness, it is the only gift that will bring you hope and peace.

Every Christmas God reaffirms his claim upon this world, a world whose people are often gripped by terrible fears. Fear of failure. Fear of the future. Fear of death. Fear of judgment. Yes, it’s true, the day after Christmas business will continue as usual. The Christmas decorations will disappear and media will go back to its unrelenting reporting of all the horrors and profanity that human beings are capable of. Tomorrow it will seem like Christmas changed nothing. Our world will still appear to be the same as it always was. That’s because, before the gift of Christmas can change the world, we have to let it change us.

As Long as I can remember, every Christmas I have looked for that special gift that would be the gift of all gifts. As a child I thought it would be a toy that would keep me entertained and happy, then as I grew older it became a bicycle, then a computer, then a car, then a house.  As the years went by no single gift ever changed me; nothing even came close to filling that void, that longing I had inside.

Years of disappointment, loss and hardships took their toll. I lost the wonder and the excitement that I felt as a child on Christmas day. But still, even at my most cynical and jaded times, even though I was not always conscious of it, deep inside I kept on watching and waiting for God to give me that one gift that would answer all my needs, and all my desires.

Today, I have that gift and to my surprise I now see that it was offered to me every Christmas of my life. I was looking at it without really seeing it. The true gift of Christmas is not found under the Christmas tree, it is found deep within us, it is the gift of faith. Every Christmas I unwrap this gift a little more. Every Christmas, faith helps me to understand the place that Christ has in my life. Every Christmas I exchange a little more of my darkness and fear for a little more of Christ’s light and hope.

Christmas still delivers a powerful message for all of us gathered here. It reminds us that, despite the culture of death and sin in which we live, we still have the promise of new life, new joy, and a new way of understanding ourselves within the boundaries of creation.  The gift of faith has been given over and over again for two thousand years and it is offered again to you today. If you accept the gift of faith it will drown out the cynical echoes of the world, which says nothing has changed and tomorrow will be business as usual.  It can change your life, but you have to unwrap it and use it.

When we accept the gift of faith, it helps us find the meaning and purpose that is lacking in our lives. If we open it, we can find peace for our troubled souls. But faith is not the kind of gift we can turn on and off like a TV. We can’t just sit idle and watch it, or use the remote control to change it when we don’t like what we see. Faith in Jesus Christ is an interactive gift, it requires our participation, it has to be taken out of the box, and lived if it is to fulfill its promise!

My friends, are you still looking for that perfect Christmas gift, the one that will make you more understanding, more kind, more forgiving? Then open up the gift of faith that is being given to you this day. You might just see that faith in Jesus Christ, is the only Christmas gift you really need.

November, 2016:


Today is the feast of Christ the King Sunday. It is a day to reflect on our undivided loyalty to the reign of Christ in our lives.  At one time being a king really meant something. When kings spoke, nations trembled. Kings were the most powerful human beings on earth. Time itself was marked on the basis of when a king began his reign. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, even the coming of the Messiah was intimately tied to the restoration of King David’s line to the throne of Israel.

But we modern day Christians have a different view of Kings and kingship. Kings rule autocratically. Kings give orders rather than strive for consensus. Kings demand obedience and total domination of the people. Our perception of what a king is may be keeping us from understanding just how Christ rules in our lives. Earthly kings rule because they use their power to control, to take things away from those who do not obey. Christ the King rules because he uses his power guide and to give to his subjects what they need the most. Christ our King does not force his rule on to us, instead he invites us to walk by the light he casts in the darkness of our world.

When I was eight years old I can remember walking to church in the winter darkness of Lent to serve the 7:00 a.m. weekday mass. The streets were always very dark, quiet, and empty. Those five blocks to the church were a little spooky, and my only comfort came from the streetlights and the circle of light they cast. When I was under the circle of the streetlight, I felt safe, but the circles of light did not overlap and I often found myself running as fast as I could to the next streetlight. I would make my way to the church running from one circle of light to the next.

Reflecting on this childhood experience, I can see that life is still pretty much a race through the dark to the next bright spot. I have experienced periods of darkness for which there has been no immediate relief, periods of confusion when both clarity and light seemed a long way off, and I have had to walk in these dark places longer than I would have liked.

That’s reality, is it not? Travelling from one circle of light and happiness to the next. And in between the unavoidable periods of darkness and confusion. Life is full of ups and downs; confusion and clarity; wild-eyed fears and joy-filled achievements. In the midst of it all perhaps the most critical question we can ask ourselves is this: “Is there a permanent light to guide me, especially in those great stretches of darkness and fear, when I must walk alone? The answer is, yes. That light is faith. Faith can help us “to trust,” and “to hope,” that there is light beyond the shadows of our present darkness. Our second reading tells us to; “give thanks to the Father who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen.

