20th Sunday in Ordinary Time ( Year C )

Sometimes the thought that ‘doing the right thing’ or ‘speaking the truth’ may cost us something, can be intimidating. We look at those who speak out in defence of Church teaching, trying to remind all people, especially Catholics, of the deposit of faith and the commands handed down to us from Christ through the Apostles – and how they are often ignored, ridiculed or rejected simply because the message of the Gospel doesn’t ‘fit in’ with a particular lifestyle or political agenda. How often in our own circumstances do we speak the words, ‘we shouldn’t do that’ or ‘this is wrong’ or even in a more positive way, ‘we should be doing this’?  How often have we found ourselves willing to risk being ‘outsiders’, even within our own families, for remaining true to the Faith?

We might think that acting according to our faith may put us on the ‘outs’ with someone close to us can intimidate us or make us uncomfortable.  That discomfort can tempt us to do nothing, rather than risk ‘challenging’ someone and ‘causing conflict’.  If we react often enough in that way, we end up watering down the gospel, the Church’s teaching, and we lose that missionary zeal to spread the Gospel to all people as Jesus commanded us.  We lose that fire, because we are afraid of the consequences.

In today’s gospel from St. Luke, we hear Jesus speak, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the world? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

It’s not that the purpose of Jesus coming among us was to promote conflict – but He knew that, typical of our fallen human nature, His coming and message would result in division among people – even within households.  Some would accept His teaching and message, and others would not, sometimes violently opposing His message and those who bear it.  This is one of those ‘hard sayings’ of Jesus.  We would rather hear the ‘warm and fuzzy’ Jesus that talks about love and peace and green pastures and still meadows.

He is speaking of His impending Passion and Death and subsequent Resurrection; the fire of the Holy Spirit which He will send will engulf the world, consuming evil and inspiring and ‘inflaming’ the hearts of believers to live out the Gospel and spread it among all peoples; speaking the Truth with a ‘missionary zeal’.

We sometimes are lulled into this false sense that in the family dynamic, the ‘perfect’ family is one in which there are no challenges, no disagreements, no turmoil.  Reality, however, teaches us that there is often no growth without challenge or struggle. (Anyone who says that there is no ‘conflict’ in the perfect family has never said ‘no’ to a teenager.)

As Christians we are called to hold each other accountable, and to point out error when that error threatens to draw us or someone else further away from the relationship with God that we are all invited into.  Typically, though, we don’t like to be corrected.  We don’t like to have our errors pointed out to us.  If this ‘correction’ is not offered charitably, or accepted in humility, this most definitely can lead to hurt feelings, resentment, and division.  Just as typically, we don’t like to correct others out of fear of being thought of us ‘snobbish’ or ‘high-handed’ or even ‘hypocritical’.

In His teaching, Jesus does not tell us to point out error or provide correction in a spirit of malice, being deliberately hurtful or thoughtless, or from some sense of superiority (He knows we all have our own faults and shortcomings). 

But He does command His followers to speak and live the Truth, even when that Truth is in conflict with what our world, our culture, our society, even our own family members ,promote or engage in.  He gave commandments and teachings, and repeatedly taught that the true mark of His disciples was that they would follow His commandments and teachings regardless of the personal cost; that the true disciple’s first loyalty is to Him above all else, even family, friends and society.

The paradox is that the love given in devoted loyalty to Jesus expresses itself in the care and concern we have for others, in our words and actions.  On the other hand, complete devotion to specific people or to a specific culture or society does not often leave room for devotion to Christ.

As Christians we should desire that same fire that Jesus’ longed for! We should yearn for that missionary zeal to live as He lived and to love as He loved, speaking the Truth and deepening our own relationship with God and drawing all people, lovingly, into that relationship. We should hope and pray for the courage to be constant in our own circumstances, charitably challenging each other to live authentically as Catholics, and humbly accepting correction from each other in living out that authenticity.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ( Year C )

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Many Scripture scholars, and other people who read this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, often consider these words applying to the end of time, or at the very least the end of their own lives; that Christians need to ‘be ready’ to have a clear conscience and a pure heart for that time when God calls them to leave this life and enter into eternity. 

While this is one way of considering this passage, there is another, equally valid way we can reflect on these words.

We can consider these words applying to our meeting Jesus at the moment of our own death –and- we can consider these words applying to our meeting Jesus every day in every person we encounter. 

Saint Teresa of Calcutta used to remind the members of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, and others, that every day we would meet Jesus in what she called ‘the distressing disguise of the poor,” and poor is a very broad term;  it can mean the starving and the dying in the streets of Kolkata; it can also mean the poor or our own community or our own households – the materially poor; those who have no friends or family (the socially poor) ; those who have no relationship with God (the spiritually poor).

