Contact Info

200 Church St. Toronto ON M5B 1Z2

Phone: 416-364-0234

Fax: 416-364-6029

Web: St. Michael's Cathedral

Text Size

Homilies-Busch 2017-10-16T13:06:50+00:00

Homilies

Cardinal Collins
Rev. Michael Busch

Rev. Michael Busch

October, 2017:

28TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September, 2017:

ST. MICHAEL/GABRIEL/RAPHAEL ARCHANGELS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23RD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


22ND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August, 2017:

21st SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July, 2017:

13TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14TH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June, 2017:

PENTECOST SUNDAY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRINITY SUNDAY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12TH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May, 2017:

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASCENSION SUNDAY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April, 2017:

5TH SUNDAY OF LENT


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!

PALM/PASSION SUNDAY


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.

HOLY THURSDAY – MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER


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:

ASH WEDNESDAY


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.

1ST SUNDAY OF LENT


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.

2ND SUNDAY OF LENT


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.

3RD SUNDAY OF LENT


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.

4TH SUNDAY OF LENT


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:

5TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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.

6TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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:

MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD


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.

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD


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.”

2ND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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.

3RD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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.

4TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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:

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT


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.

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT


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.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT


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.

NATIVITY OF THE LORD


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:

CHRIST THE KING


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.

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT


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:

27TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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.

28TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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.

29TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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.

30TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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?

31ST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


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.