The light of faith guides us our life choices. Is the man or woman for me to marry? Is this the right career or job for me? How will I cope with the death of a loved one, or my own inevitable death? Sometimes we forget about Christ our King and we put our faith in the light cast by politics, economics, psychology and technology. We hope their light will guide in the right direction.

But those lights do not cast a very wide beam and they seem to fade away very quickly. If we are not careful when their light fails we may find ourselves permanently stuck in the darkness. If life is like walking from streetlight to streetlight, along a dark street, not really sure of where it is taking us or what we will find at the end of it then we need a much stronger light than the one the world provides. We need to put our faith in a light that does not fade and that offers hope when we find ourselves walking in the dark. That light is Christ our King. He is the only light that can give us what we need to navigate the darkness, things like forgiveness, belonging, understanding and love. If we put out faith in the light of Christ our King he will illuminate the way to our final destination, we will enter his kingdom of light.

The eternal light of heaven is the only thing that can guides us through the darkness. Putting our faith in the light cast by science, or medicine, or politics, will never see us through the darkness because there are things in the darkness that are much bigger, more powerful and more fearsome than we can imagine.

The light of Christ our King rules over the darkness. For as our second reading says, “all things have been created through him and for him. Christ is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” With Christ as our king we are never alone in our persecutions, or our heartaches, or whatever dark we must walk though, because Christ was the first light and is the last light;  the darkness in between is only temporary.

During the dark days of Joseph Stalin, Christians were persecuted in Russia. In 1940 at an isolated church near Odessa, over 40,000 Christians came to an Easter service. The Communists, unable to stop the gathering, organized a counterblast assembly. They erected huge loudspeakers in and around the church and bombarded the people with godless Communist propaganda for four hours until darkness had fallen. Finally one of the Christians asked if he could say something to the crowd through the amplification system. At first he was refused. But when he promised to say only 6 words, they allowed him to come to the platform. In the unbroken tense silence he stood in the darkness and said: “Brothers and sisters, Christ is risen.” And the 40,000 Christians assembled there responded in unison: “He is risen indeed.” For, for 23 years they walked in the darkness of oppression and denial with no political or social light to guide them. They held fast to the faith they had and the light of Christ their King sustained.

Today’s highly political and highly material world has placed our very individual lives under siege. We live in a swirling sea of political and social relationships that excite us, but offer no real comfort or permanence. Our lives are bombarded by social media and political propaganda, and we struggle to escape the beasts and demons in the darkness waiting to devour us.

Let us not give up hope. Let us put our faith in Christ our King, the first light and the last light and the only light that holds all things together. Let the light of Christ enter your consciousness and help you reclaim the threads of your spiritual life. Come, King Jesus, and walk with us ….through the dark, to the light.


In today’s gospel Jesus says, “If the owner of the House had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you must also be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” It is an odd way to begin Advent, a time when we celebrate God breaking into our lives. We can handle God coming to us as a Father, shepherd, bridegroom and creator, but can we handle God as a thief?

To understand this imagery, we have to put this gospel into its proper context. It comes from a part of Matthew’s gospel that describes Jesus’ last words and actions in Jerusalem before his passion and death. It is part of his predictions of a coming disaster; the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. When that happens, a whole civilization will be stolen from the Jewish people. Their precious religious, political and cultural foundations will be ground into dust, disappearing forever. When Matthew wrote his gospel Jerusalem had already been destroyed and for his original audience, Christians with deep Jewish roots, the memory of that destruction would have been very painful.

Matthew points out that judgement comes upon the world and upon individuals as suddenly and as unexpectedly as a thief in the dead of night.  God the thief  has a way of circumventing our elaborate security systems. He breaks through our false illusions, that we are the centre of the universe, that we are in control of our lives and that we can do anything we want because we are protected by our political, social, economic and cultural systems.

None of us can escape the physical, emotional and spiritual trials that are a part and parcel of human existence. We must be prepared when these storms hit. We need a lifeline to cling to that will keep us from going under. But no matter how tightly we grasp one end of our lifeline, if the other end is not tied to something secure than we are in danger.

Many people have anchored their lifeline to political, social, economic and cultural systems. God the thief comes to steal our trust in these things, to show us that they aren’t strong enough to save us. Beloved Political figures are voted out, social conventions change, stock markets and dollar values decrease, cultural traditions are attacked and devalued. One by one these things that we have anchored our lifeline to, are stolen from us and we are set adrift with no lifeline to help us deal with our personal disasters.

A new mother is told that her unborn child will be born with severe defects. If it lives past delivery it will have a short life of intense suffering. A husband wakes in the middle of the night with severe stomach pains. He finds out that he has cancer and that its inoperable. A child fighting leukemia  suffers brain damage and the loss of his sight due chemotherapy. What will happen if he needs a second round of treatment?