This particular Sunday is preceded by the feast day of two saints whose lives and deaths were very intertwined: Pope St. Sixtus II whose feast is August 7th, and St. Lawrence, whose feast is August 10th .

They lived in Rome during the persecution under the emperor Valerian in the middle of the 3rd century; one of the crimes directed at the Christians was any public act of worship, a crime punishable by death;  Saint Sixtus was arrested as he was celebrating Mass out in the cemetery of St. Callistus, along with five of his deacons, including Lawrence.  Sixtus and his deacons were well aware of the penalty for this public act, and they were prepared for the consequences; consequences which would mean execution; but would also mean being freed from the bonds of this world and meeting the Lord face to face.  In his life and ministry, Sixtus was ready to meet Jesus for eternity.

Lawrence, on the other hand, was singled out by the Roman prefect and separated from the others.  Lawrence was in charge of the church funds which were used for the care of the members of the church.  The prefect demanded the ‘treasury’ but Lawrence did not have it with him.  The prefect gave Lawrence three days to present him with the Church’s wealth.  Sixtus and the other deacons were executed that day.

Lawrence worked often with the poor of the city of Rome, and it was to the poor that his actions were drawn; he took all of the sacred vessels and gathered up all of the funds that the church possessed and spent the next three days distributing everything among the poor, Christian and non-Christian alike.  When the time came for him to make his presentation to the prefect, Lawrence gathered the poor, the sick and the lame of the city of Rome in the prefect’s courtyard and announced to him, “Behold the wealth of the Church.”

The prefect’s response was predictable; Lawrence was taken and executed in a most brutal fashion, roasted alive on a grid iron, and died a martyr of the Church; but it is in his actions and death that we see an example of how Lawrence was not only prepared to meet Jesus for eternity, but how he was prepared to meet Jesus every day in the poor and suffering; in every person he encountered.  St. Lawrence is one of the patron saints of deacons, the patron saint of Rome, and the universal patron of the poor.

We too are called to be ready to be a witness to our faith in a culture that is hostile to it.  We are called to be ready to meet Jesus in the poor and the suffering, the lonely and the lost; we are also called to be ready to witness to our faith – in our choice of entertainment; in the products that we buy, having a social conscience for how this impacts the environment and the poor of this world; in our social circumstances, when we uphold the Gospel and Church teaching.

We may not die for witnessing to our faith, but we may suffer for this witness in other ways; limiting our social circle – not being popular or always included in gatherings or activities; losing out on a promotion or job opportunity;   but in practicing and defending our faith, we are like the servants in today’s parable, being ready for the Lord whenever and wherever He comes to us. 

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C )

There are many times in each of our lives, when our plans just don’t work out – when events that we might have set in motion, or circumstances beyond our control, take all of our schedules, activities and organizational goals and render them useless.  It might be an economic downturn wiping out a stock portfolio; it might be an injury which halts a career in sports; it might be putting a repair job off for another day, only to have a bigger repair job as a result.

As Christians, we need to constantly be on guard that we have not put our ambitions, and goals for acquiring ‘things’ ahead of God.  Yes we can have dreams and goals; but if our heart is set only on getting and having more and more, directed towards our selves – then this is the opposite of what God calls us to, and what Christ commands us to do.  We can acquire things or enjoy accomplishments, but if these are gained by exploiting others, then the God’s law and Christ’s teaching tells us that this is wrong.

This priority of relationship with God and others is reflected in our own  lives; we might say to ourselves – “I’m really busy building my career, or property, taking care of my desires, but “someday, I’m going to visit an elderly relative;  someday, I’m going to do something nice for my neighbour;  someday, I’m going to spend time with my children;  work on my prayer life; clothe the poor, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless; but then life changes literally in a heartbeat, and all of our plans to ‘someday’ grow closer to God are suddenly gone.  Today’s Gospel reminds us, ‘someday’ might never come at all.   We seem to forget the wisdom of the ‘maxim’  that when we have a real priority to attend to, rather than putting it off, that there is no time like the present.

 Jesus reminds us in the parable of the rich man just how fragile our lives and circumstances are; how in an instant everything can change, and the decisions and actions we take in this life will indeed have a bearing on our eternity.

Our desire to be with God should not simply be based on a fear of punishment; our desire to be with God should be out of the instinct within our souls – to be with and love God simply because He loves us. The rich man set his heart on material wealth – on gaining more and more; the implication in the way Jesus teaches this parable is that the rich man gave no thought to his relationship with God, with others, or the justice of having far more than he could possibly use while others were in need.