These are some of the things people are facing. With all hope of a good outcome gone, with nothing but destruction and death and loss to look forward to, what do they put their trust in now? With God taking everything away, what do they have to cling to, to keep their head above water?

It is unfortunate that it takes political, social and personal upheaval to strike before we ask ourselves, “What is the most important thing in my life? What should I surrender and what should I trust?” Even if God the thief breaks in and steals all our false illusions, he never leaves us with out hope. Even in our darkest hours, there is one thing we can hold on to, our faith in Christ. We  may be robbed of our false sense of security, but if we anchor our lifeline to his Jesus, we will survive whatever this life throws at us.

As I said, it is odd to start the Advent season with an image of God as a thief on the prowl. When the First Sunday Advent rolls around we don’t think about reflecting on how the many ways God breaks into our lives because we are fixated on only one way, the non threatening, easy to take image of God as little baby in a manager. We don’t wait in anticipation of God’s approach, instead we anticipate the parties, the gifts, the decorating. No wonder  God acts like a thief, stealing our hearts away from the empty pleasures and worldly structures we have attached our hopes to. In their place he offers real joy and lasting happiness for all those who anchor themselves to Christ. This anchor does not come with material comfort, or a life free of hurt: but it will help us live a life of joy and inner peace. Attach your lifeline to Christ, and nothing, not even immanent death and destruction, will sweep you away.

Advent is a time to wait in anticipation for the loving support and comfort  that God promises with the birth of Jesus. It is a time to begin to prepare yourself for the unexpected. Advent helps us see the fragility and the sacredness of human existence that is reflected in the birth of our Saviour. Reflecting on the past coming of God, and the future coming of Christ will help us drop the false illusions of how things seem to be and how we thought they would always be. Some of what we think is so essential to the good life may have to be stripped away so that we will be ready to receive God when he comes.

If we anchor our faith to Christ and his promises, we will find in him the security we seek. Then we will have the resources to handle whatever hurts may come and we can go about the business of life, trusting that when the trials and disasters that plague out lives occur, Christ will pull on the other end of our lifeline and bring us safely into his arms.

October, 2016:


The gospel opens with a demand from the apostles to Jesus;  “Increase our faith”. It comes on the heels of some pretty difficult teachings from Jesus. You can hear the disciples desperation in their demand:  “Lord, if you expect us to help others and love our enemies than we need to be substantially stronger in our faith than we are. We are not perfect. We are bound to do things that will cause others to stumble. As for this continual forgiving stuff, we are not certain we are up to that. We might forgive once or twice, but seventy seven times, why can’t we just cut the offender out of our lives? We don’t have sufficient faith to do what you ask, Lord, so please, “Increase our faith!”

Jesus responds to this demand by saying, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you”. Jesus’ is telling them; “You already have enough faith to do what I am asking you to do. But you have to stop trying to control every situation and trust in God. If you did that, you could do all I ask of you and more. If you act on that tiny bit of faith that is within you, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.”

Most of us here probably have the same concerns as those disciples. We may even ask Jesus for more faith in order to live up to the demands of discipleship. Like those first disciples we have probably misinterpreted what faith is and how it works in our lives. Faith is not a magician’s trick by which we are empowered to do spectacular miracles. The more faith the bigger the miracles. The point that Jesus makes is that there grows within each of us a tiny seed of faith, and if we nurture it, it will prove sufficient for any of the tasks demanded of a Christian disciple.

Jesus has used this metaphor of the mustard seed before. In another passage of scripture he says that the mustard seed, though the smallest of all seeds, grows into a bush so large birds come and build nests in it. The implication is obvious. If we allow the seed of faith to grow within us, not only will it strengthen us, it will also help us to become a person who offers shelter for those who need it.

But our Lord uses this notion of “having faith” in a very specific way. To Jesus, having faith is not just adhering to a certain set of beliefs or doctrines. Having faith is not just believing there is a God. To Jesus, faith is a deeply personal relationship with God. When such faith is shared and nourished by a believing community it can provide a spiritual force in our life that shapes everything about us and provides us with the strength to go where Jesus leads us.

So when our Lord says that we have the faith to tell a tree to move, he means that if we trust God to be God, and not make God into what we want him to be, then we will have all the faith we need. Even though it might seem that our faith, our personal relationship with God, is as tiny as a mustard seed, if we are willing to exorcise it, to live it fully and openly, it will help us to overcome all obstacles that stand in the way of living up to the teachings of  Christ.

Unfortunately, more than the seed faith grows within us. We also carry the seeds of pride, envy, greed, sloth, lust, anger and gluttony. Like the seed of faith, these seeds can grow until we are nothing but a stumbling block for others. We have the capacity to forgive one another over and over again, but we also have the capacity to hurt one another over and over again. If we are not monitoring, nurturing, and acting on our faith, we are more likely to grow and to act on our capacity to sin.

I can remember listening to a couple of friends pontificate on the world’s problems over lunch. They are basically good people, but neither of these men had ever developed the gift of faith within themselves. They went to church and participated in worship, but they did not have a personal relationship with God.  Their solutions to the world’s problems, involved the use of force and political sanctions, and very little personal risk or involvement. They lived in a terribly small, self-centred world. Without cultivating and acting upon the possibilities of faith we can get wrapped up in our own self-interests. The road to spiritual maturity requires serving others and not just serving self. We all need to acknowledge and understand the seed of self-centeredness that grows within can choke out the seed of faith.

One of the most destructive seeds within is the need for control. We try to control our environment, the events we participate in, even other people’s behaviour. If we are not careful  that seed of control can grow into violence even in the best intentioned people. A few years ago I read a story about a woman, the wife of a Baptist preacher. She had a daughter named Jenny. When Jenny became 24 years old she announced to her family that it was time for her to leave home. She got a job, rented an apartment, and even decided to join a different church.

Jenny’s mother, usually a gentle, sweet, encouraging woman, became very distraught over her daughter’s decision. She didn’t believe her daughter was ready for independence. She worried that she was too immature and naive about the ways of the world. She constantly begged her daughter to remain with her, but Jenny remained firm in her decision to be more independent. When the day came for Jenny to move, her mother shot her to death and then committed suicide.

When children are small, parents do whatever they think is best for their child. They believe they have their children’s best interest at heart. In fact, the smaller the child, the more control parents assume over their lives. But as children grow, healthy parenting requires that they give up control over their children’s lives so that they can learn to be responsible for themselves. Jenny’s mother could no longer control her daughter’s life.  Her faith was not big enough for her to trust in God, or to believe that God would help her, or her daughter, to face the future and what it held.

We all try and exercise control over our own lives, over the lives of those we love, even over life itself. It’s just one of many potentially destructive desires that lie within us. If faith is not nurtured and encouraged to grow stronger, then there is a good chance that one of those destructive desires will take over.

This gospel makes significant demands on all those who follow Christ. We must be role models for doing good and should not do anything that will cause others to stumble. We must forgive others over and over and over again. These lessons on living like Christ, coming one on top of the other, left the first disciples breathless, and Jesus, sensing they are overwhelmed, calms them with a parable. He tells them that servants do not worry about the service they do. They just do it. It’s the same for all who follow Christ. Don’t worry about what is required of you. Don’t magnify the difficulty, making it harder to do. Just live it as best you can. Carefully nurture the faith that is within you and act on it. Do that and you will be amazed at just how much you will accomplish.


In our gospel today we have the story of ten lepers who approach Jesus asking for his mercy. Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. As these ten lepers began their journey to the temple, the marks of leprosy were still on their bodies, but at some point, as they walked their decaying flesh became healthy. I am sure that when they noticed they were healed, they laughed and shouted and hugged each other. But as they continued their walk to the temple other concerns may have taken over. What kind of reception will they get when they show up at temple? How will they explain this miracle? Will their family be prepared to take them back? What about work, what will they do for a living now? Their worries overwhelmed their gratitude for the gift they were given.

That’s the funny thing about receiving a miraculous gift. The joy it brings is often very short lived. You start worrying about what others think. You are constantly trying to explain what happened. You forget the joy the gift brings as you return to your normal way of life. Those nine ungrateful lepers may have been so caught up in the consequences of being cured, so intent on proving their worthiness to reenter society, that they forgot to thank the person who was responsible for the gift of being healed.

Those nine ungrateful lepers called to mind a line in an article I read in Time magazine; “Never have so many had it so good and felt so badly about it.” Those nine lepers had just received the great gift of healing, but the stress and worries of everyday life quickly got in the way. They may have focused too much on the years they had lost and the things that were denied them. They may have been in too much of a hurry to return to a normal way of life and did not take the time to appreciate the gift they were given, or to thank the one who gave it.

We tend to act the same way. Its Thanksgiving weekend, a time when we should stop and give thanks for what we have received, but the feeling of gratitude that should accompany our thanks may not be there.  Thanksgiving day may find us suffering from stress, depression, loneliness or anger. Like the nine lepers we can lose sight of our blessings because we are focused too much on our woes. We need to find a way to give gratitude to God even if we don’t think we have anything to be thankful for.

Learning to do that involves spiritual discipline, a practice that’s fallen from favour in our society today. Our parents were well acquainted with this kind of discipline.  They lived by doing what they believed was right and necessary, even if they didn’t feel like doing it. Today, however, we live by our feelings. It doesn’t matter if something is wrong or right, or that it needs to be done, or that it ought be done, our first question is always: “Do I feel like doing it?”  We may have great physical discipline, but emotionally and spiritually, we often act impulsively. Even when we know a course of action is wrong, we do it anyway.  If we don’t feel like doing something we just don’t do it.