Maybe he was thinking there would be other times to get to know God, or lots of opportunities once he accomplished his gathering of wealth to maybe give a little time to others.  We don’t know – this is not part of the story.  Maybe this is reflected in our own lives – we can become so busy in business, in social climbing, in gathering  or doing ‘things’ that we may think nothing , or very little of God – perhaps we are thinking there will be plenty of time for this later.

Truly God’s love is without limit.  God’s mercy is also limitless.  But the opportunities we have to reach out in love to the poor and the marginalized in our world; to grow into a deeper relationship with God – these opportunities are limited by the fact that we are mortal, and in our lifetimes we do not have an unlimited number of days.

We can choose, as did the rich man in this parable, to spend our lives completely absorbed in gaining more and more in material wealth, in privilege, in possessions, in power; or we can choose to accept all as a gift from God, and to base our life on a relationship with God.  That from this relationship we can determine what the real priorities are in our lives, and build our lives on those priorities – always keeping in mind that we were created to be united to Our Creator – that is why Jesus entered into our humanity – to offer Himself to re-unite us with God; 

Jesus doesn’t say we can’t have ‘things’, or not to make any kinds of plans;  what He does say, though, is that these ‘things’ and  ‘plans’ cannot take priority over our relationship with God, because we will not be spending eternity with our physical things or wealth.

Unlike the rich man, we need to be ‘rich for God’; spending time in building and deepening our relationship with God – and rather than waiting for ‘some day’ to do this, we begin in the present moment, right now- – in simply taking a moment in the depths of our hearts to say, “yes God, I do love You – help me to grow closer to You in my heart and my soul and my will.”   

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time ( Year C )

Imagine visiting a friend, whom you haven’t seen in a while. There are things to talk about, stories to share, different events to reminisce or share memories about; you are all set to sit and talk about a whole host of topics, and your friend is busy preparing a meal for you to share, or perhaps to get some refreshments…they leave you in one room, and go out to the kitchen; we hear all sorts of noises – glasses clinking, pots and pans banging together, chopping, – the sounds and smells of cooking – but our friend is so busy preparing this meal that they don’t have time to sit and talk with us. Maybe we would go out to the kitchen and offer to help, only to be met with a response of ‘no, you’re a guest – I’m taking care of this – you go relax – I’ll be there soon” But maybe after a considerable length of time, our friend hasn’t emerged from the kitchen, finding more ‘things’ to do – one more item to cook,  one more cup to clean; and by the time they come out of the kitchen, we have to be on our way.  There was an intention to have a great meal and conversation, but ‘things’ just kind of got in the way;   in our lives, we may find that to be the case, not just with visits with old friends, but in time with our spouses, or our children, or our parents – that we just have so many ‘things’ to do, that we just don’t have time to sit and talk – to build relationships.   Sadly, that can even happen to all of us in our relationship with God; we have too many ‘things’ to do, many distractions, many concerns, many anxieties. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus visits Martha and Mary – the sisters of Lazarus – at their home.  When we look at all the Gospels, this is one of three encounters Jesus has with Martha and Mary; the Gospels don’t show many repeat encounters between Jesus and particular people, so this relationship with this particular family must have been very important.

Jesus enters their home and begins to speak – and only Mary sits at His feet to listen to what He has to say.  This posture ‘sitting at the feet’ of Jesus is loaded with meaning and would have been startling to the people of Jesus’ time:  this posture would have been the typical position of a disciple learning from a teacher; except in first century Palestine, women didn’t sit at the feet of a rabbi as a disciple; but this doesn’t seem to concern Jesus.  He welcomes Mary’s attention to His presence.  She has chosen to be open to His words.

Martha, the Gospel says, “was distracted by her many tasks”:  she begins bustling about, maybe going ‘all out’ to impress this honoured Guest.  But instead of offering some light refreshment and just sitting to find out what Jesus has to say ,Martha starts bemoaning the fact that she has ‘so much work’ to do, and demands that Jesus tell Mary to get up from her place at His feet and come help her. She says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

Imagine being the guest in this house – how comfortable would any of us feel in the midst of this ‘sibling rivalry’?  It almost sounds as if Martha is angry at her sister and by implication is blaming her Guest for all the extra work she has to do.   The phrase that Martha uses,  speaks volumes of where all her distractions lead to – where all these ‘tasks’ are centred – she may think her work is for her Guest, but her attention is not on her Guest:

my sister has left me to do all the work by myself  – tell her to help me

Caught up in all of her work, Martha doesn’t seem to see that she is ignoring Jesus, present in her home.  Yet Jesus responds with compassion and care:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary’s attentiveness to Jesus’ presence and His words are the ‘better part’ that Mary has chosen.  This pondering of Jesus in stillness and silence will not be taken away from her.  Jesus is saying that those who have their attention focused on Him have an awareness of His presence; a gift that they will not be separated from.

There is a sense of inner peace that comes from a deepened prayer life and awareness of Christ in our lives.  At Mass, in the Sacraments; in studying Scripture; in taking the time to spend in prayer – it is in this way and others that we are attentive to the presence of Jesus in our own lives.  From this focus, our works and efforts grow outward; when there is work to be done, we do it – when there are responsibilities to be faced, we face them; but as Christians, we do these things with an awareness that Jesus is present to us in everyone we meet.

When our work is centred on Jesus, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy or simple; but it changes the whole attitude with which we do everything; in order to properly serve Jesus, we need to be focused on Jesus.  To do that, we need to take time to ‘sit at the feet’ of the Master; in that, we will have chosen the ‘better part’.

And as He said about Mary, He promises each and every one of us, that this ‘better part’ – this awareness of His presence in our lives – will not be taken from those who choose it, and live it.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time ( Year C )

There are occasions, we can open a newspaper or listen to a newscast and hear a story of how someone went, ’above and beyond’ what would be expected of them in coming to the aid or rescue of a complete stranger.  Often these stories involve someone putting themselves at great personal risk to prevent serious injury or death to another person.  Most often, the ‘heroes’ in these stories are dubbed ‘Good Samaritans’.

This feeds the image that a Good Samaritan is someone who does something extraordinary; who steps well beyond what would be expected in terms of helping out another human being. Perhaps, though, this image is somewhat ‘inflated’ or gives the impression that a good Samaritan is only one who performs great deeds.

In his Gospel today, St. Luke writes about Jesus speaking with a ‘lawyer’ who stands up to test Jesus. First off, we need to understand the term ‘lawyer’ in this setting; it is someone who is well versed and educated in the Law of Moses, the Torah; the laws handed down by God.  He asks how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus, also being well-versed in the Law, puts it back to him, asking what written in the law.  The lawyer answers with the two great commands, love God with all your being, and love your neighbour as yourself.  He knows the answer already; he has learned it well over the course of the studies. Jesus compliments him on his knowledge, but then this ‘religious teacher’ wants to push the matter a little further;

The Gospel says, ‘wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbour?”

We often want to ‘justify’ ourselves, like this lawyer; particularly in our current culture.  We are very much a ‘bottom line’ people –

We want to know the minimum required to achieve something, or the maximum effort we need to put out to get what we want;

The lawyer is asking much the same thing, perhaps continuing to ‘test’ Jesus, by asking –how far do I have to go to prove my love for neighbour according to the law?  Is my neighbour restricted to those in my social circle; my family; my religious congregation?

What is the minimum I need to do in terms of reaching out to others? How far do I have to go?  How extraordinary do my efforts have to be? How difficult is this going to be for me?

This lawyer would have been aware of the contents of the book of Deuteronomy, from which we have our first reading today: in it, God speaks to the people through Moses telling the people to ‘turn to the Lord with all your heart and will all your soul’,

In speaking to the difficulty of following this command, he continues, “surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away….it is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

In other words, the command to love is quite straightforward and simple, and should come naturally; but our society and our culture compete for this ‘natural space’ in our hearts – a natural space that should have us readily stepping outside ourselves help our neighbour all the time.

Our desire to help anyone in need should grow with our realization of who our neighbours are, a circle which keeps growing outward with our own awareness of the goodness of God in our own lives. We can build on our experience of family, helping each other; building on the experience of doing ordinary things with extraordinary love; to continually reaching outward to our neighbour – members of our faith community, our city, our country, or the poor on the other side of the world. We might help out with a charitable organization feeding the hungry, or take time to visit someone who is lonely – it might be something as simple as holding a door for someone, helping someone fix a flat tire, or sitting at coffee break with co-worker others don’t get along with.

The lawyer in today’s Gospel, it would seem, was asking Jesus to put boundaries on how far he would have to go in helping his neighbour.  Maybe he wanted a minimum.