We have become so “self” centred, so sure that only we have the power to make ourselves happy, healthy and whole, that we lose sight of the gifts that come from outside of ourselves, from the help of others, from the mercy of God. We allow our moods, our whims, and our feelings to guide our choices, and all too often those feelings excuse us from doing what is right.

The only way out of this sorry state of affairs is through discipline. Instead of investing all your energy in yourself, your needs, trying to make those good things you have been given serve your needs and your wants, do something positive for someone else. Instead of complaining about what you don’t have and how that holds you back, be thankful for what you have been given and what it allows you to do.

At first personal discipline can be hard, but slowly, as you practice it, something marvellous happens. Your problems are not as big as you thought they were, you begin to feel connected to others, you become more aware of the presence of God working in our life. Suddenly you find yourself healed of the many things that held you back, that stopped you from living fully. When discipline and faith are combined, we can be thankful and joyful, even when we life is not as perfect as we feel it should be.

Another thing that can help us give thanks when we’re not in the mood; is worship. We may come to church grumpy, depressed, and feeling like it’s a gigantic waste of time, but Jesus said, “When two or three of you are gathered in my name I am there with you,” so we discipline ourselves and come to fulfill our Sunday obligation.

Once here you may find the opening hymn familiar and comforting, the choir uplifting; the prayers of the congregation drawing you in. You may even feel as though the homily is speaking directly to you. Suddenly you are glad to be here! This, dear people, is the greatest gift of Christ’s church. It’s called community, and when we gather together, the sharing of our trials and our triumphs can draw us closer and lift our spirits and implant within us a deep sense of gratitude.

On this Thanksgiving day, faith challenges us to discipline, and calls us into community. But to take up that challenge there one thing we need to do.  We must stop take a good look at our lives and look past what we feel is missing and acknowledge the good things we have been given. Let me share with you my own inventory of the past years woes and blessings.

I watched helplessly, as my older sister lost her battle with cancer. I continue to watch, the growing fragility of my elderly mother who has always been my greatest source of strength and support.  Two of my closest friends have moved away, and I felt lost and abandoned. I have a ministry that has changed radically and at times I feel I am not really making any difference. I feel that no matter what I do, its never enough.  I feel I am wasting my time, my resources, and my energy.

To stop these feelings from taking over, I then sat down and looked at what Christ has given me and I began to see many reasons to be grateful! I am blessed to still have my mother with me and good friends who support me. I am privileged to live and work with some creative, and amazingly faithful priests. The reopening of this Cathedral and celebrating once again at this altar with all of you is a great achievement and an even greater blessing.

I am humbled with joyful gratitude every time I am invited into people’s lives, to celebrate their baptisms, marriages, and funerals; to help others grow in faith and join themselves to Christ and to the church; to see those who are angry and bitter find release in forgiveness. I am grateful for this priesthood and how it has allowed me to grow ever more committed and connected to Jesus.  That’s just a small part of my personal inventory. And as I was in the midst of it, I began to be ashamed of myself for allowing my selfish feelings of regret and resentment to block what the Lord has given me.

Does this Thanksgiving weekend find you expressing only regrets and remorse? Do you feel there is precious little to be thankful for in your life? Then I urge you, exercise a little discipline, enter into worship with this believing community and make a conscious effort to give thanks to Jesus for what he has done for you. An ungrateful heart sees very few blessings, but a grateful heart will find every day a gift from God.


Today’s gospel story, known popularly as the “parable of the unjust judge” is a tough story to deal with. The usual point of a parable is to make a deep truth easier to understand, but this parable doesn’t quite do that. What makes it so tough to deal with is that the main character is not a nice person. He’s a man who became a judge, but not for any of the right reasons.

He doesn’t fear God. He doesn’t feel accountable to any universal ideas of good and bad, of right and wrong. He judged others, but didn’t think there was anyone judging him. He felt no accountability to a larger sense of justice. This man, this judge, had no belief, or at least no interest, in the higher good. He didn’t feared God, and he had no respect for people. He didn’t judge in response to God’s law, nor did he act out of a simple sense of fairness. It is apparent that he didn’t become a judge in order to help people.

Enter the poor widow who comes to him begging for his help. She begs for justice, but he didn’t have any interest in justice. She goes on begging and nagging until finally, the judge gives in and gives her what she wants. Did he finally do what she asked because she convince him of the rightness of her cause? Did the judge suddenly realize the selfishness of his ways and resolve to turn his life around and do good with his power? No; the judge assisted the woman simply because she annoyed him, and he wanted her to go away.