Jesus, in relating the story of the Good Samaritan tells him, and us, the minimum that is expected is the maximum we can do, and that with God, there is no limit to that maximum.  That there are no boundaries to who our neighbour is – cultural, religious, ethnic – we are all created in God’s image, and the needs of even one affects us all; that it should be natural for us, as children of God, to want to reach out to help our neighbours; to reflect our love for God in our love for one another;

That what our society sees as ‘extraordinary’ in reaching out to help others, should be ‘ordinary’ for us, particularly as members of His Church.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

14th Sunday Ordinary Time ( Year C )

I was reading the Vatican news service yesterday, and came across a story indicating that the Missionaries of Charity were no longer going to be allowed to operate by the government of Nicaragua. This order of nuns known for their compassion and charitable care of orphans, the elderly and the dying, are among a number of Catholic organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that the government there has deemed not in keeping with their aims. In fact, the papal nuncio – the equivalent of an ‘ambassador’ from the Holy See, was recently declared ‘persona non grata’ and ordered to leave the country,

It’s very easy to become discouraged, particularly when we see the grand scale of how far our culture, our society, and our own country have drifted away from the Gospel values that were taken for granted just a generation ago.  If we listen to the media, it seems as if everyone and everything is stacked against the Church, against freely expressing our faith in the modern world, against proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  I can assure you, that if we allow it to, the way we measure success today ‘concrete results’ or ‘visible numbers’, can become very discouraging to those of us involved in ministry, or anyone involved in authentically living as a disciple of Jesus.

This desire to ‘measure our results’ and base our joy or sorrow on them as followers of Christ is part of the message in today’s gospel passage from St. Luke, where Jesus sends 70 of his disciples on ahead of Him to places where He Himself was planning to visit. They go out as His messengers.

These disciples were sent out in pairs; and they were given instructions on what would be necessary to take with them – nothing except each other and the knowledge that He had sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  They were also forewarned that not everyone would listen to them, that not everyone would accept what they had to say, that some would reject them and their message.   We might be tempted to wonder, ‘how could anyone reject these disciples of Christ? ‘  These disciples were coming to them in preparation for or ahead of Jesus – unannounced, uninvited; they were bringing word ,that the Kingdom of God was near, that God was present to His people, that Jesus was coming to them.  They were giving freely what they had been given, this Good News, and healing the sick in those places they went to.

We could ask the same question in our own world today; a world where increasingly we see hostility to Christians practicing their faith and a rejection of a relationship with God as somehow oppressive, limiting and unintelligent.  Yet Jesus told His disciples on that first mission that there would be some who would accept and some who would reject them and their message. 

In all of this, though, there are two things that remind us of our mission as Church; of the interconnectedness of our relationship with Jesus and with each other as His disciples.  He sends them out in pairs. In the culture of the time, two witnesses were required to give testimony to the truth; and so as pairs, these disciples are testifying to the truth of the coming of the Kingdom.  But there is more to this.  In simple, human terms, they are traveling together to support each other, to encourage each other, and if necessary, to protect each other.

But someone else is with them in their mission; they would not be able to effect any cures or cast out demons if Christ Himself was not with them – He reminds them that even though they had some encouraging results, and these are a cause for rejoicing, the most important point is that they recognize that they belong to and have a relationship with God; their ‘names are written in heaven’ as Jesus says.   They are reminded that their joy should be in recognizing and believing that they are children of God; their mission is to bring that joy to others.  Whether or not others respond to that message and mission is not up to them.  They are to keep themselves secure and encourage each other in the knowledge that they belong to God, no matter what the world says or how the world responds to them.  This then is our mission too; first and foremost to recognize and rejoice with grateful hearts that we belong to God, and to share that news and joy with the world around us. 

Whether the world rejects what we have to share, rejects us, or rejects God is really not up to us. We shouldn’t allow a lack of ‘concrete results’ or some measure of ‘visible numbers’ to discourage us in sharing our faith.

All we can do is persevere as disciples, as Church, knowing that Christ in His love goes with us in our mission to share the Good News with everyone around us; and that as children of God sent into the world, we are here to encourage, support and protect each other; that we can only be messengers of healing and hope; and leave the results up to God.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – Ascension ( Year C )

In the early part of the book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis, part of his work ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, one of the characters, Mr. Tumnus, explains the nature of Aslan, the Lion, to young Miss Lucy Pevensee, when she wonders about how to ‘handle’ or ‘relate’ to Aslan, as if he could be a pet; non-threatening, without challenge or risk.

“He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

There seems to be a move, which recurs from time to time through history, of people attempting to ‘rewrite’ the Gospels to have them fit more within a comfortable cultural framework; reworking the meaning of the Gospels to fit the image of the times, rather than recognizing that the message is from the One True God, incarnated in the person of Jesus.  Efforts are made to ‘dumb down’ the events recorded in the Gospels to make them more ‘understandable’ – to make them fit within the bounds of human capacity, rather than stretching to try to embrace the events and the messages explicitly spoken and illustrated by Christ Himself through the Gospel writers.

Take for example, the excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles and our Gospel, both written by St. Luke; the event described which we celebrate today, the Ascension of the Lord, The Acts of the Apostles, in our first reading, tells us how after His resurrection, after rising from the dead,Jesus spends an additional forty days  teaching , comforting and commanding his disciples.  After this period of time, Luke says, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Jesus is lifted up.

(Luke is quite specific here – he says lifted up and that they lose sight of him in the clouds – it’s not as if Jesus kind of faded into nothingness on the ground in front of them, or ‘metaphorically’ ascended to a ‘higher consciousness’ – Luke who takes great pains in the detail of his gospel and the Acts, says Jesus was lifted up and they lost sight of him in the clouds)

This is, of course, challenging to us; how could this ‘lifting up’ have worked?  What did it look like?  Yet, because we have trouble grasping this, the modern rationalist says, ‘well it must just be a figure of speech’ to make it fit with our limited understanding.  How is it that we say we believe in Jesus, begotten of God, who died and rose from the dead, yet have difficulty accepting that the ascension is as much of a reality as the resurrection?

Often I think it is because our society doesn’t like to be challenged.  We want things to fit the way we think they should; rather than reaching beyond our limits, in faith, to accept what God has set before us and given to us.  But when we do this, it is as if we resign ourselves to accepting mediocrity.  Imagine if professional athletes said, ‘I hope we finish in the middle of the pack this season’ rather than striving to win the championship?  Or if in our workplaces, a CEO says, ‘we don’t want our company to rise to the top – let’s just satisfy ourselves with being at the bottom of the marketplace.’

The Christian life is full of challenges, and we can easily say, ‘this is too much’ or ‘this is too difficult’ and resign ourselves to sit on the sidelines.  We might say, ‘I cannot go to Ukraine to physically help the people ‘– but there are other ways we can help.  We might say, ‘I can’t go to the national March for Life in Ottawa’, but we can find other ways to support and encourage those who attend, or fight for life issues locally in keeping with the teaching of our Faith.  To follow Christ’s commandments in the midst of a culture of selfishness is not an easy thing to do.

We rise to the challenges to gain things that are passing, that are temporary; how is it that we are not as quick to rise to the challenges presented to us on our paths to immortality, to complete union with God – a union that lasts forever?

We have been given a gift by God – the gift of faith; it is a gift to be treasured yes, but it is also a gift to be taken out and exercised, to be stretched and grown and strengthened.  Imagine being given a special gift by a friend and we reply with, ‘thanks for the gift – I have no intention of using it at all because it might be too difficult for me to work with’.

The reality of the Resurrection, and the reality of the Ascension are, perhaps, just such challenges for us.  But rather than trying to reduce the awesomeness of these wondrous events in the life of Our Lord, and of His Church, we should be reaching out in gratitude and humility and awe to accept just what He has given to us.  We shouldn’t be content to be mediocre in our faith – we should desire to explore and deepen it.  We shouldn’t be trying to ‘tame’ the power and grandeur of the Gospels and Our Lord Jesus; we should be exercising our gift of faith, rising up to meet the challenges facing Christians in this world and culture.

Perhaps our world is satisfied with mediocrity; for Christians, though, mediocrity is not our calling.  Union with the One True God, who created everything from nothing, that is what we are called to; and Jesus, who ascended to the Father, has shown us the way to the Father – if we are courageous enough to follow His lead.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter- Sixth Sunday ( Year C )

In our Gospel today from St. John, we continue to recount Jesus words during his Last supper.  Jesus, who at this point knows He is to suffer terribly and die for all people, and rise again on the third day, says to his disciples, ‘whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;”

In some translations, the wording of this passage is a little stronger; ‘whoever loves me will keep my commands”…”whoever does not love me does not keep my commands.”

The same writer of this Gospel, St. John, phrases it even more bluntly and directly in his first letter: ‘ whoever says he loves Him and does not keep His commands is a liar.”

 And what are these commands? Well basically it is all of the teaching of Jesus; all of the teaching and commands of God handed down through the ages, through the Prophets, the law and through Jesus himself; but ultimately all of these commands and laws are boiled down to two points, or two categories if you want.

The first is ‘you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul’

The second is ‘you will love your neighbour as yourself’

Jesus said all of the commandments and the laws rest on these two commands.  And one is reflected in the other, and balanced with the other:

We express our love for God in having a relationship with Him; in worshipping Him; in spending time in prayer, in reading His Word, in learning more about Him.

But most clearly, we express our love for God in showing love for our neighbour.

It is in feeding the hungry, in clothing the naked, in spending time with the lonely or the lost, in caring for the sick – in all of these things and more – these acts of charity that we show our neighbour is how we show our love for God.