What’s is this story supposed to mean?  Jesus says it’s about our need to pray always and not to lose heart. So, if this is a story about prayer, is the poor widow supposed to be us? More to the point, is the heartless judge supposed to be God? After all, the judge is the one to whom the woman begs. The judge has the power to bring about justice, and in the end, it’s the judge who grants her what she’s been asking for. Like the judge, God hears our prayers. Like the judge, God has the power to do something about our problems.

But how far can we take that analogy? Is God like the judge in every way? Does God also ignore us? Does God also have no respect for people or their needs? Does God also answer our prayers only when we’ve annoyed him and he wants to get rid of us? There are many people out there who actually look at God in this way; cold unfeeling, unpredictable. But surely that is not who God is!

We know that God loves us, we know that God wants good for us, and we know that God eagerly listens and answers our prayers. God is nothing like the judge, and that’s the point of the story. It’s not a comparison, it’s a contrast. The judge is this … but God is that. The judge has no respect for people. But God respects people and cares for them. The judge wants to be left alone. God is with us always. The judge gives in out of exasperation. God provides for us out of love. If a selfish and power-drunk judge, a person who doesn’t even like people, will give a poor widow the justice she’s been begging for, then God, who loves us, will surely give us whatever good and helpful thing we need. God is better than the judge and will treat us better than the judge treated the widow. As Jesus says, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

But then Jesus, in the last line of this gospel, issues a challenge to us concerning our need to be persistent in prayer. Jesus asks, “…When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus just told a story about how God can be trusted with our prayers; a story meant to show that God answers us and cares for us willingly. So why does he ask if there will still be faith on earth when he returns? Because in spite of his assurance that God hears and answers us, it can be hard for us to trust that this is true.

The stresses of everyday life and the many demands that are placed upon us challenge this priority to pray. We are often too tired, too anxious, to empty to summon up the time and energy needed to engage in proper prayer. The modern Christian is also conditioned by the world in which they live.  A world that wants instant gratification and immediate results. All of this makes us question the value of something as ill-defined and poorly quantified as prayer.  Yet, the gospel parable of the unjust judge tells us that we must persevere in prayer, never losing hope, for only in this way can we reach our goal and find peace with the Lord.

The most important lesson that times of persecution and doubt can teach us is that we must depend completely on God and voice that dependence in prayer. We must feel the need to pray not just when we want God to fix something for us, or to bring us justice, but at every moment, in every aspect of our daily life, good and bad. Only through our perseverance in prayer will we be able to deal with the situations in our lives which are the most challenging or troublesome. It is almost easy to pray when things are going our way, but when situations appear to be hopeless, it is our anger at God, and our disbelief in what is happening, that often causes resentment, resignation and a sense that we are all alone.

There are so many times when it seems as if God really is like the unjust judge. So many times our prayers seem to go unanswered. It is true that some prayer is selfish. Some prayers treat God like a menu. Most people would agree that praying to God for luxuries or for one’s own glory is out of bounds. God is perfectly within his rights if he says, “No” to those prayers. But what about prayers said in love? What about the many just and kind and selfless prayers that don’t seem to get an answer? Prayers that ask God to heal, to protect, strengthen. We pray and we beg and we plead, and people still get sick and still fall victim to crime. There is still tragedy. There is heartbreak. There is still death.

It is not easy to trust. It is not easy to believe. It is not easy to pray. We do not always get what we pray for, even when what we want is a truly good thing. So how can we say that God always hears us? How can we still have faith that God will say, “Yes” to us when we see “No” all around? Jesus is the answer. Jesus himself is God’s, “Yes.” Jesus is the answer to every hope and every prayer. Jesus fell victim to crime and cruelty and evil. Jesus was rejected and beaten and crucified. In Jesus, God is with us when we are victimized. In Jesus, God is with us even when things go horribly wrong. In Jesus, God is with us even in death. And because Jesus rose from the dead, God gives us life and a future and a purpose. God loves us. God respects us. In Jesus, God says, “Yes” to us and gives us peace and solace in times of suffering. In Jesus, God gives hope to us when we mourn and life when we face death. Jesus, is God’s answer to all our prayers.

The parable of the unjust judge, told by Jesus to encourage his disciples to persevere in prayer, presents a timeless message of our need for God. As the widow demonstrated perseverance in her dispute with the judge, so must we show equal diligence and consistency in our daily prayer with the Lord. We must be persistent in prayer and do what is necessary to foster our relationship with God. Don’t wait to pray until it is convenient or quit because it is inconvenient, commit to it. God never gives up on us, we must never give up on God even when he seems to be silent. God’s message to pray always and never lose heart must be our daily task as we journey with Jesus towards eternal life.


The portrayal of the Pharisee and the Tax collector in this gospel is somewhat exaggerated. The Pharisee was probably worse than most Pharisee’s of the day really were, and the tax collector was probably more humble than any tax collector would have been. Because of this exaggeration we may view this story as nothing more than a caricature of ancient Jewish temple life which has no relationship to today.

These characters may be exaggerated, but Jesus does this to reveal the hearts of these two worshipers, and in doing so speaks to the secret thoughts in our own hearts. This story is meant to teach us something about ourselves and something about prayer. There may not be any Pharisees or Tax Collectors here today, but the way that we pray is very similar to theirs.  Maybe if we gave some thought to what is going on in our hearts, and the hearts of those around us as we pray, it might help us to understand what Jesus is trying to teach us. So let us recast the characters in this gospel story in a modern light.

Some people went up to St. Michael’s Cathedral to pray. In the front pew a university professor pays close attention to the liturgy and the homily. He doesn’t want to miss a word. He considers himself a devout Catholic and has studied the scriptures and theology all his life; he was even in the seminary for a few years. He believes he is an expert on religious worship and if the pastor strays from the Gospel or from Church teaching it is his duty to correct him. He thanks God that his knowledge and intellect raises him above the average parishioner.

In the last pew at the back of the Cathedral is a high school teacher who for twenty years has kept his drinking a secret from his colleagues. He folds and unfolds the bulletin over and over thinking about the bottle he has hidden in his car. He knows that one day it’s all going to blow up in his face and he is powerless to stop it. He prays that his wife and kids will still love him, and stick with him, and that despite his weakness God will have mercy and forgive him.

Each time I step into this Ambo to preach I look out over the congregation and I wonder what is going on in the lives of these people. I have barely ten minutes to try and reach you before I lose you completely to your own thoughts. What can I say to help? You have heard it all before, and in the moment of silence before I begin to speak, I pray for guidance. What is it you still need to hear? Should I challenge you? Should I comfort you? How can I help you connect with today’s gospel? How do I break through your trials, sorrows, stubbornness and self-centeredness so that you can hear the message of Christ’s love?

For many of, our stance before God is somewhere between the arrogance of the Pharisee, and the total humility of the Tax Collector. It important to know where our prayer is coming from because who we are, and how we see ourselves affects our prayer. Jesus is telling us that true prayer begins with the need to know ourselves and the need to be known by God. Real prayer is formed by our deepest longing, and our darkest isolation.

Prayer is not to be used to extol our own virtues or prove our own self-righteousness. Like the Pharisee in today’s gospel we do not use prayer to show God how good we are or to take pride in how better we are than others. Real prayer has its roots in the kind of prayer the Tax collector said; the undeveloped, broken fragments of thought that people have when they are being honest with themselves, when they see themselves as they really are, when they admit their lives are not perfect.

Jesus is teaching us that our prayer can go in two directions. Either it is an open and honest stance before God that holds nothing back and seeks nothing but mercy; or it is a closed formal process that treats God like some kind of corporation that we have invested in and are now expecting a return. Either you pray because you believe it will help you to give more freely; or you pray because you believe it will help you gain some kind of reward for yourself.

I know that this parable does not answer a lot of our other questions about prayer, questions like: Is God listening? Will God answer me? Does God even exist at all? The light of faith is sometimes so weak, and we can get so caught up in our selves, that it is hard to be sure whether God really is out there and not just a shadow that is cast by our own longing for him. All we can do is trust like the Tax collector, and hope that despite our doubts and uncertainties and faults God sees us, and loves us.

At the end of this gospel Jesus tells us that the Tax collector went home justified. If we bear our souls to God and trust in his mercy we too will be justified. That doesn’t make us perfect, it doesn’t make us better than anyone else, it may not change the circumstances of our life, and it does not mean that we are excused from the hard work of conversion and repentance. But the justification we receive will strengthen our faith and orient our spirit towards God, whose grace will help us carry on with life, knowing that no matter what else happens, we are loved.

The Pharisee went up to the temple to pray, his thoughts were of himself and not of God. He filled his prayer with self-promotion and self-praise, and left no room for silence, where true communication with God begins.  The poor Tax Collector also went to the temple to pray. But he looked at himself honestly and humbly. He prayed briefly, earnestly, sincerely. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And then he listened – in the ensuing silence – for God’s voice. Which one are we?


Whenever I hear this story of Zacchaeus I find myself wondering how he ended up in that tree. The Gospel says it was because he was short man and could not see over the crowd.  But there must have been something more, something that made him go looking for Jesus in the first place. He was a tax collector, which made him a very rich man. He may not have been well liked by his fellow Jews, but his position gave him power and influence. So how was it that this wealthy and powerful man found himself sitting in a tree, trying to see who Jesus was?  What was missing in his life?