And Jesus does not make this optional; He makes this a command.  And these acts in which we show this love do not have to be tremendous or extraordinary;  it is in the common, day-to-day acts of simple kindness and consideration that we can show our love for our neighbour; holding a door for someone; helping someone who is struggling with a load; encouraging someone who is having difficulty at work or at school.

And it is just the opposite in how we do not show our love for God; in neglecting others; in unkind or uncharitable words; in treating others as a means to an end; each time we do this, we are placing ourselves in that group that Jesus describes;” whoever does not love me does not keep my words,”

And we have to be just as careful here, not to think that in doing good deeds or works, that somehow we ‘earn’ our way into God’s good books; that somehow it is through the work we do that we ‘earn’ salvation;  it is not that at all;

Salvation is a gift from God; Love is a gift from God; and when we accept those gifts, we live out those commands of Jesus, not because we have to, but because we want to. Our outward expressions of charity and kindness and goodness and holiness are an outward response to God working in our lives. Our obedience to His commands is an expression of love for Him; and our acts of love to others are an expression of that obedience.

We have all kinds of guidance and direction from God that we can look to: we have the Ten Commandments; we have the teachings of the Old Testament Prophets; we have the words of Jesus; we have the teaching of the Church:  but we live in a world that says all of these commands are somehow a restriction on our freedoms – that the commandments and all that follow are a ‘limit’ imposed upon us; in essence, that which is good – the laws of God – are a bad thing when seen through the ‘secular’ lens; when in reality, all of these commands are to prevent us from self-destruction;  think about it’ thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not commit adultery; honour your mother and father,” how are these bad? These are guides to live; to prevent us from imploding; to prevent our society and ourselves from collapsing in on ourselves. That is true freedom.  But to follow them means we have to take responsibility for our own actions, and that might even mean making an effort.

Sometimes, we can become a little frightened or intimidated; we might think – “some of my ‘neighbours’ or people in my parish or community are really difficult, and I don’t know if I can always express charity and kindness to them.”

This is where Jesus again expresses to us the generosity and goodness of God;  in today’s passage, St. John writes Jesus said ‘the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  In other words, the Holy Spirit will be our strength and guidance in living out those commands to love God and neighbour, even in the most difficult of times; if we are open to Him, and believe the promises that Jesus made and continues to make to us.

God the Father gives us the Holy Spirit to inspire and keep us in His ways. Jesus gave us the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to continue to teach, and guide and direct us;not because God isn’t everywhere – but precisely because He is everywhere, always showing His gifts of love and charity and guidance in our everyday lives, and inviting us to love Him in return.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – Fifth Sunday (Year C )

“Love one another.”

This is a commandment from Jesus Himself that we can’t gloss over and can’t ignore; but like everything else in Sacred Scripture, we’re invited to explore more deeply, to see just how this applies to each of us in our daily circumstances. 

Jesus says “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  He goes on to say “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Sounds obvious enough – in some ways it sounds simple enough.  Perhaps though, as we start to think a bit more about that, we can call to mind times each day where , maybe we haven’t exactly been so ‘loving’  to people we encounter – someone in the grocery store parking lot; another driver in heavy traffic; a noisy neighbor; maybe even someone in our own church or parish community.   Truly we say to ourselves after the fact, “well I guess I wasn’t very Christian at that moment”, or possibly, “how am I expected to love them?”; this is, in fact, if we even give a later thought to our words and actions in that moment.

When my wife Kathi and I were engaged, we went to visit the priest in the parish where we lived for our marriage ‘interview’.  I often think of this now when I am conducting the same interview with couples who seek to be married in the Church.  At one point, we were separated to meet individually with Father, and in my time with him, the first question he asked me was, “do you like her?”  I thought to myself “what a strange question to ask a young man who was coming to hopefully enter into the most beautiful visible sign of unity that we have.” 

So I replied with, “Well, Father, I want to marry her.  Of course, I love her.”

It was his response that I found so curious (at the time). 

He said, “I didn’t ask you if you loved her.  I asked her if you liked her.  Like and love are two different things.”

So of course being young I didn’t quite understand the wisdom in this exchange;  but after 35 years of married life, I have come to a better appreciation of it.

There are indeed people we don’t like in our world.  I can think immediately of certain world or government leaders.  But even more immediately, each of us can think of people who we don’t find terribly ‘likeable’;  co-workers; classmates; neighbours;  even people within our own families.  There were times when Jesus grew exasperated with his own followers; there were people he encountered who he clearly disagreed with and even at times compared with snakes and old rotting flesh in a grave; most definitely there were people He found disagreeable to be around. 

His commandment was to love one another; even if there are those we don’t particularly like or agree with; and this is where we need to understand what the difference is between “like” and “love”.