Maybe Zacchaeus had lost sight of his goal in life. Maybe Zacchaeus was willing to risk his dignity by climbing that tree because he realized that his life did not have enough purpose or meaning. Maybe his money and his power was no longer enough to make him happy. Maybe he lost sight of who he was in the routine of his daily life. Maybe it was the combination of all those things which made Zacchaeus leave his house, join the common people, who despised him, subject himself to ridicule by climbing a tree, just to catch a glimpse of the one person he heard might have some insight into his growing unease.

And when Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, he got more than he bargained for. Not only did he see who Jesus was, Zacchaeus also saw who he was. I recall a fictional story written about this gospel, where Jesus asks Zacchaeus this question; ” Zacchaeus what did you see in that tree which made you desire this peace?” And Zacchaeus answered, “Good master, I saw mirrored in your eyes the Zacchaeus I was meant to be.”

The things that pushed Zacchaeus to go looking for Christ, are the same things which push us to seek some kind of relief from our own growing malaise. We wake up every morning, we get out of bed, we wash and dress, we eat breakfast, we go to work or to school, and at the end of the day we come home, we eat, we watch TV and we go to bed. That is usually the routine that makes up most of our day. In between those mundane activities, the mortgage must be paid, the kids get the flu, the car needs new tires and jobs are being cut at work.  Faced with such endless routine and constant worry, we can lose sight of who we are and our purpose in life.

One day we look in the mirror and think, “Is this really me, am I really this person? “What happened to the innocent child I once was, the excited teenager with the endless possibilities, the blushing bride, the new father looking into the eyes of his first born child? All that I once was I am no longer. And although I can remember bits and pieces of them, I no longer know this person who is living inside my own skin.

It seems that we grow harder as we grow older. And that’s because all our lives we believe that whatever we want in this world, we have to fight for. Nobody is going to hand it to us on a silver platter. If we don’t fight, people will walk all over us and push us out of the way to get what we have. Any fool knows that if you want to get ahead you have to push back. We have stepped on some peoples toes, we have hurt people who stood in our way. You can’t be everybody’s friend, business is business, war is war. It’s a hard world.

In some measure this is the person each one of us has become. It is a person we do not know well. It is a person we have chosen to be, to protect ourselves from the world around us. It is in part a person that the world has chosen us to be, but it is also a person we are all to willing to be. And it was probably this person that Zacchaeus finally saw and could no longer live with that made him go out and look for Jesus.

But it wasn’t what he saw sitting in that tree changed him. It was what Jesus saw. Jesus saw beyond the person Zacchaeus was and he helped Zacchaeus realize that this person, formed by the world around him was not the person he really was.  Jesus helped Zaccheaus see that being indifferent, pitiless and afraid was not really what he wanted to be. Staring into the face of Jesus he finally let go of the person who fought the world and avoided getting involved with other people’s needs, so that he could get ahead himself.  He finally realized that he needed to care for the very people who feared and despised him for the way he made his living off of them. He realized that he needed Jesus, not only to help him do this, but to help him become the Zacchaeus he was meant to be.

Zacchaeus points the way for us. We must look at who we are, we must look into the darkness of our guilt and beyond it to the forgiving face of Christ. We must look at our loneliness and need and seek the peaceful loving face of Christ. We must discard the indifferent hard hearted person we have become and look for the true person we are meant to be, a person who resembles Christ.

To find that person we must spend time in prayer and in being still, taking a good look at ourselves and our lives. We often shy away from such things because it leads us away from action and we all like to think of ourselves as activists. If we are not doing something we feel guilty, and so we keep on doing, doing, doing, as a way to avoid thinking about who we are, and where we are headed. What we really need is to find a place of silence and solitude where God can come to us, where Jesus can see us, heal us, and offer us his peace.

Finding our true selves can be a long and hard journey, but it is a journey each of us will have to make before we are through with this life. I am sure Zacchaeus went through many sleepless nights and many thoughtful hours before he found himself in that tree. The tree made him look ridiculous. It made him an object of derision and mockery and may have caused others to lose respect for him. But it was in that tree that he found salvation. Jesus went through the same thing when he found himself nailed to a tree. But he turned his cross into the tree of life and brought salvation to the whole world. No matter how hard we may try to avoid it we all have a tree to climb in our future. Either we climb into that tree willingly with our eyes open, and look for the promise of new life or we risk walking around it with our eyes closed and remain lost forever.

It is our destiny in this life to go out and look for the face of our saviour. We begin by looking in the faces of those around us, those we live with, work with and pray with.  If we search deeply enough, we will begin to see that who we want to be and what we want for ourselves is connected to others, to their dreams and their expectations. We will understand that their pain is our pain, their need is our need; that there can be no getting ahead at their expense, and that there can be no real joy for me unless there is joy for them.

If we are lucky we will see mirrored in their eyes the person that Jesus wants us to be.