Liking is in relation to someone or something that brings us pleasure, or happiness; it makes us feel good – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  But “like” is directed towards ourselves;  it’s for our benefit; it’s about how it makes us feel.

Love on the other hand is neither an emotion, a feeling, an action or attraction (although these can all be expressions of love).  Real love is a choice: it is a conscious, deliberate choice in willing the good of another.

We desire the well-being and good of the other; it is not primarily about how it makes us feel; it is other-directed.

And so it is entirely possible to love someone that we may not particularly ‘like’.  We may disagree with all sorts of people out there; but we are commanded by Jesus Himself to love everyone; to will the good of the other; to desire their well-being.  Of course the greatest good that we could desire for anyone, is that they enter into that deep relationship of love with God, with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit; and the Way that we will assist them with that, is if we provide witness, as His disciples, by having constant love for one another, regardless of whether we like them or not.

It is not a suggestion; it is a commandment.  It comes from the God who first loved each of us into existence, and is spoken by the Son who exemplified for us what love truly is.

(and yes, if you were curious, after 35 years, I do love Kathi, and I still like her- a lot)

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – Fourth Sunday (Year C )

There’s a little commercial phrase that we see pop up this time of year on coffee mugs, t-shirts, picture frames, and other gift-shop items;

“God couldn’t be everywhere, so He created mothers.” 

It can be a heartwarming little phrase, even if it is really ‘off’ theologically.  We believe God is everywhere – and it has been my experience that most mothers, particularly those who work outside the home, wish they could be in more than one place at a time, but can’t.

Maybe it would be more appropriate for us to say that God is everywhere, but to make His love more visible, He gave us the gift of motherhood.

Mother’s are (sometimes exclusively in our current society) the first teachers of their children.  They teach them how to talk and to walk; to develop their motor and social skills.  They eventually set the standard of right and wrong that their children will learn – and that standard is often set by example.   But mothers always give advice; sometimes that advice is not appreciated at the moment by their children, but as we grow, often we recall in our daily circumstances the wisdom that our mother’s passed on to us. Sometimes we can almost hear our mothers say, ’if you loved me, you would listen to me.”

Our Gospel today talks about listening to a particular voice, one that cares deeply for each of us – more than we could imagine.  Jesus describes this relationship in the parable of the good shepherd.

The interesting thing about sheep, or any animal for that matter, is that when training them from a young age, they need to hear the voice of the one they will follow repeatedly.  They build up a trusting response; they hear the voice of the one who feeds and tends and cares for them, and they follow wherever they hear that voice call to them.  They may not respond to that voice the first time they hear it, but over time, if they hear it regularly – and its call is reinforced with satisfying their real needs – they will gladly come to that voice when it calls.  

They might follow another voice, if it provides immediate reward; but over time, if that voice doesn’t really tend, love and care for them, they become confused, sometimes hostile, and don’t know what voice to follow anymore; they become lost.  Today, we hear Jesus say, “my sheep know my voice.”

In our world we are surrounded by different voices – voices that offer and invite; voices that ask and challenge; voices that express emotion and voices that call for calm.  We hear voices that attempt to draw us in their direction – voices that invite us to follow a path of self-gratification and self-indulgence. We hear other voices that suggest we ignore the needs of others and reject those who aren’t in our ‘social standing’.  We hear voices that tell us to ignore truth and beauty and real love, and move into some artificial and materialistic lifestyle.

These voices call to us continually and invite us move away from that voice which promises life and wholeness; the voice of the Good Shepherd. 

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cares not for himself, but for us, His followers, His sheep.  He provides life and truth and beauty and authentic love; His voice is heard in His teaching and Sacraments, handed down to His Apostles, and then handed down to us, in turn, through His Church.

And in the analogy provided by Jesus, as sheep following a shepherd, we grow and recognize His voice by continually hearing it and responding to it, participating in the life of the Church in caring for others; the poor, the marginalized, the neglected and forgotten – doing all these things and more as part of the life of the flock that the Good Shepherd founded. 

But we cannot grow in His ‘flock’ if we do not participate in the ‘life’ of the ‘flock’, listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd drawing us more deeply into His life and His love.

Any voice that calls us away from Him, is neither good, nor is it caring. It may be attractive at first, but it will leave us empty, cold and hollow.

We are called to follow the voice that leads us to Christ; that leads us to life – a life that is whole, authentic, truthful and beautiful; a life that is complete when it rests in the Father’s hands – where, as Jesus says, we will not be ‘snatched away.’

If we spend time in prayer, the sacraments and the life of the Church, we will recognize His call; we will be the sheep who know and follow His voice.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!